It’s infuriating. It’s annoying. It’s stupid. It’s unfair. It’s depressing. It’s disheartening.
But it is one of the harsh realities of being a published author today.
If you are a seasoned author, you know exactly what I I am talking about.
If you are a new author who is about to publish your first book, you will come to know soon enough.
I hesitate now when I refer to online book reviews because, in fact, on retail sites, they are not called book reviews.
On Amazon, they are simply called Customer Reviews. There is no differentiation between how to write a book review or a review for a three-person camping tent.
On Apple iBooks and Audible, they are called Customer Ratings.
So, what is the difference between a book review and a customer review?
A book review often answers the question; does the book work for me?
A book review that you might find on a reputable book reviewer’s blog or perhaps a book club site will cover all the basics at least.
In writing a review, he or she will give a balanced personal view of the strengths and weaknesses of the story. Perhaps it will note one or two short passages from the book or provide a guide as to the book’s intended audience.
The reviewer may not like the book. But it will usually be clear as to the reasons why, but offset it with at least a one or two positive aspects. Even a terrific review might contain one or two, what I didn’t like, points.
There is often a conclusion and a reading recommendation, but rarely a star rating.
On occasions, a good review might extend to 1,000 words and even end with details such as publication date, publisher and the number of pages.
You can, of course, find many reviews similar to this on Amazon and other online retailers.
When you receive a review like this, you should be very pleased.
Even if it is not glowing, you at least know that the reviewer read the book and is giving an open and honest opinion upon which potential readers can make a buying judgement.
But a customer review is a can of worms
Customer reviews can be, and often are, genuine book reviews written by passionate readers. They usually include relevant information about the books.
But not all readers react in this manner. There is sometimes an emotive, or even a recognition factor involved because a one-star review can help attract attention.
The majority of silly and nasty reviews I have received over the years all had the necessary ingredients for wanton attention-seeking. Personal attacks, derogatory language and ridicule of positive reviews just to name a few.
Unfortunately, online retailers, and especially Amazon are reluctant to remove these reviews. I have tried to reason with Amazon. But it has always refused my requests to take down a comment unless it contains blatantly vulgar or racist language.
One of the worst sites for atrocious, vile, and even threatening book reviewer behaviour was Goodreads. I used the past tense intentionally because I gave up on this site years ago due to the infamous Goodreads Trolls.
It earned a well-deserved reputation for spiteful reviewers and also for hating authors, hating authors.
Goodreads may have improved site behaviour since Amazon acquired it. But I am not sure because I still have an aversion to even visiting the site.
According to this article on The Writing King, things seemingly have not improved.
But, my author page is still on Goodreads. I leave it there for the decent people who use the site. But I do not interact or even bother to check anymore.
One simple way that I found to reduce the number of these ridiculous reviews and one-star ratings dramatically was to stop giving away free ebooks.
It works on basic human psychology that when people buy a book, they usually read it because it cost them money.
Well, anyway, after I stopped using free Kindle ebook campaigns a couple of years ago, most of the one-star reviews stopped appearing.
There is nothing much you can do about one-star reviews and especially the ones written in spite.
But if you are using free ebooks as part of your book promotion, and you start getting a run of them, perhaps consider stopping for a while to see if things improve.
Amazon has at least tried to curtail free ebook hunting troll reviewers with its new condition that a customer must have spent at least $50.00 to post a customer review. It has helped a little I think.
Oh, here we go again!
I have been around long enough to have a very thick skin.
But, unusually for me, one recent review really got right up my nose.
To give you some background, I signed with an audiobook publisher a little while back. Two books have been published so far, and a third is in production.
I couldn’t be more pleased with my publisher and the narrators. My books have been published on schedule, and the narration and production quality is top class. On top of that, copies are selling.
As part of the launch of a new title, my publisher has a sizable list of readers, well listeners in this case, who receive a free copy.
It is a good strategy, and one that I now understand is commonly used with the release of new audiobooks on Audible.
However, these listeners need to add a disclaimer to their reviews stating that they received a free copy.
I think this is an excellent idea, and one I dearly wish Amazon would consider for readers who get free ebooks.
When my first audiobook was released, the reviews were excellent. Very balanced, with some great, some good and some not so good, but all with justification or expressions of personal taste.
But with my second audiobook, an attention seeker surfaced.
So the narrator gets it in the neck after weeks of hard work, as well as the story, which wasn’t listened to.
The reviewer has obviously copied and pasted the disclaimer because of the correct grammar and spelling, which is not the case in the one line attempt at a review.
Why even bother posting a review like this? Perhaps it was due to a misunderstanding that it was an obligation, or maybe it was attention-seeking. I don’t know.
Well, after I got annoyed, I calmed down and I clicked the this was unhelpful button. It made me feel much better.
I thought it was a dumb review, and anyone with an ounce of sense will probably think the same. So, in fact, no harm was done really.
Except to reduce the overall review star rating for the book. Thanks for nothing.
Summary, and encouragement
I did not write this article with the intention of deriding those who post poor customer reviews.
The facility is there for them to use, and as an author, there is nothing I can do about it.
Retailers set the rules and standards, and by making my books available on their sites, I have accepted their terms and conditions.
But there is often a disconnect in perception.
Authors love their books, so they naturally take umbrage to negative comments and ratings.
But for many readers, a book is a book is just a book. There is no thought given to the travails of an author.
It is simply a free or two or three buck consumable item.
As a consumer, they are free to say or do as they please because they are given the opportunity to do just that. How does a book compare to a camping tent? Who cares. It’s only a review.
If you are an author and new to self-publishing, you need to understand how customer reviews work and be prepared to accept the good with the bad and try not to take too much to heart.
It is not easy, and I know some authors who could not handle the unjustified criticism removed their books from sale.
But I think it is better to take a pragmatic view and learn to accept that there will be a range of opinions about your book.
As I noted before, if you think a review is stupid, spiteful or nasty, others will likely come to the same conclusion and ignore the review. So it is not so bad after all. It is just one review.
Quite honestly, in my experience, ninety-five per cent of people who post customer reviews are sane, rational and decent people. For the rest, well, there are always some who can’t help themselves.
If you think you need a little help in accepting poor reviews, you might want to read an old article I wrote about Wonderfully Bad Book Reviews for some light-hearted encouragement.