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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Be careful what you wish for

Book marketers often trumpet the importance to sales of online customer ratings. However, this "free" promotion strategy comes with its own set of pitfalls.

For example:

People who haven't even read your book will nevertheless feel impelled to post a negative review of it based on entirely false impressions

People absolutely will believe their own shortcomings are the fault of the author

People will convince themselves that they alone can identify false prophets

For too many people, coherent commentary (if it ever existed) will get lost between mind and keyboard

Some people will never understand the essential differences between narrative histories and essay collections

Some people take it personally when great books just aren't for them

Many, many people will insist that "boring" is legitimate criticism

Others think review sections are proper places to complain about the order fulfillment experience

Of course, any reasonable prospective buyer will ignore these gems, but extreme negative rating outliers probably do do some harm when the ratings total is very small and the unsuspecting viewer only sees the tainted overall score. On the other side of things, unwarranted five-star "reviews" are probably even more common, but they're just not as fun to read.


  1. First cousin to the "Boring" review is one that goes something like this, which I've seen too often - "I had to read this for a class."
    Then there's the five-star review that says only "Gift" - I guess getting it for nothing makes it a terrific read. The flip side (still five-star) is "I bought it for [whoever] and he/she really likes it." A double rule violation - (1) reviewer hasn't read it, and (2) we don't know why the recipient "really likes it".

  2. I reviewed a book a couple of years ago which got several ***** reviews on Amazon, all put up within a week. Given the subject matter and the publisher, this had a strong whiff of the author's family and Facebook crowd riding to the sound of the guns (this incident was shortly before Amazon started using the "verified purchaser" indicator). l also like the * reviews on Amazon where the poster's reasoning clearly states that, despite the author's intent, the book didn't meet the reviewer's completely different expectations.

    1. You can definitely get that sense. Sometimes they even make it too easy for you (i.e. when "reviewer" has the same last name as the author).

  3. Another problem, especially acute in situations where the number of reviews is low, is whether the positive reviews were filed at the urging of the author to his/her family or friends. You can usually spot them because they are generic in nature and do not reflect any in-depth grasp of the subject matter.

    1. Yep. Many times you'll see a number of 5-star reviews with no real comments posted soon after a book got neg'd. It gives you the impression that the 'friends and family five-star brigade' got mobilized.

  4. There are also authors who purchase foreign reviewing services. These "reviewers" post generic "pom pom ra ra" reviews. You can usually spot them because they talk about how wonderful the author is by name in the review, use the author's credentials (like, say "Dr.") in the review, often refer to a non-fiction book as a "wonderful fiction work," and write as if English is their second or third language. In addition, the reviewer's name is one you have never seen on any other blog post, at any CW conference, etc. And these reviews usually follow closely on the heels of a bad, honest, detailed review.

    These are the kinds that make me, as a publisher, upset.

  5. Why is "boring" not a legitimate criticism?

    1. It's merely a casual negative opinion that is 100% subjective and can't be justified in any way that would be meaningful to others. Things like this have no place in any kind of critical setting discussing the merits of non-fiction history.

    2. If I was reading a book review in history periodical or debating a book's merits in a scholarly setting, sure. But "boring" in an Amazon review seems fine, especially if the reviewer tries to explain why they found it boring. Sometimes one reads a book and finds it boring, but there's not any clear reason to me why I found it boring.


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