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 Amazon.com 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:
- You’re friends with the author.
- You hope maybe they’ll review your books!
- 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.
November 28, 2011 @ 9:51 am
I’m not really a fan of writing online reviews. Between astroturfing negating the meaning and sites with difficult systems for reviewing and the general drama, I find it much more fun to talk to friends individually about books.
November 28, 2011 @ 10:26 am
Not only “What Jim said” about honest reviews, but HELL YA WHAT JIM SAID.
Because if I snooker you into buying a book you’ll hate by fake reviews, bullcrap sales, or astroturf, then you won’t trust my recommendations *ever* again. Hell, you won’t buy my *books* (whether as author or small publisher) ever again either.
Short-run gain, long-term destruction.
[I will say that AMZ does seem to be the powerhouse for my independent sales, but I agree with you on “their”, so it all balances out…]
Jim C. Hines
November 28, 2011 @ 10:31 am
I feel the same way about blurbs. I’ve run across authors who will happily make up a blurb for anything, regardless of whether they’ve read it. But if I do that, aside from being dishonest, I’m breaking that trust readers have given me.
I do think Amazon will have a much larger proportion of self-published/independent book sales, due to the nature of e-books and such. For a book available only in e-book format, I could see that 90% being correct…
November 28, 2011 @ 11:04 am
Heck, these debates make me question what “word of mouth” actually means–I thought it was that I knew the mouths rather than looking for reviews or blurbs (what in the old days were generated by the industry–not always pro-author, but someone whose job was criticism). So I’d be one of those whose purchasing decisions aren’t affected by three pages of Amazon comments, five stars or otherwise.
And authors who give their own books five stars? Um, riiiight. There’s the deciding factor. (And are you sure? Maybe your early work is actually four stars . . . 😉 )
November 28, 2011 @ 11:41 am
The thing that twigs me out about that post is how techniques are being discussed that need to be careful of violating Amazon’s review policies. If you have to think carefully about how not to do that… you’re doing it way wrong.
I have a strong feeling that I should never ever review the work of an author who claims they only want good reviews. You know what’s worse than a 1-star review of a book? A book that’s gone on for years with no reviews.
November 28, 2011 @ 11:50 am
Hallelujah. Reviews are meant to help readers find the books they’ll enjoy. If an author wants to read them and try to learn from them, that’s great, but reviews are not simply free PR. Nor are they ego-fluff pieces. There’s a reason we got into the whole shebang where reviewers are now required to say that they received a review copy (or whatever other compensation, relationship to the author, etc. that might bias their review), and that’s because consumers *cannot trust* a review that’s written for any reason other than helping a buyer to make a decision. Or at least, not without knowing that the reviewer got something out of it.
The more authors assert that it is somehow their ‘right’ to get a positive review out of giving someone a review copy (it happens more often than you’d probably believe), the more they give validity to the idea that people who get any sort of compensation for a review—even just the free book to review it—cannot be trusted. And certainly if an author encourages their fans to do *anything* other than post honest reviews, they are contributing to the lack of trustworthiness of the whole review system, and when that happens, people will stop trusting the reviews they read.
Negative reviews absolutely are not the end of the world, and more authors need to realize this. I’ve slammed books only to have folks come along, read my reviews, and say, “it sounds like something I’d enjoy, so I’ll pick it up.” I’m perfectly fine with that—my job as a reviewer is NOT to convince someone to buy or not buy a book. It is to provide enough information to allow a reader to figure out whether the book will likely suit his or her needs.
After all, there’s no such thing as an objectively perfect or terrible book. Different people enjoy different things. A book I think is terrific might bore someone else. A book someone else thought was exciting might make me cringe at the stereotypes. What matters isn’t whether the reviewer says the book is great, but whether they include enough information to help other people make their own decisions. It might help a single book’s sales to ‘trick’ someone into buying a book they won’t enjoy through positive reviews of dubious merit, but it won’t help your career in the long run—people who feel they were misled into buying a lousy book are far more likely to loudly tell others to avoid your books. You’re much better off hoping that the reviews you get help the *right* readers to pick up your books.
November 28, 2011 @ 12:24 pm
Heather wrote: “Reviews are meant to help readers find the books they’ll enjoy.”.
True, under an old world paradigm which works for print magazines and the occasional radio show, but not under the new paradigm of da internets.
Reviews now have nothing whatsoever to do with recommending or describing and everything to do with increasing the reviewer’s cred.
Note that carefully: reviews (online/facebook/amazon) are NOT about the book being reviewed, they are about the review writer.
Write a scathing put-down that other people quote – the reviewer wins. Write a good piece endorsed by the author – the reviewer wins. Get other people to plus or like your snark? You win. Get people to attack you for your unreasonable take on a book? YOU win.
It has nothing to do with the author or the work.
November 28, 2011 @ 12:38 pm
That’s your take on it, and is assuredly true for some reviewers. I don’t review that way, nor do many people I know. I enjoy being able to tell an author that I like their work, but I won’t lie and say it if it isn’t true. I don’t like coming down hard on a book I disliked, but that won’t stop me from being honest about how I feel. I dislike (and do my best to ignore) attacks when folks don’t agree with me, but it’s a consequence of writing in public that I accept (just like when writers publish—i.e. put their work out in public—they have to accept that people can say negative things about that work). Do I want more web hits? Sure, but I’m not going to manufacture controversy or be as mean as possible in order to get them. Your words are only true for those reviewers who operate in that particular manner; many don’t.
November 28, 2011 @ 12:50 pm
Yeah, let me throw an addendum out here for all relatively new authors and/or soon-to-be-published authors. I don’t know if I can say this with 100% confidence, but probably with 99% confidence: Marketing to fellow writers is a waste of time.
Yeah, writers are readers, yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. And we all have our favorite authors of people we actually know if we hang out in the bar at cons, etc. But this is not a great use of your marketing efforts. Note what mongo bestselling author Janet Evanovich said once: I market to people who watch TV – there’s more of them.
November 28, 2011 @ 12:59 pm
Absolutely this. Not only is it a waste of time but it locks you into an insular web of obligations and favours that can suck your writing time out of you AND alienate readers. The more of your “social” time you spend exchanging compliments with other writers, the less time you have to make yourself available and appealing to readers.
I have noticed that the most “pay out” from recommendations of my work has been as a result of recommendations by writers and editors who do not, as a matter of course, recommend things. Their readers know this and so “I wish I’d written this book!” has meaning beyond the usual noise.
November 28, 2011 @ 1:36 pm
my commentary was not directed at you personally; it was a general take on what most people are doing – and have been since the advent of online ratings.
Yes, there are plenty of people who write reviews the old fashioned way and they ought to continue to do so, but “review” has been co-opted by the internet generation and turned into something entirely different – the activity I described in my original post.
Jim C. Hines
November 28, 2011 @ 1:37 pm
Steve – what is your basis for claiming that “most people” do this, please?
November 28, 2011 @ 2:15 pm
That’s been my experience, at least. Of course, with the article below coming out, that makes me even more worried.
November 28, 2011 @ 3:49 pm
I only review books that I loved or hated. A friend recently asked me to review her self-pubbed mystery. I couldn’t get through the novel, and explained to her A) why I couldn’t, and B) that I wouldn’t review it. She seemed grateful that I didn’t post a review.
November 28, 2011 @ 11:08 pm
Jim, I have to agree with the reviewer who said that your books would be better if you put wolves on the “guns.” Maybe the wolves could glow in the dark too… and why only three wolves? Is there something inherently magical about three wolves and a moon? Does a three wolf moon trump ten kittens? The debate rages on.
Some people read and write reviews because it’s amusing. If you sell something on Amazon, your product may receive reviews that were created for the entertainment of the reviewer. I think that’s what Steve was trying to say. But is it a bad thing? I’m sure ‘The Mountain’ t-shirt company doesn’t think so.
So what if someone writes a snarky review of your work? At least it’s a review. I will confess to buying several “3 Wolf Moon” shirts for my relatives as gifts. Without fail, everyone has loved them. I wouldn’t have bought the t-shirts if I hadn’t read the snarky reviews.
November 29, 2011 @ 6:23 am
^_^ I agree with this post.
I love reviews and it’s one of the things I love most about my nook. Before I purchase the book, the reviews are right there in one tab. Obviously I take the reviews with a grain of salt but I can usually tell which ones actually took time to mean what they say. Either way it’s a good method to see if I might care or maybe not enough. There are some books I’ve bought on my nook I wish I read the reviews a little more carefully.
And negative reviews are harsh and I hate HATE giving them to authors but you know what I feel that it’s just part of the business. How can an author know their trouble areas unless a reader tells them. Lieing and saying “oh it was great” doesn’t benefit anyone (unless it’s the truth). I learn more from my own friends’ negative reviews more than I do from their good. As long as they are just not trolling (and it’s easy to tell the difference) their criticism is always valuable.
November 29, 2011 @ 7:46 am
I should add that authors should beware of taking actions that could lead to their fans going in numbers to down-vote any negative reviews unless the reviewer was VERY obviously trolling. It’s pretty obvious when each negative review of a book mysteriously has a rash of down-votes no matter how well-thought-out it is. Without some direction from the author (even if it’s just mentioning the ‘nasty’ reviews to their fans), this doesn’t tend to happen nearly as much. So when it does happen, it makes the author look like a child having a temper tantrum, sending his friends to beat up on the big ol’ mean reviewer. That can backfire. Take the high road and ignore your bad reviews if they bother you that much. Remember that any time you so much as mention your negative reviews to your fans with any amount of rancor at all, some of them *will* rush off to defend your honor, and it won’t make you look good.
November 29, 2011 @ 1:06 pm
Whatever happened to the writerly concept of, “If I’m not pissing at least one person off, I’m not doing my job”? What do we need to do? A “Free the Snark” campaign?
And, of course, Jim, I’ve loved everything you’ve ever written (even the stuff in high school that you didn’t think anyone had access to). Oops, I left a little “fawning” on your shoes there. Sorry about that.
Sigh, well I guess this advice is better than the, “We hates them” campaigns to write negative reviews of someone’s work for no other reason than they took the last chocolate chip cookie from the Green Room at the last Con.
November 29, 2011 @ 1:08 pm
let me clarify, “this advice” is not Jim’s advice, but the advice Jim is commenting on (just in case the snark jumped the shark there).
Also, yeah, I really do like Jim’s stories. But my tastes are questionable.
Jim C. Hines
November 29, 2011 @ 1:35 pm
Eep! I thought I had destroyed or locked away all of that stuff from high school and junior high. (Seriously!)
As for the hate campaign, this should instead be directed to the convention, as every con should make sure their green room is fully stocked in chocolate chip cookies! Otherwise, I will storm out in SUCH A HUFF!!!
Jim C. Hines
November 29, 2011 @ 1:36 pm
What this world needs is a three-goblin shirt!
November 29, 2011 @ 3:28 pm
:: points ::
November 29, 2011 @ 5:57 pm
Very much enjoyed this post, as well as the one it referenced.
As a reader, I love reading the Amazon reviews–the good and the bad. I didn’t realize a 3-star review was such a bad thing. Looking at it on the bell curve, it’s a solid, middle of the range “score.” For me, four stars mean a book was outstanding, five mean it was almost life-changing, or certainly memorable in the long-term. But, since everyone has different criteria, I try to spell that out when I post.
While it’s true that I might be a bit hesitant to buy a book with an 2-star average review, I’d have no qualms buying a 3-star book depending on what the reviews actually said. Heck, I’m perverse enough to buy a book *because* of a bad review just to see what it was all about, especially if the negative review was a thoughtful one.
That said, most of the reviews I have posted tend to be on the higher end of the scale. Posting a well-thought-out review takes time and I’m just not going to put the effort into an OK/pretty good or horrible book (well, I have been moved to post a couple of somewhat negative reviews but I’m a marshmallow and don’t really like doing it).
I guess what I take from all this as a reader is that I probably should take the time/effort to post more reviews, not only to support books/authors I have enjoyed but as a service to other readers (who are surely dying to read my pearls of wisdom).
November 29, 2011 @ 6:01 pm
Oh, and BTW, I’d absolutely buy a 3-goblin t-shirt.