Why is everything 'gripping'?


I was browsing through some Amazon reviews of a book I was thinking about buying and someone asked the question, 'Why are all books described as 'gripping' when many of them clearly aren't?' Reading this brought a wry smile to my face as I had also had this thought many times. This reviewer was referring to psychological thrillers but the overuse of the word 'gripping' extends far beyond this genre - I think it is applied to every single book type under the sun. Including all of mine - both my Rose Alexander titles and also my psychological thriller, The Missing Twin by Alex Day, are proudly declared to be 'gripping' on their Amazon listings.

Of course it goes without saying that these books are, indeed, gripping beyond measure - but when I saw the 'g' word being rolled out yet again for Under An Amber Sky I did question it with the publisher. And I was firmly told that it was necessary to describe it thus because this is how readers search for books.

So there we have it - to the reader who raised this issue in their review and to everyone else who's ever wondered about the ubiquity of the word 'gripping' - it's because it's the most frequently used search term by people looking for something to read. I picture hundreds of thousands of potential readers entering 'gripping book' or 'gripping read' into Amazon and sitting back as literally every book ever published in the last ten years scrolls up in front of them. Is this actually what happens? There was only one way to find out.

So, in the true pioneering spirit of empirical research, I tried it for myself. I know, the things I'm prepared to do for my blog, it's quite incredible.... Nervously, full of trepidation, I typed 'gripping book' into Amazon's search bar. A long list of books, nearly all psychological thrillers, materialised before me. And led me to the next question, to which I do not have an answer. How is the order in which they appear decided? The book at the top of the list had around 250 reviews -a really good number that most authors would die for, but there are many books with thousands of reviews. At the time I looked at it, it was sitting around number 400 in the overall kindle chart - so nowhere near the top selling spot. And so on. As I carryied on through the listings, the books that appeared were a mixture of best sellers, not best sellers, books with many reviews or few reviews, and books of varying prices, from free to nearly a fiver.

I simply have no idea how the Amazon algorithm works here. Are the books picked for me, ones that it thinks I will be interested in? Would someone else get a completely different list? If you know the answer to this, please do share.

And then, as I was concluding my research, in the middle of the darkly enticing book covers the colourful hues of A Very Hungry Caterpillar teething toy sang out. Anyone who's ever been bitten by a baby will know that to call their teeth 'gripping' is probably the most accurate use of the word there could possibly be.

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