What’s a Review to You?

There’s been such a brouhaha lately (and probably one that was justified!) about paid book reviews and the general uncoolness of such a practice that I’ve been meaning to chime in for ages.

And guess what? Now that it’s September, I’m back!

So, just in case you live under are rock or aren’t tapped into the whole literary market, The New York Times stirred the pot and dragged paid book reviews back to the surface of that slimy soup we call the publishing world, spawning half a dozen different high-powered responses to the original article. The bottom line, though, is that a number of companies pay reviewers to plug books, and they often serve self-published writers such as those who use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.

In theory, if I were super-rich, I could not only hire an editor and a designer for my self-published work, I could also hire ‘readers’ to rave about the book. Of course, I’d also have to hire bodyguards to keep me from getting stabbed in the back by poorer, harder-working writers. But it might be worth it in the end, since reviews can influence consumer behavior.

Maybe John Wilkes Booth was just angry that he wasn’t getting the awesome review of having the president at HIS play.

Does it really matter, though?

Do you judge books by individual reviews? How did you learn about the last book that you read?

Notice that this cover didn’t go into my decision-making process, either. Yawn.

I’ll be a case study, though my behavior probably isn’t typical. The last new (to me) book I read was Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire. I chose the book not because of its 4-star rating over 163 reviews on Amazon, which, honestly, isn’t that fabulous, given the number of highly-rated urban fantasy reads out there. I chose it because Mary Robinette Kowal talked up the series on Writing Excuses and because, as a non-vampire, non-typical urban fantasy set in San Francisco, well, it’s been on my to-read radar for quite a long time.

It still took me years to read the book. And what finally pushed me into adding it to my Kindle to-read folder?

1. Positive feedback from someone I respect or whose taste I share.
I just don’t care what ‘SquirrelGirl158’ in Michigan cares about a given book. She could also enjoy skydiving and murdering people, and I’m not going to pick up either of those things, either. But if someone I know and like tells me why I would enjoy the book, I’ll listen.

2. Actual interest in the subject matter.
You can recommend that military/sci-fi/thrilled to me all you want, but I just don’t care. I’m not going to dedicate the six-plus hours I need to read a book to something that really doesn’t interest me.

3. Nothing more pressing in my mental queue.
Yup, the undefinable X-factor. Sometimes I’d really rather just reread Outlander than spend time with characters I may not care about doing things that only mildly amuse me. And this one is the real reason reviews just don’t matter that much. Think of all the fabulous books out there that I’ll never read because I’d rather do something else.

There you have it: that’s what it takes for me to read a book. Reviews are just one factor, and it’s all about the source.

What does it take to interest you in a book? How much do reviews really matter?


5 thoughts on “What’s a Review to You?

  1. Great point(s), Kristin! One of my best friends reads Nora Roberts, and she could talk those books up till her lips fall off and I still won’t read them. And anymore, EVERY books gets 4-5 star reviews, so they don’t mean much, either. If a blogger I follow (like, say, YOU) recommended a book &/or wrote a thoughtful review, that might get me there.
    And for what it’s worth, I’m not so interested in soliciting reviews for my work. If someone reads something I’ve done and likes it – or doesn’t – please, put a review up there if you want to. Other than that, I’m staying away from things like FB pages where authors trade reviews. I either end up getting – or giving – meaningless 5-star reviews or making myself crazy b/c I’m afraid of pissing people off or hurting their feelings.
    Welcome back, btw!

    • Egads, Nora Roberts! There’s another one I wouldn’t read.

      I wasn’t even aware that there are FB pages where authors can trade reviews — but I wouldn’t go there. The only feedback that helps is honest feedback, and tricking customers into reading a book with insincere good reviews will just anger them in the long run.

      What a hard line to walk. We writers need each other, but if we can’t express opinions to each other honestly, we just can’t help each other.

  2. I hadn’t thought about your second point, but that’s very true. I generally won’t pick up a western or romance (nor, egads, ever a western romance) even if they have “best seller” plastered all over it, and everyone says its great.

    Good point.

    I’m turning more and more to the sample pages to determine whether I’m interested or not.

    • I use the samples a lot, too — often the author’s voice tells you much more than what random readers do.

      And hear, hear. Western romance? Yikes. 🙂

  3. I concur with your three points… (I do sometimes read the reviews on Amazon out of entertainment, usually when I’m in the middle or at the end to see who concurs with me. Although I did read a helpful one yesterday, which said a particular book shouldn’t be read on Kindle, owing to the treatment of footnotes…)

    I’m going to add a fourth point: past history with the author. There are some authors I’ll just snap up and read because I already know I’m going to love it 🙂

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