Wednesday, September 5, 2012

IWSG: Juiced Book Reviews

It's the first Wednesday of the month,

As writers, there’s probably nothing that makes us more insecure than bad reviews.  After all, public humiliation is torture when you’re working hard to cull a following and fan base.  As an author whose book is primed for release in a few short weeks, I worry endlessly, but I also know this business is hyper-subjective. 

As a reader, I’m exceptionally particular and put down far more books than I keep reading.  I know the same thing will happen to my book, that there will likely be many who dislike it for whatever reason.  I can’t exactly say I’m okay with that, yet, when I received my first 3-star rating this week on Goodreads, I was surprised by how little it stung.

Sure, part of it was because it was my first and all the others are 5 stars.  And part of it was because she only rated it.  I would have invested far more stock in her opinion if she, as a Goodreads librarian, had reviewed it, as well.  And although she does read widely, she still reads and rates primarily romance, which my book is not.  But still, I thought it would hurt a lot more than it did.

I’m not one of those authors who will rate my own work.  I find that a little…I don't know...narcissistic perhaps.  I was recently warned by a blogger friend that one of my Goodreads followers was a fellow writer who often slams other authors and their books on Goodreads and Amazon.  When I checked him out though, I deduced that he was probably just a disgruntled writer, jealous of others’ success.  So yeah, the source of the review matters to me.

Now we have this whole controversy of authors juicing their Amazon rankings with less-than-legitimate reviews.  The first I’d ever heard of anything along these lines was just a few weeks ago.  My friend and fellow author, Lisa Regan, asked my advice about an interview she was going to post on August 16th with best-selling British thriller author, David Kessler.  While she was excited to go one-on-one with an author she admires and whose books she enjoys, she was also a bit concerned by the advice he was advocating to other authors: 

Do not let anyone lecture you about ‘ethics’ and the integrity of reviews.  Get all your friends to review your books and if they are too lazy, write the reviews for them and get them to use their ID's to publish them. (Throw in a few four star reviews as well and maybe even a single three star review that is only mildly critical - and get all of them to vote that each others reviews are helpful).

But this was not the last I heard on this topic. On August 25th, NY Times columnist David Streitfeld published this article about Todd Rutherford and how he'd been contracted to write and publish over 4,500 counterfeit book reviews on his website, now defunct.  Then on the 28th, Porter Anderson covered the controversy, as well, on agent Jane Friedman’s blog, exposing the fact that self-pub phenom, John Locke, had actually paid people to buy his books and write reviews.  And then again on Sunday morning, September 2nd, author James Scott Bell posted about what the “Paid For Reviews Scandal Means for the Future” on The Kill Zone website and how “Andrew Shaffer compares these paid-for reviews to the doping scandal in sports.”

This whole debacle has left a bitter taste in my mouth.  While we authors dearly want success and for everyone who reads our books to love them and write glowing reviews, those desperate enough to commission spurious analyses serve only to contaminate and impair the very resource designed to assist them.  It creates mistrustful readers who will be much less likely to purchase based on posted reviews. 

Perhaps this behavior is in reaction to those folks who post equally-illegitimate bad reviews on books they’ve not even read.  But I think those reviews are transparent and that the average reader can see through the malicious nature in which it was composed. 

I, for one, believe my work should stand on its own merits and face whatever valid criticism arises, good or bad.  But even saying this, I can tell you, I rarely buy books based on reviews.  I read the jacket copy and perhaps the first page or chapter and decide from there whether it’s a good fit for me.

What about you…do you buy books based on customer ratings and reviews, and will this baring of the truth affect how you make your future book purchases?  

(Sorry for the atrocious length of this post, but I felt it was an important subject for the IWSG.)


mooderino said...

I don't pay much attention to reviews, although I do write them on Goodreads, but that's more for my own amusement. I doubt anyone actually reads them.

Moody Writing

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I usually don't pay much attention to reviews. If there are a lot of average to poor ones, I'll read some, but I usually make my own decision.
I could never rate my own books. I haven't even added my last one to my own shelf for fear it would look egotistical!
Take the three star and smile - hey, that person read your book, right? And once it's out, that means people are paying to read your book, even if they don't think it's awesome. Cool, huh?

Natalie Aguirre said...

I had no idea this was going on Nancy. Thanks for sharing about it. That's terrible if people pay others for reviews.

I don't have a book out to be reviewed. I hope I'd take them with a grain of salt, knowing how subjective they are. But more likely, the negative ones would sting.

JeffO said...

I don't pay too much attention to reviews. I hear about books from other people, recommendations from friends or on blogs or forums. I'll check out the books, and I'll read a few reviews, but generally, if the book is recommended by trusted sources, I'm not likely to let reviews sway me.

Regarding your three-star review (and I'll open my mouth and insert my foot and say I may blog about this topic): the only thing wrong with a three-star review is we're too used to 5-star reviews. A 3-star review is a solid review. It's not what we want, of course. We want 5-stars, but five stars almost seems like the default rating these days. We're so used to seeing them, that anything less looks bad. Nothing wrong with three stars at all.

My advice (easy to give, since I'm not in your position): don't look at the reviews at all.

E. Arroyo said...

I heard about this. I would encourage people to post honest reviews, whether they be friends or family. But I hope that I won't become a review junkie once my book comes out. I don't purchase books based on reviews of people I don't know. I think most people are the same way.

Stina said...

I don't, because the person reviewing the book isn't necessarily someone who likes what I like. Also, I don't put much stock in them because of something I've witness through my local RWA chapter. Members will write great reviews for other members (and like the book), even though they might not actually like the book or have read it. This is a huge problem with the self published group. And they constantly ask for the reviews. I quit following the forum loop because the practice sickens me.

Another reason not to trust the reviews is because friends of the author will give positive reviews, even if they didn't like the book (much like the above situation). With all of this going on, it's hard to trust the reviews. And that's why I trust my friends' suggestions more than I do the reviews.

Unknown said...

Nope, pay no attention to reviews or ratings when to comes to books or movies. I tend to buy up everything an author that I like does and the same way with movies---the directors, producers and actors. I am very loyal once I find someone I like.

Siv Maria's blog, Been there, done that...

Cassie Mae said...

I don't read reviews at all, lol. Unless they are on my googlereader and it's for a friend, most of the time. I read the back of the book and the first few pages to judge if I'll be into a book or not. And even still, I won't say it's sucktackular if it's not my thing. I'll rate books on Goodreads, but only if I really like them. I don't finish a book unless I really like it, so my opinion wouldn't be fair if I were to rate or review the books I didn't finish.

As for the author part, I'm a bit in shock. There's no way I would write a glowing review for myself, haha! I'd probably end up saying, "Besides that typo on page 26, it was good." LOL.

Lisa Regan said...

Well I always read the reviews. Mostly on Amazon. The only time I won't buy a book is if ALL the reviews are bad. And when I say bad, I mean 1 and 2 stars. If it's an even split between 1-2 stars and 3-5 stars I like that best because I want to draw my own conclusions. I am somewhat suspicious of books that only have positive reviews. I mean come on, not every one likes everything. I've not bought books because the reviews were ALL positive too. I mean first and foremost I have to be interested in the book's plot and premise before I even get as far as reviews but I always read some of them. I read the first 2 positive ones and the first 2 negative ones. also I've found that sometimes the negative reviewers are complaining about stuff that has nothing to do with the reading experience--like the cover or the characters' names or something. That's why I read them--to see what people are really saying. I disagree with the juiced review practice of course. I worked for nearly a decade to get this book into readers' hands, I want to know what people REALLY think. Of course if I had a friend or family member who loved it and thought it was the best book ever, I'd ask them to post a review but I wouldn't keep after them or write it for them. I don't see why people who enjoy your book should be excluded from writing reviews just because they know you or are related to you though. That's silly. Besides that, I can always tell the family and friends who REALLY love it and those who are just being polite. The ones who gush and talk and talk about it clearly really did love it. The ones who say, "It was good" with a tight smile on their faces--not so much. LOL. Great post! Very thought-provoking.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'll glance at the overall star rating, but that's about it.

Three stars isn't bad, although it feels like it, because to me that says average and 'eh.' But one of my first books had a 3 star review and the reviewer still had really nice things to say about it. So I learned not to worry about it.

Weaver said...

I like your attitude, Nancy, and I agree that a 3 isn't bad. I loved Beth Revis's blog post about keeping ratings in persepctive and the wonderful list she provided of classic books and their ratings.

Melissa said...

I do base a large part of my decision on reviews, mostly because I shop online and can't 'pick up the book.' BUT. I focus on the 2- to 4-stars. While some 5s and some 1s may be valid, they are often either pumped up, promotional fluff or (in the case of 1s) unnecessarily-harsh digs or opinions in the minority.

Another thing I look at that helps me judge how much weight to give reviews is the reader's other reviews. If it's a 5-star and it's their only review, I dismiss it as family, friends, or even an author alter ego posting a falsely high review.

People who follow my reviews know they can trust me to be fair and not hold back if a book is bad. I rarely give 5-stars, but when I do, they can take it to the bank. (I don't do this under my pen name, btw.)

I agree with you that most people, if they take the time, will see reviews for what they are. Most times I see trends in what was likeable or not, and that is what I go by -- would the flaws cited make me not want to read the book. If there's a 5-star/1-star split (a love it or hate it book), then I just have to read the comments, decide which end I'd likely side with and take a chance.

Great post!
#IWSG #177 (Until Alex culls the list again. :P)

Kirsten said...

This is a great topic and worth every word you've written on it.

I don't place much value on reviews, though I find it pretty easy to distinguish between a well thought out review and a bunch of words designed to fluff up ratings. I know what I like to read, and I can usually tell whether something would appeal to me from the jacket, the cover, (yes, covers matter!) and the first chapter.
As for soliciting reviews from people, I don't know if I could honestly review something if I knew the writer was looking over my shoulder, much less write my own reviews. (Yuck ...) I would feel that my review was biased if the writer was a blog buddy, and might even be reviewing my book someday. Can anyone be truly honest, if they know the writer of the book personally?
OTOH, if I loved the book, I would probably be post a review without any prompting at all! So congrats on the five star reviews you've gotten. Those are the ones that really count!

cleemckenzie said...

This has bothered for a while, Nancy. I've been told by some authors that they either don't review or they lie because they don't want backlash. Well, ptweey to that. If reviews only say "nice" things then why bother with them at all?

My philosophy (Don't nod off, okay?) is: there's always something good to say about a piece of writing and the reviewer should be able find that; then they should be honest with how the book struck them. That doesn't mean "nasty, rude, mean sprited"--just honest. Sorry. Didn't mean to go on, but you touched on something that's I obviously have strong opinions about. Thanks for the post.

Karen Elizabeth Brown said...

I cringed when I received a three star rating, but there again, it didn't come with a written review. Now it's been a while and I find myself having difficulties believing in myself as a writer. But it was an honest rating and no one paid them to make it. I think I'd rather have that 3 star rating then a bunch of fake 5 stars. That's just wrong. And we will go on with our writing!

Andrew Leon said...

I could make a long response to this post, but, really, as much as I talk about the necessity of honest reviews on my blog, it's probably all redundant at this point. I'll just say that the purchasing of 5-star ratings/reviews sickens me.

Most of my book purchasing comes from authors I already like or from recommendations from people I trust. Sometimes, it will be from books that just keep coming up and coming up and I figure I should check it out.

Reviews/ratings can be very subjective, and I mean in how they are received. I recently got a 3-star rating from someone, but, when I looked over her book list and saw that virtually every book on it was a 1 or 2 star rating, I became ecstatic. A 3, from her, was pretty high praise. So, yeah, it's important to take in the source.

I have to ask, am I the person you were warned about? heh

Liza said...

I rarely read reviews. Like you, I read the jacket copy, or the first paragraph to decide. There is a big ethics issue here, and I'd have a hard time living with myself if I bought reviews, or otherwise falsified feedback. I feel confident that your work will stand on its own.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for visiting my blog earlier today... While I skim through reviews, I don't let them influence my reading decisions much. And I often don't even look at reviews until I'm done with a book. I must say, I am suspicious of books with too many over-the-top gushing 5-star reviews.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Oh, the fake review thing has been around a LONG time. I used to be a member of Amazon Vine, and when I hung around the boards there, I heard all kinds of stuff ... not only fake and paid-for reviews, but plagiarized reviews, and authors getting their friends to write bad reviews of competing books, etc.

Of course, the Amazon Vine reviewers were just as bad. They actually stalked each other, voting their rivals' reviews "unhelpful" in an attempt to manipulate the reviewer rankings.

Ugh. I quit. It was just too slimy over on the Amazon boards!

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Nancy
It's too bad that some don't respect the review process. I've given my books away and asked for an honest review, that is different. Not everyone took the time to do so.

LTM said...

I tell you what, if Goodreads doesn't get its act together, that site's going to be in some serious trouble. I've been hearing about all sorts of schenanigans over there.

I'm glad you've learned to rise above less than stellar reviews. I can only imagine they do sting. :o| <3

M Pax said...

These days I pretty much only buy the books of friends or books that have been recommended or what's hot in my genre.

I let my reviews grow organically. I made plans with one person ahead of time to review my fall release. But that's it.

No matter who you are, you're going to get some bad reviews.

So maybe they juiced their reviews, but is that what sold and keeps selling the books? Probably not.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Holy cow, what does this say about us? Fake reviews. Makes me want to stop reading them. Who can you trust if you can't trust the reviewer to be honest and give his unbiased opinion? This makes me sad. Thanks for pointing it out, Nancy. I don't particularly like giving a review to a book I didn't enjoy. Hence, I haven't done many. But that way, when I do give a 5-star it's because I truly believe the author deserves it. I will give a 4-star if it's well done but needs a few tweets. In the end, it's only my opinion.

I hope I can tell by now whether a reviewer is seriously enthusiastic about the book. Really, if they're excited you should be able to tell. If it's them filling in the blanks with the usual cliche metaphors, I wonder. But in the end, it's the synopsis that draws me to the book. If however, your review is bad, then I'd read the first chapter. Because while I know we all have our own likes and dislikes, I respect certain reviewers and would consider their 3-star carefully.

I guess it's the cover first, then the blurb, then the synopsis, and then the reviews. If there are 50 and 45 reviewers hated it, I'd read the first chapter.

Sorry for being so lengthy. Too much going on today.

Carrie Butler said...

Never fear, future readers! I am poor and cannot afford fluff-reviews, anyway. ;) Seriously, that’s just… mindboggling. Thanks for shedding some light on the subject, Nancy!

Anonymous said...

I was also covering all this drama this past weekend. Personally, I don't have time to write many reviews on Goodreads, ect . .. so I only star the books I've read and only the ones I feel are a 4 or 5 at that. I think it's shady business asking all your friends to write reviews on Amazon. I want people to write reviews b/c they're excited about my book, not b/c I'm harassing them about it!I will say that I do read book blog reviews allllllll the time and it's the only source I get my TBR from anymore:-)

Luanne G. Smith said...

I have so many issues with all these stars and reviews and ratings. Half the time I don't even pay attention because I just assume they're rigged. If, however, a book has lots and lots of people who've chimed in to say it's good over time then I'm more likely to believe it.

However, it's also common to see someone leave a one star review on Amazon because they didn't get their book delivered fast enough to suit them. :)

Heather M. Gardner said...

I don't base my decision on others reviews. Even if they are my friends. I like to make my own judgements.

Great post.

Aimée Jodoin said...

I started writing a comment about book reviews (since I am both a book review blogger and I work for a magazine that writes book reviews) but it got way too long to be a comment. I'll be writing a post about it later. :)

Congrats on your good reviews!

Mark Murata said...

Don't apologize for the length of the post. It was . . . stunning.

As I already said on Leigh T. Moore's blog, actual extortion goes on at consumer websites. Some troublemaker will demand a free meal from a restaurant, and if he doesn't get it, he'll write a post trashing that restaurant.

You can imagine the equivalent on book review sites -- post a glowing review of my book, or I and my posse with trash your book. These sites MUST come up with ways to police themselves.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I'll get this right eventually. Here's the real link:

Arlee Bird said...

I don't hold much stock in online reviews. I find it pretty easy to separate the useful ones from the reviews that don't really review anything or provide any good information.

As for bad reviews I happily take a few so long as I have good ones to counterbalance them. Actually I find the bad reviews to usually be more fun than the positive ones.

Wrote By Rote

Catherine Noble said...

I choose my books based on a) the synopsis, then b) the opening extract.

I have absolutely no faith in reviews, but I still read them. I can't help it, I always go to the "1 star" section and see what people are moaning about. I don't believe a word they've written, and always suspect an alterior motive!

Recently, an author was caught an absolute cracker, for writing malicious reviews about a fellow author's work. I don't know how he can ever live it down!

There are talks of putting a "code of ethics" in place, but I think everyone should just learn to trust their own judgement.

Excellent #IWSG post, Nancy, one of my favourites this month! :)

V. L. Smith said...

These days I buy very few physical books. I'm either getting an audiobook (I do a lot of driving) or I'm buying for my Kindle. In both cases, I can get a sample of the material before I buy it. If I look at reviews at all, it is in a cursory manner at best. Reviews only come into play when I am not sure if the premise is actually going to interest me.

I have bought self-pubbed digital books with only five reviews that I truly enjoyed. I have bought traditionally published paper books with hundreds of reviews that made my internal editor beg for mercy. I have watched multiple renditions of movies the reviewers hated but I loved, in spite of all their imperfections.

From my perspective, the review system has been suspect from the beginning. Of course your mom is going to write a glowing review of your book and probably neglect to mention her relationship to you. And yes, your competition may decide to play dirty and slam the book. Some form of that by-play has been going on since publishing began. It's just easier, and safely anonymous, in the digital age. I don't mean to excuse the behavior, far from it, but I don't see a ready fix for it, either. All I can say is, if your must put your faith in reviews, read them carefully!

PK HREZO said...

Wow I had no idea all this was going on. What a headache. I never read reviews on books or movies. If I like the cover and blurb, or a friend recommends it, I go for it. Reviews only give me a pre-conceived notion that I don't want.

Anonymous said...

As you know, I posted on this very subject yesterday, but from a slightly different angle having not been published. I think for every book published, you can accept that a few of the reviews are going to be from family and friends. It's natural that they would want to read our work and then leave a glowing review. This though should be pretty even if everyone has a loved one that does this. I know I'd leave a glowing review if my child for instance had a book published. It's the rest of it that I think has everyone talking. Personally like you and most others, I don't take on board the reviews, I look at the cover, read the blurb, maybe read the first page etc. If it's an author I love anyway, I don't even do that, I tend to just read it.

Though most of us say not much stock is taken in reviews, I think it is the deceitful nature that some have been put up that has got the industry talking.

I wish you lots of luck with yours and hope for many good and balanced reviews!

LynnRush said...

So sad about the review issues going on. I read reviews a little, but mostly go on the back cover blurb. If it sounds interesting I'll get the book. :)

Empty Nest Insider said...

There are so many different factors that probably go into these reviews. I've read many mediocre books that have received wonderful reviews, and I still don't understand how that is possible. The bottom line is that we have faith in you, and we know that The Mistaken will be a success! Julie

Marta Szemik said...

I usually buy books based on recommendations and my own search through the book. It's rare that I won't read the sample. If I like the sample, I'll probably buy it.

Alexis Bass said...

I hardly pay attention to online reviews. Even if I'm tuning into a book blogger - I first check to see if they liked a few of my favorite books to make sure they're trust worthy. haha! Great post!

Ciara said...

I don't want to rate my own books. Actually, I feel a little creepy about it. The first book I put out I think one of my fellow authors told me to rate it as an author, but I can't remember if I did. As far as friends and family, I'm not an advocate of writing your own reviews, but I have no problem reminding people that reviews help. It's part of the business. I never direct what kind of review, though. I encourage them to say the good, bad, and ugly. As a reader, I find anything less insulting and cheating to readers. Readers are our customers, so if you cheat customers it's going to bite you in the ass some day. IMHO.

David Kessler said...

Just a quick clarification of my statement in the interview with Lisa Regan

You write: "I, for one, believe my work should stand on its own merits and face whatever valid criticism arises, good or bad."

I agree one hundred percent, although in the past I have made the mistake of getting into arguments with reviewers whom I thought were being unfair.

But the real problem many writers face in this intensely crowded market is not one of getting bad reviews but rather one of being ignored altogether. Reviews raise a book's public profile and get it to the attention of potential readers who might otherwise live and die without ever becoming aware of its existence.

I tried an experiment recently in which I published an eBook under a pen-name and did NOT arrange for reviews. Guess how many reviews it got - good and bad? None! Guess how many copies it sold in three months? None!

Then I did a free giveaway (in which 219 people took it and after that one person bought it.

You might speculate that perhaps it was a very bad book. Actually it probably was - and it was the cannibalized by-product of an even worse one that had actually been published years before by a major British publisher (so much for publisher's discernment and quality standards). But if the new book was so bad, then why then did no one give it a bad review?

You also write: "But even saying this, I can tell you, I rarely buy books based on reviews. I read the jacket copy and perhaps the first page or chapter and decide from there whether it’s a good fit for me."

Again - that's exactly my point. The "cheating" reviews get the book recommended or pushed up to the top of the page - but the reader can read the description and even look inside to decide if they actually think it worth reading.

Golden Eagle said...

I decide whether or not to read a book based on the blurb or recommendations from other people. I'll look at a book's rating, but I rarely read reviews (unless it's of a book I didn't like, in which case I'll be curious what other people saw in the story).