For What It's Worth

For What It's Worth

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Blogger ramblings…The power of the negative review–to SELL books

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?

50 comments:

  1. I definitely agree, reviews with ratings on the lower side tend to more thoroughly explain and highlight a book than their five star review counterparts, and therefore could possibly hook more readers.

    -Kristen @ The Cozy Reading Corner

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I've been hooked by more 3 and lower star reviews than 5.

      Delete
  2. Great points! I tend to refuse review requests if the reviews are few and all 4 or 5. I honestly look for the 3-1 because even hit novels will have a low rating and its that review that I need to set my expectations right. One can't please everybody and that goes for books too

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's exactly what I do before I accept a request.

      I think 5 star reviews also maybe set you up for the book being EXCELLENT and then you're let down when it doesn't hit that level for you.

      It's like when publishers compare one author to another. Then you expect that level of writing/story and feel fooled if it isn't like that.

      Delete
  3. Negative reviews are more helpful. I feel that reviewers actually go beyond "feels" to discuss why the book did not work for them. I don't really read 5* reviews because they tend to only talk about the surface of the book without delving into why it was such a good read.

    Goodness, I just want to know why- writing, characterization, world building- a book was either great or horrible. Though, good and bad reviews help me stay away from books that I would be uncomfortable reading (I have my limits on what I'll put before my eyes in regards to content).

    I may have rambled somewhat...but that could be the foggy allergy brain talking.

    Karen, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on negative reviews. I personally hope to see more reviews, from everyone, that cover the good and bad books we all read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's how I feel. There are readers that love really angsty stories. I don't so I want to know that up front. Summaries aren't always accurate as to content.

      I truly believe that negative reviews don't turn readers off to a book - just help the right person connect with the right book.

      If we ever go to a system of positive reviews only then I wouldn't bother reading any of them.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I would be worried to if only positive reviews were around because you cannot love them all.

      Delete
  4. I prefer "lower" reviews over five star reviews for the same reason: they tend to be more specific and thus give me more information to use to decide whether or not I want to buy a book. As much as it's probably very heartwarming for an author see someone write "OMG I LOVE THIS BOOK, IT'S THE BEST! 5 STARS!" that statement just isn't going to convince me to read the novel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am HORRIBLE when I love a book. It's rare that I can put that into words. And honestly I don't want to start picking the book apart to show why it will/won't work for other readers.

      I rarely give 5 stars. When it happens I like to just revel in the joy of a good book but I don't really think that's helpful to anyone who might not enjoy what I did about a book.

      I can't even count the times I've read a complaint about a book in a review and thought oh! I want to read that!

      Delete
  5. I love negative reviews because they offer the flip side of the reading experience. I am often in the middle with my reads. My 5 stars I could point out quickly why they wouldn't be for someone else. When I am on the fence about a book, I will only read 3 and down reviews. I need to know a) What they got that made them go there as opposed to flail and b) that I wouldn't be alone if I don't enjoy it. I feel more comfortable and free to love/hate a book if I know there are people on both sides of the spectrum.

    That being said I am about to write a ranty all spoiler tagged review that will only be helpful in reminding myself to step away from the series. Sometimes your reviews have to be for you lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find it helpful when reviewers lay it all out there. It doesn't mean that something they hate will bother me at all.

      It's really hard when there are only 5 star reviews and ally his twitter hype and you buy the book and don't love it. Then you find out others didn't like it either and were afraid to post a review since they were the only ones.

      That's how you lose trust with reviews - not sell books.

      That's also why I never buy a buy a really hyped book until after it's out for a while and the reviews start getting more mixed. Unless I know and trust the reviewer I wait.

      Delete
    2. And…I know what review/series you speak of lol My reviews for those books were becoming entirely rants so I let the series go.

      Delete
  6. I love negative reviews because they offer the flip side of the reading experience. I am often in the middle with my reads. My 5 stars I could point out quickly why they wouldn't be for someone else. When I am on the fence about a book, I will only read 3 and down reviews. I need to know a) What they got that made them go there as opposed to flail and b) that I wouldn't be alone if I don't enjoy it. I feel more comfortable and free to love/hate a book if I know there are people on both sides of the spectrum.

    That being said I am about to write a ranty all spoiler tagged review that will only be helpful in reminding myself to step away from the series. Sometimes your reviews have to be for you lol

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love the negative reviews and they do hook me into reading a book too. I have found that when I dislike a book that I will find others that have thoughts as me too . If there are too many 5 star reviews ..i will wait for book. Heck I am love reading the reviews for the jr ward book and then I finished another book that I CAME back to a series because it was better than the other series books.

    But I do think mood might also play into reading and whether I will finish a book. But yes negative reviews do sell readers. Yes i look at all of the reviews to get a broader picture of the book and yes not all books are for all readers.

    Great topic :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you need the spectrum to make a decision - although here are always exceptions.

      Delete
  8. I've bought a couple of books based on 1* reviews: and, as you've pointed out, that was because of the wealth of information. It was easy to tell from what this or that reviewer liked, that I would like the book in spite of the 1* rating.

    On the other hand, I know an AMAZING author who has reviews of nothing less than 4 & 5 stars, and her stuff is simply wonderful. Admittedly, she doesn't have a huge amount of reviews- we're talking usually less than 20 per book.

    I got my first 3* review the other day, on my novel Masque. First I was kinda gutted (the stars were posted first, then the review several days later, on Goodreads). But when the review was posted, it was actually a really informative read. The reviewer explained the things she didn't like and the things she DID like; and all in all, it's more a review I can see being helpful to people. So now I'm actually very happy with it. No everyone's tastes are the same, and one man's meat, etc . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When an author has overwhelmingly 4 or 5 star reviews I investigate who the reviewers are. It gives me a better picture of what they do and don't like.

      I'm not one of those people who think all 4 or 5 star reviews are lies - they just don't (usually) give me the information I'm looking for.

      For me 3 stars is a good rating (I rarely give 5's). It means - I liked the book with a few minor quibbles which I try to explain so that others can decide for themselves. I'm not trying to nitpick. I'm just trying to say - these things didn't work for me but they might be what you love.

      Delete
    2. 3*s IS a good rating. I'm just thin-skinned :D Not enough to go raging, just enough to curl up in bed and not wanna get out without a decent cuppa waiting for me :D

      Delete
    3. I totally get that! lol You invest a lot in each book.

      I hope that this post might show that most readers don't see it as bad though - and don't even take the negative reviews as gospel. It's just one more tool to help us decide if it's right for us.

      Delete
    4. Totally agree about your 3 stars Karen :).

      Delete
  9. I always start on the 1 and 2 star reviews on Goodreads. There are a few books that I loved and got low ratings, and some of the books I found lacking sometimes come up in the "Recent Reviews of My Books" section with 4 or 5 stars - so one never knows. But at least - like you said - with the low ratings SHOULD come a list of what worked and what not, and it's what will help us decide. Also, I usually compare books with the person behind the review, and I get a quick overview that lets me know how much I should rely on their opinion. Then I proceed onto a few of the 3, 4 and 5 star ones.
    3 star reviews are often tricky, because, when you actually read them, they may say something along the lines of "it was fine, but I wouldn't bother reading it again", which is NOT what I mean with MY 3 star reviews.
    I sometimes take the time of perusing reviews of the books I've already read, and I "Like" the most helpful ones - even when I rated the book differently. I even do that with reviews of books I STILL have to read, because they sound more helpful and/or well-thought than other ones...
    In short, yes, 2 stars or even 1 star may mean a variety of different things, and authors shouldn't be so darn afraid of them. I wish that GR would force everyone who rates a book to write an actual review though. Even if it would likely end up with people writing things like "It sucked" or "I LURVED IT!!!!!" LOL.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The 3 star reviews that don't say what they didn't like bother me. What made you knock the 1 or 2 extra stars? lol

      I don't always write reviews for books on Goodreads when it didn't stir up any real emotion or opinion for me. I mark it more for myself to show that I read it. Or I put a rating only at first and come back to it later to review. Sometimes I need to ponder my thoughts lol

      Delete
  10. You already said it all, I can't say anything more. I agree with everything.

    I have looked at books that had only 5s, did I buy them..no.
    I have gotten requests that said their book had only 5s, did it sell it to me? No.

    A real book has 5s and 1s and everything in between. I needs all those ratings to make my mind up. A 1 star review makes me buy a book cos those are things I want.
    1 5 star review very very very seldom makes me buy a book. 3s are more normal, 4s are perfect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understand that a lot of books are well reviewed and it's not that I don't trust that or think everyone is lying. It just doesn't usually give me enough to go on.

      Also, when it involves early reviews and arc's those are mostly the fans or people most likely to like the book in the first place. That's not the average reader who randomly picks it up.

      Delete
  11. 5-star reviews are impossible for me to write, because it's hard not to squee. They usually get me hyped, but I'm going to need a lot of 5-star reviews to make me buy a book.

    It's funny though because it only takes one 1-star review to turn me off to a book. Just one. I may be curious about it, but I won't actually check it out.

    Now 3-stars...those suck the most. I feel like 3-stars always have a neutral tone (as they should I guess) so I don't know if I would actually like it.

    Great post Karen!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Really? You wouldn't pick up a book based on one 1 star review? Would it need to be a reviewer you knew and trusted or just any review? And if you read positive 5 star reviews later of the same book would you give it a shot.

      I always find the 3 and lower reviews more helpful - as long as the y say WHY it did or didn't work for them.

      Delete
  12. So agree! I did a post back in Jan about writing reviews for books you don't enjoy and how important it is. I don't even check the 5 star reviews and am crazy suspicious when a book ONLY has those. I check out 4 star and 3 star first then had to the 1-2 stars. I've bought a number of books because of those 1 and 2 stars because the things they hate I love. I get that it stinks getting a low rating but always bothers me when I see an author freaking out or ranting about those who left a 1 or 2 star rating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can understand how that may feel really scary to see your book getting negative feedback but I truly believe that most readers aren't using the star rating as THE only barometer when choosing a book.

      I don't view 3 stars as negative at all and a I view the Goodreads page for a book overall - not as an omg 3 people hated this book.

      Delete
  13. I agree with you so much! I personally try to be balanced with my reviews but I have given a squee review more than once (sometimes it's just so darn fun! LOL). I do check out the negative reviews and if it is well written sometimes it will make me buy a book. No book should only get 5 stars. No one book is for everyone. What I hate someone loves and vice versa. Just depends on the meat of the review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have definitely squeed. I don't think there's anything wrong with that either. There's a book I need to review that I LOVED and I can't for the life of me figure out how to say in a way that isn't a gushing mess. lol

      If we ever get to the point of only 4 and 5 star reviews though I wouldn't bother with them. The publishers already tweet info and positive reviews all day. If I was going to buy a book based on only that then checking reviews wouldn't even be necessary.

      Delete
  14. Great post, and I definitely agree about negative reviews. Really positive reviews are fun, especially if I loved the book too or it's something I know I'm going to read regardless. They don't always give you enough information about the book though - or it could be super positive but not focused on things that I would personally enjoy. I do see slightly negative reviews sometimes that still make me want to read the book because I LIKE what the reviewer DID NOT like. We all have different tastes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's nothing better than loving a book and being able to spread that love on your blog or review sites. That's why most of us blog - to share the reading love!

      But I think most of us understand that not everyone loves every book and that a review that is able so spell out the pros and cons can get you to buy the book.

      A good example are books about child abuse, bullying, rape etc. I know a lot of people who negatively review those type of books because they don't like reading about people begin hurt but that doesn't mean I can't handle it. But I won't read cheating or love triangles. We each have our own reading comfort zone.

      Delete
  15. Absolutely agree. I've written some squee reviews, sometimes only the love and adoration makes it through the filter. But they don't tend to be helpful. It's frustrating though, particularly on amazon, to write a thoughtful negative review and then have people bomb you with not helpfuls just because it disagrees. I tend to read only the 3 and lower rated reviews, unless it's a reviewer I trust. And I try to remember to mark them helpful, but it seems like swimming against an overwhelming tide.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I rarely post on Amazon anymore and I turned off my notifications. So someone could be ripping me apart not here and I'll never know lol

      There really is this trend to down vote the negative but I don't think it's helpful in the long run if no one can trust the reviews.

      What's the difference between a publisher hyped book and reviews if only certain ratings and views are allowed. Why bother then?

      Delete
  16. Yeah, I definitely make more of my 'buy' decisions off the 3-star reviews. I'll skim the really positive and really negative reviews as well, but now that you mention it, I spend a majority of my time reading through the mid-range rankings because they usually do a good job of pointing out the pros and cons both in one place.

    GREAT post! :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think we're given enough credit for being able to read and interpret a review for our tastes. It's as if we see negative and go oh no I'lll never buy that book and that isn't what happens at all.

      Most of us understand books aren't one book fits all reaters and are just looking for more information.

      Delete
  17. Great point! I could not agree more...it usually is those in the middle reviews that have the most detail and give me the info I need to make an informed decision about whether a book might be for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. I tend to squee in my 5 star reviews but even a well written one might point out things I don't like about a book and make me pass.

      5 stars doesn't mean it will work for me.

      Delete
  18. Every author on Goodreads should get a copy of this post!! I think that's why I stopped using stars. People just look at the stars and that colors their opinion of my review, when all my review is intended to do is a) convey my opinion of the strengths and weaknesses of the book and b) help the reader of the review decide if the book is for them. Not to pass judgment on the author or the book.

    Thanks so much for stopping by! Jen at YA Romantics

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I stopped using ratings not he blog because I think people know enough about how I review and what I like/dislike but on Goodreads it sheer amount of reviews can be overwhelming to me without ratings from reviewers I don't know.

      But….if this backlash keeps up I may rethink that too. Or I may skip GR's altogether.

      You are the gold star in reviewing without a rating. I always know exactly what you mean and if the book will work for me.

      Delete
  19. I'm with you. It's negative reviews that sell me. I always want to see the 2-3 stars. The people that didn't hate it and give honest feedback. Soooo many times their gripes end up what I love.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't dislike 5 star reviews but so few give a lot of information to help me decide. It's always the 3 and lower that help the most. And it's usually in the books favor.

      Delete
  20. Grrr, I commented the other day, but I don't think it took. This is such an amazing post and I agree with everything...

    "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." Exactly! If a book has only positive reviews, I'm immediately mistrustful, thinking it's their mom and friends. It's dishonest. That's what the author wants? How 'bout we stop reviewing books altogether and let the authors have a go at getting the word out themselves? Might not be such an easy feat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hate when that happens!

      When it's all 5 stars, I start checking the profiles, and if it's all people who just joined or have only reviewed a handful of books then I don't bother with them.

      I wish people would understand that when it's all hype and cheerleading for a book - at a certain point it's not worth listening. That's the same as walking into a bookstore and randomly picking a book. Which is great!I do that all the time but sometimes I want more information before spending limited funds.

      All bookish conversation is good. A negative review still gets people talking about and seeing the book.

      I like romance and have rated books really well here - but you don't like sexy times :-) so you aren't going to buy that book even though I loved it. But I may review a book negatively because there isn't enough romance and I know that would be your kind of book.

      No one blogger can make or break a book.

      Delete
  21. Really great points, it is hard sometimes going all squee on the 5 star

    ReplyDelete
  22. I would have to agree with you on this one, when I look for a review of a book - I always look at the negative review first because I find those very informative and different from 5 star ratings. I love honest reviews, a lot of the times I actually buy the book based on that negative review, because I might like it so who know's - this is a great discussion post :) <3 Benish | Feminist Reflections

    ReplyDelete
  23. I read both positive and negative reviews because what someone else sees as negative, I might like so I try to read both sides to really determine if a book is going to be for me or not.
    You make some really good points here.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Oh yes, great points here. I've never really given much thought to it before, but I do think 3 star type reviews can often be more helpful in figuring out whether I want to read the book. I don't trust people who post only positive reviews - same goes with the opposite, I would say. I don't trust people who never seem to have anything particularly positive to say about books. This is why I like knowing trusted reviewers to help set me straight :)

    ReplyDelete
  25. A very well thought out and informative post. I know I did a post along these lines last year and I totally agree. I don't like books that are rating highly by a handful of reviewers, I look for a balance of reviews and I like reviews that list the pros and cons. Reviews that only list the good things don't give me enough information. That is why I try to incorporate what I liked and didn't like in my reivews.

    ReplyDelete
  26. YES! I don't really understand why people get their panties in a twist about negative reviews (and, no, I'm not talking about the bitchy, rip-em-apart reviews). If a review is well-written and explains why you didn't like a story, really, I find those reviews enlightening. A lot of times, they make me want to read the book so I can see how I feel about it. Granted, I wouldn't want to read a negative review of something I'd written but I know it would be bound to happen, since not everyone likes everything.

    ReplyDelete