Reviews

Book reviews are very important, especially to the independent writer. To all writers, I suppose, but us guys without the sweet publishing contract live and die by them. I further suppose that I should clarify a bit. I’m not going to lie and tell you that certain reviews don’t make you feel really good. Nor will I deny that this, like every farthing one possesses, has a flipside. There are reviews that make you want to take a dive from the fourteenth floor. You relish the first, you roll with the second, and you stand on all the ground in between.

But they have a far more critical function in the sale of books. It all comes down, of course, to algorithms. And I’m going to be square with you: what I know about them in general, and the Amazon sales one in particular is essentially hearsay and stuff I make up myself.

However pretty much everyone agrees that to some extent the bits of code that decide if your book is going to pop up in places that will benefit sales takes into account one thing about reviews: how many there are.

You need to know that I hate writing those words. I mean, I could go off and rhapsodize ad nauseum on the divine (or diabolical) connection between the author and the reviewer. We could examine the history of it. We could throw around words like “symbiosis” and “tirrivee” and “buttermilk pancakes.” But while all of it is valid and true, (except for the silly bits at the end), in the 21st Century their influence on the success of a book is at the same time nebulous and tangible.

I said all that…

…To lead into talking about this. We all know that Amazon is the biggest online retailer, and that almost all independent or small house authors will, if they sell any books at all, likely sell most of them here. And it’s their algorithm in question, so reviews there are clearly important, for all the reasons I gave or hinted at above. But in addition to a not-quite-understood system for picking teacher’s favorite, there is also a not-quite-understood protocol for who can leave reviews, and what those reviews can say.

To wit: I have recently released an novel called Jelly Jars. You may have heard me mention it in passing. The first reviews have begun to show up, and I’m very happy to say that they’ve been favorable. As soon as a book gets to double-digit reviews I begin to breathe a little easier, and that happened just a few days ago. So if you heard someone breathing, it was just me.

One review in particular caught my eye, because it was short. Very short. One sentence. When considering the wholly mathematical element of review utilitarianism, short reviews are the bomb. Pile them suckers up. Not a huge time investment for the reviewer, (doesn’t take long to type, “This guy sucks,”) and the algorithm hums. But most of the reviews for Jelly Jars to that point had been a few sentences, some even multiple paragraphs in length. So this one caught my eye, is what I’m saying, based upon it’s brevity.

Then I read it.

Like I said, it was brief and, like I hinted, the short ones are often, though not always, of the less than stellar variety. But this one taught me a thing or two about being a writer in so far as how much a single sentence can say. It was attributed only to “Kindle Reader,” which is a product placement way of saying Anonymous. And this was the entire text of the review:

“This modern-day classic is captivating and heartwarming but isn’t your typical love story.”

Kindle Reader

That was it.

I make sure to point out, whenever I say things in the vein of what I’m about to say, that I’m talking about my experience, and never pretend to speak for other writers, except for Craig Hart who I not only speak for, but have worked up an entire ventriloquist act using him as the dummy. Okay moving on to the serious part now.

For me, this was unprecedented. Those sort of words have never been applied to my writing. Well, by anyone other than myself. And of course Craig during the puppet thing, but that’s technically still by myself.

You may have noticed that I don’t have a nice screenshot of the review as part of this post. There’s a reason for that as well. I didn’t take one the day I saw it. I did copy and paste the text of it into a message to Craig, which is the only reason I can quote it with confidence. But no screenshot. I figured, “No big deal, I’ll just grab one next time.” Today was to be that “next time.” And so happily I skipped along with my trusty screen-shooter, to find this amazing one-sentence review…

… And it was gone.

No trace of it. No latent fingerprints, not a speck of DNA, no lengthy confession scrawled on the wall in the blood of a dozen different leprechauns… just gone.

So let’s explore the mystery every so briefly. I think we can agree that there is nothing in the content of the review that could be viewed as objectionable. Certainly not in my opinion anyway. I’m scrolling through ‘Zon looking for my next read and I see that review, I’m going to say, “Hey, this is a brief but enthusiastic review and is not in any way objectionable.” Because that’s how I really talk. So unless I’m missing something, the culprit isn’t content. So we can scratch that name of the suspects list.

The other biggie with the review overlords is who is posting. If I were to create a fake account for, let’s say, a Mr. V.S. Jarengo, and then went on to talk about the book being a modern-day classic it probably wouldn’t be long before they figured out it was me. Especially when J.V. Sarengo popped up a few minutes later with the same opinion.

This was simply a “Kindle Customer.” Which is certainly fine. But it means there’s no way for me to contact that customer, to find out it was a relative, or myself after all, (I may not be able to outsmart Amazon but I sure can fool me!) And, as I said on Facebook earlier in a much briefer discussion, I know it wasn’t Craig, because he cannot write. [Ed. Note: He’s obviously either a) joking or b) nuts, since he’s written books with Craig. Where does he think those even-numbered chapters came from?] But what it all comes down to is I can’t know who the reviewer was, since as near as I can figure this has to be the issue!

Failing that you would have to say, “Well, there is no issue. So what the hell happened?”

The bottom line is that I will never know.

So I’m thinking…

…That the thing to do, rather than moan and speculate and eventually develop a conspiracy theory that will go viral and perhaps turn the tide of the future of the planet, no doubt for the worse, I rethink the whole question of reviews.

Remember early when I said that I hated to talk about the numbers game in getting reviews? Remember how I said that quantifying them was offensive?

I meant it.

So I am proposing a different path to take. I’m going to create a page on this very website, that will link you to places where you can leave reviews for Jelly Jars. At the very least I will take you to the book’s listing, and if possible will get you right to the place where you can leave the review. And yes, Amazon will be among them. I’m not looking to boycott Amazon, I just don’t completely trust them. So you can leave a review at the various booksellers that carry the book, and you can leave one on Goodreads as well as anyplace else I can dig up that allows such shenanigans. The page is active now (that big button below), as well as the front page of the site, and the top menu.

If you’d like to leave a review on any of these sites, that would be great. If you want to do it on all of them, through the magic of cut and paste, then that would be greater.

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