Views From The Captain’s Chair! Episode Sixteen: The New Review Zoo!
Today, we’re going to talk about reviews. And the reviewers that leave them!
Reviews used to be something that authors waited for with trepidation and anxiety. The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, etc. Getting a book review meant something. It was a badge of honor, or badge of shame. Once those reviews started coming out, whether good or bad, it meant you had made it as an author.
Today? Not so much.
Sure, reviews in major newspapers, periodicals, magazines, and prominent websites are great, but do they have the influence they once did? Not as much as Amazon reviews do. That 1 to 5 star review system that readers can leave on Amazon is really what can make or break a book these days.
Right or wrong, that’s life, kid.
There are other retailers I could talk about, but today I’m specifically going to focus on Amazon because it is the 500 pound metaphor in the room. Other retail websites have influence, but not nearly as much as Amazon.
Here we go.
First, let me say that book reviews on Amazon are not actually book reviews in any sense of the word. They are customer satisfaction surveys. And there is a massive difference.
What’s that difference?
A book review is when an actual reviewer -someone that reviews books maybe not for a living, but as an intentional, thought out activity- reads a book, digests said book, then writes his/her opinion on what he/she just read.
A customer satisfaction survey is when someone purchases something then decides they want to tell people if they liked it or not and maybe leave some reasons why.
Splitting hairs? Hardly. One is active while the other is reactive. Book reviewers go into it with the active intention of reading a book in order to write a review about it. Whereas, customers leave their reviews as a reaction to what they just read. Two different intentions and models.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of actual reviews on Amazon. Lots of folks buy and read books for the sole purpose of leaving a review. I applaud them. It’s hard work reading a buttload of books and then dissecting and writing about them. I don’t want to do it. [Side note: I don’t review anything. Ever. Not my gig.]
But, and let’s face it, the vast majority of reviews on Amazon are the equivalent of water cooler talk. Before everyone with an internet connection could spew their thoughts across the world, people used to just talk to each other. It went something like this:
“Hey, Ralph, did you read the latest Snooty McPooterson novel? Great stuff!”
“I can’t really stand Snooty McPooterson, George. I’m more a Letchy Von Dooemstein reader. That guy knows how to write about guns and dames!”
“Right you are, Ralphy old pal! Hey, want another scotch?”
“Is it ten yet?”
“It is somewhere!”
“Hahahahahahahahahaha… My wife is having an affair…”
Okay, yes I just watched Mad Men last night. Shut up.
So George talks about Snooty McPooterson to folks he knows, who then tell others, who tell others, and so on. People hear about a book and talk to others about it. That’s how word of mouth works and it has been the tried and true form of disseminating opinions for all of mankind’s history.
The Amazon review system takes that way of human interaction and tosses it out the window.
A reviewer leaves their opinion on Amazon and it sits there. No context. In my example above, Ralph’s wife is cheating on him! You think his mind was really on the substance of the last book he read? Probably not. And George would know that. He’d also know that Ralph likes to dress up in Shirley Temple outfits and talk to his Great Dane at length about Communist Russia ruining the potential of the American labor movement.
In other words, George knows to take what Ralph says with a grain of salt.
But in this day and age we are trained to believe what we see/read/hear on the internet as truth. That’s how we are wired. It’s the new “Well, I saw it on TV so it must be true!”. Yet it isn’t at all.
I’m going to give you two examples from my books. The first is a review of Dead Team Alpha:
“1.0 out of 5 stars
Drivel, April 3, 2014
By NEO (Arlington Heights, IL) – See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: Dead Team Alpha: A Post Apocalyptic Thriller (Kindle Edition)
What a vile, childish piece of crap. If this is what the zombie apocalypse looks like, I’ll just get it over with and join the undead.”
Ouch, right? That thing sat there for a couple of weeks and pretty much stagnated sales. Did the review bug me? Not at all. I could give two shits about reviews of my books. Every one has an asshole and everyone’s asshole smells like opinion.
What did bug me is the fact that the reviewer, when you look at his old reviewer profile, says of himself “I’m getting older by the minute and am labeled by many as a curmudgeon.”
Nice of him to be honest, but you see where the problem is? People in his life would know that about him and know to ignore the “get off my lawn!” attitude. But, unless you click on his profile and read his bio, you as a consumer wouldn’t know that at all and would put way too much stock into this guy’s opinion when normally you might not.
Next review is one for my novel AntiBio:
“5.0 out of 5 stars Would recommend this for people who are into zombies., April 21, 2014
By Sylvia Pelayo – See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: AntiBio: A Post Apocalyptic Thriller (Kindle Edition)
If you’re in a zombie apocalypse read or post it’s very good read. Good story line and entertaining!! Very action-packed!!”
You’d think I’d be stoked about a five star review, right? Except that AntiBio doesn’t have zombies in it and isn’t a zombie novel. So, uh….huh. What the hell do I do with this one? AntiBio is my return to straight up scifi. No zombies. I repeat, no zombies. Great rating, but did she actually read the novel? It is a Verified Purchase, so at least I know she bought it. Thank you, Sylvia! Yet, well…not a clue how to handle this.
These are two examples of the insanity of reviews on Amazon. And why do they matter? Because people take exactly one second to make a snap judgment based on what they see on the internet. To many quick glancers, Dead Team Alpha is now “Drivel” because some curmudgeon wants it off his lawn. To others, AntiBio is another zombie novel by me, which it isn’t. Not at all.
There’s the cray cray of Amazon reviews in two examples. And, for the record, I’m glad anyone takes the time to review my novels. I’m very glad they have taken the time to purchase a novel and read it! But…
What to do about it?
The Internet has spoken and said that it is unethical and wrong for authors to ask for reviews of their novels. I call bullshit on that.
I SAY AUTHORS SHOULD ASK FOR REVIEWS FROM EVERYONE THEY KNOW AND COMMUNICATE WITH!
That sentence was in all caps because I was shouting from the rooftops.
But, seriously, since it’s all bullshit anyway then why shouldn’t authors try to get as many reviews as possible from readers, fans, friends, and family? Load those stars onto that shit, yo!
Some say it dilutes the truth of reviews. But I say there is no truth anyway! Let the wild rumpus begin!
Authors, you need to ask everyone you know to leave a review. Your spouse, your children, your boss, your old babysitter, senile Aunt Matilda that shouts into her TV remote because she has thought it was the telephone since 1987.
The whole system is borked to Hell as it is. Jump into that borking. Get as many reviews as you can from people you know and trust!
Is it unethical to do that? Hells no! What would be unethical is to ask said friends, family, fans, readers, Aunt Matildas, to give only good reviews. Don’t sway their opinions. Just ask for them. Maybe Aunt Matilda really, really, really digs zombies and leaves a five star review while your mom leaves a one star review because she thinks the bad guy is based on her. And she doesn’t like your potty mouth.
But as long as the review system is basically identical to how a customer rates the cheese sticks at TGIFriday’s, then I say all bets are off, folks! It’s the new game and if you are a writer then you are playing it already whether you want to or not. So get your head in the game, playa, and start playa-ing!
Oh, and if you want to leave a review for any of my books, just click this link here! Please be honest, but don’t be afraid to get all cray cray. It’s how the system works, so why not, right?
Disclaimer: Views From The Captain’s Chair are just that: views. These are not laws. These are not set in stone. I could be totally wrong. I could be off my rocker (shut up). I could be full of S-H-I-T. I could change my mind next week. All of that is possible. Who knows? But if even just a little of this helps you then I’m happy with that. If it just makes you stop and think then I’ve done my job. Which I really need to get back to. Blogging don’t pay for the bourbon! Oh, and the whole Captain’s Chair thing? Yeah, I write in a captain’s chair. It’s true, Mateys! Got a question? Need some one on one? Shoot me an email, a DM, a PM (no BMs) or comment below.
Jake Bible lives in Asheville, NC with his wife and two kids.
Novelist, short story writer, independent screenwriter, podcaster, and inventor of the Drabble Novel, Jake is able to switch between or mash-up genres with ease to create new and exciting storyscapes that have captivated and built an audience of thousands.
He is the author of the bestselling Z-Burbia series for Severed Press as well as the Apex Trilogy (DEAD MECH, The Americans, Metal and Ash), Bethany and the Zombie Jesus, Stark- An Illustrated Novella, and the forthcoming YA zombie novel Little Dead Man, and Teen horror novel Intentional Haunting (both by Permuted Press).
Posted on April 23, 2014, in Views From The Captain's Chair! and tagged bible, exclamation, fiction, future, genre, horror, indie publishing, jake, Jake Bible, novel, publishing, science fiction, scifi, writing. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Views From The Captain’s Chair! Episode Sixteen: The New Review Zoo!.