Are Reviews Useful?

I’ve written before about requiring users to follow or like a blog to enter a drawing. I understand that different blogs have different purposes and goals and it may work for some people. I don’t feel comfortable doing that. I’ve also been thinking recently about other ways bloggers and/or businesses get followers or Facebook fans. A few days ago, I read an article about fake book reviews and that reminded me of a Twitter hashtag that is becoming popular among authors. And, yes, it’s actually related to all this other stuff.

So, I’m writing a two-part series (I feel like it’s not really a series if it only has two parts, but I couldn’t think of anything else to call it) about growing a following organically versus trading follows or likes with others. Today’s post is about books, reviews, and Amazon “likes”. Thursday, I’ll be writing about Alexa ratings, blogs, and Facebook fan pages.

A few days ago, I read a blog post by an author entitled, “Just How Useful Are Reviews?” I had to take a minute to remind myself not to take it personally. As a reviewer who gets at least one email a day from authors asking me to review their books, it’s kind of a slap in the face to see an author who questions the value and validity of reviews. The article had a valid point, though. When it’s possible to buy good reviews, how do you know what you’re really getting? I can’t find the article now, but a few months ago, I read about political and religious groups leaving good or bad reviews en masse about certain books to discourage or encourage others to purchase books that further the groups’ agendas.

I’ve also had the lovely experience of having a couple of my good Amazon reviews voted down as “not helpful”. I say “good” reviews, because a few of my reviews are just one or two lines. Most are informative, helpful reviews, though. I’ve had to make myself not take it personally (again), and I’ve decided that it’s not about me. The reviews that were voted down were negative reviews. I try not to post many of those, but sometimes I just really can’t like a book, and when I get a book from my review programs, I have to write a review before I can get another book from them. I’ve decided that the votes likely came from either friends, family, or rabid fans of the author in question.

You have to take the same factors into consideration when reading reviews. You don’t know who is writing the review, or if they’ve even actually read the book. (Although with a good review, you can usually tell if the reviewer has a clue what’s really in the book.) I don’t buy many books, but I’m buying more ebooks because you obviously can’t find those on or at a yard sale somewhere. Before I buy a book, I actually read the reviews. With all the time I spend writing reviews, I’d like to think that many others are reading them, too. It’s not a perfect system, but I don’t think it’s completely broken.

There is one thing I have a big problem with, though. A majority of the people I follow on Twitter are authors, many of them indie authors. I’ve read some of their books, and they’re great. I do what I can to promote and encourage indie authors. I’m even part of a couple of online communities that I joined just so I can meet authors and review their books to share them with a larger audience. (Because someday, I will have a large audience, darn it.) I’ll share more about those communities in my second post. First, my gripe. There is a hashtag #AmazonLikes. An author can post their book link with the hashtag and other authors go like the book on Amazon. Please don’t do that. Tagging is one thing (and another hashtag: #TagItTuesday), and I have no problem with that. I understand that in liking each other’s books, authors are trying to help boost the books in the ratings and/or searches. I get that. But as a reader who actually looks at the “likes” as well as the reviews, I kind of feel like that’s cheating.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I posted two of my Amazon reviews on my Facebook page a few months ago and asked my friends to vote them up if they indeed found them helpful. I stopped after just a couple of days because it just didn’t feel right. On the other hand, the review was right there for them to read and decide if they liked it or not. They weren’t liking something they hadn’t read yet. (I think I got a whopping 11 votes total from doing that. Probably more than I deserved, looking back.)

Do you read reviews before you buy a book? Do you ever feel like the reviews posted are fake?

This is the first in a three-part series.
Part two: She Likes Me. She Likes Me Not.
Part three: Networking and Community Online