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The Amazon Review Police

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kidlit59

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(I wasn't sure where this fit in, so my apologies to the mods if this is in the wrong place.)


I don't spend very much time reading or writing Amazon reviews. When I'm looking for a book, I'll glance at the number of stars it's received and maybe read the first few comments, but I usually go with my instincts about what I think I'll like.

This whole thing with the author who had the meltdown led me to start reading through some of the reviews on Amazon. I was struck by a lot of things--the range from people who write, "I didn't like it," and nothing else to those who describe the entire plot of the book before telling what they liked or didn't like, as though there isn't a description right below the book, the time some people take to really write a thoughtful review, and of course, the nastiness some people can't seem to avoid in their comments.

But what really stood out to me was how many times a reviewer gave a certain number of stars and then explained what they liked or didn't like and in the replies to their review, someone said, "Well, if you liked it so much, why didn't you give more stars?" or "If it was that disappointing, you really should have given two stars instead of three." Seriously? Why spend time reviewing the reviewers? Am I the only one who thinks we've gone to a dark place here? I saw this over and over again, not just once or twice. Not calling someone out for bad or abusive behavior, but just randomly deciding that the proper number of stars weren't awarded based on the accompanying sentences. Who has time to do this stuff?

I visit a lot of recipe sites because I love to cook. I'm always boggled by the recipes that are awarded four or five stars by a reviewer, but the reviewer goes on to tell how they changed virtually everything in the recipe to get it to that level. I want to make meatloaf, so I find a recipe for that with a rating of five stars. I start to read the reviews and the first person who gave it five stars changed the bread crumbs to oatmeal, the ketchup to tomato juice, the beef to turkey, used egg beaters instead of eggs, and then drenched it in barbecue sauce. Voila! It's now a five star recipe! The next five star reviewer doesn't like beef, so changed the meat to ground chicken, the bread crumbs to crushed crackers, etc. How do you find the real five star recipe in all that?

I'm waiting for this to happen on Amazon--people rewriting our books for us. They'll give us all five stars on every book, but then say, "I loved this book. It was one of my favorites. I don't like fantasy, so I decided to think of the vampire's quest for blood as a quest for self-awareness instead, and the main character seemed too aggressive for a seventeen-year-old girl so I changed her to a twenty-year-old convict out on parole. It's too rainy in Washington, so I pictured the setting in the Caribbean. Once I changed the main character to a convict, the romance with the vampire just didn't work for me, so I skipped those scenes and added confrontational scenes in my head instead. Instead of ending the book with the vampire getting the girl, I ended it by having the vampire and the convict share a moment of enlightenment that changes the course of their lives forever. Once I made these few changes, I couldn't put the book down. Well done, author!"

At least we'll all get only five star reviews!  :pickle
#1 - April 01, 2011, 12:05 PM

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I don't even want to get myself started on this one. Except to say that in the too-frequent scenario you imagine with the vampire story, it wouldn't be 5 stars with those changes. It would be 1 star because the AUTHOR didn't think of those changes.
#2 - April 01, 2011, 05:30 PM
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From the thread I started about this ("Ranting Author: Compassion or Pitchfork") you all know how much this whole thing upset me. Attribute much of it to bad timing since I've had cause lately in my personal life to question and despair at the uglier side of human nature. Amazon reviews are for the most part...stoopid. From the reviews in question, people seem to be trying to elevate their self esteem by piling on and having others agree/cheer/laugh/support them. My first appeal for reason, in the form of a 5-star review, was deleted since I admitted to not reading the book, even though, as you said, others freely admitted to not reading it (yeah, and why do people bother summarizing the whole thing again, unless they copy & pasted from a blog review or something?). People blasted me and reported the review as "Abusive." (It's still on my blog if anybody wants to see it.)

And for some reason (see sentence #2 above), I just...Couldn't. Let. It go. So I wrote another 5-star review (http://tinyurl.com/3zdxj7w) which had nothing to do with the book but addressed the whole human nature thing: "Are you part of the mob?" From the comments, my intent confused people, and I DID resist answering their comments, despite so many marking the review, again, as unhelpful. Someone PLEASE give me a pat on the back for that wee bit of restraint.

Then I worried that people would see my name there and think I'm involved in a flame war. I considered removing it, and may still choose to do so, but really, I was just looking for someone who thought maybe it'd all gone a little too far. A few people either marked my review as "helpful" or stopped by my blog to share their thoughts in a lovely, reasonable way...not one stone was hurled (three cheers for humans!!!)

So back to the point of this thread...I suppose if there were ever incentive for us authors to ignore reviews, this display of who-can-out-insult-the previous reviewer would be it.
#3 - April 02, 2011, 08:21 AM
« Last Edit: April 02, 2011, 08:25 AM by Laura Manivong »
ESCAPING THE TIGER, Bank Street's "Best Books of the Year"
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Amazon reviews were once useful, but they're mostly bogus now.  I've been ordering lots of books for my kindle lately, and here are just a few things I've noticed:

1. Authors (and maybe publishers) are trying to manipulate the Amazon results. One author admitted to hiring people in India to write five star reviews for him.  His book received more than 50 phony reviews in one day. And I've seen other things like that.

2.  One of my books has three reviews attached to it. Someone criticized it for having no activites in the back.  Someone else pointed out to this person that she was referring to another book, not mine, which has many activities.  Do you think Amazon deleted this review?  No. This one-star rating knocked the total evaluation down to three and a half stars.

3.  My solstice books have been critized by certain people because I have an astronomical explanation of the solstices, rather than a religious perspective.

4.  Other books (not by me) have been low-balled because the author chose to write on topic A rather than topic B.

I now ignore the Amazon reviews.  Unfortunately, I also no longer trust professional reviews either, as I think some of these are being manipulated by the larger publishers.


#4 - April 02, 2011, 09:35 AM
« Last Edit: April 02, 2011, 10:18 AM by Betsy »
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One author admitted to hiring people in India to write five star reviews for him.  

<jaw drops>

Wow, is there NO shame left in the world? Talk about moral crises...
#5 - April 02, 2011, 10:36 AM
The Farwalker Trilogy
The Humming of Numbers
Reality Leak

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I find that Amazon review are most helpful when you're thinking about buying a non-fiction book. For example, I recently ordered PLOT VERSUS CHARACTER by Jeff Gerke because all 21 reviews were high (4 and 5 stars), and I was glad I bought it. I really like it when reviewers say what they were expecting and why they were either disappointed or very pleased.

With fiction, I tend to stick with the editorial reviews and a few "most helpful" reviews, because, you're right, people constantly insert plot spoilers. But sometimes I want to see the reviews of a book I'm getting bogged down with for my women's book club, the last two being "SECRET DAUGHTER" and "THE BISHOP'S MAN", which both dealt with Mature Subject Matter. Even then, I found the comments more helpful overall at amazon.ca (the Canadian website) than amazon.com. The comments help me process the book before our monthly book club meeting. FYI: Jacqueline Howett's books are not available at amazon.ca so she didn't get abused there!

As for "reviewing the reviewers", I can't help but judge the reviewer in my mind if I find a mismatch between what the stars and the review. Then I mentally discount that review as unreliable. But I wouldn't comment on these reviews on the website; I think that would be petty. The reviewers tried. (Actually I haven't posted a review at an amazon website in years).

#6 - April 02, 2011, 11:04 AM
« Last Edit: April 02, 2011, 11:07 AM by hazelnut »

kidlit59

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Thanks for the replies.

It's a shame really, because I don't always agree with professional reviewers and i do sometimes read books that have won the major awards and say, "Huh?" when I turn the last page, not comprehending how that particular book got published, much less won an award. Sometimes, it's nice to hear average people's opinions about a book, to hear that they had trouble feeling anything for the main character or that they skimmed because their was too much detailed description of scenes or back story or whatever. But it's gotten so out of control. Some people write thoughtful, detailed, and helpful reviews, but others seem more like locusts who move from book to book spreading one-star reviews and ugly comments. It just boggled my mind that people weren't content with giving their review of a book, they were arrogant enough to tell others they should have given more or less stars. Really? I saw one book that had close to fifty four and five star reviews and then a single three star review. The person who left the three star review said she liked it and thought it was a good story, but obviously, she felt it was only a three-star story. A bunch of commenters raked her over the coals demanding that she change her star level to four or five since she had admitted it was a good story. What if good is three stars to her, great is four stars, and excellent is five stars? Shouldn't she be able to decide that for herself without the star police giving her a hard time?

And the opposite is true. People who enjoyed a book and gave it four or five stars were harassed by those who hated it. A reviewer who gave a book four stars was asked repeatedly if she didn't think the slowness of the middle chapters made it a two or three star book, was she sure it actually deserved four stars, etc. as though the reviewers have some personal stake in making sure everyone dislikes the book as much as they did.

Maybe none of this is a surprise to any of you, but like I said, I don't read the reviews and comments often, so I was struck by how many readers weren't content to read a book and post their opinion, they also were determined to manipulate others into giving a like number of stars. I think a discussion of a book is a great thing, where someone says they didn't like it for reason x, y, or z and others talk about why they did like that aspect and so on, but simply telling someone they should have awarded more or less stars seems so silly and arrogant to me.

Laura, I did read your second comment on Amazon and I was one of the ones who liked it. I would have left a comment in support, but I was walking out the door. It amazed me that instead of seeing themselves in your comment and feeling shame for their behavior, people instead thought you were serious about the author's intent and wanted proof. Just another thing in life that boggles my mind.

Judy
#7 - April 02, 2011, 11:19 AM

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I agree with everything you say, Judy.  I'm always aware when I write a review that it will affect the author's sales.

Here's another thing I've noticed. Kindle users will give a popular book a one-star review to get attention for a kindle problem--the most common one being that prices for certain books are too high (which they are). 

In other words, these people are willing to penalize the author to try to get the attention of Amazon.
#8 - April 02, 2011, 11:52 AM
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OCTOPUSES ONE TO TEN
THE MYSTERIOUS UNIVERSE
THE BALLAD OF BOOSTER BOGG
BEASTLY BABIES
TOOLING AROUND

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I agree with everything you say, Judy.  I'm always aware when I write a review that it will affect the author's sales.

Here's another thing I've noticed. Kindle users will give a popular book a one-star review to get attention for a kindle problem--the most common one being that prices for certain books are too high (which they are). 

In other words, these people are willing to penalize the author to try to get the attention of Amazon.

YES! What's with that? I noticed that, too.

The stars were based on things that were totally out of the author's control. I used to be a waitress and no matter how good of a job I did, my tips were often penalized because the food was too salty or the price was too high or other things that I had no control over. Ask to speak to the chef or the manager, but if I brought you everything you needed in a timely fashion, why punish me? I used to tell my husband everyone should be required to work as a waitress or waiter for six months to change their perspective on the service industry. Why punish an author who gave you a book you enjoyed just because the publisher set the price too high or Amazon transcribed it poorly? Contact the publisher or Amazon.

I've seen this done with other products Amazon sells, too. A one-star review of a juicer because the person who bought it didn't realize it wouldn't fit on her counter. The juicer worked perfectly and she received a full and quick refund, but still gives it one star for not fitting, even though the dimensions were clearly listed in the product details.

It's a wonder I don't need a neck brace because I spend most of my day shaking my head in amazement at the things my fellow earthlings do.  ???
#9 - April 02, 2011, 12:23 PM

I recently noticed a review for a friend's book on another popular book review site. The "review" was for the book, and the person had given it one or two stars because they didn't like the voice-over artist on the audio version.  In other words, they hadn't read the book--they'd listened to it.  And really found the V/O annoying.

It's a wonderful book, really terrific, but I agree--the voice-over artist was annoying in her tone and "upspeak" that I could hardly listen to the sample, even.  It was this particular person's first and only V/O job, as far as I can tell.

Still, one star because of something that was completely out of the author's control seems so, so wrong. :(
#10 - April 02, 2011, 12:42 PM

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And then there are the kid written one star reviews, all of which are pretty much alike .... "I had to read this stupid book for school and I hated it and it's the worst book ever written and nobody should ever read it.  Don't buy this stupid book, buy some other book." There are variations of that review all over Amazon, and always heavily laced with misspellings!

One of my favorite stupid reviews, though, wasn't for a book - it was an opera recording of a German opera featuring Placido Domingo.  The reviewer was having a cow because Domingo was in the recording, because he's Italian and Italian singers don't know how to sing this music correctly, it doesn't matter how good he is, they shouldn't have an Italian singer doing this part."  Of course, Domingo is NOT Italian, and it didn't seem to bother the reviewer one bit that the conductor WAS Italian ... *sigh*

And I've read several reviews of opera DVDs in which the reviewer praised the singers and orchestra but still gave the DVD one star because they didn't like the sets and costumes.  *sheesh"
#11 - April 02, 2011, 01:20 PM

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And then there are the kid written one star reviews, all of which are pretty much alike .... "I had to read this stupid book for school and I hated it and it's the worst book ever written and nobody should ever read it.  Don't buy this stupid book, buy some other book." There are variations of that review all over Amazon, and always heavily laced with misspellings!

I know! Kids forced to read books they hated or people who felt like they got ripped off rant like crazy at amazon. It's like they can't help themselves.

That's why editorial reviews and starred Kirkus or similar starred reviews and thoughtful review blogs are indispensable. But sometimes, like Judykidlit said, it's nice to hear from average people who are having trouble with a character or whatever, if you're sorta feeling the same way.

#12 - April 02, 2011, 01:40 PM

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I don't bother to read reviews of any kind, not Kirkus, not editorial, nothing, nada. I often don't agree with Kirkus reviews and the editorial reviews many times don't say enough about the book.

What I do to pick books is read the premise of the books and take a look inside. If I can find the ending, even better. The feature of 'take a look inside' is the best thing ever invented. I can actually read a few pages and browse thru it giving me a direct look if the author's writing would be my cup of tea. I have very peculiar taste in books so the reviews do nothing for me, and neither does the stars. Unless it's a recommended book, I rarely pay attention to it because I feel that reading is so subjective that just because you don't like it, doesn't mean I will. In fact for the longest time (I still do it sometimes) I picked book that had a low rating because I often were very good books with stupid reviews.
 
#13 - April 03, 2011, 08:12 AM

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I sometimes wonder if the "customer review" feature on sites like Amazon will disappear eventually, or at least move to another location, away from the place where you order the product.

When you go to a brick and mortar store to buy anything, the store-keeper doesn't allow you to stick Post-it notes on the products saying, "Hated it! Didn't match my drapes! Broke after the first use!" etc. So why would an online merchant want such things on the ordering page?

In speculating, I'm not saying whether that should happen or not. I don't read very many reviews. I haven't commented on my own book, or rated my own book.

But I do wonder where customer reviews are headed, given that anyone can say anything about any product, and they don't even have to have gone anywhere near the product to rate it, and there are no universal rating criteria.
#14 - April 08, 2011, 11:53 AM
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That's an interesting question re Amazon and customer reviews, writerjenn--and one I have no idea as to the answer.  Amazon has kind of become an on-line community, so I don't know.  I think the Amazon Vine program was an attempt to insert a little quality control, in a way, but I'm not sure it's accomplished much.
#15 - April 08, 2011, 12:31 PM
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