If you follow indie publishing even slightly, the chances are that you will have heard of the blog BigAl’s Books and Pals. Run by the blog’s namesake, it’s dedicated to reviewing indie authors that publish their books on Amazon’s Kindle. I would hazard a guess that if you only recently heard about BigAl, it was because of the recent Internet kerfuffle that occurred after a seemingly simple disagreement over a negative review, escalated into the indie-author’s equivalent of all-out global thermonuclear war. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google “bigal Greek seaman” and have a read.
The back and forth between BigAl and the author of The Greek Seaman drew a lot of attention to both the author’s book and BigAl. Judging by the number of 1-star rating’s The Greek Seaman now has on its Amazon page, I think it is safe to say that the author lost that particular scuffle. However, BigAl was suddenly thrust into the limelight and his site now seems to be the place to get your indie book reviewed.
But the battle that ensued between BigAl and the upset author is not the point of this blog entry. What I’m more interested in is the effect that a positive review from BigAl might have on an indie publication. Would it be beneficial? Would there be any noticeable increase in sales? I decided to try a little (mostly scientific) experiment to find out.
I subscribe to the Books And Pals Twitter feed, and this past Friday (May 20th) I spotted a review candidate that I thought was worth using as my test subject.
If you haven’t heard of William Vitka, he’s a talented writer and journalist with several well reviewed short-stories available to buy on Amazon’s site. I’m guessing he probably heard about BigAl the same way I did (namely the Greek Seaman review) and had submitted his latest short-story The Dangers of Field Work for review. Well, his story was accepted and it received 4 out of 5 stars. Not bad for a 2,000 word short.
I decided to monitor the sales of William’s story using the Amazon’s Best Seller ranking info available for every book Amazon sells. The info is updated hourly, and basically shows where the book ranks against the estimated 750,000 or so other ebooks available on Amazon’s site. I decided that I would not only monitor the review’s effect on The Danger of Field Work, but also watch whether there was any noticeable effect on William’s other two publications, The Boneyard and Bodily Harm.
These are the positions of each of William’s books when I first began monitoring their ranking around 8:00 am Friday:
The Danger’s of Field Work #140,915
The Boneyard #120,118
Bodily Harm #198,596
For the next 12 hours I monitored the ranking figures for each of his books. Each hour I dutifully reloaded the relevant pages and noted the sales ranking. Each book gradually lost position in ranking, which is normal (a book’s sales position is calculated using a whole host of variables that I won’t go into). At 4:00 pm each book had dropped to the following positions:
The Danger’s of Field Work #145,503
The Boneyard #124,774
Bodily Harm #200,993
But then, at 5:00 pm, something amazing happened — The Danger’s of Field Work had suddenly shot up to position 42,245; an increase of over 103,000 places on the sales ranking list. A seemingly incredible leap. Now, needless to say, I haven’t been monitoring William’s work other than for that one day, so I didn’t know whether this was the kind of thing that happened to him on a regular basis, but I was willing to make a bet that it was a direct result of BigAl’s review, because both of William’s other books continued their slow slide down the ranking’s.
The only way to confirm that the review had had any kind of an impact was to contact the author directly. I spoke with Will and showed him my carefully collected info, and he explained that the sudden spike was indeed due to his BigAl review, but it was the number of sales Will reported that took me by surprise. That massive leap from #145,503 to 42,245 place was the result of … drum roll please … one sale. That’s 1 with no zeros after it.
Will was quick to point out that he thought the problem was probably due to the fact that he was selling a 2,000 word story at the same price as other author’s choose to sell their novel’s, but still … 1 sale!
Whether the review will have any longterm impact on Will’s sales is unclear at the moment. After all, the canny author knows that publishing a book is a marathon not a sprint. Yet, one thing seems to be perfectly apparent – getting a positive review by a reputable and respected reviewer is going to have some impact on your career. How much? Well only time will tell. However, getting a negative review (especially if you decide to argue with the reviewer) can just as quickly put an end to it, too.
A final note: I’ve decided that I’ll try and conduct this little experiment again with the next full length novel that get’s reviewed over at BigAl. I’ll let you know as soon as a suitable candidate shows up.