Posted in Publishing, Writing

The Truth About Amazon Reviews

It has come to my attention that savvy consumers view 5-star reviews on Amazon with suspicion. Not reviews of vacuum cleaners or cameras, mind you. But book reviews? Nowadays, a 5-star review of a book you’ve never heard of is (I am told) assumed to be a plant.

In a world where anyone can publish and anyone can review, it’s expected that authors are, naturally, bludgeoning their friends and relations into posting rave reviews on Amazon. And they do! The abuse of Amazon’s customer review system by hyperactive, anxious authors, desperate to compete in an ocean of content where most books sink without a ripple, is so well-known that the trick is no longer effective. (Is it fair to call it a “trick”-? Aw, heck. For purposes of this blog post, let’s call it a trick.)

The problem is, sometimes a 5-star review of a book you have otherwise never heard of is genuine. The reader not only read the book, but loved it. How is a would-be book buyer to discern the difference between puffery and honest enthusiasm?

Do you, Gentle Reader, have a system of weighing customer reviews that winnows the wheat from the chaff? If you do, please share it with us.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that WICKED COOL received a 1-star review last week. This is always painful to an author — but it doesn’t, you know, ruin your life or anything. Your voice is not going to connect with everyone. Some people can’t stand Shakespeare. That doesn’t mean Shakespeare sucks. I don’t care who you are, or how well you write, some readers are not going to “get” you. That’s just the way it is in this business. I am grateful that my 5-star reviews outnumber my 1-star reviews, but this was certainly not the first 1-star review I have received. Just the first for this book.

What gave me pause this time around was that a Facebook friend clued me in to The Awful Truth: ALL my other reviews were 5-star reviews. So when the 1-star review popped up, in a lot of people’s minds it instantly negated all seven of the other reviews. (And, apparently, the professionals quoted under “Editorial Reviews.”) The experienced Amazon consumer would, based on the picture currently presented, assume that all seven of the 5-star reviews were posted by my mother. And the 1-star review was the only “honest” review.

Wow. What a catastrophe.

I am hereby going on the record and coming clean about those eight WICKED COOL reviews. I am personally acquainted with one, but only one, of the people who posted a 5-star review. Three more, however, are very kind and interested internet friends. So four of the really good reviews you can, perhaps, dismiss. (If you must.) The other three? I have no idea who those people are.

I also have no idea who the 1-star reviewer is, unfortunately.

I’ll tell you why I care: 9 times out of 10, I choose the books I buy based on customer reviews. So the idea that people are going to dismiss ALL the good reviews of  WICKED COOL and only believe the bad is turning me pale.


15 thoughts on “The Truth About Amazon Reviews

  1. I use Amazon reviews to help me research potential reads but I don’t just look at the stars ratings. I will typically read a few of the good reviews and a few of the bad. Its like what you said… some people just don’t get what I get or like what I like. Though I am most intrigued when the number of stars is almost even all the way down the scale or when all the ratings are 5s and 1s with little in the middle.

    There is definitely a difference between a valuable review and fluff. I will usually take my time to weed out the fluffy reviews that wax poetic about a book without really saying anything other than they loved or hated it. Tell me why. What did you like? What did you not like? Why should I read this book or skip it? I try to always make my reviews valuable for this reason. If I don’t like a book, I will be pretty frank (sometimes too frank, perhaps) and tell you why. And when I love a book, its the same. I love to share books and since I review a lot, I try to keep things as honest as possible. 🙂

    1. I’m always too afraid of spoilers to read the reviews before I’ve read the book. I often go back and read the reviews afterwards – which probably defeats the purpose, come to think of it. Amazon clearly intends the reviews to drive sales, not discussion! But I like to hear opinions about books I’ve read.

  2. I, personally, don’t pay attention to the stars at all. I read the actual reviews and when it seems like a person didn’t even read the book, then I’ll glance at the star they gave. I would hope an interested reader would actually read the review before deciding to buy the book themselves.

    Now that I think about it, sometimes I don’t even read the reviews if I like the summary. Hmmm

    1. I’m with you! Too many reviewers give a “book report” kind of review, where they tell you the plot. If I haven’t read the book yet, I hate that a lot.

      Sometimes what I’ll do is read the first sentence and the last sentence of the review. The book report usually comes in the middle. (I’m so crafty.)

  3. I take the bad reviews into account, but I don’t let one bad review negate all the good reviews!

    I guess I do have my own personal standards when it comes to using the reviews on Amazon. Roughly, I first look at the overall number of reviews. If a book or product has a 4.5-star average and only 3 reviews, I’m going to give it a chance, but I’ll assume that the book with a 4.5-star average and 30 reviews is more broadly enjoyed. If a book has 15 5- and 4-star reviews and only a couple of 1- or 2-star reviews, I’ll assume it’s probably overall a good book. If a book has an equalish number of negative and positive reviews, I’ll assume it’s probably not as widely appealing (which still doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t like it). Finally, I don’t know about you, but I can kind of tell which reviews are by ringers. They’re usually overly enthusiastic, and not specific in the ways that real reviews are.

    I guess a lot of my standards rely on my instincts, now that I think about it. 🙂

    1. Well, your instincts are obviously stellar since you read my books. So IMHO your system works. LOL!!

  4. A range of reviews does look more ‘natural’ I suppose, because if you look at some of the top selling books by very well-known authors, they have reviews all over the place. A lot of them come out at an average of only three-point-something stars. So I get that a book with nothing but five star reviews doesn’t look like it can be real.

    But they can’t just be dismissed. One of my fave indie authors lately is clocking up a lot of five star reviews, completely deserved in my opinion, and it’s evident that a lot of them (maybe all) are from real readers. My personal method of trying to sort out the ‘real’ reviews from the puffs is to check the detail. If all the reviews are two-liners basically just saying ‘this book is amazing, buy it’, there’s a fair chance some of those people haven’t even read it.

    That being the case, when I leave reviews I try to include enough real detail about the book to make it clear I really did read it and enjoy it. As a reader though, bad reviews can affect my decision but not that much. If the book looks interesting in its own right, I’ll probably still get a sample.

    1. I’m wondering if the disproportionate amount of 5-star reviews I’m getting has to do with the enthusiasm level of readers of YA paranormal? Or even with the fact that the readers (unless they bought the paperback) are spending only 99 cents? I’m really pleased when I enjoy a 99 cent book. Good value for the money, you know?

  5. When I read reviews, I tend to not really care how many stars are given, but rather I look for some indication of whether or not I’m going to like a book. I’d be more likely to take a book with a one-star review that explains why the reviewer is only giving it one star than a five star review that doesn’t say much of anything at all. Different people enjoy different books for different reasons; I think reviews should reflect that.

    1. You are obviously more intelligent and discerning than I am. I fall for the darn stars every time. Or almost every time! Sometimes you can tell that a reviewer is an idiot. Or vindictive. And I do dismiss the ones that begin, “I couldn’t even finish this book.” Because, in my opinion. nobody should review a book they didn’t read.

      1. Sometimes I do review books that I couldn’t finish, just to point out what it was about the book that was the reason I couldn’t finish it. Then again, I do try to give a book a chance, but if after a few hundred pages there is no plot, or the book makes me want to pull out a red pen and make corrections, then I think anyone else who is thinking about buying the book might want to know that.

  6. I had a 1-star review on my book “Slaying Season” recently that was disturbing because it was obvious the person only read the first couple paragraphs of the free kindle sample. Was it someone with a personal ax to grind or a true opinion? I suspect the former so I got over it. Regarding 5-star reviews, I am suspicious when they are “cheerleader” peppy. There is one kindle author who gets either 5-star reviews that are two sentences of “XXX is such a great writer!” or 1-and-2 star reviews that I think are accurate. Like anything else, judging a book from reviews is case-by-case.

    1. I think it may only make a difference early in a book’s release — because as time goes on, the reviews take on a pattern that makes a potential buyer’s decision easier. In my own case, the 1-star review is less important as it gets crowded out by other voices. But I can’t say the disgruntled reader didn’t read the whole book, because what bugged her was the ending! LOL! It may be that she didn’t realize it was Book I of a series. But also, clearly she didn’t connect with my voice. That happens.

      In your case, I think you are handling it with grace. Congratulations on getting over it. It would drive me nuts if someone did that to me.

  7. I look at some of the popular books and they have such a wide mix of ranges. but I will note that all the 5 star rating are verified purchases and the one star ratings are not and question those that use the word liberal agenda when the book is not political possible hater plants. So I am not sure what reviews to trust

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