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Discussion Starter #1
A friend asked my yesterday, what makes an author - and generally speaking - I think it means you need readers. So reviews, to me, are huge! I don't care that The Caliphate at just 10 cents makes me nothing. What's important is that someone reads my work, and more importantly, enjoys it.

For authors:
How did you get reviews?
What do the reviews mean to you?

For readers:
What type of review makes you buy the book?
Do you click through profiles to see who wrote the five star review and what else they reviewed?
What about Amazon Top 1000, 100, 50 reviewers, do they carry any more weight?

Look forward to everyone's thoughts.

 

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I think reviews are something of a mixed bag. On one hand, getting reviews from complete strangers is a powerful statement that a book has moved readers enough to take the time to express their opinions in a public venue. This means that a review can either be in favor or against our books. On the other hand, an author would do wisely not to read too much into a book review. The reason I say this is because if an author falls too heavily in love with only the positive reviews, he/she may fail to noticed some of the more meaningful remarks that may only appear in a negative review, thus missing an opportune moment to grow as a writer. I have seen authors explode in fury over a negative review, never once stopping to consider that the reviewer may have identified glaring weaknesses in the author's book. In my humble opinion, reviews should be used as a gauge for the public's response to one's books. Since a reader's response can span a whole wide spectrum of opinions, it's best to enjoy the positive reviews and try to learn from the negative ones.

I would rather have reviews than not, if for no other reason than to prove that my books are being read. It is also wonderful to know that my books have touched someone's life and moved them emotionally. To me, that is the greatest review one can receive. Though it doesn't hurt to have those feelings put into words to help sell a few more copies of my books.
 
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I tend to look at reviews analytically, but that is probably because I am a publisher as well as a reader.  

Star ratings don't mean a thing to me.  I'm numb to them, to be honest.  Few reviewers, particularly casual consumers, use them well.  Everything is either five-stars or one-star.  

But I do read reviews themselves.  If a review is "too gushy" I frankly consider it suspect.  I do click on the reviewer's name to see what other reviews they have written.  Because the thing is, a review is one person's opinion, so what matters to me is if this person's opinion jives with my tastes.  If Jane Doe gives a book 5-stars, but gives every book five stars including emo vampire erotica crap that I hate, I don't give her reviews a lot of weight.  But if a John Doe tends to read the type of books I read and seems to have similar interests, then his review is going to carry more weight with me as a consumer.  

Also, because I'm a critical reader, I tend to give more weight to reviews that point out the positives AND the negatives of a book.  Sometimes, what one person considers a negative I might consider a positive, for example, so it gives you a better perspective on the book.  Further, unless the negatives are poor grammar or poor spelling, the fact that a person took the time to point out both the positive and negatives to me means the book was at least engaging enough for the person to have given it a thoughtful review.

I do take notes about poor grammar and spelling seriously.  Not because I'm a grammar nazi, but because if the grammar and spelling was so bad that the reader noticed it and it stuck out enough to be included in a review, then that is a sign of bad writing.  All books have typos and grammar errors in them, but in well-written books the reader doesn't generally notice them.  
 

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Book reviews, like anything else, is subjective to the personal taste and opinion of the reader. I recently had a reviewer give one of my books 2 stars because she felt that there were elements in my book that seemed unrealistic. She felt that some of my characters were able to perform feats that would be impossible in real life. Even though I thought it was interesting to get a dissenting point of view on my book, I kept wondering to myself as I read the review: "Does this reader realize that my book is a fantasy?"

Fortunately, the reader was honest enough to say that as an adult that she could not believe in many of the things occurring in my book and that this hampered her enjoyment of my book. For all the knocks she gave my book, that particular point stood out the most for me. Her own perspective on what she expects or wants to happen in a book trumped my ability as a storyteller to overcome her biases.

Another reviewer gave my book 3 stars and said that she could not overcome the choice of narrator style which I used in my book. Other readers contend that it is the narrative voice of my book which shines through the best. The conclusion I have come to regarding these reviews and the other ones I received is to take every review with a grain of salt. There is a reason why someone who loves romance novels may not be particular to reading a fantasy novel. Or why someone who loves to read science fiction avoids reading historical fiction. If an author has done his/her job, a book should be polarizing. We cannot be all things to all people all of the time. And a good book always allows its reader to bring half of the material to the reading experience. Reading novels is a symbiotic (if not spiritual) experience where the author and the reader both converge metaphysically to create the experience of reading a novel. Sometimes this experience works in favor of a book, other times it does not. This is the true power of literature to transcend our reality through the medium of the written word and this shared reality, for better or worse, is reflected in book reviews.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
I suppose the challenge for an Amazon orientated author, i.e. somewhat dependent on Amazon for sales, is that a bad review and star ranking can kill a book. I've seen one instance on Amazon already where a book got a couple of one star reviews from individuals who have only ever posted that single one star review. Both of the reviews were only one line and didn't really say why they didn't like the book. As the author that would be pretty hard to take. But I'd likely use them in consideration of my purchase.  

I do personally read who make reviews - sometimes you discover they've only ever reviewed that author over multiple books. Which I guess is okay, we all have friends and family. I've asked my family not to review my books, but my friends are welcome to, but I'm not asking them.

What about Vine voice and Amazon Top Reviewers - is that important? It sways me.
How many reviews do you need to make the reviews credible? For instance if I saw a book that had 5 five star reviews, versus one with 20 averaging 4 star. I'd consider the latter, but not necessarily the former depending on the content of the reviews. Do you think the average buyer takes the time to differentiate between credible reviews?


 

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mfstewart said:
Do you think the average buyer takes the time to differentiate between credible reviews?
I don't think the average buyer is very assertive at dissecting reviews to figure out who wrote it or why. But I think many readers are intelligent and seasoned consumers who are cynical about an unknown book with too many 5 star reviews. I think the authors who really do themselves a disservice are the ones who write their own 5 star reviews. It's usually pretty easy to spot these phony reviews because their book usually only has 1 or 2 reviews (and both of the five-star variety). I've even seen reviews on Amazon where the author who writes their own review tries to hide their identity by using his/her initials.
 

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As a reader, I pay attention to the reviews in particular for authors I am unfamiliar with - or for content-related items (such as a short story collection I was going to buy until a review let me know it was simply a compilation of stories I already had in other collections by the author). But as mentioned above, it is usually clear when they are "puff" reviews rather than objective critiques based on the entire book.

As an author, I appreciate reviews, whether they are positive or negative, as long as they actually relate to the book rather than personal attacks. I would rather have a three-star review that has some depth to it than a simple "great book!" five-star review that doesn't actually help a potential reader decide if the book is something they might enjoy.

Getting reviews has been problematic as an independent author. I had some success e-mailing top Amazon reviewers who had reviewed similar books to see if they would like a free copy, and there are also a number of review sites that accept self-published works, but even in those cases the reviews sometimes don't get posted, and I have never seen an up-tick in sales related to recently posted reviews.
 

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mfstewart said:
For authors:
How did you get reviews?
What do the reviews mean to you?
When my books appeared, my first action was to contact well-known speculative literature ezines, sending them a polite introductory email with links to first chapters. The fruit of that strategy can be found at my website, which features a selection of terrific reviews from influential sources. Besides those, my Amazon purchasing page has highly-starred assessments from several Amazon top reviewers.

Besides the latter, the reviews that have most weight with readers, and which have made me glow within, are the ones from well-known authors or 'zines with big readerships, written with detail and discernment. I've never asked friends/family/acquaintances/beholdens to review me; even thinking of it makes me uncomfortable.

Reviews should cost nothing more than a complimentary copy and/or pdf. I can't stress this enough.

CK
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Carolyn Kephart said:
When my books appeared, my first action was to contact well-known speculative literature ezines, sending them a polite introductory email with links to first chapters.
That's a great idea that I haven't tried. I have contacted some Amazon Top Reviewers and sent copies. I hope that results in some good reviews but I expect will take time. I've found everyone to be very accommodating, however. In fact, Amazon is a very supportive community. Armchair Interviews is doing a review. They don't charge for the review but they do charge if you want it posted to Amazon. If the review is good, I will do that. I think these sorts of independent blog review sites can be helpful especially if they are focused on your genre (works better for SF and Romance that Thriller).

MFS
 

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I am a reader, started reading when I was a child sitting on Dad's lap while he read Sir ACD's Sherlock Holmes (those little blue books which are probably collectibles now and I should have hold on to them but when I went home for a visit in 1996, I learned that Mom had stored them in the garage in 1975 when I left home for here and they were now all smelly, moldy blackish-green, yucky junk and so ended up in a bonfire behind our house with several members of the town's FD watching to make sure the fire is kept under control -- but the stink and the smoke from burning vinyl and moldy books and journals stayed for days that the neighbors complained a lot {and even after I'd left! Que horror, muy terrible.}, and I was treated like a persona-non-grata instead of a long lost, very much welcomed, home-visiting heroine, I reverted to the always-in-trouble-hoyden who got the rest of the neighborhood kids in trouble along with her by playing follow-the-leaderess. heh! -- along with my collections of 78's, 45's and LPs of Sinatra, Elvis and Beatles et.al.) or Bret Harte's short stories or ESG's Perry Mason, depending on his mood at the time. He instilled in all of us the love of reading but I am the only one who reads the most in the whole family!

Anyway, I digress.

As a reader, I do not read reviews because I like to make my own judgment.

If I like or enjoy a book, I write brief notes so that when I recommend it to family members, friends and colleagues I can say why I like it. On occasions, when I'm at a bookstore and I see people looking at a book and returning it to the shelf after reading the synopsis, I'd say "good book but read this first, see how you like it, you won't be sorry."

I also give 'wows' instead of 'stars' in my personal book list right after the notes and most of the time, when I'm asked, I just say 4 wows, etc...(<-- 3 to 4 1/2 wows is my usual rating.) If I don't like a book, I make no notes, give no ratings and I never delete it from my list. I donate it and others like it to the hospital's volunteer library cuz others may like to read/keep them. And I seldom give a book a 5 wows unless I really, really love it. I also do not like to write or post a review anywhere unless I really, really love it, or am motivated to write one because I want the author to know how much I enjoyed her/his book.

The real reason why I don't write reviews is because it (reviewing) will take away the enjoyment I get from reading - kinda like after school homework, which I really hated doing.

Years ago, I was asked to review books by friends whose reviews are posted and read by many people on-line and I tried it for 3 months (heck, you get to keep the ARCs afterwards so you don't have to buy the books when they're mass marketed! Oh, joy!) but reluctantly gave it up (inspite of --> see above parenthesis, boy, I do love writing in parentheses, no?) because I had to keep stopping my reading to write down what bothered me, whether it's the grammar, misspelling, non-continuity, words not used in that time frame, etc.. or the wrong title/singer of a song so I won't forget later on when I'm ready to do the review (commas, too. yikes!), and then start to read again, and so on and so forth. Ugh! Like I said, too much like homework! 'Nuff said.

Anyway, the above is looong, apologies to all. I could have just written "No, I don't read reviews and they do not influence my buying/reading in any way, form, yada, yada, yada."

Ebc aka AppleHeart
 

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Anytime the discussion of reviews comes up, I feel compelled to add my two cents. I have spent countless hours over the past three years building a website that offers a maximum amount of quality content for authors and their readers. The links down the left column of PODBRAM will lead you to a vast quantity of reviews, articles, interviews, and even more sites that review books by POD, self-published, and unknown authors. Come visit PODBRAM, where reviews are an art form. Thank you.

http://podbram.blogspot.com/
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Thanks so much Kilgore, looks like a great site! I'll be submitting as soon as I've have a chance.

All the best,

Michael
 

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I've done the usual thing and offered free copies/PDFs to anyone who is willing to review for me. The results have been tolerable. I've discovered that not everyone who agrees to do a review will actually end up doing one, though; in fact I'd say that only about ten percent of those who request a PDF will write a review. Which is fine, of course. . . but I think sometimes people don't realize how important those reviews can be. For some of us, it's the most important publicity we get.

My work has always been rather unusual and it doesn't fit neatly into a specific genre (I've been criticized for that by some reviewers). That complicates promotional efforts. But on the other hand, occasionally I get those reviews when the readers tell me how much it touched their hearts or how much they loved it, and that makes me feel good. Pleasing my readers was always my primary motivation for telling stories in the first place.

I've developed a thick skin about criticism; I use whatever constructive suggestions I'm given to get better next time, but I don't take anything personally. I always knew that some people would like what I wrote and some people wouldn't, and that's okay.

Cry for the Moon

The Prophet of Rain

Beneath a Star-Blue Sky
 

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I don't know how much reviews guide a potential buyer, but I do appreciate receiving them. When I first post a title, I get whatever reviews I'm going to get within a few days. As time goes by, few new reviews are added. That's perplexing because, as sales rise, you'd think that's when you'd have the best chance of seeing a review. This has been true of both my Kindle books and my Random House books for the most part.
 

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Patricia,

I think one of the reasons reviews fall off like that is because people go to the product page and they see so many reviews already posted there, so in the back of their minds they think it's not helpful or necessary for them to add their own.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Patricia Sierra said:
I don't know how much reviews guide a potential buyer, but I do appreciate receiving them. When I first post a title, I get whatever reviews I'm going to get within a few days. As time goes by, few new reviews are added. That's perplexing because, as sales rise, you'd think that's when you'd have the best chance of seeing a review. This has been true of both my Kindle books and my Random House books for the most part.
That is interesting, and a little disheartening given, I know I've had buyers but no reviewers as of yet. I was hoping for the opposite. Perhaps you're right bluearkansascowboy. The readers don't feel they have anything to add.
 

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As a reader and reviewer I will add my two cents. 

As a reader, when I am looking at a book (or anything on Amazon for that matter) and thinking about buying it, I always look at the reviews.  However, I pretty much only look at the 5, 4 or 3 star reviews UNLESS there is an inordinate amount of 1 star reviews.  I also ONLY read the reviews that do not include a synopsis of the book.  If I wanted to know what the book was about, I would read the write-up in the description or read the book itself.  I look more for the short, sweet, to the point reviews, because IMO those are the real readers who loved the book enough to throw something up there to help the author out.  I honestly question anyone who has the time to write a review that takes them a half hour to compose.  (I know that these are real too, but this is just my opinion).  If a book only has under 10 reviews and they are all 5-star, I will look at the other books that have been reviewed by some of those.

As a reviewer, I haven't always been good at giving reviews.  But since being on this board and reading more smaller known books, I have been better at leaving them.  I write them short, sweet, and to the point.  I will say what I liked and what I didn't like.  I rarely give 5-stars, and if a book was 1 star IMO, then I won't leave a review at all (If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all).  I try to review all the books I read, so if someone clicks on my name as a reviewer they will see the types of books I read and that I am not a friend of any of those authors.  I think this helps all the authors I review.

Reviews are important, but they are even better when they happen organically.  A forced review, even a 5-star one, can be bad for an author.  Readers are smart, they can see right through that.  I will read a book that has 1 through 1500 reviews, and I don't look any worse on the ones that only have 1.  I see it as a challenge actually.  So I wouldn't stress so much over the number of reviews you have, if you are selling books, then what does it matter how many reviews are there, obviously the book is selling anyway!  And when that one in a blue moon, real review comes through it'll be exciting that someone had a strong enough opinion about your book to take the time to spend 10 minutes away from their lives writing their opinion for you.  That's the best.

Rachel
 
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bluearkansascowboy said:
I've done the usual thing and offered free copies/PDFs to anyone who is willing to review for me.
I would suggest you be more selective in whom you offer a review copy to. It's the QUALITY, not QUANTITY, of the review that matters. Ten illiterate five star reviews can do more damage than one well-written two star review. As others have said, and I concur, readers are smart. They can differentiate between a sincere review and a hack that wanted a free book.
 
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