books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Amazon Reader Reviews: 12 Things Everybody and His Grandmother Needs to Know

Update: Amazon has changed a lot since 2011, when I wrote this post. (Although it still labels a three-star review as "critical.")  For an update on Amazon rules read my post the Laws of the (Amazon) Jungle.  

Earlier update: This post was written for grandmothers (and grandfathers)—readers of my generation (Boomers) and our parents—non-tech-savvy folks who never think of writing online book reviews. I wrote for people who don't realize the Amazon review gives them a voice they never had before. Instead of calling everybody in our book group when we finish a book we love and insisting! it be put next on the list!! immediately!!!—we can go to Amazon, write a review, and reach more people.

Obviously, if we don't like a book, we can tell people that too.

Without negative reviews, the positives would mean nothing. I am simply reminding people to think of the impact of what they write, because online reviews have a lot of power.

Reviews are for readers. They should be honest and fair.

However, at the request of several grandmothers, I offer some tips on making your star rating match the content of your review.

This is because the online star system is different from the ones we grew up with.

One sweet woman in her seventies had been devastated to find out that giving a book "a gold star" wasn't letting people know she liked the book. She thought one star was a good thing.

I chose the title "everybody and his grandmother" because I thought it was a cute way of saying this is a post for older folks.

Instead, a lot of younger people have taken it as a challenge. It has made a lot of them irrationally angry—so irrational they are unable to read the actual text of the post. I do ask that if you decide to comment on this post, that you read it first—and don't rant about stuff it doesn't say.

All obscene, threatening and criminal comments will be deleted.

You lose your moral high ground when you stoop to sending death threats. Seriously.

This is not a post about self-publishing. I am not self-published. Traditionally published authors need reviews too.

Unfortunately, it's human nature to be more vocal with complaints than with praise, so continue to urge fans to support their favorite authors and their favorite reviewers. If you love a book, say so, and if a review is useful, whether positive or negative—say that too. Good reviewers need our support just as much as good authors. Publishing is a business, and professionalism should be rewarded.


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Original Post on AMAZON reviews


One of the less fortunate results of the Kindle revolution is the outsized portion of the publishing market that has been gobbled up by Amazon. Yes, Jeff Bezos got his near-monopoly by being author-friendly, while the Jurassic sector of the business still treats writers like single-use plastic bags of poo, but the truth is: monopolies are always scary.

Whether or not Mr. Bezos has taken sole possession of the Interwebz, as Wired reports, or he’s about to lose world supremacy, as Mark Williams  predicts, most authors are dependent on “the Zon” for about 90% of their income. (Check sample stats at the Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing.)

This means an Amazon glitch can stop your cashflow dead, as has been happening to Saffina Desforges, since her bestselling Sugar and Spice disappeared from Amazon.co.uk last week with no explanation.

It also means that Amazon reviews, which were only mildly significant three years ago, now have a make-or-break impact on an author’s sales.

When you’re buying an ebook, there’s no helpful bookstore clerk to tell you what might be appropriate for your nine-year old niece, or if there are any new cozy mysteries you might enjoy, or whether the new Janet Evanovich is up to her usual standards.

Instead, you check reader reviews and Amazon’s “also bought” suggestions. These are all generated by consumers, which gives the ordinary reader immense power.

But most readers, especially those who are my age, don’t have a clue this power exists.

As Ruth Harris and I have found, the gap between “I love this book! I want to tell everybody to read it!” and leaving a review on Amazon seems unbridgeable to most people born before 1965.

I recently discovered this the hard way. A kind older friend asked what she could do to help me, since I’ve been on overload with seven books coming out before Christmas. I said, truthfully, the most useful thing anybody could do for me is write an Amazon review of one of my books.

She bought FOOD OF LOVE, enjoyed it, carefully posted her wonderful review, and gave me…three stars. She bought another copy for a friend who “thought it was a hoot,” and gave it…two stars.

While you’re all groaning and saying “with friends like that, who needs…” let me tell you what this experience taught me:

Stuff we take for granted in our insular online publishing world is a mystery to outsiders—especially readers who don’t spend much time in Cyberia. They may have noticed their local Borders store has closed, and that nice little bookshop on the corner is gone, but hey, in this economy….

A lot of readers don’t have a clue the old publishing paradigm is over. If they don’t own an e-reader and mostly get their books at the library (when it’s open) they may not have even shopped at Amazon.

This is complicated by the fact some older people don’t have a clue about online customer reviews. They assume they’re like TV Guide movie ratings. A Sandra Bullock rom-com always gets 2 stars, right? 3 stars are for something deep and moving, or a spectacle like Avatar; and 4 stars are reserved for Oscar winners.

(If you’re under 25, you may not know what TV Guide is, which shows what a huge information gap we’re dealing with.) 

So I figured I’d write a handy guide you can send to your older friends and relatives—or anybody who isn’t savvy about the book business. They want to help. Really. But they feel like they’re being asked to speak Klingon.

I’m focusing on Amazon here, because it has such a huge share of the market. Barnes and Noble and places like Smashwords keep the Zon from having a total monopoly—at least in the US—and I don’t mean to exclude them. A review posted anywhere, especially a readers’ site like Goodreads—is always useful. They have a slightly different rating system, so make sure to check guidelines. UPDATE: Amazon's share of the market has decreased considerably since this post was written.

A Reader’s Guide to Amazon Reviewing


If you’ve got favorite writers who aren’t superstars, they can use your help, right now—whether they’re with a small press, indie, or even published by the Big Six. The demise of bookstores and print book reviews means online reviews can make or break a new title. If you see a book hanging out there in cyberspace with only a couple of reviews—or none—remember that with just a few minutes of your time, you can jumpstart that writer’s career. 

Here are some helpful tips to get you started:

1) Anybody can “Like” a book’s Amazon buy page. There’s a button. Click it. We used to be allowed to “rate this book” by giving it stars whether we reviewed it or not, but that seems to have changed. “Liking” doesn’t do much, but it makes the author feel better. UPDATE--Amazon has removed the "like" button on the US site.

2) You don't have to be a regular customer at Amazon to sign up. You just have to have bought one thing from Amazon at some point. Plus you can sign up with a pseudonym or your real name. A “real name” review carries more weight with some readers, but if you prefer to remain anonymous, that’s fine. If buying from big corporations is against your religion, consider signing up anyway--and buy that one item--because that’s how you get your power.

Once you’re signed up with any branch of Amazon: UK, DE (Germany) CA (Canada) etc. you can leave reviews on any country’s site. Posting reviews to both the US and UK site can really help sales, since inhabitants of the British Isles buy more books per capita than any other people on the planet. (Maybe it’s all those rainy days, or maybe they’re just smarter than the rest of us, but all writers need to pay attention to the UK/Eire market.)

3) Rating the existing reviews as “helpful” or “unhelpful” has significant impact. Reviews with the most “helpful” votes appear on the buy page. By voting for the most informative and favorable reviews, you have the power to get them moved to the head of the line.

You’ll also be giving props to the reviewers who were kind enough to post a thoughtful review. There are regular Amazon reviewers who write dozens of reviews per month. (We LOVE these people.) You can check their tastes and ratings by clicking on the “see my other reviews” button after the review. “See my other reviews” is also a way to find out if the reviewer is legit. If somebody has given only one- and two-star reviews to ten or more books in the same sub-category, he’s probably a troll, paid by one author to bring down other authors’ ratings. (Yeah, I know. Creepy.)

Raising the position of the most descriptive reviews is especially helpful if the publisher hasn’t given the book a very effective blurb, or has simply quoted the initial pitch letter, like Nathan Bransford’s publisher, Dial/Penguin. (They still post the dated information that Nathan “will be hosting extensive games, parties, and giveaways in the lead-up to publication” on the buy page of his first Jacob Wunderbar book. Not cool, Penguins. We know everybody’s overworked, but Nathan deserves better.)

4) Any reader can “tag” a book. You probably won’t need to mess with this, but it’s nice to know you can object to existing category tags or add your own. If you see Jennifer Weiner’s iconic chick lit comedy, Good in Bed is categorized as “erotic romance” you can object. Or if it’s labeled as a romance but not “humorous romance” or “romantic comedy,” you can add the tags. That means people looking for comedy can find the book in a search. UPDATE: Amazon has removed tags on the US site.

5) If you see something troll-y going on, you can get a review taken off and checked by Amazon personnel by clicking “report abuse.” This doesn’t happen often, but it can.  If you see a reviewer has panned a book he obviously hasn’t read, you can click the button for “report abuse” that appears after each review. I once checked out a well-known author’s page and saw three almost identical 1 and 2-star reviews from R. Jones, Bob J, and RJ, which all said in pretty much the same words that the book was extremely long, dry and boring. Thing is: it was an action-packed novella that other people found too short. The generic nasty review didn’t fit. I hit the abuse button.

But do NOT abuse the abuse button. It has to be pretty clear the troll hasn’t read the book or is making a personal attack on the author, or the Zon will restore it and you’re the one who will look bad.

Update: The lynch-mob mentality online has made the one-star review the "punishment" of choice for many fanatical groups. I have recently seen groups listing the names of authors they disagree with and urging people to leave one star reviews on all their books without reading them. I'd hope none of my readers would consider it. But do be aware it happens--and that you can fight this kind of bullying by reporting it to Amazon. Other sites are harder to police, but Amazon has safeguards in place.

6) You don’t have to leave a review to comment on one. If a review is extremely helpful or unhelpful, you get to say so. If a review of Melissa Banks’ The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing gives it one star because it’s a novel and not an outdoorswoman’s manual, you can leave a note for the reviewer pointing out she’s a doofus. (In a nice way of course, or you’ll be on the receiving end of the “report abuse” button.)

If you find a thoughtful, thorough review that helps you decide whether to buy the book, the reviewer will always welcome a little praise. Maybe he’ll even remember when your own book is published.

NOTE: Do not comment on your OWN book's reviews. These are for reader-to-reader commenting. Arguing with a reviewer in the comments can get you marked as a "badly behaving author."

7) Amazon reviews are guides to help other customers, not essays for the NYT. You don’t want to ask yourself, “is this War and Peace?” A better question is, “does the book deliver as advertised?”

Here’s what an Amazon review isn’t:
  • A school book report. It’s informal, so don’t worry about writing perfect prose or giving a complete synopsis of the book. Talk about the things you liked/disliked.
  • A showoffy piece for the New Yorker. Don’t get your Pauline Kael snark on if you want to stay friends with the author.
  • An essay about your personal tastes. It’s not about you. Don’t give a cozy mystery a negative review because you personally prefer thrillers.
  • A critique to help the author “improve.” (If you think an author has made an error, it’s more useful to contact her through her blog or website than pan her book. Almost all authors are accessible to readers these days, and most of us would love to hear from you.)
8) Anything less than 4 stars means “NOT RECOMMENDED” to the AMAZON ALGORITHMS. 2 or 3 star reviews are going to hurt the author's sales, no matter how much you rave in the text.

Those stars are the primary way a book is judged on AMAZON. Without a 4 or 5 star rating, a book doesn’t get picked up in the Amazon algorithms for things like “also bought” suggestions. Giving 1 or 2 stars to a book that doesn’t have many reviews can impact an author's income, so don’t do it unless you really think the author isn't ready for prime time.

Giving a bad review to a good book in a genre you don't particularly like isn't helpful to the reader and can do harm to the author.

If a friend asks you to review something you found amateurish, or wasn’t your cup of tea, just tell her you don’t feel you can review it. That happens all the time and we appreciate it.

4-star reviews can often be the most helpful. If a reader sees something like, “I loved this mystery, but the humor is pretty farcical. If you’re looking for a standard whodunit, this isn’t it,” or “this is awfully intellectual for something called chick lit.” Those offer honest information to buyers, without telling them not to buy.

I'm not saying you shouldn't be giving 1-3 star reviews. I'm just saying that on AMAZON (not all review sites) 3-Stars is perceived as a negative rating by the site itself. If you intend to be positive, then 4 stars will better convey that sentiment.

Update: Amazon algorithms change frequently, and the star rating doesn't have as much weight as it did when I wrote this post. A three-star review doesn't do the damage it used to, but it still can impact Amazon's recommendations. 

9) The star rating is like other online retail ratings, not like restaurant or film ratings.

When choosing a star rating, think of how people rate online clothing-store purchases:

5 stars means it’s just like the picture, fits great, and I wear it all the time.
4 stars means it’s pretty nice but maybe runs a little snug.
3 stars means it’s cheap-looking and the color is off. I wouldn't buy it again.
2 stars means the stitching is shoddy, the hem’s crooked, and the picture showed pockets, but it doesn’t have any. Yeah, I can wear it, but I’m seriously disappointed.
1 star means it’s a tacky mess and I sent it back. 

You don't give a great pair of jeans 2 stars because it isn't an evening gown. 

Note: I'm NOT TELLING BOOK REVIEWERS THEY HAVE TO WEAR EVENING GOWNS as one reviewer/blogger has reported. Um, little gray cells, people, as Hercule Poirot would say. Use them.

Unlike other online retail store reviews, this should NOT be a review of the retailer, but the content. If the book took too long to arrive, or was damaged in transit, it’s not fair to give the author a bad review. Contact Amazon directly.

With e-books, the line blurs. When there’s a glitch in the formatting, a lot of reviewers are giving bad reviews—both for self-pubbed and Big 6-pubbed books (yes, they have a lot of glitches too.) Also, with the proliferation of e-readers, there are lots of compatibly issues. Something that reads great on an iPad may be a mess on your Droid.

Again, it’s better to report the problem to Amazon or the author directly and keep your review to the content of the book, not the delivery system.

10) Anything over 20 words qualifies as a review Yeah. It’s that easy. It doesn’t have to be more than a couple of sentences, although longer ones are always appreciated.

11) Karma comes back. Positively reviewing an author’s book pays back in tons of good will. Review a friend’s book now, and when yours comes out, she’s a lot more likely to review yours. And even if you don’t write, writing positive reviews is the nicest thing you can do for your favorite authors. (I don't mean to suggest a quid pro quo review exchange, which would violate Amazon's review guidelines.)

12) A bad review is forever  As Patricia de Hemricourt said recently in her excellent series on book promotion on Publishing a Book is an Adventure , “Never forget that what is on the Net never falls through it, it stays there forever, so a bad review on Amazon is extremely detrimental.”

Note to authors: never, ever dis a reviewer in public. To quote Mainak Dhar on David Gaughran’s blog, “Some self-published writers assume that not going through traditional publishers means that they have bypassed so-called ‘gatekeepers’ that stand between them and their readers. Here’s a dose of reality – there will always be gatekeepers.

Review sites and blogs play that role, as do Amazon reader reviews.

Sometimes, self-published writers try and fight this, and degenerate to the pathetic spectacle of publicly complaining about poor reviews. Don’t fight gatekeepers, make them your friends.”

If you get a bad review, do your suffering in private. Chocolate helps.

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How about you, scriveners? Do you make a habit of reviewing your favorite authors’ books? Do you have friends who know how to review? Have you ever had an experience like mine, where somebody thinks a 2-star review is perfectly nice?

I want to give many, many thanks to the wonderful Irish author and poet, Gerry McCullough, who gave THE GATSBY GAME a fabulous review this week on her blog, Gerry’s Books. 

Canadian noir writer Benoit Lelievre has also given THE GATSBY GAME a fantastic, thoughtful review on his great blog Dead End Follies. Merci beaucoup, M. Lelievre! (And you didn't even mention my awful misspelling of a French word. Which should be fixed by now. Thanks for the heads-up.)

And I also want to thank Elizabeth S. Craig, who hosted me on Mystery Writing is Murder on Thursday the 17th. My post on Bad Writing Advice got 163 likes and 44 comments!

And AGAIN:

This post is about AMAZON reviews ONLY. (Notice the word "AMAZON" in the title) 

PLEASE DO NOT COMMENT ON THIS POST WITHOUT READING IT. A WHOLE LOT OF NINCOMPOOPERY IS BEING SPREAD ABOUT WHAT THIS POST SUPPOSEDLY SAYS. IT DOESN'T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT BOOK REVIEW BLOGGERS. IT DOESN'T TELL ANYBODY NOT TO WRITE NEGATIVE REVIEWS. IT SAYS AMAZON REVIEWS GIVE READERS A LOT OF POWER. AND THAT IF A READER LOVES A BOOK, LEAVING A REVIEW AND PUTTING 4 OR 5 STARS ON IT WILL CONVEY THAT SENTIMENT-- ONE to THREE GOLD STARS--NOT SO MUCH.

218 comments:

  1. Awesome and massively informative post - as an Amazon user - and hopefully an author with a book on it in the near future - this is massively helpful. Thanks Anne!

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  2. I'm going to keep hold of this post. I don't review enough books. I intend to change that, thanks.

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  3. Fabulous, much-need post, Anne, & thanks for invoking my name.

    More times than I wish, people will tell me how much they "love" a book of mine but when I tell them how important reviews are & ask them to leave one, they either Just Say No or promise they will but,in the end, don't.

    I think you're right about the post-45 Gen not understanding the importance of customer reviews. Or maybe they are intimidated by all the complicated, high-tech know-how involved in posting a review. (lol-ing thru my tears!)

    But even people cyber-savvy enough to be on twitter, tweet me love notes about my books but don't take the next step and leave their love on Amazon.

    Frustrating!

    PS: Your point that a few sentences is all it takes is super important. People don't have time to wade through a long review or to write one. Readers just want to know—briefly—what you liked and/or didn't like. Hopefully, that you loved it & couldn't put it down!

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  4. Dearest Miss Allen,
    I really appreciate this sort of wake-up call. It seems my understanding of things online is about the same as my understanding of things social. Left to my natural devices, I just stand by the punchbowl & watch people go by, then leave the party early. Sadly, I haven't changed my wallflower behavior in the world of the web. You are absolutely right. i need to get out there & engage in things like book reviews even though I'd rather have a third glass of punch & take a solo walk around the courtyard.

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  5. Great at always, Anne. My policy is simple: if I love it I leave a good review and so on ... maybe I would even stretch myself for a three star. HOWEVER, if I didn't connect or enjoy the book, I don't leave a review. I think it's kinder to not leave a review than to leave a bad one :)

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  6. This is excellent! I was recently devastated by a 2-star review for one of my books on Amazon. (Thankfully, I almost always receive 5-star reviews.) I ended up communicating with the reviewer by email. Turns out the reviewer is a professor who loved so much about this particular novel, he offered to help me rewrite the story for free. From what he told me about my book, I think most readers feeling the way that he did would have given it more than 2 stars. And he didn't like the particular chapters that a literary agent especially liked when she read it! I'm hoping for some good reviews on this book to tip the balance, and trying not to cry over this. :)

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  7. This is great information, thanks Anne. Your blog is especially beneficial to us writers :-)

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  8. I was an Amazon reviewer for a decade and was a Top 1000 for about 3 years, but I stopped this summer after they began soliciting reviews for their imprints in violation of their own review policies. Yep, monopolies are scary, especially when the world's largest retailer starts selling its own books.

    I'll say Amazon isn't the most Big Brother of them all, but they catch onto "devices" pretty quickly and has been known to take those options away, even if only temporarily.

    In my experience, people did not thank you for 4-stars.

    Tip #11 sounds very close to a violation of the review policy- please see the link above and refer to the What's Not Allowed/Promotional Content. Having said that, it's frequently done, and it made a lot of legitimate reviewers look bad, even if we weren't trading reviews ourselves. I have not published anything yet, but I have seen people pretty obviously trade for good reviews- and then brag about it on social media. It's not cool on a couple of different levels.

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  9. Gosh, Anne, this is an incredible post. It says everything I've thought about since my memoir was published back in May by WiDo. At the time, Denise Covey said, Ask your readers to write a review. I think the ones who posted one did so without my asking. But now that I'm an Indie publisher, I've got to get over my reticence and ask - and I'm so glad you read my current post where I asked. Your comment got me over here now.

    Fortunately, I've not had an experience likes yours - people thinking a 2 or 3 star review is awesome. I hate in the first place having to RATE. I just want to write the review, pointing out the good points, mentioning the problems - if the latter are too many, then I don't do the review. I won't write one if I don't think the book is at least 4 stars. AND I never give a book a low rating just because I don't "like" it for whatever reason, such as I don't like vampire stories, etc. etc. If a vampire story was incredibly written, I'll give it five stars.

    This post has just GOT to get circulated. Though I'm afraid it might be the case of those people who should really read it won't, for whatever reason. I will definitely highlight it when I put up my next post, though I'm thinking maybe it's best to wait until the first of December, after NaNo and Thanksgiving. This just NEEDS to get as wide an audience as possible. I'll tweet it, and hope some of my followers will retweet. (My generation and even younger - considering my age, 71) don't have a clue how all of this works!! They're the ones who think the 2 or 3 stars is great.)

    I'm also so glad to see your books and Ruth's highlighted all down your sidebar. I go into bloggers I've just met and if they published I look for their books on the sidebar, and sometimes can't find them! Who's going to promote our books if WE don't? I'm slowly getting over my shyness!!
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

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  10. I forgot to add that I totally agree with the quote by Mainak Dhar on David Gaughran's blog that you mentioned: "Don’t fight gatekeepers, make them your friends." By not arguing with gatekeeper reviewers or agents, I've had some really great things happen to me, including being featured on gatekeeper blogs and review sites. It's been awesome!

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  11. Spook--Glad it helped.

    Sarah--I think we all need to do more reviewing.

    Alex--Those of us with small presses may need reviews the most. We don't have Big 6 publicity departments or the help of the close-knit indie community.

    Ruth--We laugh, but a lot of our, um, peers, are terrified of anything technical.

    Mr. Perryess--As I said to Sarah, we ALL need to pay more attention.

    Florence--great policy!

    Marilyn--It's the professors who are the worst offenders. They think it's like a college grade and they're measuring you against Shakespeare.

    Ann M.--Glad to help.

    Deb--Thank you SO MUCH. I've just posted the link on #11. I didn't mean to suggest trading reviews in any way. It's just that if you've written nice reviews, you're much more likely to be on an author's radar. I had no idea Amazon was now soliciting reviews for its own books. Not cool.

    Ann B.--Thanks for the thoughtful comment. And duh, why didn't I think of that--NaNo is the worst time to be posting stuff like this. I'll have to post it again later. And do spread the word. For some people, you'll have to print it out and give it to them in hard copy, along with instructions on how to fill out an online form...:-)

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  12. Wow! It never occurred to me that someone might think a 2 or 3 star review would be helpful. (And I was born a smidge before 1965.) Good to know when asking well-intentioned friends and family for a boost on Amazon.

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  13. Hi Anne! You've made a big impression on me and that ain't easy! From now on I'm going to review the books I've read as well as tag them and give 4 or 5 stars. I haven't read a "bad" book in ages, so I feel awful that I haven't been doing this all along.
    Thanks for all the great info.
    Patti

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  14. This is a great post! I'm an avid reader/reviewer. It's not my policy to leave negative reviews. I'm a positive person and can usually find something positive to say about the books and products I buy on Amazon.

    ~Donna Fasano~
    www.DonnaFasano.blogspot.com

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  15. Love it! I'm sharing it on my blog, sharing on FB and tweeting.

    Kristie Leigh Maguire - romance author

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  16. Anne, I am new to purchasing on Amazon, e-books that is and a fledgling writer as well. I had no idea commenting on e-books was so complicated and could be so deadly to the author. It appears to me that it is all too easy for fake reviews to be left thus rendering the opinions meaning, yet apparently this is just what were going to have to deal with in 2011 and beyond. Thank you so very much for this extensive post the information was outstanding. I plan to refer to it often. What an excellent job you did and that is not just a kiss up remark, it really was an excellent job. Five stars for your post!

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  17. This is a fantastic. I love how honest you are about all aspects of the publishing industry. I don't read a lot of blog posts about how writers feel about Amazon reviews, so it's so refreshing to see this.

    Will tweet!

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  18. Marilyn--You sure have kept things open to the gatekeepers. That interview agent Sarah LaPolla gave you was awesome.

    Dawn--It might be good to print this out and hand it to your older relatives before asking for a review :-)

    Patti--Me too. The awful thing is, I used to give reviews a lot before I started writing so frantically. Now I realize I should have made the time. We all should. Karma does come back.

    Donna--You're a long-time pro who knows the value of reviews. (And when you write romance, you know that it shouldn't be a review of the genre, but the book.) I'm glad there are people like you out there reviewing.

    Kristie and Jennifer--thanks for spreading the word.

    Donna O. Yes, there are people who game the system, either getting everybody in their church group to give them raves, or paying somebody to bring down the ratings of the author ahead of you on the list. But usually those reviews are pretty obvious.

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  19. What a wealth of information you've packed into this post. Thanks so much for taking the time to compile it. Very well done.

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  20. Thanks so much, Anne! Sarah LaPolla is awesome!

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  21. I'm finding Goodreads is also an invaluable tool, something I've overlooked for YEARS. But it's great for getting exposure, and I think it's a heck of a lot better than wasting my time on Twitter. And I can always take the reviews I do on GR and paste them onto Amazon. I think the more reviews on differnt sites, the better.

    Fantastic post, as always.

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  22. Great post, Anne. I don't leave reviews on books I didn't like. That's just my personal thing, and knowing how hard it is to get your name out there as an author, just because I don't like something doesn't mean I'm going to leave an unfavourable review. I've been doing 2 Indie Books Reading challenges this year, reviewing and blogging about the fab books I've found. While my reviews aren't essays (they're mostly short and sweet), hopefully it raises awareness to them and gives them a boost on Amazon etc :)

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  23. I found this post through the Book Junkies Facebook page which I just joined yesterday, and I'm so glad for the timing or I would have missed this! What an incredible lot of great information. As Ann B. said, it needs to be circulated! And like others have said, it's everything I've thought, too, since indie publishing in August. I also do book reviews for other authors and a point well taken, for me anyway, is that for Amazon, et al, I need to keep the reviews short and give information that is helpful for the reader. I love how the analogy is drawn between rating clothing and rating books. That just created a real "aha!" moment for me! Thanks so much for taking the time to write this post, Anne.

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  24. A great post, really informative and helpful to the many who struggle with Amazon's store. However, I think I'm going to have to strongly disagree with #11. Only give a great review if the book was truly deserving of it. Don't give a book a great review just because the author is a friend of yours and you're hoping for the same treatment once your book comes out. There's a lot of bad press in the indie world for authors doing this and it makes the majority of us look bad. It can make people feel too wary of giving any review at all especially if the author is going to seek revenge.

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  25. Obviously I saw your point in #11 saying you disapprove of suggesting a review swap on the understanding you write good reviews for the other person, but as so many people feel so strongly about this I thought it was worth mentioning again :)

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  26. This is incredible, Anne! I still think most non-internet types won't go to all the trouble, but it's a good guide for people who are regularly in the cyberworld but don't always write reviews. It IS a great way to help authors!

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  27. Awesome! I posted this on FB, where hopefully more of my non-writer-friends will see your wonderful advice!

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  28. I followed Susan Kay Quinn's link from Facebook, and I'm so glad I did. This is an excellent post with some great advice. Thank you!

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  29. Cornell--I have to admit a certain amount of self-preservation was involved in my choice of subject this week. Don't want any more well-meaning 2-star reviews. :-)

    Anne--I'm just starting to get into Goodreads. Thank you soooo much for the great review of Indie Chicks!

    Sibel--You do a lot to promote fellow indies. And that's what I meant about Karma coming back. You're not trading reviews in any way, but you're spreading the word about good indie books and that helps everybody.

    Barbara--I've got to check out Book Junkies on FB. Thanks for the heads-up.

    LK--I wasn't aware of the abuse of the reviews you're talking about until Ruth Harris sent me this link http://bit.ly/unvtc3 this morning. Apparently circles of amateurish writers have been trading 5-star reviews, which makes the whole review system worthless. A dumb thing to do.

    Nina-You may be right that the real Luddites will still be intimidated, but if what's keeping people from reviewing is worry about time commitment, it should help to let them know it doesn't take much effort and anybody can do it.

    Susan--Thanks for the FB share!

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  30. Once again you nailed it, Anne. As a reviewer and author I've encountered most of the scenarios you described, including my misguided notion that 5 stars should be reserved for classics.

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  31. Thanks for the help. I am one of those 'before 1965' -ers, but just barely. You really cleared up some questions I had about Amazon ratings. I've been reticent to post reviews there, as I couldn't quite figure out whether its all or nothing - 5 star or 1 star - based on a lot of reviews I've read. Excellent post I'll be sharing with others. I give it 5 stars! ;)

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  32. As someone born considerably before 1965, I found your suggestions about writing reviews on Amazon to be extremely helpful. Thanks for teaching this old dog some new tricks.

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  33. Great post! I review books at Goodreads, but not often at Amazon. I should change that. Thank you for the why-to's along with the how-to's~

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  34. Anne, this is both amusing and valuable. I know someone who got a 3 star review which said really good things about his book – but what was the use of that? The 3 stars still brought down his overall rating. He thought the reviewer probably believed 3 stars was a good rating – just like your friend.
    Personally, if I don't think a book is any good, I just don't review it. I can't see the point of taking time to write 1 or 2 star reviews.
    Finally, thanks so much for saying such nice things about my review of The Gatsby Game – a really enjoyable book which everyone should read!

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  35. Thanks, Anne, for this wonderful guide -- and especially for reminding people to actually review the story and not the shipping, distribution, etc., that the author has no control over. Very important!

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  36. As always, you are right on! If only all those nice readers who have let me know personally that they liked one of my books would write a review.

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  37. Susan F--Thanks for coming by.

    Sue--I relate. I grew up in the TV Guide era, too.

    Kristin--Thanks for the stars!

    Susan--I think Boomers who have figured out technology deserve special credit. We had so much to *unlearn.*

    Cooking--Goodreads tends to be more thoughtful, but I think the general buying public mostly just looks at Amazon.

    Gerry--I can't tell you what an emotional boost I got from that review. I've only written a couple of one-stars. They've been for over hyped self-help books that I think gave people misinformation.

    Leigh--more and more reviews seem to concentrate on the formatting glitches. Not helpful when the author has no control.

    Marilyn--Mysteries tend to be read by an older demographic and I think a lot of them are terrified of the tech.

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  38. It never occurred to me people would review a book like a tv guide movie---this is helpful and I will pass it on to my publisher. but lose the ageism. I'm 63.

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  39. Have to strongly disagree with you about 2 or 3 stars being something someone shouldn't do -- in case you missed it, the point of the ratings is to HELP READERS, not help authors. And a 3 doesn't mean "not recommended", it basically means "average" (as anyone who has ever used five point scales now, 3 = no view essentially, not positive or negative). There's a big gap between "not recommended" (no view, i.e. 3) and "recommended not" (i.e. 1 or 2). Which is what the algorithm says -- if you're 4 or 5, it's "positive"; if it's 1 or 2, it's negative; if it's 3, it's basically neutral. Readable, workman's product, nothing exciting unless you are addicted to the genre or like the premise.

    Equally, it isn't only the rating that helps sales, it's the actual review -- people who want "only five stars" lose a lot of sales from people who look at it and go, "Yeah, right...how many family members did you ask to review?". In fact, a bunch of research (vetted and replicated by other professors) shows that the mere act of having a review = sales, even if the review was negative. So long as it was thoughtful, other people say "Okay, this one was a worthy consideration". A five-star review that is vague, general, non-specific to say "love it, best book in the entire history of publishing" is actually BAD for sales.

    Interestingly, I have someone who gave me her book to review, and when I got to the end, and there were two issues that reduced my enjoyment from a 5.0 to 4.5 or 4.0, she said she didn't want me to review it. Both are issues that mystery readers hate, and I wouldn't feel comfortable writing a review that doesn't flag them -- I'd be lying to the reader if I said there were no issues. But the rest of the book was amazing, a couple of the chapters being amongst the best I've read all year. Yet not enough to give a 5 star review with the other problems. If I had bought it, rather than been given a review copy, I would have reviewed it regardless of her views -- nobody controls my opinion or "buys" a positive review from me. Nor will I trade for positive ones (makes my skin crawl even when people suggest non-quid pro quo exchanges). But as I was given an advance copy, and I didn't give her my rules up front, I went back and gave her option to withdraw. Which she did. Too bad, I think my review would sell more books for her than the stupid ones she has right now that are virtually empty of substance, but her book, her call :)

    The rest of the posts are good, and I like them. Just can't agree on the nothing less than 4 point. Equally, it's also misleading to a reader -- because you've changed a five point scale into a three point scale (0-3 = no review; 4 = liked it; 5 = loved it), which is really only two points (nothing or yes), which is akin to just a "like it" button which is meaningless.

    PolyWogg

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  40. Dorothy--I know plenty of people our age do know how to use Amazon, but Boomers like us are less likely to feel comfortable about leaving a review than a 25-year old. Just the way it is. I'm not saying we have inferior brainpower. Just that we have more stuff to unlearn.

    Poly--Thanks for the long and thoughtful comment. I think an author who refuses a 4 star review is an idiot. As I said, a 4 star can be more helpful to a reader, and therefore generate more sales. I distrust an author who's got nothing but 5-star raves. They'e often obviously left by family members and cronies. The problem with my friend's 3-star review was that she loved the book and gave it a rave in the text, but didn't realize that 3 stars wasn't going to be very helpful to me. It also made her review confusing, because people read it and said, "if it's that good, why did she give it 3 stars?"

    Note, I said, "I'm not telling you not to give books 1-3 star reviews, I'm just telling you that authors won't thank you for them."

    If you hate a book, by all means let readers know it sux. I've done that. But I didn't expect a thank you.

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  41. Informative post Anne. I have to admit I'm guilty of not giving many reviews on Amazon. After reading this I'll make it a point to leave more.

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  42. Thank you for such a great, informative post. People have emailed me, asking why I have a contest with so many prizes just to get reviews for my two Victor Standish books -- your illuminating post underscores the why of my contest.

    By the way, thanks for dropping by my blog and staying to chat. I offered a link to this post at the start of that post as a thank you to you and to my friends who would like to learn more about how to help their writing friends, Roland

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  43. Great post. I'm going to post a link to this on my writing blog.

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  44. Yowzah! There are a few things here that I had no idea on, great post Anne.

    Two things- I agree with Polywogg, 3 stars doesn't mean not recommended. The publisher of my paper describes it well; "If you like this genre, it's good." 4 means that it is really good and that most will like it, even if it isn't their usual genre. 5 is more of a OMG, you have to read this or we are all going to die!

    Second, don't forget, many don't really read those amazon reviews and there are other places where people may review your book that end up having more impact. ie. goodreads, shelfari, librarything, blogs.

    I am being totally self-serving by mentioning the above, but being a book blogger I don't have time to write reviews for each and every outlet. I really feel that every site requires it's own tone and plain copy/paste won't work, IMHO.

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  45. Barbara--Me too. I feel guilty that I haven't been writing thrm for a while. Sort of fell out of the habit.

    Roland and Rasana--Thanks much for the linkage. Glad you find it helpful.

    Gwen--As a book blogger, you are an author's best friend and we love, love, love you. But most non-professionals don't get the hair-splitting between "not recommended" and "recommended, not." And alas, the ordinary Joe Book Buyer doesn't go to blogs or Goodreads. He hits Amazon and looks at maybe a favorite writer's page and see what comes up on the "also bought" list. A book with 3 stars won't come up. Simple as that. So you don't do that to a writer whose work you respect--unless she just stole your boyfriend or ate your last truffle. :-)

    The rules for professional reviewers are different. We have to deal with inflated ratings at Amazon because so many people do get their sisters and their cousins and their aunts to give them tons of 5-stars.

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  46. A wonderful post, Anne, and much needed.

    Our experience with the still missing Sugar & Spice has been one of extremes.

    We managed to accrue over 230 reviews in the space of six months - exceptional for a book only available as an indie ebook - and the vast majority four and fives.

    But this seems to be because the story was a particularly polarizing one, that incited readers to comment who would normally never have bothered.

    That worked both ways. We also picked up a flurry of one-stars, and had many removed by Amazon for being malicious. Curiously most of the one-stars came in on Monday mornings, and gave no indication at all that the reviewer had ever read the book, or repeated almost word for word a previous negative review.

    But perhaps most interesting is the ratio of reviews to readers / buyers. 230 reviews may sound wonderful, but that is a quarter of one per cent of the actual sales.

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  47. A wonderful post, Anne, thanks for putting such an effort into your blog. I especially liked this line: "the Jurassic sector of the business still treats writers like single-use plastic bags of poo . . ."! We're content-providers, don't you know? I worked in publishing for 10 years (educational publishing) and the only ones lower on the food chain than writers were the delivery drivers. And yet we were responsible for writing lively, coherent, information-filled essays, etc., that hundreds of thousands of high school students would study over the course of years...kind of important, no?

    I had to laugh at your experience with your friend's review. I had a similar experience with a friend loving my book When I Am Singing to You and writing a stellar review, but giving it 4 stars. Of course, that's still great and maybe even more useful, but at the time I couldn't help but think, "REALLY?!" :-) In retrospect, she was the only friend to bother reviewing it, so my ingratitude is a disgrace.

    I have asked other friends to give me a review and they've demurred, even after telling me in excited emails how much they liked it...so I have to think it's something like you lay out here, Anne--some boomers and non-writers, esp., just don't see the point of helping the great commercial wheel turn, even if it helps their friends out. And of course, who has the time they would like for all these tasks? Any perfectionist quails at the thought of writing a review that might be read by an author who is their friend, not to mention the unseen masses...there on the Amazon book page forever. I imagine non-writer-types may simply find this task too daunting.

    Anne, I'm waiting to read your books on a Kindle, which I hope to get for Xmas. And I promise I'll write you reviews! Looking forward to it.

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  48. Being a fan of goodreads, I do leave reviews, and rate the books, but have never done so on Amazon. Thanks for the tip. It doesn't take long to write a good review, especially if you like the story. Writing hands helping other writing hands.

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  49. Mark--It's shocking that Am.co.uk took down a bestselling book with no explanation and won't restore it. Scary, scary stuff. It could happen to any of us. Interesting about the Monday morning troll attacks. I also noticed your newest book, Snow White, has been attacked by trolls who marked ALL your 4- and 5-star reviews "unhelpful." I guess when you make it to the top, you automatically become a target.

    Rebecca--You make such a great point. Unfortunately, it's been that way a long time in some industries. Like in Hollywood, where there's an ancient joke about the blonde starlet who was so dumb she slept with the writer... (I'm glad you're planning to buy my books. I'm hoping to get a Kindle from Santa myself.)

    Diana--Goodreads is much more intelligent, and the reviews tend to be more thoughtful, but as I said above, Joe Book-Buyer doesn't usually go there.

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  50. This is an incredibly helpful guide for new authors and for readers too. I personally have only just started to do book reviews, and confess I haven't done them for every book I've recently read. Another new target for me! Thank you for this insight.

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  51. Great post - Tweeting and sharing with my friends. xo

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  52. Wow! I learned a lot. Thanks for sharing this information.

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  53. From a buyer's perspective: I never read 5-star reviews. And I generally ignore the 1-stars, too (they used to sometimes contain insightful if vindictive criticism, but nowadays they tend to just be about Kindle prices).

    I *only* read the middle-of-the-road reviews, because the extremes at either end are generally too biased to be worthwhile. I want a balanced review of the pros and cons, not a gusher or hater's screed.

    If a book has nothing but 5-star reviews on Amazon, I tend to ignore it. No book is perfect. Every book has strengths and weaknesses. If no one is willing to discuss these openly, then there's a high likelihood that the author solicited positive reviews, or the book is the product of industry hype and/or a rabid online fanbase. I'll pass.

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  54. Great post, Anne. Definitely one I'll save. Not sure if I missed this in the comments, but I would just add that Amazon does require one purchase before a review may be submitted. I found this out because I'd always bought my books on my husband's account (and his credit card), but just recently made my own account.

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  55. This is a great post! I'm passing it along to fellow authors, on FB, and on Twitter. People need to understand.

    I keep telling people if they like my books, tell the world and leave me a review, and if they hate it, tell me. So far I've never had a complaint.
    E. Ayers

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  56. Nancy--We all have to think about it more, don't we?

    Catherine and Linda--Thanks!

    Anon--Thanks for the insight. I think I might do the same. Well, I read an assortment. A one-star will often give me an idea of who the audience is not. But you're right: these days they're usually stupid complaints about pricing, which trad. pubbed writers have NO control over.

    Alicia! Thanks for telling me that! I'll change what I said about not having to buy. One purchase is necessary. OK.

    E. It's so frustrating isn't it? Let's hope we can spread the word. Reviews are key!

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  57. Really interesting, Anne.

    My belief is that most people can tell the difference between a fake five-star or trollish one-star review and a genuine reader response.

    It's the same kind of judgement call that allows us to identify scam emails.

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  58. ay yi yi.....I'm in the "older" age group that you think you knows so much about, and I'm appalled at the dismissive stereotyping. I've never even looked at TV Guide and I regularly read Amazon reviews. Having worked in publishing for years, I'm quite aware of what is happening to this industry, know how to write a brief review, understand the 5 star system, etc. Your guide to writing a review is helpful to people who don't know how to do this all this, but you don't need to make potential readers to feel like idiots in the process. Older readers have money, too, and might want to buy your books. You need to be very careful about stereotyping people by age (and by race and sex while we're at it).

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  59. Lillian--It's true that readers can usually tell the difference, but the Amazon algorithms can't. That's what makes the difference--4 and 5 stars get picked up. 3-stars don't.

    Shane--Ruth and I are in that demographic, too, which is why we have so much trouble getting our friends to write reviews. Same with Marilyn M. and Ann B, who are both even beyond "Boomer" age. A 70 year old has a harder time with tech than a 20 year old. Just the way it is. As I said to Dorothy above, it's not that we don't have the brainpower. It's that we have so much to unlearn.

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  60. Great Post, as an author with friends who keep telling me they want to go in and give me rave reviews but don't know how, I'm going to refer them to this blog to get some ideas and understandings.
    Thanks,
    A.M. Burns

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  61. I have an older friend who bought and read my book, loved it and left a review. It started off by saying that I was her good friend and she wanted everyone to know it was great, great, great! Then she gave it 5 stars, but since she told the world she's my friend, I'm sure it was close to worthless.

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  62. Oh, and as to the "lumping" of those born prior to 1965, I understand what Shane above is saying, but, personally, I didn't take offense (born in 1950) since I know you're talking in generalities and not specifics. Yes, of course there are some of our mature readers who get it & a lot who don't. I'm in my 60s, but as a writer, I understand reviews...how to give them & what they mean. BUT, I know a LOT of my generation who are clueless....see my example above for evidence of someone who is trying to be helpful, but is clueless to the dynamics today.

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  63. Thanks Anne, I love this informative and helpful blog! I'm putting a link on my Facebook page.

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  64. Thanks for an eye-opening, great blog! So much I didn't know about amazon reviews. I'm going to spread the word. This rocks!

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  65. This is excellent. I always thought I couldn't write reviews, and I struggle when I sit down and start writing one, then usually just comment on Twitter, Google +, or Facebook. As an author I know how important reviews are, but I still struggle when writing one. I'm going to change this now and start writing more reviews. I'm holding on to this post, too. Thank you for writing this.

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  66. I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with you.

    A reviewers job is not to sell your book. A reviewers job is to inform other potential readers why they liked and disliked your book.

    If a book only has 4 and 5 star reviews I get nervous. I want to see real, honest reviews. I'm not talking about hateful or spiteful reviews, I'm talking about a reviewer who says "I loved this aspect, but this part just did not work for me, and here is why..."

    For example, I just finished Larissa Ione's new book, it was fantastic. Until I got to a rape scene. A rape scene I was not prepared for, and in no other reviews was there mention of this. Should I not post a review of this book, with my honest opinion? Should I not warn other potential sensitive readers of vital information?

    Where do you draw the line? Readers deserve honest reviews.

    Books are subjective. Ratings are subjective. You just have to deal with it.

    Flip side, if your book sucks (general you, not Anne per say) Other readers have the right to know why I hated the book. Just because I hated it, does not mean someone else will. It may even make someone buy your book, because they like what I hated.

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  67. Mystic--If I help a few authors get the reviews they deserve, this post is a success.

    Sandy--That's another perfect example of the friend trying to be helpful who's totally unclear on the concept. I've seen those "BFF" reviews too--I want to cringe for them.

    Ute--Thanks for the linkage!

    Jean--thanks for spreading the word.

    Author Mary--I think it helps if you think of it more like a blog comment and less like a formal "review" (or a school book report--brings up childhood anxiety.)

    Erika--please note: I say very clearly (maybe I should bold it) that I'm NOT saying you shouldn't give 1-3 star reviews. I'm just saying that the author will not thank you. (The reader may, but that's not what I'm talking about here.) What I'm telling people is they shouldn't put two stars on a rave review and expect people to understand they loved it. Two stars is not a rave, no matter what you say in the text.

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  68. Excellent post Anne - thanks so much for writing it and being so thorough.

    As for the ageism, whether we like it or not, there it is. I'm 50 but so many my age & older are struggling with this new commercial frontier. It's not just people buying our books &trying to "help" us with 3star reviews, but it's also writers who are just peeking out of their writing caves & wondering what in the heck happened to the industry while they were safely tucked away?
    The world is moving at nano- speed, and it takes posts like this to keep us Beatles' & Stones' fans up to date (I'll tell you a funny story you'll appreciate later, on G+ --).
    I do reserve my 5stars for stratospheric excellence - haven't given one out to anybody yet - & I do give 3stars because those are the ratings reviews I read also. I believe the middle ratings are the most accurate reviews for my buck.
    Thank you!

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  69. Once again you mentor us on the publishing path with wisdom and intelligence. I hope you will reap ample reward from your service to your community. Thank you.

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  70. Anne, this is an incredibly informative piece. And so timely! I've been researching the whole concept of marketing my still- unpublished book and one thing I have neglected to consider is Amazon. Thank you. I will take your words to heart and do some reviews, stir up some good karma! Have a great Thanksgiving.

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  71. Pamela--Obviously there's no law that says you can't give out 2 and 3 star reviews, but remember that 1) the book won't be picked up for "also boughts" by Amazon, and 2) the book won't be reviewed by a lot of book bloggers, who require 10-20 4 and 5 star reviews before they'll consider it. You may enjoy staying with the old TV Guide system, and reserve raves for the "Oscar winners" but you will be hurting the writer's career. It's good to be aware of what you're doing to them. If you feel that kind of animosity, then go ahead and vent. But remember, Amazon algorithms don't know the stars were given by somebody with old fashioned standards. They only know what the stars mean in Amazonspeak.

    Judith--Glad you found it helpful.

    Grace--Good to build up that karma now :-) Also, it helps to review other books to help you take a different look at your own.

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  72. I'm going to share this post with everyone I can think of, just hope they will all read it right the way through!

    Thanks for this, although, I think the over 45s might have something to say about it - in the UK at least!

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  73. Great information and very thorough. I love your blog because it gives great, practical, KEEPER information.

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  74. Great post. I'm sharing it on Twitter. I don't think a lot of reviewers get this, let alone family & friends.

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  75. As an author with my first coming out soon, this post is an amazing resource! Thank you for compiling your wisdom and experience here on this subject.

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  76. Lesley--We all need to spread the word. I'm not casting aspersions on Boomers--it's my own demographic. But we didn't grow up with this stuff, so our instincts are different. (As you'll see from the comments--many Boomers are still into the TV Guide ratings system and nothing will budge them.)

    Victoria--Glad this is useful.

    Taryn--Thanks for the tweet!

    Donna--If you can reach even a few friends and readers, it can help your launch a whole lot. Good luck with it!

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  77. Excellent post, Anne. I've had friends give me three-stars, thinking it's fantastic! Um... yeah.

    I've also had people give me three stars and say they loved it -- the only reason they gave it three stars was because they didn't like the genre. Okay!

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  78. Wowsers, look at all these comments.

    Great post, Anne. I'm always mystified when a review says the book was awesome and then gives it 2-3 stars. It's like "Huh?"

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  79. Excellent article, Anne. I keep forgettin' the Amazon piece of the author's puzzle when it comes to distribution, especially outside the US. Thanks for the reminder.

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  80. Reading this really great blog topic and the comments, a couple of things pop up: 1) Are the Amazon reviews there to help the buyer/reader or help the author? If it's to help the reader, then a thoughtful 3,4 review might ensure he/she will not be disappointed, while a whole passle of fake 5 star "raves" will be misleading and once burned, he/she may never buy another book by the same author again. 2)If the response to a less than 5 star "rave" review results in anger, or sulks or hurt feelings, or not getting any thanks from the author, is it any wonder why friends constantly "demurr" when asked to write reviews?

    This great blog and the many thoughtful comments sure indicates to me that this is a complex and fruitful topic, worthy of much thought and maybe re-thought.

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  81. Nice post, Anne. Some very helpful observations, tips, comments--should be required reading for all Amazon readers/reviewers. (Ah, if only...)

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  82. Talli--It kind of helps to know my friends aren't the only ones who were clueless about the star ratings.

    LR--"Huh" was certainly what came to my mind. (Aren't the comments great? This post is already my 3rd most popular of all time--close to 3000 hits.)

    Joanna--We should definitely be looking abroad for sales as well as the US.

    Chura--You're right that the people who garner a lot of friends-and-family 5 stars for amateurish work mess it up for readers.

    Alan and Rick--Thanks!

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  83. A wonderful post I will highly recommend ad share on my blog's Facebook page. Not an author but a reviewer who biggest pet peeve are snarky comments about the price of the book, the delivery or darts thrown at the author for even writing a book because they are already "famous".

    Thank you for being informative with the perfect tone.

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  84. Great blog posting, you've hit the nail right on the head! This is an excellent guide to how Amazon and other review systems work. (That's should be more than 20 words, now where's slider-control to review this at 5-stars... ah!)

    *****

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  85. You're coming perilously close to advising readers---the ones favorable to you, that is----to commit fraud. You're advising them to farm out books to family and friends, to falsely downvote critical reviews and upvote favorable ones, and in short, to manipulate reviews for the author's benefit---not the reader's.

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  86. Interesting post. I don't agree with your point (6), about the ratings, because different websites have different rating scales, so reviewers and book-buyers need to consider the scale at each website.

    For example, Amazon's rating scale is:
    1. I hate it
    2. I don't like it
    3. It's OK
    4. I like it
    5. I love it

    Whereas the Goodreads rating scale is:
    1. didn't like it
    2. it was ok
    3. liked it
    4. really liked it
    5. it was amazing

    So a 3 at Goodreads is actually equivalent to a 4 at Amazon.

    Also, Amazon ratings are just the opinions of THAT reviewer (note the use of the word "I" in the definitions). Rates therefore do reflect the reviewer's own personal tastes. If I pick up a book that has been advertised and tagged as a thriller and it is actually a cozy mystery, then it will help other thriller fans if I make that point. Equally, some cozy mystery fans might then come across the book and read it once they realise it is not a thriller.

    And some reviewers, frankly, are more useful than others. I'm always suspicious of a reviewer that only ever gives 5 stars, just like I'm suspicous of a book that only has 5-star reviews. I have more trust for a reviewer that has given a range of ratings, and explains their reasoning behind the positive and the negative ratings.

    Having said all that, there are days when I would prefer just to review the book without having to give it a grade!

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  87. Anon--Please re-read the whole post. This is not prescriptive, it is descriptive. This is how the reviews are read by Amazon algorithms, not necessarily how they SHOULD be read.

    Lola--You are absolutely right that a 3 on Goodreads is much higher than a 3 on Amazon, because amazon ratings have been inflated. As I said, "I’m focusing on Amazon here, because it has such a huge share of the market." Goodreads reviews tend to be more thoughtful and intelligent. Unfortunately, most people only read the ones on Amazon.

    I'm surprised you say that a reader has no right to comment on a review they disagree with. I didn't say they SHOULD, but I said they CAN. That said, I think if you see a grossly unfair review, it's not a bad thing to say so. Sorry you disagree. If you think trolls shouldn't be called out, I'd love to know why?

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  88. Great. Now the bloody thing ate my comment.

    "I'm surprised you say that a reader has no right to comment on a review they disagree with."

    You're surprised because that's not what anybody is saying. However, your handy little tips come down to encouraging your readers to engage in vote stuffing to get rid of reviews THEY don't like and which don't flatter writers. The whole "I just said they CAN, not SHOULD," isn't fooling anybody either.

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  89. Iola disagrees with point #6. "You don’t have to leave a review to comment on one." But I'm pretty sure that's a statement of fact. I say giving a reviewer positive or negative feedback can be helpful. No ballot-stuffing implied.

    Sorry I've upset you, Anon. I'm offering help to an author's fans who want to give them a rave, but don't know the realities of Amazon algorithms.

    Of course there's a lot of abuse of the system. That's why I'm providing some basic information. There's abuse on both sides--authors who get their friends and family to pad their page with raves--which has resulted in inflated amazon star ratings--and trolls paid to destroy another author's livelihood.

    Not to cast any aspersions on the Internet Troll community. We all thrive on diversity. :-)

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  90. Trolls PAID to destroy an author's ratings? I sure hope you have proof of that.

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  91. Great article!! I've been reading a lot more Amazon reviews lately; some of them really crack me up. WHY do people complain about Amazon or the shipping process in a book review?! I just don't understand people sometimes.

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  92. Wow, look at the author love-fest!
    The point of a review is to help customers to decide what books are bad and what books are good.

    THEY ARE NOT TO STROKE YOUR EGOS.

    This post is a perfect example of why so many readers dislike self-published and small press authors.

    Quite frankly, as a customer, I’m disgusted, You’re soliciting reviews, and every author posting here is going on my NEVER BUY list.

    Sheesh. What happened to ethics?

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  93. Hi Anne,
    What an interesting post and what an incredible amount of comments it has stimulated. Sorry to SN, and others with a similar view, but I have to differ with you. I don't think there is anything wrong with asking people who have read your book, and said they genuinely really liked it, to post a wee review for you. It has nothing to do with stroking egos or asking someone to lie for you. Far from it! It's just about trying to get heard. So, I really appreciate the information in this post, just knowing the usefulness of clicking the 'yes' or 'no' (this review was un/helpful button) is a help.

    BTW it has been my experience, that even when friends and family (and strangers) enthuse about your book and are happy to share their love of it by word of mouth, they are very nervous about writing a review: they seem anxious they'll make a fool of themselves or of not looking 'clever'. (I know how they feel. It can be scary putting your thoughts onto screen for the world to see.). So, what I am saying is you simply can't make someone write a review for you - good or otherwise - well not in my experience.

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  94. Miss Allen thanks for sharing such useful information. I shall place a prominent link to it in my new blog
    http://fiction-authors.blogspot.com that encourages authors to review the work of other authors and list their own titles. Thanks again. Really appreciate the well written information.

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  95. This post has helped me decide what my New Year's resolution will be for 2012 - namely to post reviews whenever I read a book.
    I think this is a very informative blog post - as are the comments which follow it. I'm never likely to be on SN's 'BUY' list, so I would just like to point out to him or her that this is not any kind of a love-fest. It's simply giving advice to writers on ways to survive in a very difficult market-place - would you prefer that we all sit quietly in our ivory towers and pray that some nice kind reader just happens to chance by and finds us there?
    Actually - that's exactly what I HAVE been doing - and as a result, my book has no reviews at all so far, though I do have two 'likes'. So I shall definitely make use of some of the very valuable tips and advice in this post - and thank you Anne for going to all the trouble of writing it!

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  96. This in response to what SN has written. I do not entirely agree with her. It is not unethical if the review is an honest one.

    As regards soliciting, the publishers do it on behalf of the author if the book is not self published. If the book is self published the author has to do it himself. He/she is then both publisher and author besides being the promoter. If he did not do it the book can lie in online stores for years without being noticed, especially if the author is a new one. There are millions of books out there.

    I would agree with SN that many self published books may not be much since they are not screened by professional editors, but there are some great and different self published works out there waiting to be discovered through such reviews.

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  97. Hey Anne, scrolling down to comment no 98 was a task/marathon, but I finally made it. This is a great post and should be required reading for all bloggers/aspiring authors etc. Great tips. I do a lot of Amazon reviews and can't believe people hand out 2 or 3 stars on a book they liked!

    Denise

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  98. Guess, I may as well post one more comment to reach 100. Just returning from giving a prominent reference to this post in my blog.

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  99. Anon 9:06--I can't tell you where to sign up, or guarantee you a paycheck, but if you're fluent in English I'm sure they'd be glad to have you. Most 1-star review trolls are obviously working in a 2nd language.

    Handyman--I love reading 1 star reviews, especially of the classics. The garbled syntax and, um, *creative* spelling are always a hoot.

    SN--This has nothing to do with indie vs. Big 6. By far the worst troll attacks I've seen are on bestselling Big 6-published books. The attacks can be massive and ugly.

    As to your other concerns, I think the comment responses say it better than I could. Publishing is a business. Good reviews sell books. It's not about egos. Big 6 publishers pay for reviews & indies can't afford to, but if they don't encourage fans to review, how do you find out about them?

    Marianne--You said it better than I could. Those nervous fans are exactly the people I'm writing for here.

    asok--Thanks for linkage and the boost up to 100 comments! You obviously get exactly what I'm talking about. I'll check out your site.

    gilly--It's my NY resolution, too. I often tell friends personally about a book I love, but forget to leave a review. Gotta change that.

    L'Aussie--Amazing isn't it? I've never had 100 comments before. This is obviously an issue people feel strongly about. Thanks for slogging all the way to the bottom of the list. Glad you agree that 2 & 3 star reviews aren't friendly.

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  100. I was thinking about opening up for pitches for self publishing. I wrote a post about my thought process and what not and it was all a very positive experience. Then I read this, and I read the comments and I remembered that most self pubbed authors think that they should have some control over the reader and the review and how they felt about the book. I decided immediately to stick with traditionally published authors. Thanks for making my decision easier.

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  101. I think your post is very informative, especially for authors wanting to play the Amazon game. I agree more those in your comments about three star reviews. As a book blogger I don't use the star rating on my blog (I do on Amazon because it's required and on Goodreads). 3 stars to me means that it was a good book that people should read and its an author I will pick up again, yet I probably won't re-read this book. Maybe I'm just a tough reviewer with higher standards. I liken stars to grades which have long been inflated to make a person look better. Readers are going to catch on to this game and the rating system won't be as useful.

    As to your comment that a book needs a large number of 4 and 5 star ratings to be reviewed by a book blogger - I don't look at what other people are saying about a book that I've been requested to review. I want to form my own opinion. After I read it I might look at what others are saying, but not before.

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  102. Sorry, I have to disagree with this. Once I release a book, I truly release it. I cannot control if it's read, how it's reviewed, if it's reviewed, etc. and that's fine by me. In fact, when I mention my book to friends, I make it a point to tell them they're not obligated to buy it, read it, like it, tell me whether or not they liked it, or review it. They do not owe me anything just because they're my friends.

    The only place where I can control how people act is in my story, and I prefer to focus on that.

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  103. I like the way you think as an author. Kudos to you. :)

    When I read a review from a family member or friend of the author I automatically discount that review. If they are a member of the author's family I would expect nothing less than a 5-star review from them no matter what they thought of the book so I cannot trust their opinion.

    The same goes for friends of the author. Many people dislike very much seeing a slew of 5-star reviews from the author's friends and form a negative view of the author because of it.

    I am not trying to beat on authors. I know you want to sell your work. But readers owe nothing to authors in their reviews. They owe everything to other readers.

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  104. Grace, thanks for speaking up and saying what I and others are thinking. I'm horrified - though not surprised - at the authors here encouraging Anne Allen's line of thinking.

    Anne Allen, this is a bad post and is everything that authors should NOT do. Especially self published authors, whose reputation already stinks precisely because of this kind of 'advice'. Readers *loathe* authors who manipulate reviews and game the system - and who encourage friends and relatives to do the same:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-forum/romance/ref=cm_cd_search_res_ti?ie=UTF8&cdMsgNo=1&cdPage=1&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=TxN1NOOIAUROOH&cdMsgID=Mx11N11Z610XO9T#Mx11N11Z610XO9T

    I can't pur you on a DNR list because I doubt anything you would write would be of interest to me but I *am* warning authors and readers about this and saying it's an example of really, really bad advice. It's pretty much a template of how *not* to review.

    You've already alienated one potential reviewer - who won't now touch any other SP authors, thanks ever so much. I wonder if you really want to persist in alienating others by pretending this isn't as harmful and crass as it is.

    Reviews are for readers. The rankings etc are a side effect. If I can't get good reviews honestly, then I don't want them at all. Any author worth their salt would feel exactly the same.

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  105. The point of book reviews is to be honest. When I review a book, I will put how I really feel. I will in no way alter a review to please anyone else. Do I like posting negative reviews? No, of course not, but if I truly believe it's only a 2 or 3 star book I am going to say that. Book reviews are the opinion of the person reading it and they should review as they see fit. Never ever would I disrespect an authors writing or book, but if it's something I didn't enjoy than that's just how it is. That is the reason there are ratings. I will always post honest reviews no matter what, in a respectful way. If I give a book a 2 doesn't mean someone else will. Saying that people shouldn't review or rate a book unless they are going to give it 4 or 5 stars is ridiculous. And it's very hard for me to believe that any authors would tell people to give another author negative ratings. Any authors I know would never do anything like that, and also don't expect everyone to give them a 4 or 5 star review. (though they hope that people like their book and feel it is a 4 or 5)

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  106. Thank you so much, Ann Somerville and Solange, for posting here! As a reader and a self-published uploader, I zomg so agree with you. The reputation of self-pubbed writers has fallen completely into the dirt due to writers like this, and they can't even see what they're doing wrong. To add emphasis to what you've said in the hope that all who agree with this post will finally see the error in their thought process:

    IT IS UNETHICAL IN ALL CASES FOR FRIENDS OR FAMILY MEMBERS TO REVIEW YOUR BOOK.

    Dear god in heaven, I can't believe that anyone over the age of 12 actually needs to have that explained to them. There is absolutely no argument that can possibly defend it. A friend or relative can NEVER be 100% honest or objective about your work. Ever. Do not let your friends or family review your books on Amazon. EVER. Do not ask them to, and do your best to stop them if they beg you to let them. Reviews are solely for customers to inform other customers about the quality of the work.

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  107. Pam--If you're more comfortable with trad. pubbed books, I certainly understand. I've written about how indie writers need to develop thick skins and expect bad reviews, but they don't all do that. But it's tough to get a bad review from Grandma--especially when she intended to give a rave but doesn't understand the system.

    Donna--I was speaking about specific bloggers like Pixel of Ink who insist on X number of 5-stars. I'm glad you don't use the system on your blog, but even if you did, you don't have to adhere to the Amazon system. It has become inflated. I'm only talking about Amazon. It sounds as if you're a thoughtful reviewer. We love you and need you!

    Grace--Good for you! Most of us have to treat publishing like a business, but the happy amateur can sometimes produce the purest forms of art.

    Solange--You're exactly right. Amazon star ratings have become inflated because of too many of the "friends and family" reviews. That's why real fans should be aware they can help.

    Ann--I'm so sorry you find it necessary to shoot the messenger. This is meant to be a descriptive, not prescriptive post--meant to educate the uninitiated. The system *is* being gamed. I thought people might like to know how to fight back. Sorry that upsets you. It's actually Big 6 authors I've seen suffer most from troll attacks, and when I love their books, I'm very happy to help. Sorry you disagree.

    Amy--"I'm not telling anybody not to write 2-3 star reviews" I bolded that for a reason. It seems to be invisible. Nobody's telling you not to be honest. I'm saying to people who LOVE a book--here's what you can do.

    Arabella--Friends and family DO write reviews. It's not something I invented. Don't shoot the messenger. And I'm not talking to them. I'm talking to fans. I love Marian Keyes, but I forget to write reviews of her books. She sometimes gets negatives from people who hate chick lit. Should I not defend her? That seems weird. Sorry to have got the professional reviewers so upset. I repeat: this is describing how things ARE, not how they SHOULD BE.

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  108. So...is the "the author won't thank you," for giving the book 3 stars on Amazon meant to convey that if you're a reviewer that posted a review on Amazon and also blogs, that you can kiss any future review copies goodbye? Is that what everyone who's vigorously agreeing is saying as well? Because I blog and I crosspost my reviews at Amazon and Goodreads and I adhere to the definitions of their ratings at each place. 3 stars at Amazon isn't the same thing as 3 stars at Goodreads and it doesn't mean a C at my blog necessarily.

    I'm honest, I'm respectful and in every review I point out what I liked and didn't like about a book. Since I'm crossposting, if what appears on Amazon looks like a critique...well, tough. It's my style and my right to stick it there. I've been putting them there for ten years and they haven't kicked me off yet.

    I haven't been able to take on many self-pubs for my blog for the last few months because of a time issue, but I buy them for my personal reading and review those when I can.

    Should I assume from this post that the trend is if I'm offered an indie book, I'd better give it 3 stars on Amazon or I can forget ever working with that author again? Or her friends? Because she certainly won't thank me for my review.

    I got here by the link posted by very dear friend and I'm feeling quite sickened by it.

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  109. Barbara--This post is NOT for book reviewers. It's for fans who DON'T write reviews. To tell them they can. And how to do it effectively.

    I had no idea this flame war would start from my little description of Amazon conventions. Things shouldn't be this way, but they are. You're shooting the messenger.

    Nobody wants reviewers to change. Just stay your dear, snarky, honest selves. We need you.

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  110. I was with you until the ageist crap. I'm 48 and I understand quite well the importance of consumer reviews in a cybermarketing situation such as Amazon's. The WWW with the pictures, bells, and whistles has been around for about 20 years. Not everyone is your overworked, under appreciated parent or other relative who couldn't spare the time from, Oh, raising and supporting the likes of you, similar to how not all people born after 1965 are magically adept. Don't succumb to divisive thinking.

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  111. Interesting post. I must say as someone who has been using amazon reviews to decide what to purchase for many years now I do disagree with a couple of your points.

    First of all I hate really short reviews. There are tons out there where someone has given a book 5 stars with a review that basically reads "I like this book". That is really unhelpful to me and is likely to stop me from buying it. I want to know why they liked it, and that usually takes more than a couple of sentences. Short reviews may be helpful for the author but they're near useless for the buyer.

    Secondly the comment about not making your reviews like a school book report with a synopsis. Amazon's descriptions are often misleading or missing so I rely on reviewers to summarise the plot in their review. I'm not looking for a play-by-play, just a blurb in their words. I want to know what the basic idea of the book is before I spend money on it.

    When I started reviewing about a year ago these are two things I made sure to do in my reviews. Above all else I'm honest in my reviews - I flat out say what I like or dislike about the book, focusing on plot, characters, ending, enjoyment and cover to give a fair review. If the author doesn't like it, that's fine. I write my reviews for readers not for authors.

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  112. Mariqat--LOL. The woman who raised and supported me is 90 years old. (And way more savvy than me about most things, but she'd never think of leaving an amazon review.) I'm a Boomer, and I'm talking about my own peers. Ruth and I run into the problem all the time. We didn't grow up with the Internet. People we know don't think of writing a review. It's just not in our consciousness. I'm trying to educate them.

    Claire--You sound like a fabulous reviewer, and you're the kind I'd always give a "helpful" click to, and maybe make a comment to agree with you. (I strongly urge people to give positive feedback to useful reviews.) Short reviews aren't as helpful, certainly. But for an intimidated reader who's starting out, it's nice to know it doesn't have to be a masterpiece to be helpful. Something like "If you like Sophie Kinsella and Jennifer Weiner, you'll love this book" can be very helpful, if as you say, the publisher hasn't given enough info in the blurbs (which happens way too often--I agree.) Thanks for the great comment--and keep writing those reviews, we really appreciate them!

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  113. I think the problem people are having is with the disconnect between what you say (and quote) in the post, and what you say in the comments. In the original post, you bolded the bit about not saying people shouldn't give less than 4 stars, just that the author won't thank you. Then, further down and sprinkled all throughout the comments, you say that giving less than 4 stars kicks a book out of Amazon's sorting algorithm, so you shouldn't do it unless the author stole your boyfriend.

    "I'm not telling you NOT to leave 3-star reviews, just telling you that if you do, you're an evil meanie-head who's actively trying to kill the author's sales" is the attitude here, but if people point it out, they just get referred back up to the "I'm not telling you NOT to" part.

    I'm also confused about the target audience for this post -- you say "everybody and his grandmother" and "readers", meaning it's meant for, well, everybody and his grandmother, but then in comments you say this is exclusively for friends and family of authors who want to help the author out. You say you don't encourage review farming or inflation, but this post doesn't quite bear the information out. You then say that this post isn't for professional/semi-professional book bloggers/reviewers, indicating that if someone doesn't run a book review site, they should leave 4 stars or nothing.

    I think the original point/target of your post, which has gotten turned around as you've changed your stance a few times in the comments (another source of confusion?), was that if someone loves a book, then giving it 2 stars makes no sense. That's a good point, and it's something I often see in reviews on the iTunes app store as well: "BEST APP EVER OMG - 1 star" -- huh?? But I think this just spiralled out of control, and no matter how much you say the post is descriptivist, the later remarks really read otherwise, especially when coupled with the defensive "you all misunderstand me and are shooting the messenger" responses later.

    I do think that the Amazon system needs to be revamped. If 3 stars means "it was okay" or "it was good if you like this genre, but not for regular readers" (the most common uses of it), then 3 stars should not be excluded from their sort algorithms. Meanwhile, readers should not be forced to artificially inflate their reviews to 4 stars to avoid the accusation of actively killing an author's sales with an honest 3.

    Amazon needs to figure out whether reviews are there to help the readers or the authors; authors assume it's for them, and readers likewise. Right now, Amazon's algorithms make it a big ol' jumble.

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  114. Anne~

    You said this about my comment:

    "You're exactly right. Amazon star ratings have become inflated because of too many of the "friends and family" reviews. That's why real fans should be aware they can help."

    Apparently you read a different comment than the one I wrote, because I didn't say this at all. I made myself as clear as I could so I won't try to explain again.

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  115. scribotarian--Thanks for the heads-up. I was writing for my regular readers and never imagined I'd get this kind of audience. I was mostly talking to fans--people who loooove your book, but don't think of leaving reviews. I totally agree that it would be better if the reviews hadn't been inflated, and a three-star was read as more positive. I appreciate the thoughtful comment.

    Solange--so sorry I misunderstood. I do hear that you're angry, and I apologize if this post upset you. It wasn't intended to tell people what to do, just describe things as they are.

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  116. Just chiming in to say that one of my fans who loveslovesloves my books & recommends them to all her friends just went blank when I suggested a review. She's definitely Baby Boomer vintage and, tho she can do email & download to her Kindle (her granddaughter taught her & they both laugh that it wasn't easy), she won't shop online, check out a blog, look up the weather etc. much less tweet.

    I'm not saying she represents all BBers (far from it), but there are certainly more than just a few to whom the net is a mystery—and a scary one at that.

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  117. I got a three star review on Goodreads and the text beneath it said "Delightful!" Well I was confused by this. I send an email to the reviewer, thanking her for her time.

    She said she LOVED the book and couldn't wait for a sequel.

    Three stars.

    I have another three star job on Amazon from a lovely reviewer who left a detailed review and said it was really 3 1/2 stars, only because she wasn't really as interested in the fashion world of the book (even though, well, it's a fashion book)

    Now I have to say I appreciate both of these reviews for different reasons. one, because the three star on Goodreads lowers my rating but was "Delightful!" (there's another 3 star with no reason attached, but that's Goodreads for you)

    The Amazon review is useful to me because as my lowest review, it's going to be read very often, and it's not all that negative.

    But here's the thing. The damage to my overall rating is serious because the book is new. And I'd NEVER do anything to ask to remove them as they are both valid. And I WILL offer free copies of the next book to both of these ladies. But I'm really hoping there's a 5 star in my near future, or I'm going to start getting nervous about dropping off the charts.

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  118. Anne~

    I am annoyed, Anne, that you are not understanding the comments of people who are opposing your point of view.

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  119. This was a great post, and I've distributed it widely. It's good for fans and readers in general to know their reviews are wanted and needed, and how much of an impact they can have. Three times now (twice for one ebook, once for another) I've had readers of my short stories (clearly described as short stories) leave 1-star reviews and absolutely scathing, hateful "reviews" -because the ebooks were not full-length novels, and they felt cheated. (Again, the works were clearly described as short stories.) Both times my sales plummeted to half almost immediately, as neither story had more than one or two other (5-star) reviews. In one case a fan contacted me to say they loved my story and had posted a good review to counteract the 1-star... except they thought 3 stars was a really good review, and it actually did more harm than good. Meanwhile, people may tell you constantly that they enjoy your books- but getting those 20-word reviews from them saying so is like pulling teeth.

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  120. First of all - great post.
    I have bought HUNDREDS of books from Amazon, and have never reviewed one. It never crossed my mind to write a review. And,I rarely read them.
    Yes - I am a Baby Boomer. And I am very adept on the computer - use it for my job and shop online, etc. But I think you make some great points. A lot of people I know think just like this - they would never think to leave a review.
    It is also difficult when reviewing to determine what kind of star rating to give a book. A classic that I love might garner five stars. But do I also give a silly romance that I really enjoyed five stars? Because it IS five stars for a romance - but not 5 stars compared to a classic piece of literature.
    For me, that is where the confusion comes in. If that were the case, Stephen King would NEVER get a 5 star review. But, if you are just comparing him to other books in his genre, of course he would get 5 stars.
    Thanks for this really informative article, Anne. It really opened my eyes about the review system.

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  121. I was going to disagree with #8, but I see that ground has been pretty well covered in the comments already.

    One thing that I am still puzzling over is when I should be expecting "thanks" from the author. I've written up a handful of 4 star reviews over the years and not once have I been thanked by an author for doing so. I'm not bitter about it; I didn't expect any, but the number of times you've said not to expect thanks for a three star review makes me wonder if I should have been.

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  122. Anne, This is an example of the games that authors play that infuriates readers. Have friends and family review books and give 5 star ratings. If you don't like reviews that legitimate reviewers have written - down vote them to hide them or even better, hit the abuse button to try and have them deleted. Then you advise reviewers to give 4 or 5 star or the authors won't thank them. Why would you think that a legitimate reviewer would want to be thanked by an author? Oh, I forgot you are talking to the authors friends and family. This is unethical and I have a hard time believing that you need to have this explained to you.

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  123. Christine--Thanks so much for sharing this. I do think Goodreads reviews have a different star system, so 3 is more positive than negative, but it still feels kind of icky.

    Troy--Bless you for the reality check. I was wondering if I'd wandered into an alternate universe. This stuff happens in mine. And it happens a lot. (Somehow, especially with novellas. A lot of people don't seem to know what that means and get angry that they've been "short-changed")

    Anon--Thanks for speaking up for the non-Amazon savvy Boomer. We just don't think of it, do we? I was just trying to get some of my peers to understand that.

    Jen and ethical--I mentioned thanks because of the friend of the friend who adored my book and gave it two stars and didn't understand why I didn't thank her.

    Because I intended to speak to fans who have never reviewed before, I didn't think about professional reviewers reading this, and I'm so very sorry I have hurt so many feelings.

    As a reader, I do thank good reviewers who have helped me with a decision. Sometimes with just a click on "helpful" and sometimes with a comment.

    But of course a *professional* reviewer should not expect thanks, or anything else from the author. They're doing it for the reader. I worded that awkwardly.

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  124. It's an unfair assumption that all authors with a majority or all five star reviews have faked reviews.

    I know that's become the expectation of readers now, so it's difficult to change. But reinforcing it is hurtful to the authors who have managed to get excellent reviews from people they don't know.

    I don't have many reviews, but those I have are almost all five star with a few four stars mixed in. (Not intending to brag, I swear to God. I just want to make a point.) I have never asked a blessed soul to review me, friend or relative. Too much of a deceptive trade practice, imho.

    I'm just tired of being lumped in with the writers whose integrity you question.

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  125. ' If somebody has given one- and two-star reviews to ten or more books in the same category, he’s probably a troll, paid by one author to bring down other authors’ ratings.'

    I completely disagree. I've given plenty of one and two star reviews for books in the same category,namely Young Adult, but also plenty of four and five star reviews to Young Adult books. So have many of my book blogger comrades and I assure you we are not trolls. Nor do I take kindly to being called a troll for being honest and not handing out 5 stars like candy on Halloween.

    Further, I'm 24 and know what a TV Guide is. I'm not a fan of these ageist assumptions.

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  126. Wow, what a lively roundelay on what is both a controversial AND unavoidable issue in today' publishing world.

    Hats off to you, Anne, for having the fortitude to withstand the onslaught--on both sides of the discourse.

    As a career journalist/publicist turned novelist, I have to point out that surviving in the commercial literature business in the current marketplace is almost completely dependent upon an author's willingness--be she published by the NYC giants, small press, or self-press--to shamelessly promote her own work. This includes encouraging reviews.

    The times, they are a-changin'. Like it or not, the realities of how business is done these days is forcing us all to challenge our commonly held understandings of how the machine works, and that includes re-examining traditionally held ideals about journalistic ethics.

    Thanks for your insightful, informative and well-conceived article.

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  127. I found your insights interesting. Especially the one about less than 4 stars being "not recommended." I've given a few reviews on Amazon and other sites and, in fact, just rated a Netflix movie as 4 stars because, even though I thought it was a 3, it deserved to be seen by more people and I didn't want to lower its rating.
    4 stars is the magic number. I'm not saying people shouldn't review things as 5 stars, they should if they truly feel it's worth it, but, when I'm looking for a book to read I ignore the 1 star reviews (they're usually someone confused by the item, angry about something, or just plain full of hate and may not have even read it) and the 5 star reviews both (these read like a kind of zealot's manifesto) unless there is a huge number of them.

    I think I'm used to the older method of reviewing where 0 stars is the absolute worst you can be, 1 star is bad, 2 is average, 3 is above average, 4 is good and 5 is great. I give a lot of things 3s that I don't think really deserve them because, in this era, 2 has become synonymous with bad. 2's aren't bad. They're just... not great but you might still eke some enjoyment out of them. With people making their living off of them, though, it's harder to give accurate reviews without feeling a bit bad about it. I shouldn't feel bad giving an okay book or movie a 3.
    (I'm only anonymous because I never remember my password.)
    Amber Stone

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  128. Anne, great post.

    To answer your question, I always leave reviews because I know it helps indie authors however, I must admit, I have a hard time leaving reviews for books I don't fully endorse. If there are a lot of spelling and formatting errors, if the book is not edited, if there are huge issues, I am not comfortable reviewing this book therefore most of the reviews you will see under my profile are four and five star reviews.

    It isn't that I don't want to tell people their book has issues but rather than air their dirty laundry, I would rather tell them in private. ;-)

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  129. Anon--I think that's true of a lot of us newbies who have only got a couple of reviews, mostly positive. I was beginning to fear I should ask friends and family to review me after all--and give me some of those 3 stars.

    April--Thanks for letting me know another thing I didn't make clear. I meant somebody who gives ONLY 1-star reviews. I'd better fix that. I just added a caveat to the beginning and I hope that will make my intentions clearer. I never meant to cast aspersions on any professional reviewers. I apologize. Thanks for speaking up.

    Roberta--Bless your heart. I needed to hear that. We are all told to shamelessly self-promote and that's awfully hard for some of us who have been taught not to toot our own horns.

    Amber--I agree that 4 stars is the magic number. Thanks for making it clear what the ratings system is.

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  130. Ageist? Really?
    So, it's ageist to suggest that Boomers don't use computers as well as those in their twenties?
    Or to suggest that there are those who might not know what TV Guide is?
    Guess it would be ageist to say that a lot of you probably dont remember prohibtion or Armstrong walking on the moon or the day Kennedy was killed.
    Or perhaps to say a lot of senior citizens don't like Lady Ga Ga. Or a lot of younger people don't like Andy Williams.
    This is ridiculous. To accuse Ms. Allen of ageism is just absurd.

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  131. Your definition of what the star ratings mean differs from what Amazon posts above the stars as you rate the book. 3 Stars is "it was okay", which I take to mean the average run of the mill book. For me a 3 star rating may or may not be recommended, depending if it's a stand alone book or part of a series.

    I know you're focused on Amazon, but according to Goodreads, 2 stars is "okay". So Amazon's scale is already skewed to the positive side, compared to other popular measures.

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  132. This is the only thing a reader needs to know about reviewing:

    http://carolynjewel.com/wordpress/2011/11/26/carolyns-tips-for-reviewers/

    Directing anyone how to assess your book is very poor form indeed.

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  133. I understand how authors feel on Amazon review,Anne. I work in banking industry in Australia, customer facing role. We also get an independent firm calling clients whom we have had contact with, asking them to rate our individual service out of 10.
    This survey forms part of our scorecard: the difference to getting a bonus after a hard-earned quarter or getting none at all.
    We are rated as to how likely our clients would be to recommend us to friends and family. Unfortunately, like the Amazon ratings, our clients were not told that anything under 9 is a 'fail' for us, or at least a 'passive' (0 score).

    I have had comments such as "she was fantastic! She saves us so much money on fees, gets us thinking differently about our banking structures, and very friendly and helpful" and getting either a 7 or 8 out of 10. The comments means zilch in the eyes of the system, because the rating is what counts. And some people just never give 10 out of 10 because "no one is perfect".

    Like you, I have also been rated 5 out of 10 because my client could no find parking near my branch. Not in my control exactly, but apparently it was part of my service evaluation.

    I urge everyone, not just the boomers, to be careful with rating things. Please read carefully what you are actually rating, and understand the ratings system before you click that button, because someone's lifelihood might be affected by you.

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  134. "Don’t expect an author to be pleased with 2 or 3 stars, no matter how much you rave in the text . . . Giving 1 or 2 stars to a book that doesn’t have many reviews is taking money out of the author’s pocket, so don’t do it unless you really think the author should take up a new line of work."

    Personally, my book reviews are for the consumer, and no one else. I don't change my opinion or raise my rating based on how I'd like the author to feel when/if they read it. I don't care what the author thinks. I care about what *I* think, and I care about being honest, and that's what I write: my honest feelings, opinions, and thoughts. That's the base of a review. If that means that the book's overall score is lowered because of my review, then so be it.

    In the case of the average consumer (the non-book reviewers that you say this post is targeted towards): The average consumer should never be told to base any part of their review on the author, or the projected success of the book. That's just insulting, and it cheapens the reviewing process, overall. Reviews are not written for the author.


    "What an Amazon review isn't: An essay about your personal tastes. It’s not about you. Don’t give a cozy mystery a negative review because you personally prefer thrillers."

    When I write a review, it IS all about me; what I liked, what I hated, what I found compelling, and what I wish had been done better. If I try a new genre and decide the book wasn't for me because I "personally prefer thrillers," this does not at all invalidate the review. It means the book didn't catch my interest, and may not catch the interest of others who prefer thrillers. It's a warning to others who would have tried the book given it a low rating when they realized the same thing...had they not read that review.


    "...writing positive reviews is the nicest thing you can do for your favorite authors."

    No. The nicest thing you can do for your favorite authors is writing an honest review, regardless of how it makes them feel. The nicest thing you can do is to always include positives AND negatives, and include concrete examples of each. THIS type of review is helpful.



    Lastly: This is a great example of why I rarely trust an author's review of any other book. The whole I'll pat you on the back, if you pat me on the back thing is pretty sketchy. I follow author blogs for a long time, and watch how they interact with their readers, and other authors before I trust any of their reviews...this includes

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  135. Whoops! My comment got cut off. I meant to say:

    ...this includes traditionally published AND self-published authors.

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  136. Anon 4:39--What? Younger people don't like Andy Williams??

    mlady--You're right that Goodreads has higher standards, and their reviews tend to be more accurate.

    Anon 4:56 Thanks. I'll check it out. AGAIN, I'm not telling anybody how to asses a book: just informing people who don't know the code what it means to the Amazon number people.

    Stephanie--Thanks :-)

    Anon 5:37 Arrggh. Those numerical ratings of anything always annoy me. I see shades of gray, not black and white. Whenever some company calls after a workman has been here, I always rank him superb at everything, because I know some cranky meany will have said he was awful, even if he wasn't.

    Penelope. AGAIN, I apologize to the reviewer community for anything I said to make you think I was addressing you or trying to tell you how to do your job. I was talking to clueless Boomers like myself who LOVE a book but don't ever think of saying so on Amazon. We need to know 1) it's there, and 2) If you want to give somebody a a rave, three stars won't do it.

    That's ALL. I sure did kick a hornet's nest. For which I apologize. We very much appreciate all your hard work.

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  137. I personally don't agree with this view on the star ratings, as factual as it may be. Or rather, I don't agree with the suggested approach. From the reader's standpoint, what of it if less than 4 stars has the effect described in the post? The reader is not buddies with the writer, it's a purchase, there's money being paid for the book. Should the reader go the extra mile and adopt a skewered scale of rating because it works like that? As far as the reader is concerned, what he sees in front of him isn't just the book, it's the whole system, Amazon included. If it doesn't work the way he feels should be sensible - and let's face it, 3 stars out of 5 is by definition more than 50% and therefore a positive grade, thus to be considered a positive mark - then it's Amazon who should change, and if in the meantime that doesn't benefit the writer, it's the writer who chose the publishing platform. If the system is working wrong, going and settling for workarounds will only increase it's awkwardness and uneffectiveness, so if that is to be avoided, that's what should be addressed.

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  138. Anne, I just read my comment to you today, and realized that it came off a bit harsher than it needed to, especially after I went through and read the comments (which I didn't do before posting it). I was a pretty upset after reading your post, and that came out in my comment. I apologize for that.

    All I meant to say, is that the post could have been worded better. When I read the post, what I got from it was something along the lines of:
    --Don't give a review under 4 stars, or you'll make the author angry with you.
    --Don't post any personal thoughts about the book, because that's not what a review is.
    --If you love a book, you need to be 100% positive in your review, or it will mean that you didn't really love it.
    --It's not possible to like a book, but think that it only deserves 3 stars, at the same time.

    These are the messages I (and most likely the other reviewers who commented) am getting from the wording you used, and I don't think that's what you meant.

    I understand that the post is meant for people who are not as savvy wtih the reviewing process on Amazon (and not for a book reviewer, like me), but I still find myself upset with the wording. I think these people, especially, need to know that it's okay to voice their honest opinion, and that they shouldn't worry about what an author thinks of their review. Giving them something to base their own ratings on, like a general idea of how most people view the rating system, would have been much more helpful.


    On the other hand, I do agree with a lot of the other things you said (not that I'm calm enough to take it in), especially the part about the review not being about the retailer or transaction, but about the actual content of the book.

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  139. After reading all these comments, seems to me like it's Amazon's system that's causing some real damage. Surely they can come up with a rating that fits in the "Average Person/common sense" variety, i.e. 0=crap, 5=O.K. and 10=Fabulous! then use their drop-off numbers for, say, 3 or less, so as not to actually damage author's sales for what the public perceives as being mid-range "o.k."

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  140. So much of what you had to say in this review was absolutely ageist. Just because someone is a boomer, does not mean that they are not technologically savvy.

    I would be remiss if I didn't mention the passive aggressive nature of telling someone that their relationship with an author relies upon positive reviews of their work. I agree that positive Amazon reviews are important; however, suggesting that they all most be positive is ridiculous. Your suggestion is that people act like mindless drones without agency and promote that which they may have found problematic for various reasons.

    To be honest, this post alone makes me less inclined to read anything that you have written. An author getting precious about their work is never professional or in the least bit amusing.

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  141. Anon--It's perfectly OK to disagree with facts. I quarrel with reality every day when I look in the mirror. "No, that's not me! Who is that wrinkly old woman?"

    Penelope--Yup. I sure did screw up, big time. I didn't get my message across, which was "if you LOVE a book, and want to say so, this is how..."

    Churadogs--Very insightful. And you're exactly right. I'm not at all happy with the Amazon ratings being inflated--or that some reviewers are requiring 10 or even 20 5-stars to consider a book. I hate it. I wasn't conveying the info to condone it, any more than I'd be condoning smelly raccoon carcasses if I reported one in my back yard. But I have to learn to be more careful with my word choices. Learned a powerful lesson here.

    Renee--I did not mean in any way to suggest reviews must be positive--far from it. I only said that if you want to write a positive review, here's how... So sorry I left it open to misinterpretation.

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  142. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  143. Thank you so much for bringing this issue to light. It is important that the reader realize just how much influence they have in this "Golden Age" of reading.

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  144. Fabulous blog post - I'm sure many authors are thinking, Why didn't I write this one!?
    If you loved a book you've read, this year consider giving a review for Christmas - it's free to do, but priceless to the author.
    This is GREAT blog post on the importance of leaving book reviews on Amazon and how the 5 Star Ratings work in the book/publishing world - it's different than most might think!
    Reviews are cyberspaces' answer to word of mouth, and authors appreciate reviews more than ever. ♥♥♥ For those who aren't familiar with the precess, this blog is a great read. I've Tweeted and FB Shared it.

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  145. Anne, this was great to read. You motivated me to do more reviews. I'm a children's author and this week responded to a reviewer of my book by writing a comment. Not sure she'll ever read it, but I felt I needed to do it.(My book is on shared custody and it can be a touchy subject.) Wondered what you thought of that. Thanks again for your inspiration and information.

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  146. Vanheerling--Thank you for getting it!! Yes, I meant this to be the most positive of posts--telling readers how much power they have! My assumption was that people would want to use that power do do positive things, but that was naive.

    Heather--Bless you! I actually wrote a column in a writers zine, six or seven years ago, when Amazon was young, telling everybody related to a writer that all their writer friend wanted for Christmas was a friendly review. (Only if you liked their books, of course.) It's even more true now.

    Carol--You couldn't make me happier. That's exactly why I wrote this post--to remind readers they have the power to promote the work of writers AND reviewers whose work has touched them in some way. The world has too little praise in it these days. If you feel like praising anybody--a reviewer, or an author, or the store clerk who smiled when you were feeling down--DO IT.

    I think the reason so many religions teach the importance of praise is that praise of any sort is praise for Creation, and that is the path to bliss.

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  147. Interesting, Anne. At first, I didn't leave reviews because hubby did all of our amazon purchases and amazon would only allow you to write a review if you've made a purchase. So, the next time we ordered something on amazon, I made sure I purchased it so I could then leave a review. And you're right about how good flows out and then flows back - hoping that I'll also be the recipient of more amazon reviews. Great post!

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  148. Kathy--I'm so glad you reminded us there really are a lot of people out there who don't leave reviews even if they loved a book. Shared credit cards are a big reason--I've heard that from lots of people. There are also a lot of readers who just don't know the ropes. I just got a hilarious tweet from an author whose sister gave her a 4-star review "because I haven't read it yet." :-)

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  149. Wow, you see 3 stars as a negative review? You are aware that Amazon has 3 stars as "It's OK" and not as a negative thing. The only people that I've heard complain about getting a 3 star review are the ones who try to bully reviewers out of posting reviews. Guess I know which one you are. You come across as someone who thinks that the only people who dislike their books are the ones that "don't get your brilliance". Count me as someone who will never read your books.

    Oh, and I'm a top reviewer on Amazon. Who you've just alienated. I'm just one person, but trust me- I'm not the only person in the top reviewer list who feels this way. I'm just the only one who bothered to comment.

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  150. Anon--I'm genuinely sorry to have hurt your feelings.

    I can't help thinking people are reading something very different from what I wrote.

    I thanked and praised reviewers and suggested leaving thanks in the comments.

    If I'd had any idea that this was a taboo subject, I certainly wouldn't have blogged about it. I'm a newbie trying to make sense of things and reporting what I've observed.

    But there's no warning on Amazon, saying "don't ever talk about what happens here."

    I've learned my lesson. Many authors tell me I should have asked them first: nobody's allowed to talk about the fact Amazon reviews have become inflated.

    I was reporting what I've observed, not prescribing how things SHOULD should be. If anybody feels bullied by my attempts at humor, I'm very, very sorry. Humor is subjective, unfortunately.

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  151. Oddly enough, I read your post the way your intended it to be read. But I understand where many people are coming from. As a reader, I always forget about leaving reviews on sites such as Amazon. That's something I'll have to work on. The big thing I'm taking away from your post is that I shouldn't be afraid to start out with shorter reviews. They may not be as helpful to other readers, but I may not be prepared to write as much on Amazon if I haven't done it before.

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  152. This is an incredible post. It's so true, too. Whenever someone posts a nice review on my book, sales jump. Whenever nothing changes, sales plummet as the book drops out of the search algorithms. Reviews count!

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  153. Cory--Thanks much for saying you can understand the post. I've started to doubt my communication skills. Personally, I find lots of shorter reviews helpful--sometimes one sentence will give me a perfect idea of whether this is something I want to buy. Although of course, the long synopsizing ones are a huge help when the publisher doesn't include a synopsis in the blurbitude, as I said in my post.

    RK--Your experience is similar to mine--reviews matter. They do in everything these days. I have a stopped-up sink right now (yeah, I put squash peelings down the Disposal--don't do this.) But my favorite plumber seems to have left town. So I Googled local plumbers. Found one guy with 6 5-star reviews. Most of them just a few sentence fragments: "Great work. Great prices. Showed up on time." 6 people say that and I'm on the phone to the guy. 6 people liked him enough to leave comments. Reviews do count!

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  154. 157 comments! Wow! I read this post back when it was at 12 comments, but didn't have time to comment then, and I'm glad because I got to read the updates. I thought this post was fantastically helpful. I didn't know how important liking a review could be, or that I could tag a book. A couple of weeks ago, I spent an evening reviewing books on Amazon. I had been putting it off for months because I DID feel pressure to write something brilliant (especially since I write book reviews for the SF Chronicle), but I finally bit the bullet and did it - and it was painless! My reviews are short, unlike some that are extensive and well-researched, but I feel like I did a good deed by taking the time to review books that I loved.

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  155. I wish every reader could read this blog!

    I'd ask your well-meaning friends to change their low star reviews, since they thought they were giving you good ones. The nice thing about Amazon reviews that you personally post is that you can change them.

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  156. Anne! Look at you--over 150 comments! Are you raising your eyebrows at the mirror now and saying incredulously, "Pandora??"

    Scott Adams wrote about this issue a while back when a number of his so-called 'fans' ganged up against him for taking down part of his blog in order to turn it into a book. Incensed that Adams would do something as heinous as write for his living, they deliberately abused the Amazon review system in order to destroy his ratings.

    That post should be required reading for everyone whose book sales depend upon Amazon reviews, which are pretty much entirely unsupervised.

    It's not about whether or not anyone thinks any particular blogger is recommending gaming or not gaming the system. Good grief. It's simply a poor system, the standards are unclear and not always in tune with unspoken cultural assumptions, and the system is easy to game, which makes it unreliable.

    Plenty of wonderful books have all 5-star reviews written sincerely by readers who do not know the authors.

    And some of us get trolled. Is it always by readers who have honestly read our books? Not necessarily. The Look Inside feature gives any random reviewer plenty of material for pretense.

    Until a review system is designed to be impossible to abuse, we writers and readers really can't get too worked up about reviews or ratings.

    I never rely on reviews for my purchases. I look up books recommended by people I trust and use the Look Inside feature to make my own decisions about the quality of the works.

    It's exactly like in the old days, when I browsed every book I bought carefully in a bookstore.

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  157. Meghan--I can't tell you how much better it makes me feel that you not only understood what I was saying--but you acted on it. And you're one of the smartest publishing industry bloggers I know. Plus you write reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle. Not exactly a place for "puff piece" reviews. Thank you!

    Dr, Debra--Maybe it's just as well everybody doesn't read it, or I might get more death threats. The comments here are sane and calm compared with what's hitting my inbox and the writer forums!

    The low-star reviews aren't that big a deal for me. I actually wrote this for my low-star review friend, who is terrified of tech and wanted a guide. Now she feels even worse, poor dear. Neither of us had a clue we'd run afoul of the Amazon Taliban.

    Victoria--Thanks so much. Pandora is right! Who knew the review box had all these demons in it? The system is definitely broken--and getting brokener all the time. I'll definitely check out Scott Adams.

    I assume some of the "obviously haven't read it" trolls get paid because I got some Ukrainian blog spam offering to "raise my Kindle ratings" by "eliminating the competition." But I honestly didn't know how many of them do it for sheer pleasure until now.

    But reviews do mean something to most people. Just this week I needed a plumber, and my regular one was on vacation. I polled the neighborhood and got numbers of some others, who didn't return my calls. So I went online and found a list of local plumbers and went with the one with a bunch of five star Google reviews. If he'd had a three star, I probably wouldn't have phoned. I'm glad I did, because he did great work at a good price.

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  158. This was so helpful to me! I buy books on my Kindle all the time, but I've only left one Amazon review (for a friend) because I didn't understand it. Now I'm praying I gave her 4 stars!

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  159. Megan--It's actually very easy to change your star rating (IF you're not happy with what you did the first time.) But I know how scary tech can be to people who didn't grow up with it. I'm glad this post spoke to you, because you're the kind of person I hoped to reach--people who love books but don't think of leaving reviews. One short review can do more to promote the kind of books you like to read than a year of lobbying your book group to, "please, pretty please choose a book by my favorite author." Thanks for the comment. As you can imagine, I appreciate it after all this rage. You kind of have to wear a Hazmat suit to read some of this stuff.

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  160. I love this post and just posted to my FB page! As a newly minted self-published novelist I have been asking everyone who tells me how much they love The Secrets They Kept to please, please write a review. I have been lucky that some have listened and followed through, but too many have not for so many of the reasons you have listed. Thank you for this!
    ps..you have just gotten yourself another blog follower!

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  161. Thank you for your interesting post. As a voracious reader and book blogger, I greatly appreciate reading others' honest reviews of books...it helps me know how best to spend my valuable reading time. I value the 2- and 3-star reviews for that reason.

    I stopped reviewing on Amazon years ago and instead review on Goodreads, because as you say, the reviewers are much more thoughtful and insightful (and can be critical, too). After reading your post, I'm wondering if I should also post my reviews on Amazon.

    I have been applying the three-star ratings with the Goodreads definition: "liked it," which I do not consider to be bad at all. I am very stingy with my five-star ratings--I reserve them for books that I absolutely LOVED...ones that I think about for days.

    But after reading your post, I am going to stop giving books stars on my book blog, because I don't want anyone to understand my intention. I give books three stars all the time, because I LIKED THEM. :)

    My husband does not write any negative reviews, because he's viewing the world as a writer. Although I'm a writer by trade as well (I work as a writer for an engineering firm and am a regular blogger), I view reviews as helpful for the reader.

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  162. I have been writing reviews for several years and just decided to retire ... I have a blog and publishers have been sending me books. It has become an arduous "hobby" that I no longer want to accommodate.
    After reviewing many books, I have only come across one or two that were truly ... bad. One of the publishers wanted the reviews included - along with the positive ones - on my blog.
    Now I feel I must go back to my blog and remove those negative reviews.
    Thanks for the edification and opinions for truly bad books and posting of book reviews. It should have occurred to me before. Alas, it did not.

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  163. One Woman--Great to connect. You've got a great blog.

    Marie--Goodreads is a whole different ball of fish :-) I was talking about Amazon, because they have algorithms that exclude books with three star ratings.

    Debby--I sure learned a lot with this post--and the #1 thing is that nobody ever reads the prologue. The first part explains very clearly that 1) I was only talking about Amazon reviews, because of their peculiar algorithms, and 2) I wasn't talking to anybody who has ever reviewed a book before.

    Please don't delete negative reviews. Without them, the positive reviews have no meaning. And thanks for all the hard work you've done here! And bless you for being a sur-thriver!

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  164. Well, there is wisdom in what you said. However, in the last eight set of books I received, only four had any merit. The authors of the other four requested I not publish the negative reviews on my blog.

    I agreed since my reviews were honest, and the books were honestly bad. Sometimes I wonder what people are thinking when they publish without editing.

    Or, even worse, in the case of a workbook for children; the author calls a one dimensional workbook tactical learning. As an educator, I had to put that review down and come back to it.

    Still, if the authors don't want their bad reviews on my blog, that is their choice. I have to honor that since the terms were not defined prior to the agreement.

    Thanks for your time!

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  165. I have to get in this fray ...
    Not to be dull, BUT, Hans Wilhelm, the author and illustrator of 'I'll Always Love You' did thank me.
    Actually I wrote to him first.
    I told him how much my young children had enjoyed his book and I would love to review his book for my blog ... if he didn't mind.
    He emailed me back and said that would be just fine.
    So I did.
    He has other books coming up and I suggested / asked -- if he would like, I would LOVE to review his books on my blog. We'll see.

    Anyway. Saying thank you for a good review can't be all bad.
    I've also reviewed one of Lisa Gardner's books - just for fun - and emailed it to her. You'd be surprised. I heard back from her too!!
    To me that is better than a double-chocolate fudge in the rain!

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  166. Debby--You seem like a genuinely kind person. Certainly if somebody is unhappy with a review and asks you to take it down, that is the kindest thing to do. (And maybe you could refer them to a good editor? I agree that beginning writers who sell first drafts on Amazon because self-pubbing is "easy" are not doing themselves any favors.)

    And as for thanking reviewers--I do it all the time and will continue to, in spite of the Amazon Taliban threats here. Not so much for my own books, but if I read a particularly helpful review--positive or negative--I always click on the "helpful" button. If it's really great, I leave a comment. The Review Taliban who want to bully readers out of their right to comment on reviews are depriving good reviewers of praise. I think Amazon put those buttons there for a reason. Reviewers deserve to know when they're doing a great job. I honestly didn't know there were so many praise-phobic people out there until I started reading the rants here.

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  167. As a writer I love reading and I do post reviews. I appreciate the insight here. I too rely on those comments to help me decide about a book. I too am a boomer but have entered the Kindle age and even brought my 80 year old mother along. We read reviews together to decide what books to add next. Those reviews that share the thing they least liked along with the excellent parts are the most helpful.

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  168. jubilee--Thank you for being a reviewer. As a reader and author, I am indebted to you and all the people who take the time to write thoughtful reviews. And I LOVE it that you and your mom can do this together! The truth is, I always read a few of the negative reviews as well as the positive ones. The snarky ones always tell more about the reviewer than the book, but that can be useful too. (I might see somebody who hates big words hates this book--but I love learning new words--so that's a plus for me.)

    Thanks so much for adding your thoughts to the discussion. And hi to your mom!

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  169. awesome post. To be honest, I haven't done a review on Amazon before. I have done some on my blog and other online venues. I will be posting Amazon reviews too.

    thanks for the information.

    Empi

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  170. I don't leave reviews on Amazon, I use GoodReads. I tag every book and I use a lot of tags. I rarely write reviews, it has to have really touched me. I like using GoodReads because I can use my carefully selected friends as a barometer as to whether I'll get it in the first place, although I will look at Amazon reviews as well.

    I was born in 60 and I've had my Kindle since last Christmas and I will probably never read a dead tree book again if I can help it.

    I use Calibre to manage my library so I'm relatively technically proficient.

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  171. Good blog post! I've received several private emails from people who've read one of my books and found it very useful in helping them start a freelance business. Only a small number of them had posted reviews on Amazon and I was reluctant to ask them to do so. Finally, I decided to ask one of them to write a review on Amazon when I sent her a thank you note. She was delighted to do so and said she didn't know why it hadn't occurred to her to do so earlier. If only the people who give negative reviews would be so kind as to send a private note to the author! As you said, it's very easy to find them on the Internet. (I have a website with a link to email me.) I started teaching online courses about 10 years ago, and at first, I was devastated by every critique and thought I should change the course to answer each critique. The company that markets my courses gave me some wise words I've never forgotten. They said not to worry about it. That people will write things online that they would never say to someone face-to-face. I had to remember this as I saw the first negative review for my book. The author of the review is obviously a bitter, unrealistic person (his main critique was that I "just" said in my book to avoid looking for work on websites that charge you a fee to see their freelance listings. He thought I should have named them -- unrealistic because 1) could have potential legal ramifications and 2) the information could become obsolete very quickly if the businesses go out of business.) Mainly, I think he was just angry because my book didn't give him a list of companies to contact that would be guaranteed to give him work at the price he wanted. People who give negative reviews often have agendas that have nothing to do with the quality of the work they're reviewing. They may deter a few people from buying your book (which I suppose gives them a sense of power), but intelligent people can see through negative reviews that are written just because someone is mad at the world.

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  172. Empi--Amazon is where the casual shopper is most likely to run into a book, so a review there will reach a lot more readers.

    Leilani--Goodreads is like a club where you have to register, so it's not going to reach the casual customer I mentioned above. But its reviews tend to be more in-depth, for the serious reader. I have had some of my best reviews there.

    Anon--I'm so glad to hear you've had the same experience as I have. People say "I love this book! I want everybody to read it!" But they've never thought of saying so on Amazon. That's why I wrote this post.

    And I actually love reading negative reviews--especially of the classics--because of what I can learn about personality types. Like some of the over-the-top rants here, a lot of one-stars are written by people who get a kind of high from self-righteous rage. They're often looking for somebody to blame for their feelings of powerlessness. They need a target for their anger, but it doesn't much matter what the target is.

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  173. I'm finally getting around to blogging a link to this post - the holidays intervened! Great discussion as well...

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  174. > Note: unlike other online retail store reviews, this should NOT be a review of the retailer, but the content. If the book took too long to arrive, or was damaged in transit, it’s not fair to give the author a bad review. Contact Amazon directly.

    When buying from non-Amazon sellers through Amazon's new/used seller market ("Amazon Marketplace"), you have the opportunity to give feedback on the seller. That's the appropriate place to give such feedback. Of course, if you're buying from Amazon, then you can contact them directly.

    And, BTW, some of your same comments hold when giving seller feedback. Your feedback is forever, so don't give bad feedback inappropriately as it can significantly damage a seller's reputation.

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  175. Thanks for the great post, Anne. Really interesting stuff.

    You inspired part of a blog post I wrote today, about
    how to be kind to the indie author in your life this Christmas. :)

    Hope everyone here has a happy holiday!

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  176. Julia and Adam--Thanks much for the linkage. I'll check out your blogs.

    John W--thanks for the reminder: sellers' livelihoods are at stake. Give thoughtful feedback.

    Happy holidays to you all!

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  177. Wow--lots of great information here, lots of things I never thought about. Thanks for this; I'll be trying to (very positively) review every book I read and enjoy from now on!

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  178. Great post.

    I personally take issue with authors whose friends just give kindle published books 4-5 stars across the board when RARELY are many books deserving of such praise. I've seen books (look up Huntress by Nicole Hamlett on Amazon) that has 4-5 stars out the wazoo, despite an experienced reviewer clearly calling out terrible copy-editing. The author swears it's been corrected, so I buy it, and guess what? Big fat lie.

    I consider a three to be a "I liked it, but wouldn't read it again."

    It's unfortunate people just throw up 4 and 5 star reviews thinking they're helping friends, because they AREN'T helping consumers, who spend their money on something that has now been falsely advertised. Whether it's $2.99 or $9.99, that's not right.

    Thanks again!

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  179. This was a great article! I use amazon a lot, especially to buy books. And as much as I read (AND two of my self-published books are up there lol) I RARELY leave reviews. I have no idea why, except for forgetfulness. I will make it my vow (to myself) to be less lazy, and leave reviews...and pray that the good karma comes back to me as well! Ok, first time on your site, going to check it out. THANKS!!

    -candace habte

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  180. Candace--Thanks a bunch. It makes me feel better when somebody actually gets what I said in this post. I wanted people to know that IF they like a book, leaving a positive review is a powerful way to let your voice be heard. I also wanted people to know that Amazon algorithms don't read a 3 star as positive. That's not me. That's Amazon's programmers. I'm not saying you can't go around giving low star ratings to every book you ever read, just that if you love a book, 3 stars doesn't express that love. Funny how many people read so much into the post that I didn't say.

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  181. Thank you for taking the time to write this blog post. I found it informative and inspiring. :) I will hold on to it.

    Cat

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  182. Another priceless post, Anne! By purest happenstance, I'm writing an article about handling negative, hurtful reviews. I'd like to link to this article, as it doesn't overlap with what I'm saying, but complements it.

    What you say about the "star factor", where there's a disconnect between what a reviewer writes and the number of stars given, is very important. I had a good friend review one of my books. She wrote that she couldn't put it down, it was amazingly creative, she'd never read the like . . . and gave me four stars. Can't complain too much about that, though it was a surprise. But I've gotten the freeze in other cases where I'm SURE that what you identify was operating.I don't write literary fiction; I write something much lighter. I think the women involved thought it should be evaluated like War and Peace. Nuff said. Great work as usual!

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  183. Sandy--Thanks! I look forward to your post.

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  184. You said "Anything less than 4 stars means “NOT RECOMMENDED.”"
    I strongly disagree with you, sorry. And, the Star system of ranking books - who knows what it means?

    Based on 40 plus years as an educator, I have evaluated the works of countless students, from Graduate School all the way up to fourth grade (8 year olds). As published indie authors, we are not in primary school and the grading of our work is probably much more akin to that of Graduate School work. So, how did I grade the work of my graduate students?

    I assumed that for a student to be in graduate school, they had to be good and so did their work.
    Good work at the Grad level would get you a three. You're a graduate student, good work is expected.
    Really good work would get you a four, and I would often read it more than once, think about it a bit, ponder it.
    To get a FIVE it had to be so good I would be thinking "Wow, I have to show this to Dr. Smith. This might just make a good presentation paper at that Big Conference in Sydney, Australia next year "
    FIVEs are not to be thrown around lightly. A paper with a single typo or grammatical error could never get a five. Ever! A five is perfect. Errors are not a display of perfection.

    So - transfer those thoughts to your writing, to your published, professional work. You're a professional, offering a time of entertainment, for a fee. It does not mater if the fee is 99 cents or $19.99 - if you are charging a fee, you are a professional.
    And your readers are your "graders", they are "marking" your work. If you want a Five Star Review - if has to be perfect. Five out of Five is a perfect score! An ice skater at the Olympics does not get a perfect score if they stumble. To get a perfect score you cannot even stumble a tiny bit.
    If I review your book and it is a great read, but there are errors or poor grammar in places, it may be a "great read" but it won't (and shouldn't) get a five out of five!

    And, by the way - I won't post a one star review - I'll contact the writer personally instead.

    Thanks for the Blog.

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  185. If you can find the typo in my post above you will see that proofing it five times was not enough! it would never get a 5/5!

    Shalom

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  186. Rik--This post has nothing to do with grading papers.(I know how frustrating that can be.)

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    But this post is about AMAZON reviews and the alogrithms for AMAZON reviews ONLY. (Notice the word "AMAZON" in the title)

    I went to a college where we were told, "a C means a perfect paper, a B means you can teach the course better than the professor and A is reserved for God." It was a while ago, and I know grades have been inflated since then, but that has NOTHING to do with this post.

    This post is about how AMAZON treats the star rankings.

    I should say that since the introduction of Kindle Select, the algorithms have totally changed and now no matter how many five star reviews you get, if you're not in the Amazon-exclusive progam, you won't get the "also boughts" and other recommendations that are essential to high Amazon rankings and good sales. Kindle Select has killed the self-pub boom and is going to have some major repercussions.

    So go ahead and give a rom com two stars because you prefer sci-fi. Doesn't matter any more.

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  187. I was relating to where you said: "Anything less than 4 stars means “NOT RECOMMENDED.”

    Please feel free to delete the post - no worries.

    Rik

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  188. Perception is everything. I don't know anyone who believes a "3" rating denotes good. A lot of sites won't even post books (even free ones) who carry less than a "4" average. When I read a review of less than "5", I am looking for clues as to the reason it was marked down.

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  189. Rik--I do appreciate your comment. It's just when you've got death threats for saying something you didn't say, it gets a little hairy. I hope I've explained it a little better up front now so people see the word "Amazon"

    CR--Thanks for the validation. I wrote this thinking of places like Pixel of Ink who won't even let you buy their expensive advertising if you don't have 4.5 or 5 stars on Amazon.

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  190. Hi Anne,

    This post really made me giggle. When you're caught up in the marketing area of writing you often fail to remember that there are a lot of people out there who simply have no clue about the Amazon system. Thanks for making me smile! :)

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  191. What is your basis for the following:

    8) Anything less than 4 stars means “NOT RECOMMENDED” to the AMAZON ALGORITHMS. 2 or 3 star reviews are going to hurt the author's sales, no matter how much you rave in the text. Those stars are the primary way a book is judged on AMAZON. Without a 4 or 5 star rating, a book doesn’t get picked up in the Amazon algorithms for things like “also bought” suggestions.

    You also state:

    no matter how many five star reviews you get, if you're not in the Amazon-exclusive progam, you won't get the "also boughts" and other recommendations that are essential to high Amazon rankings and good sales.

    I'm not going to point to my own books to show these statements are wrong, but they are wrong. I have no books in select, I have one title that has only one review, that happens to be a 3 star, and it is in numerous also boughts because it sells 300+ copies a month. I have other books that have no ratings, they also show up in numerous also boughts because they sell 100+ copies a month. I also know from looking at the also boughts on my own books that there are low rated books (that are only low rated, not a mix of low and high) that show up.

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  192. LK--Glad I could give you a laugh.

    Anon--Turns out there are THREE different sets of algorithms that provide three different lists--depending on which browser you use, among other things. There's some fascinating data on this at David Gaughran's blog of May 17th http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/understanding-amazons-new-algorithms-is-as-easy-as-abc/

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  193. There is, I think, a major sticking point with this post that I don't think has been argued well through the comments. I'm not going to waste my time accusing you of trying to game the system, because I think it's obvious that you weren't intending that, even though some might read into it. (I like to try to be fair.)

    What I think is the sticking point is that authors shouldn't be giving tips on how to write book reviews, nor should they be encouraging people to write reviews. Reviewing, both if they review and how they review, should be left solely to the reader's discretion; any interference, especially interference that talks of being helpful to an author, is rightly viewed with suspicion.

    You have said in comments, and possibly in the post, that when you bring up the possibility of a reader writing a review on Amazon, they go blank. There may be a reason for that beyond that they never considered it; it's sort of bad form to suggest that someone write a review for a book that you wrote. It's also bad form to suggest that the reader should be part of the selling and promotional process. It can also be detrimental; if I see a reviewer who doesn't seem to be savvy about reviewing, or how the system works, I mentally skip over that review no matter what is said.

    But honestly? As a reader, I barely read reviews at all--at least, not reviews from people I don't know. I don't know that many readers who pick up a book solely because the Amazon reviews said it was good. I'm far more likely to get a book based on trusted sources, the general buzz around it, or because it looks like a book that I might like to read based on the description and cover art. I think authors focus way too hard on Amazon reviews. As a reader, I always have a wealth of books that I already know about waiting for me to read or to buy, to the point that I'm not often (or, rather, never) cruising through Amazon looking for something I've never heard of to read.

    Self-published authors especially have to contend with thousands of books published in their genre every year; focusing this hard on Amazon reviews, I think, is missing the real keys to getting the buzz going about your book.

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  194. Susie--I'd like to point out I have never self-published. I'm with two small publishing companies, one in the US and one in the UK. I'd be happier if that myth weren't perpetuated. :-)

    You're very right that all authors need to look to many, many platforms to create buzz for their books. Amazon reviews are just one part of that platform. Amazon's virtual monopoly has made the Amazon buy page more important than it should be, but that might be changing with the rise of competitive retailers like Kobo.

    This post was written partly at the request of a reader who thought she had been recommending her favorite books by going to Amazon and giving them "a gold star" when she liked them. One. Gold Star. Yes, she was elderly, but that didn't mean she shouldn't have the information about reviewing that you take for granted. People who grew up on the Interwebz don't know how daunting it is to even find "guidelines" for people in their 70s and 80s.

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  195. Am I understanding this correctly?

    If I give fewer than four stars that translates to I don't recommmend the book to any reader. I will reduce an author's chances of selling if I give her three stars or fewer. If I want to help an author market her books I should give her four or five stars and I should decline a review request unless I can give her four or five stars. The review exercise is therefore to help the author make sales, not to help readers make informed decisions. If every reviewer followed these recommendations we would see only four and five star reviews.

    Huh?

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  196. Anne--Nope. You are not understanding correctly. Did you actually read the post? I'm talking about AMAZON REVIEWS ONLY. And I'm saying IF you LOVE a book, 3 stars or less doesn't convey your sentiment.

    If you don't like a book, by all means give it fewer stars. But "a gold star"--or even TWO or THREE gold stars! doesn't say "I love this book" I don't understand why people aren't reading the post before commenting on it.

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