John Locke made an interesting observation in his book on epublishing. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, that a bad review only really means someone outside your target audience has read your book. Of course he also said it with the understanding that the book you wrote wasn't a steaming turd.
It wasn't very long after reading those words that I created a free giveaway for my supernatural thriller MALICE and received a negative review that went something like this: "I gave this book two stars mostly because I don't like horror." It was one of my first such reviews (I was even wetter behind the ears back then if you can believe it) and frankly, I was floored. I mean, it was tantamount to saying: "I gave this Fettuccine Alfredo two stars mostly because I hate pasta." But then Locke's words started echoing in my ears and a lightbulb went off. If they don't like the genre or subject matter, how can you ever expect to get a favourable review?
Now, I've noticed that bad reviews on Amazon in general seem to be on the rise, particularly after the most recent holiday season. At first I wasn't quite sure what was causing it. Why were readers getting crankier? Then I was struck with another epiphany.
Around the holidays KDP Select was just building steam and it wasn't long after that most of the poor reviews began to appear. No doubt, there's a double edge to giving away your book to thousands of people for free and both sides of it are no less sharp. One the one hand truckloads of free copies can help spread the word about a book that would otherwise wilt and fade into obscurity.
Another possible benefit is a temporary boost in sales (my own results have ranged from no perceptible boost to staying on the bestseller list for a month and a half after the promotion). But as far as reviews are concerned, this is where that other side of the sharpened blade comes in. People are snatching up free books they would normally never have paid a cent for. People seem to load up on free books even when it's not in their preferred genre. They sample widely (readers taking chances on new authors can be a good thing as I mentioned above), but for an author with a fairly narrow audience, that can also mean real problems. If anyone else has any thoughts or experiences on the connection between free giveaways and reviews I'd love to get your take.