J to tha M: On Reviews

How Important Are They, Really?

buying book reviews

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M: I was thinking about reviews

You know, how important are they versus how important we think they are.

J: Obviously, we like to know what people think

and if we don’t have a lot of reviews, we feel that either people aren’t buying or don’t care enough to review

M: But reviews have gone the way of so many things, it seems. All about the numbers

how many

how many 5 star

and I think they’re losing their effectiveness or purpose

the whole pay for reviews thing, or ask all your friends and relatives to give you five stars

promise something in return for reviews – money, prizes, whatever

that kind of defeats the purpose

so how do you get more reviews without diluting or invalidating them?

J: well, if you’re not promising cool stuff in return for the reviews, you gotta hope you’ve got something great that people want to talk about

M: yep

J: It’s really just a matter of abuse

taking a good system and exploiting it, twisting it to fit your needs

it’s kind of amazing that people go so far as to promise cool stuff in exchange for reviews. I don’t know if I could make myself do it. I mean, part of me doesn’t begrudge them the reviews. It’s hard enough as it is

but then I look at my small number of reviews and think “what could I do?”

and the answer is: write something better or promise cash and prizes

M: Some people probably really did feel the book deserved a high star rating and review, but how many felt pressured or thought it was expected, they either didn’t read the book at all or just wanted the reward or left an inflated review?

versus how many just needed the simple reminder or encouragement

J: well, you know my stance on offering prizes as opposed to flat out paying for reviews

offering a prize doesn’t guarantee a good review or even a review at all

while paying someone to write a bunch of different five-star reviews to post on amazon or goodreads is completely false

so I don’t exactly consider them the same level

even if, yes, people are more likely to review falsely or in an exaggerated manner to get a chance at the prize

it’s still not the same as having a bunch pre-prepared by a ghostwriter

M: I agree they’re not the same level, but anytime you offer something in exchange for a review, that’s where things start getting skeevy for me.

I know offering an incentive doesn’t guarantee a good review, but I think it influences one. Consciously or not

but my feeling is, to get thousands of reviews, people have to love your book. LOVE IT. talk about it all the time to everyone. And offering a contest or asking your friends for reviews isn’t going to get you to that level. Writing a book that appeals to a large number of people will.

J: as an author, the numbers would be great, but I’d just KNOW that they weren’t the real deal. How could I believe anything anyone said about my book?

it’s such a fluffy ego boost.

M: All these shenanigans have really undermined readers’ confidence and belief in reviews

J: the general consensus about anything anymore is “whatever it takes” and “laugh all the way to the bank”

M: there is that

I think there’s a lot of concentration on “how do I get more reviews for my book” and not “how do I get more readers.”

and while there is certainly a relationship, there is a difference

J: I think a lot of people look for shortcuts, whatever they may be

M: Absolutely.

J: I wonder sometimes if I’m just not cut out for the business side of it

and think if I’m going to keep writing, I need to just write, edit, publish

leave the rest out so I don’t get discouraged or angry

M: it’s a balancing act, for sure. Do what you can, what keeps you going, but know if you put something aside, you might have to change your goals

J: I’m starting to wonder if it’s possible to meet your goals without breaking some rules

M: It depends on your goals, doesn’t it?

J: It really does

What do you think about responding to reviews, even if it’s just to say thank you?

I’m kind of against it, even though I know the Internet changes rules all over the place

I think if people want a response, they should send a private message

do you think that’s ungrateful?

M: I don’t think it’s ungrateful.

The internet has changed so much. Some people want a separation between the author and the work, some don’t.

I’ve heard arguments on both sides, and I still don’t know

J: I’ve seen some people say in the same breath that it’s creepy the author can see their review but they don’t know why the author didn’t acknowledge it.

M: I like to be able to comment or review or whatever without that perceived pressure

but I also love hearing from people, whether they’re readers or writers, so…

I don’t know

J: well, I do make a point of answering personal messages

we put our contact info out there

I think if people want a response, they should contact me privately

M: oh, yes, absolutely. I always answer messages or notes

Even the “like” thing I’m kind of debating – I mean, what are the rules for that? Should we like every review, good and bad, because the person did take the time to read and comment, even if, as the author, we might not “like” the content

which brings up the subject of bad reviews. Not everyone is going to like what you write, and you have to accept that

J: and if you haven’t paid them to say they like it, you can better trust them, too

M: not everyone who leaves a bad review is an idiot, jealous ex-lover/writer/reader/birdwatcher who doesn’t know anything about anything ever and should just keep their opinions to themselves and not say anything if they can’t say anything nice.

Some, maybe, but really. Not all.

J: Word. I’m going to go do some birdwatching, I think.


About Jen Barry

Author of Young Adult novels. Reside in Nashville with my husband, a gorgeous Irishman. Drink too much coffee. Online way too much.

8 thoughts on “J to tha M: On Reviews

  1. It’s funny, I look at a site called rottentomatoes before seeing a movie, but I never look at book reviews before reading. Why not?
    1) I do think the lesser known authors have a lot are friends and family (if I could just get all MY friends and family to read!)
    2) I’ve read too many bad books that had good reviews
    3) I never post a review for a book I give less than 4 stars for. As an author I put so much time, effort & heart into my books, I fell bad leaving less than 4 stars. If others are like me, then that suggests a very skewed ratig
    4) Sometimes as authors we wonder WTF when people rate books. Did they really read MY book? I don’t have a yellow dog in my book? In fact, I have a 2-star rating on my book and the rating was posted 04/03 but I’m not sure how this happened since my book was not released until 04/27 and no comments were made.

    • Ensis says:

      I don’t know how well a star system works–precisely for teh reason you’re giving. If a book isn’t at least three stars, I won’t finish it. That’s why on my review site, I post pass-fail reviews based on how good the beginning is.

    • All very good points! I buy most of my books off recs from friends or reading an interesting blurb. I only occasionally look at reviews to check what people liked and disliked to see if it fits with my reading preferences. I mostly use the “send a sample” feature on Amazon, which to me is like leafing through a print copy to check style, content, dialog, grammar, etc. before I purchase an unknown or unsure of book. But it is interesting to me to see what other people, both readers and writers, expect from reviews and how they affect both. It’s an interesting subject, for sure, especially with all the current controversy.

  2. Ensis says:

    As a reviewer, I hope those for whom I review will respond to me because, although I sometimes say not-nice things to be funny, I always try to provide my criticism with the intent of helping authors improve, and I always try to say at least once nice thing about the book.

    On the other hand, I’m watching an exchange between a few indie authors who perceive negative reviews as a personal attempt to persecute them. I’m not so informed, being that I have no work out for public consumption, but I can’t help but wonder how much of their fears are grounded. What do you think?

    • Coming from a writer standpoint, it really sucks to get negative reviews. Howevah… Not everyone is going to like your book, no matter how wonderful it may or may not be. Readers bring their personal thoughts, ideas, experiences, and knowledge into the world created with them, so reactions will vary greatly. A few great reviews do not mean you are the next Fitzgerald, just as negative ones do not mean you should throw your laptop under the bus and never write another word again because you suck. I know when I get a bad review, I flail, stomp, and hold my breath, but when I breathe again, I try to take all the above into account. I learn from my bad reviews just as I learn from good ones, and I have to think there is some truth, but not all true, to both. Achieving that balance and awareness is so very difficult, though.

      I know there are trolls out there who delight in trashing a book, whether they read it or liked it or not, but for the most part, I think the negative parts of reviews must be taken into account, processed, and applied to the situation. It’s hard to be objective – so much more satisfying to cry about how wrong they are and how the reviewer must be jealous or just out to get you, because how could ANYONE think you work is not the bee’s knees, but, in my opinion, that helps no one. Take both good and bad with a grain of salt and a whole heaping pile of common sense. Try to be objective, learn what you can, apply it to your writing, and move on. Hard to do, but in my opinion, better than deluding yourself. Does that even make any sense?

  3. Jen Barry says:

    As for responding to reviews, I feel many readers view review sites and review blogs as safe spaces where they can share their own opinions. Whether that opinion is bad or good, it may not occur to them when posting that the author could read it. Even with a great review, the poster might feel their space has been violated when the author crashes in and leaves a response of some kind. I would never want to break that trust with a reader, so I make a point of only “liking” reviews from those I know personally – those who knew I’d see when they posted their words. I stay out of reviewers’ spaces otherwise. Perhaps my choice upsets some who hope for a response, for gratitude I certainly feel but won’t ever share, but I’m of the “better safe than sorry” school.

  4. kimmydonn says:

    I have had HORRIBLE luck soliciting reviews. I get on very long waiting lists (I’m still on a couple) or I get no response whatsoever. Pleas to my beta-readers for reviews have turned up empty. One of my novels has only one review, two-stars. It’s extremely discouraging. I know more reviews can/should lead to more readers, but I haven’t been able to get them.

    Of late, I’ve given up. I don’t think my target audience (teens) are reading the reviews as much as the moms and adults that browse Amazon. Teens read what their friends are reading. Getting my book into their hands will garner more readers than anything I can do online.

    Mostly, though, I’ve just decided I can’t game this system. I don’t have the right tools, the right personality, the right skills. I can write, I can enjoy writing and everything else is just a drain on me, so I’ve stopped doing any of it. I am not an example of what to do, I’m just too tired to do anymore.

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