Reviews – Are They Really All That?

The accepted wisdom in publishing is that reviews are critical to the success of a book. On Amazon in particular, people claim that a host of five star reviews is key to turning your book into a best seller. But is that really the case?

The more I’ve written, and the more I’ve read, the less convinced I’ve become that reviews are really the most important aid to purchase. This is because reviews seem to me to fall into five broad categories:

Gushing

A lot of these are written by friends or relatives. We’ve all got them but some folks go out of their way to encourage it. My mum and my sister posted reviews for a couple of my books and, although they felt they were being sincere and truthful, I asked them to remove them. They were a little hurt, bless ‘em, but I explained that, as well-intentioned as they were, and as grateful as I was for their support, those reviews would not be credible in the eyes of a customer who wasn’t related to me. However, in truth, I’m not sure many people would have noticed or cared that much. Friends and relatives are often the first to review and, although they might not be entirely neutral, it is possible they did really enjoy the book. It’s hardly crime of the century if it’s half a dozen or less. Much more insidious and damaging to the validity of good reviews have been the paid-for and sock puppetry scandals of the last couple of years. Of course, there are genuine gushing reviews and if you have a load of those, well done.  However, I think people’s natural cynicism means they take anything at an extreme with a pinch of condiment.

Dismissive

The majority of one or two star reviews I have ever read are couched in the language of the smart-arse. They rarely influence whether or not I will buy a product. If they’re not written by a smart-arse, then they’re usually written by someone who’s unable to construct a coherent sentence (never mind argument) to justify their rating.

Irrelevant

I received a five star review that read as follows:-

“Got the deliver to me on the first estimated date rather than the last day”

Yeah, brilliant, mate. Very helpful. Well done! Boosted my overall star rating though …

Balanced and well thought out

These are rare and, because of that, unlikely to have as big an influence on potential readers as they should. This is particularly true when a book has hundreds of reviews. Who has the time to trawl through them all to look for one of these? I know I don’t.

Too brief

Since the advent of the automatic prompt to review when readers reach the end of a book on their Kindle, I’ve noticed the length of most reviews has become shorter and shorter. I mean, what can you really decide about a book from sixty reviews that say ‘Good book’, ‘enjoyed it’ or ‘great read’? On Goodreads, people can just add a star rating without any text. I don’t think either of these rating types is likely to influence anyone’s decision making process. I also know that, in my case at least, I never review via that Kindle prompt. I don’t like it. I’ve had no time to consider what I thought of the book let alone formulate a coherent review. I also find it intrusive and distracting as it so often pops up before I’ve had a chance to check out the credits or some other addendum such as bonus chapters of the next book in a series or the like.

 

I’m not saying reviews are irrelevant or worthless – of course they’re not – but, if reviews are not having as big an influence on potential readers as some people would have you believe, what else can you do to convince them to try your book?

Last year I joined Book Bub – as a reader, not as a contributor – and they send me a daily email offering a book deal or two. The more I’ve done this, the less reliant I’ve become on reviews and the more reliant I’ve become on the blurb. If I like the blurb, I’ll take a chance, if I don’t, I won’t. And, let’s be honest, I do judge by the cover – at least in part.

Surely, I’m not alone in prioritising a good blurb and a decent cover over a host of three-word, five star reviews? It’s made me think I should revisit my own book blurbs and covers – make sure they’re working hard enough to sell my books without reviews. Basic stuff but true nonetheless.

Of course, if you have read one of my novels and enjoyed it … you know what to do.

Five Stars

 

About Peter

Peter Carroll is a Scotsman, author, musician and wildlife enthusiast.
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