What if a car manufacturer was to drop off a brand new car to a person's home, completely at random, and explain they had 24 hours to drive the car? Afterward, they would take the car to another home at random and do the same thing, and repeat for three months. They only asked that the home owners/drivers would write a review of the automobile. What do you think would happen?
I suspect most of the drivers would do exactly what they should. They would write intelligent and informative reviews about how it handled, how it drove, gas mileage, the comfort, the power, the sound system, etc.
But there would be some drivers who would abuse this privilege. It's human nature. Some wouldn't even drive the car. Some would complain about everything from the visors to the texture of the floor mats. Some would complain about the color of the free car they were provided. Some would get drunk, drive 100 mph, wreck the car, and then write a bad review.
Power to the people is a wonderful concept, but total unadulterated power to the masses will always result in an unreliable representation of the truth. It's as simple as pride or ego. It's the same reason we have few real cable news anchors anymore, because the anchors consider themselves the star instead of the subjects of the stories they report.
And that sums up Amazon reader reviews. While most are very helpful, many are just people exercising their basic nature to be useless. So here are some tips.
If you haven't read the book, don't leave a review. I actually read a one-star review recently that read, "I couldn't get this stupid book to download." That is a problem to be solved between you and tech support, not to use the review section to vent.
Reviews should include something about the story. Fake example: "Set in the Civil War era with war looming, a young couple from the South tries to start a new life." Too many reviews, however, are so generic they could apply to any book written. Actual example: "The plot was weak. The story dragged on." When I read reviews like this one, I'm not sure the reviewer actually read the book and would direct them to TIP ONE.
After you give potential readers a little insight into the plot, you can add your personal thoughts. Fake example: "I thought the premise was unique and the writing solid. I saw the ending coming a mile away though." Personal thoughts should be about the story, not the reader. Actual example: "I hate dystopian novels." Which begs the question: why are you reading and reviewing a dystopian novel?
A five-star review should be for a book that has everything: good writing, good editing, and a story that makes you want to read it again and tell your friends about. Some people are too generous, which is generally not a bad trait to have in life. But I've looked at all the reviews of some reviewers to find that they've given a five-star review to all 30 books they've read. And while it's very polite, it doesn't serve the purpose for potential new readers. Seriously, nobody could be that lucky.
If a book is well-written and well-edited, it should never get less than a three-star review. Just because you were not able to tell what the story was about from the book description, or if the story didn't appeal to you as much as other books, is no reason to give a professional book a one or two-star review. That's just petty. Stories are subjective, and just because it didn't appeal to you doesn't mean it won't appeal to someone else. Explain in your review why you didn't like the story. That's what reviews are for.
Although I find it extremely improbable, if a book has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and the writing is full of errors and typos, then and only then is a one-star review proper. But usually even badly written books have decent ideas. But this is a powerful tool -- use it wisely, Grasshopper.
Thank goodness the majority of readers are very bright. Heck, that's why they read, or vice versa. When they read one-star reviews that are poorly written, do not actually mention any details of the storyline, and just appear as immature rantings, they take them as such.
So let's sum up. Reviews are about books and for readers; they're not about you the reviewer for you the reviewer. If it's in your character to need attention, don't write useless reviews, start a blog. Or better yet, become a cable news anchor.
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