Reviews are everything, reviews are nothing

Amazon book reviews (and to a lesser extent Goodreads reviews and to an even lesser extent – is that possible? How many extents are there? How far does an extent go? Can an extent get an extension? More importantly, will I ever find my way out of this parenthetical? – wait… where was I? Oh yes… and to an even lesserer extenterer all other sites that allow reviews) are critical to an author’s success. They help or sometimes dictate if a 3rd party website will promote a book. They influence how seriously Amazon regards your book and if they will recommend it to their customers using an algorithm that is as full of mystery and magic as an average day at Hogwarts.


Pictured: Jeff Bezos, shortly after entering his mysterious school for gifted youngsters.

Pictured: Jeff Bezos, shortly after entering his mysterious school for gifted youngsters.


But do reviews actually mean anything? Bear with me for a sec here. If you’re an Amazon customer, do you write reviews for everything you buy? Of course not. I mean, obviously you wrote a scathing critique of that combination toaster/blender you bought, warning all the other unwary customers away from the product’s false claims of serving up a complete breakfast in minutes. Failed to mention how everything somehow tastes like a toast slurry, didn’t they?

But what about all the products you liked? Well, maybe you wrote one glowing review of that complete DVD box set of The Waltons you bought for yourself a while back. Sure, you wrote it after binge-watching all nine seasons, eyes bleary from three bottles of red wine and tear-filled from the regret evoked by painful reminders of the sunshine of youth now eclipsed and the glory of bygone days, but you meant every word! And you wouldn’t take back one single syllable. Well, except that mention of your first girlfriend and how you hoped she was happy and living the life you always knew she deserved. You went back and edited that out anyway. Don’t worry, I’m sure no one saw. Well, no one who cared anyway.


Don't you judge me, internet. Don't you dare judge me.

Don’t you judge me, internet. Don’t you dare judge me.


But besides that one special product near and dear to your heart, do you write reviews for anything else? I’m betting not. That latest pack of underwear sure was delivered on time and hugs your butt cheeks exactly as described, but you just can’t be motivated to take the time to pen a nice note stating that with your name attached and everything. No, for most products we buy on Amazon we blissfully neglect leaving reviews. Why? Because we have lives full of about a thousand things that demand our attention. How could writing a review no one will probably ever read even attempt to make it into the top 10 on your to-do list? I mean, I deliberately shifted gears on my life a couple of years ago to limit the amount of things going on in it so I could concentrate on writing and even I can’t be bothered to review my latest purchase of athletic socks and spanx!

I made up one of those purchases. I’m not telling you which one.

So, if we know this about ourselves, why then do we trust reviews so much? Why do we bother looking at them at all when we know all the 5-star reviews are absurdly slanted (if not outright bought) and all the 1-star reviews are from customers who either should never have bought the thing in the first place or are just angry that it isn’t everything they ever wanted? Why do we place such a great emphasis on weighing this critical feedback, which often is neither critical nor feedback?

The answer, of course, is that it’s all we have. Amazon and all the other e-tailers have no independent reviewers. There is only the feedback left from the seething mass of humanity. In a way this is good, but in another it’s bad. It’s good, because no one entity can be bribed or otherwise influenced to leave good or bad reviews. It’s bad because most people either don’t leave reviews or leave sloppy and clearly biased ones. With a situation like this it’s tempting to just ignore reviews altogether, but even though you are loathe to leave them yourself, you know you need them.





Well, I know it’s going to sound like I’m telling you that one plus one equals a George Foreman Grill, but you need to write more reviews. Yes. You do. And me, too. (Well, I can’t really do it for books for reasons that should be obvious, but I can do it for other stuff.) I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true. We have too many meaningless reviews so we need more? Yes. But what we need are meaningful reviews.

No! No, don’t run away! Wait! Let me explain!

I’m not talking about full page critical analysis stuff. No one reads that bullshit anyway. No! I’m talking about 2, 3 and 4 star reviews where you leave twitter-sized feedback. One thing you liked, one thing you didn’t and would you purchase more. That’s it! From one sentence to a maximum of three! That’s all! Easy-peezy.

But will it work, you ask? Well, you tell me. When you look at reviews do you read the essay-length ones? Do you read the 5-stars? The 1-stars? I strongly doubt you read the long reviews. You might read bite-sized 5 and 1 stars, but if you decide to purchase the item,  do you realistically think your review of it will line up with either spectrum? Of course not.

Listen, here’s what I do. I read the 1-stars to see if they’re for real. If they sound legit, I’ll move on, regardless of how many 5-stars there are. Most 5-stars are bought. Everyone knows that. BUT – if the 1-star reviews sound fishy or complain about crap I don’t care about? I cut to the “most helpful” review and read a few other 3 stars. “Most helpful” reviews are usually 3-stars. Know why? Because most things are good and bad. But they might be good with things you care about and bad concerning things of which you couldn’t give one soft stool.

It’s a shock, I know. I’ll give you a moment with it.

Actually, we’re about out of time, so go ahead and hit the showers. I might revisit this topic later, but for now just try to make a little extra time in your schedule to do some on-line reviews. It’s democracy in action, after all. Did I mention that? No? Well, I’m mentioning it.

Until next time, everyone! Don’t forget to tip your driver and don’t forget to review your purchase!




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