Seven Types of Amazon Reviews

Seven Types of Amazon ReviewsSeven Dwarfs

(This piece appeared on my blog in November, and after a rewrite I ran it as an article in writing.ie. New and improved!)

I'll admit it. I love scanning through those capsule reviews on Amazon. I'll read ones for books I've already bought, or books I have no intention of buying. Part of it is simple inertia – before the internet I used to waste time in similar ways flipping through the quickie movie review books people would consult before deciding if, say, Redneck Zombies (1989) was worth a rental. There is something satisfying about seeing a three-hour film or a 700-page volume summed up in eighty words and a handful of stars.

And then there are times I'll find myself on Amazon or Goodreads seeking forgiveness and understanding: say I've just finished a critical or popular success and hated it – does this make me a heartless jerk, a complete doofus? I'm never thrilled with the answers that I get (by and large: yes!) which usually leads to more clicking, reading, sifting, and skimming as I search for the answer that I do want. Meanwhile the clock hands turn, the light in the window fades, and the blood slowly leaves my extremities.

I think this was how I began to realise the truth about Amazon and similar reviews. You learn next to nothing about the book being discussed, in fact a lot of the time you're only looking to have your own opinion confirmed. However, you do find out an awful lot about readers. There are several recurring types I've noticed during my time lost on the Amazon. Meet seven of them: Doc, Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Dopey, and Bashful.

Doc-snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarfs-6604793-300-232Doc - the book report

Often the first reviews you see on a page, and certainly the longest, these pieces take everything into account: plot and sub-plot, setting, word choice, motivation, name of the author's dentist, the whole crayon box. Of course these reviews are very well-written and insightful. I think. The sad truth is, I don't think I've ever managed to read one all the way through. Sorry, Doc. If something similiar had appeared as a feature article on a blog or a website, I'm sure I would have enjoyed it. But if there are ten reviews on a screen, and nine of them are in one-paragraph servings while the tenth is as long as my arm, guess which one I'm going to skip? Plus I'm always worried you're going to give away the plot. You know you want to.

Happy - friend of the authorHappy-snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarfs-6604790-300-233

You get the feeling this is not a review so much as an act of pure goodwill. Happy will award five stars, always, and leave comments that are close to hysterical with praise. Does the poor little guy get this excited every time he reads something? (Up ALL NIGHT with the new revised commuter timetable from Athlone to Galway. SUPER!!! FANTASTIC read!!!!) It just might be dangerous.

Still, Happy's got my sympathies. Let's face it: if you're a writer, you have writer friends and contacts who depend on your support. And with the current culture of crazed hype, it seems like anything less than a raving mad 5-star review would be taken as a slight. But neutral readers tend to see through this. What's the answer?

grumpy-dwarfAll you people are idiots – Grumpy

This is a review written in reaction to other reviews. If posts on a page are mostly negative, Grumpy will kick down the door and deliver five stars and a stirring defence. And, more commonly, if reviews are overwhelmingly positive, this angry little bollix will arrive to serve up a steaming plate of scorn. I have to confess that I probably like Grumpy the best of the seven. In a sea of smiles, I assume that the lone disgruntled reader is the one to trust. It's a bit mad, but this is what group dynamics does to reviews.

Over-sensitive – SneezySneezy

Ali Smith uses too many ampersands! The title of this book is all in lower case letters! This author has initials instead of a full name! Why, in the name of God, why??? Poor Sneezy. Just about anything can get up this little guy's nose and cause him to throw a verbal fit. Look, calm down. Talk to a friend about why ampersands and initials upset you so.  Eat a sandwich, go for a pleasant walk, breathe. If you can, stop reading books for a while, or at least please stop writing reviews.

 Didn't finish – Sleepy

Sleepy OK 214572K2aOkay, no sympathy here. I can understand quitting on a book if you aren't enjoying it. We all have a limited time on earth. But in that case, why write a review? Writing reviews for books you haven't finished is arrogant and lazy. Go stand in the corner. With a lizard on your head.

Missed the point – Dopeydopey

'Four stars. Package arrived promptly in the expected condition. I am very satisfied, only it's too bad I have been too busy and haven't read the book yet.'

Oh, Dopey! You big silly. These are book reviews. Customer feedback is a whole other...never mind.

Then there are the other Dopey reviews, like the girl who panned Stuart Little because it was unrealistic. ('A mouse that wears clothes and talks like a human? The author, and I won't name names, should have thought this through.') Or what about the one-star review of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, posted by an irate young man stuck writing a book report for his girlfriend's little sister? 'It really makes me wonder when it comes a time when kids don't do hwk and the parents demand their big sisters to do it. KIDS WILL YOU EVER GROW UP AND DO SOMETHING FOR ONCE?' Okay. Thanks for the insight into mental illness and female institutionalisation in the 1950s, Dopey.

And there are some Dopey reviews which...well, let's just say they can be a bit over-enthusiastic, and a tad embarrassing. Okay, dear. It's nice that you were moved by The Fault in Our Stars. But think about it. Is posting a video of a pink unicorn crying really the best way to convey this? (Check out the book's page on Goodreads. I am so not kidding.)

And finally...

BashfulImaginary review – Bashful

This is me. I've composed dozens of Amazon and Goodreads reviews which have never left the confines of my head. Why? Well, first of all, by day I'm a teacher. And one of the aspects of the job that I've never warmed to is marking and grading. Stamping an arbitrary number on someone's work, scrawling a few harried and condescending phrases on the last page. It makes me feel tired, dishonest, vaguely slimy. So why would I do this for free? Also I can't help thinking that no matter how I feel about a book now, there's a good chance I'll change my mind later. Meanwhile my review will live on to embarrass me forever. 

But! All this is does not mean that I don't want people to review my book. I hope there will be loads of reviews. I hope there'll be truckloads of them. And I really hope I'll have the sense to stay away. 

Hope is great, isn't it?

So, what do you think? Did I leave anyone out? Am I full of it?

Which one are you?

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