Amazon, the e-commerce monolith, has been the death and life of publishing, the grim reaper, and the nurturing cradle in one fell swoop. A prime venue (pun intended) for independent authors to sidestep traditional gatekeepers, Amazon has opened doors previously barricaded by the old guards of publishing. Yet, it’s also home to a perplexing phenomenon — a proverbial battleground of intellectual discourse, littered with the casualties of illogical, and at times, absurd book reviews.
I recently moderated a six-author panel at the St. Louis Public Library and most of the authors agreed: they rarely read their reviews. I peek at mine here and there, but less and less as I write more books. Why? Well, because there’s nothing you can do about a reader’s opinion. Especially when the opinion is irrational.
Stephen King sums up a thought many a writer has had in the face of bad or just plain unfair reviews:
“I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
But we’re adults, and we can handle bad reviews. It’s the dumb ones that sting.
Picture this scenario: An author pens a fascinating exploration of string theory, challenging the boundaries of known physics. They publish their work on Amazon and await the first reviews, the harbingers of future sales. The first feedback rolls in: one-star. The reason? The customer’s dog chewed up the book. The literary value of the book now undermined by a teething Labrador. A stark example of capitalism’s grand narrative going astray, my friends.
Or how about this? A gripping novel set amidst the socio-political turmoil of the Vietnam War receives a two-star review. The indictment? Lack of recipes. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, no instructions on how to make a Bánh mì in a war zone. Is this an expected attribute of a historical fiction novel now?