Let’s turn back the clock a few years.
…just for fun.
For argument’s sake, let’s say it’s 1999. Everyone’s prime concern is Y2K, and whether or not our computers are going to self-destruct on New Year’s Eve.
In other news, the human population on Earth has surpassed six-billion people. Two idiots just shot up Columbine High School. SpongeBob SquarePants has hit children’s faces everywhere. And J.K. Rowling just published Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
What a year, 1999.
Feels like centuries ago.
So about that J.K. Rowling Harry Potter book. How’d J.K. get so famous, anyway? Did she debut on Amazon with ten-thousand five-star reviews? Did Dumbledore himself hand-deliver her new book to readers across the world?
See, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban wasn’t a self-published book. J.K. (deservedly so) had a traditional publisher, just like pretty much every other author on the planet in 1999. Between a powerful marketing team and an already fervent fan-base, J.K.’s new book couldn’t fail. It wouldn’t have mattered if no one on the planet left her an Amazon review. Her success was all but guaranteed.
Guaranteed to succeed….despite the wonky cover art.
Here we are, two decades later.
Everything is different.
Back in 2007, the game changed. Amazon.com (you’ve heard of Amazon, right?) debuted a little something called Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP. What’s KDP, you ask? It’s a program that allows anyone to publish anything at any time. Writers who would never have come close to publishing a book suddenly had access to publish ALL their books. Instantly. The five companies who’d previously controlled nearly all the publishing in the world shivered in their boots. The market they’d cornered for decades had suddenly opened up.
…to everyone in the world.
And so began the flood. Authors, poets, and illustrators invaded KDP in force. At first, tens of thousands of new, self-published books hit Amazon. And then…millions more. Anyone who wanted to publish something, no matter the quality of their writing, had an easy outlet to push their novels onto the scene.
Sounds great, right? Freedom for authors everywhere! The creative masses, liberated!
Yes!!! Now I can publish my new book series, ‘Gary Cotter and the Jailer of Kazakhstan!’
Doesn’t KDP sound like the most amazing thing ever?
When the flood of new books hit the world, everything seemed great. Writers were no longer shackled to the five big traditional publishers. Thousands of fantastic new books landed atop the market…which never could’ve happened without KDP.
But along with thousands of good books came tens of thousands of really bad ones.
Poorly edited books.
Books with misleading descriptions.
Books with horrible art, lousy plots, and just plain crappy writing.
A new challenge arose. Readers who’d long been funneled into book-buying decisions by the big five publishing companies faced a whopping armada of new titles. “Which books are good?” they asked themselves. “How do I know if this epic sci-fi thriller is amazing…or total crap?? Which new authors are legit, and which ones are just here to make a quick profit???”
The answer lies in the stars…
No, no, no. Not THOSE stars.
Before Amazon, before KDP, the average reader would’ve almost never posted a book review. Reviews were something handled by professionals, most of whom worked for newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals. Readers’ only engagement with books was to buy them, read them, and maybe tell a friend or two about them. That’s it. Nothing more.
But it’s not 1999 any longer.
It’s not even 2007.
Nowadays, we’re in a new era. Self-published books outnumber traditionally published works. Thousands of new novels hit the web every single day. Many are sub-par, but many are just as good…in some cases even better…than what you’d find in bookstores around the world. And yet many of the best books by the most talented writers fall into the shadows. Why? Because no one reviews them. No one clicks the little ‘write a customer review?’ button.
No one cares.
So why should you?
Why should readers, having already paid for and read their book of choice, give any thought to posting a review for a book they enjoyed?
Like any product on Amazon, more reviews means a brighter spotlight.
In the case of a good book, a brighter spotlight means the author (of the book you just enjoyed) is more likely to produce additional good books.
Which is what we all want, right?
Without the marketing power of a traditional publishing house, the burden falls on the author to promote his or her own work.
And the biggest promotional tool available? The Amazon review system.
Even better, the average review takes 60 seconds or less to complete. Don’t believe me? Check this super-fast tutorial.
There’s even a handy tool to help readers decide how many stars to give.
It’s simple, really.
If readers want good books, it benefits them directly to leave honest reviews for what they read.
Otherwise, the market will continue to be invaded with sub-par, poorly-edited clutter.
…which no one will be able to distinguish from genuine, well-written books.
I’m a reader, too. And as a reader, I’m heading to Amazon to leave an honest review for every book I can remember reading.
And I’m doing it today.
I urge you to do the same, fellow book-lovers.
Get in there. Click a few stars. And move on with your lives.
J Edward Neill