Hillary Clinton’s new book isn’t poetry. But the Amazon reviews of it sure are.

21 July 2014

From The Washington Post:

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s account of her time at the State Department, “Hard Choices,” and Ed Klein’s more tabloid-y account of her relationship with President Obama have been duking it out on the New York Times bestseller list. We have yet to learn which one will win.

. . . .

One place where nobody wins? In the customer reviews section of Amazon, where opinions of the two books are twice as polarized as the American electorate because, well, a certain type of person apparently writes these reviews. To wit: Ninety percent of the reviews of Clinton’s book give it either one or five stars. And more than twice as many are one-star reviews.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

Friend struggles to write book review without being negative

6 July 2014

From The Arizona Republic:

Dear Abby: My friend’s husband has been writing a novel for several years. He just self-published it, and it’s available on Amazon. He gave me a copy, asked me to read it and enter a great review on the Amazon page. The problem is the book is filled with misused and misspelled words, and there is missing punctuation.

. . . .

Aside from the fact that I don’t want to finish the book, I know he or my friend will ask me how I liked it. I don’t want to lie because I’m afraid if someone else brings these things to their attention, they’ll know I didn’t read it or think I should have told them.

. . . .

Dear Reader: He’s a friend, right? And you’re only a reader, not a literary critic whose credibility will suffer if you don’t point out every flaw. Find something you liked about the book and mention that on the Amazon page.

Link to the rest at The Arizona Republic and thanks to Meryl and others for the tip.

One-Star Book Reviews

28 May 2014

From One-Star Book Reviews:


Paris Hilton meets Pride and Prejudice.

. . . .


I see that there is an apple on the front so I think —- cookbook!….Then no apples or recipes. Only things that are not true about the world around us.”

Link to the rest at One-Star Book Reviews and thanks to Tina for the tip.

Reading Bad Reviews

23 May 2014

From author Cristian Mihai:

Whenever a book piques my interest, the first thing I do is go on Amazon or Goodreads and read the bad reviews.


Because, for once, I believe that by reading the bad reviews you get a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t in that particular book. Also, I’ve found that those who didn’t like the book are particularly more detailed in their reviews. They aren’t just raving about how awesome and freaking amazing that book was. And then I suppose it’s simply because I’m more likely to buy a book that also has some bad reviews. All five star reviews looks pretty suspicious and I just guess that reading about a book’s flaws makes me want to buy it more.Also, reading those one star reviews that were given even to the best of novels is a fantastic tonic for my confidence. No book is perfect, and no book will ever please everyone.

. . . .

Who writes those bad reviews?

  • People who didn’t enjoy your story. We know that preferences are different, but there are other elements as well. We can safely assume that not everyone can read Faulkner, or Sartre, or David Foster Wallace. If you’ve read light fiction all your life, odds are you probably won’t understand much. And then, also, these three writers might actually make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Readers who’ve bought your book even though they’re outside your target audience.

Link to the rest at Cristian Mihai and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Cristian’s point about bad reviews coming from people who are outside your target audience may explain the oft-reported phenomenon of readers who get free books being the source of a disproportionate number of bad reviews.

Negative Amazon Reviews For Classic Books

15 May 2014

From The Huffington Post:

Negative book reviews have been under scrutiny lately, and not just those existing on public forums such as Amazon. BuzzFeed, The New York Times, and a number of other outlets have taken pains to defend or criticize the rant-like nature of book reviews, especially during a time when the publishing industry could use a helping hand rather than a wagging finger. Regardless of your opinion on negative book reviews in general, it’s clear that Amazon is a gold mine for what Rice calls “anti-author gangster bully culture.”

. . . .

“Othello” by William Shakespeare

Me doth not thinkift I understandifth this tale

★ ★

Shakespeare was a real cool person for his time. Unfortunately, his plays are not a real cool thing to read for my time. It is English and I speak English. I just don’t happen to speak Old English. Which is really ironic because I am old and speaking English. If you read slowly and put your thinking cap on, you will get the gist of what the story is about. Or! You can just purchase Cliff notes, etc. This story is exciting and full of action………..I Think?

. . . .

“The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway

Boring Boring and more Boring

The master of literature, Ernest Hemingway. There is nothing masterful about this boring little story. Dinner and drinks and more drinks then more dinner. Nothing happens and nothing is going to happen in this party boy tale. The only interesting thing about this book is how the title was conceived. It seems it was taken from a passage in the bible. I am no longer convinced Hemingway was a great writer.

. . . .

“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy

★ ★

Didn’t keep my interest.

Parts of the book were discussing political views nothing to do with Anna. It appeared their were many main characters not only Anna.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to Donna for the tip.

How Do You Decide Whether To Buy A Book?

28 April 2014

From Ferrett:

So long-time commentor Fatbunnyghost asked this about prologues:

“When you are browsing for a book to buy and a book has a prologue, do you read the first sentence of the prologue or skip to the first chapter in order to decide if you want to buy the book?”

And I stopped, because I realized:

I no longer browse through books.

I’ve been blinded to that obvious truth because I grew up in bookstores.  Once a month, my Uncle Tommy took me to the bookstore and let me buy however many books I wanted, so I thumbed through a lot of books to make sure they were worth his money.  Then I got a job in Waldenbooks, and later Borders, and spent five years doing nothing but stocking and marketing books, and I watched people skim the first couple of pages before tossing it into their cart.  And then I got promoted to being a book buyer at Borders, in charge of determining which books Borders sold and how many, and that was all predicated on shoppers coming in and browsing.

But I don’t do that now.  I can’t remember the last time I bought a book because I read the first chapters.

Now, I buy books based on what I see online.

. . . .

And I realize, I don’t like reading a book’s description.  That’s why I paid the cash, buddy – to be surprised.  I don’t want to have the first half of the book spoiled for me – I want to be tossed into a raging sea of characters and plotlines and figure it all out for myself.  I get actively irritated when I accidentally read the back cover.

So yeah.  At one point, “thumbing through a book” would have done it, but I don’t even bother with Kindle’s Sample Chapters.

Link to the rest at Ferrett and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Suing e-book reviewers and being a public jerk: Two bad ideas in one

21 April 2014

From TeleRead:

On said book, a reviewer going by the moniker “Biology Book Worm” had posted a one-star review indicating that some facts were incorrect. Joe Nobody had replied, intending to straighten out the reviewer’s misapprehensions, but ended up getting into an argument. The reviewer also expressed the belief that some of the five-star reviews that had “tricked” him into buying the book were sock puppets for Nobody himself.

In the end, Joe Nobody felt he felt he could prove he owed a $23,000 drop in sales to that review (given that, as the voted “most helpful” review, it ended up at the top of his reviews list), and was wondering about the feasibility of suing the reviewer (who, he had determined, was “a 23 year-old recent college graduate who never severed (sic) anything but a hamburger”). He posted to KBoards wondering whether he should consider suing. (The article includes a screencap of the original post; the thread itself seems to have been deleted from the site or otherwise protected from casual viewing even from someone with a KBoards account.)

Strandberg suggests that it’s more likely that drop in sales could be attributed to Nobody showing a fairly ugly side of himself in arguing with the reviewer. Seriously, that’s something you don’t ever want to do; when you get down in the mud with someone like that, you end up getting more mud on you than him. Strandberg points out that engaging with negative reviewers is almost always a big mistake.

First, that reviewer doesn’t care about you. Second, anyone who wants to buy your book can read those comments. I’m willing to bet a large chunk of that $23,000 Joe Nobody is pissing and moaning about was lost due to his own misguided comments.

The idea of suing over a bad review is frankly ridiculous, For one thing, the lawyer fees would eat up that $23,000 in about fifteen minutes. Even if he won the suit, he’d never see the $23,000, let alone compensation for his legal fees—where’s a 23-year-old college grad going to get that kind of money? It would be purely an exercise in dumping money down the drain in order to assuage his own ego, while driving someone who had the temerity to post a bad review into dire financial straits for life. (And that’s assuming that he won, which is not exactly assured.)

Link to the rest at TeleRead

PG will add that the process of proving damages in a lawsuit is way more complex than saying, “This person did this, then I lost money.”

As far as suing someone who wrote a bad review, doing so will guarantee the widest possible exposure for the contents of the bad review. Plus a lot of people who think the suit is a bad idea will create additional one-star reviews of a great many of the author’s books with nasty comments. And somebody else will start an online campaign to boycott the author’s books.

And no author, no matter how wealthy, can sue the whole online world.

The Bullies Win: Authors Abandoning Publishing Over Online Behaviors

10 April 2014

From Good Ereader:

Good e-Reader has given extensive coverage to a situation plaguing the publishing industry, both from a self-publishing standpoint and a traditional one: author bullying. While information has come out that some authors have engaged in less-than-professional tactics, particularly where book reviews are concerned, the situation has escalated to the point that some well-known authors like Anne Rice have lent their support to calling for a change in how online platforms allow anonymous “trolling” of authors and their works.

News has come out this week of at least two authors who have declared that they will no longer write and publish their works due to the behaviors of a handful of people. Authors Sarah Daltry and Nadine Christian, independently of each other, have announced on their blogs and social media that they will be closing their accounts and removing all of their self-published works, although they will be unable to do anything to remove their contracted titles.

. . . .

In Christian’s case, the aggressive behavior was never in the form of book reviews, but rather in personal and anonymous contacts in the form of harassing emails and messages. She spoke with Good e-Reader about the behavior and her decision to discontinue her work as a writer.

“If being in the public eye led to that sort of vicious — and obvious stalking — was it worth continuing? I love to write, but would putting my work out there be worth the heart ache? The reaction I feel deep down every time I open an email from someone I’m not sure of was starting to give me stomach pains.”

In this age of online anonymity that allows small people to behave this way towards authors, why couldn’t Christian simply change her online name and start over, building a new brand and readership?

“It had run through my mind. Starting over, becoming Joe Bloggs, Jane Doe. But what if it’s me? What if I’ve done something to someone and not realised it? What if it’s my location, personality, even writing style that’s insulted so many? I love to write, even if it’s not published.”

Link to the rest at Good Ereader and thanks to Barbra for the tip.

PG doesn’t do litigation any more, but in the days when he did, he made some enemies by beating them in court. In certain business and family and social groups, it would have been difficult to find anyone who had anything good to say about PG.

Perhaps it’s these experiences or just PG’s obstinate nature, but he thinks it’s crazy to give up on writing because of a bunch of online jerks. PG quit going to Goodreads eons ago (not because of bullying, but rather because it was so terribly designed) and he has never missed it a bit.

He would have the same response to any online location frequented by nasty people. The world-wide web is a huge and wondrous place and PG can be perfectly happy spending his time in the countless useful and courteous parts for the remainder of his surfing days.

PG says write your books and put them out there. Use your own name or a pen name or a boatload of pen names if you like. If a single person buys one of your books and enjoys it, you’ve done a good thing for them.

And steer clear of jerks in both meatspace and cyberspace. Don’t go where they display their jerkitude. Life is too short to spend any of it with jerks.

Yelp Reviews Brew a Fight Over Free Speech vs. Fairness

4 April 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

A closely watched Internet free-speech case is headed to the Virginia Supreme Court this month, with many businesses that live and die by online reviews rooting for the owner of a small, suburban carpet cleaner.

In early 2012, Joe Hadeed, owner of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning Inc., arrived at his office atop a 70,000-square-foot warehouse in Springfield, Va., to discover a critique posted on Yelp.  com: “Lots of hype, a mediocre cleaning and a hassle at the end. Don’t go with Joe!” wrote a “Mike M.” A few days later, another review, by “M.P.” popped up: “I will never use them again and advise others to proceed with caution!” it said.

Over the next several weeks, a string of similarly harsh reviews replaced more-favorable comments “as if someone had flipped a switch,” said the 47-year-old Mr. Hadeed, in an interview last month at his offices, where trucks drop off carpets to be washed, rinsed and dried.

Following the rash of negative Yelp reviews, business sank 30% in 2012, Mr. Hadeed says. Last year, Hadeed cleaned just 20,000 carpets, down from 29,000 in 2011.

. . . .

The Federal Trade Commission has received more than 2,046 complaints filed about Yelp from 2008 through March 4.

. . . .

Most of the complaints are from small businesses that claim to have received unfair or fraudulent reviews, often after turning down a pitch to advertise on the site, according to a separate spreadsheet of complaints to the FTC about Yelp.

. . . .

For instance, a business owner in Montclair, N.J., whose name was redacted said: “I was contacted by a Yelp salesperson to advertise, which I declined, and since have only had negative posts on their site.”

Yelp denies any connection between reviews and advertising on the site. “Our recommendation software doesn’t punish people who don’t advertise,” Yelp spokeswoman Kristen Whisenand said, adding, “There has never been any amount of money you can pay Yelp to manipulate reviews.”

. . . .

In July 2012, Hadeed sued the seven reviewers for defamation, and demanded that Yelp turn over their true identities. So far, both the Alexandria Circuit Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals have sided with Mr. Hadeed, holding Yelp in contempt for not turning over the names. Yelp in January appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the reviews are protected under the First Amendment and that Mr. Hadeed offered scant evidence that they were fakes.

. . . .

“They say they have a right to put this information out there. But where’s my right to defend my business?” said Mr. Hadeed, in the interview.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

The Price of Popularity: Lower Ratings

1 April 2014

From a forthcoming paper to be published in Administrative Science Quarterly:

Although increases in status often lead to more favorable inferences about quality in subsequent evaluations, in this paper, we examine a setting in which an increase to an actor’s status results in less favorable quality evaluations, contrary to what much of sociological and management theory would predict.

Comparing thousands of reader reviews on of 64 English-language books that either won or were short-listed for prestigious book awards between 2007 and 2011, we find that prizewinning books tend to attract more readers following the announcement of an award and that readers’ ratings of award-winning books tend to decline more precipitously following the announcement of an award relative to books that were named as finalists but did not win.

We explain this surprising result, focusing on two mechanisms whereby signals of quality that tend to promote adoption can subsequently have a negative impact on evaluation.

First, we propose that the audience evaluating a high-status actor or object tends to shift as a result of a public status shock, like an award, increasing in number but also in diverse tastes. We outline how this shift might translate into less favorable evaluations of quality.

Second, we show that the increase in popularity that tends to follow a status shock is off-putting to some, also resulting in more negative evaluations. We show that our proposed mechanisms together explain the negative effect of status on evaluations in the context of the literary world.

Link to the rest at Social Science Research Network where you can download the entire paper

PG added some paragraph breaks to the abstract to enhance readability.

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