IWSG: Book Reviews Quandary


IWSG: September 3, 2014

Alex Cavanaugh: The awesome co-hosts for the September 3 posting of the IWSG will be Laura at My Baffling Brain, mark Koopmans, Shah Wharton, and Sheena-Kay Graham. 
And it’s our three year anniversary of posting!

I’m the generation that picked out my reading material at Coles or Chapters. I’d buy a few books, read them, and moved on to the next batch. It never occurred to me that the author might appreciate a review. When I plunged into the published author world, my marketing adviser stressed on the importance of book reviews.

In discussions with authors, readers and marketing people, I’m a bit less convinced on the role of book reviews. Some polls suggest that readers look at book reviews with a bit of skepticism. Apparently, readers suspect that during a book launch, the author will obtain reviews from family and friends who will provide a top rating of 5 out of 5.

Becoming more scientific about the value of book reviews, I’ve discovered that my amazon rating is affected by a complex formula and algorithms – including volume of reviews my book receives. Okay, this is where my gut clenches down and my teeth grind. Readers don’t give a lot of weight to reviews, but amazon does? Ugh!

Is this you? Were you looking forward to a great read on the weekend and ended up with a dud even though the ratings were good?
Is this you? Were you looking forward to a great read on the weekend and ended up with a dud even though the ratings were good?

At the recent writers convention, I learned more about the Amazon black hole, but I’ll save that for another day. The fact is I can market my fuzzy little head all day long, but if I don’t find a several hundred reviewers to post a report, I’ll remain in the amazon ‘also ran’ pile. Volume is the key word. How does an author get readers to post a review?

Recently, I found a post by Trish at Between the Lines: who wrote a thoughtful and humorous article on how to rate books. I loved her extended version. Her simple version is as follows:

One Star : Hated it, probably a DNF
Two Stars : Bit of a drag, lots of negatives
Three Stars : Liked it
Four Stars : Loved it
Five Stars : Adored it, will reread

The above rating is basic and used often as a template. However, it says so very little about what was great, or not so great. To actually write a description is miles beyond what average readers want to do, or can do. So many of my friends and acquaintances prefer to not write a review as they find it difficult to compose. They’re not writers and they don’t feel qualified to make a judgment (ratings) on someone’s work – other than subjective or personal, and that’s not helpful to other readers.

What if the reviewer was given a simple form to complete. This may encourage more reviewers to post a review. Ergo, the author’s overall amazon rating could improve.

This form could be in multiple choice format. Several headings such as Editing, Dialogue, Main Characters, Setting, Action, Flow, Climax, Emotional Impact, etc would be followed by descriptive words that have a value (‘excellent’ having a value of 5, ‘poor’ having a value of 1. The reader checks off the descriptive word that they feel applies to the heading. The form would then automatically provide the overall rating.
Between The Lines has created an interesting model of this idea.
Finally, I would like to see an indication of the reviewer’s qualifications; eg. professional, amateur, reader, author, etc.
What do you think? Are you happy with the book review system? What issues have  you experienced?

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7 thoughts on “IWSG: Book Reviews Quandary

  1. Most readers don’t look at reviews at all, because most readers purchase books based upon personal recommendation. Generally, the reader has already decided to buy the book if s/he is on the page. That’s most readers, but most readers (I think it’s like 80%) are what are known as social readers. They’re reading what people are talking about. That’s where the whole volume thing comes into play.
    Well, I could go on, but I don’t want to write a whole post in your comment section, especially when I have already done several posts about reviews.

    Whether readers look at them or not, they are important.


  2. Oh, I like that idea of breaking down the rating by category—it would help me as a reader too. I kind of feel like getting the hundreds of reviews will only happen after the book is already selling well, you know? I beleive they have to happen naturally…or do I just tell myself these things because I’m lazy & damn tired of coaxing?


  3. I think Nicki is right in that getting hundreds of reviews happens after a book is selling well. For that to happen, readers have to find the book. Lots of reviews can help move it up on lists. Hmm… we’re right back where we started. It’s daunting.


  4. jenlanebooks

    Hey Feather, great post. I like the idea of a multiple choice format for review, though I do love the variety of styles of readers who leave reviews. My books are also mired in the amazon slush pile–it sure is difficult to gain reader attention with so many books vying for it!


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