Are reviews the best way for you to select a book?


books reviews to select a book?All writers want reviews, preferably good ones. We ask for honest reviews but we secretly hope for good ones. Really good ones. It makes sense, we want to sell books. We want to feel like that year we spent fiddling with words, plot points and character arcs wasn’t wasted. But above all, we want to know that we spoke to you, the reader. That we resonated. That we connected. That we took you on an adventure. Provided entertainment, relief and escape. Because we don’t write novels for ourselves, we write them for you.

But…are book reviews believable?

Have you been fooled by a book review? I have

A few weeks ago I held my new Kindle in my hands, trembling with excitement and dying to download some books and get reading. I particularly wanted to read some indie authors and hopefully find a few new favorites. So, I popped onto Amazon and was completely overwhelmed by the selection. I suppose I could’ve asked around for recommendations but I wanted books right then.

I decided I could download a few freebies first. If I liked the author, then I’d pony up and buy everything they’d written. I scanned through trying to decide which books to download. I reduced the list by filtering for 4-star and up reviews. Still a daunting list, so I checked the blurbs. I found six books that interested me and I wanted to download and watched my Kindle screen as they magically appeared.

I was in heaven. Six brand new mysteries – total brain junk food and I was hungry. I opened the first book but the prologue was indecipherable and when I made it to the first chapter, the author had totally switched gears and was yammering on about a woman’s red fingernail. Next!

The next four books I couldn’t get past the first two or three pages. For various reasons – mind numbingly boring, passive writing, bad editing – in short, I couldn’t engage.

The fifth book showed promise. The author could write and there were passages that were pure brilliance. But there were so many stupid mistakes that could easily have been solved with research that it was astounding.

It was a crime novel and not do only I write mysteries myself, I’ve been reading them since I was eight years old. I have more than a passing understanding of forensics, investigation and procedure. And it was clear that this writer hadn’t researched any of those things or hadn’t retained any of the research. And the main character was a medical examiner.

I actually read the book to the end because I liked some of her characters and the story was clever. The shame of it was that a good editor could have helped to make it a top notch book. I almost fell off my bed when I saw at the end of the book that this author was touted as ‘best selling’ and had written 10 – 12 other books. I couldn’t imagine how this book had gotten five star reviews up the wazoo. Well, the reviews may have gotten me to read one of this author’s books but I won’t read another. So how helpful were those reviews to her in the long run?

You can buy anything on the Internet

We all love the Internet because we can find anything our little hearts desire in that nether cyber-world. Wonderful things on the Internet, also a lot of crap. The trick is in knowing the difference.

To be sure, if there’s something you want to buy, somebody out there is selling it.

Did you know that you can buy Twitter and Facebook followers? Is it a stretch to think that you could also buy reviews? Not really. I’ve seen ads offering money to write reviews, and they aren’t for the New Yorker. And every second there are thousands of online marketeers coming up with new ways to game the system. Because a lot of these marketeers think that marketing is about creating illusions, they don’t understand that marketing is about helping the consumer find what they’re looking for. You don’t have to trick anyone into buying anything if you’ve got what they need and want, right?

So the phrase, Buyer Beware, may apply doubly on the Internet.

How do you know if you can trust the reviews?

There’s no way to know for sure if a review can be trusted. There is always the matter of personal taste. Some readers may prefer a different style or not care about things that drive you nuts as a reader.

But there are a few things you can do to ascertain the veracity of the reviews:

  • Read a few pages before you buy, many Amazon books allow you to read the first few pages to see if you like before purchasing.
  • Check the author’s blog, website or Facebook page to see if you like their style of writing.
  • Ask friends to recommend authors they like
  • Download a free book from the author (if there is one) and sample their writing. Even if there isn’t a free book from the author, most authors offer a free chapter download or other stories for you to read.

In other words, don’t be like me and rush to download because your brain is hungry.

What’s your experience with book reviews? Helpful? Not helpful? How do you choose a book to read?

Writer Chick
Copyright 2014

10 responses

  1. I read book reviews at Goodreads first before reading the actual book. To warrant a read, the rating score must be more than 3.80 out of 5. However that’s not enough for me to start reading. I usually compare the reviews – I’ll read 1-2 highest rated ones and read 1-2 lowest rated ones and compare both positive & negative reviews. If the negative reviews involve spelling mistakes or illogical plot or character developments, then I’d say Goodbye to the book. I believe that we shouldn’t waste time reading poorly written books despite being bestsellers (that baffles me!).

    1. Hi Eisyasofia,
      Sounds like you have a very efficient system for book selection. I wish I could so disciplined about it. What about recommendations from friends and colleagues? Do you take those or strictly stick to your system?

      I agree, some books that become best sellers are baffling to me too.

      Thanks for your comments and insight.

      Writer Chick

      1. Books in Malaysia are expensive and libraries are not well-stocked, those are another reasons for my system. I do ask book buddies about the books that they enjoy but their reading preferences are usually different from mine. However if I feel like “crossing over to their side”, I’d ask to borrow their book. If I don’t like the story, then I wouldn’t feel guilty for spending on a book I don’t enjoy.

        My book buddies and I are starting a book club so perhaps I’ll be more receptive to their recommendations. Can’t wait to start. Let me know if you have tips!

      2. Wow, you’re far away!

        Expensive books can be problematic so I really understand your system now. Makes total sense.

        Back in my really broke days I had a system with friends where we passed books back and forth between each other. Kind of a small lending library I guess. Or if a few of us really wanted to read the same book, we’d all chip in and co-own it. I’ve never been to Malaysia so I don’t know if you have things like second hand shops or used book stores but those are great places to find inexpensive books too. Perhaps your neighbors or friends have books they are getting rid of? You could ask and add those to your reading group’s cache. Also, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of free books online (Check this post for links to various sites: http://wp.me/p1saO-Xd) . If you don’t have an ereader, usually you can download them as pdfs, or download free ereader apps for your computer, tablet, laptop or smartphone. I know for example that Amazon has an app for reading Kindle books that you can use if you don’t have a Kindle. I think Barnes and Nobel also has something similar for their eReader, the Nook.

        Anyway, I hope that helps.

        Nice chatting with you.

        Writer Chick

      3. I’m actually blogging on behalf of a book rental shop, which concept is similar to a dvd rental store. :) I blog about about all things bookish from social media use by author to events including digital ones. I’m enjoying it.

        Thank you very much for the tips. Will check out that link.

        Nice chatting with you too. Have a great weekend

      4. Hi Eisyasofia,
        Wow, what an interesting gig. It’s interesting to think of people renting books – I never would’ve have thought of such a thing. So, you’re the girl on the book scene in your town? That’s very cool.

        I was happy to provide any tips, perhaps some will pan out for you – hope so.

        Have a good one.

        Writer Chick

  2. I always read reviews first. As both an author and reviewer, I try to stay neutral in how I rate the book. Even if I love all their other works, are Facebook friends with them, or met them at a conference, I review what I read as honest as I can. If I can’t give a book at least three stars, I don’t post the review at all. I don’t think bad reviews help anyone. I’m only one person, and my opinions, likes and dislikes are different from many others. Example: I see a lot of one star reviews for a book being too dirty (even though the titles are something along the line of Her Pleasurable One-Nighter or similar). In this case, don’t review and say it’s horrible because there is too much sex.

    Definitely check on the site to see what else that reviewer has written about. If it’s the only one they have, it’s probably the author’s mom, aunt, or other friend/relative, and should be skipped. If they have reviewed over 500 books that are all 2 stars or less, they have some issues to work out and should be skipped as well.

    1. Hi Tasha,
      Good point about the reviewers, if they’ve never reviewed anything before it might be suspect. Although, I don’t write a lot of reviews, usually only when I feel really strongly about the book. Perhaps I should write more than I do but perhaps other people are like me?

      I agree with you about the bad reviews – I don’t like to write them either. Even a if I don’t like the book I know that the author put an enormous amount of effort into it (well, except for those really bad celebrity books, maybe) and I don’t want to trash other writers unnecessarily. Although, I can appreciate a bad review if the reviewer isn’t snarky and actually states the reasons they didn’t like the book in a non-emotional, logical way. I suppose I mean, constructive criticism.

      As a reviewer, I imagine you’d have to streamline your approach and it sounds like you’ve got a system that works for you.

      Thanks for the insight.

      Writer Chick

  3. I’ve learned the Amazon review lesson you write about here the hard way as well. And to be honest, often GoodReads isn’t any better. I mean, look at the reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey and other such nonsense.

    I tend to just go with what catches my fancy. For me, reviews (good or bad) tend to color the way I read a book anyway, and can lead me to like or dislike it more because of the opinions of the reviewers. So at this point, if I really want a review (which is pretty rare), I go to another book blog. Or I read a questionable book and write the review I would have wanted to see. If I had completely written off books with lower ratings on GoodReads or Amazon, I’d have missed out on many of the books that I took a chance on and loved.

    When I do read reviews, it’s usually after I’ve already finished the book in question.

    1. Hey Leila,
      LOL, thanks for that comment about 50 Shades…nice to know I’m not the only one who thinks that. I have to admit, I don’t check Good Reads often enough for reviews. On the other hand the volume is usually so intimidating I’d rather check Amazon anyway.

      You mentioned you go to book blogs for reviews, any particular book blogs you can recommend? I’d be curious to know your thoughts on that.

      I must say I too like the whatever catches my fancy approach. It does result in some stinkers but also some hidden gems. Actually, I’m really good at spotting a good movie, more so than books but perhaps that’s because there are other elements to evaluate, such as cast, director, production company and sometimes screenwriter. Books are a little harder to forecast.

      Interesting that you read reviews after you’ve read the book, I may have to try that.

      Do you also review books? If so, what’s your approach, when reviewing?

      Thanks for letting me pick your brain.

      Writer Chick

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