Let’s talk about book reviews on Amazon.com.
I’ve published two novels, both of which have been reviewed around twenty times each on Amazon, and I’ll be the first to admit that most of those reviews were written by people I know. The reason I know this is because I asked them to write the reviews. In some cases I begged. The idea being that perhaps I could somehow influence the purchasing decision of the odd person who happened across one of my novels online.
Then again, any cogent book reader probably knows we authors do this. If your novel boasts twenty five-star reviews but checks in as Amazon’s 454,361st best-selling book, some of those reviews were probably written by your sister or your mother or friends who are also writers. So who knows how much this fakery really helps?
I just tallied the reviews of those two novels, removing the biased ones, and arrived at an average of 3.4 stars. Actually, that was the exact result for each book, so I’d say, even considering the small sample size, 3.4 out of 5 is a fairly accurate assessment of my novel-writing skill as of book #2. Which I realize isn’t quite passing. It’s a grade of 68 out of 100, and I can do better. In the intervening time, I have done better. At least I think I have. Most of my manuscript-reading friends also think so. But these are the same people who flooded my Amazon pages with those dubious five-star ratings, so maybe they are full of shit.
I always tell people I’d rather know what doesn’t work in a book than what does. Which sounds honorable, but it’s not entirely true. When I’m having a bad day, when I’m ready to throw in the towel and move to Brazil and sing Portuguese love songs to underage girls, I like to pull out the glowing reviews so I can soak them up like sunshine. They give me hope. They motivate me to keep writing. But in the end, if I’m going to produce a book better than the last, I have to understand what I’m good at what I’m not. So please don’t pull punches. Tell me what you didn’t like. I can take it.
But wait. I was just on Amazon a few minutes ago, checking out a novel I might want to buy, so naturally I looked at the reviews. It’s not the sort of thing I would normally read, but in this case I thought it would be helpful for research. And, like most books on Amazon, the lion’s share of reviews are positive. But…
Take a look at the titles of some less-favorable reviews:
“Good idea, bad writing.”
“A Waste of Money!”
“Hard to believe prose this inept could be published.”
“Put it down.”
“If you like clichés.”
“Waste of time.”
And that’s just from the first page of 1-star reviews. Here are some quotes from the actual reviews themselves:
You wouldn’t think that a book about [premise] would be boring and unreadable but if you read this book you’ll change your mind. The scenes are like ones from a [subject] comic, the characters never seem real or interesting and the writing is so bad that at first I thought I had somehow downloaded a joke version. No proofreaders or editors touched this book!
And then the first time I came across the phrases “could of”, “must of” and “should of” it was so jarring I couldn’t believe it escaped the editor’s notice. But then, being generous, I thought perhaps it was the writer’s way of demonstrating a local dialect. Except every character used it, including the narrator. Bad editing!
The writing style is so sophomoric that it boggles the mind to think that anyone would consider this a well-written book. I am half-way through book and about to give up. The writing style reminds me of books I used to read as an early teenager. However, this subject matter is much too important to be presented on this low level of writing.I cannot recommend it for any occasion – not for airport reading, bathroom reading, nor especially for anyone who wants to take it seriously. The clichés run rampant and the characters are cardboard.
I’m not passing judgment on the book. Maybe it appeals to one type of reader and not another. What I want to know is how you can wake up every morning and make a cup of coffee and then watch people take your work apart at that level of detail.
The book was a moderately successful bestseller, so I suppose the way you live with it is by cashing the royalty checks. Or you could just not read reviews at all. But when I scrolled through pages and pages of commentary, I noticed the author spends a lot of time responding to the negative reviews, defending himself as an educated man and the author of over forty books. He also blames the egregious grammatical mistakes on an assistant editor who was fired.
Clearly the author cares very much about what readers think about his work, especially the ones who hated it. And yet he defiantly plugs away, enduring the criticism, confident his naysayers have no clue what they’re talking about. You have to respect a guy fortified with enough built-in insulation to take that kind of daily beating. I’m not sure I could.
You know, come to think of it, he kind of reminds me of Wade Phillips.