The symptoms, when they come on, are hard to miss: it once was a need, now it’s a craving; desperate to find a way to satisfy it, you pace the room, muttering, not knowing what to do or where to go; you cling to the futile hope that something will come along, but you dread, deep down, that it won’t; you turn to friends, relatives, acquaintances; you barter, bargain and beg – will nothing assuage this addiction? At first you didn’t want to admit it, but faced with the evidence of your behaviour, there can be no doubt: you’re suffering from full-blown Amazon Review Anxiety Disorder.
ARAD is easy to diagnose, much harder to cure. A certain level of ARAD is no doubt inevitable, and as long as it remains mild, there’s little cause for alarm. But if it gets to the point where you’re willing to pay, you’re in a bad way. Before it gets that far, a few sessions with an ARAD therapist are advisable.
Chris McMullen, writing about Amazon’s review policy, has words of wisdom when it comes to ARAD: “The reality is that the best way to get reviews is free and low-cost marketing combined with compelling content. Nothing is better than the natural variety of reviews that you get from just getting sales. Drive sales and the reviews will come with them.” Unfortunately, presenting the ARAD sufferer with common sense arguments doesn’t always work – like smokers, we know it’s bad for us, but the craving still persists.
ARAD has two main causes. Firstly, the sheer thrill of seeing that someone actually took the trouble of writing about your book and it’s up there for all to see. And if what they said is nice, you’re over the moon. That’s only natural, but on its own is not enough to trigger any major attack of ARAD. What’s more important is the widespread belief that the more reviews you get, the more sales you’ll make. Recently, the following picture appeared on Kawanee’s Korner:
Now, when I read that, it didn’t strike me as odd, on the contrary. It seemed a perfectly rational way for Amazon to operate. It was, however, terrible for my ARAD, which practically went off the scale. But then I read the comment below by Massimo Marino: “I’m afraid it is part of the publishing urban myths around Amazon. Sorry to break it for you.” Thank heaven for that, I thought. No need to get so hung up after all. And the ARAD dropped to a level that was just about manageable.
The thing is, though, one doesn’t know who to believe. The original image appears to come from akrummenacker, though the text itself appears much earlier in a 2012 post by Gwen Whiting called Why Write Amazon Reviews? In a sense, whether it’s true or not is immaterial – it makes sense that a large number of (preferably good) reviews can only be good for the book.
So the quest for reviews goes on. But that doesn’t mean resorting to dubious tactics. As Sandra Beckwith puts it, “Amazon doesn’t tolerate reviews that aren’t honest. If you’re begging friends and family to “write something nice” about your book on Amazon, knock it off.” Reading that, your ARAD might mutate into a more complex strain known as ARGS – Amazon Review Guilt Syndrome. Do I suffer from that myself? I did send One Green Bottle to friends and ask them if they’d be willing to post a review. But my ARGS, though it flared up with the recent hullabaloo about fake reviews, faded away quickly. Because I didn’t ask them to “write something nice”. What I said was this: “Recently Amazon have been cracking down on reviews they suspect of coming from among the author’s acquaintances. Though understandable, the policy has upset more than a few, and one suggestion I’ve read is that they could leave the review but signal their doubts about its source and let prospective readers decide. My own take on the issue is to have a clear conscience by asking that reviews be honest – don’t hesitate to express reservations!”
There’s more I could say about this, notably what I mean by an honest review. But that will be in a future post. My conscience is still clear – I have enough confidence in One Green Bottle to ask for honesty. I know the book won’t be to everyone’s taste, also that it has its flaws, but that’s fine. We learn from other people’s opinions. If we’re not prepared for negative comments, we’re not prepared to write.
The bit about Amazon signalling doubts about a review’s source and letting readers decide, developed in more detail here, comes again from Chris McMullen, and it’s an excellent idea. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to have been listened to as yet. Meanwhile, my review tally stands at the grand total of four, and yes, to some extent I ‘know’ them all. Forgive me, Father Bezos, for I have sinned!