Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Consumer reviews

I don’t normally read reviews of my books, yet when I go to purchase a book, or any product for that matter, I read the Amazon reviews before committing to purchase. There are some things I hope to get out of a review, especially the consumer reviews: 

1. a summary of the book besides the blurb; 
2. the readers’ feelings about the writing, content and story-line; 
3. whether it’s worth my hard earned dollars.
 Consequently, I expect certain things from a book review, whether it is positive or negative.

Some time back a reader emailed me after purchasing one of my books and said she was about to leave a review but there were already so many reviews she didn’t think it was needed. So many? The last time I checked I could have counted them on my hands. So of course I looked and there were over a hundred reviews. I proceeded to read. Some were detailed while some were the bare minimum. When I was finished reading many of the reviews as well as for my other books, I came away wondering if there is a proper format for consumers reviewing a book.

Since there seems to be no established format for consumers reviewing and rating books, I would share with you some tips that may be helpful to potential readers considering purchasing the book.

1. Read the darned book
Reading the first three chapters or the blurb at the back of the book doesn’t qualify one to review a book. I saw one review of one of my books where the person claimed the hero and heroine didn’t get together in the end. That person clearly did not read the book in its entirety because as other reviewers pointed out they did get together in the end. Even professional reviewers when they are pressed for time do this. A review of one of my books on a professional reviewer’s blog site was so scant in the detail it was clear that the person only read the first few chapters before writing the review. It did not capture the essence of the book and it was not very helpful.

2. Give a summary of the book before reviewing it
Readers want to know what the book is about. Most blurbs on the back of the books don’t give as much details as readers would like. That’s where reviewers, even consumer reviewers come in. It helps orient the reader.

3. Be honest
Have you ever read a review that was so superfluous that it lacked credibility? If you are asked to review a book and you don’t feel you can give an honest review, simply bow out. To be honest, I don’t like to give negative reviews. I had one author acquaintance who asked me to write a review of her book on Amazon. I read it (and after 2 years I’m still reading it), and I did not find it interesting in the least. So I did not post a review since it would have been negative. Whether you like the book, or not just be honest in your review, because that’s what readers need.

4. Don’t post a rating without reviewing
If you give book a 5 star rating, we want to know why. What is so interesting about it? Is it the story-line? The characters? The writing style? In the same vein, readers want to know why a reviewer gave the book a 1 star. Most of those ratings without reviews are deemed not helpful.

5. Don’t be nasty
There are some reviews that are written just to be mean. One reviewer said their intention was to balance out the four and five stars so they gave it a 2 star. That’s not the purpose of reviewing. I’ve read a review that suggested the book be used as toilet paper to wipe ones @&*@#$. I purchased the book anyway and discovered it was a great read. The point of rating a book is not to vent frustration, but to give an honest review about the product.  And even a negative review could be written without being nasty.

6. Review the product, not other things
This applies to more than just books. Some people give great books or great products a 1 star because the shipping was slow or they had issues with the supplier. I read a review where the person took issue with the author name because it sounded fake. There was nothing about the book in the review.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It merely contains my pet peeves because I absolutely hate to read a review that doesn’t at least offer me insights that would aid in my decision to purchase the book.

How do reviews influence your decision in purchasing books? What are some of your pet peeves about Amazon or other online book reviews?


G. B. Miller said...

I don't read book reviews when I purchase books because I rarely purchase books. I do leave reviews for books that I've read (mostly from the public library), both non-fiction and fiction. I also take most, if not all 5 star reviews with a grain of salt (mine included). I rarely give out 5 stars and most of my reviews, be they for books, music or the occasional odds & ends, are between 2 (for bad music) and 4. The highest I normally go is 4 1/2 (4 up above and a 1/2 below). I rarely will got lower than a 3 on a book, because I know what it's like to be crucified with a scathing book review, so if I come across a book lower than deserves below a 3, I simply don't review it.

Major pet peeve about Amazon is they way they threaten to remove certain reviews because you happen to know/follow the author on Facebook

Father Nature's Corner

Jewel Amethyst said...

Your pet peeve is one thing that actually protects the integrity of the review process (for whatever it's worth). They do that to avoid authors inflating their ratings by giving self reviews. Even with all that precaution, I've seen a lot of pumped up reviews that seem to be written by the same person under different aliases. I've read reviews and then books and wondered how they got those reviews.

About the five star reviews: what happens if a book really blows your mind away in its excellence? I've read books that if I could give 6 stars out of 5 stars I would. I've also read some books that deserve negative number of stars.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've certainly seen some weird comments made in reviews about unrelated things. Your post here gives some good guidelines for what folks doing reviews should think about

Liane Spicer said...

Actually, Jewel, GB's pet peeve does not protect the integrity of the review because Amazon does not apply this standard across the board, but only to indie authors. Some traditionally published authors continue to abuse the system with impunity. (I have nothing against trad authors, as you know, since I'm a hybrid myself.) I've also seen hordes of people crucify authors who get them mad on blogs and such by storming their Amazon pages and leaving horrendous ratings--for a book they have not read. It's crazy-ville out there.

My take is simple: Look at both good and bad reviews to get a feel for the book before buying, but remember there's the Look Inside feature and the sample download. Nothing like reading part of the book yourself to form an informed opinion.

I seldom review books by authors I know because I don't trust myself to be absolutely impartial. But like you say, there are some books that more than deserve 5 stars--and not just literary masterpieces either. Like GB, though, if I think a book deserves a bad rating I just don't review it.

KeVin K. said...

My favorite review - one sure to hold that position for several years - was a two-star review of an anthology of my short stories. The reader's complaint was that it "jumped around more than his other novels."

I also have a "fan" I annoyed on a Star Trek forum at least fifteen years ago who still periodically posts one-star reviews of my Star Trek e-books. I haven't written for Star Trek in a decade and quit the forums (where I frequently antagonized "real" Star Trek fans with my lack of reverence) long before that. But every year or so, there's another one-star review by a variation of the same name declaring my stories don't feel like real Star Trek.

In seeking out insights into books I'm considering reading (on those rare occasions I'm not picking up something new from someone I know) I pay attention to what friends, fellow readers, and writers whose judgment I respect have to say. I only read the Amazon reviews of books I've read, and then only for amusement.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Liane, it's sad that that's the case. I wasn't aware that it was applied only or indiscriminately to Indie authors. I know one person whose daughter was impressed with my children's book and tried to review it on Amazon but could not do so because he was not a verified purchaser-- which is weird, because people can purchase books through other means other than Amazon.com.

Yes indeed it is Crazyville! It is a way of empowering the reader which is very subject to abuse. Yet I find an unscientific correlation between the number of reviews and the number of sales. Maybe when people see more reviews they think it is selling well and are more inclined to purchase it? Well that's my crazy take on it. I could be wrong.

Jewel Amethyst said...

KeVin, one of my favorite negatives is when a reviewer hated the book because my name sounded fake. Dang, its the name I was given from birth. But then my editor did advice against using that name saying it sounded exotic (aka it sounded like a stripper) :).