Free ebooks in return for reviews: Some results

It’s becoming harder to get customer reviews for books nowadays.  That’s probably related to the general downturn in the ebook market.  Here I mentioned a program, run by my epublisher, to give away ebooks in return for honest reviews.  Once you sign up, you start getting a weekly eZine containing a list of books you can download for free.  Download a book, read it, and leave a review.

This model seems to be OK with Amazon, which has cracked down on some aspects of the customer review racket.  It appears to be a requirement to state that you got the book for free in return for an honest review.

Anyway, the approach is working for my novel Where All the Ladders Start.  Most reviews are pretty terse, like this one:

I received this book for an honest review. I loved this book. The plot and characters were amazing.

Well, what more do you need to say?  But wait!  It turns out that Laura Furuta has more to say!  Namely:

When I first started reading this story I was not really sure what to expect. I read the description and was thinking it was just another mystery book. I was wrong! This is a story about a P. I. who works in an America that has been changed. Not only that, also there are forces at work that are determined to see he fails with his latest case. I really enjoyed the story from the first chapter to the very ending page. It has the right combination of mystery and plot to keep you guessing. The characters also really shine as well. The main characters are very well written and even some of the secondary ones you will remember and love. This is one book that I recommend if you love mysteries. It will keep you guessing. I received a copy of this book from eBook Discovery in exchange for an honest review.

Even better!  Now all I need is a few more sales . . .

Here’s the cover, in case you forgot what the thing looks like:

Ladders cover final jpeg

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Amazon is purging book reviews again

This made news a few years ago.  The difference this time is now Amazon apparently may purge reviews from someone an author “knows” online.

Yes, you read that right. This can be someone who has friended you on Facebook, followed you on Twitter, or has done business with you in a way that’s detectable to the Amazon review police….

Amazon spokespeople say that anybody who knows the author might “benefit financially” from the book’s sales, and financial beneficiaries have always been forbidden to review. (I wish I knew how to benefit financially when one of my 873 Facebook friends has a bestseller, but I’m obviously not working this right.)

So how do they determine if you “know” an author, anyway?

They’re not telling.

I’m all for taking down reviews that are fake or paid for in some way (even by the promise of a free book).  But that seems, er, excessive.  The modern method of book marketing involves authors having an online presence–via a blog, Twitter, Facebook….  You’re supposed to find “friends” out there.  Why penalize someone who finds them?

If the purge ever reaches me,  I don’t think it will have much effect.  The vast majority of the reviews my books have received have been from complete strangers . . . I think.  But I don’t really know, since a user can follow my blog with one name and review one of my novels with another.  Can Amazon figure this out?

Yeah, I suppose it can.

Two legs to darkclaw and weasel

That’s the title of a five-star review of Dover Beach on Barnes & Noble.  Here is the text of the review:

He kicks darckclaw into a tree and takes weasel to my house result twelve.

I dunno.  Somehow, this review did not make me all tingly and proud.  Those of you who are familiar with Dover Beach  will recall that it contains no weasels, and probably very few trees.

My publisher says I should respond to all my customer reviews, but I can’t figure out how to respond to Barnes & Noble reviews.  If I could respond, what should I say?

Thanks for the insightful comments!  Somehow, you have intuited deeper truths about my novel than even I have heretofore recognized.  For that, I will be forever grateful!

Does that work?  By the way, I Googled Darkclaw and found out that he is a character in Brian Jacques’s Redwall books, which my kids liked once upon a time.  I never thought they went anywhere, but I wasn’t a kid when I read them.

Meanwhile, here’s a review from Amazon that does make me tingly and proud.  It’s entitled “I won’t bore you with praise…”:

This is an incredibly good book. Clearly, the absolute best post apocalyptic detective novel I’ve ever read. I want more, Richard Bowker. More!

That’s more like it.  On the other hand, I was unaware that there are more post-apocalyptic detective novels out there.  That’s a little discouraging.  I thought I had cornered the market!

Authors are hard to please.

Is it just me, or are Nook customer reviews somewhat lacking?

. . . at least, compared to Amazon review.

That “Free Fridays” publicity got a lot of people downloading Dover Beach.  And some of them apparently have more free time on their hands than I do, because they’ve already left reviews.  Some are reasonably well written, but then there’s this sort of one-star review:

DO NOT EVER LEND LendMe BOOKS TO NON- EXISTIENT PEOPLE!!!!!! NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER DO THAT!!!!!!!!!!!!

(I left out about 50 exclamation points.)

The good news is that only three of out of 73 people (currently) found this review helpful.  The bad news is that there are three people out there who found this review helpful.

Here is a one-star review that I’m actually OK with:

This was a weird book. It started out almost as if missing half of it or it was part 2 in a series. You just felt lost like they were talking about things that happened and you werent a part of it. There was no explanation for anything, while the premise might have been good, a little more explanation would have made this book much better. As is, it sucked. Woild not recommend at all. Terrible.

Somewhere on this blog I’ve probably mentioned that I made a conscious decision not to give the backstory of the war in whose aftermath this story takes place.  The war happened in someone else’s world; these characters inhabit another world altogether.  If that doesn’t work for a reader, my apologies. If you’re a Free Fridays reader, all you’ve lost is your time.

At least I can get some consolation from this.

A few thoughts about “Telegraph Avenue”

Telegraph Avenue is Michael Chabon’s latest novel.  I’ve read two others by him: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and the entertaining but less interesting serial novel Gentlemen of the Road.  He is an astonishing writer.  Quit reading this stupid post and download one of his books.

That said, I didn’t like Telegraph Avenue as much as The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which I thought was utterly brilliant.  It’s about black and Jewish folks just getting by in the Oakland of 2004.  Two men run a marginally profitable used record store threatened by a superstore that may be built nearby.  Their wives are midwives struggling to keep their practice going in the face of opposition from hospitals who don’t want them doing home births.  All the characters are wonderfully comic and sympathetic.  Their lives are described in rich detail.  I don’t know how Chabon does it.

Still, at 465 pages the book feels overstuffed and somewhat exhausting.  While I willingly gave myself up to the strange alternate universe of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, I wasn’t especially interested in the extensive, loving descriptions of 70s black music and films that is central to the book.  Your mileage may vary.

A couple of other points:

Telegraph Avenue is best read on an ebook reader with a built-in dictionary. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself looking up a lot of words — Chabon’s range of vocabulary is spectacular.  I’m not a foodie, so I don’t feel too bad not knowing lavash and turmeric.  But I figure I should have known a lot of his other words — clabber and selvage, for example.  I know ’em now.

Finally this was the first book I’ve come across where the author credited the hardware and software used to create it: “This novel was written using Scrivener on Macintosh computers.”  Modern times.

In which I review “Why Does the World Exist: An Existential Detective Story” using upgoer5

This is the book I’m talking about. And this explains the words I’m using (and not using). Why am I doing this? Because this is my writing place!

Why is the world here? Why is there something instead of nothing? We’ve talked about this before. In this book, a man goes around talking to men (they are all men) who have thought a lot about this question. They all have different ideas.

Some people believe that God made everything. But then who made God? Where did God come from? Is God just “there”? Where is “there”? And why is God the way He is and not some other way?

Some people think that something just pops out of nothing. But if this is possible, why is it possible? Why is the way things are exactly this way and not some other way?

Some people believe there are many, many worlds — many “everythings” — and each one may have a different way that things are. Maybe everything that could be, is. But why? Why isn’t there just nothing, which is the most simple way for things to be?

Some people think this has something to do with us, and the way we can think. Maybe there is something instead of nothing just so we can be here. Some other people think this idea is really stupid.

The man writes about what these people look like and where they live. He eats with many of them and he talks about what they eat. Most of them know each other; none of them agree with each other.

In the book, he also talks about his dog dying and then his mother dying. This makes him sad and it made me sad, but I’m not sure what this has to do with why there is something instead of nothing.

In the end, I don’t think he knows the answer to this question. And we don’t, either. Probably we will never know. Should that make us sad?

Great books, bad Amazon reviews

Here‘s a delightful article that simply quotes one-star reviews of great books on Amazon.  (I read about it in the Boston Globe this morning and assumed it was recent–but it’s actually from way back in 2005.)

Some of the reviews just kinda miss the point, like this one of Slaughterhouse-Five:

“In the novel, they often speak of a planet called Tralfamadore, where he was displayed in a zoo with a former movie star by the name of Montana Wildhack. I thought that the very concept of a man who was kidnapped by aliens was truly unbelievable and a tad ludicrous. I did not find the idea of aliens kidnapping a human and putting them in a zoo very plausible. While some of the Tralfamadorians’ concept of death and living in a moment would be comforting for a war veteran, I found it relatively odd. I do not believe that an alien can kidnap someone and house them in a zoo for years at a time, while it is only a microsecond on earth. I also do not believe that a person has seven parents.”

Some of them simply employ different critical standards from the rest of us. Here’s a one-sentence pan of Lord of the Rings:

“The book is not readable because of the overuse of adverbs.”

And some of them do have a point.  Here’s a takedown of Gravity’s Rainbow:

“When one contrasts Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five with this book, it’s like comparing an Olympic sprinter with an obese man running for the bus with a hot dog in one hand and a soda in the other.”

And this one pretty well sums up The Sun Also Rises:

“Here’s the first half of the book: ‘We had dinner and a few drinks. We went to a cafe and talked and had some drinks. We ate dinner and had a few drinks. Dinner. Drinks. More dinner. More drinks. We took a cab here (or there) in Paris and had some drinks, and maybe we danced and flirted and talked sh*t about somebody. More dinner. More drinks. I love you, I hate you, maybe you should come up to my room, no you can’t’… I flipped through the second half of the book a day or two later and saw the words ‘dinner’ and ‘drinks’ on nearly every page and figured it wasn’t worth the risk.”

I just love that last sentence.

I wonder if you could chart a book’s reputation over time by the customer reviews.  The Sun Also Rises has 621 reviews; On the Road has 811; Slaughterhouse-Five has 911. That’s getting to be a reasonable sample size.  In any case, writers can take comfort that you can’t please everyone; some people are bound to hate even the best books.  Everybody likes To Kill a Mockingbird, right?  It now has 87 one-star reviews in Amazon.  Here’s one:

i had to read this book in 9th grade. i heard that it was supposed to be this wonderful american classic, and i actually looked forward to reading it. well, all i’m gonna say is that it sucked. it was just like any other book, nothing special. yes, the prejudice part was good, i think it could show people that we need to accept our differences, but it just wasn’t that deep. i got bored after 20 pages. all in all, i was very disappointed and to whoever gets an assignment to read this, good luck.