Sunday, September 16, 2012

Some of my thoughts on reviews

You may have heard about certain authors paying for reviews on Amazon.  I'm sorry- they paid for positive reviews on Amazon, because in the New Publishing World, authors live and die by their Amazon reviews.

I stopped reviewing on Amazon last year.  I discussed why here, but it comes down to the fact that even Amazon is gaming their own system.  I'll repeat what I said in that post: it has nothing to do with the people who have been reviewing on Amazon since before Amazon reviews were some kind of currency.  I haven't checked the Top Reviewer forums, but I know that in addition to a little head banging, there's got to be some serious laughter.  Because, well, algorithms aside, someone is paying someone for a review.  Lame.

Other people have talked about it from the author's point of view, and I'm not going to bother giving links to people who have argued in favor of it.  (But I am going to say, dude, if you really think getting a review copy of a book- to review- is compensation- for a review!- you need to go back to Logic 101.  And trust me, if I gave it a 1- or 2- star review, the book wasn't compensation.)  I want to talk about reviews from the Reviewer's point of view.

When I review I try to look at it from the reader's point of view.  What do I want when I read a review?  At the very least, a review that explained itself.  I don't want to see an extended summary of the plot, and I don't want to see someone gush, spew or otherwise explode with emotion.  You can tell me you cried, laughed or wanted to throw the book against the wall, but if you can't give me any details that help me understand why, I don't care.  Everyone is entitled to opinions and anyone is free to put them on a website or blog as a review, but if you can't explain why you felt that way, you're not adding much to the discussion.

That, in essence, is what I try to do.

In case you were wondering, no one ever paid me ever for a review I left on Amazon about anything.  (Okay, my kids really liked one of the toys I reviewed- but I left a four-star review for that because it was so difficult to use and required a lot of adult supervision.)  I was honest there and am honest here.  More importantly, I explained myself.  I can't prove anything, but I think that's why my reviews were well-received.

Someone is probably thinking that my criteria may be reasonable for a single review- or even reviewer- but what if you're seeing literally hundreds of short "I hated it" or "It's the best thing since canned beer"?  Maybe they're just two sentence reviews, but if hundreds of people agree, isn't that worth something?  To which I will say please see the links above.  I can only guess, but in my estimation, authors- and publishers?- are counting on that presumption when they pay for people to leave positive reviews... of something they've never read.

This whole review business is an imperfect thing.  That's exactly what you'd expect from a system that's dependent on opinion, and stars don't really change that.  Imperfect is one thing, but dishonest is another.  If I'm paying someone to not only to give an opinion but to express a specific one, that's not a review, that's a scam.  Fortunately, this is one of the easier scams to suss out.