I've been reading a lot lately, which means I haven't been writing. It was so bad that I considered quitting a few weeks ago. The thought lasted less than 10 seconds, but it scared the dookies out of me. I mean, WTF?

But I'm back on track, writing every day. I'm also trying to keep time open for reading, because I had missed it. In fact, I think it was reading Bruen and Starr, Westlake and Gischler, one after another, that got me back to the keyboard and inspired me to keep going.

I just wanted to thank these fine gentlemen.

But I read another book that didn't inspire me to do anything except toss the damn thing across the room. This book was by a Big Name, one who has won Big Awards, armloads of them, and written a series I'd rather enjoyed in the past. (No, it's not anyone who normally reads the Planet, at least not that I know).

With apologies to David Montgomery, I don't read reviews often, and never before I read the book. But after, I'll often read reviews to see what others think, especially if I thought the book was particularly good or bad.

And in this case, I thought the book was more than just bad, but given the author's past work, it was awful. So I casually took a look at what readers said about this book on Amazon and I have to wonder, did we read the same book?

Most of them gave this guy five friggin' stars. Five! In spite of some of the lamest dialogue I've read in years, unbelievable characters, handy-dandy clues right where the hero needs them, a plot that depends on the hero being an idiot, and an ending you've seen in a dozen direct-to-DVD movies.

What gives? Is it just because I read guys like Westlake and Bruen that my expectations are so high or is it that others' expectations are so low? Could it be just the strength of this author's reputation that makes people give the book a break? I don't know.

So let's talk about reviews.

Do you read them before you read a book or after? Or at all? Do you ever read a review and wonder what the dude was smoking? Do you ever give someone like Crumley or Leonard (and it was neither of these gentlemen) a break because of the body of their work, overlooking what may be a single stinker in a string of gems?

As always, talk to me.

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I read reviews before I buy a book. I have faith in reviews. Sometimes we don't agree, but on the whole newspaper reviewers are far more trustworthy than amazon reviewers.

As for the famous authors: I could name several whose works have been extremely uneven. Yes, I suppose that a long-established, award-winning author might get some slack from the reviewers. Keep in mind, though, that publishers will pick a single phrase out of a long critical review to sell this and future works.
I never read or paid attention to a review in my life until I published a book. And since I've only dealt with the online people (newspapers are out of my league), the uneven quality of the reviewers has not been unexpected. I have a list of favorite authors whose books I buy in hardcover no matter I've seen or read--Leonard, Crais, Thomas Perry, and Lehane--and haven't been disappointed yet. If and when they do slack, it will take more than one stinker to change my habit, so yes, I guess I'd cut them a break. But I think some reviewers, even the bigger newspaper guys, like to curry favor with famous authors. The guy you're talking about was probably kissing ass.
That amazes me. I've had a couple of stinkers (and, yes, they affect sales), but amazon has done nothing about it. I hear from other authors that neither their own nor their publishers' efforts have managed to remove unfair reviews. My feeling is that you simply have to live with them and hope that another reader will come along to balance out the average. The problem with amazon reviews is that they rarely back up their verdict with proof.
How did you determine that bad reviews affect sales on Amazon?
Only one of my books was hit by a couple of malicious reviews. It's sales lag behind the others. Haven't we had this conversation before, John?
Umm, make that "its".
This is my first post on this forum, thanks to Sandra for the intro. I'm pleased for all the wrong reasons that you make this point Jon because I am now of the view that Amazon are choosing NOT to publish my generally positive review of a recently published novel by a relatively BNA. My Amazon review would have been the first relating to this book not to contain 5 stars; I rarely apply that accolade anyway because to me it suggests 'outstandingly good' as opposed to the more ubiquitous 'very good'. The novel I refer to was, in my considered judgement, very good (i.e.4 stars) but not really deserving of the highest honour (note the spelling - I'm English). Anyway I feel certain that Amazon are holding back my review during this critical first few weeks of the life of the novel in question simply because it suggests a hint of criticism rather than tongue-on-the-floor adoration. I've submitted my review nine times in nine days, so far hitting a brick wall each time. Yet whenever I review paperbacks (regardless of sentiment) my opinions are published instantly. I've had more than 1000 positive reactions ('helpful votes') to past reviews and I consider myself a pretty objective reader - I don't idolise any single writer and I'll (diplomatically) dish out the downsides if that's how I feel about that particular book. I really think carefully before submitting a plainly negative review because I do recognise the hard work that goes into the writing and publication of even a dead duck. And while I know that the quality and integrity of Amazon reviews in general are well below the accuracy and reliability of more dedicated sources such as this, there's always the draw, insignificant loser such as I am, that on Amazon my words are going to reach the widest possible audience.
Actually, I hadn't paid all that much attention to reviews until my first book got published. Sometimes I'd give the review snippets in the front of books a quick look on my way to reading the novel, but so many of those refer to previous works that they're really not pertinent.

Even now, it can be interesting to see what others think of books, but they don't influence me to buy or not to buy, at least, not on a large scale. And yes, there are times when I wonder if we were reading the same book. (And there was one reviewer that I wondered if she was reading my book when she reviewed it, given that the details she supplied in the review weren't in my book.)
The good thing about Amazon reviews though, is that they are made by the average reader. These are the majority of people who will be buying your book, so you get to see what the average person thinks of it. These reviewers don't jump on any bandwagons and have no reason to. They just tell as they see it.

Industry reviews such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist are good places to start, but they are oftentimes vague and more plot summary than review. In my experience, the Amazon user reviews have been more accurate. I mean, if you get ten reviews saying that the dialogue sounds unnatural, than there's a good chance that's true. It all depends on how many reviews a book gets though. Some books might only have two reviews, so that's not really enough to base an opinion on, but if a book has ten or more, I generally trust them.
I totally disagree. People who post reviews on amazon often have personal axes to grind.
Or, they're friends of the author and naturally want to see him/her do well. I think a lot of those reviews are biased one way or the other.
As soon as you form an opinion on a book, be it good or bad, you are already biased, regardless of the reason. I favor a certain style of writing, and I dislike awkward dialogue (the definition of which is perhaps impossible to come by--I know I like or not when I see it), and I like certain kinds of stories. I don't like stories about people struggling with an illness or a disability because they tend to depress me. So if I pick up a book by an author I've never heard of and have no reason to like or dislike, I am still already biased based on my preferences. When I read that book, if it has awkward dialogue or involves people with disabilities, I probably won't like it. In that sense, every review is inherently biased.

What makes a book good is subjective, and so there will always be biases.


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