When is a review not a review?

REVIEWS – POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE

I wrote this in response to a friend who had recently downloaded from Amazon an e-book that had six stellar reviews – it was apparently “brilliant”, “fantastic”, “should be made into a film” and was written by “a wonderful author”.

Now he’s what I’d regard as a fairly sophisticated and switched-on person, but he was ignorant of how Amazon ratings and reviews work.

The plot was non-existent, the characters unbelievable, the prose embarrassing, the formatting all over the place, and it was full of spelling and grammatical errors.

“How on earth did this tripe get so highly rated?” he asked. “From the reviews it sounded like a great read.”

So how did it gather such glowing praise?

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For a start, anybody can leave a so-called review on Amazon. They don’t need to have any qualifications, not even proof of having actually bought or read the book they are reviewing. They don’t even have to reveal their identity.

We had a look on the Amazon page for the book in question, and noticed that none of the six people who had left reviews had actually bought the book. You can see whether they have, because it will say “Amazon Verified Purchase”. If it doesn’t, the chances are that it was probably given to them in exchange for a review. That’s common practice. Most authors do it, just as the large publishing houses send out free copies to selected people well before publication date, so that when the book is published it already has reviews and ratings to encourage sales.

We  looked at the history of each reviewer by clicking “See all my reviews”. This shows how many products the person has reviewed and gives an idea of their personal tastes. In this case, all six had only ever reviewed this one book. All six reviews had been posted within 24 hours of each other.

From this you could conclude that the reviews are likely to be from friends of the author, giving him/her a helping hand to promote their work. All writers have to start somewhere. It doesn’t mean that every book with 5-star reviews from people who have never reviewed any other book is a bad book. After all, just as everyone has to write their first book some time, everybody has to write their first review.

There are also people who write paid reviews. As it’s unlikely that an author would pay for poor reviews of their own work, it’s safe to assume that a paid reviewer will rate the book highly.

Reviews that contain similar phrases and are of similar length can also indicate that the writer has written the reviews and fed them to other people to post. Common phrases that often pop up are: “I can’t wait for the next book”, “(Author’s name) is such a wonderful writer”.

Here are a couple of examples of reviews for 5-star rated books.

Example 1:

This is such a wonderful book. I found it extremely interesting and couldn’t put it down until I had finished it.”

Example 2:

Widowed unexpectedly when she is still a young woman, Daisy finds herself gradually excluded from her previous social circle, as friends fear that she may steal their husbands. Her children are off the rails, and her financial position is precarious.

Daisy feels that when she lost her husband, her whole identity went with him. Without him she no longer knows who or what she is. She must take her courage in her hands, and learn to stand on her own two feet.

As an attractive widow she is not short of suitors. When her best friend’s husband continues making advances, Daisy is torn between her loyalty to her friend and the temptation of finding happiness again.

Her journey to a new life is in parts laugh-out-loud funny, in parts cringe-worthy, and in parts touching. Daisy’s character is well-drawn, and I could identify with her fight to build her self-confidence and start living again.

From the sleepy Somerset countryside to the bustling exuberance of Spain’s Costa Brava, the story swept me along on a feel-good wave.

Entertaining, well-written, and rather thought-provoking.”

If you compare the two, the first tells you nothing upon which to form an opinion, while the second discusses the book and its merits.

On the other side there are the negative 1-star reviews that downgrade the overall rating of a title.

It isn’t unknown for rivals to try to damage each other’s reputation by leaving savage reviews. There are of course readers who genuinely don’t enjoy a book, and people who miss its point. There may be a particular section of society who are offended by some element, in which case they will persuade others who share their beliefs to attack the book. Books containing even mild sexual content, profanity or criticisms of religious beliefs can invoke a shower of poison arrows.

Here are some 1-star so-called reviews:

“I didn’t find this book at all funny and will not be buying any more books written by this author.”

“What a total waste of money. I was too bored to finish it and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.”  

It never arrived so I cannot tell you what I think of it. Therefore I can only award it one star.”

“This book is quite awful and I wish I hadn’t bought it. Why would anybody want to write such an awful book?”

“This book was ordered by mistake and is not the type of book that I read.  So I didn’t read it and cannot write a review of it.”

While everybody is entitled to express their opinion, statements like those are meaningless in helping potential customers form an idea of the book. Yet by giving it just 1 star these people degrade its overall star rating, which is what many people, including my friend, look at before deciding whether to buy.

This is also a 1-star rating:

As a long-standing fan of this author, having read all his previous books, I waited eagerly for his latest title to be published.

Unfortunately it has not lived up to my expectations.

None of the characters come to life, and the plot weaved and waved about all over the place. This book seems to have been written very hurriedly, and felt as if the author had lost his way. I found it rather confusing how the timeline jumped around, and certain parts seemed slightly unlikely and contrived.

That said, I read it at two sittings, always hoping that it would improve, but sadly it didn’t.

I would highly recommend all the author’s previous books as excellent reads written by a master wordsmith, and I shall await his next book with impatience. I can’t help feeling he didn’t really have his heart in this one.”

That’s a review by somebody who has taken the trouble to explain what they disliked about the book and why they gave it a low rating.

To have any value, a review needs to be a critical appraisal, written by somebody who has read it and taken the time to share their opinion for the benefit of other potential readers.

Amazon customers are able to “Look inside” both paperbacks and e-books, or download a sample from the e-book. It costs nothing, and is the equivalent of browsing a book in a bookshop so that you can see whether it’s to your taste or not.

Rather than seeing how many stars a book carries, make your decision by reading a sample, and by recognising the difference between a helpful review and a couple of dozen words that tell you nothing about the book.

To go back to my friend and the highly-rated book of which he had high hopes. The cover was gorgeous. But as the saying goes: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” :D

And equally, don’t judge a book purely by its star ratings.

The desk conundrum

Since the beginning of July, I hadn’t done any filing or tidying in the office. The desk, dresser and window sill have been heaped with a messy tangle of paperwork, photos, cheque books, pens, scraps of paper, notebooks, CDs and DVDs, instruction manuals, dust, dead flies, coins, jewellery, camera lenses, folders, files, receipts, bank statements, medical reports, bills, batteries and chargers.

I’ve been totally ashamed and disgusted every morning, and every evening I have resolved to deal with it first thing next day, and the months have rolled by with the only change being increasing mess.

There’s no  excuse. True we did have visitors staying for almost three months, and I was unwell for several months, but neither the visitors nor the ailment left me unable to sort out a pile of papers. I can’t find an explanation for it.

Among the piles was correspondence with the tax office, who thought we hadn’t paid something which we had. Failure to make the requested payment in time would result in a visit from the bailiff. The correspondence had been there for several days, picked up and put down every day, but today was the deadline to respond. The choice was to ignore it, let the bailiff turn up and triumphantly wave the receipt for the payment under his nose, or write to the tax office and send them all the necessary evidence and receipts. That seemed the more sensible path, so fortified with a strong coffee and a bowl of porridge I sat down and wrote to them, copied all the correspondence, and filed it away.

That seemed to unlock the dam, and in less than an hour the surfaces were clear and cleaned, everything dealt with and filed. As quick and easy as that.

I’m feeling better and far less tired today than I have done for months. Whether that’s the effect of sorting out the mess, or the cause of it, who knows? But it’s certainly a relief on both counts.

Is a cluttered desk a sign of a cluttered mind, or a creative one? Speaking for myself, I find that it does nothing to feed creativity, in fact just the opposite. I don’t want to sit at it. The clutter overwhelms me. On the other hand, a totally empty desk is daunting. How do other feel about this? Does anybody else let mess get on top of them?

As Albert Einstein (renowned for the untidiness of his desk) said: “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

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Maybe a potted plant, a pen, notebook and cup of coffee will strike the right balance.

 

 

Sunset and a Fussy Librarian

The sunset was incredibly vivid last night, with giant purple clouds boiling up all around. It looked both beautiful and slightly menacing.

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And by the way, nothing at all to do with sunsets, my latest book “I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry” is being featured on Monday 28th October at The Fussy Librarian, a new website that offers personalized quality ebook recommendations. You can choose from 30 genres and indicate your preferences about content. If you like sex and violence, you can have it. If you don’t, you won’t be offered it. The Fussy Librarian gets to work and sends you daily suggestions suited to your personal reading taste. It’s pretty cool — check it out! www.TheFussyLibrarian.com

“I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry” is a memoir of childhood in Kenya, the breakdown of our family which would have repercussions for decades, and a small grey pony called Cinderella.

I can’t say I’m sorry.

In fact, I’m very pleased that Awesome Indies has awarded their badge of approval to “I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry”
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As part of the Blackbird Digital Books autumn promotion, this week The Valley of Heaven and Hell and Best Foot Forward Kindle versions are both available to download at 99 cts/77p.

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Sale starts today

I’ve had a huge amount on my plate recently, particularly in sprucing up the house and garden as we have put our property up for sale, but thought I would pop in today to say “Hello, hope you are all well and happy,” and to announce that from today, Saturday 29th June, for the next five days my latest book is available for free download from your local Amazon.

It has already collected 16 spiffing reviews since it was published last month.

If you would like to take advantage of this promotional offer, just skip along to Amazon and help yourself, and I hope you’ll enjoy the read.

Reviews so far on Amazon.co.uk

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And another thing …

.. just received the mail, and in it a real surprise. A copy of French Property News. This is the centrefold:

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I knew that French Property News were planning a feature, but I hadn’t expected anything on quite this scale. An extract from Swallows and Robins as well as a mention of our house being for sale.

Resolutions

So far this year I’ve stuck to most of my New Year resolutions.

Getting up by 8.00 am – tick.

Dressed by 9.00 am – tick.

Limit time on Facebook to 30 minutes a day – half-tick

Take an item out of a room where it doesn’t belong and put it where it does – tick

If a job can be finished in five minutes, do it – tick

Plant a clover lawn – not quite time yet, but seed bought – tick

Make bee houses – searching for suitable cane – half-tick

Chew my food more thoroughly and eat more slowly – total fail. :(

Finish two of the four books I’m working on: one book on schedule to be finished by first week of March – tick

Take at least one photograph each month that I am totally satisfied with. This was delayed because I managed to hurl my camera onto a hard floor and bugger up the image stabilisation. That meant the camera was out of action for three weeks. But here are two I’m happy with. So – tick

So – how is everybody else getting on with their resolutions? Do tell. :)

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Variegated Ivy – I am pleased with the three-dimensional effect here

Tree in winter