Monday, February 19, 2007

Hit-and-run reviews at Amazon: why they don't matter

Recently one of my author friends mentioned on a private e-mail loop how hurt she was that one of her books had received a mean-spirited review at I advised her to shake it off. These things happen, and they mean nothing. I spent a couple of moments worrying that my friend might think my advice a little glib because at that time, my first book had 15 Amazon reviews, all 5-stars, and my second book had nine; five 5-star reviews and four 4-star reviews. But today I can speak with more authority, because an Amazon customer calling herself (or himself) "User 124" has just posted a nasty review of A Family Forever. It begins:

This book is trash!

I am highly suspicious of the five-star reviews for this book. I may be wrong, but their tone is so similar it makes me wonder if they have been written by the author herself?

"A Family Forever" is the trashiest book I have ever read. Although you shouldn't take my word for it, nonetheless I would advise that before you waste your money on this travesty, I suggest you borrow it from your library or your local bookstore when you've got a couple hours to kill, sit down and read it - for free. I guess like me you'll find Coulter's writing style crass.

This is not a book review. It's a transparent attempt to wound me. But rather than sinking deep into my flesh, this clumsy sword blow glanced off my armor. Read the second half of the review, and then I'll explain:

I don't feel easy about about writing this bad review and in the spirit of fair criticism, I have to say that I could write several pages here on what is wrong with this novel, but I don't wanna be bothered with giving up my precious time to this kind of trash.

I can't recommend this book, unless you are on a desert island and "A Family Forever" is the only book swept into your unfortunate hands by the sea. Give yourself a break, don't buy it!!!

As an Amazon customer and frequent review reader, I give no consideration to book reviews that say "it's awful, and the author's an idiot" but offer no evidence to back up the first assertion, let alone the second. If you want to convince me that a book is bad, give it two stars and tell me about the plot holes or provide examples of the unrealistic dialogue. If you can't explain why the book is awful, I'll dismiss your opinion as irrelevant. A one-star review that reads like a preschooler's tantrum doesn't make me think, it just makes me roll my eyes.

It's no different when the book being trashed is my book. This hit-and-run review by an individual who cloaks herself in anonymity and who has never reviewed any other book at Amazon isn't the kind of criticism I take seriously. It's likely that "User 124" is someone who was ticked off by something I wrote on this blog or elsewhere online and whose pettiness drove her to seek revenge via a scathing review. That's why her inept little rant wrung a snort of derision from me rather than the spate of bitter tears she was so clearly hoping for.

If asked by a book's author, Amazon will remove reviews that contain plot spoilers and those that viciously attack the author. If someone wrote, "Brenda Coulter is a Nazi," I would demand that the review be deleted. But I won't be complaining to Amazon about the review by User 124. She hasn't violated Amazon's policy and is free to conceal her identity and trash any book she likes (and here it should be pointed out that one need not purchase a book from Amazon in order to review it there). Besides, if we authors could get rid of every unflattering review on Amazon, the good ones would become less valuable.

If you know an author who has been crushed by a mean-spirited review at Amazon or elsewhere online, I hope you'll assure her that the vast majority of readers are intelligent enough to recognize and dismiss these smallminded, heavy-handed attempts to damage authors' reputations. The only people made to look stupid by such reviews are the people who write them.


jeanjeanie said...

I just want to say that I hope that when the day finally arrives that I'm making it as a working author, I hope I manage to stay as rational, level-headed and down-to-earth about this stuff as you tend to be.

Julana said...

She went overboard a little. It would be kind of funny, if she had a wider vocabulary. :-)

Shelley said...

I agree with jeanjeanie...I hope I can remember what you say on this post whenever I get a bad review (though to be honest, I actually need to get a book written and published first, but still...).

I agree that it sounds like this person was hoping to hurt your feelings. She/he gives no proof to back up her/his comments. Trash? Umm...trash is actually the type of book that reads like porn, not a piece of Christian fiction.

Elle Fredrix said...

Kudos to you for recognizing this for what it is.

This person, in an attempt to discredit you, has done an excellent job of discrediting her/himself. Sad thing is, they're likely too immature to realize it. I have a mental pic of a pouting, nasty faced child, saying "I don't like you." Yeah, the smart adult doesn't give a whole lot of credit to that.

Shauna said...

"I guess like me you'll find Coulter's writing style crass."

Huh? Crass? Obviously "User 124" has never read the book!

Anne said...

The quality and credibility of Amazon reviews is an interesting topic to me because I just started writing a few reviews on there, mostly to get practice and to get more visibility for my library blog (shameless library promotion here) and I can tell you that anyone at all can post a review and like the net in general, it's just the wild west where people anonymously say and do anything at all, rudely, ungrammatically, without any sense of accountability or moral parameters. If I were an author, it would be hard to completely shrug off a nasty review, but that's what should be done. BTW: librarians select books from published, credible review sources and never base the decisions on Amazon reviews. I only post reviews if I have read the book completely and liked it and I try to be very specific in my criticism, citing chapters and so on. Keep up the good blogging Brenda!

Brenda Coulter said...

You people are so nice. Thanks for your support.

Anne, I suppose you've seen The March of the Librarians?

Mirtika said...

Brenda, "crass"? Huh. Now, was that their word of the day and they HAD to use it online or, like, lose a bet? Very odd.

I tend to write longish reviews, because the REASON I write reviews is to 1. really try to get someone to read something I enjoyed (or watch or listen to, depending) or 2. I really want to warn someone away from something awful.

Almost all my reviews are high starred ones. Mostly cause I rarely have the energy to go on and on about something I did not like. :)

Lately, I've been trying to review more, just to get my ranking up. So I've reviewed a cookie, two beverages, and some soaps. hahaha.

Still, I try to write the reviews that I would want someone else to write--informative and not just a rant.

Your hit and run user is just a loser. Sorry, but that's the truth. Someone with a grudge against YOU or just Christians or Christian fiction, I bet.

Brenda Coulter said...

Almost all my reviews are high starred ones. Mostly cause I rarely have the energy to go on and on about something I did not like.

I've often heard people complain that Harriet Klausner doesn't give reviews lower than 4-stars because she's "too nice," but I prefer to believe that like me, she simply won't finish a book she's not enjoying.

Yeah, "crass." Somebody should have made a trip to the dictionary before posting an Amazon review. Call my writing "lackluster" or "pedestrian" and I might actually wince;, but call it crass and I'll just fall off my chair laughing.

Yorkie said...

One of my books on a technical subject brought a criticism that I did not know or understand the "jargon" of the subject. If only the reviewer knew how hard I worked to take the text out of jargon to make it readable to Mr and Mrs Everybody. Despite the critic the book became a best-seller. It's easy to criticise, and as hurtful as some criticisms are they have to be taken on the chin, and ultimately the reader will be the best (most honest) critic. Your "crass" critic appears not to have read very much of your book. Let the criticism, as the saying goes, "run off your back like a duck". You might have a best seller there, in spite of the criticism!