Monday, March 10, 2008

by Patricia Smiley

A couple of years ago, my editor told me was offering author blogging. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I started the process, but I just couldn’t set up my page and make it work. Ultimately, I began to wonder if blogging on Amazon was a productive use of my time. Now I might have the answer: Maybe.

Tanya Hall’s article, “Have You Optimized Your Amazon Page?” on adds interesting points to the conversation:

(1) “…the [Amazon] product’s rank improves as it collects additional content. Whether search suggestions, tags, inclusion in Listmania lists, and so on have a direct effect on the sales rank formula is unclear; it’s more likely that books with more detailed pages and links to the title information from outside pages simply attract more buyers.” She also said that a “popular [Listmania] list will appear on the product pages of all the books it mentions.”

With some trepidation, I logged onto Amazon to see if my books were on anybody’s list. I was euphoric when I saw that False Profits made Haley Lawford’s list of “Some Simply Delicious Mysteries & Thrillers.” In "Looking for Funny?" by Vics Anchor, False Profits was there between I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron and Witness in Death by J.D. Robb. Gery included it on a list called "Better than Clancy or Grisham--Mystery Debuts of 2004," along with Walking Money by our very own James O. Born. It was also on Gloria Baynum's "Favorite Mystery Books." Cover Your Assets appeared on Untouchable's list “Clever Mystery Titles—Mind the Pun.”

(2) In her article, Hall urged me to ask friends and family to review my books online. She said, “Reviews boost the exposure of your book detail page because the Amazon algorithm examines the number of reviews and the review ratings when determining exposure levels.” Apparently, there is also an “elite group” of Amazon reviewers whose opinions carry more weight than my Auntie Jewel’s. Hall thinks I should solicit reviews from this group, but that’s only because she doesn’t know my Auntie Jewel.

DISCLAIMER!!!!! When you check out the "comments" section, you will see that at least one of our readers thought I was serious about a comment I made about giving away one of my knitted socks in exchange for an Amazon review. I WAS JUST JOKING PEOPLE!!! I have taken out the paragraph to avoid any further misunderstanding. Chock this all up to Monday morning humor impairment.

Now it's your turn to dish. What's your take on Amazon reviews?

Happy Monday!

P.S. For Jeff, because he asked. The cover of Cool Cache. Pub date June 3, 2008.


  1. You're asking people to go and give five star reviews to your books, even if they haven't read them... and you're offering a prize to the "best" review. Claiming science. Forgive me, but - and I'm sure this wasn't your intent - this sounds incredibly sad.

    I don't see this act as helping your profile as a professional author. I don't see James Crumley or George Pelecanos or Barbara D'Amato (or countless others) doing something like this. Ever.

    (And if anyone is about to tell me they would if they didn't sell like they do, then you obviously know nothing about those people)

    I would seriously rethink this. But hey, this is nothing more than simply my opinion - which means nothing. I'm sure I'll be blasted here by loyal friends defending you, which is fine. But I've always benefitted more from people telling me the truth, rather than comforting me.

    Also, if you read PW, you will see that Amazon is not nearly the Titanic sales force it would have you believe. Total Amazon sales account for something like 5 or 6 percent of all book sales.

    It is much like the rest of the Internet - all hype.*

    Best of luck.

    *= see Snakes on a Plane

  2. Re: "Cool Cache"

    Great title. Great cover.

    My Amazon review...subject to revision once I've read it: "Fast and fun. If Philip Marlowe had an M.B.A. (and wore stretchy workout tights), he'd be Tucker Sinclair."

  3. Mr. Guyot, you don't know me, but those who do will know that I was joking. Socks as a prize? I mean...seriously.

  4. I guess then, you're hoping only people who know you come across this internet space.

  5. Okay, I see your point. I'll post a disclaimer but it's very strange that you think one sock is enough incentive for somebody to write a review on Amazon...but then again...

  6. When I read this post, my first thought was, "Man, I hope that's supposed to be a joke." Because it wasn't immediately apparent to me that it was.

    (People might recall that Patricia Cornwell did something very similar recently -- and there was no doubt that she wasn't joking.)

  7. waiting to hear....what would Gezuz say?

    Guyot makes an interesting point...but it goes to show the underlying principle of internet reviews: free game for eveyone, and worth every penny one pays for the advice. A review has no inherent value other than if it makes you think or reflect on that specific opinion, with which YOU may agree or not.

    I could use the socks, so I'll trudge over to Amazon....

    My son Jon

  8. Jon, I agree with you. I've posted about Amazon reviews before. Some of them are so obviously mean-spirited and awful and some are so obviously written by my Auntie Jewel. My point was--are they really that important to writers and should we pay more attention to them.

  9. Besides, Go-Lo, I would hope the real worth of ones work is farther reaching and more enduring than how well it does commercially....
    or how well it is admired by some someone, cooped up in a room with DSL and a brand new
    Dell, who has an insatiable desire to let everyone know his/her all important opinion[s].


  10. Yes, Jon, I'm sure COVER YOUR ASSETS will go down in history as a literary classic. (Joking again.)

  11. I thought Cover Your Assets was really the name a seminar I see hawked on late night television.....something about incorporating in lawless Nevada... Rick O'Shea will teach you how to cover your seminar is in Rancho Cucamonga on Thursday; and if you mention KISS FM you get a 5% discount on the $299.95 starter kit.

  12. Actually, Cover Your Assets is the name of the place where I get my taxes done.

  13. "My point was--are they really that important to writers and should we pay more attention to them."

    Speaking as someone who has written a lot of Amazon reviews... I'd urge all authors never to read them. Chances are better than good that you'll come across more than one moron with an ax to grind saying nasty stuff about you.

    (And really, is the occasional "OMYGOD! This bok rockzzzzz!!" enough to offset the stress?)

  14. Patty,
    Only an idiot would think your weren't joking.

    Um, sorry, Paul. Only an idiot or someone from St Louis.

    He did, I hate to admit, make an excellent point about only people we know reading the blog. Because it feels like a small group I forget that we have many readers and most don't know us.

    It was brought home for me when I posted Literature and Lead and made a joke about attracting more rednecks to the blog. I had some explaining to do.

    Amazon mystifies me and most everyone I know with the sales rankings.

    I was told, and I don't know if this is accurate, that a book with less distribution usually gets a relatively good ranking with fewer sales because Amazon is the only place to find it.

    Interesting, and I applaud Mr. Guyot for his insight and comments.


  15. Guyot, you seriously have to do something about replacing that comment photo. Orson Welles was so much more appropriate for you.

    Patty, I can use a sock. Please knit a black one so I can add it to the other odd black socks that come out of the dryer.

  16. David, I stopped reading Amazon reviews because--frankly--the bad one hurt my feelings. The bad ones written about my friends hurt, too, and they make me lose faith in humanity. I didn't even know what Listmania was until I read that blog article and went to Amazon yesterday to do some research. And James O is right. Sometimes this blog feels as if we're chatting to family and we forget that what we say can and does get misinterpreted. Thanks to you and Paul for letting me know before everyone thought I was Patricia Cornwall.

  17. Kudos to Mr. Guyot and his observations. I had never read an Amazon review until a couple months ago when Louise mentioned some turkey who had given her a bad one. I read it, and couldn't believe the jerk had read the same book I had. He bragged that he'd written close to 1700 reviews (books, CD's, and movies) in the last two years. (Doesn't that tell us something?) I wrote a scathing reply, only to have it deleted and declined because I had never bought anything from Amazon. Frankly, my Dear, I wouldn't waste my time with them.

    Great cover for COOL CACHE! I see Tucker is still littering! You'll need to start knitting scarves just to keep her in stock.
    What happens when you have so many books that the art department is out of bright colors!?

    I asked a lady once why she was knitting three socks, and she said she had just received a letter from her son in the Army saying he had grown another foot since enlisting....


  18. Since you seem to be asking about Amazon reviews on books, here's my opinion on that subject. I am a reader, not a writer. I rarely read the reviews on Amazon or Barnes and Noble which is the site that gets a good chunk of my paycheck. When I do read them, it is more out of curiosity or boredom, than to help me to decide whether to buy the book. I do find many of the reviews in bad taste. And if you are saying something negative about a book, if you can't spell, or use bad grammer, then I don't think much of your opinion anyway. However, I do read the reviews in Booklist and Mystery Scene, basically to find out authors that are new to me and when my favorite authors are releasing a new book.

    I don't write reviews, mostly because I don't feel qualified to write them. I can't speak to what actually makes a book good. All I know is that either I liked it or I didn't. And I do realize that just because I didn't like a book, doesn't mean that someone else won't or that it isn't a well written book. Usually all it means is that it is a genre that I have absolutely no interest in.

    On a final note... Humor and sarcasm can be a tricky thing to convey in print. But I did understand that you were not serious.

  19. Groupie, glad I didn't see that review. The jerk would have made me mad, too.

    Gayle, thanks for your reasoned reply. And true, humor is always a slippery slope.

  20. Amazon, Amazon... where to begin? The snarky reviews hurt, the nice ones are written by my friends a lot of the time.

    But Patty, I'd say a sock as a reward is pretty high pay, if it's hand-knitted. Maybe not from the usability standpoint, but from the hours invested in MAKING the damn things yourself.

    And Guyot, I doubt anyone who comments here regularly would tell you "they would if they didn't sell like they do," if in fact they DIDN'T get the sock joke in the first place. You're underestimating the intelligence of both the bloggers and the readers here--whether or not they regularly comment.

    (Except for the people who check us out after Googling for "naked six year olds" from Saudi Arabia.)

    If I might make a wee suggestion, it's usually a good idea to consider the tenor of a place before posting a longass lecture in the backblog.

    I don't say that to blast you as "a loyal friend defending Patty" (though I count myself as one), just as a friend of YOURS concerned that you might inadvertently come off as a flame-seeking troll to those who don't know you as a smart guy with a great sense of humor, which I know both from having enjoyed your blog, and from having met you.

    I would end that paragraph with a little smiley emoticon, but I don't like them.

    Great cover, Patty...

  21. I´ve come across you naked folks only last september. that's when i tracked down jackie, who was our j almost three decades before she became your j! (when we were mere toddlers, of course!)since then i've been reading these posts every day. they make me laugh out loud, frown and sometimes cry.
    at first i felt like an intruder, reading someone elses mail, but i soon got over that. every one of you has enriched my evenings and i will start reading all your books as soon as i am done with ms. dobbs - she certainly has kickstarted my brain again.
    i would just like to know, how many people read this column, who they are and where they are. i for my part am sitting in a little house at the gates of the rhinevalley in mainz, germany, which is the hometown of gutenberg, without whom...........

  22. Anonymous!!!!! Thank you for finally speaking up. You are part of our family and we rejoice.

  23. thank you for your kind words, patty. sorry, i forgot to sing my comment, but i had trouble getting it posted and didn´t expect it to go through at all.


  24. A day late and (perpetually) a dollar short...

    Reviews? Trust me, Patty, I have excellent taste, and I love your books. Who needs reviews?

    Sadly, I've never met you, either. Does that still make me someone you 'know'? For Mr. Guyot's definition?

    I would happily take a sock, however. :-)

    How's that for a marketing idea? A free sock for every person who buys a boxed set of your books? I'm anticipating not only Cool Cache, but Number Five, of course.

    Love the cover, Patty (thanks for the mention). Lovely car Tucker has, that changes color from silver to red to blue...where did you get that paint?

    Did you know that Friday is National Day for the Humor Impaired?

  25. Yay Sybille!!! You'd still be part of our family without a name, but a name is definitely better. Welcome.

    Ah, Jeff. You're simply mah-valous.

  26. Wow - a stunning turn of events for Tucker fans - it appears that she is no longer a Porsche girl!

    I am anxiously awaiting the new book. Will the audio book be released at the same time and if so are you using the same reader?

  27. Hey, Steve! Nope. Tucker is still a Porsche girl. The Mercedes is part of the plot. Go figger.