And then there’s the matter of sheer volume of published titles. The tsunami of self-pubbed authors has totally changed the environement. I know what I’m talking about, some of my books, like the earlier ones I published are buried under one million books or more! Literally buried under and forgotten. That’s because Amazon publishes everyone’s ranking. I’ve complained about this before and done so publicly on this blog only to get comments from indies like “Oh, but nobody pays attention to ranking”. That may have been true once but it no longer is. Readers are savvy and they’ve learned how to navigate Amazon’s Kindle Store. Readers do look at rankings, I’m convinced of it. And the theory that “quality books rise to the top like cream” is a non-starter. How can they rise if readers before buying glance at the ranking and decide it’s not worth buying because the book is sitting down there at the bottom of the ocean of published books?
In other words, the Amazon environment has become toxic. Even Kobo, the latest one on the Big Boys scene, also exhibits rankings. BIG mistake. Rankings should be reserved for the top 100 selling titles, maybe the top 1000 but no more! Then, and only then, if your book is good, you might have a fighting chance to rise with good reviews…
If you still have doubts, take a look at the ranking of books that you know for a fact are good. I’ll do it here with just one book as an example, but do take time to navigate the Kindle Store and you will see. The example I want to use here is Amelie Nothomb’s “Fear and Trembling” (see here). Now this is easily a masterpiece of French literature, one of the best books published in the last 15 years. She’s a huge success with young adults, hardly your dowdy old writer. And it is probably the best book she ever wrote, lively, fun, suspenseful, not at all a high-brow literary bore. Yet, in the Kindle Store she is sitting at a ranking around the 300,000th range and has only 46 reviews!! This says a lot about the Amazon environment…
Speaking of reviews…What is truly missing is a gatekeeper system to keep out poorly edited books and help readers find quality reads. Amazon regularly makes efforts to improve its customer review system and sweeps out reviews that are deemed misleading (the famous “sockpuppet” reviews). Unfortunately, when Amazon does that, it creates a lot of discontent among writers and doesn’t really solve the problem.
Perhaps what Amazon should do is set up a two-tier system, with customer reviews and expert critiques.
Most customer reviews are not professional in the sense that they are not comprehensive reviews touching on all aspects of a book (i.e. character development, plot structure, POVs and writing techniques etc).
They are merely opinions written by readers.
Don’t misunderstand me. That is how it should be: a customer has a right to voice his/her likes and dislikes and we authors are very happy when they do, we love to be in touch with our readers! That’s one of the best things about the digital revolution: it has given us, writers, the possibility to be close to our readers and that’s wonderful. But a customer review is not the same as a professional critique, fully structured and substantiated by evidence and references to literary criteria.
This suggests that there is space for two different types of reviews, the customer reviews and the literary critiques. And perhaps an online website linked to Amazon should collect all those critiques and list them for each title…It could be a start towards a system to guide readers to the better reads and finally allow the “cream to rise to the top”.
Any other ideas?
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