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Do Book Reviews Matter?

By Sandra Rea

The short answer to this question is YES, but for my money they should be honest. Otherwise, it’s just a scam perpetrated on readers by authors. Of course, that’s just one woman’s opinion. If you don’t agree, it’s easy for you to get a bunch of fake reviews for your book. I’ll explain that in a minute. For now, let’s focus on the potential effects of honest and balanced reviews.

Just today I was moved to make a book purchase based solely on a book review. The review didn’t rate the book highly, so you might wonder why I want to read the book. Because the review was written in a very balanced manner. It covered the good and the bad of the writing. The title is Confessions of a Sociopath, by M.E. Thomas. In this case, the book was about a topic of interest to me. I love psychology. I just can’t seem to get enough of brain games. Sociopaths and borderlines intrigue the heck out of me. They are so very counter to who I am as a human being that I can’t help but want to study them and learn more about them. I want to look at them… at least in the pages of books.

Here is a link to this particular review so you can see why it may have moved me to purchase a book that the reviewer didn’t particular enjoy:

Confessions of a Sociopath, by M.E. Thomas,
reviewed by Jon Ronson at the New York Times

After I read the review I came to one conclusion. I simply must read the memoir of a truly self-absorbed sociopath who explains in her own words her apparent soulessness. That is something unique. It would give me a glimpse into what the author actually thinks of herself and of others, and how she pretended to be nice or thoughtful or caring when in fact she admits to feeling absolutely nothing for other people. If nothing more, it might be a good scare, and who doesn’t enjoy a good scare now and then? Might be better than a horror story!

As an author, I’ve pondered whether I should actively seek book reviews. I’ve decided the answer is yes, but only if I could find logical, balanced, truthful reviewers with a large following because then maybe I’d sell more books. The reviewer may not like the book, but maybe his/her followers would find it interesting enough to hit the buy button online like I did with the sociopath’s book today. I can live with that.

I bring this up because I’m tired of hearing about how authors want only “good” reviews of their work. Why not an honest review instead? As a writer, one must develop a very thick skin. If you can’t take honest input of your work, you need to fix whatever it is that’s broken in your ego. Not everyone is going to like what you write, and that’s okay. Get used to it. Besides, there are plenty of readers who will like everything you write. If you gather honest reviews of your work, you can use their input to improve your writing. If you only want glowing reviews that you paid someone to give you perhaps you are cheating yourself. You are most certainly cheating your potential readers.

Reviewers come in all shapes and sizes, genders and ages. Lots of reviewers don’t charge a dime to give their honest feedback about books. They do it because they find joy in reading and joy in sharing their views. I like these avid readers. I like their contribution to the industry. They are far more useful, in my never-humble opinion, than reviewers who are paid to give authors good reviews. I won’t name the companies that exist solely to provide such positive reviews, but there are quite a few. I feel the same way about these companies as I do about using Yelp for business reviews.

With Yelp, a business owner can (and plenty of them do) pay people to Yelp positively about them, and the Yelpers will do as they have been instructed to get their payment either in dollars or in trade at the retailer’s business. This is true even if the Yelpers have never set foot in the business. This happens more than you might think. A large cyber café in my neighborhood paid yelpers in computer gaming time for saying nice things about the place. This company could afford to do it, and like the good little Yelpers they were, the people who wanted video gaming hours left glowing reviews of the place. In the long run it didn’t help the reputation of that business, but they have a whole bunch of positive reviews online, which might capture some new business now and again. One trip into the actual location would show that the reviews weren’t real, so how does it help in the long run? Aren’t customers still going to walk out disappointed with the customer service or the filthy state of the place? Isn’t that real-life experience going to work again the business over time?

Let’s take that concept back to your book(s). Let’s talk about Amazon reviews. Say you have your book on Amazon and you’re excited. You have heard that if you have a lot of positive reviews on Amazon that your book will get bumped up the ranks and maybe if you get enough reviews your book will be considered a best seller. You ask your friends and loved ones to leave positive five-star reviews. They do it, but they haven’t really read the book. They leave glowing reviews. What happens if your book doesn’t hold up to the reviews? Maybe it has typos and is out of sync or has plot or character consistency issues? Maybe you were in a rush to finish your book and throw it on Amazon, so you didn’t have it edited as deeply as you should have. In short, maybe the book isn’t really ready to be read by the general public that can be a very harsh critic.

Next thing you know, your book is being found by the public. Readers buy your book based on the reviews and maybe some of them are disappointed. The book doesn’t match up with the glowing reviews. What do you think happens next? Does this reader leave you a positive review or does she call you on what she thinks might be going on? Maybe she steps it up a notch and leaves you not only a realistic review but perhaps an angry or very critical review. She might not have done so had your first reviews been fair and balanced and REAL.

On Amazon, you easily browse titles that match your interests. When you find a book you might like to purchase you have the option of scrolling through the reviews section on that book’s page. You think the book looks good. You buy it and await your book either in Kindle format or in print. If the book turns out to be well written and interesting, you’re going to recommend it to other readers. You’ll leave a review if you have the time. But what if the book you just purchased isn’t at all what you were told online that it would be via reviews?

Amazon’s system is not to blame here. The system is abused by authors who ask family and friends to give them positive reviews. I like it when I see an honest review in Amazon from someone who actually read the book and gave accurate feedback, good and bad, about the story. Amazon tries to keep things under control, but it can’t control human nature. Amazon established a rule that you cannot review a book unless you’ve purchased from Amazon in the not-too-distant past, but I can’t say this is a bulletproof failsafe. I know authors who actually cover the cost of the e-book version for reviewers in trade for positive reviews. I’ve also seen posts on Fiver.com and Craigslist by “reviewers” offering to do leave positive remarks for a fee. A very low fee, in fact. I am not shocked. The people posting ads to review books are trying to make a living. What I am shocked by is that so many authors think this is a good idea.

Why do authors participate in seeking fake reviews? Perhaps it’s the pressure to have a top-ranked book on Amazon. That seems to weigh heavily on an author’s mind these days, which makes sense because we all want to be heard above the noise of the massive crowd. With so many books published every year, it becomes more and more difficult to be heard. So people take short cuts. What they may not understand is that top rankings on Amazon or other online book retailer sites doesn’t always imply tremendous boosts in sales figures. The popularity of a book doesn’t automatically equate to sales. But then sometimes it does. For example, being a New York Times bestseller or a USA Today bestseller actually does reflect healthier sales figures. What author wouldn’t want to be top ranked in those lists? Authors who get on those lists get there because their books are popular with readers and they have received a lot HONEST positive reviews. A lot of readers bought their books and shared their recommendations via social media with other readers who bought the books and shared their recommendations online and in the real world. This means so much more than fake reviews. At least to me it does. How about you?

I’d love to hear what you have to say about book reviews. Contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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