Friday, February 3, 2012

Give the Readers Some Credit & Stop Working the System

What good is a great book if nobody reads it?  Authors are more aware of this question than anyone.  It's why authors and publicists give out ARCs.  It's why many authors delve into social media. And why as bloggers, our inboxes are filled with more review requests than we could ever possibly read. 

I've seen authors say on Twitter that one of the best ways you can show your support for a book, is to write a review.  Some specifically ask for reviews on Amazon.  I've even had publicists ask me to post there.  And that's no chore for me.  I post all of my reviews on Amazon anyway. I know there are a lot of people who aren't part of the blogosphere or social media or Goodreads. For those people, Amazon reviews are the only ones they read.  Which brings me to my point.

I noticed early on in reviewing, the way people work the system on Amazon. Basically, there are three featured reviews on every book/ product.  Each review offers the question, "Was this review helpful to you?"  And other customers can vote yes or no.  The three featured reviews are the ones with the best helpful-to-unhelpful ratio.  This sounds good in theory, but what if there are 100 reviews?  No one will read them all.  And with just a few well placed unhelpful clicks, anyone (or a small group of people) can push a review onto or off of the main product page.

For a long time, I believed it was only fellow reviewers behind the manipulations. That is, people who wanted their own reviews featured would bump off a more popular one by voting it down and getting their review bumped up.  But now, we know there are some authors in on it too.  Some are having friends bump down negative reviews --or even hiring people to do so.  And they are putting up fake, glowing reviews too.  There are people out there who sell their services to write positive reviews.  Not to mention the dummy accounts set up by family, friends, or even the authors themselves... devised solely as a vehicle to add positive reviews.  It's depressing.

I understand the impulse.  Who is going to buy a book with no reviews?  Or who is going to buy one where the reviews are negative?  These are the obvious questions.  But authors, you are hurting yourselves and other authors much more than you are helping.  It's easy to spot the fake reviews.  They are often about four lines long. They say your book is great with very little explanation as to why.  If anyone is savvy enough to click on the reviewer's name, they'll see that this is one of maybe two posts the reviewer has ever written, assuming it's not the only one they've ever written.   It's insulting.  Not to mention, "It's great. One of the best books I have ever read," isn't a review that will make anyone buy a book. It's meaningless. 

As for the practice of bumping down less flattering reviews, let me tell you a true story.  I read "story X" by a debut author and liked it. It was a four star read.  I reviewed it on the blog, Goodreads, and Amazon. I put it on Facebook. I tweeted about it.  Then my review was bumped down, so that only five star reviews now sit on her product page on Amazon.  And they are those four line fake-reviews.  Anyone with a discerning eye will see those lame ass things and just click away.  Hear me when I say this, I would be 100x more likely to buy a book with a thoughtful, detailed 4-star review, than a meaningless fake 5 star review.  You need to give readers more credit.  We are not stupid.  Even a negative review isn't the kiss of death some people think it is.  I wrote a review a couple of weeks ago for a book that wasn't great for me.  I explained why it wasn't a good fit and rated it accordingly.  Then someone used the Amazon link and bought it straight from my blog.  The things I didn't like in the book, were clearly a selling point to someone else.  Believe in your work. Let the chips fall where they may.

You aren't just hurting yourself, you know.  You're also hurting other authors.  I got a review request a couple of weeks ago to read Fire Baptized by Kenya Wright.  As I do with all review requests, I checked it out on Amazon and Goodreads and found **surprise** a bunch of 4.5 and 5 star reviews.  I almost didn't read it.  Do you hear what I'm saying? I almost didn't read the book because it had too many positive reviews.  But then I looked closer and I saw that the reviews were more detailed than the faker ones I usually see. I liked the blurb, so I said, "what the hell..." and I read it.  And it was awesome. It earned its 5 star reviews AND I ALMOST DIDN'T READ IT.  And that pisses me off.  It also pisses me off that someone else might not read it for the same reason.  Or the same thing could happen with another gem of an indie book, because some other author out there fucked with the system.

I can only imagine how hard it is for new authors. I'm sure you think you're doing what you need to do.  But please think about what I'm saying.  You're aren't fooling us.

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39 Comments:

At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 10:48:00 AM CST , Blogger jayhjay said...

I agree with you that sometimes books that don't work for me still get lots of love from my readers. I often note that I may not like something that much, but it gets tons of enthusiasm from readers (and even direct purchases). So I totally agree, even a lukewarm review can still inspire new readers.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 10:56:00 AM CST , Blogger HighlandHussy said...

Funny you bring this up, last night I actually shortened my normal blog review to only 1paragraph because my usual long blogs always get downvoted on amzn.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 11:02:00 AM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

It's as much about giving information about what the book offers as giving our opinions. What I dislike might be what lights someone else's fire.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 11:03:00 AM CST , Blogger Brie said...

Personally, when I look for reviews on Amazon and Goodreads I just go straight for the bad review. I like well-articulated bad reviews because they usually say exactly why the book didn’t work for them (same goes for well-articulated good reviews). I’m usually weary of 5 stars reviews, and when they just praise the book then I ignore them because they aren’t helpful to me. When I read a review all I look for is the Why: Why did/didn’t you like it, Why did/didn’t work for you. That’s it.

One thing that I’ve noticed after all this drama with authors and reviews is that some seem to think that readers have no discerning abilities whatsoever and that they will believe anything they read and blindly believe gushing reviews. As you said, give us some credit, we know what we like and we know that not all reviews are trustworthy regardless of how good or bad they are. Reviews are not that powerful, and readers are not that stupid.

Finally, I never buy a book based on one single review. One single review may catch my eye and point me towards a particular book, but that’s it, in the end the decision will always be mine.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 11:03:00 AM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

I have found no rhyme or reason as to what kind of reviews get voted up or down (mine or other people's), which makes me think it's less about the reviews and more about the "system."

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 11:07:00 AM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

I like to read negative reviews as well, Brie. And I look for the opinions of people who I trust. It just makes me mad that the manipulation of the system has me so jaded that I assume that practically all high rated books are stuffing the ballot box.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 12:02:00 PM CST , Blogger willaful said...

I think pretty much every thoughtful review I've written of a book that I thought less than stellar has gotten a reply from someone interested in trying it now or some adds to my friend's virtual bookshelves.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 12:31:00 PM CST , Blogger Andrea said...

I shy away from books which only have 8 or 9 reviews and all of them are 5 stars. I believed the 5 star reviews one too many times and ended up reading books that were 1 or 2 star books at best.

That's why I always check goodreads before I check amazon reviews. I know the people reviewing and I trust what they say, I don't know what I'm getting with Amazon.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 1:05:00 PM CST , Blogger The_Book_Queen said...

Great post--I totally agree!

There are a lot of books that I have rated around 2.5-3.5 stars that get more page reads than some of my 5 star picks. Like we always try to say, "It may not have been my favorite, but I'm sure others will like it"---well, it is true, as I always get people that wish to put the "okay" or even "below average" (based on my personal rating scale) books on their lists anyway. Really, a negative review is not going to ruin you. Hell, look at big time authors like J.K. Rowling, or even Stephanie Meyer--they get negative reviews all the time, even from the start. Not everyone likes the same books, but that doesn't meant that NO ONE likes any one particular book. There are alwasy fans and there are always those of us that just didn't care for it.

When asking for a review, it is meant to be our own personal opinion--it may be hard to hear, but if you are going to be an author, learn to deal with the fact that you are not going to have every person that reads your book writing a gushing fan letter to you after. It just isn't going to happen, no matter if you are the "world's best author" or an unknown.

Enjoy!
TBQ

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 1:14:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

Yes! We all have different tastes. What doesn't work for us will often work for someone else!

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 1:15:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

I also trust the people at Goodreads much more. Especially my community of friends there.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 1:17:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

You are so right. I understand why it's hard to read a negative review about one of your books, but you've got to have faith that it will find its audience.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 3:17:00 PM CST , Blogger ahz1 said...

This is a great and timely post. As a reader, I look at both positive and negative reviews before I make a purchase. I also rely on my network of Goodreads friends to add to my ever growing list of books. If I see just a bunch of 5 star reviews, I'll wait and see what my friends think before I spend my hard earned money.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 3:44:00 PM CST , Blogger MichelleK Canada said...

Can I just say that this was a fabulous post. I totally agree....with everything you wrote.

I am the same way in so many instances. I too frown when I see a book with approx 12 reviews and every single one is a 5 star. It just seems suspicious to me.

I have loaded my reviews on Amazon for years. Way before I had a book blog. I never really understood how the "system" worked and how the "helpful" button affected the review before. Now that I am in the blogging community I have frowned many times at this the practice you mention in your post. It is so obvious to read fake reviews. It truly does hurt the possibility of me, the reader, purchasing and trying a new to me author. I've passed by numerous books due to my "feeling" that something was not right.

I hope your blog post gets lots of traffic because it it BANG ON. Well done. Could not have said this better myself.

MichelleKCanada @AnotherLookBook

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 3:48:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

And it's sad when a book has no negative reviews (because it's actually good) and my automatic assumption is that it's bogus.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 3:49:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

Thank you, Michelle. I just hope it reaches some authors out there...

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 4:19:00 PM CST , Anonymous Tori said...

Great post Jen. Even though I post my reviews to Amazon-I really don't follow the reviews there. I see too many that don't make any sense or they are obviously posted by the author's friends. Those are books I stay far away from. Or I go to Goodreads and see what they are saying about it. :)

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 4:36:00 PM CST , OpenID dianefarr said...

But as an author, I must protest a bit ... when someone posts a 1-star review of my book because they couldn't figure out how to download it, I'm sorry, I am going to click that "not helpful" button. Because when a reader drives my book's ratings down because s/he is disgruntled with the bookseller, not the book, I think that's just mean.

That's my story & I'm sticking to it!

Happy reading to all of you -
Diane Farr
http://www.dianefarrbooks.com

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 4:41:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

Absolutely!! I think that is an entirely different animal altogether. As far as I'm concerned, examples like you mentioned are the epitome of what the "not helpful" button exists for. I'm talking about low-star reviews based on opinions about the book content.

Thanks for pointing this out!

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 4:42:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

I love Goodreads!

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 7:01:00 PM CST , Blogger Diana Leigh said...

This is an excellent post, Jen. I've been duped by phony 5-star reviews. Now, I'm always on the lookout for them.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 7:12:00 PM CST , Blogger Kenya Taylor Wright said...

Even worse, when I first put my book on goodreads, but had not made it available or published. Two people three star'd the book. I was like, what the hell it hasn't even ben sent back from the editor or published. I researched it further and found out it was two dummy accounts. Stuff like this ruins it for everybody else!

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 8:25:00 PM CST , Blogger Stephanie @ Once Upon A Chapter said...

First of all, great post! I really enjoyed it and agree 100%.

Second, I think that's why bloggers are so important. Readers trust other readers. A blogger is a reader with the power of a website behind them. If a blogger has a reputable site and has been blogging for awhile, a reader can learn that blogger's taste and judge the reviews based on compatibility. That's not to say that the Amazon reviews aren't as good/valued as a blogger's review. Just that that information is easily accessible through one source without having to filter out "fake" reviews or even reviews made simply to trash the work on Amazon or GoodReads.

I hope that wasn't a garbled mess! Lol

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 8:29:00 PM CST , Blogger Krista said...

On Amazon, I immediately skip to the 3 or 4 star reviews. I just find that they are more honest. The 5 star reviews usually just don't seem genuine to me.

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 10:22:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

I've seen that as well. I don't understand people who put out ratings on Goodreads without reading a book. What do they get out of it?

 
At Friday, February 3, 2012 at 10:23:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

Not at all! And I agree with what you're saying about bloggers. I have a great group whose reviews I trust and follow. It makes such a difference to "know" your review source!

 
At Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 7:42:00 AM CST , Anonymous Susan W. said...

That has always confused me! As a reader I keep a list of books I'm looking forward to coming out with the date they are available to remind me when to buy. There have been times when I've checked to see if i can pre-order it and it's already rated. Several times I have checked the authors site and found out that they hadn't finished the editing or it had just got to the publisher. It made me kind of leary of buying the book.

 
At Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 7:56:00 AM CST , Anonymous Susan W. said...

Thank you for such a great post! It really explained a lot. I never knew that's what was behind all the short reviews. Glad I don't pay attention to them, they tell nothing! I usually only read the long reviews both good and bad when I'm on Amazon. If a book only has short "I love this book" reviews then I'll normally pass on it. Of course there have been books that I've LOVED and they have an average rating of 3 stars. You reviewed a book and gave it 5 stars, had a very informative review about why the book worked for you but the more I read the more I realized that it wasn't a book I would particularly enjoy. Based on your review I went to the author's site and found a book that fit my current reading mood. I might not have picked this author up if it wasn't for how much you enjoyed that one book. So I have to say "Thank you!" for the reviews that you post. Most of the time I go with my gut and buy what sounds good to me at the time.

 
At Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 10:46:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

It's awesome to hear your perspective! I'm glad I could help lead you to the book that was right for you!!

 
At Monday, February 6, 2012 at 9:41:00 AM CST , Anonymous Beate said...

I avoid books with too good reviews. I just don't trust them. I'm much more inclined to pick up a book that has both negative and positive reviews. Everyone isn't going to love a book, and that gives it that much more credibility. In my experience, if the reviews are 99% positive, something is seriously off.

 
At Monday, February 6, 2012 at 9:43:00 AM CST , Blogger kevin georgina grayson simon said...

I just had a thought about (Kenya Taylor Wright's comment) goodreads and the star system review to books that are no out yet.
I have found when I am using my iPad and I try to add the book to one of my shelves it automatically sets it at read- no matter what how many times I touch to read. If my hand goes anywhere near the stars it registers a review there. To fix it I have to "edit this review".
I always go back and fix this problem but maybe this has not been noticed by others?

 
At Monday, February 6, 2012 at 10:25:00 AM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

That's exactly what I'm talking about! I'm always skeptical as well.

 
At Monday, February 6, 2012 at 10:27:00 AM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

I've complained to Goodreads about the review form that comes up when I mark a book as "Currently Reading" but to no avail.

I would like to think people are rating books they haven't read by accident, but it happens so often...

 
At Monday, February 6, 2012 at 8:15:00 PM CST , Blogger Twimom227 said...

Thanks so much for this post. I started posting my reviews to Amazon several months ago, after it was mentioned by a few authors at AAD Philly how this helps. I also noticed that after I put up my reviews (usually 3 or 4 stars since they don't use 1/2 stars), I got some "not helpful" votes and I wondered "What the hell?" Who would vote that my review is unhelpful - I gave a lot of thought and insight. You may not agree with the review, but ...

So thanks for explaining this "bump up and bump down" thing. I won't take the negative feedback on my reviews so harsh. But at the same time, why bother posting my reviews on Amazon if they aren't going to be read for the manner they were posted - to give my opinion about a book.

 
At Monday, February 6, 2012 at 8:26:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

It's hard not to be annoyed by it, but you can't let it get to you. Screw 'em!

 
At Monday, February 20, 2012 at 9:58:00 AM CST , Blogger Regina said...

Well written! Great article. I completely agree about a well written 4 star review will convince me to read a book v. a fake 5 star one.

 
At Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 2:15:00 PM CST , Blogger Katy B said...

Same here ... I wondered what people were finding so wrong about my reviews on Amazon, maybe that I was a sucky reviewer, but it could be anything. Personally, I will look a few down from the top of the "most helpful" five-star reviews on Amazon and compared it to a lower-rated review. There's no way I'm going to spend enough time to read the top-rated reviews that are five paragraphs long either. No need to give us a synopsis, because we already read the Amazon description. Just review it and be done!

 
At Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 2:24:00 PM CST , Blogger Katy B said...

Thanks for your post! There's a lot to consider on this reader/writer subject. Maybe it's biased of me, but I don't gravitate to reviewers on Goodreads who read certain genres that I despise. J. K. Rowling's and Stephanie Meyers' series are (I might get blasted for this) what I call "bandwagon books." Perhaps they're great, and a lot of people love them, but I'm not jumping on that bandwagon. They're just not to my liking.

That said, I loved the "Millennium" and "Hunger Games" trilogies. Go figure.

 
At Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 2:47:00 PM CST , Blogger Jen at Red Hot Books said...

I'm always afraid that too much positive press will raise my expectations too much for a book to live up to.

 

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