How Do You Read Reviews?

Every day I get an e-mail from BookBub, and every day I read through the blurbs and reject most of them (no, I do not want to read about a billionaire although if one would be interested in paying for a bedroom ceiling for an elderly woman with a great personality, he should call me), but there are always one or two I go to Amazon to learn more about. I read the blurbs, I check to see what PW and the NYT and Booklist have said about them, and then . . .

I read the one-star reviews.

The thing about the one star reviews is that they give me details no other review does. I read one and see “Is this bad language necessary?” and I think yes, the author isn’t pulling her punches. I read more than one “The hero was abusive and the heroine liked it” and I stop reading. I read, “This was just another dumb romance,” and click to read the sample, which is the make it or break it moment for me (usually break it because I’m ridiculously picky).

I don’t leave one star reviews. If I don’t like the book, I don’t like the book, doesn’t mean somebody else won’t. I’d leave a one-star for a racist book or something that trashed women in general or anything that said, “Trump is great,” but since publishers tend not to put out things that are going to get them toasted, I don’t trip across many of those. My one star reviews would be some variation of “This is not my cup of tea” which is not the same as “This is a bad book,” so I don’t post that.

And yet I am drawn irresistibly to the one star reviews on books I’m looking at just for the insights into readers. Maybe that’s part of it: I’m reviewing the reviewers. The one star reviews for Maybe This Time were fun: people actually accused me of being a literary writer:

“Lame!! I wanted to read a funny and charming Jennifer Crusie book but instead I got this piece of literary garbage. I stopped caring about five pages in.”

“Have an unpleasant hunch she decided she was going to write a “real” hardcover piece of fiction and got bogged down.”

“What has happened to Jennifer Crusie???”

“I used to be a fan of Jennifer Cruise . . .”

. . . but mostly they were variations on “This is not what I expected” and a good indication of why SMP doesn’t want my demon book. That doesn’t mean I won’t finally finish the demon book, it just means that I’m not meeting some reader expectations (7% of MTT readers) and I either go back to writing contemporary non-supernatural romance comedy (SMP’s preference) or I keep writing what I want and accept that I won’t sell as many books. I’d discuss that further, but everybody here knows what I’m going to do, and I really want to talk about reviews.

So I get why the seven percent were outraged at Maybe This Time, but look at some of the thirty-six one star reviews for Bet Me, the most romance-y book I’ve ever written (don’t rush to tell me the reviews below are wrong, these are their opinions and they’re entitled to them; also I have an ego of cast iron, so I’m good here):

“Page after page of body shame. It was depressing, offensive, and hard to stomach.”

“Also, doughnuts during sex because she’s fat? That’s insulting. That’s how you get ants.”

” The main character’s loathing for men was tiresome and I found the whole plot exhausting and annoying.”

” It’s a long awkward attempt at body positivity that just ended up making me embarrassed for being a fat girl. For being a book with a main character that likes to eat the only food it mentions is the same damn Italian dish over and over and over. And hot dogs. And donuts. Barf.”


“Ugh. Terrible.”

“This book is awful! I bought it based on all the very positive reviews but it is over long and just silly. I am beginning to think that I should write a book!”

“I was enjoying the book until Jennfer Crusie started using my Lords name is Vain!!!! Why? What was the point? You spoke blasphemy about God !!!!!! Not just once but over & over again!!! I couldn’t take it any more!!!! Shame on you!!! I’ll never read another one of your books!!!!!!”

“Pretty amateur attempt at a rom-rom story. Characters were predictable and somewhat annoying. A lot of the dialog was pointless and did nothing to further the story. Lots of clear attempts to be “funny” but most fell flat. First book by this author and I guess I’m not a fan.”

Some of those are clearly Not My Readers and that’s fine. The ones that are interesting are the ones that saw Min as body-shamed and a man-hater. As I remember (it’s been awhile since I wrote the book), the only person who body-shamed Min was her mother, clearly not somebody the book thought was a good person, and I have no recollection of Min hating men in general. I think that’s a function of hitting a sore spot in a reader, which you cannot avoid–even if I could write a book that wouldn’t upset anybody, it would be about three pages long and people would complain because it was boring–but I do think it’s a good idea to consider if the things you’re saying are (a) controversial or hurtful and then (b) necessary to the book. A lot of people are going to be unhappy about Nita’s pro-immigration stance, but it’s necessary to the book. There are times, however, when my need for snappy patter overcomes my common sense.

I got one reader letter on Bet Me right after it came out, a very polite letter, talking about how one throwaway line in the book had hurt her, the one about how every woman in the room with a working ovary looked at Cal and wanted him, or something dumb like that. The reader who wrote couldn’t get pregnant, and she’d picked up my book as a solace, and I’d kicked her in the teeth. She was very nice about it, she didn’t say I shouldn’t have written the line, but her pain was clear, and it happened because of a stupid throwaway line that the book didn’t need. I never thought about it even though one of my best friends has mourned her infertility her entire life. I should have known. If I could take that line out, I would.

And yes, I know some reviews have ulterior motives, but that’s the reviewer’s problem. I gave a speech to RWA once, two thousand people in a ballroom, in which I said that I hated three star reviews because they basically looked at my book and said, “Meh.” I said, “Get back in here and give me my one star, damn it.” Less than twenty-four hours later somebody posted a three-star review that said, “Jenny says she hates three star reviews, but . . .” That person has issues that are not about my book. Those reviews I skip.

But 99% of them are valuable as insights into readers (my books) and the books I’m thinking about reading (other people’s books). So here’s a question: how do you read reviews? How do you sort out which are helpful and which are somebody bleeding their personal issues onto the book? What are the dealbreaker review points* for you, the things that will make you say “Nope” and not even look at the sample? (Always read the sample)

How do you read reviews?

*I just realized I don’t have any deal breaker review points. But give me a BookBub blurb that says “billionaire” or “mate” and I’m gone.

66 thoughts on “How Do You Read Reviews?

  1. I laughed a lot at “That is how you get ants.”

    I don’t read book reviews. Either I’m browsing the books in person, or I’m using positive-selection methods like recommendation lists or content tagging. Comes from having learned to wade through fanfiction archives, I guess.

  2. I sometimes read reviews after I’ve read a book, especially if I didn’t like it or had some problem with it. It’s interesting to see if other readers share my concerns. But reviews of even those books are so often unbelievably gushy that I don’t trust reviews to help me choose a book.

    Not about books, but I love this xkcd comic about reviews:

    1. Me too. I almost never read reviews unless a book just did not work for me. Then I go looking for reviews/comments to learn if it was just me or if other readers had the same experience.
      I also very rarely leave reviews but when I do, it’s either raptures or raging.

      1. This is exactly what I do. I need confirmation that I am not the only brilliant reader who saw The Ick.

  3. “Pretty amateur attempt at a rom-rom story.”

    That was my favorite comment. Especially since they thought it was your first book.

    I never read Amazon reviews for books. I read reviews on Goodreads by people I know. And sometimes at audible to see what someone liked about a book.

  4. I always ignore the 5, 2, and 1 star reviews. I tend to read the 3 or 4 star reviews. I figure those are people who have good and not so good reactions to parts of the book, and are probably more balanced in pointing out things about the plot or story.

  5. I like your method for reading ratings. Usually, the five stars, even the ones I write myself, are gushing as much about their favorite author as about the book.

    I will now rate the rainfall outside my window: One Star. The rain is falling much slower than usual, and not as straight. The drops are larger and whiter and fluffier. If I wanted this kind of rain, I’d leave Virginia for Ontario. Also, the runoff is bizarre – it seems to be accumulating vertically.

    I still get an occasional fan email. I have to read those, there are no stars attached. I reply to every one of them, even the negative, hateful ones (with “Thank you for reading my story”) but especially the folks that enjoyed it – and found flaws. There were flaws. There always are.

  6. I skim for specifics, rather than stars. Someone saying “a good vacation book” doesn’t tell me anything really, except that it’s probably fairly light. “I was surprised then the heroine suddenly found god and started proselytizing for pages” is something you might want to know, if the blurb doesn’t mention it (actual example). “Lots of sex” or “Pretty violent, multiple people get beaten up” or “Spoiler, the dog dies” etc. are helpful. I might disagree with if the quality is a plus or minus, but I have a better idea of what book it is.

    Always read a sample! Except a short list of authors who never disappoint.

  7. I skim reviews for everything I am thinking of purchasing. I’ll check a couple of 5 stars, 4 stars, 3 stars, 2 stars, and then concentrate on the 1 star. What did they really dislike about the product? Do several of them agree on the same issue, and does that issue bug me? Good info.

    And yes, I ALWAYS read the sample; I want to see whether or not I am hooked by the author. (True first line: “He reached for her hungrily.” Bleh, starting with a sex scene? Or a zombie scene? Not for me. I need more character building before an intense scene like either of those examples!) (It was a sex scene, BTW.)

    1. I do that too. I look for themes from 1 star reviews. If more than 1 reviewer is complaining about similar issues, that’s valuable info and I don’t waste my time. If all she/he can write is ‘this sucks’, well, that’s not useful. I avoid those like the plague. One star reviews are a good gauge of maturity and sanity.

  8. If the book blurb mentions cowboys, billionaires, or navy seals, I go no further. Since 9 out of ten “romance” novels seem to feature one of these, it makes my selection process considerably easier.
    I don’t read the ebook bargain list every day because I always have a list of books waiting for me to read and I don’t always want to add to it.
    And, for those books that look interesting, I never read reviews, I just read the sample.
    At my age, if the first few pages don’t “grab” me – I really don’t have time to read the entire book.
    Oh, and I never read reviews of my own writing. I have enough problems with my own self-criticism, I don’t need any help from others.

    1. So much this. Billionaires, cowboys and navy seals are also no-gos for me. I will add any type of Sheriff, cop or military (ex or current) to also no-gos. There are too many books out there that don’t have these tropes, and I would rather read them.

  9. I always read the one and two star and then the five star ratings. The one star tell me if there is going to be something in the book I’m going to hate, while the five star tell me if it’s good enough I can overlook it.

    1. I should have mentioned I read all the one star so that I can tell if the review was really a book that just wasn’t someone’s “cup of tea” or if it’s an issue for multiple people. I didn’t buy a book recently even though the blurb was right up my alley because multiple one star said the heroine was really hard to like for the first half of the book, confirmed by five star reviews that said first half a bit of a slog then they loved it. Overall the book had a four star rating, but I knew it wasn’t for me based on those one star reviews, it hit my pet peeve.

  10. As a longtime library reader I used to rely on blurbs and never bothered with reviews. But then I got burned by some terrible characterisation and bad head hopping with first-person point of view.

    I realised that at the library, they’re free, it doesn’t matter. Here I’m paying for the books, and I’m not wasting my money.

    I read the top reviews and then read one-stars for the details. Someone who loved a book might gush over it and gloss over aspects like poor plotting, or no character development. A good one or two – star review tells me that and more.

    One stars often reveal the point of view or cliffhangers which are a particular p.i.t.a for me.

    Sometimes someone hates something I love. Then I go to the sample. Same as reading page 1 to 3 in the library. Works well for me.

  11. The first thing I look at isn’t even the reviews but the shape of the graph: I love it when the 5-star bar is longer than the 4-star bar, or when they’re pretty close. I won’t ditch a book at this point unless it has by far more 3-star reviews than anything else. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book with more 2- or 1-star reviews, at least if they have more than two or three reviews in total.)

    Then I skim down the list of reviews to see what kind of people are writing the reviews: if 50% or more of the reviews include a .gif, I’m probably not going to like the book.

    If most of the “reviews” (after maybe one sentence of evaluation, which usually raves about how great it is) just summarize the book, I’m probably not going to like the book.

    If most of the reviews are one or two sentences of squeeing, especially if it’s about how LOL funny it was, I’m probably not going to like the book.

    Yeah, I know this makes me sound like a jerk. I don’t think I am (though who does?), but understanding the rhetorial context of the reviews can tell me as much about the subject of the review as the actual reviews do.

    If it makes it past those tests, I’ll read the 3-star reviews. As somebody else said above, they’re likely to be more thoughtful and balanced.

    Then it’s a sample.

    Either that, or somebody I really trust tells me to go for it, and that’s all the review I need.

  12. I sample from the full stars range – mostly because I’m cynical about online reviews (I used to work in tourism, hello TripAdvisor), and I want the broader picture.

    I also sometimes look at how a book’s star rating compares to that author’s other books.

    I really want to say that billionaires and foreign princes, are automatic no for me, but I’ve recently read Talia Hibbert’s prince-as-heroes books, which, while not making it to Good Book Thursday, were definitely worth the read.

  13. I always read the 1 and 2 star reviews because I do have issues that would keep me from liking a book. I had a really dysfunctional childhood and I am still at 71 triggered by books that have a domineering or downright hateful or mentally imbalanced mother. So I pass on those. Bad language does not bother me but I find books with lots of sex usually are light on plot, so those get passed too. Like Patrick above, billionaires, Navy seals, and zombies get passed. I used to pass on vampires but that genre seems to have waned and I actually have read several recently that were really good :). Never, never, never pass on Jenny Crusie, no matter what the subject – as many have said here we would read her grocery list!

  14. I never post this review, but it would totally work for me: DNF because the heroine is TSTL. It would be all the info I need. (Did Not Finish because the heroine is Too Stupid To Live, if anyone needs a translation.)

    I also find one-star reviews that label heroes as alpha jerks useful, because I’m decades over those kind of romances.

    I’m mildly paranoid about Amazon making Kindle notes public because a reasonable number of books in my Kindle library have notes on their front covers which are just meant as a reminder to me of why a book that I can’t remember at all is marked as read. That’s my version of the one-star review.

    1. What, you mean if I add a note to the beginning, warning myself off rereading a book – which I have to do because stupid Amazon won’t let me add a reject flag – other people can read it? That’s a private note to myself!

      1. At the moment, you are correct: that note is private. But when Amazon first made highlights public, they made them public by default. If you wanted your highlights not to be shared, you had to change your settings. Or possibly I just had my settings wrong at the time, I’m not entirely sure. It wasn’t something I’d looked into until I discovered that I was sharing info when I had no intention of doing so.

        They also made it so that if you had your account linked to Goodreads, Goodreads could automatically update what you were reading based on your Kindle activity, which again, NO.

        So yeah, I don’t trust them not to someday make those notes public, but I need them. A reject flag would probably work just as well, but I also don’t want Amazon to make flags public and you know they would! (I use a DNF collection for that purpose, but often I want to know why something was DNF, not just that it was, so I know whether I will ever give the author another chance.)

        1. Thanks, Sarah. I must double-check, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got things set up to be private. I’ve got my mum’s Kindle Paperwhite, and collections don’t seem to work on that. Must have another go: I really want a way to sort out my books. If only I could give the rejects away, or at least permanently delete them!

  15. I admit, I read all the user reviews for the two contemporary romances I just ghost-wrote. When the name of the game is not taking credit for the thing you made, it’s good for my vanity to read a review that says “I normally don’t like billionaire romances, but I liked this one” and “I’m going to read this again.” I think if my name was on it I’d be getting feedback and validation in other ways (an actual editor, being able to talk about it in my writing circles, maybe an actual review somewhere), and wouldn’t be quite so hungry for user reviews. Plus, I imagine negative reviews would feel more personal if it was your baby, and not you doing a pygmalion on someone else’s baby.

  16. I don’t use reviews much to select books. I read samples after something has caught my attention. I rarely buy books because the library has a great kindle selection so I can have a quick pick at 9 pm when I want something new to read. That said I never read books that cross oceans, continents or generations – usually all three in the same book. I can’t say I have ever read a romance with Navy seals and stopped reading about billionaires and cowboys decades ago. The cowboys almost never remind me of those I grew up knowing.

    But I do read reviews for restaurants. And I start with the one star reviews. About half can be disregarded because the reviewer thought there wasn’t enough food for what they paid, or they should have had better food for what they paid or some other issue that is clearly the reviewer’s issue and not the restaurant. That said if review after review says things like “very good food, indifferent service” I will pay attention. When Beast was the hot restaurant in town and you had to sit at a long communal table, I still remember how upset I was when they held up our service for 45 minutes because the very large party who had booked at the same time we had were late and they did not even give us a glass of wine or a snack while they were making us wait around. So I take reviews about bad service seriously.

  17. I don’t usually read reviews, but then I don’t usually pick up new authors unless someone I know recommends them. Even then it can go wrong. A friend of mine loves Jodi Picoult and I agree she is an excellent writer, but her books are full of angst, and I’ve already had enough of that in my life. Quite often there are children suffering. Not for me. I spent too many days in the hospital with my son who was born with hydrocephalus to want to read about sick kids. (He’s good now, by the way. Also got over his suicidal phase, thank the powers that be. I thought that was going to kill me.)

    Because I mostly listen to books, I listen to the samples. Many an otherwise good book has been ruined by a meh narrator. Sometimes I bite the bullet and buy a copy to actually read. But I feel guilty reading books. It seems so indulgent when I can’t do anything else at the same time.

    I do not read reviews of my books. I already know I’m a hack writer and my ego is not nearly as impervious as Jenny’s. I’m not looking for compliments here – if I really wanted to be a better writer I’d try harder. I write to please myself, mostly, and I’m lazy, if I’m honest. Reading reviews might make me unhappy, but I don’t think it would change much else, so there’s no point. I’m too old to change.

    Luckily, I’m easily distracted and my hack status doesn’t really bother me. My dogs think I’m fabulous and they’re never wrong.

  18. I always read reviews to decide if I want to read a book or not. Both good reviews and bad reviews could be helpful in that way.
    As for reviews of my own stories, I found that most of the times, people don’t see what I wrote at all. They’d bash a story because it doesn’t mesh with their own version of a similar story. They wanted something different, and the story didn’t deliver what they wanted. Sometimes, they see something in the text I never intended (like your ovaries line) or something that is not there at all. They’d make guesses and critique their inferences based on those guesses. Such reviews always surprise me. I’d say: “What? When? I never wrote that.” And then I’d dismiss such reviews.

  19. Does the review sound like it’s bothered by things that I would also be bothered by?

    I don’t know on review points, but “high handed” in a book makes me chuck it across
    the room…

  20. Yes, I usually start with the bad reviews (not only for books but also for other things I buy online). They tell me a lot about the book and about the reviewer, too. Some of them just state their personal impression, and that’s fine. Others seem to be unable to make a difference between the book’s content, their personal issues, and some other stuff (‘I received the book in a damaged box’).

    Just some weeks ago, I had a book with Christmas stories out, and the first review I got was a 3 star one, and although I tell myself to better ignore it, of course I must read it. It started pretty nicely for a 3-star but concluded that the stories were not memorable. I’m still chewing on that one.

  21. I am always leary of at the end of the review a sentence reads “I received this as an ARC”. Especially if it accompanied with/by glowing reviews. Were they written by the author’s whole fam damily? I also would like to read snippets of the story instead of superlatives. I don’t even mind spoilers because sometimes I get so far in that I will read the end of the book. Although one time it took me almost a year to continue a series when I found one of characters was killed.

  22. I don’t usually read reviews… except for a writer I used to love who went off the rails and I was checking to see if her later books in the series made it back to coherence. They agreed she wrote the series straight off a cliff, so I saved my money.

    Not sure suspicious, paranoid or security conscious Billionaires are romantic, having your loved ones as a potential target for kidnapping doesn’t do wonders for your personality or stress levels

  23. I tend to skim through to the longer reviews. A longer review tends to include why as well as what was liked/disliked. Short review might only be: read author for years but hated their last offering, where the long review includes that the quality is less or that it is not the same style. I do find the negative helpful, for instance, if the main disliked factor is something that I like, or that doesn’t bother me then the positives get more weight.

  24. I skim a selection (on Amazon), looking for stuff that would ruin a story for me – bad English, ahistorical, violent, grim – and hopeful signs such as great characters, humour, interesting worlds. As someone else said, I do the same for other products; judging the reviewers by the way the write and the judgements they make.

    I hardly ever review anything. It would take time to be insightful, and it’d bother me if I felt I hadn’t got it right.

  25. This is such an interesting topic! Especially since I seldom read reviews except when I’m looking for more information about a book that something else has triggered my interest in.

    That said, I look for information about the contents (not plot summaries but interesting facts about what’s involved inside the covers) and about the author or the author’s reason for writing the book. I can’t get anything from a review that says either, basically, “I loved/enjoyed this book.” or “This is a good/great book!” since it gives me no information that would lead me to believe that I would find it so also. I ordinarily want some hint that the events are funny, the premise interesting, the author’s language witty or unusually appealing, or that someone with similar tastes found it likeable.

    With romances, I’m probably in the minority, but I’m more put off by pleasant, happy protagonists with lovely homes and perfect marriages than by anything else. I can take a billionaire or two if need be, and I quite enjoyed The Virginian, which contained the last cowboy I can remember encountering in a book. But please save me from the lovely and contented happy homemakers of the world.

  26. I find most online reviews essentially useless. If I don’t know how the reviewer’s taste overlaps with mine, what does it even mean? I’ve bought things (not books) that got great reviews online and were supremely disappointing in real life. If I don’t know what the reviewer values, how can I know if I’ll like it, too? That’s why I love the library. I can pick up a book and read more than the first paragraph before I choose it. And, as Sure Thing mentioned, it is free.

  27. I read reviews if I am checking out a Bookbubs deal. If the negative reviews seem to ping a bunch of my pet peeves, I usually skip it. But I have also learned to ignore the reviews that are completely irrational or cranky.

    I sometimes leave reviews for books I really love, but like Jenny, I don’t bother with the ones I don’t like. They just weren’t for me. The only time I left a scathing negative review was for a book that billed itself as a romantic comedy (it was actually in the title: blah blah, a romantic comedy) and it turned out to be horribly depressing. Since I specifically bought the book because I needed something cheerful, I wanted to warn other people not to expect that.

  28. We were having a discussion about reviews in one of my author forums the other day. The others were saying they don’t read their reviews, or they have friends preview them and just tell them the good stuff. I read all of mine.

    So far, my all-time favorite is one of the lowest in terms of stars. It said:

    The characters are the star of this book, the plot of which could almost be lifted from a twelfth century passion play. They are all well defined characters who do the things they do for reasons which are or become apparent over the course of the book. Nobody steps out of the character they really are in order to advance the plot. The research into the infernal is mostly good, although there are a couple of surprising holes.

    The reader should be aware there are some explicit descriptions of sex acts – this book is not advised for anyone who is not an adult. In my opinion, it would be a better story if the author used the sexual chemistry less and other mechanisms for achieving the same end more, but it’s a worthwhile and enjoyable story as it sits.

    I’m dying to know where he thinks I messed up my research into the infernal.

    1. Jeanne, I can picture your reviewer: He is a celibate in a religious order and he teaches English to middle or high schoolers. Jeanne, you couldn’t avoid holes in your depiction of the infernal because this guy sees himself as thoroughly knowledgeable about that subject: by definition, everyone else has gaps. He doesn’t know so much about sexual chemistry and wishes he knew of other mechanisms to achieve the same end (but suspects that they might lead him to new infernal holes).

      1. I actually love this review. It felt like he really paid attention to the story I was trying to tell but the sex made him uncomfortable. Romance Rehab only rated it two chili peppers, so it’s pretty mild by today’s standards, but he feels the way he feels.

        And I love the fact that he took time to leave a review. So few people do!

  29. Also, has anyone seen the Australian version of Travel Guides?

    Other countries might have their own versions. Basically they take different small groups of people to the same destination on holiday and get them to review it. It’s funny, but more it shows how dicey online reviews can be – they all give different reviews, and some of those reviews I’d trust more than others, but you can’t tell whose reviews to trust online, usually.

    That’s why we love Good Book Thursdays – we know that we already have at least some tastes in common.

    1. This reminded me that many, many moons ago there was a film reviewer that I found 100% — if he loved it, I hated it and vice versa. When he really, really panned a movie it went onto my *gotta see” list.

      The old saying (embellished by my first hubby): à chacun son ragout fin…

  30. I usually look at the graph to see the percentages of where the reviews fall. I might skim a few, but since I’m always wary of spoilers, I don’t usually dive too deep.

    But a question, Jenny: is it possible for you or the publisher to delete that line (about working ovaries) in the ebook? I guess that would make it different from the physical ones, since I’m sure the publisher doesn’t want to reset that.

  31. I only leave reviews when I really love a book, even if it had flaws. Sometimes it’s my way of messaging the author just in case they read reviews. I recently read a first book in a series by a dear author (whose books I have reread when a comfort need might arise). Anyway, I read the new book and the heroine is all feisty and stubborn, sneaky getting over on the hero and, frankly, annoying because it created unnecessary conflict in a story that had the bones already. So in my four star review I said the storyline was good but if the other two sisters (triplets) were that same annoying sneak, then I wasn’t interested.

    I do check the stars. Too many fives and I search the low numbers. Yesterday. I read a one star that asked all the five star reviews if they were BSing her because the book wasn’t a five. Barely a three. Because I do think authors encourage reviews and kind fans overrate. Not always. Not me. But plenty do.

    I have discovered some guilty pleasures. Like bratva beastly billionaires who hire nannies for their sad, motherless children that are kooky Russian as all get out but fascinating nonetheless.

    Just as an aside, I accidentally discovered these S Korean utube show called Boys Before Flowers. All enemies to lovers and boy band best friends and hard working girl on scholarship. I love watching. They have subtitles. They are a hoot.

    1. I love the manga of this (enjoyed the tv series in various iterations too) and I have all 30+ volumes from a time when getting your hands on manga meant ordering it in the original Japanese through obscure little bookshops and it would take weeks to arrive. I love the way the heroine keeps smacking the (eventual) hero back into line when he pulls his Master of the Universe stuff.

  32. Sometimes I use reviews to push myself into making or not making a purchasing decision. I’ll let myself be swayed by negative reviews to save my money, or only positive when I want to purchase despite better judgement. >.>

    But longer reviews are better, as stated. Three can be interesting, but usually I just read the sample. And read reviews afterwards to confirm my feelings when I particularly hated a book. 😛

  33. This discussion is really interesting. I spend too much time reading reviews because I share the same reservations that many of you describe. So I choose very few books from reviews.

    I look to find out if the book is in a series (thumb down); if the ending isn’t satisfying (thumb down); if the author is a woman (thumb up); if the protagonist is a woman (thumb up); if the story occurs in a place and time I enjoy; things like that. I avoid reviews that have graphics inserted or have lots of capital letters and exclamation marks; in fact, I avoid books that have that type of review.

    I check Goodreads for reviews of scholarly books that don’t have reviews in the regular places. Some reviewers of such books give tons of information. It makes a big difference to me because even used copies of these books are very expensive.

  34. If I’m looking at reviews, I’m looking for more detail on the book than the cover blurb gives. I don’t bother with reviews that don’t give more info than “I loved it!” or “I hated it!”. I want to know why, and I’m looking for details that either resonate with me or put me off, whether the reviewer thought those details were one-star worthy, or five-star, or not. Mostly, I only go to the reviews if either I’m on the fence about buying a book, or if, as someone else mentioned, I have a strong reaction to a book and want to see how other people reacted to it.

    The reviews I particularly pay attention to are the recommendations here, and the reviews and reccs at Smart Bitches Trashy Books. Those ones are well thought out, and more likely to be in tune with what I’m looking for, quality-wise.

    I review YA and children’s books for a teachers and librarians professional website, and for writing those reviews I always take the attitude that it’s less about what I like or don’t like – what I’m trying to do is help teachers and librarians get books into the right hands by analysing a little what the audience of that particular book might be.

  35. I don’t usually read Amazon reviews, mostly because the volume makes it too much of a slog to find valuable information. If a book only has a few reviews, I might skim them for extra plot details and “this hero is an abusive asshole” warnings, but I rely primarily on cover blurbs and the all important sample.

    I read a lot of reviews on Smart Bitches, then I check the comments on those reviews. The commenters have often read the book and either generally agree with the review or explain why they had a better/worse reaction, and I can judge where my mileage falls based on the different opinions. Since these people are on a romance focused website, I can avoid the people who just hate romance, which you get wading through Amazon. But still, excerpts and samples will make the final decision. Same applies to recommendations from other authors’ newsletters and social media. They often talk about stuff in their genre/subgenre and I like getting recommendations from authors I already know and trust (I do the same thing here at Argh), but the sample is the thing that matters most.

    One star reviews have a certain entertainment value, and I might read them for that if I’m in the mood. Beyond that, I just don’t have the time or energy to find useful reviews in the biggest piles.

  36. Sometimes I’ll re-read the reviews AFTER I’ve read the book, especially if I didn’t like it, to see if there’s something I missed that made sense of the thing. I read Frankisstein by Jeanette Winterson because of a blur of critical acclaim. Didn’t really like it and went to the bad reviews to see if anyone else felt the same and could express it better than I could, or indeed whether the good reviews could bring me round to appreciating it better.

  37. I don’t generally read book reviews only because I tend to pick up lightweight (read “beach book”) romances in airports on the way to whatever business trip I am on. I read so much heavy stuff for work that I need “fly me away” stuff for winding down at night or recuperating on weekends. Of course, I have the sample in my hand then, as I can skim the first couple of pages and get a feel for the author’s skill with language and dialog. (Major turn-off: someone who got stuck in 7th grade using adjectives and adverbs in every damned sentence. Less is more there, folks. Which is why I love Jenny’s stuff — very judicious selection and placing of such things.)

    However, on other stuff (like on Amazon) I read the 1-stars pretty much, because there are often hints about products. For example, I was looking for leggings and found several “too long” notes from people who were shorter than me (length is less of an issue now that I am carrying a few pounds more than 20 years go, but still can be problematic) or that the sizing is off because it’s oriented toward an Asian market where the women tend to be tinier. But also stuff like “fabric pills badly” from a number of purchasers tells me a lot about the quality. Four stars are often interesting because the product was basically fine BUT…the “buts” are often quite illuminating.

    When I actually do read reviews and/or blurbs, I am also turned off by stuff like billionaires or dog dies. (Anything where “her faith” shows up is also a turnoff for agnostic me…) Also super heavy sex scenes — love the frisson of the build-up but really prefer the fade-to-black over a blow-by-blow of who did what to whom.

  38. I use BookBub, too, and I like that I can choose the genres they send me information on. That way, I don’t have to cruise through a list of horror or sci-fi or other genres that don’t appeal. If a book interests me enough to click through to Amazon, then I read the reviews, particularly the one-stars just like you do. Two things that will stop me are “Hot, hot, hot” and “Needs an editor,” which is ironic because the only two-star review on one of my FIBW books that was titled “No editing,” and proceeded to tear about my publisher, my DE, and me…so, go figure. Sometimes the one-stars will give you clue, but often, if I see an average of about 3.5 to 4 and the blurb sounds good, I’ll give the book a go. I’ve been disappointed by books that have a huge 5-star rating and delighted with ones that rated 3.

  39. I check reviews, but always look at the sample for tone, and to see if I like the author’s voice. It needs some snap, crackle, or pop for me to be interested.

  40. Interesting post. That “ant” bit is too funny:)

    Curious, though, to hear your thoughts on the influence of number of reviews vs content of reviews. As in, does a book with more reviews have more sway?

    Like others have said, I often read reviews for household products before buying, but I’m not so big on book reviews as influencers in my buying choices. Ditto movie reviews. I’m bigger on reading samples and watching trailers (although if a movie looks goods straight off, I’ll stop the trailer before it gives aways too much).

    You mention looking at the PW reviews, etc., but does that mean you value those differently than reader reviews?

    This is a timely topic for me as a reader and a writer because I’ve never gone the “early ARC review” route with my own books, but am considering it with an upcoming book and trying to sort through the pros and cons, so your experience on both sides of the topic is very helpful:)

    1. I tend to trust Kirkus, PW, Booklist, and Library Journal first because they’re professional sites, although PW once posted a review that a novel I’d written with others would have been better as a novel. Yeah, the reviewer hadn’t read it. It even said “a novel” on the cover. Still, I trust the pro sites more than author blurbs because all too often, authors don’t even read the books, they just blurb as a favor. See this very old post:

      More reviews usually means people are talking about the book because word of mouth drives sales more than anything else. That doesn’t mean that books with fewer reviews aren’t good books; they just haven’t hit that viral tipping point.

  41. I read reviews on Goodreads sometimes, especially if it’s an author that gets a lot of recommendations that leaves me cold, just to try to figure out the appeal.

    I do however read the comments here on Thursday religiously and then go order the samples, because I trust the judgment of people here.

    On a related note, I stopped trusting blurbs by other authors after I bought several books that really disappointed me based on blurbs from one of my favorite authors. I may be overgeneralizing.

    I do occasionally write reviews on Goodreads if a book was very good and I want to try to explain its appeal or very bad. Sometimes, I do it in tbe hope that an author with promise will learn from my critique (probably silly and arrogant of me).

  42. On Goodreads I read the reviews of the people that I am friends with, then once I go through them I look at the few first ones, then go down and read the 3 stars as I find they are usually the best reviews without too much gushing.

    This is the model of how I rate books on Goodreads:

    1 star (<50% rating) – I do not like – this are my dnf / just didn't like it. Typically if I don't like a book and rate it like this, I leave an actual review as to why.

    2 star (50-70% rating) – It was okay – I didn't love it, didn't hate it, but probably won't remember it in a weeks time that I've read the book.

    3 star (70-80 % rating) – Liked it – This is my typical review if I liked the book and was entertained. I'll remember that's I've read it, but won't necessarily remember the finer details just that I liked it.

    4 star (80-90 % rating) – Really liked it – These were the books I couldn't put down, and will stay with me for a bit and will most likely go back and re-read again.

    5 star (90-100% rating) – Loved it / Favourites – These are like old friends that I want to revisit over and over.

  43. I don’t read Amazon reviews for books (as opposed to other products). If an author is new to me, and recommended somewhere trustworthy, like here on Aargh, I’ll first read the description of the book to see if it appeals and, if it does, then I read a sample if available. It’s harder to sell me on a book when there’s no sample available, so that’s a hint to authors there. If I like the sample, I’ll probably check the library to see if they have any books by the author that I can try out before spending any money. If not available at the library, I will consider buying an author for the first time if the price is cheap enough that I won’t much begrudge losing the money on a book I hate. Those marketing campaigns which discount the first book in a series are great for this purpose. Having initially jumped through all those hoops, when I find a book I like, it’s much easier for me to part with the $ for additional books by that author. I will still have a hard time paying full hardcover prices though, but that’s a different issue, having to do with having a book reading habit of 5 books a week minimum while on a limited budget. The day I win the lottery is the day I buy every single book on my extremely long Amazon wish list!

    1. Of course my response above is an an answer from a reader’s perspective. I don’t write the sort of thing that would have reviews on Amazon. I suspect if I did, I would not be able to read many before vowing never to read any of my reviews ever again. Had I the stomach for it, I would try to group them statistically; if a large percentage are complaining about the same sort of thing such as a weak plot or characterization, I would look at that in my work. On the other hand, if only one person is complaining about an item, I might just consider it an anomalous, essentially meaningless, review. Also, it makes a difference what the complaint is; if someone objects to my “taking the Lord’s name in vain;” I’d likely ignore it because they are not my target audience and my book is not the sort of book they’re really looking for. But you already know all this, and have said it already. We’re just reaffirming what you already know, I think.

  44. Just like you, I read the one-stars. “Too much sex.” Click. 🙂 5 or 6 “why is the author cheapening this book by using the f-word?” (for some reason, those and the lord’s name in vain peeps tend to complain in clusters. I suspect shenanigans.). Click. A weird rant about how “real people don’t….” when I know that yes indeed, they do. Click.

    I’m not entirely click-crazy. This is after I’ve already read the blurb and pull quotes/reviews for some clue about whether I’m going to like it. Then I look at the one-stars.

  45. I still laugh to myself about the woman you wrote about a long time ago in your blog. You said she criticized your book with a teacher in it (Crazy for You?) because you clearly knew nothing about teaching. LOL!
    Too funny. People are a crack up.

    1. Yep. Admittedly, I broke a lot of rules when I was teaching, but I did have fifteen years of public school teaching behind me.

  46. I rarely read reviews of fiction. When I do, I pretty much skip the 5-star reviews because they are gonna be gushy. I agree that it is more helpful to read the comments of people who didn’t like the book, but really all it takes is reading a sample paragraph to know whether the writer knows what she is doing language-wise. I’m a very leery reader of ebooks published on KU. The story might sound intriguing, but so many books are written by people who have no idea how to use language or create real characters. (I will add that I know how hard it is to write well; I give all these writers credit for putting their stories out there into the world.)

    I just have to add that BET ME is the most perfect example of a contemporary romance novel that I’ve come across. I’ve read it three or four times (maybe five? I’ve lost count) to see if I can figure out what you did there. I get that the plot/characters/themes may not be some readers’ cups of tea, but from a critical point of view, in my opinion, it is perfect; or at least a perfect example of what I can only aspire to create.

    Waiting anxiously for your next book,


  47. I LOVE this thread. And that may be a little odd since, like comments, I don’t usually read very many reader reviews. I find that most readers aren’t as balanced or objective as I need them to be. The reasons for loving or hating a book isn’t well supported with anything concrete in the story. I’ll skim PW reviews and Premiere Magazine reviews (I’ve found some really great books that way). If I do make it into the reviews because I can’t quite decide and the premise sounds interesting, I’ll read maybe the first two five star, the first two four star, and then a handful of the one star. Unfortunately, the one star are often as unenlightening as the five star, but I like to take all the raves with a few grains of salt.

    At the end of the day, I usually just go for the blurb and if it sounds like my cup of tea. If I’m on the fence and I have the physical book in hand, then I’ll read the first few pages. If I’m still not sure, but it sounds like it MIGHT be my thing, then I’ll read the very last page. I really only go in for the reader reviews if I’m trolling for recommendations online and the Goodreads algorithm has tossed some flotsam onto my beach. Really, the lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that not everything is for everybody. Doesn’t necessarily make a thing good or bad.

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