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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:

  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.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 70 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 28th, 2011 02:44 pm (UTC)
My first Opinion is that sometimes it’s okay to use “They/Their” as gender-neutral pronouns.

The National Council of Teachers of English endorsed the use of the singular "they" in reference to indefinite antecedents over two decades ago. I know this because I wrote a paper on it in grad school in 1992, and it was well-established then. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go feel old now.
Nov. 28th, 2011 03:00 pm (UTC)
So noted, thanks! (I'm rewriting my department's style guide, so this may come in handy.)
(no subject) - rosencrantz23 - Nov. 28th, 2011 08:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tenantofwildfel - Nov. 29th, 2011 01:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bigherman - Nov. 29th, 2011 02:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - icecreamempress - Nov. 29th, 2011 07:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 28th, 2011 02:55 pm (UTC)
I've reviewed friends' books before, and being me, I usually mention something that didn't work for me. But if I pick up a friend's book and it's just not working at all, I usually just don't review that one.

There's also the fact that I rarely finish books I don't like anymore, and I don't feel right trying to review a book if I haven't read the whole thing.
Nov. 28th, 2011 02:50 pm (UTC)
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.

I always live on the assumption that most people want to be nice to others. I think it's what makes the world go round. Call me an optimist...
Nov. 28th, 2011 02:57 pm (UTC)
I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to be nice.
(no subject) - mrissa - Nov. 28th, 2011 03:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jennygadget - Nov. 28th, 2011 04:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 28th, 2011 02:53 pm (UTC)
I have to admit, I don't know anyone who chooses whether to buy a book based on Amazon reviews. Usually what brings them to that book's Amazon page in the first place is a recommendation by either someone whose opinion they value or a review somewhere else. And because Amazon book reviews have been pretty suspect for the past decade or so, what with hundreds of authors reviewing their own works under assumed names or getting their family/friends/loved ones to post glowing reviews, I and many others I know tend not to pay attention to them at all. In fact, the only time I give any weight to Amazon reviews is when I'm buying electronics, hardware, or clothing, because then the reviews actually tend to be helpful. I will also sometimes check out the reviews for bands I'm just discovering in order to determine which song or CD to listen to first. But really, that's it. To me, Amazon reviews of books at best mean nothing and at worst are suspect.
Nov. 28th, 2011 02:59 pm (UTC)
One question is whether Amazon uses the number of reviews or tags as part of their algorithms for their various "You might also like..." features.

I sometimes use the number of reviews as a gauge of how popular a work is, and if a book has 50 reviews, most of which are low-star reviews, I'd take that as a warning sign. I'll sometimes skim a few of them to see what people loved or hated about a book, too.

But I don't know how much the reviews actually influence overall buying behavior. I suspect the influence is nowhere near as strong as some folks believe...
(no subject) - apricot_tree - Nov. 28th, 2011 04:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - reedrover - Nov. 28th, 2011 05:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nick_kaufmann - Nov. 28th, 2011 05:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rowyn - Nov. 28th, 2011 06:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - misslynx - Nov. 28th, 2011 07:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Nov. 28th, 2011 07:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jennygadget - Nov. 28th, 2011 08:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Nov. 28th, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 28th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
I look at reviews (when reading for myself, rather than as a librarian, which is a totally different process inside my head) to see what people liked or didn't like, or thought comment-worthy about it.

I very rarely take the actual number of stars into account (except that 2, 3, and 4 stars are more likely to have both positive and negative commentary of interest than either 1 or 5 star ratings, which are often one or two sentences.)

I also don't need to agree with the comments: some of my favorite books for religious topics get a fair number of reviews saying, essentially "This book is too hard/complicated/deep." (things I consider a bonus, not a problem). So the data's useful, but I don't agree with the reviewer's rating.

(I also don't actually trust review comments from unknown sources for anything beyond 'worth looking into more', mind you - but they can be a useful quick waypoint.)
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 28th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
One thing I really like in a review is if the reviewer can step back and say "People who enjoy X and Y will probably like this book," regardless or whether the book matches his/her particular tastes.

As opposed to "I didn't like this book and therefore it BITES THE WAX TADPOLE AND NOBODY SHOULD EVER READ IT!!!"
(no subject) - 6_penny - Nov. 28th, 2011 08:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Nov. 28th, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 28th, 2011 03:20 pm (UTC)
Your comment about 'Word of Mouth' has just reminded me: My sister needs some of your books for Christmas...:-)
Nov. 28th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
Yes. Yes she does :-)
(no subject) - bookzombie - Nov. 28th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 28th, 2011 03:26 pm (UTC)
I generally only read Amazon reviews after I've already read the book... And then it's usually because I think they're funny.
Nov. 28th, 2011 03:38 pm (UTC)
I think readers are getting more savvy--I've seen more than one non-writer post things like "read the three star reviews, you have a better chance of getting the gist of what the book was about, rather than how close the reviewer is to the author."

While I don't completely buy this (three star reviews can be as idiosyncratic as any other) at least there is less likelihood of friend-squee rather than real review.
Nov. 28th, 2011 03:59 pm (UTC)
I've seen some of that too, with people talking about how the 3-4 star reviews are actually the most informative, and 5-star reviews just tell you how many friends the author has. Which isn't always the case of course, but it's interesting to see that awareness out there.

I'll often read the one-star reviews to find out what about the book inspired such dislike and whether that hits any of my own buttons.
Nov. 28th, 2011 03:53 pm (UTC)
My pet peeve on Amazon reviews are the reviewers who forget they are writing the review for people who have not read the book. I've seen so many spoilers in reviews. I don't mind if you put a big warning in the start of your review that it contains a spoiler. Sometimes the spoiler is what made the book suck or be great.

Not posting spoilers also goes for the fourth book in a series just as much as the first. If I'm considering a series to start I will often glance through the reviews of a few books to see if the series is subject to series quality slide. I had one series that I had started without realizing was a series and I looked at the next few books to see if I wanted to read more (I was on the fence) and got majorly spoiled about the second book.
Nov. 28th, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
I wonder if it would be beneficial if Amazon implemented a spoiler hider the way GoodReads does...
(no subject) - misslynx - Nov. 28th, 2011 07:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 28th, 2011 04:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you for discussing this. I was really wondering if there was something I was missing on the viewpoint as I'm not an author myself. :)
Nov. 28th, 2011 04:10 pm (UTC)
A reviewer’s job is not to support the author; a reviewer’s job is to review the damn book.

Thank you! As a book reviewer, I've noticed that a lot of authors don't seem to understand this...
Nov. 28th, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
So true!

For a while I was reviewing books for an online magazine. Even though a number of the ones i got stuck with were self-published dreck, I tried to be kind while also discouraging anyone from seeking them out.

However, one book was utterly awful- for technical reasons, like not understanding the words he used (at one point he referred to HIS "vulva", not understanding that men don't have these- and was published by a real publishing company (why???). And I laid into that one, because I'd seen books from that publisher on the shelves in a bookstore.

And the author whinged mightily about how "unfair" I was, because I found his misuse of language damned funny and discussed that in my review. But- commercially published, so he did not get the velvet gloves that the horrible self-published ones got. I'd assumed he and his publisher were grown-ups.
Nov. 28th, 2011 04:49 pm (UTC)
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.)

Ye cats. Where does that person think e is, the Pit of Voles?
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 28th, 2011 11:57 pm (UTC)
Good point. I understand not wanting to retype the whole thing, but that's what copy-and-paste is for.

Not to mention that when I repost a review on Amazon or LibraryThing, I almost always want to edit it a bit -- on LJ, I feel free to go off on tangents or make points specifically aimed at a particular friend, which I don't want to do in a review for a more general audience.
Nov. 28th, 2011 05:45 pm (UTC)
I'm proud to say that most of the reviews I have on Amazon are by people I've never heard of. Ironically, it's my friends that scored me the lowest. I'm not sure if having other writers review your work is always a good thing btw - everyone always thinks they can do it better. :-)

Almost as annoying is the trend on Twitter to become an advertising medium for writers. Groups of writers conglomerate and push each other's books. Lately my Twitter feed looks like nothing more than one big Writer's Spam feed.

Edited at 2011-11-28 05:46 pm (UTC)
Nov. 28th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
I don't think that's limited to Twitter ... or at least I've seen the same thing in certain circles on Facebook, LJ, and elsewhere.
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Jim C. Hines


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