Update. Next Publication is: Under Strange Suns, available digitally August 2015, print version due December 2015, Twilight Times Books.

Views on Reviews

I’m considering reviews today, from the perspective of both a reader and a writer. What value is there in a review?

On-line we find two prominent sources of reviews: Goodreads and Amazon. There are a plethora of other sources on the web for reviews, but the two aforementioned are the big dogs, the Siskel and Ebert, the Statler and Waldorf. Is there any value to us as readers in these reviews? I don’t recall being swayed by a review on either site to either purchase or bypass a book. What about you? Does either site influence your decision making?

Goodreads seems primarily a collator of numerical evaluations, readers moved enough to provide a rating on a scale of one to five, but not sufficiently motivated to describe their reactions. There is the virtue of simplicity in that. A large enough aggregate can provide a snapshot of the general reaction to a book. But as a reader that fails to move my needle one way or the other. And as a writer, I question whether Goodreads reviews drive book purchases. Have any of you seen the average review numbers for one of my books and said to yourself “The reaction to this is overall favorable. Based on this trend I will download a copy of this book to my Kindle.”

Amazon strikes me as similar to Goodreads. But since it requires some sort of written response in addition to the facile assignment of a number, any given book will have fewer reviews than on Goodreads. As a reader, in theory a collection of arguments pro and con should help guide me. But I don’t think that in practice I’ve ever read a book because of Amazon reviews. As a writer, Amazon reviews can provide a positive influence on sales. Not because the reviews influence readers, but because the reviews influence Amazon. Once a threshold of positive reviews is reached, the Amazon algorithms decide that customers are really purchasing this, triggering a ramping up of advertising. So, yay Amazon reviews, I guess.

The reviews that have convinced me to pick up a book come from independent sites, sites that aren’t primarily review sites, or that cover more territory than simply book reviews. Blackgate, for example. Or a personal web log, written by someone whose taste in literature appears to largely overlap with mne.

Is mine a common experience? Or am I an outlier on this?