Episode 64 – Taylor Swift, Weighted Reviews, and Gaming the System

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Question of the Week: Will you research how to improve your Amazon review rating once the new formula is put in place? If so, how much time will you spend and why?

In one of their best shows yet, Jim and Bryan went deep on the most pressing issues of the week. After Bryan discussed the success of his Best Page Forward service, Jim announced his new Authorpreneur podcast (available at http://authorpreneur.fm). The diabolical duo then took on three tips about assetless pre-orders, daily writing habits, and the CrystalKnows email program. News stories included a check-in on the Tess Gerritsen Gravity case, Taylor Swift’s shaming of Apple Music, Germany’s new erotic ebook law, speculation on the size of self-publishing, the ills of gaming the system, and Amazon’s new review formula. The Question of the Week: Will you research how to improve your Amazon review rating once the new formula is put in place? If so, how much time will you spend and why?
What You’ll Learn: 
  • How Bryan’s Best Page Forward service has done so far
  • What Jim is now podcasting about in a new show
  • How to create pre-orders without a book
  • Joanna Penn’s philosophy on writing every day
  • How a new program can make your emails more empathic
  • The latest on the Tess Gerritsen Gravity case
  • How Taylor Swift fought for indie musicians
  • Why you can’t buy an erotica book in Germany before 10 p.m.
  • The possible size of the self-publishing industry
  • What you should do instead of gaming the system
  • How Amazon’s new review system may impact you

Question of the Week: Will you research how to improve your Amazon review rating once the new formula is put in place? If so, how much time will you spend and why?

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  • Crissy Moss

    I’d rather just try to get reviews like normal. Gaming the system would take too much time.

    • Bryan


  • Life’s too short and so is my writing time to worry about how Amazon will organize or rate my reviews. Not something I really have control of anyway. I’d rather set aside some time trying to GET more reviews. Still struggling with that. 😉

    • Bryan

      I hear ya there. Reviews are a challenge!

  • Raphyel M. Jordan

    Absolutely not. As Rusch pointed out, such “gaming systems” tend to be short lived, thus one will end up panicking once the “quick and easy way” no longer works.

    We need to dig deep, endure, press on with writing great books, and creating a highly effective AND flexible funnel that can always cater to our audience’s constant evolving needs.

    • Bryan

      Yes! Time to dig deep! Thanks, Raphyel.

  • Nope. I won’t waste any time thinking about how to game the review system in the same way that I would never pay for a review, post a fake review or swap reviews. Maintaining integrity is vital – once it’s gone, it’s gone.

    • Bryan

      Ain’t that the truth. Thanks, Mikey.

  • Gregory Lynn

    I’m guessing that there is no system Amazon will ever put in place that doesn’t reward publishing good books that are well edited with good formatting, so no, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the details.

    Also, Google Plus is not remotely defunct in any way, shape, or form.

    • Bryan

      Good stuff, Gregory. Yeah, I think Jim has a beef with G+ with all the bashing he does :).

  • Better to just write well and get good, honest reviews. What if you game it and things change, leaving you a ton of reviews dragging you down.

    BTW, how would you game this system, anyway? Encourage readers to click the helpful buttons more?

    If regular (and new) reviews end up bumping you higher in their rankings and search algorithms, then I might keep reminding readers that my older books can always use more reviews, too.

    • Bryan

      I think it’s never a bad idea to spruce up your old stuff, Roland. For sure.

  • TheCreativePenn

    Hi guys – just a comment on you mentioning that big name trad pub authors aren’t doing much for the rest of us … check out the Fair Contract Initiative by the Author’s Guild https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/the-authors-guild-fair-contract-initiative-a-preview/
    Big name authors ARE clubbing together to help with this – these types of very detailed analysis and campaigning will make things better for many and raise awareness of unfairness with publishing industry. Hopefully this is just the start …

    • Bryan

      Well, it’s about darn time :). Took a little indie blood in the mix to push ’em over the edge, as I understand it! 😉

  • Chris Syme

    Here’s a link to info on the author that sued Warner Brothers over the Matrix story: http://urbanintellectuals.com/2013/04/30/debunked-sophia-stewart-vs-the-matrix-story-still-circulates-web/

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Chris! Thought I posted my thanks, but it seems to have disappeared :).

  • L. R. Dennis

    You’re talking about “gaming the system,” which sounds like cheating. I disagree, in some ways.

    There will never be a time when astute, businesslike writers will fail to communicate to their readers, especially their best fans, how they can help. Doesn’t everyone end books with a CTA? Visit my site, join my mailing list, leave a review… Readers, some of them, will do those things. And if readers know that voting up some reviews is helpful, then those readers will do it. How is this different from all those emails we get exhorting us to vote up this or that entry in this or that writing contest? BTW, I NEVER vote in those “contests.” I think it’s just a way for the contest host to harvest email addresses from the unwary.

    As for the short stories and such–as a writer who is most comfortable in the 15-25k range, I hate to see KUwhateveritis be altered again. It’s hard to plan ahead when the playing field keeps tilting this way and that way, and then shaking all over like a wet dog. The new system seems fairer, and I’ll be okay with it because I was never chopping real books into “serials,” and was never part of the KUwhateveritis anyway. I’ve got a constitutional dislike for exclusivity, so I’ll never sign up for anything called “limited” or–egads–“select.”

    Buying reviews and sock puppets will always be cheating.

    • Bryan

      Great point, L.R. There’s knowing the system and understanding what must be done, and then there’s actively cheating the system. Good distinctions to make.

  • To answer the questions of the week. Not really. During book launches, I’ll educate readers on the latest Amazon expectations, but or the next 3-5 years I’m going to be writing as much as possible. I’m still working on market penetration. Worrying about how to manage your reviews sounds like a good problem to have. 🙂

    As for the Gravity lawsuit, you guys should listen to the Scriptnotes podcast, episode 183 (follow up ep 203). Scriptnotes is with John August (screenwriter of most of Tim Burton films) and Craig Mazin (screenwriter of Hangover movies). They discuss this in depth about the difference between what is a similar story vs. what will survive a legal challenge. It’s a great podcast, worth the listen.

    • Bryan

      Very interesting. I should check that one out. With all my spare time. WHAT?! 🙂

  • Thomas Diehl

    As a German, I feel somewhat qualified in talking about the German thing: This is basically an accident in legislation. The law is older than ebooks and was originally intended to regulate tv screening times. Those are called telemedia in German legalese. Unfortunately, the definition of telemedia can be read to include ebooks (media delivered electronically to be viewed on a screen) and this is what happened here. Remember, when the law was passed, the internet did not exist yet, not to mention ebooks, so this made sense. This is the first time someone seriously went and tried to apply that law to non-video media.
    Luckily, this can probably be circumvented by applying age verification systems most e-retailers (including Amazon) already use for adult video content, anyway.

    However, as of yet info on this whole thing is very vague and the story was originally broken by Boersenverein, a lobby organisation for brick-and-mortar book shops and legacy publishing. So it’s entirely possible nothing of it is actually true.

    Oh and yes, we only have one timezone. We’re about the size of New York state (though four times the population of NY).

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Thomas. I knew we needed a German on the inside to let us know the truth. Glad Jim didn’t say anything Germanly offensive :).

  • RachelMedhurst

    I may do a little bit of research to make sure I’m doing all I can. However, I will spend more time in making sure my books are the best they can be. In fact, I’ve just improved an older book by going over it again. Time spent writing/re-writing great books will help you to get good positive reviews, so hopefully in the long run, there won’t be a need to improve because your rating will organically be good.

    • Bryan


  • Before you make Acme Pictchforks any more money, you should listen to the awesome breakdown Scriptnotes podcast did of the Gravity lawsuit.

    Episode 183- (archived, but likely still on the iTunes feed)
    Episode 203- http://johnaugust.com/2015/nobody-eats-four-marshmallows

    Not that you shouldn’t be listening to Scriptnotes anyways, as it’s an awesome writer’s podcast period!

    Keep up the great work guys!

    • Bryan

      But I got my Pitchfork on sale! Thanks, Robyn :).

  • I will spend so little time on researching how to improve my Amazon review rating once it is in place that I am already done… I’ve got 2 sequel novels to finish and then a trilogy to launch!

    • Bryan

      Haha, nice, M.

  • Edwin Downward

    Your gaming the system discussion didn’t get to the #1 issue I have heard about. Short books and the 10% read limit for payment on KU allowed the creation of drivel that didn’t become throw away until the 10% point had been passed. I’ve even heard of books filled with expanded front matter that went 10% before the book even began.

    I have no problem with people writing to the system if their desire is to craft material that meets the readers needs.

    • Bryan

      Agreed. Some folks were putting out crap. Thanks, Edwin.