Do Readers Care, or Even Notice?


There’s been an awful lot of bandwidth used lately over the subject of fraudulent book reviews and book marketing tactics.

One fellow in UK has admitted inventing sock puppets to write both gushing reviews of his own work and critical reviews of his competitors’. I find that sociopathic.

Another highly successful American author has admitted to paying for reviews (and no, not of the Kirkus variety). I find that devoid of ethics.

Then there is the ever ongoing tug of war on Amazon (The “Badly Behaving Authors” thread in the Kindle Book Forum is now 227 pages)  and Goodreads over shill reviews, vengeance reviews, etc.

It is inconceivable to me that any reasonably mature, well-balanced writer could become so consumed by the necessity of good reviews or the harm of a bad one that he would resort to (a) contriving false praise or (b) attacking a reviewer or competitor. And yet, it happens, and not seldom enough. So much for maturity and balance.

I know that a good number of subscribers to this blog are not writers but just friends and readers. So I would like to turn this post over to you folks in the comments section.

Do you buy books from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc.? How do you choose what books to read? Do you pay any attention to reviews at all, and if so, in what way? How much weight do you give them?

Talk to me.


12 Responses to “Do Readers Care, or Even Notice?”

  1. Wow, that’s really unethical and horrible. I can’t imagine doing that to a person with whom one shares the common struggle of making a living as an artist. The time it takes to sabotage others, rather than rest on the merits of their own work, seems like a monumental waste of time and energy.

    • I think attacking competitors is rarer – and pretty stupid, too. I did see one review that attacked the book and said, “this is nowhere near as good as XXX,” which, of course, was the commenter’s book. Now THAT’S cheeky!

  2. Hi Pete. Yeah, I buy books mostly on Amazon. I do look at the reviews, especially the bad ones. If they seem polarised (you can’t please all the people all the time) or somehow spiteful then I don’t discount the book (or product – I follow the same approach for any product). If they seem critically together then that sometimes causes me to reconsider buying the book (product). I’d buy something with a spread of reviews as well as something with mostly glowing reviews.
    I’m not a complete cynic (although you might disagree as you’ve read some of my work) and I do also look at middling or good reviews. Sham reviews are usually easy to spot. A genuine glowing review tends to jump off the page when read.
    AS an author the biggest risk of all this tomfoolery by big names is if readers think indie authors have faked all their reviews. Sometimes a book does genuinely only get good reviews.

  3. I have just written a blog about this as an author, but I would like to talk to you as a reader. I tend to pay attention to the one-star reviews because they amuse and are often the most honest. So, yes, I have not picked up titles due to things written in a one-star review. When I see a title with 30 plus reviews in the 5-star category, I tend to bypass them all in their entirety and go for a preview to see if the opening makes me want to read more. Sometimes yes; sometimes no. A good book cover and blurb can grab my attention just as easily. I will also preview a title if a friend recommends it to me, and if the opening is promising, go from there… Sad to say: hatchet jobs work.

    • Are the one star comments focused on the lack of editing, spelling errors, grammatical blunders?

      • Some of the one-stars are anal about editing and the fact that the author needed some; some are annoyed that they are being sold religion disguised as a murder mystery (that really is intriguing.) A lot of them bash a title because they got it for free and they can’t ’emote’ or identify with the characters. Others are annoyed that they got suckered in by 5-star reviews (but, really, you have to ask: why not preview the work??) Other times a one-star can be someone venting, and they have decided to do it with that particular author. No obvious rhyme or reason for the vitriol except personality. One oftentimes learns more about the reviewer from some one-stars, than the actual work… But the fact is—we can’t discount the effect of them.

  4. 8 M M Bennetts

    Commenting as both an author and reader, I believe the whole Amazon customer review system is so open to abuse as to have wholly discredited it.

    I barely trust reviews there–too many of the millions on there are written by family members and friends who, whilst they may be well-meaning, are there for the purpose of marketing not for critically assessing a work. The criteria by which a critic used to judge a work–style, readability, originality, research, all that fine stuff–those concepts have been totally eviscerated from the modern review which is now frequently just an extended “I liked it”.

    I also don’t read the reviews of my work. I generally hear through the grapevine if someone really liked a book–and that is immensely gratifying. But good reviews or even bad ones are not going to help me write the next book–they’re about a work that’s no longer on my desk–so in that way, they’re moot.

    Oh, and I have been on the receiving end of not one but three or four of the “authors’ dissing anothers’ work because they’re competition” reviews. And it’s truly sucksome to be the recipient of those. They’re just about as nasty and scummy as you can get…

  5. As a reader I pay no attention to reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I used to, when Goodreads started up I read some reviews and went and bought the books, only to find that I really disliked the books. So I went and read reviews about books I loved and found them as subjective, variable and unreliable as all the other reader reviews. I never paid much attention to the reviews on Amazon because I assumed they were all written by American college kids with time on their hands. Now I rely on my own readerly instincts and newspaper reviews in journals I have some respect for.

    As an author, all reviews are problematic. Good ones put the pressure on you to repeat the trick, bad ones – and I mean malicious ones, not constructively bad ones – make me reach for the antacids. It never occured to me that authors might try to bring down another author with nasty reviews, but it makes sense. There is something about the writing/publishing industry that brings out the worst in people. Like when we get behind the wheel of a car. Publishers behave badly too, but when they see the doolally antics some authors get up to they must feel justified in treating most authors as retarded children.

  6. We received a proposal from a book reviewer. For $70 per review, she wanted to become our prime reviewer. I said thanks, but no thanks – we never pay for reviews. We do send ARCs, however, but always, we ask for an honest and fair review even if the review is not positive. (You can’t please all the people all the time.)

    Most of the actual studies I’ve read say that readers buy books based on the recommendations of friends (part of the concept behind Goodreads) more than any other factor, including reviews.

    I would think that some writers have always found ways to work the system (given my experience as a musician, at any rate – a very jealous and petty group more often than you’d think), and some less ethical writers will continue to find ways to work the system. But the world has never been fair, even the publishing world.

    I just worry about keeping my small corner of it as fair as possible.

    As for the art and science of reviewing? Most reviews I read (other than in The New York Times Review of Books) are rush jobs with little or no analysis or, in the case of an author with more than one book out there, no comparison or analysis of the author’s body of work as a whole and how the new book fits into that work.

    I say shame on those authors who have played the review system. One bad apple can ruin the barrel for all of us.

  7. I find reviews helpful but not the most important factor in whether I buy a book or ebook. I’ll also admit, I’ve written a review of a book that I gave one star. My reason was it was poorly (if at all) edited, poorly organized, missed great opportunities for expanding important points, and so on. If there’s an author whose previous work I enjoyed, I might not care much about the reviews — good or bad. But if I’m unfamiliar with a writer but intrigued by a story’s brief description and the first reviews I see are all negative, I’d probably steer clear of it, especially if it’s not a free book. A free book I might download and take a quick chance on the first couple pages. That’s usually enough.

  8. 12 Peter AKA "Capt Hook"

    Honestly, when I do read reviews, it is not until after I read the book. Remember though, I have never been known to begin at the beginning!

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