Reviews on Amazon

I had to put up the last blog repost on Amazon ( here if you’re wondering) by my friend Jack because it just tickled me.

I’ve had so many comments on books – it gets hard sometimes to keep a sense of humour. From the first “fan” letter that detailed 21 points of historical inaccuracy (he/she was wrong) to the commentator who told me I had no idea how far a horse could travel in a day (my figures came from recorded journeys by the King’s messengers), I’ve grown used to getting corrected quite regularly.

DSC_0162The painful ones are the comments on Amazon, though, because people often put them up without considering the consequences. People put reviews up fairly quickly when they’re happy with whatever they’ve bought. If, however, they are angry or irritated, they will throw something at the internet much, much faster. So the two reviews I have for Fields of Glory that gave the book one star went up really swiftly. In fact, they were both posted two days before – yes, before – the book was available for purchase. Had either of the reviewers read the book? No. They both wanted to comment on the fact that they disliked the cover. They had no comment about the book itself, but they were very happy to trash the title because of their dislike of the picture.

There have been other cases. My friend Old Trooper told me about a delightful reviewer who gave a book one star because it arrived late. Yes, nothing whatsoever to do with the six or nine months the author spent inventing, plotting, typing, crossing out, rewriting, editing, suffering the cruel dissections of editors and copyeditors, nothing even about the harsh economic reality of the author waiting to see any sort of income. This was not a comment on the author, or even the publisher. No, he slated the book because it arrived too late for his holiday. The US Postal Service was late so the book was slammed by him.

I always used to have a firm policy of ignoring any negative comments. There are trolls and other appalling people on the web who will, after all, latch onto any poor sap and try to send them potty with rude, slanderous, threatening or just plain evil comments. Only this weekend I was asked by a Twitter friend to block and report a tweeter who had sunk his fangs into her and was writing crude, obscene messages in between threatening her and her family. I was happy to oblige (having checked what he was writing – I’m not generally a blocker for hire!). So I don’t think it’s a good idea always to get on the wrong side of these folks.

lasttemplar_paperback_1471126455_72However, when I see comments that are plain wrong, I do question the writer. For instance, I had one comment on THE LAST TEMPLAR that said it was only worth a one-star rate because the reviewer hated “first person narration”. Now, this is fine. I don’t have any axe to grind on that issue. Some first person stories I’ve loved, and others I’ve hated. But other people have their own foibles.

My own dislike of the comment came from the fact that LAST TEMPLAR has absolutely no first person narration in it. However, since there are some seven or eight books titled THE LAST TEMPLAR, I do rather think that the reviewer was writing about a different book. I was justified in trying to remove that review. It was wrong.

AoVI had another man who wrote bitterly about my Kindle book, ACT OF VENGEANCE to complain that it was appalling. He said that the grammar was awful, and I couldn’t spell the simplest of words. A kind friend (thanks, Old Trooper) appended his own comments to point out that the spelling was – ahem – English, rather than American English. Since I had invested almost a thousand pounds in getting the book professionally edited and copyedited, I thought it was only fair to raise that comment too.

Now, of course, this makes me sound like a rather vain, perhaps silly pedant. Naturally, authors would be well advised not to question reviewers, and merely accept that some people won’t like the books. We should accept the rough with the smooth.

However, there are good reasons why every poor comment should be queried.

Amazon will, as you know, present you with a series of titles based on the books you have bought or looked at recently. If you look at the recommendations, generally they’ll be of books that have massive sales and lots of good, high star ratings. The algorithms Amazon has set up are designed to make sure that you get popular offerings in the main. In the old retail market bookshops would be paid to put books into the window. There would be payments for the books to get “Recommended” stickers from the booksellers in the shop. There were endless ways in which the publishers were asked to pay to get books sold. Amazon has their own way of doing things, but I am pretty sure that money changes hands somewhere so that certain titles will be heavily promoted. Nothing wrong with that.

However, for most authors (those who don’t earn millions of dollars a year, and who have to get by on word of mouth recommendations), a bad rating can kill their titles. A one-star will pull down the four or five five star ratings, and if there are two or three one and two stars, the book will fall down the rankings. In the past, people walked along shelves in a bookshop and saw what there was to buy. No star ratings, just a series of covers that appealed or didn’t. The world is a much harsher place now.

It takes remarkably little for a book to die. In the new electronic world we inhabit, if a book is held up and not available for sale immediately, it will bomb. If a book has poor ratings, it will bomb. If a book doesn’t get to a certain level, publishers will drop the author. An author is only ever as good as his or her last novel. And with publishers refusing to market or publicise most titles – that’s up to the author as well now – there really is little hope for a book that gains a few single stars.

Some time ago I formed a firm policy of only ever giving high star ratings for any books. If I dislike books, I don’t review them. A book would have to be extraordinarily bad for me to review it and give it a poor ranking. After all, I can think of several books I didn’t like at first reading, but which grew on me when I tried them a second time. Reading is a difficult task. It is entirely subjective, and if the reader is in a bad mood, or simply the wrong mood, that particular book may not work for them. It is not, however, a reflection of the book itself. It’s only a reflection of the temperament of the reader at that moment.

So, when I get poor reviews, I have a policy to politely ask the reviewer why they felt that way. I’ve avoided it in the past, but this is now something that affects my income directly, so I do. I have done so twice in recent weeks. The result? Both times the reviewer has agreed to look at their reviews again. And I am very grateful for their kindness in agreeing to reconsider. With luck it’ll result in slightly better markings and therefore better rankings in future!

Looking past the Tor

Looking past the Tor

Now, don’t forget that Christmas is coming. I have a series of books for sale. If you are interested in a book for a deserving relative, or a title for yourself, do please let me know. Each signed book will have a signed card and assorted bookmarks from past promotions, since it’s Christmas. So go on: treat yourself or your family!

Afterwards you can walk Dartmoor, too, if you want!

Right. That’s all for now. Just finished the editor’s comments on Blood on the Sand (out next June) and now this is complete, I have to write a synopsis for a new book. I’ll be meeting my friend Lillian Harry on Thursday for a coffee, and a general moan about publishing and author incomes, so I’ll have to crack on with work before then to justify the time off.

Happy reading!

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Comments
32 Responses to “Reviews on Amazon”
  1. geraldine says:

    I can sympathise, Michael. When it comes to British English spellings and slang, I’ve now started to emphasise that my books are written in British English, information I place just above and on the same page as the Chapter One heading, indicating that there is a list of slang and spellings at the end of the book. Might be an idea to put it again alongside any requests for review. And when it comes to actual reviews, I have one man who seems to think a review request email from Amazon is some kind of Royal Command. Even though he admits he has read none of them, he invariably gives my books three stars! I think you’re very brave contacting reader reviewers; pick the wrong person and it’s so easy to get involved in a war of words. Shudder.

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  2. Jack Eason says:

    Hah, my latest offering Cataclysm got its first one star review via Amazon UK Michael. It was so bad that I posted it on my blog. Take a look at http://havewehadhelp.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/who-is-loopylupine/ to see for yourself. :)

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    • Jeez! Some people really are obnoxious, aren’t they, Jack? I’ll put something up in competition to him.

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    • geraldine says:

      I’ve got Cataclysm in my TBR pile, Jack. I’ll do my best to get to it in a few days to read and review.

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    • Me Too says:

      J.E. — Loopylupine would suggest ‘Crazy Wolf.’ The so called reviewer that you speak of may have changed their pseudonym as the same review exists with a new pseudonym. I looked up their profile and found that they have only ever reviewed 3 items. 1 book, other than yours, was given 3 stars but a *bizarre* written commentary that at the same time pans the book while recommending it. The highest ranking they gave, 4 stars and a lengthyyyy [sic] review, was for a “Three Wolf Moon” T- shirt. Yes, the highest ranking was for a T-shirt! What is more strange is that he was they were not only “in love” with the item but that it was not available in his size and never purchased it. Only 2 people claim to have benefited from his reviews. Yes, 2 people benefited from his T-shirt review. This is what he calls himself now — batbinbogbloke
      Reviewer ranking: #3,088,575
      40% helpful
      votes received on reviews
      (2 of 5)

      This person, based upon what they have written, may be a bit ‘unhinged’ IMHO. Readers who find your work more favorable might do you a kindness by commenting on his review in disagreement and / or complaining to Amazon.co.uk I have done that for others who have been maligned without just cause.

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  3. Kev says:

    Hi, is that photo taken near Belstone?

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  4. Me Too says:

    Michael, as to your post, “Reviews on Amazon,” it is worthy of 5 stars.

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  5. You’d hope that there was someone deleting the reviews that aren’t based on the actual product, but that’s too much to hope from Amazon. Fascinating post, Michael. Off to Amazon to post my reviews of books 1 to 11…

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    • That’s really kind of you, Doc. I appreciate it hugely! I think you can post a link to your blog pages, too. It may be easier for you than writing a lot for each book, and also drive a bit more traffic to your site? Thanks again!

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    • Me Too says:

      Doc, the problem seems to be that Amazon (anywhere) no longer pays attention to complaints about inane or spiteful reviews that are not justified. I have written to them and given the reason why I thought a review should be removed, e.g. wrong book reviewed, to no avail of late. I just heard of a person who wrote a not kind review on Michael’s 31st series title. They appeared to have liked previous titles (laid claim to have read the entire series until that point). But, there is no record of that person having written a review for any of the 30 other titles in the series. I find that more than strange.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for that! I wish I knew why people put up such comments. Still, for now it’s given me an idea for a story…

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      • I think it’s human nature to be more inclined to moan than to be positive. Not to excuse that person, but I sort of understand. I’ve got my blog to let off steam – and I will give a justified negative review if I’ve paid good money for something that disappointed me, but only if I bothered to finish it. My amazon posting are much more infrequent, I’m afraid.

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      • I can understand that. I originally started blogging for the same reason, but I have to be careful to watch myself in case of upsetting publishers!

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      • Me Too says:

        I think that the inclination to write nasty things without engaging brain has increased with the advent of ‘social media,’ etc. that is often not sociable. I will generally not write a shabby review unless I can really justify it. It is not done in casual fashion. There is an author, who will go un-named (where have I heard that?) who believes that you can write anything you please on paper using a narrow historical window of time and interject things from other periods which makes no sense (the interjections are things that did not exist for decades) or ‘gross inaccuracies’ and call it all ‘artistic license.’ That same author brags (literally) about research and travel done to write the books. The publisher also permits that author to denigrate readers who write to the author who question things that are more than a bit off. Some folks are beginning to write reviews with the justification for their problems with the few titles the author has written. The author has not taken kindly to that despite their denigrating comments about readers. It is strange that the author was involved in the publishing industry prior to taking up pen. That said, some people have written positive reviews but one must wonder if they are friends of the author.

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  6. D.G.Kaye says:

    Excellent post and so true. The reviews can be harsh and sometimes have nothing to do with the book itself. I admire the fact that you approached the reviewer to reconsider. I don’t know that I could do that and put my hurt and anger aside for unjustifiable reviews. :)

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    • Ach, I’m lucky. Used to be a salesman, so I have some pretty broad shoulders!I think it’s worth asking generally. Usually people write things on the spur of the moment and don’t think about how it’ll affect someone else. When the target of their bile contacts them, most will clear their throat apologetically, look away, mumble, and fix things – so long as you’re polite and not confrontational. Unlike people on Twitter who’ll put out the most obnoxious comments without thinking or caring!

      Liked by 1 person

      • D.G.Kaye says:

        I tend to agree with you, that if you talk nice to people who weren’t aware of repercussions in the first place you may stand a chance. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with a troll, you won’t get far and who knows if that stirs the pot further. I prefer to take the chicken way out and swallow the pain, lol. But kudos to you! :)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Me Too says:

        If the trolls come around then it is time for friends and fans to speak up with reasoned comments and logic. I have found that even if the trolls try to persist that if enough supportive logic is seen the trolls are seen for what they are.

        Liked by 2 people

      • D.G.Kaye says:

        Good point! Thanks.

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  7. MoldiOldi says:

    I have only written a couple of reviews on Amazon, partly because I seldom order from them because i order through the local book store and mostly because I am not articulate. Saying “I loved the book” doesn’t really constitute a review. Shame on those who write bad reviews without really understanding what they are doing. If the author has a Facebook page I usually comment directly to them.

    I am so happy to see that your next book “Blood on the Sand” will be out next June. Thank you for letting us know.

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    • Thanks for that. However, it is important. Not only the “I liked it” comment, but the star ratings. If there are a few one or two star reviews, the book will basically die. I’ve been shocked by how quickly sales disappear on Amazon after a new launch. The algorithms now drive all sales and the success of the author.

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      • Me Too says:

        That is one reason I have been angry about Amazon not always deleting questionable reviews after receiving valid complaints, e.g. one person wrote a concise 2 star review for another book not the book that was supposed to be reviewed (one of your titles). It should have been removed. I get fewer books from Amazon but I do know that their review pages do impact sales so I will go to their reviews of books I like and write a concise review. I will also pose a logical argument on inane reviews and question Amazon as to why they are permitting such things to remain on their website. They used to react to such things but they must have cut the job of evaluating complaints. When there are good reviews (not synopsis) I will put a “YES, it was helpful.” The inane ones get a “NO.” It is interesting when you see one of those reviews and you also see 0 of 14 people found this helpful. You would think Amazon would get the hint (unless they just don’t care).

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