A Note on Book Reviews

So yesterday MHN held another successful Book Bomb. We got John Brown’s whole trilogy up into the top of some genre lists, sold a whole mess of books, and most importantly that means the author GETS PAID (remember, all authors should have GET PAID in their mission statement).

But John pointed out something interesting to me from the time we Book Bombed the novel Bad Penny. We sold several hundred copies that day, but the added attention meant that over the rest of the month John moved a total of 12k copies. Twelve thousand copies in a month for an independent book is really impressive. Something John said about that stuck with me. One of the reasons was because he got a bunch of enthusiastic reviews from the people who participated in the Book Bomb, and that helped him get continued attention.

I don’t really think of reviews as a sales component too often. Usually when I think of reviews it is to read through them for the self esteem boost or to relentlessly mock the really dumb ones. 🙂  (because Hard Magic is literally filled with talking animals!) But apparently reviews do actually matter.

So I’d ask you guys, if you are so inclined, after participating in the Book Bombs, would you post some honest reviews on Amazon and other places? My goal with the BBs is to give worthy authors an attention boost, so if that helps, then I’m all in favor of it.

The Drowning Empire, Episode 62: Upon Pain of LIfe
Book Bomb: John Brown's Dark God Saga

68 thoughts on “A Note on Book Reviews”

  1. Just to add to this, if the author has books at Audible as well, add a review there for them too. It adds up over time…

    1. Indeed they do. My first novel’s sales picked up significantly after the first five reviews (still at an order of magnitude below those numbers, alas). Plus I believe Amazon’s algorithms treat your novels better (as in listing them in the Other Books You Might Like lists) if you have a minimum number of reviews.

    1. Ask your library to order them. Patron requests are one of the main sources they use when deciding which books to get. And then the books will be there for others to sample.

      1. Yes! My library has a “Suggest a purchase” form on their website, and a suggestion box on the circulation desk. They really do pay attention to those.

  2. You may be wrong about reviews as a sales component. Before I buy a book, I scan the most positve/most critical reviews on Amazon first. If the latter are filled with SJW insanity, that a major plus.

    1. I’ve noticed this, too. I tend to read the negative reviews first, but mostly to find the people who complain about the book’s politics. If they say bullcrap like “right wing ideology” I know I’ll have to give the book a try.

      1. Generally, if I see a book review endorsing or rejecting a book based on the reviewer’s politics, I automatically reject the review. I can make my own decisions on politics, thank you very much. I’d much rather know how much fun others had reading the story.

      2. I do this too. If only because I hate getting smacked over the head with an insult or something or other while reading the book.

        The other day I read a book that casually informed the reader that everyone from Texas A) owned and carried lots of guns B) was incredibly stupid C) was stuck in a quagmire of fear and intolerance of anyone not like them (read: racist) D) were rednecks. (a term that is too often used as a pejorative, IMO.)

        Even though I’m not from TX and know only a few people from the area, the broad-brush prejudice made me stop reading immediately. I’ve attempted to get back into it a few times, but ultimately I think the commentary was far too distracting and I’m having difficulty enjoying the book. I wish I had known this ahead of time.

        1. One throwaway line in one book by an author has forever tainted his work for me. Charles de Lint, whose stories I generally like, had a character (yes, yes, the character’s don’t necessarily reflect the writer’s views, but this line was pretty gratuitous) toss off his disdain for Reagan who was “just looking for an excuse to blow up the world”, or words to that effect.

          Makes further reading of de Lint’s stuff uncomfortable for me. I keep expecting another random, plot-irrelevant, insult:-(.

      3. Ah, yes, the good old days, when Ronnie was planning to blow up the world. You know, I once found a book from 1984 at my local library warning that if Reagan were reelected, nuclear war was inevitable.

      4. Doug Northcote- just saw your note here by chance. Sorry I missed it earlier- hopefully you see this. The book was Brilliance by Marcus Sakey. I was just now debating whether or not to try to pick it up again. Shame, because I liked the premise, just not a fan of the insults. Bleh. Mad at myself for spending money on it. :-/

    2. I read the negative ones, too. If there are only a few and they’re people complaining about things that I wouldn’t at all consider problems, I know to discount them. (Like the ones that complain because the ending was too neat and happy. Because I loves me some HEA.)

      1. I look at both negative and positive reviews to see if they’ll have valid points of complaint, and judge from there.

        For example: I was contemplating the eventual purchase of some history books geared towards young readers but there were negative complaints about how much factuality was sacrificed to make reading about history engaging, plus the language used was oversimplified to the point of being somewhat infantile (as in, the children reading the books were complaining). I don’t think you need to sacrifice that in order to make the reading of history engaging and decided against it. I ignored the negative commentary based on religious objections / atheist objections, and found it a shame to have to decide against the books because the positive reviews said the books were really good introductions to get young readers to read history (ages 6 and up!)

    3. You mean I’m not the only one who does this? lol. I actually do it with anything new I’m considering buying from Amazon. It’s amazing (and rather sad) how many 1 star product reviews come from people who were either clueless about what they were buying or are bitching about something that has nothing to do with the product itself (maybe it shipped late or was damaged in transit). But the 1 star reviews for books are almost always especially illuminating, and you can spot the ones by SJWs right off. One of the things that sold me on Walls, Wire, Bars, and Souls was the astounding asininity of the 1 star reviews.

      1. Depends. A lot of 3 star reviews are one sentence. If someone only kind of liked a book, they are less likely to go into great detail. I find the reviews that I value the most as a reader are the ones from people who either passionately liked or disliked the book and are willing to go to great lengths to explain why. Those are usually the 1 star or 5 star reviews. 1 stars can be very valuable, but I have almost been fooled by passionate 1 stars a couple times. Most recently, I almost didn’t bother to read Leviathan Wakes because of a couple passionate 1 stars. But a couple friends recommended it and I wound up reading it and I liked it a lot.

  3. Key word here is HONEST. Gushing reviews that look like they were written by a 13 year old girl riding a sugar buzz are about as useless as somebody slamming the author’s dog’s politics. They’re about the reviewer, not the book.

  4. Reviews definitely help. My last book has over thirty 4 & 5 star reviews and both sales and rank climbed as I got more reviews. I did get one 1 star review from an SJW the other day who I suspect has an axe to grind with me personally (it’s the only review they’ve ever done on Amazon – that looks suspicious to me).

    I thought about mocking it, but I’m not up to your standards of Fisking, so I figured I’d be better off ignoring it. The biggest thing I think they found offensive is that it’s a fantasy novel with fantasy in it. And that the Hero discovers that he has a ‘way with women’ after he becomes the hero and it goes to his head for a few chapters.

    It’s funny that he finds it hard to believe that women would be attracted to the handsome, buff, and powerful hero. I mean that’s crazy talk in a fantasy novel, right? Not like something that actually happens in Real Life (movie stars, sports hero’s, tiger woods anyone?)

    1. Yeah, I have had a couple like that on my first book, “Duty Honor, Planet.” Which is ridiculous, since it’s the one book in the series that doesn’t have much of a connection to modern day politics. One moron even said that the book was “too militaristic” for him, or something like that. HELLO! It’s military science fiction. Emphasis on the “military” part there.

    2. The best nutjob review I got (not on Amazon but as a forum post) accused me of being prejudiced against *brown eyed people* because none of the first few characters introduced in the book had brown eyes (one of them had no eyes at all, but what the heck); he went on a tirade implying this was a sign of racism.

      I had to just ignore it. When dealing with that kind of frothing-at-the-mouth behavior, best to smile and step away.

      1. You know what, Rick Partlow and C.J. Carella??

        Screw both of you hippies.

        I’m just gonna buy your books (that I didnt know were out there) because I like the covers and and a little of the blurb. I’m not even going to read the reviews. So THERE!

        I lied, I kinda of skimmed the reviews.

        Got Duty, Honor, Planet Trilogy and Armageddon Girl.

        Man I just got a bunch of books to read that I hadn’t expected to have after finishing the new John Lambshead, “Wolf in Shadow” which I’ve really enjoyed.

        Looking forward to your books soon now too! Man this self publishing thing is pretty cool!

        Oh and C.J. I didn’t catch the name on your stuff until I scrolled down, I’ve read a TON of stuff you’ve put out back in the days you were doing Rifts books. Not sure how much was yours over the years, but I think I had, or had read most of the Rifts books when we were actively playing that one.

        May you both be struck with the success of the International Lord of Hate as well.

        Thank you both!

      2. Thanks Doug. Hope you enjoy the book. BTW, the next two books in the series are better…it was several years before I decided to write a sequel and I had matured a lot as a writer and a person in the meantime.

  5. I’m not sure most of my reviews would help much. Sure, I give some 4 or 5 star reviews (like to most of yours), but my scale tends lower than the average. I’m stingy with 5 star reviews. For me, if I simply like a book pretty well, that’s 3 stars. Amazon considers 3 stars a ‘critical’ review. For me, 3 means I liked it, I enjoyed the read, but it didn’t wow me. And then there are other people who write reviews like ‘this was a terrible, terrible books! I couldn’t even finish it’ and then give it 2 stars. Like, wow, what does it take to earn 1 star from that person?

    So I guess what I’m saying is I wish most people were less enthusiastic and ran on the same rating scale I do. As it is, unfortunately, my reviews tend to bring down the average unless I really, really liked or completely loved a book. (Sometimes even when I give 4 stars, it brings down the average.)

    1. I appreciate your position, but given the way Amazon looks at them, and given my own experience as an author, it makes me kind of cringe to read that you give 3 stars to books you enjoyed.

      1. Yeah, unfortunately on Amazon if you give a 3-star or less review you just kicked the author where it hurts. As far as they’re concerned, 3-star means “didn’t like it” even if you qualify your reasons it in the review itself. 🙁

      2. This is my point. I was explaining why I rarely review on Amazon. I do, however, review on Goodreads, where the ratings (at least how they’re defined by the site and not necessarily how they’re used by its users) are more in line with my own thinking.

      3. @ C.J. –

        But if 3 stars mean ‘don’t like it’, then what do one and two stars mean? 2 means ‘hate it’ and 1 means… what? ‘Loathe it with a burning, eternal fury’? And it doesn’t leave any room to differentiate much between ‘I like it pretty well’, ‘I really like it’, and ‘I freaking love it!’

        I mostly review on Goodreads, and I rate according to how they definite it:

        1 star = didn’t like it
        2 stars = it was okay
        3 stars = like it
        4 stars = really like it
        5 stars = loved it

        3 is average, as it should be. It used to be that a C student was doing fine because they were average. Now teachers have to justify giving less than an A. Quality of things/people do not start out as excellent by default and then get marked off for specific things. They start at average and get marked up or down. I’m perfectly happy to find a 3-star “worth the time to read it” book. Sure, I hope to find excellence, but I don’t call everything excellent when it’s merely good, because that devalues excellence.

        So, again, to reiterate my original point, this is why I don’t rate at Amazon much. Exactly because I know that Amazon’s rating system is not in line with how I rate things, and I don’t give dishonest reviews.

      4. @Shawna, I totally understand. The fact remains that while a 3 star rating in Goodreads helps an author (it’s counted as a positive review in their stats), in Amazon it counts as a negative. I’m not saying it’s fair or right, just the way Amazon does things. They consider a 4 a positive review and everything below a negative and act accordingly. It does suck that in a 5-tier system only two tiers count as a positive review and none work as a neutral one.

    2. I’ve sometimes wondered if a 10 star review system wouldn’t be more accurate. I think 7 stars (which might equal 3.5 stars in the current system) would be a pretty solid book. I know what you mean about the “blew me away” factor, making it a 5 star (or 10 star) book.

      Since Amazon won’t listen to me and change the review system that they’ve had in place for years (heh), I’ve changed the way I review books a bit. I usually take into account genres and other such things. A fun action-techno-thriller and a cozy-english-mystery might get similar ratings from me, even though I prefer the former over the latter and am often times more impressed by action-techno-thrillers than I am English-cozies. The reason I do this is because the quality of the book is on par with what I expect from that genre.

      Does this make sense to anyone not living in my head? LOL

      1. I think 10 stars would be too many for me to deal with. Occasionally I might think “this is a high four but not quite a five” or something similar, but I usually find that the 5 star system works well for me.

        As far as genre, I often find that I rate romances higher on average simply because I expect less of them. Which is probably weird, but my ratings are entirely subjective, based purely on how much I personally enjoyed the story.

        Just checked, and of the reviews for books I have written on Amazon, only one was a 3-star. The others were all books I wanted to either bump up in ratings and encourage people to buy or warn people not to waste their money. (My most ‘helpful’ review is a 2-star written because there weren’t any low reviews at all and the book really wasn’t very good and was quite sloppy. I felt someone needed to point that out.) This is out of a total of 14 reviews.

        By contrast, my Goodreads account has 200 reviews and 553 ratings with an average rating of 3.17 (with 4 stars actually having the most, followed closely by 3 stars). I have just over 30 of both 1 star and 5 star books

      2. Someone with an even lower average rating then me, but I feel your pain, on amazon I feel like a 1 is worthless. Because if I really hate the book I probably didn’t finish it, and I probably wasn’t the target audience.

      3. “I’ve sometimes wondered if a 10 star review system wouldn’t be more accurate.”

        It makes no difference, grade inflation always sets in. Ever been to IMDb, where any score under 7/10 is considered bad? I think the best system would be word ratings:

        Very Bad, Bad, Fair, Good, Very Good.

        How is this different from a five-star rating system? Well, it isn’t, except there’s very little room for ambiguity about what the ratings mean, and therefore grade inflation should be virtually eliminated.

      4. jic, I like your idea of word ratings rather than stars. That does seem like it’d be more consistent. And I think you’re right about grade inflation, though I’d never thought of it in those terms before.

        I think part of it is also that a lot of people don’t like leaving bad reviews on principle, so they’ll either only leave reviews for books they really like or will be overly generous in which star rating they give (like those who give 2 stars for something they absolutely loathed and didn’t even finish). A lot of people just aren’t comfortable with being (or appearing) critical.

    3. It’s not that people are too enthusiastic, it’s just that the system is skewed differently than yours is. I have a couple of 3 star reviews from people such as yourself, who probably should have made them 4 stars, but I figure when people see ‘critical’ reviews that say ‘but I’m still buying the next book.’ I really can’t complain.

      But the sad truth is, 4 & 5 star reviews help an author’s ranking and a book’s ranking. Anything lower hurts them. If you want to help the author, you should give 4 & 5 star reviews. While that may not be your system, your system isn’t the one that Amazon or any of the other book sellers use.

      1. But it’s the one that Goodreads uses, and that’s where I do most of my rating/reviewing. I rarely review on Amazon, and when I do it’s usually because I want to rave about a book or warn people against it. I avoid reviewing on Amazon precisely because I know that if I review it honestly, it will be read as ‘bad’ even if that’s not how I mean it.

      2. Semantic question, Shawna. If you’re handed a scale that is read a specific way, why do you consider it dishonest to rate according to the scale you are handed? The purpose of a standardized scale is to put people on the same page for the duration of that page, no longer. I’m just not following why you think it is dishonest to abide by a standardized scale. It seems to be simply because it is not the one that is most natural to you? Perhaps it is my background. I’m used to taking the scale or other reference handed to me, compare my thoughts to it and assign the appropriate designators by the scale we’re using (this week… possibly today. Tomorrow may be different.) So this may be where my confusion comes from.

      3. Wryrdbard –

        I see what people are saying, and if I felt like I had some sort of obligation to review every book I read on Amazon, I’d probably ‘translate’ my/Goodreads star ratings to Amazon’s system. But if I don’t feel very strongly about a book or have nothing to say about it, it’s unlikely I’ll feel like needing to leave a review there. I have gone on Amazon to leave positive reviews when I wanted to intentionally try to help a book and get people to read it. But if I just sort of like a book, I don’t usually feel the need to leave a review, and I don’t like that the review system on Amazon doesn’t let me distinguish between “yeah, it was all right” and “I really enjoyed it”. (Because “yeah, it was all right” would seem to be 3 stars, “it was okay”, but Amazon sees that as negative. What they say the meaning is and what it translates to in their own system doesn’t even quite match up.)

        Also, unlike Goodreads, where I think reviews are more just for discussion’s sake and to see what other people think, I view Amazon reviews as there to help people make a decision about whether or not they should buy it. And reviews like, “Yeah, I thought it was pretty good,” that don’t really have much to say aren’t very helpful (and are likely to get voted as unhelpful).

        I don’t really understand why people are having so much trouble accepting that I just don’t *often* (I do sometimes, when I have something particular to say) choose to use the Amazon system because it just doesn’t mesh well with my way of thinking. I’m actually more likely to leave reviews for self-pubbed or little-known books that have fewer rankings.

        Maybe I’m not expressing myself well, so let me try to sum up what I’m trying to say:
        – I don’t give a 5/5 rating to many books because I want that rating to be special when I do give it
        – I don’t have any problem with leaving an Amazon review for books I really enjoy and want to support
        – I don’t feel any obligation to leave an Amazon review for books I don’t feel strongly or have anything to say about

        And yes, there are books that I rate highly on Goodreads that I haven’t left Amazon reviews for. I see that I really should go and leave a positive review on Amazon for these, if I liked them that much. I will try to be better about doing that.

      4. I’m sorry, I think it was I who was insufficiently clear. I was curious as to the logic behind your objection to using the local rating system when you do rate on Amazon. I had taken the understanding that you did not leave reviews on Amazon because their rating system did not mesh with yours, rather than that you did not feel it appropriate to rate books you did not feel strongly one way or the other and was curious about your logic. I now stand corrected. Thank you very much for taking the time to clarify. 🙂

      5. Actually, discussing it with people here has helped me clarify my own opinion about it. I still don’t think I could leave a 4-star review when I only kinda like a book (as opposed to really like it, which is what I consider 4-star), but I do now plan to go back and leave some Amazon reviews for those books that I felt strongly about and/or had something to say which might help others decide about a book.

        Part of the dilemma I have is that there are some books I’ve given 3 stars on Goodreads which would seem strange as 4 star reviews on Amazon, since they consist of a long rant about things I didn’t like and ending with “but it was a fun book and I kind of enjoyed it anyway”. Or those books where some elements (dialogue, for example) are excellent while other elements (like plot) are sub-par. I really liked some bits of the book and really disliked others, so I end up averaging them out to a 3 star rating. (Although in the case of the book I’m thinking of there, over time I’ve decided that the impression I’m left with is a negative one, so I’d probably end up giving it 2 stars on Amazon if I did review it.)

    4. I think I’m of a similar mind.

      My stars list:

      1 — illiterate, moronic crap
      2 — I really didn’t like this book.
      3 — I liked it well enough. I might read another from the author someday, if the description sounds good.
      4 — I really liked it. I plan to buy more from this author, or eagerly await the next volume in the series.
      5 — Holy Shit! You should read this!

      I usually find that people give too damn many 1 and 5 star reviews. I had a relative who used to insist that whatever she happened to be eating was the best ever. I found it frustrating.

      1. Yes, when people are overly enthusiastic about everything, it doesn’t make anything very special. I rarely give 5-star reviews because when I do, it’s for books that blow me away, ones that have very little, if anything, that I didn’t like about it. They must be books that delight me, that make me literally laugh out loud, and or give me a character that I fall in love with. I need to have a rating to give such books, because they are a precious find.

    5. Gotta work within the constraints and design of the actual system.

      Each level of star rating is counted by the system as it is designed, not by your or my personal wishes or desires.

      1. But different websites design their star ratings differently. Amazon’s are different than Goodreads, which is probably why I rate/review on Goodreads and rarely on Amazon. My definitions match exactly what the Goodreads description says they mean.

      2. If you go to a book’s page and hover over each of the stars, a little thing pops up to describe what each star means.

      3. @Shawna:

        Re: Goodreads rating –

        That’s muchly the same issue that the self appointed elites and their SJW run into so often.

        What works in one place may well end up contrary to desired outcome in another.

        Gotta stay adaptable 🙂

        Semper Gumby!

      4. @ Pugmak

        I’m not really sure what you’re getting at. I’m not demanding that Amazon change their ranking system. I’m just saying that it doesn’t work for me, I don’t find it to really fit my way of thinking, and therefore I don’t often use it. How does that make me like a SJW or elite?

  6. Reviews do help, and more in Amazon than other places. Their recommendation algorithms consider the number of 4 and 5 star reviews against the 1 and 2 star ones, but also factors in how helpful a review was to visitors. 4 & 5 star reviews get plussed up the more people indicate the review was helpful to them, and bad reviews can be mitigated if people disagree with them and down vote. (The opposite is also true). I’m not an Amazon guy, but this is what I’m given to understand, and it’s worked out okay on my two books. I love it when Amazon emails me recommending my own little semi-libertarian mil SF space opera.

      1. This cracks me up.

        Amazon Computers: “Hey! We noticed you like these types of books, why aren’t you reading this guy? We think you two have a lot in common. You even have the same name!”

      2. That’s the trouble with statistical analysis – individuals get lost in the crush. And how many Amazon customers are also authors? My guess is the percentage is too small for Amazon to think about spending the money to fix it.

  7. I read somewhere, I believe on Sarah Hoyt’s blog, that leaving reviews and adding books to your cart/wish lists also play into Amazon’s algorithm for determining rank. For those who are strapped for cash have another avenue for helping increase the exposure of our favorite writers.

  8. Thanks for the reminder. I missed the book bomb yesterday but bought the kindle version today. Will make a note to write a review when I’m done. LOVED Bad Penny. 🙂

  9. You know, I had a promotional giveaway of the first book in my Mil-SF series and gave away 2700 downloads in 5 days. Out of that, I got a whopping 5 new reviews. So I would very much encourage the people who participated in the Book Bomb to leave reviews…they show the author that people aren’t just buying (or downloading free) his book but actually reading and remembering it.

  10. This has been very informative. I don’t usually do reviews, but I’m going to have to start making a point of it from now on. My only problem is that a lot of times I’ll buy a book that sounds interesting, but not get around to reading it for quite some time, at which point the review probably wouldn’t help the author much. I think I’ve got like 35 items in my “Books to Read” collection on my Kindle. However, I read Larry’s books right away, and I will DEFINITELY start adding reviews for them as soon as I finish them from now on.

    1. It used to be that reviews were super important around the time of release and less so later, but not any more 🙂

      Before e-books and POD, a book had a window of 8-15 weeks to make a splash in book stores. If the book did really well during that period, the stores would “model” it, which means they’d keep 2 or 3 or whatever copies on hand and re-order when they sold. If not, it was rotated out of the store. So you needed to get as many sales as possible in that window. Everything was geared towards that.

      But now that’s not the case. E-books and POD basically keep a book on the shelf forever. This means that reviews from folks who liked the books help whenever they appear. In fact, as the numbers of positive reviews build, the book becomes more attractive to folks just finding out about it.

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