Sunday, 25 April 2010

Confessions of an Amazon Reviewer

I have a confession to make.
I sometimes post anonymous reviews on Amazon.
Now - before all the lovely YA writers who read this blog rush off to check their rare one-star crits for telltale signs of my competitive claws - I can assure you that unlike the academic Orlando Figes I have never used the anonymous label to savage any of my rivals. First, I wouldn't do that because I'm neither daft or nasty. Second, I set it up long before I had any interest in writing YA, or any idea that I would one day be a published writer.
(On the subject of Orlando Figes – could his attempt at anonymity have been any more useless? If you’re called Orlando and you work at Birkbeck College, then setting up an account labelled orlando-birkbeck is not really all that anonymous...unless the corridors of Birkbeck are packed with guys called Orlando, which I somehow doubt. I mean it hardly counts as anonymous at all)
I set my Amazon reviewer name anonymously because…well why wouldn’t I? That’s what most people do on the internet, whether they are reviewing on Amazon, commenting on the Guardian’s CiF site or strutting around the blogosphere.
And, since I’ve become a writer I haven’t changed it. I don’t often review on Amazon, and when I do it’s generally positive. If I love a YA book I review it under my own name on this blog, or on GoodReads. If I’m not so sure I tend to write a review which lists good and bad points. I’m happy to own my opinions, and come clean about my prejudices too. As with any review it’s only one view.
So, why review anonymously on Amazon? Well, very very rarely, I feel the urge to lay into a book. I feel ripped off by author, editor and other reviewers. I feel strongly annoyed that a book which started well descended into nonsense. I don’t think it deserved its great press.
So I post a one-star review which gives my reasons why. And I only want to do that anonymously, because I don’t want to make a great statement that might cause offence with publishers or writers. In general the comment I want to make boils down to this: you’re a well known writer, who’s enjoyed a lot of success and gets good reviews. But you and your editor have produced something that doesn’t deliver what it promised. I’m disappointed. Please don’t do it again.
Several times recently we’ve been to the cinema and been given a questionnaire to fill in at the end. I enjoyed giving feedback on The Ghost (zzzz) and Date Night (meh). I wish that books had a customer feedback questionnaire. Then I would probably give up posting the odd one star review on Amazon.
The whole question of anonymous reviewing and commenting is discussed in the Observer today. On the whole I’m against it – I agree with the journalist who says it unleashes ‘spite, envy, and hatred.’ I know bloggers who have been pestered by nasty anonymous commentators, and had to make hard choices about censorship. In principle I think that more should be done to stop anonymous reviewing and commenting. But I can’t quite give up the habit myself.


  1. Keren, I don't think you should do this any more. If you're not prepared to have comeback from the author, I don't think you should say it. I have received anonymous criticism before and I wanted a right to reply.

  2. I used to post a lot of reviews on Amazon, and now that I have a book coming out, I've been thinking about this. I've decided I should probably go back and delete those reviews both the good ones and the bad.

  3. Well, is it any different from blogging and commenting under a pseudonym, err..Fish? I mean I know who you are, and so do many others, but most people reading your comment don't. On Amazon I have a pseudonym and a profile, and people can leave comments and enter into debate with that pseudonym. I notice that I'm the only person who leaves comments on your blog under my full name. So where do you draw the line?

  4. Ah, anonymity. I can see why it would appeal to some people but I'm of the belief that all views are valid. Sometimes it feels awful to criticise an author's work because you know they spent hours working on it, publishers spend a whole lot of money creating it, then there you are, just a little Bookette sitting at a laptop thinking hmmm...but that bit just didn't work or whatever. You hit publish post. You think please don't let the author see a twitter link to this review.

    But in the end, my opinions must be valid otherwise why did the publisher send me the book in the first place?

  5. Yes, that's the thing. If a book is published it's out there for reviews, whether they be from named writers, pseudonyms or anonymous. But where's the line between a pseudonym and the downright anonymous? Should everyone on the internet put their full names? And once one is a published author and out there, using ones real name here there and everywhere does that mean you can't have a pseudonym when it suits you?
    I'm beginning to thinkt hat I agree with Alissa. Maybe I'll just delete those reviews. Too confusing and if I changed genres they could come back to bite me on the bum.

  6. now that i've got a book coming out, i've actually put my real name on my reviews. i saw caroline lawrence's amazon profile and copied her!

  7. I think I'll do the same. Some reviews might have to be deleted....

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  9. I think a published author would be ill-advised to give a bad review, under their own name, of a fellow writer's work. That's how feuds start. Anonymity isn't just a cloak for trolls to hide behind, it's also a licence to be honest, so I'm okay with it.

  10. I've been v. v. cautious after the day a few years back when Amazon Canada had a hiccup in its programming and all the REAL names of reviewers showed up. Ack! I pretty much stopped posting Amazon reviews after that.

    I've never put up a one-star review. Rather the reverse; I only review anonymously if I love something. There's one on Amazon USA - which I don't really want to take down - that's a sincerely enthusiastic review of a book by someone I'm close to (US not UK). I'd like to start doing more reviews, using my own name, but would have to remove that one because it would look odd for me to have written it. So have been holding off on the whole thing ...

    I did once publish, in an Actual Newspaper, a tepid review of a book by someone v. self-important, if not actually important, and also v. well connected. The word "name-dropping" was used. I suspect I earned a permanent enemy, one who reviews regularly for one of the major American news magazines. Not comfortable, but I couldn't lie.

    As for Figes I've been wondering the same thing! He can't possibly have thought orlando-birbeck was an undetectable alias. Did he somehow want to get caught?