How Important Are Book Reviews?

 

by Allison Maruska

 

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?

 

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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.

Image source – Pixabay License.

13 thoughts on “How Important Are Book Reviews?

  1. I read Goodread reviews before purchasing a book, but it’s still a crapshoot whether I’ll like it; I’m starting to feel amateur reviews are not worth reading.
    Indie books, on the other hand, are even harder to gage; a lot of the reviews seem like they were written by author’s friends.
    I personally prefer sampling books. Usually the middles. For that, I need a book store.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I look at samples and don’t care if Indie or Traditional. I need a sense of the style and originality. It’s the rare Harry Potter that comes back from a poor beginning, slow not so bad.

    Like

  3. I read your post through the lenses of author and reader, agreeing with you from both perspectives. For me, self-publishing offered an opportunity to find readers around the world. The reviews and readers’ emails brought great satisfaction and have connected me to fellow trekkers. As a reader, I found books by English author George Mahood through a blog recommendation. When I wrote to George, he wrote back, suggesting I write my own book. That was the first time I heard about KDP. When I finished my first book, George said I should write another to keep the momentum, so I am about to publish my second. Authors love to hear from readers and you never know where a thoughtful note can take you.

    Like

  4. I tend to ignore 5-star reviews entirely, and go by the negative reviews when I’m thinking about reading a book. At this point though, it mostly boils down to “I like the person who wrote it,” because I know them/read their blog already.

    Like

  5. So many of the reviews are paid for! I don’t think honesty and payment go hand and hand. What I like to see is a clean-looking cover, not fantastic artistry, but well thought out. I read the back cover, look at the author bio, and read a couple of pages inside. Not necessarily in that order. If there are reviews that show that the reviewer read the book and liked it, I might lay my money down.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I must be just completely in the dark ages. I don’t read reviews for books. I read what it’s about and if it sounds like something I’ll like and if it does I’ll buy it. I have also gotten some recommendations from news stories, but I don’t really read the reviews.

    Like

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