How Important Are Book Reviews?

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by Allison Maruska

A few days ago, this article came out on If you don’t want to click over and read it right this second, allow me to summarize: there are companies that sell five-star reviews to authors, and Amazon is suing these companies.

I think almost everyone would agree that paying for fake 5-star reviews is a detestable practice. It undermines the entire purpose of reviews and is one reason many readers say they don’t pay attention to 5-star reviews (as both a writer of and recipient of legitimate 5-star reviews, I find this annoying). Why are reviews so important that some authors are willing to cross ethical boundaries to get them?

Let’s go back in time twenty years, when the internet was a newborn entity. We bought books by walking into bookstores, finding a book in a genre we liked and that had an interesting cover, read the back matter, and if we deemed the story interesting enough to continue reading, we purchased the book. Reviews were probably not involved, though friends’ recommendations likely were. If I had to choose between two books and a friend had recommended one of them, I’d choose the one my friend liked.

Enter the internet and the massive wave of independently published books hitting the market. There is a perception that independently published books are substandard–I mean, if they were good enough to be published traditionally, they would have been, right?

Wrong. As an author working both sides of the publishing fence (traditional and independent), I can tell you there is a myriad of reasons why an author would choose to go indie that have nothing to do with their work being “good enough”: traditional publishing works at the speed of glacial erosion, there are elements of the book that make it unappealing to agents or publishers (length, unique characters, etc.), or they want more control over pricing and marketing, to name a few.

Bogus or not, the perception is there. With no marketing support coming from a publishing house (which I’ve heard is waning for the majority of authors) and certainly no big name appearing on the copyright page, indie authors are quite literally at the mercy of readers and their reviews. Having skipped the “gatekeepers” of traditional publishing, indie books depend on the words of readers to persuade others to buy.

Frankly, I don’t care how a book was published. I just want a good story. So how can I find one?

The first and most important factor in whether or not I decide to read a book is if a friend recommended it. I’d say 90% of the time, I’ll read a book a friend suggested regardless of the reviews it’s received. Granted, I’ll still read the blurb and consider if this is an author I’d enjoy, but the odds that I’ll purchase are strongly in the book’s favor. This is like the pre-internet days, when word of mouth was king.

If I don’t have recommendations handy, I’ll search my favorite genres and read samples. I’ll consider price, and yes, reviews, but only if there are dozens of crappy reviews that outnumber the positive ones. I’ve heard many people say they don’t look at 5-stars or 1-star reviews, because 5-stars usually came from friends or family or were purchased, and 1-star reviewers often have their own issues that have nothing to do with the book.

Add to this the fact that different sites have different review criteria–an average score on Amazon is usually higher than Goodreads, because Goodreads has a more specific rubric, if you will. Four stars on Goodreads means “really liked it”, whereas four stars on Amazon just means four stars.

The whole reviewing process is murky, to be sure. So are reviews as important as we think they are?

Yes and no. Many positive reviews help an author pursue listings on promotional sites like Bookbub, which can boost sales into best-selling territory. I use snippets of good reviews in my own promo material (especially if they’re funny). A high rating on one book can support the sales of another book by that author.

But I think the primary driver of sales even today is word of mouth, which if you think about it, is what a well-written review is, regardless of the number of stars associated with it.

Before I read the first Harry Potter book soon after it was released, a friend told me the first few chapters were slow. Know what? I agreed. Had she not told me that, I wonder if I would have made it to Hagrid telling Harry about his lineage, when the story really picks up. I knew what to expect because of my friend’s review, and I devoured every Harry Potter book after that.

So maybe when we consider reviews, both in reading and writing them, we should think of our friends telling us about books they’ve read. What made it awesome? What were its shortcomings? Is it worth reading in spite of those?

Word of mouth is still king.



Guest post contributed by Allison Maruska. Allison likes to post in line with her humor blog roots, but she also includes posts about teaching and writing specifically. Check out her website for more of her work.

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35 thoughts on “How Important Are Book Reviews?

    1. It’s okay to want five-star reviews – I’d say we all like to get them! Four-star ratings are also respectable, though, and a few of my favorites are four-star reviews because of what the person said. I think those help a reader decide to buy.
      Thanks for the reblog! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think it’s sad when authors complain about getting four star reviews. Four stars is a good rating. I don’t know why it has to be a five star. Any kind of stars are fine with me as long as the person states why they liked or didn’t like the book. I think the “why” is much more important than the star rating.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Book review is very important since it enhances book sales. But review is now becoming corrupt than honesty. Many pay for review. This is something I will never do, since it’s like paying for someone to give you a honest review, whilst the book is not up to that standard. It’s better an author patiently wait for a reader he or she doesn’t know to give a review.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m appalled that some authors would pay for reviews. I don’t look at the star rating when choosing a book, either. And, like the author of this post, I also rely heavily on word-of-mouth. Unless, it’s an author I love, then I’ll read everything they write. Great post, Ryan!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I don’t read reviews until after I read the book. I choose a book based upon it’s description, genre, and recommendation to me by others. I like reading reviews afterwards to see if others agreed with my opinion of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve spent a lot of time reading and writing reviews, and really appreciate this article! I still prefer to pick books based on the recommendation of friends or blogs I trust, but I do take some of the reviews into consideration. I didn’t know Amazon was suing – very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like the idea of word of mouth being the best recommendation. A book editor once told me something about eBooks. She suggested, that if you like what someone wrote, take the time to write a nice review, but don’t forget to then tell your friends about the book. She also felt that was the best way to promote a good book.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I must be in the minority, because reviews are totally a part of my decision making process when purchasing a book on Amazon. I skim through many of them to get past the “five-star friend” reviews. I have a lot of friends who don’t read the same genre as I do, so the integrity of on-line book reviews is important to me.


    1. Reviews are important. As a book gets more of them, it becomes more visible on Amazon (as long as sales are good as well). The reviews that are most helpful are those where the reviewer described what they liked/didn’t like without posting spoilers. You can usually spot fake/purchased reviews because they have generic wording and no specific details from the books.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Yes, a great post. I obviously like 4 and 5 star reviews, but I had a lovely review who only gave 3 stars – looking at their review history, they were obviously hard to please, so I was quite happy with that. Whereas I had a 2 star review where the reviewer admitted they hadn’t even read the book but wanted to counteract my ‘friends’ 5 star reviews’ – now that did annoy me as they were genuine reviews!


  9. totally agree that word of mouth and recommendations to friends are the best way to get indulged in a new book! i’m also a sucker for book lists (top 50 books to read this year, etc) and will stock up when i see one! thanks for sharing 🙂


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