Some Food for Thought

I met Jasper Fforde a couple of years ago – we were on a panel together at the Llandeilo BookFest. I’ve always enjoyed his writing and to meet him in person was a huge treat for me. So, as you can imagine, I was eagerly awaiting his latest book – Early Riser. I’m still kitchenless so now is the perfect time to curl up with a good book.

Looking it up on Amazon, I was amazed at some of the reviews he’s been getting and not in a good way. I think we’ve touched on this subject before – reviews. Good and bad – how important are they?

For some reason – and it won’t have had anything to do with Jasper Fforde himself – the Kindle price has been set at £13.99, while the paperback price is £7.99 and, not surprisingly, there have been a number of adverse comments and one-star reviews. There’s also been a comment from someone who received the book in a bad condition. And that isn’t anything to do with Jasper, either.

I get that people are upset about the price. I get that someone is disappointed their book arrived with torn pages, but why do people persist in leaving one-star reviews complaining about something that is absolutely nothing to do with the author? If you check out the page you’ll see that his agent has taken the really quite unusual step of using the Amazon review page to point this out. I don’t think I can ever remember that happening before but if people will insist on using the review system for a purpose it was never intended then I suppose there’s nothing to stop Mr Fforde’s agent responding in kind.

We’ve all had these sort of reviews. My personal favourite is:

Ordered in error. Couldn’t be bothered to read it. One star.

Thus indicating the reviewer has more than mastered the unbelievably complex one-click Amazon ordering system, read the book thoroughly and produced a balanced and thoughtful review outlining their conclusions.

Authors rely on reviews to sell their books. Good ones, preferably. They’re very important to us. One-star reviews about something over which the author has no control are heartbreaking. I myself am about to break the habit of a lifetime and spend much more than I normally would on a Kindle book out of sheer bloody-mindedness and fellow author support. It is a lot of money and I don’t urge anyone to follow my example, but if you were considering buying Early Riser then perhaps this will help you make up your mind.

49 thoughts on “Some Food for Thought

  1. Totally agree, the amount of times people give 1 star reviews not just for books but for all sort of items because the packaging was damaged or it arrived at an inconvenient time is ridiculous. Amazon has its own complaints procedure at its here that they should direct their problems. However I am confused as to why the Kindle version is so expensive, surely it cost more to produce a paper back. I love physical books, particularly hardbacks and I have long advocated that there should be some system, similar to that with DVD’s that you can get an eBook version when you buy the hardback and slightly higher price also similar to that with DVD’s would be a fair way to do this.

    • Usually the kindle price starts high when the hardback comes out and then reduces to a more manageable price when the paperback is released. I suspect this was an error on Amazon’s part

  2. I agree with the problem of pricing, but it is Amazon at fault as there is no other way for us readers to vent our anger at the system that overcharges Kindle readers. I appreciate that it is unfair to the writers, but relying on Amazon’s system of reviews is a bit dangerous. I stopped writing book reviews there because there’s also a sub-culture of people who will downgrade your review simply to make their own rise in the rankings. This is pernicious and even more damaging to writers. Now, I only review on Goodreads, although it is an arm of Amazon now, it’s a better place to get a fair and balanced view of what a book is about. I am a huge admirer of your work but I also understand the frustration of the customers. I am about to go back to paperbacks, which would be worse for an author than a few bad reviews, as I buy mine used. That definitely would be a blow to authors who reply on sales.

    • I always report reviews that are not reviewing the book, but on the service or something other than what the review is meant to be. I have been reviewing since before Amazon.

      The problem is Amazon doesn’t care about anything. They are too busy acquiring the universe.

    • It isn’t Amazon that sets the price for books, e- or otherwise. It’s the publisher. Years ago, the big publishers got together and sued Amazon for selling the e-books at such a low price and won the right to set their own prices. That’s when the cost went so high.

    • It is dreadful for the authors and most unfair but some people have no sense and some are just malicious. This is what ruins sites like Tripadvisor. I hope you (and Jasper) get enough five star reviews to show you that your books are brilliant and very much appreciated.

  3. This is something that has always annoyed me.
    Complaints need to be directed to the right people – otherwise nothing changes. Except the author (or whomever it might be for) gets dragged in through no fault of their own. This means that whoever sets these prices is getting little to no blowback.
    I also get annoyed that people seem determined to only ever use ratings to complain! Never to endorse or praise a product or service. I’d be surprised if a lot of the poor reviewers actually took similar time out to give good feedback elsewhere. Certainly, in my experience at least the proportion of people who complain seem to outweigh those who give good feedback. I’m all for honest reviews – but all too often it’s for ridiculous reasons.

    *goes off to give more feedback ;)*

  4. I’m so glad you wrote this Jodi. I hadn’t heard of him before but the book sounds right up my street- so I’m buying the hardback 🤗

  5. hate one star reviews that say ‘read the first couple of pages and didnt like it’ personally Ive been known to read the first couple of books before I decided I didnt like a series.

  6. Totally agree with all comments made. Personally if I can’t say something nice then I keep my thoughts to myself, or at least balance any comments to be fair if I haven’t totally ‘got’ an author. and , Mr Foorde is one such author for me. as many DMs have said they enjoyed his books, I tried one, and really could not get into it at all. the one I tried was The Eyre Affair, a Thursday Next story. on kindle. I will not review it as I didn’t get past the first few pages before realising it wasn’t my cup of tea.

    • I read Terry Pratchett’s “Strata” and was unimpressed. I could have ended there but read, some whatever reason, another – in the now Discworld series – and now have all his books. I have several Fforde novels, so maybe try a different one. Cheers

  7. Living in France, I purchase all my english-languae books on Amazon US to have a wider choice, so I didn’t notice such reactions there. In fact, i was only the third reviewer, and the two previious reviews were just fine, one of them very detailed. As for me, I’m a fan so added some more praise.

    When purchasing a cultural goods, I always make a point of clearly making a distinction betwen the evaluation of the opus (book, music….) and the practical or logistics aspects of the trnsaction. It is indeed unfair to the author / interpret / artist if the first thing one sees (stars) gives a first, negative impression.

    And this is essential because, even if intelligent people like Maureen do read the text of the review before making their opinion on what is said about the author, excellent books frequently might escape them when they make a research by number of stars ! And in that case, there is no way to spot the good books discarded for no valid reason !

    So Jodi, you’ll ever get five stars from me, [heavy frown] even if you have once inadvertently transformed me into a woman in one signed copy of your works by adding a very confusing “e” at the end of my christian name (Pascal => Pascale), triggering no end of unholy hilarity in my wife (also a fan of yours) !

    Don’t worry too much for Jasper, his fandom, just like yours, is bulletproof – and in both cases prone to proselytising !

  8. I was once asked by an author if I would give a totally honest review of his first book. So I did. He also reiterated that it go on Amazon.
    I had no issue with the storyline it was really going places but the edit was appalling and ruined the book. I don’t know what was going on with it but I could not in all honesty recommend it until a proper editor got hold of it.
    Needless to say he didn’t speak to me again.🤤
    Now I rarely write a review unless I 100% love it!

  9. I now boycott Amazon – but when I used them, I mostly ignored reviews. They are someone elses view, not mine. But the ones you touch on, used to really irritate me. It needs to be that you – we – can comment on reviews.

    Jackie Morris had a review left that said her book was “too big” (eye rolls like marbles) ffs!!

  10. It is so frustrating. People seem to not understand they are reviewing the author’s work not Amazon’s way of working, pricing, or packaging. I love Jasper Fforde’s books and was disappointed in the pricing. I haven’t yet bought it but will at some stage. I have given a one star review but I’d read the whole book and I’m afraid it really was all I felt it was worth. I do read reviews to try to get a balanced view and think they have an important place but it is as important to leave good as well as poor. It is too easy to just leave negative reviews.

  11. In fact, if something is sent by a 3rd party seller, not Amazon, there is a place to leave feedback about the packaging, delays, etc, and you can complain if you need to. But the place for that is not on the product, whether this is a book or a teaspoon….

  12. I’ll repeat here what I replied on Su Poole’s comment. It is not Amazon that sets the prices on e-books. Amazon started out pricing them very low, but the big publishers weren’t happy with that. They got together and sued Amazon for the right to price the e-books, and they won. That’s when the prices sent so sky-high. That’s also why the prices vary so much from one publisher to the next. So, blame the publishers when you have to pay a higher price for the e-book than the paperback.

  13. I get all my books on Kindle now, so I do not have the issue of receiving damaged goods. When I leave a review, it is always about the content and not the cover or the price.
    I do find it strange that Amazon would charge so much for the Kindle version while the paper version is half the price, that seems unfair to the reader as it is profiteering by Amazon. I doubt the author gets any more money.
    So, in conclusion, I am with you Jodi. Review the story, not the cover or its delivery packaging. There is a separate place for delivery reviews anyway, but I guess that is too complex for some people!

  14. I agree with you. Since Amazon is supposed to look over the review before they post it, they should weed out the reviews that were about packaging or price. I also don’t understand some of the one star reviews that then say it was the best book they ever read. I love Jasper Fforde books and had the pleasure of meeting him at one book signing. I will continue to support him.

    • Because there are a lot of stupid people who don’t understand the rating system. Their spiritual siblings are the dolts who rate a book 3 stars, even though they haven’t read it yet, because Amazon sent them an e-mail asking for a review.

  15. Went to his book tour talk, most entertaining and enjoyable, in Chepstow last Monday. Bought the “special polo mint edition” and delighted to support authors wherever possible. I was at the Llandeilo Festival for that talk too 😁

  16. I have this book on my Amazon wish list, but I won’t be buying it until the Kindle price comes down to something reasonable. 14 quid for a digital file? Sorry, Jasper, but that’s a No from me. I have several other favourite authors on this ‘waiting’ list – usually the price eventually comes down to something I’m willing to pay, but for some of them it never does … and I just don’t buy those books. These publishers are just shooting themselves in the foot. But crappy reviews for the author is wrong.

  17. Jodi, it’s unfortunate, but also a fact of life that too many people take the time to comment on things only when they’re unhappy. If you’re happy, whether it’s with the kitchen rebuild you’re currently experiencing or if a new reader who has stumbled on your work and has become as enthralled as the rest of us DM’s or of some other author, musician, artist, etc, vocal comments of delight or satisfaction are less likely than anger motivated thoughts.

    And, as noted, often the criticism is misdirected.

    For example, I got the U.S. Audible download of “An Argumentation of Historians” and went through the proverbial roof when the last chapter seemingly ended with Max and Dottle going off the roof. Took me a couple of hours of very angry telephone conversations with the Audible folks to resolve the issue which was their problem. I deleted and then reloaded the product and everything was fine. I believe I mentioned my experience on the Fans of St Mary’s Facebook site since several others were experiencing similar problems with the Audible download, but that’s NOT the same thing as a negative criticism of the author’s work.

    On the other hand…If my Audible frustration was NOT a technical glitch, but your intentional choice to end the book with Max & Dottle going over the roof, a cliffhanger leaving us GM’s going crazy until the arrival of the next book…in 2019…I would have been very annoyed…not because the work was substandard, but because you left me hanging. I’m 70. I might not have the time to wait! (Which is also the reason why, over my life, I’ve rarely watched long TV miniseries or shows that require you to see the episodes in sequence or lose the continuity.)

    Just understand that you can’t please everyone, that you shouldn’t even try to do so. That the nature of criticism tends to be negative, but that you have a growing network of international supporters who are more concerned that you get your kitchen back in shape than paying attention to the opinions of less satisfied customers. I’m just guessing, mind you, but I suspect that there were a few critics in the 16th Century who thought William Shakespeare was a worthless hack.

    • I completely agree with you on the cliffhangers, such as someone receiving a mysterious letter. It’s really hard to wait for the next one but I don’t want to stress out the author either. They say patience is a virtue but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

  18. I have (in a fit of pique) written a one-star review for a product because the packaging was so awful, and Amazon refused it. (My custard cremes arrived smashed to crumbs.) They said there was a complaint procedure for packing and shipping, and my complaint should be addressed there. I don’t understand why the policy for book reviews is so different, especially since the review system affects the author’s sales so directly.

  19. I agree that reviews should be real reviews and I hate those one star (‘it didn’t arrive on my kindle’) type things 🙁

    But I also agree that some kindle prices are outrageous – far more than the paperback price. I would happily pay what a paperback costs, but not more. It is simply unaffordable. I have written to a publisher about this and got exactly zero response. So I understand why fans vent on Amazon – because they feel they have no power to change things otherwise.

    Luckily, Jodi, you have a sensible publisher! Keep up the excellent work!

  20. Reviews are so problamatic. I am very aware that if I don’t like a book it is simply my opinion. For example I dislike Dickens and Tolstoy….now I have to assume from the number of readers who rave about their books that I am in the minority and just because I dislike them doesnt make the awful writers and for this reason I will not review a book I don’t like.

  21. Part of the problem of poor reviews is customer frustration of Amazon’s lack of a comments or complaints option for posting poor service or other problems not related to the contents only to Amazon’s service.

  22. When I encounter reviews that give a book or product a bad review based on delayed delivery, damage, or someone’s sheer inability to understand that you can return things you don’t like, I report them. I don’t know if it does any good, but at least I tried. I also try to educate people about book pricing. Booksellers, for the most part, have little control over ebook prices. The author has absolutely none. Don’t get upset at the author because the publisher has no sense.

    When I encounter an overly inflated price on an ebook, I put it on my wish list and wait for the price to drop. It is not like I am lacking for books to read, although I have managed to whittle to to-be-read list down to 280. If it is something I am just itching to read, I go ahead and buy the paper version.

    People can be so dumb. Thank you, Jodi, for standing up for your fellow authors.

  23. This is so utterly unfair on the authors. I never leave less than a 3 star review – nearly always 4 or 5, because just because I don’t like a book, it doesn’t mean it is a bad one, just that it is not to my taste.
    I also wait for a book to drop price if it is by an author I have not read before, I can’t afford some prices, but for my favourite authors I will pay what I have to !
    For a while Amazon was removing a lot of reviews, (especially 5* ones) which was totally unprofessional, but luckily most of them have been returned.

  24. I completely understand how heartbreaking this is, and in spite of the lower star-rating books gain as a result, I’m sure (I hope!) true fans will be able to discern the useful reviews from the time-wasters. Love both Jasper’s books and yours Jodi.

  25. Re poor reviews…I wouldn’t give a book a one star review, partly cuz it isn’t a nice thing to do, but also because the fact that I didn’t read (or like) it may have depended on the fact that it wasn’t as good as the last (loved it) book, and I wanted more like that one. Maybe it was my mood, not happy with detailed travel books, maybe it was a different type of writing for this series and not like other books this author writes! Who knows? I figure the fault lied with me, not that book, let alone that author. I have a lot of authors that I will read anything they write (when’s the next book due, Jodi), and some authors where I like some series but not others. I don’t blame the author. And if I don’t like a book, I won’t read it. I will probably give the author another chance, as I did with terry Pritchett, whose books I wound up absolutely loving and rereading multiple times, because after all, maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood the first time around. But one star reviews? Maybe those folks are just jealous!

    • I leave 1-star reviews for books that have abysmal editing. To me, that kind of sloppiness indicates a monumental lack of respect for the reader.

  26. This was one of those good news/bad news kinds of posts; it was very good to read about a new book from Jasper (and I’m off to find it once this comment is posted), but very bad and frustrating to once again think of the completely irrelevant and selfish comments left as purported “reviews” on sites like Amazon. I know a ginormous concern like Amazon would be hard pressed to moderate each and every review, but I think they do have some responsibility to do so when they are not germane to the buying process — maybe they could have a separate satisfaction of service rating instead? Let’s fight the good fight and challenge these kinds of comments whenever we spot them!

  27. As many have said, Amazon DOES NOT set the prices, the publishers do. Take reviews the same way you would if they were made by co-workers or neighbors. Some of their opinions you will agree with, and others you will think are silly or just wrong. I haven’t written reviews, but I do read them for a consensus on how well a book is written and edited.

  28. Bottom line: there are a lot of ignorant, sometimes malicious, people in the world. Many of them post negative reviews on Amazon.

    I love your books, by the way. I wish you’d do an American tour some day!

  29. Sadly reviewed that have nothing to do with the story themselves are a common problem for all authors. I was at a crime fiction festival recently where they had a Room 101 style panel and the authors and audience voted for the ridiculous 1 start reviews to be put into Room 101. It was very funny but I imagine cathartic for the authors! I personally ignore Amazon book reviews now as a consequence of seeing some ridiculous reviews and go back to choosing a book by the description of the book, the author and genre etc. Until such time as amazon fixes their system. Goodreads is different (so far).

    I’ve akso noticed that publishers aren’t o be setting kindle prices high when the hardback of a book first comes out but once the paperback is in circulation the kindle price goes down .

  30. I honestly think that the confusion stems from the fact that people are used to ordering household products/clothing/stuff they’d be embarrassed to buy in a shop from the same site and then commenting on the delivery and reliability of the seller. The same principle is in place on eBay. They then fail to realise that it is the words that they are reviewing when asked to leave comments on a book purchase. Amazon probably needs a second platform that is clearly separate and has nothing in common with the main marketplace. Or they could pair up with GoodReads? I’m an illustrator and we face an ongoing battle with Amazon just to get recognition for the titles we’ve worked on. Until recently the best we could hope for was a joint author listing, but by working together and asking for help from publishers we now get credited as the illustrator (yay us!). Although still not every time…

    Shocked at the £13.99. I’m a long-time fan of Jasper Fforde and I’ll be buying the hard copy for my collection anyway, it’s just lovely to have a new book from him to look forward to.

  31. I read reviews, especially the one- and two-star ones. Any comment that does not directly pertain to the quality of an author’s work, I mark as “unhelpful” and sometimes reply to the reviewer in kind, as in, “How does a shipping failure pertain to the quality of this story?” It burns me also, that idiots use the review system wrongfully and clutter up the mix. I rarely read the four- and five-star ones unless it is a complete book review. A comment like, “Great book!” is as unhelpful as the stupid ones as people want to know WHY it is a great book.

  32. Many thanks Jodi, perhaps I’m the last of your fans to have heard of Jasper Fforde, but he’s on my radar now.

    I’ve just bought the first of his Thursday Next series and his latest book from Audible. Now I’ll have to shuffle my reading list. Having heard the samples, I’m impatient to read Jasper’s books.

    I love Audible, any book costs around £4.00. It’s a shame there isn’t a similar service for people who want to read physical books. There are drawbacks of course, as every book isn’t produced as an audio book, but 10 years on from my first purchase, there is still a long line in my wish list.

    Thanks too for putting the unfair and irrelevant reviews under a spotlight. As someone who writes more reviews than she reads, it shocked me.

    • Huh… I am in the US. When I looked at Early Riser on Amazon, I see four editions (print and Kindle) under two different covers and listed at 4 different prices. There only four reviews in total, all quite positive. I’m puzzled.

  33. Thanks for the Jasper Fforde tip! I’ve just finished the Eyre Affair, loved it. Quirky plot (who wouldn’t want to be able to jump inside their favourite book) and character names like Thursday Next, Jack Schitt and Braxton Hicks. Won’t be the last of his books I read! : )

  34. I have sympathy for authors who feel that all poor reviews reflect on them, but the customer is not just paying for intellectual property. He/she is buying a product, something that has been written, edited, published, advertised, packaged and sent. Would you expect a great review on the bookseller’s site if the book, no matter how well written, was badly edited, dishonestly advertised, badly made and delivered damaged, late and to the wrong address? All these things happen. Even a review written for a newspaper would be expected to mention poor editing. And I would certainly comment unfavourably on anomalous pricing as described in the original post.

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