Amazon Select Indie Book Index: Good Idea or No?

In tour news, today I am guest blogging over at Babbling About Books and More, talking about the balance between character and plot.  I will post the link as soon as that goes live.

So I’ve recently subscribed to a bunch of self-publishing and indie publishing oriented blogs.  It made sense to start keeping tabs on the movers and shakers in the movement since I’ve pretty well decided that I’m part of it.  I have, so far, come across a wealth of interesting information and people who are passionate about the indie publishing cause.  But of course it was inevitable that I’d come across some posts I don’t agree with.

Yesterday I read this post on Self-Publishing Central, which is an Open Letter to Amazon.  The gist of the letter is that the author feels that there should be a separate rating system for indie books that was made up only of so-called qualified and unbiased reviewers reviews, as opposed to the existing system whereby the writer proposes that indies pad their reviews with 5 star ones from friends and family.

I have a number of problems with this.

  1. I could be wrong, but the proposed solution seemed to me to essentially say that the opinions of isolated readers who haven’t reviewed hundreds of books simply would not be taken into account. Now I don’t know about you, but I certainly haven’t read and reviewed hundreds of books on Amazon and I would hazard a guess that most typical consumers have not.  Yet I believe that the opinions of these consumers are valuable and important as THEY ARE THE AUDIENCE.
  2. Regardless of whether some self-published authors pad their reviews with friends and family, if the book is a real stinker, REAL readers are going to come out and contradict all those 5 star reviews.  And really, nobody is going to write a 5 paragraph glowing review for their cousin.  The average consumer has a brain and without using very much of it, is perfectly capable of determining the validity and quality of the reviews offered.  That’s why they have that whole “helpful” “not helpful” button you can click on each review.
  3. This proposed system seems to deliberately separate out indie or self-published works to be flagged as such.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be flagged as self-published.  I want my book to speak for itself with the professional cover, well-crafted blurb, and solid formatting.  I want it to run neck and neck with the products of New York publishers and for the reader not to notice a difference unless they go actively looking to see who put it out.
  4. The whole post just smacks a little too much of whining to me.  Self-publishing is a hard row to hoe.  Anyone who chooses this route knows (or should if they have done one iota of research) that they will have a mountain to climb.  There’s no reason that they should get special treatment for choosing to go this route.  And yeah, you have a lot of competition and it’s hard to get noticed.  That’s why you put together a solid marketing plan and recognize the fact that it takes TIME (and yeah, I’m speaking to myself on that one to quiet down my own impatience).  The most important thing is that you put out a professional product with a good cover, good summary, and good formatting.  Ultimately the work will speak for itself.

15 thoughts on “Amazon Select Indie Book Index: Good Idea or No?

  1. I agree. His solution just seems like a way to ghetto-ize indie authorship even more.

    It smacks of the segregation with the African American section of the bookstore.

  2. Pleased to see my blog has sparked some discussion.

    Personally, I don’t believe that being a self-pubbed author carries the stigma your response implies. But you are certainly entitled to that opinion.

    And I don’t advocate doing away with the current Star Rating systems at Amazon — only to add another rating system to it. If this new rating system could be added without segregating self- and indie-pubbed books — and including all books, regardless of publisher — that would be fine with me.

    I have to disagree with your statement that ” . . . if the book is a real stinker, REAL readers are going to come out and contradict all those 5 star reviews.” Statistics show that the VAST MAJORITY of self-pub books only sell 200 copies or less — mostly to friends and family. Those sales won’t do anything to generate enough Amazon reviews to counter the “friends and family” votes.

    Why are sales to the general public so poor? Maybe bad books. Maybe bad marketing. Maybe no way for buyers to figure out which books are good and which are bad. I’m only hoping to impact the last of these problems in a very small way. At least that was my intention.

    I’d like to see the playing field between Random house and My House leveled just a tiny bit. I went into this self-pub gig with eyes open. And I recognize that the field will never be truly level. But I’m not whining about my status as a self-pub author . . . I’m trying to improve it, by making what I thought was a helpful suggestion.

    The current publishing system is broken. How do you propose to fix it?

    Thanks for your time.

    John L. Betcher
    Self-Publishing Central

    1. John,

      If a book is only selling 200 or fewer copies, not enough to counter the “friends and family” vote… then I would say they are pretty irrelevant to the greater market. Reviews in Amazon are supposed to be there to help consumers make choices. If almost no one is finding or buying the book anyway, it seems like the issue is already taken care of.

      1. I believe that, for well-written, well-plotted book, low sales ARE the problem. But for many self-pubs, 200 is the sales level they have earned.


        1. At that point you really have to consider the genre and reach of the story–does it HAVE the kind of wide appeal necessary to reach a larger audience. I’m fortunate enough to write romance, which makes up about 50% of sales of all books sold PERIOD. So I definitely have a broad audience and a thirsty one that always looks for new and refreshing reads. I don’t know that other genres have as tight knit or enthusiastic a community for helping get the word out.

    2. Hi John,

      Thanks for stopping by!

      You state that “Statistics show that the VAST MAJORITY of self-pub books only sell 200 copies or less — mostly to friends and family.” And okay yeah that’s not going to negate those friends and family five star reviews of stinkers. But 200 copies is also not going to be enough to recommend the book up through the ranks to a perpetual ranking that would induce folks to buy it. So those don’t worry me so much. On Amazon it takes current sales to maintain a ranking.

      I absolutely agree with you that the publishing industry is broken. No arguments there. But rather than segregating self published books, what I would rather see is an education of the public to differentiate between the terms vanity publishing (which I think most folks agree is generally bad and awful and will never lose its stigma), self-publishing (which often connotes work that has not been properly vetted by people who know how to judge a good product) and indie publishing, which is a term that those of us who use it are hoping will come to mean quality–work that has been vetted by independent editors and formatted by people who give a damn about putting out a professional product that rivals anything put out by New York. We really hope that it’s a term that will only be used by folks who care about those things and NOT by random Joe Schmo who decided a collection of grocery lists was interesting and self published them without even a modicum of editing. I think educating the public about what indie publishing really means and the rise of review blogs that cater to them and carry as much weight as places like Dear Author and Smart Bitches Trashy Books will go a lot further toward informing the public what qualifies as a good read.

      1. You make a lot of sense. And I’m glad you’re blogging about these issues.

        I guess I’d still like to see the indie-pubs have a chance of being found by the general reading public. Once that happens, their quality will determine their sales.

        Seems like there should be some way for a well-written and interesting indie to attract notice without the author draining his/her life savings. I agree it will take time for any new indie to be successful, no matter how great it is.

        My proposal, as stated in the Open Letter to Amazon, is rough, I admit. But wouldn’t it be nice if Amazon could expend some of their resources to increase their own sales of indie books?

        Maybe just raising our respective concerns will increase awareness and action in this area. And perhaps you are correct . . . that bloggers will emerge as the New York Times Book Review for indie publishers and for ALL published works.

        Thank you for your thoughtful discussion of this subject.

        All the best!

        John L. Betcher

        1. John, at this point I think the best thing you can do is to network with like minded indies. It’s a very supportive community and most, I have found, are happy to help get the word out. I haven’t spent a dime on promotion of my book thus far–just a lot of man hours on blog tours. I don’t think it’s necessary that you have a huge budget for promo. Word of mouth is key, and that, again, comes back to putting out a quality product that people WANT to talk about. The biggest issue is having patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day and growth takes time. 🙂

          1. Kait, I don’t understand your resistance to the idea of having “professional reviewers” at Amazon — if applied equally to ALL BOOKS . . . not just indies.

            They do it for cars at J.D. Power. They do it for Refrigerators at Consumer Reports. Why not have BOTH the customer reviews AND those of the “professional reviewers”?

            I’m talking for ALL books now . . . not just indies.

            Then when I want a thriller with great “professional reviews,” I can sort ALL BOOKS in that genre by their “professional review” rating, and see what the pros have to say.

            Whattya think?


        2. I’m about to hijack Kait’s blog for just a second to toot my own horn here. I think she’ll forgive me cause she hearts me. *insert cute cat photo here.*

          I haven’t spent a bunch of money on promo. I’ve offered a free read. I’ve blogged. I’ve been a loud-mouth all over the internet. I’ve tweeted. I’ve Facebooked.

          What I haven’t done is paid promotion.

          I have three novellas out now, all indie. I was a total no-name when I started (still a no-name really, but a no-name who is selling well in the Kindle store.)

          Last I checked Kept and Claimed were both under 250 in the Kindle store, and Mated, which just became available for sale on Kindle yesterday, is already in the 500’s.

          Kept is on target to sell 1,000 or more copies this month.

          It CAN be done as an indie without giant promo or a special reviewing system on Amazon.

          Even WITH a special reviewing system, it’s not going to get indie books automatically found.

  3. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with professional reviewers. I just know that they typically don’t affect my own purchases. I seldom AGREE with professional reviewers (whether you’re talking books, movies, or TV). Entertainment is such a personal thing and other than issues of actual clarity of writing, grammar, punctuation, formatting and the like, I don’t think there’s anything a pro would comment on that would necessarily sway me. What informs my book buying decisions are reader ratings, the book description, and the cover. If those things are good, I’m more likely to try it.

    The whole reason I think that independent review sites would be useful is that they have the opportunity to reach a wider audience, to bring books to the attention of folks who might otherwise not have seen it. Having them centralized on Amazon wouldn’t necessarily do that.

  4. Kait,

    I absolutely agree that independent review sites are vital. I just feel like Amazon could do something as well.

    I just searched Amazon for “Thrillers” with the “Highest Reviewer Ratings.” Check it out and see what sort of bizarre stuff you come up with. Something’s gotta change.

    It’s really been pleasant visiting with you.

    Have a great evening and I truly wish you all the best!


    1. John, please take this in the spirit it is given and not as in any way snide. I don’t think your sales rank problem is a result of Amazon’s review system. I think your problems are the following:

      1. Your cover. It screams self-published. (I’m not saying my cover or Kait’s cover is “pro-level” but it’s a sliding scale here. You don’t want to be at the bottom of that scale.)

      2. Your main character’s name looks like a variation of your own. Which makes it seem like you’re a newbie author playing out fantasy wish fulfillment and that the book is highly autobiographical. Something a lot of readers shy away from.

      3. You have the best shot at KINDLE sales, yet your Kindle book isn’t priced to sell, it’s $8.99, that is WAY too high. If you want books to really move you have to price $2.99 or lower.

      Given all these factors you MUST have an amazing book to be all the way up to around 15k in kindle store rank. It’s not Amazon’s fault. It’s not the system’s fault. It’s a whole bunch of things you can fix. So fix them.


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