What Amazon reviews are for

Those of you who follow Mike Duran may have noticed his Facebook post the other day about an Amazon reviewer who gave his book one star because she had a technical problem with the Kindle file from her library.

Digital book

Illustration by cybrain • iStockphoto

This is an inappropriate use of the Amazon review. Call your library’s IT department, call Kindle tech support, but don’t put this kind of complaint in a review. In the past, we’ve also seen negative reviews based on such irrelevant criteria as the price of the Kindle version being the same as the print edition, or the release date of the Kindle version being later than the print edition. This is not what Amazon reviews are for.

This will shock anyone who believes the Internet is all about personal expression, but the purpose of Amazon reviews is not to express your opinion.

The purpose of Amazon reviews is to help readers.

In other words, it’s not about you. It’s not even about doing the author a favor. Like every other aspect of writing, it’s about serving readers. It’s only about you insofar as you, having read the book, have the ability to advise those who haven’t about whether to buy it or not. It’s about them.

Here are some appropriate topics to address in Amazon reviews:

  • Characters: Are they well-rounded, or boring? Realistic, or phony?
  • Plot: Is it consistent, with clear cause-and-effect relationships, or sporadic and random?
  • Dialog: Does is flow naturally, or is it stilted?
  • Setting: Is it described richly, or inadequately?
  • Mechanics: Does it contain lots of typos and other errors of punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling?

As for cheesy covers and formatting errors, you might mention them in your review, but I recommend against including them in your star rating. I believe the rating should reflect the content of the book, not its packaging or technical execution.

Feel free to disagree with me. That keeps things interesting.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

3 comments on “What Amazon reviews are for

  1. This is one of the reasons I don’t put a lot of stock into reading reviews. People don’t really see the purpose of reviews, and thus, you end up with a one-star review that has nothing to do with the author’s story or technique. Sheesh!

  2. Amazon reviews, like Good Reads B&N and others, have become flooded with ‘bought’ five star reviews as well. Authors hold contests and ask for reviews (most notably this was done by Karen Kingsbury who promised those who wrote reviews a chance for a spot on an up coming cruise she is featured in) and publishing companies have bought reviews too on public review sites. This is why independent review sites are important. I volunteer at one and not one of the reviewers in any way is compensated for their thoughts (though the free books could be argued do pay for the time it takes to read the book and give an opinion)

    Check out the independent review sites — here are several.

    Relevant Magazine Book Reviews

    Books & Culture – A Christian Review (From Christianity Today)


    The Readers Cove

    Faithful Reader

    Christian Review of Books

    Christian Book Lounge

    About.com – Christian Book Reviews


    Christian Book Summaries

    The Avid Christian

    Christian Book Previews

    Christian Library Journal

    The Christian Manifesto*


    *where I write

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