What’s a review worth when everyone’s opinion has equal weight, even the uninformed or those who haven’t actually bothered to read the book?
While Amazon and BN.com allow for anonymous reviews to encourage people to express their opinions, some have taken the free forum as a chance to conduct political action. Posters hiding identities on public forums is a game as old as the Internet, and therefore most people have learned to take them with a grain of salt and two aspirin, especially authors.
Yes, it’s true many authors round up their friends and relatives on the day of a book release and send their armies out, where every author is a five-star general whose victory is already assured. Amazon originally let anyone with an email address post, but has since changed policy so that a customer must have at least made a purchase in order to review a product.
However, that reviewer can create a pen name or other false identity, open multiple accounts, and “review” products other than the ones actually purchased. While Amazon has beefed up the validity of the review process by denoting when real names are used, or if the customer has made a “verified purchase” of the product, the current system is still ripe for abuse or exploitation.
Big authors are the ones most likely to endure the one-star haters of the world, such as this manifesto on Stephen King’s Kindle-exclusive novella UR: “This is how you repay loyal fans, by releasing something new only in one format? Maybe some of us prefer printed books and don’t want a Kindle. Ever think of that?”
Attacking the content or format is only one weapon in the one-star saboteur’s arsenal. A popular movement to fight $9.99 and up “agency model” pricing by big publishers utilizes one-star reviews as protest petitions.
Douglas Preston, half of the Preston & Child bestselling thriller-writing duo, defended high prices last year and made a statement criticizing Americans’ “sense of entitlement,” for which he became the target of a one-star frenzy.
The duo’s new thriller, priced at $12.99, is ranked at #133 overall at the time of this writing, which suggests thousands of people love it. Yet its average review rating is two stars out of five. It has 37 one-star reviews, and though most seem to be from genuine disappointment with the book, the reviews carry a simmering undertone of value and expectations, as well as criticism of the Kindle formatting. Another Preston standalone novel has reviews titled “Another Greedy Publisher,” “Entitlement, Eh?” and “Ebook Delay=Another Lost Paying Reader.”
BN.com generally generates far fewer reviews, though no purchase is required and anyone with an email address can register for an account. Users are also allowed to rate a book without actually writing a review. Generally, political activism seems a whole lot more subdued there.
Stephen King’s latest collection Full Dark, No Stars has 483 ratings but only 83 reviews at BN.com, and about a half-dozen one-star reviews, only one mentioning price with the title “Expensive At Any Price.”
That compares to 447 reviews at Amazon, including cheerful reader advice like “I will not buy anything from publishers that set digital price above physical,” several “Too Expensive,” and even a couple of “Refuse to Buy.” Remember, these are supposedly “reviews,” which loosely translates as “to look again.”
I had my own recent experience with an anonymous one-star review of my children’s book If I Were Your Monster. The one-star review was entitled “Free book” and said merely “Where can I ind free books?” Yeah. That’s a loyal customer for you.
Obviously, wise readers have learned not to rely entirely on the star rating, and those who actually care what their peers have to say will often sample a couple of both good and bad reviews to help make a purchasing decision.
Writers who read their own reviews should be prepared to stop or go insane. As one veteran writer observed, “If you believe the good ones, you have to believe the bad ones, too.”
Reviews can be helpful in making purchasing decisions or deciding to learn more about a book or author, but like almost everything else in the modern publishing business, it’s a case of “Buyer beware.” Even when people aren’t actually buying anything.
Scott Nicholson is a reckless futurist and a relentless optimist. He’s also written 13 novels, including The Red Church, Forever Never Ends, and The Skull Ring, as well as the children’s book If I Were Your Monster. He’s also written seven story collections and three screenplays and works as a freelance editor. His website has more reckless stuff: Hauntedcomputer.com