Amazon Reader Reviews

apricot_tree sent me a link to Anne Allen’s 12 Things Everybody and His Grandmother Needs to Know about Amazon Reader Reviews, asking if I had Opinions.

As is often the case, the question isn’t whether I have Opinions. The question is whether you’ll be able to get me to shut up about them. My first Opinion is that sometimes it’s okay to use “They/Their” as gender-neutral pronouns. (Which, knowing my readership, should be enough to spawn a passionate 200-comment grammar-war all by itself…)

As for the blog post, it opens by describing Jeff Bezos (King of Amazon) as “author-friendly,” and claims that most authors are dependent on for 90% of our income. (This claim apparently comes from The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing, but no direct link is provided, and I couldn’t find it on the site.) Color me skeptical.

That said, Allen provides some good basic information on Amazon feedback, explaining reviews and tags and “Likes.” I agree with some of her points, such as telling reviewers to review the content of the book. (As opposed to giving a book you’ve never read one star because you don’t like the price, or you’re boycotting the publisher, or whatever.)

But a few lines in her post jumped out at me, like:

“Don’t get your … snark on if you want to stay friends with the author.”

Raise your hand if you see the implicit assumption in that line. It’s an assumption that returns a short time later. 

“Positively reviewing an author’s book pays back in tons of good will. Review a friend’s book now, and when yours comes out, she’s a lot more likely to review yours. And even if you don’t write, writing positive reviews is the nicest thing you can do for your favorite authors.”

So, reasons to review books include:

  1. You’re friends with the author.
  2. You hope maybe they’ll review your books!
  3. You want to be nice.

Huh. I always thought you should review books because you wanted to share your thoughts about the books…

Most writers recognize that word-of-mouth is one of the most important factors in a book’s success, and Amazon has worked hard to allow customers to share opinions online. So I understand an author’s desire to increase Amazon reader activity.

Heck, I’d love it if you all ran out to review and tag my books. And hey, by encouraging you to do that, I can increase word-of-mouth about my stuff, which will increase sales, meaning I FINALLY HAVE DIRECT, IMMEDIATE CONTROL OF HOW WELL MY BOOK SELLS!

Or not. But I think that’s the underlying drive for a lot of what I’m seeing. I’m on one author e-mail list that spent several weeks on a “Like & Tag Drive,” encouraging authors to tag and like each other’s stuff. Had they actually read everyone’s stuff? Of course not, but who cares, right?

Maybe this actually sells books, but mostly what I see are incestuous circles of authors buying and reviewing each other. Meanwhile, popular and bestselling books continue to generate far more reviews and tags … because people genuinely like those books. Not because the authors are out spamming for reviews.

So here are a few of my thoughts on Amazon reviewing.

1. Tagging, liking, reviewing, blogging, and telling others about a book is very much appreciated. However, the reader is under no obligation to do any of those things.

2. I’m not aware of any solid data showing that the number of reviews/tags on Amazon has a significant impact on sales. (If such data exists, please let me know.)

3. Asking your fans to promote your work can become obnoxious. Like any other form of advertising, I suspect you’re going to annoy fans if you push too hard.

4. Negative reviews aren’t the end of the world. Allen says, “Giving 1 or 2 stars to a book that doesn’t have many reviews is taking money out of the author’s pocket.” Hello, little guilt trip. Even if this was true, so what? A reviewer’s job is not to support the author; a reviewer’s job is to review the damn book. Please don’t lose your shit because someone gave you two stars. And please don’t be the guy who says “I need people to post reviews of my book. Remember, five stars only!” (I wish I was making this up.)

5. Don’t review your own stuff. It’s tacky. Just don’t.

6, Finally, a review should be written for readers, not for the author. Your job as a reader isn’t to REVIEW ALL THE BOOKS because we guilted you into it and my children will starve if you don’t give me five stars. My job as the author is to write a KICK-ASS BOOK that makes you want to run out and tell all those other readers how awesome it was.