How Many Amazon Reviewers of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy Have Even Read It?

There’s been plenty of press and comments on social networks about reviews on Amazon. Some writers have complained that some reviewers have been mean and vindictive, while a handful of top selling indie published authors have been exposed for buying fake reviews.

Given the complaints laid against the general standard of reviewing on Amazon I thought I would take a look at how soon after publication that the most anticipated novel of the year, J.K. Rowling’s book, The Casual Vacancy would be garnering reviews. I checked both Amazon.com and Amazon.uk in this most unscientific of surveys, and was stunned to see that two days after the book’s official release there were already 86 reviews on the UK site and 122 on the US.

I don’t doubt that there are speed readers out there who will happily devour a 500 page novel in two days, and if you added those together with the handful of official press reviewers permitted to read the embargoed novel before publication under strict conditions, then maybe, just maybe the reviews of those who had read the entire book would number around 50 (and I’m being generous here). But have 208 people really devoured the book and then written a review of it in the space of two days?

So I thought I would sample a few of those reviews and bring them to your attention. Given the hype over J.K Rowling’s first adult novel and her phenomenal success as a writer, you might expect that there would be one or two reviews that might be rather unfair. On Amazon.com there are 40 one star reviews for The Casual Vacancy. Personally, if a book is going to be bad enough to garner one star I would not bother to review it because I know that my chances of finishing it would be slim. And in the case of the one star reviews on Amazon.com, I would say that 50% of the reviewers hadn’t read any more than the “Look Inside” section before condemning the book to a one star. Instead of reviews I counted 21 examples of price bashing, where commentators were unhappy with the price of the e-book and as a protest, and gave the book a one star review. How unfair is that? The author has no control over the price and all this does is skew the reviews unfairly. Why didn’t the complainants, if they felt so strongly, write an email instead J.K. Rowling’s publisher, Little Brown?

One reason not to read this book might be that you don’t agree with the politics. It’s not as though the politics are a secret but five reviewers just chose instead to focus on just that and condemn Rowling’s books for daring to be a financially successful writer with left-wing views and punish her by giving her a one star review. Again, this does seem rather unfair. There are a number of other highly successful business people with socialist politics out there but they don’t seem to be subjected to the same accusations of champagne socialism.

One reviewer was at least honest and admitted that she hadn’t had time to read the book as she had only just purchased it. That still didn’t stop her from giving the book one star. Another reviewer disliked the book but when I checked her profile the three other reviews she had published and liked were all for books in a completely different genre. So perhaps this reviewer was just a disappointed Harry Potter fan.

There was a similarly depressing repetition of the arguments for giving The Casual Vacancy a one star review on Amazon.uk, but what I find gratifying, and which has partially restored my faith in Amazon, is that the negative reviews receive comments, asking the reviewer to justify their review or even calling for, in some cases, Amazon to take the ‘non reviews’ down completely.

I was keen to find out how many Harry Potter fans gave Rowling’s first book for adults a five star review, and what they wrote made interesting reading.  In the main they expressed considered, thoughtful opinions, and I shall be making my purchasing decision based on these four and five star reviewers, as well as from Amazon Verified Purchasers, many of who have reviewed a number of other books.

The best advice for anyone on the receiving end of a number of one star reviews for reasons other than for the standard of the writing, editing, characterisation or plot is to question the agenda that the reviewer might have. Check out the reviewer’s profile, as this can be telling. If the commentator has only ever reviewed products, and is not even a frequent reader, then you can bet other readers will be similarly unimpressed. The one thing that I have noticed about Amazon is that many readers do vote down the whining complainants and will rate a comment as unhelpful or challenge the writer as to why they wrote the review in the first place.

With the weight of expectation on her shoulders, J.K. Rowling’s first book after the Harry Potter series was always going to attract controversy. The book has polarised opinion as readers either seem to loathe or love it and reviews are either one to two stars or four to five stars with very few in between. But if you, like Rowling have written a book that divides readers, take heart. Surely, a controversial book is far more likely to attract attention in the long run as readers are often keen to make up their own minds. If it was me I’d rather have written something like that than a competently written but dull, also-ran. Wouldn’t you?

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