Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Quest for a Good Review

Back in the old days, newspapers and magazines were the only place to read reviews about books. Publishers would send their upcoming releases to these publications and their paid reviewers would critique them.

These days, very few papers around the country even print book reviews. And why should they? Plenty of people are willing to write reviews for free: on blogs, on Goodreads, B&N.com and Amazon.

But how many of those reviews are actually "free?"

Everybody knows that friends of the author are going to write some of the reviews. But some authors, even big name, best selling authors, are finding elaborate ways to get good reviews for their books. For example:

  • For every 25 reviews posted to Amazon or B&N, J. Thomas Shaw, author of The Rx Factor, will give away a $25 gift card to the "person judged to have written the best review."
  • Then there are websites like Readers Favorite that provide reviews and awards for authors. You too can "Become an Award Winning Author."

I get that people want, okay, need, good reviews of their books. But it makes me highly suspect of any positive review. At least in a newspaper, you know that the writer was paid to give their opinion. These other tactics feel like scams because as a reader, you don't know up front which reviews are honest. Unless they only have one or two stars. I'm pretty sure no one pays for those.

What do you think? Does it make sense to run contests to bump up your positive reviews?

9 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I don't trust reviews. I know too many authors whose friends write sparkling reviews on Amazon and Goodreads even if they don't like the book. They're doing it to help their friend out, but it doesn't help me as a reader. I only trust word of mouth from my friends.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

I trust 3-star reviews. They are usually the sweet spot, and if I want to know what people generally think of my published books, the 3-star reviews are where I look. :) Paid reviews are just part of business. You can pay to get a starred review. I don't try to push for reviews, but I do like to have exposure for my books, and book reviewer blogs are a fantastic resource for that. That does, of course, involve reviews.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Stina: I agree that reviews from an author's friends are automatically suspect. And unless you know who those people are, it's hard to trust any review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Michelle: I agree that 3-star reviews tend to offer more realistic opinions on books. But I have to say I was surprised when I first heard that you could buy a starred review, even from a place like Kirkus. *sigh* I think book review blogs are great for exposure, but like Stina said, I trust word of mouth more than reviews.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Yep, word of mouth is fantastic, but to get that going, you have to get exposure, and that means things like reviews. Not solely reviews, though, so that's good. :)

Kristan Hoffman said...

Yuck. There's nothing illegal about doing those kinds of promotions, I suppose, but it's certainly a sticky area morally.

Like Michelle said, I tend to look at the 3-star reviews. (Actually, the 1-, 2-, and 3-star reviews.) I find those most helpful, because I can see what issues they had with the book and determine whether or not I'm likely to have those issues (or whether or not I can put up with them).

Word of mouth from friends is my #1, but an overall rating from GoodReads combined with skimming some low reviews on both GR and Amazon serves as a pretty good guide for me personally.

So yeah, incentivizing people for good reviews wouldn't have too much impact on me.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Like Michelle above, I find that 3-star reviews tend to give a balanced view. To be honest, I generally skim the reviews for content, rather than whether the review writer enjoyed that content or not. I want to know what's IN the book, because I may not have the same taste as a reviewer.

For example, I recently saw a book that interested me, based on the cover and blurb. I thought it was a gothic mystery. But the reviews revealed that the mystery turned out to involve werewolves -- something not mentioned in the promo material. I didn't want a werewolf story. I didn't buy.

Laura Pauling said...

I'd like to say that it's mostly word of mouth on how I buy books but lately it hasn't been. I do rely on reviews before purchasing; and, of course, reading the sample pages. That's how I really know.

I tend to ignore the 1 and 2 star reviews because usually the book just wasn't a fit for the reader. But I make purchase decisions based on the 3 and 4 star reviews. I didn't buy the 3rd book in a top selling trilogy because of the reviews. I decided it wasn't worth it. I also didn't buy a highly buzzed book because of the number of 3 star reviews it got and they all said the same thing. I decided I could wait.

I do look at what the reviewer says, what bugged them, what they liked because I know what I like and don't like in a book and many times I'm willing to overlook the flaws.

My questions is: how is this any different from bloggers running contests where you have to follow them? It leads to bloated numbers and a lot of followers that don't actually follow the blog. But why do bloggers do it? For exposure. Because no one will like their blog or their book unless people that enjoy it are willing to spread the word.

The reason I do trust reviews is that after reading a book I go back and look at reviews and for the most part the readers do get it right, barring the extremes.

Again, it's the sample pages that mean the most to me.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Michelle: Reviews do provide exposure. I just think readers have to know they can't take them at face value.

Kristan: I agree that it's a sticky area. Like you, I read the low reviews to see if they're just hating on the book or the author or if they have valid reasons for not liking the book.

Dianne: Good point -- the reviews CAN tell you more about the actual story than the blurb.

Laura: Bloggers running contests that require following and tweeting and whatever other host of promotion are annoying, too. But there's a big difference: you usually aren't buying anything from those blogs. If you're spending money on a book that got six hundred good reviews, wouldn't it bother you to find out that ninety-five percent of those people wrote the good review because they were trying to win a trip? It makes the review seem not as honest, not as heartfelt, if they were just trying to make it sound good so the author would pick them as the winner.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Absolutely. :)

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