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COLUMNS
IN Her Own Write
January, 2008


Best Revenge

Online Review Screw
Tragedies can happen in Amazon.com world
By  Anne R. Allen

Y
ou can tell your cash-strapped friends who are looking for a last-minute holiday gift idea for you, or any of the other book authors in their lives: there’s an always-appropriate present that won’t cost them a thing.

They can go to your book’s entry at amazon.com, click the “write an online review” link, and enter a couple of lines in praise of your great opus. It helps if they’ve actually read the book, but with a quick glance at the publisher’s “book description,” they can fake it in a pinch.

Remind them to give the book five stars — especially if some other customer has recently shredded your work with a one-star review. One bad review reduces a book’s status from five stars to four, but something between 12 and 15 five-star reviews are required to restore the lost rating. Even if the bad review comes from a customer who is obviously semi-literate, semi-conscious, and/or the author’s recently-dumped ex-boyfriend.

I confess I was unaware of the importance of the Amazon review until a friend with a critically-acclaimed, soon-to-be-a-major-motion-picture bestseller phoned me, tragified at the loss of one of her Amazon customer-review stars.

Some reader, apparently off his meds, had leveled some creative conspiracy-theory accusations about my friend’s Hollywood connections in an incoherent one-star review.

She could endure the nonsensical rant, but his one-star rating had robbed her book of its former five-star status. This was serious. She was forced to beg all her friends and relations to write five star reviews to undo the conspiracy theorist’s mischief.

I was happy to oblige, once I got the hang of the Amazon-reviewer culture. Registering as a reviewer is not a big deal. The biggest challenge is deciding whether to use your own name or a pseudonym. Using your real name earns you a “badge.”

Writing helpful reviews earns you more badges. (Customer reviews can be voted “helpful” or “not helpful” by all customers, not just registered reviewers.) Reviewers voted especially helpful are eligible for very special badges like “top 100 reviewer.”

If, like me, you don’t need no stinkin’ badges, it’s still kind of fun. You just have to follow a few rules:

1) Be over 13. (There’s a special kid’s review form for the Harry Potter set.)

2) Keep your review short, but use more than one word: 75 to 300 words is ideal.

3) Don't reveal crucial plot elements.

4) Don’t comment on other reviews by page position. (Positions change often.)

5) No profanity, obscenities, racism or spiteful remarks.

6) Tell why, as well as whether, you liked the book.

7) Don’t advertise another bookseller or promote time-sensitive events.

Allow time for the 'Zon elves to check your work for compliance with the above code, and in five or six days you’ll be online, stars blazing.

Best of all you can ask your author friend to promise she’ll do the same for you when your next book comes out.

Other online booksellers, like Barnes and Nobel in the U.S. and W.H. Smith in the UK now make use of the customer book review. They have pretty much the same rules, as do Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk. (Although the .uk site prohibits pre-publication reviews and comments directed at other reviewers. The Brits also allow reviews of up to 1000 words.)

Amazon reviews are important enough that book-marketing guru Dan Poynter is establishing an “Amazon review exchange,” where authors can sign up to review each others’ work. He details his plan in his December ParaPublishing Newsletter.

If you want your book reviewed, send your request and description to him at DanPoynter@ParaPublishing.com. You need to be willing to send a book and promotional materials (review-book package) to everybody who contacts you. He asks that you make sure the book is listed at amazon.com and supply a current email contact address. There’s no charge for the listing. More info is available at http://ParaPub.com.

Customer reviews give you an excuse to visit your amazon listing that’s more gratifying than a simple check to see if your sales rating has slid from last month’s high of 78,217. 

Of course, you could discover that you’ve been accused of teaching Tom Cruise to jump on couches, but you also might find a star-studded review submitted by a complete stranger who wrote simply because she liked your book.

It does happen. Thank you, Marie d’Inglasses of Linconshire for your unsolicited, positive reviews of Food Of Love on the Amazon and W.H. Smith sites last week. You gave me the best holiday gift possible.

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Anne R. Allen is a California novelist and book editor who has been living part time in the UK. Her latest comic novel, The Best Revenge, An Historical Novel Of The 1980s, (Babash-Ryan) debuted in the UK in 2005 and is available from amazon.co.uk and most UK bookshops. Her first novel with Babash-Ryan, Food Of Love is available from amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com as well as amazon.co.uk analan2@yahoo.com

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