There’s a trend to try to minimize negative reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. I’m not going to get into author responses to negative reviews here. I just want to explain why, as a reader, I find negative (or a variety of) reviews helpful and why I think they actually HELP - not hurt book sales.
It usually starts with a blog review (good or bad) or a twitter flurry for a book that piques my interest. The book is now on my radar and I want more information.
When I‘m deciding if I should purchase a book or not, like most people, I head over to Goodreads. I don't even bother with Amazon anymore where you can buy positive reviews.
There are the all 5 star reviews:
I don’t find only 5 star reviews helpful at all. It’s not that I don’t trust 5 star reviews. Although that is sometimes the case. If a majority of 5 star reviews for a book come from reviewers who don’t review on a regular basis, or just joined to review this one book, I find that suspect. Also, I don’t have context for the rating. I like to get to know a reviewer and their tastes. I can only do that if they have a collection of reviews to go through.
The other reason I find most 5 star reviews unhelpful is because they are usually incoherent flails (mine included). The more I love something – the more it comes out as OMGSQUEE. I have a hard time making relevant points about 5 star reads. I don’t want to spoil anything in my review and I also don’t want to start dissecting the book and find flaws. I am definitely being honest about my love but as far as a thoughtful review that would help others decide if the book is right for them? Not so much.
All that 5 star flailing & hype will get me to check out a book – that’s true – but it won’t get me to buy it.
My 5 star read could be someone else's 1 star. And vice versa.
There are the 1 star reviews:
Often not especially helpful either but can be very informative if done right. Most reviewers leave a quick one or two sentence saying this book sucked on 1 star reviews. That doesn’t help me. Many go on a long rant (I have done this myself many times because 1 star books often leave me stabby) but it’s often super spoilery so I try to avoid that unless they hit on a topic that would help me decide either way – like cheating, love triangles, cliffhangers, no HEA etc.
But for me – a well written 1 star review – even a scathing one - will get me to buy a book faster than a squeeing 5 star review.
It’s not cynicism or a love of negativity – I just find those reviews more informative. I can imagine how a review dissecting a book down to typos and each character flaw can be annoying and hurtful but that’s exactly what I’m looking for in a review. It helps me. It makes me more comfortable with my choice to purchase the book.
In the middle – 3 star reviews:
When I check out a book to read on Goodreads my process is:
~ find trusted friend reviews first
~ check out a few random 5 star and 1 star reviews to compare what most people loved/had problems with
~ read mostly the 3 star reviews – I usually don’t know the reviewers in this case
Here’s the thing – there could hundreds of 5 star reviews for a book but if they don’t say why it’s 5 stars (see incoherent squeeing above) or if they say something like - there’s not one but THREE hot boys for the girl to choose from – I’m running away. A lot of the 5 star sexy BDSM books out right now are not my cup of tea but explaining the type of BDSM portrayed might make me give it a shot. A 2 star “I hated this book! It was BDSM light – I wanted hardcore” review will make me give the book a chance. I don't like hardcore BDSM. I'll pass on a 5 star “Super alpha dirty talking hero” book because I don’t like dirty talking alpha dudes. The more detail the better IMO – even if it’s negative because it might be what I love to read.
I love really sweet, simple romances that are low on angst. That book will get a 5 star from me! But someone reading my review will say BORING. Not gonna read it.
I think (I may be wrong – feel free to tell me in the comments) that most readers like to go through several reviews both pro and con, and then make a call. One review – doesn’t make or break a book sale.
Writing is art but it is also a financial decision on the part of the reader. I read almost 200 books a year.
That gets expensive. I read reviews to help narrow down my choices. Yeah I take chances on books/authors - but mostly I go by reviews.
I have bought literally dozens and dozens of books based on negative reviews. I even have certain reviewers that I trust and buy every book that they negatively review. I know their tastes and what doesn’t work for them WILL work for me.
The star rating is probably the least important thing to me in a review.
When there is only one type of review – all positive - then blogs/Goodreads/Amazon cease to become a place to help the reader make an informed decision. They become fan sites. Those are fine. If I chose my books just based on hype and excitement then I would read only books on best seller lists or what publishers tell me is a must read. Buying books based on all 5 star reviews & hype in the past has only brought me disappointment so now I’m more selective with the reviews I trust and the books I read.
I like to sift through different thoughts on a book. I enjoy the energy of discussing the good and the bad. I know people get upset when reviewers mention typos or other things deemed *small issues* but when I see a 5 star rating, buy the book, and find errors that weren’t mentioned it bothers me. Will I buy a book with editing issues? Sure, it’s not a deal breaker, but I’d like to know first so I can decide what’s important to me.
I also want to point out that I don’t think there is a problem with reviewers who only write positive reviews. That’s your space – your choice. I know several people that only rate a book if they can give 5 stars. That’s fine because I understand that when they do it means they really love that book.
But requiring or trying to squash negative reviews isn’t going to be helpful for selling books IMO. It may make everyone feel better but I for one wouldn’t spend my money if I can’t find out what the heck a book is really about past the cover copy and publisher spun hype. And I would cease to trust reviews in general. Because I know that not everyone can universally love every book. It would make Goodreads irrelevant to me other than to track my reading.
If I couldn’t trust reviews or have a variety of ratings I would buy fewer books, not more, because I would be less willing to take a chance.
I don’t want to be fooled by release day frenzy and then find out everyone didn’t like the book. It was just positive review front loaded by the authors/publishers/tour groups to trick readers into buying the book. That’s a bait and switch and would turn me off to author/publisher completely. Forever.
It’s like being lured to a movie and finding out they used the only two good scenes from the movie in the trailer. The rest of the movie sucks and they withheld it from critics to get that first weekend box office $$’s before we all discover the truth.
I guess the point (long winded as it is) is that the more information the better. Negative reviews are still helpful in selling books. A well written negative review can highlight all the things that make it the perfect book – just for a different reader.
~ What are your thoughts? Do you find negative reviews helpful? Have you read a book based on negative reviews?