February 1, 2013

Author wants your best one-star Amazon reviews


Author Brian Allen Carr

By now, it’s safe to assume you’ve read all about sock puppet reviews on Amazon.

Crime writer R.J. Elroy was censured last year after posting pseudonymous reviews of his book A Quiet Belief in Angels, calling it “a masterpiece,” etc. while disparaging the work of others.

As a result, Amazon installed a sock puppet detection program, which, like a much worse version of Google’s Content ID system, flags reviews it suspects are disingenuous.

It’s a tangled web, folks.

It didn’t take long, however, for one author to turn that web into silk: Brian Allen Carr, author of the story collection Short Bus, noticed an especially negative review of his book on Amazon. The review reads, in full:

“The review compared you to McCarthy- not in the least!!! I was totally dissapointed (sic) with your book…. basically it sucked!! McCarthy is an awesome writer and I have read all his books. You basically suck as an author and I hope you never publish a book again!!”

Rather than lashing out, or quietly despairing over the review, Carr decided to take a different tack. He promoted the negativity, even encouraging unsatisfied readers to submit their own one-star reviews, and announced a contest that awards the best one-star review with a free copy of all three of his books.

Carr lives in Texas, and he’s given his contest an appropriate moniker: the “Lone Star Contest.”

So far, negative reviewers have not been shy. One review posted on January 28th reads: “Short Bus is a clown book. It’s for clowns. It’s the kind of book that makes you wish you were dead. It’s THAT kind of book.”

Then there’s this one:

“Carr seems to just make it up as he goes along. Heaven knows what cabal of cretins is behind publishing this boak of a book. Carr couldn’t write “bollocks” in wet sand with a stick.”

To be fair, the book has its share of positive reviews. But one can’t help wonder what this is really all about: is the contest legitimate or just a farce? Is Carr angling for exposure, or is he just some kind of thick-skinned masochist?

I asked him via email.

What was it about that first one-star review that inspired you to run this contest?

Good question. I thought it was funny. It still makes me laugh. I mean, legitimately. Not like I’m laughing it off. It’s hysterical. It’s the person’s only Amazon review, and they wrote it New Year’s Eve and it’s written to me — well, they use the pronoun “You.”

They don’t talk about the book at all. They reference something in a review or blurb. I figured, if it’s that easy, why not just have everybody write one? I mean, it doesn’t take much thought.

How can lots of one-star reviews possibly help book sales?

Ha. Nothing helps book sales but book sales.

Do you have any idea if the latest one-star reviews are legitimate?

They are all legitimately text.

The positive reviews include detailed praise while the negative reviews are brief. Is that because we need fewer words to express disfavor?

Probably. When I really hate someone I don’t have many words for them. The first one starts with F and the second is you and then there’s an uncomfortable silence or a fist fight.

What criteria are you using to judge the contest?


The author of the best one-star review receives free copies of all of your books. Will you be able to convert the winner into a fan?

I hope so. Then they’ll write five star Amazon reviews of all my books. And then, I’ll be happy and famous and rich.

Is this for real, or are you just some sort of thick-skinned masochist?

Nope. Not at all.

I mean, I don’t even think that people who write one star reviews on Amazon are even reviewing the books. They’re reviewing some hatred they have toward something in the book. They’re letting their emotions eat at them. And I think most people think of one star reviews in that regard. And, because that is the case, one star reviews have a stigma, and people who care about books don’t want to be stigmatized, and so, they never get to write one star reviews. Shit, I’ve never written a one star review. I bet it feels glorious.

I’m a hero, Kevin Murphy. I’m giving people a venue to one star it up without the fear of stigmatization. Come drop your lone stars on my book. Get all nasty on it. You’ll be better for it. I’ll be better for it. The world will be better for it. And, you know, we’ll heal.



Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.