Last week was a busy one. I had a proofreading job and an editing job, both due by Friday. Then, I received an email from my domain provider on Tuesday, which set off a chain of events that robbed roughly 20 hours from my already packed week. After a multitude of phone calls to my domain provider, an attorney, and more than 250 screenshots of someone’s malicious activity… I had to scramble to finish my contracted work. I was so ready for the weekend!
My original intention was to write a post about internet trolls in general with Amazon Reviews being a small portion of it, but as it turns out, there was too much material for just one post.
So, today is about Amazon and how cyber trolls take advantage of their review system. There have been other blogs about the same subject and I hate to add to the already bloated web of redundant posts, but I’m going to impart a few tips that many new authors don’t realize.
When my first book came out way back when, I camped out on my book’s Amazon page. If someone bought one, I wanted to know if for no other reason than to beam with pride. Yeah, I had newbie author written all over me. Now, I might check it once a month, just before the cycle ends. Sometimes, I miss the month completely and have to wait until the statements come out. Rather than to beam over reviews, I’ve come to appreciate contact of a more personal nature.
Every now and then, I receive an email or DM from someone simply to tell me they bought one of my books and how much they loved it. Recently, I received one such email and this sweet woman said that she enjoyed it immensely and wanted to apologize because as much as she enjoyed it, she could not bring herself to leave a review on Amazon. We exchanged several emails through which I learned that several of her reviews had been removed from their site. Amazon claimed she knew the authors and mentioned something about fake reviews.
She was insulted, as she knew none of the authors she had reviewed personally. She had, however, followed them on Twitter and either befriended them on Facebook or liked their fan page, something readers often do when they like an author’s work.
After chatting with her, I went to my books’ pages and noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. First, several of my reviews had been removed also, although I had never received any notification. I’m guessing the reviewers receive the notices? But I also noticed something else.
The Red Strokes
One of my books, the only one to be published strictly in digital format, came out two years ago. Quite honestly, it has been referred to by many as my best book to date, even though it wasn’t an award-winner and hasn’t sold nearly as many as its predecessor. I never did much to promote it because it came out at a time when I had a lot of serious, stressful issues going on in my life and I didn’t have the time (nor mental energy) to give it the attention it deserved. So, it fell by the wayside and by the time my life calmed, the window for the best sales and marketing opportunities had closed. Most of the reviews that book received when it first came out have since been removed. They were all verified purchases, none from anyone I knew personally, but they were removed nonetheless. No big deal, as I said, I rarely check my pages and have known for some time that the Amazon review process as a whole isn’t worth its weight in bookmarks.
But what I noticed on my last visit to the page was that there were four new reviews, all left within 11 days of each other, three of them on the same day! That’s a lot of reviews on the same day for a book released more than two years ago that never received proper attention and marketing. My original reviews were all 5-star, with the exception of (1) 4-star review. The four new reviews were all 1 and 2-stars. And guess what? Not one of them was a verified purchase. Not surprising. Also not surprising, not a single one of these low-ball reviews mention a single fact from the book. Not a character’s name, a line, a reference, nothing. The reviews are generic and could apply to any book on the market. Three of the four read like a fourth-grader wrote them. One or two lines, no detail about the book, typical troll-type review. Two of them are almost identical in their wording, I’ve used red to mark the similarities below:
on March 10, 2016
It wasnt really worth the price, low par writing but like anything else im sure it has its circles. If you have kindle unlimited and get it for free, id read it to pass the time, otherwise dont blther.
on March 21, 2016
Not really a good story.The story line is very predictable.Its a good story but It’s not as interesting.Not really a nice book.
on March 21, 2016
The storyline is very predictable and in my opinion,Its a good story but It’s not as interesting as I thought.
Two claim the story is predictable, both say it is not interesting (yet they went on to read it anyway) and the second one begins by saying it isn’t a good story and finishes by saying it is a good story?!? How do you give credence to something like that?
Here is the 1-star review:
Format: Kindle Edition
Easy to read would be the only positive of this “book” I can think about. And it’s easy only because after 5 lines your brain will switch off in order to survive.
If you are very, very bored and you want your brain to become a jelly or your toilet paper finished in the middle of the night – pick up “The Red Strokes”.
Otherwise don’t even try to read it. The plot is predictable, characters flat and plain, language pompous, dialogues stilted.
Warning: can be highly annoying and disappointing to the point of disgust for anyone who wasn’t born yesterday and have read more than 10 books in his life.
After reading this review, I had to laugh. First, it reads like a grade-schooler wrote it because adults simply don’t speak or write using such juvenile language. Even funnier is that they refer to it as having pompous language. This particular book came in at a 5th grade reading level on the Flesch-Kincaid chart, which is the target for general fiction. If they think 5th grade reading is pompous, it says more about them than it does about my book! For those who are unfamiliar with the Flesch-Kincaid charts, here is a graph example and a bit of explanation above it:
And here is an example of the reviews it got when it first came out, (what’s left of them:)
on March 2, 2014
I highly recommend it. Easy to read. I enjoyed the characters. Found their nuances true to life. I became involved with the story. Would love to see it be made into a movie. Will be looking for more books from this author.
on March 8, 2014
I really enjoyed this book. It has a very captivating storyline, once you start reading it is hard to put down, you can hardly wait to see what happens next! Would highly recommend, it has a little bit of flavor for everyone. Looking forward to this writer’s next book!
You’ll notice, both are verified purchases.
Now, I have no issue with receiving a negative review, providing it is written with honesty. I received a 1-star review on another of my books, which basically read, “I didn’t actually read the book, but the first page wasn’t my cup of tea. I put it down.” Okay….
To use a quote from my grandfather, “You can be the freshest, ripest, juiciest peach at the market, but there are still going to be people who simply don’t like peaches.”
That quote comes to mind often. I get it, not everyone will like/enjoy my work. Lord knows there are enough books out there that I didn’t particularly enjoy and anyone who knows me knows I have no issue telling anyone what I think. But I say it with honesty and respect. I would never, EVER, leave a 1-star review on a book I didn’t read. (and EVEN if I did, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to admit I didn’t actually read the book I’m trashing!)
So, the point I’ve taken the long way to get to is this: to every writer who has ever felt defeated or deflated by negative reviews… STOP!
See the reviews for what they are. I’m not saying every negative review you receive will come from trolls who have nothing better to do with their miserable, little lives. Some of them will be genuine, honest reviews from readers who simply didn’t fall in love with your writing, story, characters, or any combination of reasons. It happens. The difference is, the genuine negative reviews will still be respectful. They won’t read like they came from Miss Dowd’s third grade class. They will be specific in the reason(s) they didn’t care for it and most likely cite examples. The trolls will leave hateful, vague reasons with the intent of damaging both your self-esteem and your reputation. It could be someone who is jealous of your success, someone whose book you gave a less-than-favorable review, a neighbor who is jealous of your perfectly manicured lawn, or in my case, a vengeful ex who is obviously still feeling the burn of being cast aside. Where there is success, there are haters. (And the protection of being able to hide behind a computer makes the mud-slinging life of these cowards even easier.)
My particular troll has inflicted himself in many areas of my online brand and left a very self-damaging cyber trail in his wake, which allows me legal recourse, but my case is the exception. More often, there isn’t much you can do other than ignore them and wait it out. Here are a few tips that will make the wait a bit easier:
1. Not as many people rely on Amazon reviews as you might think. They might have at one time, but most people have come to realize that many of them are phony, either over-praised and given by family and well-meaning friends, or unfair and given by someone with the intention of breaking a thinner-skinned writer. (Thank god my skin is thick!) How do I know this? Because I belong to (far too many) writer’s groups and the topic of Amazon reviews comes up- All. The. Time.
2. Look closely at the reviews you receive. If your book has been out for years and there has been little to no sales/review activity on it, but you suddenly find yourself with multiple negative reviews within days or weeks of each other – without even seeing them I can tell you they’re bogus. I can also tell you now, none of them will be verified purchases. A heckler isn’t going to spend money to razz you. Ignore them and keep writing. Most readers today know how to analyze the reviews and can decipher a true review from a troll review.
3. Sometimes, negative reviews increase sales. It’s true. What do celebrities do when they need a publicity boost? Kim K. and Paris H. are quick to give credit to the ‘leak’ of their (sub-par) sex tapes. Janet J. had an unfortunate (but conveniently timed) wardrobe malfunction. Publicity is publicity, plain and simple. To this day, the same regrettable ex also stalks me through phony Twitter accounts and recently has even gone as far as to buy up every KathyReinhart dot (net., org., biz., work., info., me., co., etc.) domain name available. But what he doesn’t realize is that every time he creates a new Twitter profile and starts harassing me, my sales go up. Seriously, I notice a boost in sales and a surge in Twitter followers and website activity every time he finds himself with nothing better to do.
Now, if you wrote a crappy book that you didn’t bother to have edited, such reviews might be deserved. But if you wrote such a book, you probably wouldn’t sell very many, eliminating the possibility of reviews-good or bad.
4. If you’re thin-skinned and can’t help feeling dejected over negative reviews… Don’t read them. I know, it’s hard for some people to stay away from their book pages. They log on hoping to see a good review to boost their self esteem and end up crushed when 1-star stares back at them. Don’t put yourself through it. Stay off Amazon if you lack the ability to shake it off.
5. If you do have a fragile ego and don’t heed the above warning, when you’re through berating yourself, mozy on over to Stephen King’s page. Or John Grisham’s page. Or Nicholas Sparks’s page. Go to the page of any well-known, successful author and read their reviews. You will notice that people hate them, too! Sure, they have a much bigger fan base, but along with their glowing reviews, they will have their fair share of negative reviews. I can guarantee you this, they don’t waste a minute of their day on Amazon catching up with what the trolls have to say. They couldn’t care less. Take a page from their book, so to speak.
6. Last, old advice, but as good today as it was then.
I’m going to link back to a post I originally published on my blog, Ink Drop Interviews
, a couple of years ago, which is closely related to today’s post. (Don’t let the title scare you off!) I would even suggest taking screen shots of some of the more pathetic reviews. Who knows, one day you could be as famous as J.K. Rowlings and those reviews would make for great conversations starters!
The same as seasoned writers embrace their rejection letters (which live on to become part of their legacy), embrace your reviews, good, bad, or indifferent. See them for what they’re worth and remember, no matter what you do, there are some people who simply don’t like peaches!
Write to the ends of your imagination ~k.e. garvey