Hi. My name’s Campbell. I write reviews on Amazon for a hobby.
I realise that this sounds a little like a personal introduction at some strange, literary version of Alcoholics Anonymous and I can assure you that it certainly doesn’t get the girls swooning at my feet. But hey, everyone has to have a hobby and it beats stalking. At least, until my latest restraining order expires.
If you’ve ever bought anything from Amazon, you’ve probably had one of those annoying, spammy emails from them asking you to “rate your purchase”. Most customers probably ignore them. Some respond with a stock “Thanks Amazon! My DVD arrived on time.” which is just the sort of “review” we serious reviewers despise. Some go that step further and try to write something more helpful. My first review was a pretty dull affair and not very informative but, several months later, I checked back into Amazon to discover, to my lasting delight, that some kind soul had voted on my review.
VOTED on it?! I never realised that you could VOTE on reviews! It wasn’t long before I realised that votes sent you up the “Reviewer Ranking” and if you got into the top ten, you were listed in the “Amazon Reviewer Hall of Fame”. And THAT was THAT. The monkey was well and truly behind me.
Since then, I’ve written nearly 750 reviews and have tasted the heady heights of Amazon fame (I made #2 in the charts for a while, no less!). I have been enrolled into Amazon’s Vine Programme, whereby I can choose free stuff from a monthly list to review. I have discovered that there is an online community of like-minded sad gits… err, reviewers with an unwritten code of conduct. There is even home-brewed software written by a particularly sad… err, talented reviewer that will analyse the voting patterns on my reviews.
But why? Why all this effort?
It’s hard to say; ask any train spotter, Trekkie, bird watcher or stamp collector and you’ll get much the same, blank look. “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, review” may have something to do with it, but look at the reviews of some of the best reviewers and you’ll find, if not literature, then at least some well-crafted and carefully written prose. I’ve called it a “little act of creation” in the past (a turn of phrase that I would be quite proud of, were I sure that I was its originator) and to be sure it’s a great, low-pressure way to exercise one’s creative writing skills. My livelihood doesn’t depend on the review’s performance in the ratings, it will never be slated in the Times Literary Review and it doesn’t take a year of my life (and a small fortune in hard drugs) to write.
Above all, though, it’s fun. It really is.
Some of the reviews that I’m MOST proud of are the funny ones… or, at least, the ones that I think are funny. And quite a few reviewers get their kicks out of writing “spoof” reviews (look for the Amazon reviews of Veet For Men or seek out the work of one Wayne Redhart) and it’s clear that there are some frustrated (and quite talented) comedians on Amazon’s books.
Whatever the reason, the next time you’re buying from Amazon and you take a look at some reviews and you notice the button asking whether you found a particular review helpful, “Yes or No”, please click on it. You can be sure your vote is playing its part in massaging the ego of the next James Faulkner or Dorothy Parker.