Friday, 27 April 2012

WTH Amazon? Laura Harner speaks

I asked Laura Harner for a post, any subject. I can see why she wrote this one.

Over to you Laura.

Ty Hard has been the little book that could. Released in July 2011, Ty quickly went…nowhere. I wasn’t surprised nor particularly worried. After all, I was a new, self-published author, and this was my first MM romance. I expected a few people would find it and hopefully, be entertained enough to recommend the book to others.
Then the Bear, Tom Webb, reviewed it and people started to notice. After a mere five months (LOL), Ty made an appearance on the Amazon Gay Best Seller Lists.  Dawn Roberto reviewed it and Ty sort of just moved in and stayed there on the lists. Ty Hard even made a couple of “Best Gay Fiction of 2011” end of year lists and was nominated for Best Cover and Best Book at the LRC Loop. I cherish each and every one of these honors.
All books have a life cycle. A period of time when the book, the market and the reader all come together and result in that magic moment…the time when distribution of a title is at its maximum. That time has come and gone for Ty Hard, and I enjoyed every minute of the ride.
This has been such a pleasant experience, that it is a shame it’s coming to a close on such a sour note for me.
I noticed a few days ago that sales for Ty Hard had dropped. Not the slowing that has been occurring as part of the natural life cycle of a title, but a sudden and near complete stop. With a little investigation I found something that may have some bearing on sales…and is a great example of biting the hand that feeds you.
I’m not the type of author who complains about reader reviews. I believe every reader should be free to post his or her opinion without author interference. So believe me when I tell you…this is NOT about a review. However this IS about how Amazon has highlighted a review.
Currently, when you shop for a book at Amazon, if you scroll down the page there is a Customer Reviews section. You will find a chart showing how many “Stars” reviewers gave the book. To the far right, there is a section that displays the most recent reviews. Below the chart are the Highlighted Reviews…those are the reviews with the most “helpful” ratings. In other words, the reviews other readers said helped them with their purchasing decision.
Recently, the Community branch at Amazon started testing a new feature on selected titles. The idea is to extract single phrases from three reviews and display them next to the Ratings Chart in an italicized font. The reader can see at a glance the ratings and these snippets without reading through all the reviews.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that despite solid sales and a couple of glowing reviews from bloggers, Ty only has six ratings at Amazon. Two five-star, one four-star, two three-star, and one two-star. Not very impressive for a book that has sold thousands of copies…but not awful, either. There are some lovely comments in all of them, including several readers mentioning they would buy another book in the series.
That is what makes this whole thing so inexplicable. Presumably someone wrote a program to scan reviews and extract certain phrases…and again, one would assume those phrases would be intended to entice a reader to purchase a book. After all, both Amazon and the author benefit from sales.

If you’ve stayed with me this far…brace yourself because this next bit isn’t pretty. The three highlighted, italicized, and prominently displayed excerpts from my reader reviews:

Thank you very much. Is it any wonder sales have stopped?

Laura Harner can be found at her blog, One Hot Mess

Ty Hard Blurb:

Tyler has used Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as a shield against the truth since he was seventeen. Cut loose from his Navy career and mourning his mentor’s death, Ty must come to terms with his desire for another man, even while he fights to keep his PTSD from pulling him under. Rancher Cass Cartwright’s relationships never last more than a few hours, and that’s just the way he likes it. Now he's done the one thing he swore never to do: fallen in love. Can Cass convince Ty to let go of his past or will sabotage at the ranch kill their love before it has a chance to grow?


  1. Laura, have you written to Amazon about this? I have couple that read goofy but this is really terrible. I'm so sorry. I hope you are pursuing it.

  2. Unbelievable. And that is why I do not rely on reviews to sway me to buy or not buy a book. Well, except for maybe Tom's. LOL. My TBR and ToBuy piles have grown quite alot based on his reviews.

    BTW...I bought & read Ty Hard back in December, and loved it.

    I agree with Margie's comment above. I hope that you let Amazon know.

    1. Thanks Sharon...they've heard from me a few times, lol. And again, kudos to the Author Central Team. They are working with me, but as with any large bureaucracy...there are challenges.

  3. I have, Margie. The truly helpful folks at Author Central were appalled. They had no idea about this new "Select Quote" feature.
    I learned yesterday that different people see different displays. Some see quotes, some don't, some have a "Helpful" vote feature ate the bottom of each view doesn't.

    I use beta testing all the time in building e-courses. I told Amazon that it is useless to beta test without a mechanism to receive feedback. The team lead at Author Central said she agreed...but the only way she had of communicating with the Community Branch was via email.

    She suggested first that I "Report the review" which I won't do, because there is nothing in the review itself that's reportable. The reader had an opinion, and I've got no problem with it.

    She also suggested those of us affected should ask our fellow writers to go into the feedback section at the bottom of the book catalog page and complain about the selected quotes.

    She didn't know if the quotes would change as new reviews were posted, but I discovered last night that they sometimes do and sometimes don't. So once again, a magic formula designed to keep the left and right hands as far apart as possible.

    It's a dumb marketing decision. This probably sped Ty Hard from the list a hundred copies early, no big deal in the overall scheme of my sales. What bothers me, is as an indie, Author Central is my link to Amazon. I can call them and they take care of my problem. They WANT me to sell books. When I called about this stupid marketing beta test, they hadn't been told about it. They were nearly as unhappy as I was, yet there wasn't much anyone at AC could do.

    It's why I'm pushing this so hard. Amazon is my fishbowl. I am VERY happy with my sales there - it's my primary source of income. I want to do everything in my power to make sure that all the marketing tools in the arsenal work for them and for me. This one isn't working and I am frustrated by my lack of ability to give them meaningful feedback.

    Believe me, I might be venting because of this issue, but I am NOT unhappy with Amazon-personally, I am grateful every day for the opportunity they've given me...

    Thanks for the good wishes!

  4. That is so odd and really, really frustrating. I hope you are able to resolve this with Amazon, as it has an impact on ALL authors.

    But as for Ty Hard. You, Laura, and Ty have been an inspiration to me as a self-pubbed author to venture out there, to try it. Proof that it IS possible. And I admire you and am so proud of you!

    1. Thanks, Vastine. We are all trailblazers along the indie publishing path. We'll get it figured out.

  5. Oh jeez, this is terrible! Wow. Almost as if they don't want to sell books anymore...