Thursday, August 23, 2012

Do Reviews Matter?

A guest post by author Jordyn Redwood

Now that I am a published author, the whole world of reviewing and what it actually means has been an interest of mine.

Do you trust reviewers? Does it influence your decision to buy a book?

First, let me give my pre-published-just-a-reader point of view. I can say reviews really didn't matter me. I didn't read them unless the book was published by a well known author and poorly reviewed. I don't know. Maybe it's like when we slow down to look at the carnage from a car accident.

When I got my e-reader, I began to look more at reviews. I didn't want to junk up my reader with poorly written books that I wouldn't read through the first couple of chapters.

I found myself suspicious of reviews that were under twenty and all five star. I mean, to me that felt like family and close friends and were they really giving an unbiased review? Hard to know. If the novel had over thirty or so reviews and had a distribution amongst all the stars but most were four and five stars with a few one, two, and three stars—I was more likely to download it.

Then I began to realize there is a trust issue between the buyer and those who review. There was an interesting column by author Mike Duran that focused on this issue where he hypothesized that those who reviewed Christian books were softer and more favorable toward certain publishers’ books so it wouldn’t hurt their chances of someday being published by that particular house. You can read his thoughts here.

After I was published, I was not one of those authors who couldn't read the reviews—though I did find myself mostly focusing on Amazon and Goodreads for my primary perusing.

My now I'm-published-but-still-mostly-unknown-author viewpoint concerning reviews is as follows.

1. Reviews are important for newer authors who are building a readership. This is one of those Catch 22 situations of getting people to review your novel who don't know you by perhaps offering them a free book and hoping they follow through. Perhaps 50% of the people who received review copies of Proof actually have thus far followed through with a review. The reason I do think it's valuable in this phase of the author's life is to help with that word of mouth spread. If you look at a debut novel that's gotten over 100 favorable reviews—WOW, a lot of people are loving that book and I know it would influence me to buy the novel too.

2. Reviews from well respected sites do help book sales. Proof, my debut medical-crime thriller, got a starred review from Library Journal and I know that has definitely influenced sales.

3. Reviews don't help me decide to buy books from authors I regularly follow. For me, Dean Koontz, is my most favorite author. Do I 100% love everything he's written—no. But, what I've learned from reading Dean through his lifetime of writing books is that there are definitely highs and lows to the writer's life but I know a prolific author has it in them to produce good stories.

4. Reviews help evaluate the competition. There is one particular author who was a debut novelist that released her book the same time Proof released. She has over 100 reviews and the reason I've been reading them is to see what it is in her novel that is resonating with readers. That can help me have market awareness.

5.  I also need to review books. This is becoming more apparent to me that it helps people determine what kind of author I might be by what I like to read. A couple of people who have sent me letters have mentioned this specifically.

What are your thoughts on reviews? Helpful? Trustworthy? Do they influence your decision to buy books particularly from a newer author?

Jordyn Redwood is a pediatric ER nurse by day, suspense novelist by night. She hosts Redwood’s Medical Edge, a blog devoted to helping contemporary and historical authors write medically accurate fiction. Her debut novel, Proofgarnered a starred review from Library Journal and has been endorsed by the likes of Dr. Richard Mabry, Lynette Eason, and Mike Dellosso to name a few. You can connect with Jordyn via her website at

Dr. Lilly Reeves is a young, accomplished ER physician with her whole life ahead of her. But that life instantly changes when she becomes the fifth victim of a serial rapist. Believing it's the only way to recover her reputation and secure peace for herself, Lilly sets out to find--and punish--her assailant. Sporting a mysterious tattoo and unusually colored eyes, the rapist should be easy to identify. He even leaves what police would consider solid evidence. But when Lilly believes she has found him, DNA testing clears him as a suspect. How can she prove he is guilty, if science says he is not?


  1. Reviews, particularly on Amazon, have come under a lot of criticism lately. One blog said something like, "Any new author can find 50 friends or relatives to give their book a great review."

    Ha! Writing reviews doesn't come naturally to most readers. All except two of my nine books have fewer than 50 reviews, and yet they've had thousands of readers, who keep buying the next in the series.

    Do reviews influence me? Of course, but I'm selective about which reviews I give weight to, and at this point with little time to read and so many great books, I no longer have any "auto" buys.

  2. Welcome back to CFC, Jordyn! Reviews are definitely a two-sided sword, aren't they? I haven't had anything below a 4-star review yet for my Writing a Killer Thriller, but if I do get any 1 to 3-star reviews, I'll probably be devastated. It must be hard to take low reviews and not get discouraged, yet how do you know the reviews aren't coming from someone trying to discredit their competition or someone who hasn't even read the book?

    I would say that if I got more than one reviewer pointing out a specific perceived weakness, I'd definitely take that into consideration, and maybe go in and change/update the e-book to address that issue.

  3. I agree, LJ. Writing reviews is hard and a definite talent. Though, I do think it would be hard to find 50 close friends/family members to do that for you.

    That's interesting too that you don't "auto" buy any one particular author anymore.

  4. Great thoughts, Jodie.

    Yes, a definite double edged sword. And too, I think different review sites "stars" mean different things. People who have rated me on both Goodreads and Amazon have given me different stars-- generally rating me higher on Amazon.

    There were a couple of people on my influencer list that gave me 3 star reviews and I STILL asked them to review Poison which releases in Feb.

    Why? Because they were honest reviews and no book is perfect and they did point out some definte...let's call them growth areas.

    Another writer said to me... throw out the one and five star reviews and read all the 2-4 reviews-- these are the ones that are critically reading the novel.

    Though I will say the five star reviews are AWESOME when you're having a tough writing day and I love every one of those.

  5. I've heard the "I'll scratch your book if you'll scratch mine" theory before about Christian book reviews -- in fact, I've even been told some authors couldn't get published because they gave "bad" reviews! Thus I know many people on Goodreads who review under a false name just to protect against that. As readers and writers, not to mention Christians, we should have the strength and courage to be honest with each other. If you don't like my book, tell me straight! I promise, I can take it. :-)

    While I don't let any reviews, good or bad, affect my purchasing decisions, I have noticed that the vast majority of "reviews" are little more than rehashing the backcover blurbs of whatever book they just skimmed through -- as if the reviewer is more concerned about building his/her own reputation through prolific reviewing than actually taking the time to critically read a work and provide honest feedback.

    Let's dare to share the truth in love, shall we? :-)

  6. Really excellent thoughts, Amy.

    Constructive criticism is a good thing to help us grow as authors. We should be more welcoming of those types of reviews.

  7. I never read reviews of my own books (shudders!), but I will read reviews of other books when making a decision whether or not to buy. I stay away from sites like Goodreads because it's more like drama central than a review site for readers. A very scary place. I can tell from reading a review if it's a thoughtful, articulate opinion of a book offered by an intelligent person who knows what a book review is. Those are the only reviews I pay attention to.

  8. Thanks for your thoughts, Karen. You are right, I have seen some interesting reviews of other books on Goodreads but mine have been very thoughtful.

  9. The 'star' rating system on Goodreads is very clear… maybe not quite so clear on Amazon. Even a 2 on Goodreads is an 'ok' rating.

    Since I've stepped over the publishing threshold I've learned how importance reviews can be. As an unknown, someone on the fence about investing time and money in my book may very well pay a little attention to the reviews.

    What's got me breathing funny now is the quid pro quo some authors expect. It bothers me because they sometimes force me to choose between reciprocity and integrity. It also devalues even more of the reviews unless they are written by someone who does it pretty much for a living. Or free books. Or something at least a step up from the casual reader, even if they're also an author.

  10. First off, love your cover! Sleek and simple. I agree that reviews matter especially as a new author. They are a great way to build readership and name brand awareness. I think a good mix of 3 to 5 star reviews is a good way to help an author become more established and considered worth a readers time.

    I have those authors I will read no matter what, but I definitely look at reviews when I'm considering an unknown author as well as nonfiction books.

    Congrats on the review from Library Journal!


  11. Peg,

    Yes, I agree. I don't mind trading books with other authors in hopes of getting a review but I certainly don't expect them to be all five star.

    That being said-- you bring up a good point. I'm not sure I'd really want someone to post a 1 or 2 star review particularly if I gave them the book for free but this is the risk we take as artists and though it would be a hard pill to swallow-- if I learned something from the review--It would probably be okay (after a few drinks of heavy liquor).

    Thank you Stacy for the compliments on the book cover-- I think Kregel did an amazing job.

  12. As a reader, I do look at reviews when I'm interested in a book, but I also try to read between the lines and stay objective. I usually weed out the ones that don't feel constructive or helpful. For example, I often see people who will criticize an author for grammatical errors, yet has them right there in the review (not typos, btw, because we all make those).

    The thing is, readers, for the most part, are pretty smart, and the relevant reviews are easy to spot--so are the ones that aren't.

    As an author, I do the same thing. I always keep an open mind and don't mind criticism as long as it's helpful; I see those an another opportunity to improve my craft, and I consider my readers' opinions valuable whether they are positive or not.

  13. I disagree that it would be possible for any author to get 50 4 & 5 star reviews just with friends and family. I think that's a ridiculous statement given the number of books that have less than even 20 reviews.

    Do I get a warm, fuzzy feeling all over for the 4 & 5-star reviews that my debut mystery has gotten? Sure. Do I dread the day someone reads it and writes a bad review? You bet. So, while I want to accumulate as many reviews as possible, I also grow more wary with each one, knowing that the odds of getting someone who doesn't like what I wrote go up with each new review.

  14. Once you get over the first inevitable bad review, Terry, it's not so bad and it helps toughen an author's delicate hide. Genuine poor reviews that are constructive are helpful, and the hateful ones are fairly easy to spot. As a reader, I prefer to see books with reviews across the scale and tend to find the 1, 2 and 3 stars more interesting to read - what didn't the reader like about the book? My buying decisions, however, are rarely influenced by the reviews. If the blurb is good or the book is recommended by someone I trust, I'll try it even if the reviews aren't great.


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