How not to write book reviews on Amazon

Much gnashing of teeth has been heard recently from the bottom-feeders of the book publishing world, about the rather sensitive topic of Amazon reviews.

how not to write book reviews

If you go to the trouble of setting up the review of a book you’ve read (whether on Amazon or elsewhere) your job is to give an honest opinion of it…

There have been several years of laughable scams – too many to document here but voici a few examples to refresh your memory:

Book publishing – scams are alive and well and living in the USA, part 1

Book publishing – scams are alive and well and living in the USA, part 2

Book publishing scams – three stinky examples

Although it took a while, Amazon finally lost its sense of humour a while ago, tightened up the regulations, and stopped allowing obviously fake reviews. No longer will people be able to get reviews from willing workers in countries where English is hardly spoken at all, members of their own family (using the same last name), one person with 18 Amazon accounts in fake names, etc. etc.

But still the scammers wriggle their way around the rules

OK, it’s a little harder to get reviews dishonestly today than it was five years ago, but recently I have seen two sparkling examples that made me gnash my teeth out of sheer rage. It seems it’s almost as easy as it was in the bad old days when you just paid a business thousands of miles away and miraculously you had 20 raving reviews in 24 hours.

There are two key points behind these exercises: one is to artificially raise a book to a technical “number 1” rank. The other is to show a large number of reviews – not all too glowing and not all 5 star, so Amazon doesn’t suspect a scam – because the more reviews a book has, the more likely Amazon is to pick it for their own promotions.

How, then, can writing a book review be done constructively?

We’re not talking about eggheaded literary reviews here: we’re not the New York Times. But in my view, if you go to the trouble of setting up the review of a book you’ve read (whether on Amazon or elsewhere) your job is to give an honest opinion of it, what you gained from it, and enough information about the book itself to help a prospective purchaser decide whether it’s a good fit for them.

You don’t have to go on for hundreds of words – in fact very long reviews, although fine in other circumstances, tend to make your eyes go blurry on Amazon and other online book retailing sites. Just write enough to share your opinion, your understanding of the book and its purpose (nonfiction) or plot/story (fiction), and that’s probably enough.

Some of the more awful and/or funny review comments we see

The following are genuine reviews I have cut and pasted from Amazon. Yes, in 2018. Please try, if you can, to avoid such fatuous banalities and write something useful!

Couldn’t put it down! Smells of the phoney. Especially when you see it written 7 times in a row by, er, different reviewers.

Read it all in a morning! No, you didn’t. I know the book you were talking about and unless you started at 12:00 midnight and read until 11:59, you’re lying.

A must-read! ZZzzzzz … it was quite a likeable thing to say 20 years ago, but it’s such a cliché now…

Wonderfully written and presented! Only if it’s true. In this case the book had not been edited or proof-read, and looked like a text-book photocopied in the headteacher’s study.

Amazing! Can’t you think of anything more original, especially that “amazing” today is used to describe anything from Versailles to a half-eaten sandwich?

Definitely a feel good read! That tells me nothing about the book other than maybe it’s on sexual perversion? Massage?

Great read! Surely there’s more to it than that? It’s like calling a tasty steak dinner a “great feed.”

Everyone should read this book! Why?

I love this book. I must buy another one as I gave my book to my brother-in-law. Thanks for sharing. Did he enjoy it?

Incredible buy it, your welcome! What makes me think your English isn’t very good?

When I bought it I thought it was audible. Maybe your hearing aid batteries need replacing.

Too boring to finish. At least you’re honest.

This is a must have book and defiantly worth the read, you can tell the author is passionate. Passionate and defiant, huh. Really? It’s a business book.

Good. Watch you don’t make this review too long, now…

Do you write book reviews? How do you approach yours?

Please share your views!





  1. What about the ever-popular “I wanted to like this but…” for a negative review, or “I didn’t want to like this but…” or “I didn’t think I’d like this but…” for a positive review? Sometimes it feels like reviewers go out of their way to imitate the worst of what they’ve seen in other reviews.

    • I can’t say I see those comments too often, but I mainly read reviews on the UK Amazon. I think perhaps this is more of an American syndrome?
      And you’re absolutely right about reviewers imitating the worst of what they’ve seen. I was talking to one of my authors (whose book was launched recently) yesterday and someone who had bought the book and sent in a review to Amazon UK had had it rejected by them as it “violated their regulations.” This person emailed my client and asked why on earth that should have happened, as it was a genuine “verified purchase” and written from the heart.
      My take on it was that people who leave reviews that sound exactly like everyone else’s reviews e.g. “great read,” “couldn’t put it down,” and now “I didn’t think I’d like this,” risk being thought of as spammers by Amazon.
      In fact I think I will do a follow up to this article along those lines – will mention you and give a link to your website, of course! Sz