Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Do Reviews Really Matter?

A dear friend published her first book last month and it's selling steadily. I'm very happy for her, and the concept behind the book is original and intriguing so I see no reason it shouldn't become a huge success. (Take a peek here in the UK or here in the US.)

However, it's only in the last couple of days that her book has had its first two Amazon reviews. Although she has been contacted privately by people who have loved it and were eagerly awaiting book 2, it was several weeks before any saw fit to say so publicly in the form of a review. My friend spent this time feeling extremely anxious and curious about how her book was being received by the wider world.

Received wisdom is that reviews are essential to a book's success, so naturally authors crave them. We want to know whether or not people liked our book, because good reviews are affirming and reassuring. Oh, and they make other people more likely to buy it, too.

I wonder how important they really are, though. For one thing, most people don't believe five-star book reviews. Regular readers of indie books have read enough terrible books with a string of five-star reviews to know that authors ask their friends to provide these reviews (whether or not they've read the book) so they can't be relied on. Amazon knows this too and is taking steps to improve the credibility of its reviews, but it's a difficult challenge. In the meantime I ignore five-star reviews and look to the content of the remaining reviews.

Neither is the number of reviews a book has any indication of how good it is or how well it has sold. I recently downloaded my daughter's favourite book, a bestselling novel her whole class had read as part of their literacy and history curriculum. It had no reviews. Not one.

For another thing, reviews of books (as opposed to, say, vacuum cleaners) are subjective. Some people will like what other people hate, and vice versa. Look up your favourite book ever, ever, and you will see that someone will have given it just one measly star. In fact, don't bother, I'll do the leg work for you. Take Pride and Prejudice, surely one of the best books ever written. Reviewer JLT said, "I hate Jane Austin [sic] what a bore why oh why does everyone rave about her???" (Maybe, JLT, because she knows how to use punctuation.)

My husband is currently reading my Work In Progress (actually I've finished it, so it's not technically in progress) and he loves it. That means more to me than any review. Yes, I know he's my husband so he has to say nice things to me or sleep on the couch, but he's also the most honest person on the planet. I know, for example, never to ask, "Does my bum look big in this?" because he will tell me the truth. So the fact that he wonders why editors and agents have turned it down means more to me than any five-star review.

So don't take too much notice of reviews. Maybe they're not quite as reliable or important as you think.

1 comment:

  1. It does make me feel better to know that even JK Rowling gets one-star reviews. It's truly impossible to write a book that everyone loves. One of the harshest reviews I've gotten came right after the book in question won a Whitney Award!



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