Do reviews really matter?
The honesty or dishonesty of reviews has been the hot topic of the month, with many people expressing opinions on sock puppets and purchasing reviews, as well as the practice of writing scathing negative reviews on books with the express purpose of driving down a book’s ranking. The fact is that practices such as these won’t go away. Where there is a potential for profit, you will find corruption.
I can’t see much point in being outraged. I don’t know about you, but I stopped taking much notice of book reviews a loooong time ago. A review is somebody’s opinion, no more, no less – even if it’s honest. That’s just as true of prestigious literary awards like the Archibald or the Booker. Frankly, I can just about guarantee that if a book’s won one of those, I probably won’t like it. And that’s just a matter of taste.
So how do I choose books? I do what I did in the days before Amazon. Come on, some of you can remember that far back, when you actually went to bricks and mortar book shops. You went to the shelves which held your favourite genre and if you didn’t grab the latest by your favourite author, or a book your mate recommended, you’d look at the covers. Then you’d take out the book and read the blurb. Still interested? Peruse a few pages. If it looked interesting, you headed for the desk.
You can still do that on Amazon. Find your genre, then an interesting cover. Read the blurb, download a sample. If it’s crap – don’t buy it. Sure, if somebody I know, and whose opinion I respect, has left a review, I might take note. But most blockbuster books attract a wide range of reviews. The infamous “Fifty Shades of Grey” has literally thousands of both 5 star reviews and 1 star reviews. It all depends on your taste, doesn’t it?
In the last few days, JK Rowling’s new book for adults, “The Casual Vacancy”, has hit the book shelves and so has Terry Pratchett’s latest YA, “Dodger”. Leaving aside Hatchette’s formatting debacle with Rowling’s book, the reception to her novel hasn’t been great. Response to Sir Terry’s non-Discworld story has also been mixed. To some extent, I imagine that’s because people’s expectations have not been met. The authors have strayed away from their usual patch to explore new territory, and I have to say that may well be a warning for writers. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write outside your usual genre, just that if you do, don’t expect the people who read (say) Harry Potter to love your new work.
I’ll still buy “Dodger” and I dare say I’ll enjoy the read. I wouldn’t have bought either “The Casual Vacancy” or “Fifty Shades”, regardless of their Amazon ranking.
Just one more point; most people don’t write reviews, or even anonymously rate books on Goodreads. They buy a book to delve into another world for a little while and then they tell their friends what they thought. And let’s face it, word of mouth is still far and away the best review you’ll ever get.
I’m starting to think Amazon might be better scrapping its flawed review system altogether. Too often it does more harm than good. What do you think?