Tuesday, November 02, 2021

A random observation about reviews

by Rick Blechta

My post last week dealt with getting reviews for one’s book. It’s common knowledge that reviews make or break books, and getting reviewed by someone influential or in an influential publication, are the best kind. That’s logical, right? But getting your book in the hands of one of these people remains a significant issue, unless you’re a best-selling authors. Everyone else is left to scramble — and hope at winning the review lottery.

As last week progressed, my thinking about my post continued. How reliable are reviews on social media and websites? So I did a bit of poking around.

My highly unscientific conclusion is that reviews on Amazon and web retailers of that ilk tend to be more positive than not. Yes, there are one-star reviews, but these tend to be outliers, some by those with an obvious ax to grind. I randomly chose several dozen titles and tabulated the aggregate review numbers. The only criteria I used in making my list was that the book had to have 20 or more reviews. Seventy-three percent were 3+ stars or better. Not of all of the titles I looked at were by recognized authors or authors published by recognized houses. There were also some self-published titles (22).

It’s easy enough to get friends to write a review for one’s books, and I doubt if these people would give you a bad review. Everyone wants to help their friends after all. This goes for traditionally published authors as well as self-published ones.

But in doing my spot of research another thought occurred to me: with the exception of those reviewing friends’ books, there is likely an unintentional bias in the purchase of books which are then reviewed by non-professional reviewers. Think about that a bit. We tend to purchase books we think we might enjoy reading. Speaking for myself, I’m not about to lay out some hard-earned cash to buy something I probably won’t enjoy. Who would? Reading books is not at all like taking medications your doctor prescribes!

So how do you know if you’re ever getting the straight goods on a book? Did someone purchase the reviews? Were friends recruited? How accurate are they?

Geez, this whole review thing is a lot more complicated now than it’s ever been.



Anna said...

Good points, Rick, but does a reviewer have to be professional to be worthy? As a lifelong experienced reader, I can read a review by a similarly experienced reader and see what points that reviewer makes that will help me form an opinion and perhaps read the book--or not. It's a little like taking a book recommendation from a friend whose reading tastes I know and respect.

As for the ax-grinders, I think there are two kinds: those who object on the basis of religious or political views contrary to their own (all too common) and those who find serious defects of plausibility or fact in a book that purports to be authentic. The latter problem appeared in a book by a best-selling author (one of my favorites, in fact, and I still admire her). I had to scroll way way down to find one-star reviews by other readers who had noticed the same issue. None of the professional reviews I read mentioned it.

Rick Blechta said...


Certainly not (does a reviewer have to be a professional)! However, professionals are expected to comment up to a certain standard, and readers reviewing books sometimes let their biases get in the way of a fair review. Which leads us eventually to the ax-grinders (at the far end of that spectrum).

Actually, there are also the people who give bad reviews just to be mean. They get off on it and while an author can brush these sorts of reviews off (or should be able to), they can be really soul-sucking.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Judy Penz Sheluk said...

I read reviews, including every review of my own books. I always check Goodreads, vs. Amazon, because Amazon will often not allow reviews unless it's a verified purchase (hello, there are things called libraries). Now, I view reviews differently for authors that are in the NYT Bestseller stratosphere by way of a Reese's Book Club pick or an author that has a big series. For those, I will only read the 2-star and 3-star reviews (the 1-stars as you say are just axe grinders). The 5-and even 4-stars are usually folks that will rate anything in these categories as a 5 or 4. If there is a constant theme in those reviews (stick a pin in this series, it's done, for example), I trust that opinion.
Now for a lesser known author, maybe one that someone tells me about, those usually have fewer reviews and so I'll scroll through all of them for an idea. If the constant theme is something like "worth the read," I'll chance it.
So...that's my POV on reviews.
As for reviewers (newspaper etc). I don't know a single one that will consider an indie-published title. Those spots are for the authors who really don't need the press but get it anyway.

Sybil Johnson said...

I don't read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, not for my books or any others. I also don't read reviews of movies. Amazon's review policy seems to be all over the place. Some people's reviews disappear for no apparent reason (maybe that's the verified purchase policy coming in). I've also heard that authors writing reviews for books (even good ones) are often taken down because they are "competition."

The only reviews I do read of my own books are ones that are part of a blog tour. For other books I'm considering reading, especially in the cozy field, I'll look at a few reviewers that seem to like the same kind of books I do. I won't go out and buy the book right away, but I'll check it out.

The only reviews to me that seem to be important are the ones in journals that librarians read. Several librarians have told me that they make purchases for libraries based on reviews on these journals.

Judy Penz Sheluk said...

I find that interesting, Sybil, that you don't read your own reviews. I always feel that if the person has taken the time (and usually, the money) to read my book and then take more time to write a review, then I should take (or make) the time to read what they've written (even if it's not favourable). That's just my opinion, of course. As for journals, I don't know what those are, but I'd like to.

Sybil Johnson said...

Judy, I don't read my reviews because they cause me too much anguish. If they make one tiny comment that is negative I will dwell on that for days and even months. It's not healthy for me. I WILL however, read reviews that are part of my book's blog tour.

Sybil Johnson said...

Regarding journals, I probably didn't use that word very well. I think one of the ones the librarians look at is called The Library Journal. I'd have to research others.

Judy Penz Sheluk said...

Thanks Sybil, I'll look into that. As for your angst, we have to protect our mental health first and foremost. It is certainly all too easy for someone to say horrid things that would never say to your face. A sad statement of fact.

Sybil Johnson said...

For the record, I do appreciate it when people write reviews of my books. I guess I think of them more for fellow readers than the author.