Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reviewing Reviews

How many times has the wise Laura Hayden cautioned us, "Friends don't let friends read reviews."  Then, who reads them?

Don't worry, this isn't a post ranting about evil reviews.  Rather, I'm interested in starting a discussion about the benefit (or harm) that comes from reviews.  Without a doubt, a positive review from a major publication can generate good buzz for a book, but what benefit do reviews really serve?  Who is reading them? 

My mother is a voracious reader.  She finds new books based on librarian recommendations and word of mouth from her friends.  The same is true of most of my lawyer friends.  When I started rattling off book review sites and asking them if they read reviews on Amazon/Barnes & Noble, they laughed, patted me on the head and told me I needed to leave work at an earlier hour because I was frying my brain.  In comparison, most of my writer friends devour blogger reviews, Goodreads reviews, etc. like the words were the very air they breathe.  Do only writers care about reviews?  I'd love to hear your review of reviews. 


Pamela Mason said...

I relate to both sides of your dilemma. As a writer, I read and write reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, and I hope others pay attention to my humble opinions.

As a reader, if I get a hankerin' for a new-to-me author, I pay attention to the online social buzz.
It might start with a mention from a morning news show, or an intriguing title of a blog post from something like Romance at Random or Heroes and Heartbreakers. Then I go seek out more information - what is this book about that's catching all the buzz? Is it trending on Twitter? Goodreads?
Then I check out the Amazon reviews... and yes, I read the one stars as well as the five's.
I slice all that through the middle and make my own decision and electromagically download it to my ereader.

Isn't that a picture of the social disconnect we've worked ourselves into...? Your mom talks to others, face to face, while I do research.

RedPeril said...

I'm pretty sure I'd be a voracious review reader, even if I weren't a writer. Or >.< (Yes, I do like to get an idea of what others are saying before I have my say.)

I currently have 79 books on my to-read list. Even before I started reviewing books myself, reviews were critical to helping me prioritize the order in which I attacked said list. My time is irritatingly finite. I long ago gave up on the idea that I could read most of the good books out there before I die. Heck, I'm pretty sure I've given up on knocking out all of the 'classics' at this point. >.<

I do understand why they say writers shouldn't read their own reviews. Most of our egos remain fragile, despite success. I've seen many a talented friend have the wind knocked out of them because they let a vicious, or even mediocre-yet-snarky, review get to them. But I also think there's some merit in surveying the impressions of readers. Now and then they may share something constructive, revealing a blind spot that the author might not have had pointed out to them amid their existing critique and beta-reading network. Of course, one should really be sure they have a thick enough skin to take that kind of criticism without shutting down.

But while it's easy for me to say this, given none of my books are yet up for public scrutiny, I've decided there's one piece of advice I want to be held to when it is my turn: I will not answer my critics, or otherwise defend myself.

I don't just read the reviews, I read the comments attached to the reviews. It just looks pitiful when an author feels compelled to defend themselves to an inarticulate stranger. That's what your fans/supporters are for. ^_^

~Angela Blount

Chris Bailey said...

When considering a book I haven't heard about from a source like the NYT bestseller list, I usually read the first review on Amazon--Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, or something at that level. I give absolutely no credibility to Amazon or Goodreads reviews unless I personally know the reviewer AND know that she and I have the same taste in books. Sometimes author interviews intrigue me. Sometimes not. Because the author has a vested interest in selling the book and the interviewer is usually friendly. Where's the objectivity there?

Now, two things for my wish list:
1) Get a manuscript into print;
2) Recall this healthy skepticism when tempted to find out what people are saying about me!

Avery Flynn said...

I'll out myself. I always read reviews. The good, the bad, the "is-English-her-first-language" horrid reviews. I can't say if they affect my sales all that much, but I have bought several books after reading reviews. USA Happy Ever After blog may well put me in the poor house. :)

Heather said...

Pamela - I will be checking out your reviews! If I know one of the reviewers, I put a lot more stock in the review if it is from someone I know and trust.

Heather said...

Angela - great points. As a professional reviewer, I would love to know your feelings about the responsibility you carry for your reviews. Is it intimidating to realize readers could base their decisions on your your review?

Heather said...

Chris - I share your wish list :)

Heather said...

Avery - I am on my way to check out USA Happy Ever After blog! Maybe they'd be willing to send you a gift card as a referral fee!

Carla Swafford said...

Okay, okay. I read reviews as a reader and a published author.

As a reader: I've always read reviews as I'm one of many long time fans of RT Bookreviews. And that's as far back as when I use to get them as newspaper-type print.

Did they influence my reading choice, most the time no. If I came across a book that had one of my favorite type of hooks (e.g., forced marriage, cowboy, bodyguards, assasins), I will buy it no matter what. And goodness if it was a forced marriage to a cowboy bodyguard by a female assassin I would probably get two copies.

Anywaaaay, let's say I had money to spend on only one book and there were two released I had wanted. Then reviews would come into play to help me decide. But there would be a good chance I would go back later and buy the other one.

As a Published Author: I'm a sick puppy. I tell myself not to go to Goodreads. But I catch myself doing it. MUST STAY AWAY. I keep telling myself that even Linda Howard and Anne Stuart receive three stars and less. But sometimes I think I'm a masochist, well, a little bit of one.

RedPeril said...


I actually carry a pretty heavy sense of responsibility when it comes to my reviews. I try to take great care with them, to be fair to both the author and the possible readers. If I really believe in the book, I'll go the extra mile of contacting the author and giving them props before the review is posted. (You'd be amazed how jittery some of the newer ones are while awaiting their release date.)

I suppose I find it more of an honor than I do intimidating. I recognize that my tastes are as unique as my personality...which is part of the reason I like goodreads so much. The 'Compare Books' feature lets people see how close my preferences might be to theirs, which is a great tool for deciding if my reviews would be worth your time and consideration.

In the end, what intimidates me more than anything is that I sometimes have to give low ratings and negative reviews. I hate when I feel compelled to...not just because it means I probably had to slog all the way through a book that I might have been willing to trade for a root canal, but because I don't relish the idea of trampling on anyone's dream. (Also, I'm not much a fan of receiving hate mail.)

My highest responsibility, though, is to the READERS. For there to be any true measure of quality control, the gatekeepers need to be honest.

~Angela Blount

Lexi said...

I never read reviews as a reader. I bought books based on the cover, or the blurb on the back of the book, or on the recommendation of another reader. Still do! Reviews as a writer? Yeow!!! The good ones make your crow and the bad ones make you howl. I try to avoid the bad ones, but I sometimes read the good ones when I need water in my bucket!

Heather said...

Carla - you are the one who taught me the power of the "was this review helpful to you" button. When I see spiteful reviews that do nothing but attack the author, I hit "not helpful"

Heather said...

Angela - I have enjoyed reading your reviews on Goodreads. It is clear you feel a strong responsibility to readers.

Heather said...

Lexi - I am with you. I tend to judge a book by its cover. Although, as I am becoming more of an ebook addict, the cover is playing less of a role. This was one of the reasons I was curious about the role reviews played in sales. I am browsing less in bookstores and buying more and more online. Word of mouth is still the biggest factor in my purchase for authors I haven't read before.