Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Would You Buy a Book Based on This Review?

As an author, I pay attention to reviews—to an extent. A review in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and other professional publications is one thing—but the customer reviews on Amazon and other sites are quite another. Which ones are valid and which should be ignored? I have a few suggestions.

Be wary of any book that gets only five-star reviews. They were likely all written by friends and/or relatives. Watch out for the “sock puppets”—reviews written under fake names, usually by authors attacking other authors. It's easier than one might think to set up bogus accounts just to take a shot at another author's work without, as one author suggested in her blog, the risk of retaliation. And definitely be on the lookout for reviews, positive or negative, that are poorly-written. These reviewers are not the best judge of a book's literary merit.

Here's an example of a rare review from a reviewer who appears to be barely able to write a grocery list. Would you buy a book on her recommendation? (I've omitted book titles and author and reviewer names in all examples except my own.)

For a first novel that (author) wrote I think it was a great novel. It showed romance between two strangers that then learned to love each other deeply (main characters). To me (author) gave great description of each character and helped me get a perfect picture of how they looked. I enjoyed this novel very much because each chapter that I read was interesting and entertaining that helped me imagine everything that was happening like if i was there. The fact that it was double spaced made it easier for me to read and I liked that. Also even though it was short chapters it made me want to read more because (author) knows how to keep the reader hanging wanting to know what's going to happen next.I am now waiting for the second sequel of this amazing novel that I hope it is soon to come out. (Author) did an amazing job writing this book for a beginner. I hope she goes really far with her novel to show her fans the amazing author she is becoming as she goes on with her talent as a writer.

It was followed by this review. The reviewer in this instance was understandably unhappy that he'd been misled by the previous rave review....

I have been trying to find out more about the author after receiving the book yesterday. Haven't had much this a young author?? Middle school, high school?? If a young girl wrote the book, then I understand the double spaced copy, numerous grammatical errors, misspellings, omissions, poor word usage. The dialogue and repetitive word choice leads me to believe a young person wrote the book, and if this is the case I would have had different expectations and perhaps my review would have a more positive tone. If this is the work of an adult, I am at a loss. The reviews listed were all very positive which is why I purchased the book. I can't bring myself to continue reading it and am quite disappointed. If you are looking for a mature novel, this isn't it. I have learned to be a little more skeptical of the reviews in the future when looking for my next great read.

The following review was written by someone claiming to be an English teacher. The review is for one of my all-time favorite novels, which was an international bestseller. It was so long-winded, I had to condense it to a few of the reviewer's more glaring mistakes....

(The author) writes in a flat, unentertaining way... as though he expects his readers to be struggling with English, like an 8 year old forced to read this at school...characters are as flat, unlikeable and unbelievable as a 4 year old's superhero comic book, used as toilet paper and then unfolded to be read again. Imagine that twin daughters are *polite coughing* evil and good, in the extreme...yet their family is completely unaware of this, for decades. Imagine a wealthy playboy who goes around raping, beating, and sodomizing wealthy women... but goes unjailed, unnoticed, and undisciplined. Having difficulty imagining this? Blame (the author), who thinks you've got the intelligence of the average preschooler.

(The author's) plots are as unbelievable as a 1950s cigarette ad claiming "not a cough in a carload". In this particular book (small spoiler alert), imagine how you'd feel after reading near the beginning that a white man and a black man in 1800s South Africa could be fairly good friends, without a hint of racism. Now break with reality again, and imagine that two people without tools could pick up enough diamonds on a beach (yep...diamons, lying around on a beach?!) in a few hours could collect enough wealth to compete against--and topple-- a millionaire who has 40 guys searching that SAME beach every day, all day, for years.

Notice that above and below this book review are 11 pages of shills and clacquers, using !!!exclamation points!!!, CAPITAL LETTERS, catchy lines...and all giving this crappity book 10/10 stars. Clearly, Amazon has not done enough to keep out the marketing weenies who are posing as real, unbiased readers as they try to sell this steaming heap of rotting firewood to an unsuspecting audience.
And then there's my very own sock puppet! In spite of the reviewer's unimaginative alias, it wasn't too hard to figure out who had written it. From the nonexistent profile to the lack of any other reviews to the brilliant writing (double commas, inappropriate caps and lack of analytical observations), it has “bogus” stamped all over it!

And for the record, the photographer is not a hippie.

Self-made billionaire meets hippie photographer in Earthquake; falls ridiculously in love, never gets the guts to tell his wife,, etc.. Oh, and the Earth is going to be destroyed by a returning asteroid,,etc..A little lame..

Don't get me wrong. I believe every reader has the right to express his or her opinion of any book, movie, etc. But.... My question to you is this: have you ever received bad reviews written by someone who seems barely literate? Have you ever bought a book based on customer reviews? If so, do you give any credence to reviews that are full of spelling and grammatical errors? 



  1. Norma, I'm just now discovering the beauty, and perils, of reader reviews. I think I've decided to adopt the old spy motto of, "Trust no one." :-)

    1. Good rule of thumb, E.J.!

      Some of us have been accused of giving five-star reviews to friends. I have given friends good reviews--but not if I didn't really like the book. Recently, I reviewed a book by an author I know personally but don't like or trust. That was a challenge. I decided if I couldn't be objective, I wouldn't review the book at all. The book was good, so I said so. If it hadn't been, there would have been no review.

  2. OK, backstabbing, review stuffing, bitter kitten, incompetent and that is only the authors !
    Who would believe such pirates in publishing existed ? Oh wait are some authors are just like the rest of us malcontents !
    Yes, I did buy two book from "bas blue" that gave interesting, thoughtful even funny reviews for books that I have thought best used for kindling this winter.
    I always give books at lest two chapters before I give up but both of these books where so bad (to me) that I keep thinking I have to donate them somewhere but I would be embarrassed.
    Maybe a late night drive-by might work, tossing them into the donate box with a mask on and Vaseline on my car plates.

    cheers, parsnip

    1. Most writers live under the misconception that they have to compete with each other. Not true. When I was in conventional publishing, I learned something that's stayed with me. When one author, like Stephen King, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer or even E.L. James, makes a lot of money, it's good for all of us. In conventional publishing, it meant that a publisher was financially able to take a chance on several new, untested writers. In self-publishing, the more good books readers find, the more willing they'll be to take a chance on the new kids on the block.

  3. I rarely pay attention to reviews when I'm looking for a good read. Why? Those that rave about NYT best sellers are usually too slick, like a TV commercial. Besides, the NYT comprises its list more on in-sider likes than sales. And e-books? I flat ignore those reviews now. I came across too many like the ones you mentioned above. I personally think Amazon needs to monitor reviews as so many contain barely disguised malice. But, Amazon is Amazon. *sighs*

    So, what attracts my attention? The setting. Always the setting. I thumb a few pages or download a sample and go from there.

    1. You're absolutely right, Kittie.

      Publishers' marketing staffs are paid to manipulate reviews to suit their needs, the same way Hollywood does with movie reviews. Leave out a word here and there, and a bad review becomes a good one. Sneaky, but effective.

      The best thing about self-publishing is that anyone can publish a book. And the worst thing about self-publishing is that anyone can publish a book. Until Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble find a way to effectively police reviews, we're stuck with the crap.

  4. Reviewers are human. And that means all the good and all of the bad traits that make up our personalities are going to be reflected in what they do when they set out to comment on a book.

  5. Those traits also affect how we respond to any book, movie, TV show or CD.

  6. I hardly ever pay attention to reviews. I look for books I might like, read the blurbs, flip a few pages and roll with it or set it down. I think I'm the only person who can tell whether I like something or not. I don't need a reviewer to tell me in advance, however, I have often read something that received horrible reviews to either support the author who had the guts to put themselves out there or to see what all the fuss was about. Great post!!!

    1. Good approach, TC! A lot of writers, especially self-pubbed authors, tend to think they have to shoot each other down in order to succeed themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who bash each other and post those snarky reviews just give a negative impression of self-published authors: immature and unprofessional.

    2. I tend to skip most reader's reviews under the theory that I don't know anything about these reviewers so why should I waste my time reading their opinions. Looks like my instincts were right! Interesting post.

    3. This is true, Lynn. I've read books I loved but a lot of people hated and vice-versa. Twilight, for example, is huge...but I never could get into it. And I'm not judging the writing--I just can't get into vampires. I loved the old Dracula movies, even when I was a kid, and I liked Laurell K. Hamilton's books...but the market's so overloaded with them now, it's mostly a bunch of Twilight knockoffs.

  7. I know there's a little marketing elf inside me that tends to write or say favorable things no matter what. Though I'm always honest, I lean towards making positive statements because even a bad book might have interesting characters, good fight scenes or an exciting ending. If I absolutely hate the subject matter, then I might pass on reading the book so no review will be forthcoming.

  8. These reviews should be collated and published as something else! LOL!! Oh but they did make me laugh! :-)

    The only reviews I read on amazon are ones for shoes.

    Take care

  9. All I can say is different strokes for different folks. Some people may love something, while others will hate it. I'll read reviews, but reading the blurb and book sample is what I depend on to make a decision. If it grabs me from the start, I'll read it.


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