Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Reviewing Reviews and Reviewers

Assuming that most of us are now purchasing novels on the Internet, whether ebook or tree book, the significance of a review is crucial. We are no longer influenced by a staff member’s pick of the week or the paid for book display at the front of the store. I asked several friends (there is not pretense here to being empirical) whether they read reviews that people write on Amazon and other book purchasing websites.

The answers I received were really interesting. When you passionately follow an author, you buy his/her new release without hesitation. In fact, while many people have some form of notification to alert them when an author releases a new piece of work, they are often found and targeted by the creepy Internet spiders. 

This happened to me when I recently saw a Facebook advert for the new Terry Pratchett novel. In the past, I had relied on a friend from Ireland (he attends Discworld conferences all over Europe) sending me a pigeon with a note attached.

When it comes to new authors, or rather authors that the reader has not read before, most of my friends told me that they absolutely read the reviews and these can have a big influence on whether they will try the book. This is not even a question of book price. Most of those I asked, were afraid to invest the small window of time that they have every day to sit and read, spent on something that was not good.

The other answer that I received was from people who only read books that their friends recommend. Word-of-mouth, even in the digital age, remains a powerful influencer. I find this strangely comforting.

No one told me that they bought a book because of a newspaper review or radio interview. I suspect that had this been non-fiction, this answer would have been more prevalent.

The issue I want to raise, however, is how ‘kosher’ are these reviews? I recently heard of a man who was making more than $20,000 a month generating reviews for authors. He was exposed for not having read the books, and accused of offering a five-star review for cash.

I have to admit, I have pondered on a lesser issue. When my next book comes out, I had thought to offer 10 or so ebooks to random people (via twitter) for free, with the understanding that they will leave an honest review and generate a solid collection of reviews on my Amazon page.

Would you be influenced by the fact that the author had given you the book? Certainly, I would expect my friends and family to feel the pressure. When a friend left a so-so review for A Gardener’s Tale, I was upset. Among multiple 4 and 5-star reviews, she alone had given me 3-stars. She takes herself very seriously and I don’t think for one minute that there was anything vindictive in her grading (what she wrote was fine).

Personally, I have never given a bad review. But I have, more than a few times, not left a review because I didn’t enjoy the book, or more likely put it down after a few chapters.

So, I will leave you with a couple of questions. Answer as many or few as you want.

1) Do you read customer reviews before purchasing a book?

2) What is your main resource for reviews? (word-of-mouth, Amazon, b&n, Smashwords etc.).

3) If an author gives you a copy of his/her novel, will you write an objective review?

4) Do you use websites that specifically offer book reviews such as Goodreads?

5) Why are there so many letters in the word – abbreviation? Just wondering if you read this far).

By the way – if you ever read A Gardener’s Tale or The Accidental Activist – please consider leaving a review!

I would love to hear from you. Have a great day,

Alon

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

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7 thoughts on “Reviewing Reviews and Reviewers

  1. I do read reviews before purchasing books – I use Amazon and Goodreads.

    Price is also a factor for me, however. If the book is $5 or less, I’ll give it a chance even if the reviews aren’t great. I don’t look at the “star” rating so much as the actual review content. I *despise* reviews that are pretty much just plot summaries. They tell me nothing about the quality of the book or what I may or may not like about it.

    When I write reviews, even if I didn’t personally enjoy the book, I try to think of the audience that might and make a recommendation based on that audience. For example: “I don’t read much post-apocalyptic fiction, and I found the slow pace of the book less than satisfying. However, I’ve read other PA fiction with similar pacing, so folks who enjoy that style of this genre will likely enjoy this book.” Because the only thing that annoys me more than a plot-summary-review is an I-hate-this-because-I-fundamentally-hate-x-review. For example: “This book sucks because it contains sex scenes, and I hate sex in my adventure novels.” Bully for you, but that review isn’t about the book, it’s about you.

    If I was given a book to review by a friend, and they asked me for an objective review, I would provide that. However, if I felt the review might be disappointing to them, I would share it with them ahead of time to see if they really wanted me to post it and to avoid surprises that can unintentionally hurt feelings.

    I can’t answer your abbreviation question, but I read to the end. Do I get a prize? 🙂

  2. 1) Sometimes, when I am branching out to new authors.
    2) Usually wherever I’m buying the book, Amazon or B&N.
    3) Objective? Yes. My review would not be influenced by knowing the author, or having the author gift me with a book. My reviews tend to be how I really thought about writing style, story, and would I purchase another book by the author.
    4) Sometimes
    5) There are more letters in the word comprehensive, I’m just sayin’.

  3. johnchapmanauthor on said:

    It’s a constant source of frustration that other books seem to have hundreds of reviews while our top ten book has 9. Reading the ‘hundreds’ reviews provides some clues. Lots of them are very short of the ‘Loved this book – couldn’t put it down’ and written by an anonymous person who has only written one book. If you are lucky they will simply re-word what the author has put in the book description. I ignore such a review, they are pretty worthless and probably written by the author or his friends and relatives. In some cases these are reviews paid for by the author.

    At the other end of the scale you’ll find equally short negative reviews with one or two star rating and again written by an annonymous person with a single review. Often the comments here are totally unjustified. I am left with the conclusion that they are written by someone with a grudge against the author or perhaps an author who wants to knock down a competing book – yes it does happen!

    The answer is only to consider those reviews which justify the opinions given. A good example of this would be to look at the hundreds of reviews for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ – Hundreds of short positive reviews but many detailed one star reviews explaining why the reviewer considers it such an awful book.

    Finally – never mind the abbreviations, consider the cruel person who put a ‘s’ in lisp.

  4. 1) Do you read customer reviews before purchasing a book? Yes I do. The only time I don’ t is if a friend has let me borrow the book.

    2) What is your main resource for reviews? (word-of-mouth, Amazon, b&n, Smashwords etc.). mostly amazon because I own a kindle

    3) If an author gives you a copy of his/her novel, will you write an objective review? Yes I will. It doesn’t help readers if I don’t. Even if I give a bad review, something I say in that review may make someone else want to read it. So i see bad and good reviews as a good thing.

    4) Do you use websites that specifically offer book reviews such as Goodreads? I do. I also use amazon, shelfari, smashwords

    5) Why are there so many letters in the word – abbreviation? Just wondering if you read this far). LOL because the world is full of irony

  5. 1) Do you read customer reviews before purchasing a book?

    Absolutely, but I would like to think that they don’t influence me as much as the description and the sample pages (if they exist).

    2) What is your main resource for reviews? (word-of-mouth, Amazon, b&n, Smashwords etc.).

    Word of mouth, by far.

    3) If an author gives you a copy of his/her novel, will you write an objective review?

    I would do my best, but I might be a little bit swayed by free book. I’ll be self-pubbing my first e-book soon, and I’m giving out copies for reviews.

    5) Why are there so many letters in the word – abbreviation? Just wondering if you read this far).

    Abbreviation is, itself, an abbreviation for “A brief method of shortening words in the field of aviation.”

  6. If it’s a book by an author whom I haven’t read before, reviews are definitely important. Stars are more important than reviews, for the most part; I’ll tend to read one positive and then look for one negative, and then see if I can agree with where the negative reviewer is coming from, or if his concerns just aren’t mine at all.

    If I do enjoy the author, I won’t even see the reviews unless it’s an unexpectedly low average for that work, such as under 3 stars.

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