In which we assess the danger of book reviews...

Talk about the writers doin' it for you now.

In which we assess the danger of book reviews...

Postby Paul_Campbell on Sat Oct 11, 2008 10:56 am

. . . or, more specifically, Amazon reviews.

At FantasyCon ( http://fantasycon.org.uk/ ) in Nottingham England this year I had two very eye-opening conversations with two major editors. I do book reviews for the British Fantasy Society publication Prism, which hosts the annual FantasyCon event, and occasionally I'll also post my review on Amazon.

The gist of it? The first review posted of a book on Amazon is the most critical, because – generally speaking - most sales of a new book come within the first month of its release. If that first review from John or Jane Doe is negative it can potentially kill sales of the book on Amazon.

I posted a positive 4-star review of a book on Amazon last year. It was an honest review, meaning I highlighted any issues I personally had with it. This being a collection of stories it stands to reason that it's highly unlike all of the stories are going to 'click' with the reader. A retired bookseller friend of mine once said that if he liked half the stories in any given collection he considered it a good book.

I liked 80% of the book, thus 4-stars.

My review of the book was the first to be posted.

The first editor at FantasyCon informed me that my review killed the book's Amazon sales.

Indeed, this collection being an annual event I apparently almost killed the entire series.

But wait – it was a positive review, right?

Why, yes. Or, more accurately, an honest review; meaning I praised it with faint damn.

It would appear, though, that's all anyone who read it took away from the review. Never mind all the other glowing comments I made, nope, everyone to a man it seems decided that a praised-with-faint-damns 4-star review just wasn't good enough –

- and Amazon sales of the book died.

The second editor gave me another example of the extraordinarily dangerous power of Amazon first-reviews: recently a promising new writer had their career cut dead by an Amazon first-review of their debut novel.

Oh, the book was good mind you, but that first review that someone posted highlighted the fact that the text contained a number of typographical errors. Which is sloppy, admittedly, but hardly an indictment of the worth of the book itself.

Well, again, it appears everyone to a man just read that part about the typos and the book's Amazon sales plummeted.

Sadly, publishers' accountants don't read anything other than a spreadsheet and the author's career died before it even got started. Their editor and agent and desperately trying to reboot their career . . . under a pseudonym, because the writer's real name is mud in the eyes of accountants who only look at the sales figures of an author's previous book.

Scary, huh? One review (even a predominately positive one) and whole series and careers are reduced to rubble.

Recently a relatively new London publisher has started up a line of dark fiction ( http://www.virginbooks.co.uk/books.php? ... wKdYD%2Fx4 ). I read them and loved them all, although I felt the last one to appear was the weakest of the bunch. Before FantasyCon I posted 5-star reviews on Amazon of some of the earlier titles. After FantasyCon I was going to post a 3-star review of the last book in the line.

But I won’t now. Not because I would particularly lose any sleep if I helped kill the sales of the book on Amazon, but because I most emphatically do not want to contribute to the possibility of my lukewarm review killing the entire line of novels from this publisher.

And there you have it, folks: the very scary - but very real - danger of Amazon first-reviews (thus the reason why it's no secret that many authors themselves post positive reviews of their own books on Amazon, because of the fear that if that first review isn't positive their publisher's accountants will pull their career out from under them).
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Re: In which we assess the danger of book reviews...

Postby Barry_Wood on Sat Oct 11, 2008 11:26 am

That's amazing stuff, Paul. Goes to show that the book business is truly big business. Thank you for sharing.
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Re: In which we assess the danger of book reviews...

Postby LauraK on Sat Oct 11, 2008 4:38 pm

Wow. That's actually kind of sad. Reviews, be they for books or movies, are entirely subjective. Just because someone gave a book a 3 or 4 star review, I wouldn't take a pass. If the subject matter and summary were up my alley and sounded interesting- I'd still want to read it and judge for myself.

When there's a movie I want to see- I see it, bad reviews be damned, lol! Same goes for books. It may color my reading a bit, waiting to see if the reviewer had been right, but ultimately I want to find out for myself, thankyouverymuch! :D

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Re: In which we assess the danger of book reviews...

Postby This_Girl on Sat Oct 11, 2008 10:17 pm

Wow, I never realized that. Though, they say first impressions yada yada...
I don't think I've ever read a review on a book. All the books I purchase are by authors I know I enjoy, word of mouth, or as in my finding Mr. Hill's HSB - it was advertised a lot on myspace and in my face everytime I logged on....then it was standing all pretty in the book store. Still, never have a I read a review I can remember.
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