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Thursday, August 17, 2017

A top reviewer's feasibility study about reviewing indie authors' books

Hello, my name is Gisela Hausmann. I am a dedicated indie author who is also a publishing industry veteran. I self-published my first book in 1988 when nobody dreamed of e-readers, e-books, and Print-on-Demand.

I am also an Amazon top reviewer, who observes Amazon since 1998 when I became one of their vendors.

To subscribe to my blog summaries please click here.


Unfortunately, NOT ONLY DO many of today's book marketers NOT have this expertise, quite many are no book marketers but really Internet marketers.


The typical Internet marketing strategy is to create a surge of interest by offering “the product” for free or extremely reduced.

In an ideal world, customers who acquired the free or extremely reduced product spread the word, which leads to follow-up sales. The problem with this strategy is that books are not typical products like kitchen gadgets or seasonal products; it takes time to read books. "Book hoarders" may never read all books they download.

This leads to authors paying for promotions, getting excited about the number of free downloads, but then – reviews trickle in only slowly and follow-up sales may not even recover the costs of the marketing campaign.

Which is why I keep hearing from authors that tweet campaigns don't work


As a mass media expert I am also fascinated with reviews.

I have been reviewing books since 2012 and I reached top reviewer status in 2014. I also published and updated books about how to get book reviews, always in accordance with Amazon's latest guidelines.

Having studied Amazon's policies since 1998 when I became one of their early vendors, I can say with certainty that the fact that Amazon does not show "unverified reviews" by default any longer is one of indie authors' biggest problems.

The change happened in February 2017.

This blog shows my review data to demonstrate and explain the issue.


On the following lists, I am showing the combined numbers of "likes" my book reviews received as well as individual results of book reviews that received 5 or more "likes."

To make my point it is not necessary to list the number of "not helpful"-votes, hence I don't feature them to avoid data overload. Also, I did not list my product reviews data.


In 2013, I reviewed

58 indie authors books, which so far garnered 313 "likes"

[ 80 (combined) + 140 + 25 + 17 + 11 + 11 + 10 + 7 + 7 +5 ]

That's right. In 2013, I wrote a review of an indie author book that received 140 "likes," and others that received 25 "likes, 17 "likes," two reviews that were "liked" 11 times, and so on.

and 30 traditionally published books, which garnered 62 "likes"

[ 26 (combined) + 15 + 9 + 7 + 5 ]

The most liked reviews of traditionally published books garnered 15 "likes"and 9 "likes."


In 2014, I reviewed

50 indie authors books, which garnered 194 "likes"

[ 60 (combined) + 16 +14 + 12 + 10 + 8 + 7 + 7 ]

and 3  traditionally published books, which garnered "likes."


In 2015, I reviewed

72 indie authors books, which garnered 165 "likes"

[ 96 (combined) + 17 + 10 + 9 + 6 + 6 + 6 + 5 + 5 + 5 ]

and 24 traditionally published books, which garnered 93 "likes"

[ 38 (combined) + 23 + 11 + 10 + 6 + 5 ]


In 2016, I reviewed

55 indie authors books, which garnered 94 "likes"

[ 74 (combined) + 20 ]

One of these reviews was "liked" 20 times; all other reviews received 4 or fewer likes, or none at all

and 11 traditionally published books, which garnered 19 "likes."


So far, in 2017, I reviewed

32 indie author books which received 19 likes, with none of them receiving more than 4 likes

and 11 traditionally published books which received 34 "likes."


Please see this data again, summed up.

Clearly, the indie author book reviews I wrote in 2017 are not getting "liked" as often as reviews I wrote in 2013.

Though one might argue, that book reviews which have been online since 2013 could collect more "likes" please compare the indie author data with the trad-pub. books' data.

Indie author books' reviews' "likes" are going down,
trad-pub. books' reviews' "likes" are going up.

The drop of "likes" of indie author book reviews from 2016 to 2017 is significant ( 1.7 => 0.6)
and so is the increase of "likes" of trad-pub. authors' book reviews ( 1.7 => 3.1).

At all times, the number of "likes" trad-pub. authors' book reviews received was greater than the number of reviews. But, indie author book reviews aren't – in 2017.

Here are the average increases and decreases in a separate illustration.

Throughout these five years I accepted no more than 10 ARC copies, about 2 per year. I either buy books or I "rent" them with KU (which results in reviews being counted as non verified reviews).

Logically, I buy more traditional published books because they are less likely available through KU.

Which proves: People are not reading "unverified reviews." That's why they don't see my indie author book reviews and also can't "like" them.


So, how did this mess happen?

In March 2016, Amazon changed their community guidelines and required that reviewers who received a free review copy stated this fact in their book reviews.

Roughly at the same time, the "Trump-Twitter-Effect" began to take its toll on book marketing campaigns. Book marketing campaign services tried to compensate by founding book review clubs.

Since most authors did not want to buy books tit for tat, authors began reviewing each others' free books.

The rampant abuse was obvious. Anybody who scanned book reviews noticed books with 90% non verified reviews all of which stated, “I was provided with a free review copy.”

And so it came about that Amazon tightened its guidelines; non verified reviews are not visible by default any longer. Rather than wasting time and effort figuring out how to distinguish between "these and those" non verified reviews, Amazon simply hid them by default and let the customers decide if they want to see these reviews.

Of course, it does create a not so great impression. Just imagine what you think when you look at a book or at a kitchen gadget that has 3 verified and 10 non verified reviews.

For me, this was extremely painful. A dedicated indie author supporter, I spent years publishing best strategies and I updated my books religiously to present best practices (and tricks) in accordance with Amazon's ever-changing guidelines.

There are a few lesson to be learned from this situation:


Amazon knows everything. Even if they did not remove (book club) friends' book reviews, they know what's going on. If I could put together above data  – by hand (!) – in less than two hours, imagine what Amazon can do in their many data centers around the globe. Also, I still meet authors who don't know that Amazon suppresses friends' reviews because the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires them to do so.


If you engage in book club review activities always remember that "unverified reviews" may not be read or taken seriously.
Instead of "networking in Facebook groups" call your high school buddy and ask him/her to #buy and #review a copy. Start with the one who wrote the best essays. If he/she does you can call "the others."


Consider taking at least some of your book marketing activities "off-line." Though arranging for book signings and meeting with "real life" book clubs is more work, the above featured data indicates that marketing books online exclusively is not as success-prone as it used to be.

As an additional benefit – your "off-line" activities cannot be tracked!


I want to open up the conversation about this topic, so please share your thoughts.

~~~ *** ~~~

Gisela Hausmann is a 29-year publishing industry veteran who self-published her first book in 1988. 

Her work as an Amazon ecommerce review expert has been featured on Bloomberg (podcast) and on NBC News (biz blog);  her work as an email evangelist was featured in SUCCESS and in Entrepreneur.

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Gisela tweets @Naked_Determina


© 2017 by Gisela Hausmann


  1. Very interesting statistics. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Hi Gisela. When i first self published my book I expected it to sell. When it didnt I told my twitter friends. 5 of them very kindly bought my book andn left a review. These are the only reviews I have ever had but they are good.