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A Bit of Non-Fiction For Your Reading Pleasure

September 7, 2011

This week I am hosting a non-fiction book called Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? It is full of information about publicity and social networking and all kinds of important stuff very writer needs to think about.  Here is an excerpt on the joys and dangers of Amazon reviews.


Jane Wenham-Jones is a novelist, journalist and presenter and the author of the Wannabe Books – two how-to manuals on getting published and becoming well-known. Below is an extract from Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of?, available on Amazon or through all good bookshops. For more on Jane see

Amazon – a double-edged sword

There is no doubt that Amazon can be a wonderful tool for the modern writer. Readers can see all your books at the click of a mouse, order them instantly while the iron is hot – when they’ve just heard you on the radio for example, or seen you on TV – and have access to feedback from others who’ve already made a purchase..

You can collect glowing reviews, post your own comments and author info and build yourself a profile. You can also become obsessive about your ratings if so inclined. (I am.)

If you have a website, you can link to Amazon and potential customers can click through to the store from there. Many authors have a ‘shop’ page – I do myself – with thumbnail images of their covers that go directly to the corresponding page at the bookstore.

If you join the Amazon Associates Programme (details on the Amazon site), traffic originating from your site will be tracked and you will earn a commission on any resulting sales – of anything, not just your books.

These small payments can accrue quite nicely and while you’re unlikely to be able to retire on them, they may well keep you in chocolate from time to time.

For any author who is self-published or whose books have not been widely distributed in the High Street, Amazon can be a godsend.

You can have a fair idea of whether stock is moving – each book’s ranking is updated hourly; there’s a lot of cross referencing – “customers who bought this item also bought”, etc., which can increase awareness and sales; and customers are positively encouraged to write reviews and comment on the reviews of others – both of which are simple to do. So far so good.

The only fly in the ointment is that as far as the reviews go, there are millions of books on the site, millions of readers posting their thoughts and you may find some of them unwelcome.

Readers are invited to award one to five stars to a book they’ve read and if you find you’ve been given only one and your book, that you spent a long year of your life sweating blood and tears over has been pronounced “Unintelligible Bilge that’s a waste of the rain forest” you may, understandably, feel upset.

But everyone is entitled to their opinion. Sometimes readers will just hate a book and that I’m afraid is something we have to take on the chin. You can’t please ’em all and nor should you expect to.

However, it can be galling if the reviewer is clearly just trying to plug a rival book or something of their own, and puts up negative reviews purely in order to bring your average star rating down. What can you do about it? If they’re clever about it, not a lot. But they often aren’t…

Fiona Mackenzie is the author of How to Start and Run a Petsitting Business (How-to Books). She received what she describes as a “heart-stopping” review on Amazon.

My one star review advised that I was “no writer” and that anyone wanting to be a petsitter should join a certain fee-paying association. The review ended with ‘sorry sweetheart’.”

Since this appeared to have been written entirely to further the reviewer’s own ends, Fiona decided to investigate.

“I had no idea who this person was but I did a search on the internet with her username and found her on ebay. It felt good being able to see who she was and that she had links within the pet care world so perhaps had an agenda. I then contacted Amazon and said as I’d had a book published by a highly respected publisher, clearly I was a writer and if they let the review stand it would reflect on other ‘How To’ books. I tried to avoid making it all about me. Amazon took the review down within twenty-four hours.

Amazon takes all complaints seriously but obviously you cannot complain just because someone doesn’t like your book and says so.

Everyone has the right to free speech and is entitled to their view – which is entirely as it should be. However, if you feel that any reviews or comments made are actually defamatory then you can say so. Amazon has a procedure for reporting such things.

After two years of largely positive reviews of my first Wannabe book, I had a sudden spate of one star reviews myself.

They came from different names but were all very similar in content – each one seemed to be getting het up over the fact that others had described my book as “brilliant” when it very clearly wasn’t, and opining that one would do far better to read Stephen King.

The former was reasonable, if a little obsessive, and I can hardly disagree with the latter since I recommend On Writing by the awe-inspiring Mr King myself, in Wannabe a Writer?

However, the reviewer, not content with popping up several times saying this, then descended into what amounted to libel by accusing me on several occasions of either writing the five-star reviews myself or asking my friends to.

Several of the reviewer’s own ‘friends’ materialised to agree.

This was utterly untrue. My publishers reported it as defamatory and the offending comments were removed. I can’t stop this person reappearing any time he wants to – and from time to time, he does. I’m not always sure what is said because Amazon themselves have often deleted the comments before I’ve got there – and a note has been left to this effect – but as this has happened, one can assume they fell into the abusive or libellous category.

Such behaviour is not worth getting steamed up about – one could indeed feel sorry for the kind of person who finds this a fulfilling way to spend their time – but it is worth keeping an eye out for.

Just to be clear: if reviewers are merely stating their opinion – honestly held – you haven’t got a leg to stand on. If they are making any claims that are untrue, and therefore they will be unable to substantiate them, then you have a case to report them to Amazon as defamatory and Amazon will take action. (Details of how to make such a report are clearly laid out on the site.)

For example.

“I hate this book”

“This book made me throw up my breakfast”

“This book is inane, facile, full of useless information and the author is a dork”

(Which, I think, is what my admirer was trying to get at) are all fine but:

“The author has plagiarised A.N. Dork in the writing of this dreadful book”, or

“This author is a convicted criminal who roasts hamsters and eats them”, or

“This book is the most expensive of its type on the market”

when these statements are false and unproven, are not acceptable and you have every right to ask for them to be removed.

Wannabe a Writer Site:

Buy links:

Amazon UK (paperback)

Amazon UK (Kindle)

Amazon US (paperback)

Amazon US (Kindle)

The Book Depository

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