Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reader Reviews - Yes or No?

What I'm reading: Shadows of Yesterday, by Sandra Brown

I hope you enjoyed yesterday's recipe. I'd love some honest feedback as to whether you think having a "foodie day" here would add to the blog. I'd be delighted to share favorite recipes from my readers. Or would you simply skip Wednesdays? If you'd like me to continue, please let me know in the comments, or click the +1 button. Feedback really helps.

One of the loops I'm on had an interesting discussion of reviews: Did we give them, did we like them, did they do anything for sales. Now, my publisher that targets the library market wants reviews, and they definitely drive library sales. My Publishers Weekly review for WHERE DANGER HIDES has placed it in more than twice the libraries, many of them ordering multiple copies, than my non-reviewed WHEN DANGER CALLS. But what about "non-professional reviews"? I'm talking about reviews from readers, and not those posted on dedicated review sites.

If you've noticed, I don't do reviews here. I'll post whatever I might be reading, but I don't offer my opinion. And if a book triggers a discussion topic, I don't usually mention it by name. Why?

Like everything else, it's complicated.

First, as an author, I don't read the same way I did before I started writing. I'm afraid I'd be too critical. And who wants to get less-than-glowing reviews? Some folks I know say they won't post a review if it's under 4 stars because they know nobody wants a poor review. And there's the underlying fear (ego-driven or not) that anyone who disagrees with my take on a book will either reciprocate in kind or not want to buy my books.

Then there's the time factor. If it's established that I can't review every book someone wants me to read, then if they don't get a review from me, do they think I didn't like the book. And that can lead back to that reciprocity thing above.

But, at least on Amazon, it appears that the more reviews, the better the sales. Some members of the discussion group said they have a second persona that they use for reviews. Others say they think leaving reviews in their own names will drive people to their own books. (See that reciprocity thing above again for the flip side to this one.)

And what about the readers who will give low marks for things totally unrelated to the book at all? Didn't like the cover. Formatting issues. Haven't finished the book yet, but didn't like a character's name in chapter five? Or they post a "book report" and give away the salient plot points?

Someone at the discussion board suggested that readers use the Netflix system, in which you rate a movie and Netflix then suggests others you'd like based on your rating.

Someone else took the comparison a step further. What if you went to an art museum and there were buttons to push under each picture, where you could give it a rating of from 1-5 stars? Are visitors to a museum qualified to 'review' art? Does it matter? They know what they like, right? But would it change perception of "good" if, let's say, the Mona Lisa got an overall 3 star rating?

What's your take? Authors and readers both, please. And, whether or not I agree with the system or think it works, if you'd like to review Danger in Deer Ridge or What's in a Name? let me know and I'll give you a download in exchange.

Tomorrow, Hubster's in charge of the Friday Field Trip. When I was at RomCon, he was out and about.

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Jan Morrison said...

Oh dear. I'm a writer but not published yet and this seems like a quagmire. I know some local writers (Canada east coast) who won't even READ newly published novels by Canadians because they don't want to get ensnared in the politics of it. Too bad, I say. I read EVERYTHING and if I've read something I'm mad for, I may mention it on my blog - especially if I think my neighbours to the south don't know about the author. But I don't do reviews. I don't listen to the random reviews of books, movies or plays on the internet - I read newspapers that hire reviewers and read what they have to say. Or I listen to people on CBC who will talk up the upcoming books or I pay attention to short lists and winners of major contests. Not enough time in the day.

Roni Loren said...

I do pay attention to reviews in magazines like RT Book Reviews, more to see which books reviewers were really excited about, not so much to avoid books that got lower ratings.

And on Amazon, I sometimes read through a few reviews before deciding on the book. Though I tend to ignore 1 and 5 star ratings because I assume most of those are biased (i.e. 5 stars are from friends and family members.) It seems most of the people giving 3-4 stars have more helpful and descriptive reviews.

Then, of course, with book bloggers, I find the ones that have similar tastes to mine and tend to trust that if they loved something, I'll probably like it too.

So I guess I consider the source before I put too much stock in a review.

Mario said...

Great post. Like them or not, reviews mean someone is reading your book, or at least thumbing through the pages.

Maryann Miller said...

I do reviews for most books I read unless I really did not enjoy the book. I don't like to do a negative review. On the other hand, if nobody did a negative review, how would a potential reader be able to find a balance between the "rave" reviews often found on Amazon that are from family and friends?

Since I have done reviews for years for newspapers and magazines before I ever started doing them online, I know that a thoughtful review can influence a potential reader. The book does not have to have a five-star rating. In fact, I seldom give a book five stars, as I think that should be reserved for a truly outstanding book. Most of the books I read and review are well-written and enjoyable, but I would not consider them outstanding.

Nightingale said...

If I really like a book, I will leave a review. Time factor considered here mostly. Good reviews help drive sales, but when I got a less than sterling review once, a friend of mine said "Now someone will read it to see why there was such a difference in the other reviews and this one."

Terry Odell said...

Jan - oh, another wrinkle: geography.

Roni - I think there is a difference in reviews given by those who(one hopes) have been trained to give a professional opinion and those given by readers. I think Amazon even has a special place for "professional" reviews, separate from the ones readers can post.

Mario - So True! They say there's no such thing as bad publicity. Wonder how many people might have bought my When Danger Calls after the reader-reviewer complained about the sex scenes.

Maryann - since there's rarely a 'unanimous' opinion, a balance of reviews helps readers choose--IF the reviewer explains the reasoning behind the ranking.

Nightingale - I think your friend is right - people often want to see what all the hype is about, especially if they disagree with a negative review.

Anonymous said...



There's a very negative, and unfair, review floating around on the Internet about one of my books. I'm posting anonymously and not mentioning the title, because I don't want anyone searching for it.


I entered a RWA chapter contest (won't mention which chapter) with a pre-publication ARC. The rules said ARCs were accepted. One day a nasty review popped up on a very popular website by one of the judges in that contest. She had written that review WHILE THE JUDGING WAS STILL GOING ON!

She trashed the book because of a couple of typos! And at the same time admitted that she was a judge and was only reading it for that reason. She even said she "HATE, HATE, HATED" the book. Yes, she used those words in her review!

Now I realize that my books might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I thought it was horribly unethical for a RWA contest judge to do that. And, a truly qualified judge would know that an ARC might have some typos, and not take that into consideration when judging the story.

The saving grace was that my book finaled in that contest, and the contest coordinator told me later it would have tied for first if it weren't for the low marks from that particular judge.

I have never entered another RWA contest. I don't trust the judges.

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Excellent piece, Terry.

Karen Ranney also did a great "reviews blog" on Tartan Ink last week:

My opinion on reviews is in comments.

I don't read reviews and stopped looking for them over ten years ago. I never look at my books' amazon listings, for instance. Doing so is like peeking under a rock. You know you'll see icky things, so why bother? Life is too short.

One thing that really helped me ignore reviews was a huge scandal several years ago that revealed how amazon can be manipulated. (also contests) Talk about illuminating!

I write for myself, my agent, my editors, and the readers who enjoy my work. The rest? See above. Life is too short.

Another point: I love my coffee strong and black. Someone else might love coffee with a ton of sugar and rivers of cream. Who is to say which coffee is good or bad? NO ONE. My strong black coffee is perfect for me. And the sugar-and-cream version is ideal for someone else. The analogy is exactly how I feel about reviews.

I hate profanity. Yet there are scores of books riddled with the F-word on NYTs. I cringe at the use of the word "cunny" and there are also tons of historicals using that word and making NYTs. Taste varies and one man's line in the sand is another man's glory. It's good we can all read and write what WE enjoy. We should never claim someone else's taste is bad or wrong, though. Just different from our own.

And speaking of magazine reviews, PW (who always shreds me) once stated that one of my heroes was the dead villain in Devil In A Kilt. Hellooo? The said dead villain died at the end of Devil In A Kilt. As I do not write vamps or immortal Highlanders or what-not, how the heck did PW make the said dead villain from Devil In A Kilt, the living, breathing hero in a later book? Obviously, the PW reviewer didn't read either book. (although he/she certainly claimed to have done so)

And while I'm on a roll, like you, I also don't give reviews. I don't feel qualified to voice an opinion over another author's hard word.

Anonymous said...

Let me clarify the CAUTIONARY TALE above - The contest judge specifically said she HATE, HATE, HATED the book BECAUSE of the typos. I meant to make that clear.

Terry Odell said...

Anon - that's awful. I judge contests and even coordinated my chapter's contest for 3 years. It's tough finding judges and trying to get them to quantify the subjective, but what you're saying is horrendous, and I hope you reported that judge to RWA and the chapter contest coordinator.

Sue-Ellen. Great points, all. And we never know what will work for a reader. I have some 'ick factor' words that other consider sensuous.

Terry Odell said...

Anon - while 'hated it because of typos' is a terrible reason to give a review in the first place, I have this optimistic, perhaps naive, hope that readers of that review would see that for what it is. Bunk.

Lisa Kessler said...

Hi Terry -

Before becoming a publisher writer myself, I've always been a voracious reader.

I do still post reviews for books that I love because I enjoy talking about the books with people, and I also will post a positive review on Amazon for authors I know because I realize that helps them...

SO I guess I'm somewhere in between. I enjoy being active as a reader on Goodreads, but I only post reviews for books I love and want to talk about...

Lisa :)

carl brookins said...

Reviews are vital to sales. Everything about the book, including the cover, is a legitimate subject for critical examination. Most readers can discern whether a review is a screed or a thoughtful, rational examination of the book. Criticism of reviews is likewise a legitimate concern, whether you read them, write them or ignore them.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Reviews are so important to readers. Unfortunately, many of the reviews that are on Amazon are not from professional reviewers or book bloggers. I love it when book bloggers post reviews on Amazon and B&N...I frequently respect their opinions more than PW and Kirkus.

Terry Odell said...

Lisa - you sound like the 'right' kind of reader/reviewer.

Carl - I know you give honest and fair reviews, which is what we all hope for. And yes, they do help sales.

Elizabeth - I think book bloggers fall in between "professional" such as PW or Kirkus and "reader" although I have no doubts that in order to be a decent reviewer, you obviously have to be a reader first.

jenny milchman said...

First, let me say to Jan, best of luck in your publishing journey!

On the topic of reviews, like you, Terry, I basically don't do them. I have been wondering lately whether so-called professional reviews differ from reader reviews, and if so, how. I think this is a great blog topic--I just don't have any real answers myself!

Kathy said...

I do not read reviews. This summer however I was doing some research for a friend and thought what the hey. Let's see what all the fuss is about. I read reviews for two of my favorite authors. The reviews were for books I had alrady read. The reviews were by reader not professionals. What I found was that in the reviews that were less than glowing the reader just didn't get it. They either didn't get the author or the background info that adds texture to the story. I think if I were to write a review it would have to be a very good review or if I absolutely had to I would just say this is not my cuppa and leave it at that. That way it is all on me and not the author. Just because I don't like something doesn't mean that many, many people won't adore the book.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Like you, I've chosen not to do reviews. I tried a couple and found I didn't enjoy the book as much simply because I had to take notes and read "deeper." I prefer to read for enjoyment.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I forgot to mention that I love recipes on blogs. I actually follow a couple of foodie blogs and I love the blog Mystery Lovers Kitchen.

Kathy Garuti said...

I forgot to say I love recipes too>

Ivy said...

I'm a reader who also writes reviews. I read a wide range of genres and I always make it clear that it's my opinion. I specify what works or doesn't for me & try to never give away anything vital. If a book makes me feel something I put that in. Some you breeze through but others make you feel and think. That's important. I NEVER trash the author or give less because of formatting etc..I base my scoring strictly on the merit of the story. If someone puts themselves out there like that the least I can do is be honest & always polite. I recommend to customers too & that's pretty much the same as reviews. They know why I liked it etc..It's a great feeling when a customer comes in, asks for you, hugs you & buys the rest of a series or author. I'm always tickled to turn people on to reading, new authors, and genres.

Terry Odell said...

Jenny - I don't think there are 'answers', only opinions here today.

Kathy - my tendency is if I'm reading a book and I wonder if I'm 'odd' for feeling the way I do about it, I'll check out someplace like Goodreads and see what others are saying. But by then, I'm already reading the book. I don't normally look at reviews to decide if I want to buy, because I know opinions vary so much.

Patricia - thanks, and I'll keep the Wednesday recipes coming for a while and see how the response is.

Ivy - you sound like a reviewer who knows what it should be like.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I enjoyed this discussion because I used to do a lot of reviews while I was publishing fiction and nonfiction books. I once received a review in an alumni magazine that trashed my book, and I was miserable. A year later I ran into another mystery writer who wanted to know how I managed to get such a long review (yes, the reviewer was given ample space to cover all my sins). She had no recollection whatsoever that the review was negative. I skim reviews of my books and try to be fair and clear when I do reviews, but I do far fewer now.

Mary Ricksen said...

I consider all aspects of a book. Unless it's a just see and have to buy...

P.L. Parker said...

I read the reviews - sometimes the reason I buy a book because of the content in the reviews. I have written a rew reviews myself. I think they are noteworthy.

Jennifer Ann Coffeen said...

This is such a good topic! Reviews are tricky because they are just someone's opinion when it comes down to it. It does help to have reviews though, good or bad. It means people are reading your book!

Terry Odell said...

Susan - that's so true, and something to keep in mind!

Mary - I have a few of those 'have to buy' although they're usually authors I'm following.

PL - and that's why we all enjoy getting good reviews for our books.

Jennifer - yep, you have to remember the person who reviews your book, good or bad, is still one more reader.

Kelly McClymer said...

Terry, I didn't see this yesterday, when you posted it, only today -- right after I posted about my most recent review experienced (slammed by my own mom :-). I agree with everything you say. But I still value that reader-book privilege that a truly authentic review can highlight. That reaction we all have when we finish a book, whether we share it or not. Sometimes I feel as bloodthirsty as a Roman Emperor with a callous thumbs up-thumbs down sense as I snap a book closed on 'The End." I just don't share it, because I've been on the other side...and all the other good reasons you enumerated.

Terry Odell said...

Kelly - I know what you mean. And reading a book that stays with you is a special experience.