On the issue of reviews, or, How important are they to you?

Posted in CategoryGeneral
  • Mark Housley 1 year ago

    Here's something I've been wondering about. How much do reviews influence your reading choices? In the age of Amazon, where all things are assigned a review, I know for me reviews dramatically influence my purchases. I've noticed that this has bled over to my reading. I find myself putting hard floors on the review score of a book I'm willing to give a try. Like- on Amazon- if the reviews are less than ~4.3 and Goodreads ~3.75, I basically won't pick it up. Unless it is a specific author or niche genre I'm interested in, reviews are my bible. 

    I don't know if this is a good thing or not. Frankly, there are so many books out there that I don't want to waste time on something less than stellar. Reviews are a good proxy for quality, within reason. But sometimes I think I'm living in a Black Mirror episode.

    Any thoughts?

  • Sam 1 year ago

    This is an interesting question. I'm old enough to remember when there was no internet or mobiles, so as such, there was only newspaper reviews / TLS etc. As this time was during my formative reading years I solely relied on just browsing bookshops. I then gradually got to know what publishers were putting out the type of books I liked and I would write to them and ask them to send me their latest catalogues etc. It all seems so archaic now! 

    Reader reviews of books such as found on Amazon, Goodreads, Booktube etc still seem relatively new to me and I must admit that, on the whole, I don't set much store by them. I think this is because the internet as a whole homogenises everything, so it seems to me (and this is a massive generalisation) that every one is reading and reviewing the same books in quite a narrow spectrum and this can lead to a lack of diversity in what the internet recommends (quite prepared to be shot down in flames here!) 

    Reader reviews are (rightly) subjective. So if I recommend a book and give it 5 stars and someone else gives it 1 star - what does that actually mean? I liked it and someone else didn't and that is fine, but that doesn't mean the book is or isn't worth reading. I'm not sure that I've ever read anything that I thought was terrible or was a waste of time reading. I've read books that didn't do much for me, or were written in a style that I couldn't get on with, or where I didn't necessarily agree with the authors viewpoint, or simply books that I didn't fully understand, but for me, that doesn't make those books not worth reading.

    Think this is why I like the Bookaxe system so much in that I can say, of the books I have read, which I prefer over others - but even those on the bottom shelf are not books I am saying anything negative about. Sorry this is so long and rambling - too much espresso this morning!!

  • Ra 1 year ago

    I actually don’t like reading reviews until after I’ve read the book! Apart from wanting to avoid spoilers, I just find reviews too subjective to help me if I’m on the fence about whether to borrow/buy; I want to read a chapter or two for myself (Kindle samples are great for this) to make that decision. But I do enjoy, after the fact, looking up reviews to see how other people experienced the book.

    At least, that goes for fiction. I do find non-fiction reviews very useful, especially if experts weigh in on the quality of the information/research presented.

  • Lucy Cruickshanks 1 year ago

    This discussion is SO interesting to me. Thanks for starting it, @Mark. As a reader, I do the same as @Ra, to an extent. I mostly chose what to read by word of mouth recommendations and will almost never look at reviews before reading the actual book, though I do glance at how many stars a book has overall on Amazon or Wordery or wherever I'm buying from. It's not the defining factor in my choice of what to read by any stretch but I think it's impossible not to take it in a little. After I've read a book, however, I will always look at reviews because I like to see how others have felt and whether I agree/disagree. I don't read them before because I don't want my opinions to be influenced along the way but I do find them interesting afterwards. The reviews I read are from places like the broadsheets, Guardian, Independent, NYTimes, Washington Post etc, glossy mags online like Stylist or wherever media-type places have reviewed them.

    I don't ever read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads because I find them hard to trust and far too subjective. This stems from my experiences as an author. When you get a book published, you know you're going to get bad reviews. I knew full well my novels wouldn't be for everyone - they're pretty dark and contain content and address themes that are off-putting to many. But that's actually OK, because you know you can never please everyone, and so long as you're pleasing the people who like similar things, you can feel like you've done a good job. There are different types of reviews, though, to my mind. A review by someone who likes similar things but says "for me this was amazing" or "for me, this wasn't as good as Ms ABC's book because of XYZ" are the ones I value and listen to, both as a reader and a writer. What is harder to take, however, is when you get a poor review with no justification whatsoever (like a low star but no written content) or a review from someone who clearly shouldn't have been reading your book in the first place. It's very hard to explain without sounding bitter (!) but I've had my fair share of good and bad alike, and honestly it's more about wanting your book to get into the hands of the people who will love it. I've read some reviews of my books by folks who readily admit to mostly reading romance novels, for example, or who dislike swearing, and of course, when they read my books, they then review them poorly. It doesn't mean my books are bad and no-one should read them, it just mean my books weren't for those readers. Yet a one or two star review is a one or two star review regardless in the eyes of most sites! Having been on the author end of this experience, it had made me quite jaded about trusting reviews where they are just all lumped together. It's absolutely that homogenisation that @Sam talks about (or outright mob mentality, as I call it on my more cynical days!) It was one of the core motivations behind starting Bookaxe, why we focus our recommendations on a book's content not its cover, and why we match our users to likeminded readers then show you their views with a higher priority.

    In my mind, reviews do matter, but it's not about how many people say a book is good, it matters who says a book is good. You need to trust that they think like you.

  • Mark Housley 1 year ago

    Ah! Some good points. I guess I should have been clearer when I was speaking about reviews. I (97%ish) meant just the score, singularly. Particularly for a book that has 10,000 reviews and whatever average score, I'll say that is a good proxy. I don't usually read the reviews until I've finished the book, just the book summary. @lucy I will read professional reviews, but I often find them seemingly written by an MFA with delusions of grandeur. I guess I’m a man of the people :)

    Homogenization is a problem, I agree. The popular books on goodreads or booktube or the internet can be a narrow slice of the pie. The echo chamber effect of the internet applies across the board, not just to politics or sexual proclivities (lol). But when a book has a decent number of reviews even if it is a "popular" book, it will have been read by a somewhat diverse group and the score is likely representative. And for me personally, that score just sticks out, balefully saying "Ignore me at your own peril!" I can't help it, if a score is 3.5 or lower, I find it very hard (impossible) to begin reading. I often will read a book with a good review and dislike it. That’s fine. But it's hard to imagine that given a low score, I'll buck the crowd and find it amazing. That seems quite unlikely. Is that unreasonable? Additionally, there are tens of thousands of books (more than I could read in this lifetime) that have a high review score, so it seems intuitive that I begin there and work my way down.

    @lucy It’s interesting to think about it from the point of the author. It's like your baby out there in the world and when people for whatever reason say it sucks, obviously you don't like that. I can see that an author must grow a thick skin, or they could easily quit altogether. As you say though, the score is the score. Written reviews that are well thought out and reasonable have so much more value than a simple number, but the number is very easy to look at. I have been swayed by a single written review for both books and purchases and have been rewarded and burned, so it comes out in the wash.

    I guess what I’m saying is that there is value in a numerical score. The democratization of everything due to the internet is a mostly good thing. One of the new skills is the evaluation of sources of information. If you are skilled you can sort the wheat from the chaff and rise above the noise (kind of a tangent here, sorry lol).



  • Salieri 1 year ago

    Hi! I'm gonna be the odd duck in this discussion: I read a couple of bad reviews before reading the book.


    To be clearer: I check if the bad reviews say "I didn't like this or that" or "it was terrible because the pacing was too slow, the characters were inconsistent, the plot twist was too obvious, ..." If I'm interested and the only bad reviews I see are "I didn't like it" or "it sucks" with nothing to back it up, I'll read it. If the bad reviews make valid points about things I know I hate in books, I don't read it.


    To give an example: I checked the reviews about Patrick Ness's Release before buying it. It currently scores a 3.78 on GR with mixed reviews and has some bad reviews on French Amazon, so I read them. Most of what I read was "The parts about the faun and the Queen were useless and had nothing to do with the main story". OK. But it seemed like a big part of the book, and what kind of author just throws some random ghost story in a perfectly good book if it has no point? So I bought it, thinking there was a connection somewhere that these readers had missed, and read it. I gave it 5* myself. I did find a connection. Maybe I'm wrong, but I like my interpretation enough for Release to be one of my new favourite books.


    On the other hand, Fangirl got raving reviews, 4.11 on GR and I hated it. I wish I had known GR before I read it because there are some great bad reviews on it and had I read them, I wouldn't have bothered.

  • Amy 1 year ago

    This is a really interesting conversation. I know I have a tendency to almost rule out books when they have a rating less than 4 stars on GR which I always think I probably shouldn’t do, but as soon as I see the rating the thought has already crossed my mind. 

    I do like to read reviews from people on the internet though only really reviewers who I follow what they read and their opinions on books, so I can understand how their tastes are similar or different to my own when deciding whether or not the book is for me. 

    I completely agree on the fact that it’s so much more useful when people say why they liked/ didn’t like something, as everyone’s tastes are different- characters that one person didn’t connect with could be another persons favourite.

  • AnnaBookBel 1 year ago

    I am only influenced by reviews if I feel I can trust the reviewer. So I bascially ignore Amazon and anyone I don't know on Goodreads. I stick with the bloggers and published mags etc that I respect for the most part, plus booksellers I know well. You can't beat a personal recommendation from someone who knows you and what kinds of things you like to read.   

  • BW Kipnis 1 year ago

    I write reviews and so they are important vehicles in collecting experience, contextualizing work, assessing an author’s accomplishment, building genre fluency, facilitating takeaways and gleaming inspiration when possible. I read reviewers who speak to some or all of these concerns and this includes writers who review in long form the work of others.  The averages offered on Goodreads are buffers to see where I line up against mass culture but I don’t read many consumer reviews unless I’m really on the fence (which doesn’t happen often).  It would be nice if the algorithm offered half stars but it doesn’t so I don’t publish all my reviews there and stick to my own social media venues.  I like reviews they prep us for rich discussion it’s just that there’s too many of them!

  • BW Kipnis 1 year ago

    Ugh..Gleaning inspiration...Excuse typo as I’m in a doctor’s office WAITING FOREVER

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