Would You Buy a Book Based on This Review?

As an author, I pay attention to reviews—to an extent. A review in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and other professional publications is one thing—but the customer reviews on Amazon and other sites are quite another. Which ones are valid and which should be ignored? I have a few suggestions.

Be wary of any book that gets only five-star reviews. They were likely all written by friends and/or relatives. Watch out for the “sock puppets”—reviews written under fake names, usually by authors attacking other authors. It’s easier than one might think to set up bogus accounts just to take a shot at another author’s work without, as one author suggested in her blog, the risk of retaliation. And definitely be on the lookout for reviews, positive or negative, that are poorly-written. These reviewers are not the best judge of a book’s literary merit.

Here’s an example of one from a reviewer who appears to be barely able to write a grocery list. Would you buy a book on her recommendation? (I’ve omitted book titles and author and reviewer names in all examples.)

For a first novel that (author) wrote I think it was a great novel. It showed romance between two strangers that then learned to love each other deeply (main characters). To me (author) gave great description of each character and helped me get a perfect picture of how they looked. I enjoyed this novel very much because each chapter that I read was interesting and entertaining that helped me imagine everything that was happening like if i was there. The fact that it was double spaced made it easier for me to read and I liked that. Also even though it was short chapters it made me want to read more because (author) knows how to keep the reader hanging wanting to know what’s going to happen next.I am now waiting for the second sequel of this amazing novel that I hope it is soon to come out. (Author) did an amazing job writing this book for a beginner. I hope she goes really far with her novel to show her fans the amazing author she is becoming as she goes on with her talent as a writer.

It was followed by this review. The reviewer in this instance was understandably unhappy that he’d been misled by the previous rave review….

I have been trying to find out more about the author after receiving the book yesterday. Haven’t had much luck…is this a young author?? Middle school, high school?? If a young girl wrote the book, then I understand the double spaced copy, numerous grammatical errors, misspellings, omissions, poor word usage. The dialogue and repetitive word choice leads me to believe a young person wrote the book, and if this is the case I would have had different expectations and perhaps my review would have a more positive tone. If this is the work of an adult, I am at a loss. The reviews listed were all very positive which is why I purchased the book. I can’t bring myself to continue reading it and am quite disappointed. If you are looking for a mature novel, this isn’t it. I have learned to be a little more skeptical of the reviews in the future when looking for my next great read.

The following review was written by someone claiming to be an English teacher. The review is for one of my all-time favorite novels, which was an international bestseller. It was so long-winded, I had to condense it to a few of the reviewer’s more glaring mistakes….

(The author) writes in a flat, unentertaining way… as though he expects his readers to be struggling with English, like an 8 year old forced to read this at school…characters are as flat, unlikeable and unbelievable as a 4 year old’s superhero comic book, used as toilet paper and then unfolded to be read again. Imagine that twin daughters are *polite coughing* evil and good, in the extreme…yet their family is completely unaware of this, for decades. Imagine a wealthy playboy who goes around raping, beating, and sodomizing wealthy women… but goes unjailed, unnoticed, and undisciplined. Having difficulty imagining this? Blame (the author), who thinks you’ve got the intelligence of the average preschooler.

(The author’s) plots are as unbelievable as a 1950s cigarette ad claiming “not a cough in a carload”. In this particular book (small spoiler alert), imagine how you’d feel after reading near the beginning that a white man and a black man in 1800s South Africa could be fairly good friends, without a hint of racism. Now break with reality again, and imagine that two people without tools could pick up enough diamonds on a beach (yep…diamons, lying around on a beach?!) in a few hours could collect enough wealth to compete against–and topple– a millionaire who has 40 guys searching that SAME beach every day, all day, for years.

Notice that above and below this book review are 11 pages of shills and clacquers, using !!!exclamation points!!!, CAPITAL LETTERS, catchy lines…and all giving this crappity book 10/10 stars. Clearly, Amazon has not done enough to keep out the marketing weenies who are posing as real, unbiased readers as they try to sell this steaming heap of rotting firewood to an unsuspecting audience.

And then there’s my very own sock puppet! In spite of the reviewer’s unimaginative alias, it wasn’t too hard to figure out who had written it. From the nonexistent profile to the lack of any other reviews to the brilliant writing (double commas, inappropriate caps and lack of analytical observations), it has “bogus” stamped all over it!

And for the record, the photographer is not a hippie.

Self-made billionaire meets hippie photographer in Earthquake; falls ridiculously in love, never gets the guts to tell his wife,, etc.. Oh, and the Earth is going to be destroyed by a returning asteroid,,etc..A little lame.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe every reader has the right to express his or her opinion of any book, movie, etc. But I also believe some reviews should not be My question to you is this: have you ever received bad reviews written by someone who seems barely literate? Have you ever bought a book based on customer reviews? If so, do you give any credence to reviews that are full of spelling and grammatical errors?


15 responses

  1. That first review is definitely full of mistakes, but it’s the complete absense of analytical thought that’s obvious in it that I would have issues with.

    I was looking the other day at a mainstream book, a trade paperback collecting a comic, of all things, and there were a tremendous number of one star reviews- but in that case it was really the content of the story that had fuelled a tremendous amount of venom against it in the first place.

  2. I never buy a book according to reviews. I’m quite the non-conformist. And have learned over the years that any review regarding any product doesn’t mean much. I buy what I believe I’ll like. And there are plenty of movies that I love and make sense to me that have received my bad reviews while poorly written and directed ones have gotten Globe awards.

    On the other hand, Sweetman always goes by the reviews. If there are too many, he won’t even consider buying it. This could be a car, an appliance, or even lip balm.

    Good post!

    Hugs and chocolate,

    Tweeted and FB’d.

  3. See, this is why I go to the library. I don’t trust other people’s opinions about books. If I like an author then I start looking at what else they’ve written.

  4. The first review on Gather the Children was not well-written. I didn’t know the person. Later (this is a small town, you know) I found out he had to quite work because of Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was already suffering from it when he wrote the review. It would be suspect as he gave it five-stars.

  5. Sometimes the one-star reviews are warranted, but unfortunately, it’s become common practice for authors to attack each other. Remember the article in the Huffington Post about the attacks at Goodreads?

  6. I got tired of wasting money on books I ended up not liking, so I would check a book out from the library. If I really liked it, I’d buy a copy. If not, at least all I’d lose would be a few hours of my time.

    These days, I get my books through free ebook promotions at Amazon if I’m not already familiar with the author.

  7. You’re right; like smashwoards, who give the author room to decide how many pages will be free to view. In fact, I might just write a letter to them.

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