Sample Reviews

Down to Brass Tacks. What does an awesome review look like? I’ve been grateful for every review that I received on DARTS and RINGS. Each review helped me see my work from a different angle and improve my approach to SWORDS. Here are a few (of the many) reviews that hit on key points:

Star Rating: Four Stars of Five
Tagline: Hero and protagonist not always the same person
Date: October 23, 2015
Amazon Verified Purchase
Review Text: DARTS is a solid introduction and does a good job of building the world and establishing the characters for future installments. The main character Teacup is enjoyable as an atypical protagonist who does a few dastardly things during the course of the narrative, yet still manages to retain our sympathies with his basic decency and familial responsibilities. He is not actually the hero of the story, though, and is an observer of the plot rather than its driving factor. In the future I look forward to seeing him become more entwined in the various intrigues that surround him.

While generally a low-key and character focused work framed around a game of darts in a fantasy tavern, the narrative occasionally touches on larger issues and features some interesting and unexpected twists. The writing is clear and efficient.

The review above is packed with information about the story. The tagline highlights for shoppers that the protagonist (Teacup) isn’t the hero, and drives this home with words like “dastardly” and “atypical.” It describes several strengths of DARTS—“clear and efficient” writing, sympathetic characters—and expresses a clear interest in reading further (referral).

I particularly like the words “low-key and character-focused.” The reviewer states that he’d like to see the protagonist “become more entwined in the various intrigues. .  .” It’s a gentle nudge for the author to pay special attention to improving the action in future installments, and giving Teacup a more direct role. The review uses keywords for the genre (fantasy, tavern). This helps elevate DARTS ever so slightly among the millions of other self-published fantasy works available on Amazon.

Does this book suck?

Last week I posted about the underground market for fake-reviews (link) and the types of problems they might create for authors and readers. This week I’m interested in why real reviews are important, what makes a good review, and key elements for writing one quickly.

If this isn’t your cup of tea, check out now and come back next week for anecdotes and other fun. . .


Why review at all?
I don’t often write product reviews. Seems like a waste of time, given that most products on Amazon already have a few clever comments stacked in the margin by the time I find them. Nor do I aspire to being the next big Amazon Vine or Goodreads Guru. But occasionally I stumble across (1) something so awesome that I want to tell everybody about it anyways [Leviathan, audio] and improve its credibility in the market. Or I get (2) so many questions about a particular work (The Martian, cough, cough) that it’s easier to articulate my thoughts once and hand out a link to anyone who asks. Or I’ll write a review because (3) I think I have a unique perspective. There are other reasons, but these are mine.

What makes a good review?
By “good” reviews, I mean helpful reviews. A review that demonstrates knowledge of the product, hits the highs and lows, and reads like it was written by a normal person goes a long way for helping me get comfortable with bringing a new product home. For writers, this type of review also provides valuable market information for developing future content. An author can improve future work based on what customers have said, providing a broader ample base for market research.

What are the core components of a useful review?
Useful reviews are usually pretty easy to spot (or write) with the previous thoughts in mind. My favorites include:

  • An original tagline
  • A synopsis or demonstrated understanding of product
  • specific likes and/or dislikes
  • keywords
  • referrals and warnings

Combined with last week’s “Bot-Review” tips, these items can go a long way towards promoting worthwhile fiction, improving your favorite indie authors, and defeating the robot army. For specific real and fake review examples, check out the Sample Reviews post. I’ll update this occasionally after reading a particularly helpful review.

In the end. . .
Most writers don’t really want to read a bad review, just like no mother wants to be told her baby is ugly. But when a reviewer, editor, or critic provides actionable data, it’s much easier to swallow the bitter pill and get down to brass tacks. In addition, when you review a favorite author’s work online, you heighten their internet presence and make that work more discoverable. It’s a small thing, but that adds up big. Last week during a free promotional, DARTS held the top spot in two of its categories for several days straight. Thanks to all who have provided feedback to my writing now or in years past. It really makes a difference.


Bad Robot Reviews

It isn’t manly, but I had a good giggle last week when I stumbled across an unused line from an early draft of my 1-STAR REVIEW: ACCEPTANCE SPEECH:

STRUGGLING CRITIC: “Hard for Me to Classify…Sorry!“
BKHEWETT: “No apology necessary.  Amazon pre-classifies its inventory, so you really shouldn’t strain yourself.”

When I first wrote this, I worried my gut response was too harsh and softened things up a bit before posting. No need to be too harsh, I thought. Plenty of things to mock here without getting personal.

Turns out, I needn’t have worried.

Apparently, there is an entire ecosystem centering on fake reviews: companies that pay for them, companies (or individuals) that write them, and companies  that hunt down those fake-reviews and discredit them. This isn’t unique to Amazon. Yelp and Walmart are two other entities that cope with this problem daily. (I won’t go into the boring details, but PBS and Time will.)

In addition to the human-driven fake-reviews, sometimes entities create software programs to do this dirty work for them, scanning Amazon’s free content and making poorly written comments on select items in order to build internet presence.

But aside from being irritating and setting a bad example for our impressionable youth, bot-reviews (and other fake reviews) are a problem. Consumers use reviews to make purchasing decisions, and fake reviews lead to misinformed decision-making. In addition, retailers (and authors) generate new products based on feedback from reviews. Fraudulent feedback can lead companies (and authors) to invest resources unwisely in developing products that consumers don’t really want.

For fun and profit, here are some things to consider before using a review to make a purchasing decision or to develop content:

  • In Amazon, does the review have a “verified purchase” tag? If it doesn’t, it might mean that the reviewer wasn’t signed into when they wrote it, but the absence of this tag could also indicate duplicity. For fun, do an Amazon store search for “Uranium Ore” and scan through some of the reviews.  There’s a short one about four turtles and a rat that I found particularly interesting.
  • Does the review sound human? Are the fancy words used correctly? If not, there’s a good chance it was written by a bot. (Illegal drug use only accounts for a small percentage of poorly written reviews.)
  • Are grammar and punctuation standards used to an acceptable level? I generally accept fourth-grade as the standard of excellence for reviews, and all of my fourth graders (2004-2006) could punctuate better than my one-star reviewer. If it doesn’t meet that standard, it might be a bot.
  • Is the review really short, or really vague? Both brevity and ambiguity are a bot’s best camouflage, given the previous indicators. A bot-review will often use language that might apply to any number of books, or products. “I’m so glad I got this.”
  • Did your mom write it? If so, trust it. (Unless it exhibits previously-mentioned characteristics. . .)

So that laughably poor one-star review probably wasn’t legit, and I went through all that trouble to tease it. . . . On a lighter note, my 1-star (and 2-star) reviews are down 100% for RINGS, probably because I never offered it for free. I guess bots can’t afford the pricier fantasy and science-fiction titles.

But that brings me to my next point: What makes a good review?

To be continued. . .


Bad Robot Reviews4