The Value of Amazon 1* Reviews

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Whenever I work with a client, one of the first assignments I give them is to trawl Amazon looking for books that might–directly or otherwise–be considered “competitive titles.” After all, what’s the point in writing a book that’s almost identical to something that’s already been published?

While they’re there, I suggest they also take a look at some one, two or three star reviews. Because this less-than-glowing coverage is often more full of useful information than four or five star ones.

Yes, in many cases five star reviews are exceptionally helpful in précising the book overall, which aspiring authors can use to help them identify what readers found most useful and interesting. But I think it’s even more important to know where the published author failed to meet their expectations, because that’s the gap you can potentially fill.

Here, for example, is part of a stunning 3 star review for a book entitled Future Crimes: Everything is Connected, Everyone is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It (Doubleday, 2015) by someone who has obviously earned becoming a Vine program Top 1000 reviewer:

Goodman says many right things in exactly the wrong way….Rather than keeping focus on one problem, or one constellation of problems, and appropriate correlating solutions, he completely segregates crisis from resolution. We get crushed by the weight of problems long before reaching the solutions, assuming we do reach the solutions.

Certainly, Goodman also discusses redresses to these problems. But he does this only so late that many readers have already either given into nihilism, or join the Luddites. Perhaps Goodman thought the story arc from Hollywood dramas, where everything generally gets worse and worse until our white-hatted hero reverses things, would convey his message emotionally. But this isn’t some scripted drama. The answer isn’t Liam Neeson kicking everybody’s ass. This really happens to real people.

One of the techniques I share with my clients is what I call the 4 Es: Explanation; Evidence; Examples; Empowerment.

I tell them that as long as they cover all four they will have happy and satisfied readers:

1. Clearly explain your topic in a way that people can understand, avoiding “industry-speak”;

2. Provide evidence–research that you have conducted or has been provided by a credible third party–to support your thesis/assertions;

3. Offer examples so that you’re showing, not just telling, the reader what you mean;

4. Empower them to take action: either by providing the steps they need to overcome the problem, or offering solutions that will circumvent the problem in the first place.

What I took from Kevin L. Nenstiel’s excellent review was that while Goodman did a great job with #1-3, there was too little, too late when it came to empowerment.

Next time you’re surfing Amazon do take a look at those lower rated reviews. See how many times reviewers have been disappointed by the author not having adequately addressed one of these four topics. And in how many cases their “beef” is that they’ve been given the “what” and the “why,” but not enough of the “how” to do anything much about it.

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