Reviews can be a contentious issue. The scandal of sock-puppetry, Amazon not allowing authors to review other authors, reviews being removed seemingly arbitrarily and the whole value of the review system itself on some sites has brought them to the fore. There are a good number of reviews which are, frankly, worthless. They say nothing about the book or are just someone’s opinion on an author, are so gushing they look fake (although may not be) or so spiteful it looks like a hate campaign has begun.
It must be remembered reviews are OPINIONS, with the level of reliability that offers. That said opinions can be influential – for example I belong to Goodreads and they have a pretty liberal review policy. Authors can review other authors (authors are readers too!) and even, in theory themselves although there is a flag marking it as an author review. Groups review between friends and this CAN be influential, a shared interest might swing a sale or get an author on the do not read list. There are some who feel the Goodreads reviews are… not reliable and authors can get victimised. In part this can be the case, but it is a small part. There are many who do use them to record their own thoughts on a book, even if that thought is “I loved it.” As I said reviews are opinions and thus the good has to be taken with the bad. There will always be someone who dislikes a book.
Many reviews can be less than helpful, simply stating “I loved it” is not actually that helpful for other readers. Many readers will skim the less than helpful ones to find those give a concise and well-rounded review. I suppose it depends on why the reviewer has actually left the review in the first place.
So really are they THAT important?
I ran the following experiment on one reader/author group on Goodreads and the results say quite a bit…
The question: How important are reviews in influencing your choice of book?
Total participants 27
A good synopsis is more important – 11 votes, 40.7%
Reviews and a good synopsis are of equal value to me – 6 votes, 22.2%
Reviews are the most important consideration – 3 votes, 11.1%
Recommendations are most important -2 votes, 7.4%
A good synopsis is important, but reviews help -2 votes, 7.4%
I read reviews but they don’t affect my choice – 1 vote, 3.7%
Cover art, blurb, friends’ opinions then reviews if I bother to look – 1 vote, 3.7%
I never read reviews – 1 vote, 3.7 %
Cover art is most important – 0 votes
I never buy books with bad reviews – 0 votes.
On a second poll reviews only came 4th in the poll of how people find their books, after recommendations from friends, Books of the Months/ads and Listopia and other factors.
So although reviews are useful they are, perhaps, not AS useful as authors are led to believe in advice given. Reviews are predominately for readers, to praise or slate a book, as a reminder to check out that author again or to avoid him/her.
They are not the only factor but in combination with other considerations the results may vary… it certainly does not hurt to get good reviews.
There is a poll at the bottom of this post – feel free to vote.