Reviews are a contentious issue, one only has to look at social media to discover that. Good Reads particularly has a lot of reviewers, and some are very vocal. It must be remembered Good Reads is a READER site, primarily but of late there have been many issues, discussions and arguments about reviews, their value, what they mean, who can give them, and their validity. There is no hard and fast answer to any of these questions.
Ultimately book reviews are for readers. Readers are, of course, consumers of books and many readers like to catalogue their thoughts on a particular book. A review is an OPINION, and thus has the prejudices, views and likes and dislikes of the particular reviewer.
What one reviewer thinks is wonderful another might hate.
Reviewer A hates typos/reviewer B overlooks or doesn’t notice them.
Reviewer A likes strong world building/reviewer B sees it as an ‘info dump’.
Reviewer A doesn’t like swearing/violence/sex in books/ reviewer B likes that type of book.
You see what I mean?
Then there are reviewers who use the review space to comment on an author’s behaviour/ideals etc. Personally I think the review should be about the book but that’s my own view. Some folks find this important and it’s true some writers forget they are the brand. If they act like a jerk online then someone will notice and likely as not the behaviour will backfire. What goes on the internet stays on the internet. This does work both ways. If a reviewer is particularly spiteful, or obviously has an agenda then other readers will see that and hopefully ignore the review.
So what do reviews mean? They mean what the review wants them to mean – his or her own views and values. A reader seeing the review might misunderstand the reviewer’s opinion, might read the book and think the opposite. People review for all sorts of reasons: Personal lists, for friends, because they loved/hated a book so much they want to share, because they enjoy reviewing, even for the author.
Again I’ll say it. Reviews are opinions.
How important are they? I haven’t a damn clue. Again that probably depends on who you ask. Some people put a lot of store in reviews, scanning a book’s reviews for the pros and cons from readers who think the same way, or perhaps to see how many ratings of a particular level they have. There are many who think a book with only 5 star ratings have fake ratings. Is this true? Not usually, but it doesn’t have to be true or false, just perceived as true. And there are authors who have bought reviews. These are in the minority.
If a reviewer says “I love this book (insert title here)” or possible “This was the suckiest book evah” that doesn’t tell anyone a great deal. It helps to add why it was liked or disliked but as I’ve said it depends on the reviewer and why and for whom they are reviewing. Some use reviews as a list of I liked this, I didn’t like this. They simply don’t want to say WHY, or aren’t confident to find the words to do so.
Then there are readers who only read a few, or don’t let reviews influence them. I’m like this. I might read reviews but I have usually made up my mind by then. I’ve even bought books based on BAD reviews. I’m actually more likely to look at reviews for non-book products. Don’t ask me why.
That said I do review – partly because I have a bad memory – and partly because I enjoy it. There’s another reason. I’m more likely to review if the book is written by an indie author. Yes I know I said reviews are for readers, and they are. I might be an author but I am also a reader. As an author I feel a writer appreciates a review – it’s always nice to learn what a reader thought of one’s books. I’ve seen many arguments saying that reviewers aren’t an indie’s beta readers – and that’s true but even the most polished work is not going to be liked by everyone. Reviews help authors to understand the market, their own work and what readers want (which might not be what the writer thinks they want).
I’ve seen the debates on Good Reads from reviewers who say that they don’t review for authors – but if the review is on a site such as Goodreads or Amazon the likelihood is the author will see it and interpret it. For better or worse.
As an author do I like getting reviews? Yes, of course. I appreciate any reader taking the time to put his or her thoughts down. Do I think they affect sales? Not a clue. Good reviews might help, then again they might not. Bad reviews might hurt, then again they might not.
Conclusion – are reviews important? Yes and no. Do they make a difference to readers? Yes and no. Do they make a difference to authors? Yes and no. As a writer you can’t please everyone. There will ALWAYS be someone who doesn’t like the book, as there will be someone who adores it. As a reader/reviewer there are bound to be others who share your views, but many who won’t. Look at any book from Hamlet http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hamlet-Wordsworth-Classics-William-Shakespeare/dp/1853260096/ to Fifty Shades of Grey http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifty-Shades-Trilogy-Darker-Freed-ebook/dp/B008BM9L72/ and see the selections of reviews. (For the latter some are hilarious).
There is no right and wrong.