Friday, December 7, 2012

The Quixotic Phenomena Called a Review

By Chester Campbell

Book reviews are an interesting phenomena. They are so subjective that you have to evaluate them with care and and in many cases take them with the proverbial grain of salt. There has been a flood of posts on various blogs and listserves recently about Amazon's treatment of reviews. And much of it derives from the fake review exposes of late.

Many writers have complained of Amazon's recent practice of taking down reviews from their book pages for various reasons. There is a lot of disagreement about what is taking place. Some say the massive retail site has removed reviews by other authors. Some say it doesn't like reviews put  up by friends of the author.

Happily I haven't noticed any reviews removed from my books except for one, Secret of the Scroll, my first published book and the first in my Greg McKenzie mystery series. However, it's easy to see what they did. The novel was originally published in 2002 by Durban House. I parted with the company after my third book and got my rights back. I also got a large supply of books from their inventory, which I used to keep the books on Amazon and sell at various venues.

I ran out of Secret of the Scroll copies this year and got it printed in a second edition by Night Shadows Press. The  inside of the book is virtually identical, but the cover has several changes, one of which I had wished was there from the start. With nothing but the title and artwork of an ancient scroll on the original cover, many people thought it was a religious book about the Dead Sea Scrolls. The new cover includes copy identifying the story as an international thriller.

The Amazon page contained around eight reviews submitted back in 2002 and 2003. After the new edition was put up, Amazon gained another batch of reviews when I did three free days for the Kindle edition. Recently I found that the reviews for the 2002 edition had been removed. I thought that was a little picky, but I haven't complained.

Back to my original premise about the subjectivity of reviews, I found it quite interesting to read a few recent reviews for the second Greg McKenzie book, Designed to Kill. Several reviews were added after I ran its Kindle edition free. Here are three that appeared one after the other. First came a 3-star review titled "It's OK":

"In a nutshell, I felt like this story was a little predictable. I figured out early on who the bad guy was. I continued to read it though, hoping that I would be surprised in the end. Sadly, I wasn't."

Under that appeared this 1-star review titled "I Didn't Even Finish It":

"It is rare that a book is so bad, that I don't finish it. I have pushed through some terrible books in the past, but this one was an exception. I didn't like anything about this book. I didn't like the characters. I didn't like the story line. I found it boring, and rambling. This was my first and last Greg McKenzie Mystery."

Following that came this 5-star review titled "Killer out there":

"Greg McKenzie retired and living in Nashville with his wife Jill find themselves as amateur sleuths, after their close friends son is found dead from a head wound in Pensacola Florida, the evidence suggest he committed suicide by a gunshot to his head.
Greg and Jill decide to go to Florida to take a look at the evidence as the family believe he was murdered. So the story begins ranging from Nashville Tenn. to Pensacola Flo. This is an interesting book as it teams up a husband and wife who are retired and in their early 60's. A well thought out and plausable plot that will keep you guessing to the end."

You'd have thought they read different books. Fortunately for my ego, the page contains seven 5 stars, including one from Midwest Book Review that ends with:

"A plot that moves along at a rapid clip with plenty of cliffhangers and well-defined characters. Greg McKenzie and his wife Jill are likeable characters who manage to transform retirement into a series of exciting adventures, all the while dealing with aging bodies and minds. A fine second effort!"

Visit me at Mystery Mania.


Morgan Mandel said...

Yes, reviews can be very different, that's for sure. Also, Amazon's recent policy concerning reviews is very confusing.

Morgan Mandel

Mary Ricksen said...

I usually don't pay attention to reviews. Though I like the good ones!
But,when I pick a book to read, the reviews have little to do with it. Since I have found myself not agreeing with many of them!

Chester Campbell said...

I agree, Mary, it's hard to decide which reviews are worth considering. I tend to put more reliance on those from legitimate review sites like Midwest Book Review and Crimespree Magazine.

Randy Rawls said...

Pictue me chuckling, Chester. I guess you've run into the proof that "it takes all kinds ..." Sometimes those "kinds" are hard to figure.
I've always wondered why someone would work so hard to finish a book just so they can trash it. Not in my DNA. But smile with the good ones and grit your teeth at the others. As long as we stick ourselves out there, someone will be willing to whack us.