WHAT DO AMAZON REVIEWS REALLY MEAN? This could happen to you.

I know that a good review by one or more Amazon Top Reviewers can create a top selling book on Amazon and elsewhere. I’ve seen it, and all those selling books on the subject of promoting your book say it. Perhaps the Top Reviewers put in lots of time and effort and provide meaningful evaluations.

But what to those Amazon reviews mean in general? I’ve reviewed a bunch of books on Amazon, mostly on somewhat high-toned subjects, eastern and other philosophical systems, music. And of course, my favorite, a brand of unrefined coconut oil that keeps this gal’s skin from looking reptilian. Through these efforts, I’ve risen from the millionth ranking reviewer to the lofty 230,000th or so.

Not any more. Read and see what can happen to you.

What the reviews mean was rubbed in my face recently by a review I wrote. Most reviewers I’ve seen give wildly enthusiastic reviews, about equivalent in quality to the positive feedback you see on eBay, “Double Cookies, You’re the best! A++++++ Will buy again! A #1! ”

Some reviewers are serious and make a good, rational and intelligent stab at evaluating the book or object being recommended.

What do eBay review readers want? Someone to agree with their preconceived opinions? Do they want to hear the reviewer’s honest assessment of a piece of literature? His or her personal truth? An informed view of the book using generally accepted standards for reviewing? Like you might see in the New York Times? Something that your literature professor might produce? Criticism of the elements of the book and the skill with which it is written?

Apparently not. All my reviews have been of products or things I like. I like to keep things positive, but I’ve always told my truth and not held anything back.

A few days ago, I posted a review of a pop-lit book that is really lower tier in terms of literary merit. It’s pretty and well produced, and will one day end up in the mass market trade, probably making its author a bundle. (Which is always nice. Writing is hard work and deserves to be rewarded.)

I popped $23.99 for the hardbound version, due to an Amazon recommendation. I found the book very unsatisfying. I was generous in my review. I said what I said nicely. Way nicer than my editors have leveled their criticisms at my work––as an author you’re as good as your editor much of the time. It’s hard to critique your own work. That’s why we have editors. I’m getting ready to publish a new book. It’s gone through at least four editorial reviews, most line by line.

OK. I published a three star (***) review, which was better than the book deserved. Within hours, readers of the review began voting it unhelpful. All the other five star reviews (*****!!!) were being voted totally useful and good.

Don’t the readers of pop fiction reviews care about the obvious defects that an informed reviewer picks up instantly? Doesn’t all the stuff that I went through with years of writing groups and editors and professors while learning to write something with literary merit matter to these readers?

No. The author of the book in question has a following. The following does not care about the literary quality of her work as long as it satisfies their needs for more of the same.

I ended up pulling the review after nine readers said it wasn’t helpful. Phew. I posted it here for a while and finally just pulled it.

Then I got to reap the consequences of telling my truth. My rating as a reviewer dropped to # 366,147 from 230,000. Reviewer rankings are based on the ratio of helpful votes to total votes. All those people who voted my review not helpful caused my reviewer ranking to drop 130,000 points in the ranks. All because I was honest about what I saw in a flawed book.

Now I know why some top Amazon reviewers only give positive reviews. Part is to be nice and say positive things, the other part is that the author’s flaming fans will roast them for pointing out shortcomings.

I think I’ll stick to reviewing coconut oil.

A LARGE QUESTION LURKS HERE: WHAT DO REVIEWS MEAN WHEN READERS JUST WANT TO HEAR HOW WONDERFUL THEIR FAVORITE IS? OR––WHAT DO PEER REVIEWS OF POPULAR FICTION MEAN? IS ALL THE ANGST WRITERS OF LITERARY FICTION GO THROUGH TO CREATE MEANINGFUL AND BEAUTIFUL WORK JUST BALONEY?

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