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How to Read an Amazon Book Review

How to Read an Amazon Book Review

Amazon is, for better or worse, at the heart of the publishing industry. The game-changing business model they offered to writers and publisher alike has turned publishing giants into dinosaurs overnight and foretold their upcoming doom. And let's face it, some of the changes Amazon is offering are long overdue and tipped the scale in favor of small players again, for as long as they accept to exist within their fiefdom.

But it's not all roses and puppies. The e-commerce giant relies on crowdsourcing to assure product quality, which means users can rate themselves the quality of their delivery with little to no accountability. It is especially problematic for book and movie reviews, since those exist as a discipline outside of Amazon and people often confuse the two now. So, I naturally saw a lot of writers despair over poorly worded and argued Amazon reviews over the years. 

I was inspired by a recent article in LitReactor to share my learnings about what kind of people write shitty Amazon reviews and what motivates them. So, you guys take it with a grain of salt in the future. Or the appropriate amount of salt. You'll see.

The reviewer who's like my mom

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My mom's old. Even when she was young, she was old. It's like she turned 90 when her body turned 35 and she was damn glad it happened. Being old is a state of mind. It turns your life into a series of well-defined habits and routines you hate breaking out of. This woman here doesn't have any malicious intent, but she was challenged by something outside her wheelhouse and clammed up. Happens, right?

But she doesn't have any notion of what a wheelhouse is. She, like my mom, loves to read by doesn't know herself as a reader. She doesn't have a good feel for what she likes and doesn't like, so she's dependent on other people's opinions to find new reads. There's a lot of old people in the reading game, because it's not exactly a young people sport. Movies, television and video games are. So, they're inevitable to a certain extent and they will always exist because there will always be people who are mentally old.

When I say old, I don't necessarily mean physically old, by the way. One of my most loyal readers borders on 70 (which is older than my mom) and he's one of the most intellectually adventurous people I know. So, don't be old. 

The Jealous Dude

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A wise man once told me: there's a lot of jealousy in some Amazon reviews. How do you know you're reading a jealousy review? Addresses the book with broad, unspecific complaints; it says the word "boring" a lot; it's ultra condescending and attacks the author's writing skills rather than the story or the message. Another common trait to every jealousy review is that there is no indication whether or not the reviewer has actually read the book.

People write jealousy reviews for a simple reason: everyone and their moms thinks they can be a successful, but especially people who haven't tried. Walk up to anyone on the street and ask them if they plan to write a novel and they'll all answer something along the lines of: "yes, but I don't have time to read", "I have killer ideas, but I'd need someone to type them for me. Would you?" or "Of course, when I retire". Chuck Wendig once said the internet was 50% porn and 50% writers and he was absolutely right.

There are jealousy reviews under every successful novel on Amazon, but it's a plague that especially affects young up-and-coming writers. Because there's always a jealous asshole thinking: "fuck that guy and all the praise he's getting. I could do so much better. People should praise ME instead." So, you know. Fuck THAT guy and his Amazon opinions.

The Airport Reader

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I know reviews like this can be infuriating, but it's difficult to begrudge readers like him. He's of very little value to authors and readers alike, but he's another byproduct of popularity. When a book hits the big time, people who read one or two books a year, mostly in airports or in vacation, will start buying your work. AND DAMMIT, THESE PEOPLE WANT TO BE ENTERTAINED. Reading is a big investment of time for them and they want to be swept away with as little effort as possible.

I'm judging them hard, right now but these people simply have a different relationship to reading than you and I. For them, it's not a relationship. It's a transaction. There are writers for this audience. Notably Lee Child and Robert Ludlum. Their patron saint is James Patterson. They are looking for maximum emotion with minimum time and effort investment. The best you can do for them is to steer them towards authors they'll like, but otherwise they're just another symptom of success.

The Ideological Reader

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This one will let one variable derail his entire experience. I hate this kind of reader with a passion because he has contempt for the sacred spiritual bond that is reading fiction. To me, reading is discovering other visions of the world and ways of thinking through allegory. Not to the ideological reader. If it doesn't fit his set of values, it's crap. There's swearing? He's out. There's sex? He's GROSSED out. God forbid there's violence? He's got a torch and a pitchfork ready in his garage.

As a reader, you have a responsibility to understand who you are and to minimize your aggravation, because you're the one paying for your books. What the fuck are you doing reading a neo-noir if you have no stomach for swearing, sex or violence, you fucking idiot? This kind of review is ultimately white noise for readers, but it's disrespectful and contemptuous. If "clean reads" are your thing, Google is full of riveting suggestions for you. Stop wasting people's time and your own. 

The one that gets it right

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This is what Amazon product reviews were originally intended for.  To flag potential product malfunction, user discontentment or even third party vendors defrauding clients. Theoretically, that dude "got" it. If this article was a microwave rather than a novel, I'd have no qualms whatsoever with this review. But what that guy needed was to file a complaint and get his money back. Amazon makes it insanely difficult to reach their customer service, but that review will no hurt them, dude. It will hurt the author instead.

When you see a review like this, keep in mind that these people are essentially using the service the right way. They just have poor understanding of context and/or the steps they should take to get their money back.


Anyway, if you become popular enough, there will always be someone to hate your shit. Another wise man once told me that the first yardstick for success was criticism. If your work is exposed to enough people, you're bound to find someone who disagrees with you. It's just that sometimes these people are stupid and/or ill-equipped to understand what you're doing. So fuck 'em and keep doing what you do. If you want to succeed, know that haters come with the territory.

By the way, the reviews were all picked from book's chose for my year end's best reads lists. I've read them all and found pretty straightforward reasons to love them. 

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