Are those rave book reviews legit?

I’m referring to “reader reviews” at online bookstores, and I’ve always been a little envious, to tell the truth.  I don’t get many reader reviews of my books – at least, not as many as some of my competition get.  I always figured it was because I didn’t solicit them.  I mean, I prize your time and privacy, and am simply grateful that you read my books.  Sure, I wish I’d get a gazillion book reviews.  But I learned long ago to be careful what I wish for.  Those reviews might be lousy, in which case I’d feel really bad, given the 5-star reviews other authors get.

Turns out roughly one-third of those 5-star reviews may be purchased.  This, according to an article this Sunday in the New York Times.  Apparently, posting reader reviews has become a business.  An author contacts a reviewer-for-hire, pays a certain amount of money for a certain number of 5-star reviews, and it’s done.

Do you believe this?  Do you read those reviews?  Do you post ones yourself?

The concept of a reviewer-for-hire is discouraging.  From what I understand, online bookstores prohibit the practice, but policing it is another matter.  And then there are those who game the system.  I know authors (one, in particular, whose name you’d know in an instant) who milk their audience for reviews.  They sponsor contests and offer free giveaways in exchange for rave reviews.  They’re not directly paying for them, so they feel this is okay.  And yeah, it’s one way to promote your book.

Another is to diss the competition by getting family and friends to post lousy reviews of a book that comes out the same day as yours.  Mind you, this isn’t my own paranoia speaking.  A publisher told me this kind of thing happens, perhaps to explain to me why one of my books got a totally nonsensical review.  It was like the reviewer hadn’t read my book at all.

For the record, I’ve stopped reading those reviews.  Literally.  I don’t look at them – have no idea how many have been posted for Escape or whether they’re good or bad.  I’m much happier this way.

What do you think about the practice of reader reviews?  Are they worthwhile, or should they be eliminated?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.



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  1. Vivian on August 29, 2012 at 5:59 am

    Although I have a blog dedicated to book reviews, and post on both Goodreads and LibraryThing, I’ve also learned not to put to much faith in reviews posted on sites such as Amazon or BN. Most of the 4-5 stars (not all but a large percentage), read as if the person hasn’t read the book and is simply putting out a rave review as a courtesy to the author (possible family member, friend, etc.). However, if a 4-5 star review is well-written and explains why the reader appreciated the book, I trust it a lot more. I also try to look at those people that post less than a 4-5 star review, to see what their objections may be with the story or characters. Generally speaking I only do this for authors I’m unfamiliar with as I have a tendency to keep reading my favorite authors (such as you) all the time. I do read reviews on my fellow book blog reviewer sites, but again generally use these for new-to-me authors or genres.

    I’m disheartened to hear that there are people out there that don’t respect the time an author has put into developing a story, the amount of time spent editing and publishing the story, to not give an honest review. Each author deserves that and no less.

    • Barbara Delinsky on August 29, 2012 at 6:03 am

      Such a thoughtful reply, Vivian. You restore my faith. Thank you.

      • Nancy Eckel on August 31, 2012 at 7:43 am

        Whatever happened to truth-telling? One of the problem’s here is that we, in America at least, think doing anything for money is OK. In our heart of hearts, we know that selling any part of ourselves for monitary gain is wrong. I go back to my religious roots when I say this. My parents were not religious, so I was not raised in any faith group. But on a deep level, I knew that certain things were wrong. As a child, I knew that doing or saying anything I wouldn’t want the world to see or hear, was wrong, and that knowledge came from knowing myself.

        Hence, it is wrong to give a false opinion about Barbara’s books and even worse to PAY someone to say things s/he doesn’t believe, even for pay. That’s my opinion. I hope Barbara doesn’t pay people for “good” reviews! I personally enjoy most of Barbara’s books, so I recommend them and give them to friends. That is my review.

  2. Mary Shipman on August 29, 2012 at 6:04 am

    I read a lot and I post reviews on my blog, Goodreads and Amazon. Mine are not ever ‘paid for’, Doing that is not getting a review, it is buying advertising!
    That being said, I am aware that the reviews are subjective.
    A review is personal opinion and when I read them I take them exactly as such. No matter how much any of us try to be completely detached, it is impossible. Our lives and emotions are always there, hiding in the background.
    I have given both higher and lower ratings than other reader/reviewers to certain books and from time to time wonder what was in or on the mind of the other. Could they not relate to a character, were they having a bad day overall, did this book touch a special chord or need in their life are questions I ask myself when I seriously disagree with another review..
    Personally, I do not put much stock in what is posted. As stated, they are opinions.
    I know what I like, certain authors I depend on for pleasure reading; although I am ready and willing to step out and try something new quite often.

  3. Becca on August 29, 2012 at 6:24 am

    I can’t say I’m surprised. I personally don’t read the reviews on buy sites. I read goodreads and follow authors/readers on Twitter or book blogs and take recs from them. I’d rather get a recommendation from someone I “know” and who has similar tastes and interests.

  4. Sonia on August 29, 2012 at 6:32 am

    I don’t read reviews because everyone has different opinions and just because someone likes or dislikes a book, doesn’t mean I will feel the same way. I do however, take personal recommendations seriously. Most new authors that I read these days are ones recommended by friends. Despite all the technology now available to us, don’t ever underestimate the power of the old fashion word of mouth! And in summer every year I visit a wonderful second hand bookshop in a little beachside country town, where I spend hours reading the back covers of books. Based on these blurbs I have discovered many new (to me) authors – and then gone on to lend/recommend them to my friends. At the end of the day, the only way to really know about a book, is to read it yourself and make up your own mind.

  5. Alana on August 29, 2012 at 7:11 am

    I use reviews as a guide only and when I write a review I just write how the affected me, the way it made me feel. I dislike reviewers that write as if they are an editor/publisher generally people buy on how a book sounds & often from previous previous reads, page long & constant yapping about how bad a book is uncalled for and certainly doesn’t persuade me either way. I use good reads & friends recommendations but as someone else said in the end the only way to know is read it yourself. I enjoy your books & so do my mother & sister we share them around.

  6. Jade @ Tasting Grace on August 29, 2012 at 7:16 am

    It’s disheartening to hear about positive reviews for hire as well as negative reviews to diss the competition. As a reader, I rely mostly on word of mouth and/or hearing about the book on NPR or other media. Occasionally, I seek out a particular subject, author, or genre, and then compare the synopses of books that search results bring. I only use reviews to persuade me one way or the other if I’m on the fence about whether a book is worth purchasing. Having said that, I take all reviews with a grain of salt, knowing they are nothing more than opinions I may or may not agree with. And truthfully, I think I pay more attention to the criticisms than the praise. But whether it’s censure or praise, it depends on how well the reviewer argues their point (Neither “This book sucks!” nor “This books is the best thing I ever read!’ is very convincing), how many other people seem to say the same thing, and whether I feel like I would agree with them for me to be swayed by it.

  7. Dianne on August 29, 2012 at 7:45 am

    I do scan reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but I don’t put a lot of stock in them. Ever since Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants came out and there was overwhelming negative reviews due to the price of the e-book, I stopped letting them influence my choices. If the synopsis sounds interesting to me, or it’s an author that I’ve enjoyed in the past, I’ll gladly buy the book!

  8. Judy on August 29, 2012 at 8:06 am

    I do post reviews after I’ve read a book. However, that being said, I don’t read other reviews before posting mine. I want the review to be in my words not someone else’s. I do notice that how I review a book is quite different from others. I have also promised myself that I will NEVER post a bad review. I know how hard authors work at putting a book out there for us to read. What gives us the right as readers to bash a book that someone else might love? I simply won’t do it. If I don’t care for a book, there will be no review from me. I’ve read some very, very cruel reviews that I’m sure caused tears to flow down the face of an author. What purpose does this serve?

    • Jenel Looney on August 29, 2012 at 8:45 am

      I have the same policy as Judy. I write honest reviews about books I loved… I don’t review books I didn’t enjoy.

  9. Jenel Looney on August 29, 2012 at 8:44 am

    I write honest reviews on Amazon, so I believe there are others who do the same thing. I do look at reviews when determining whether to buy a book from an author I’ve never read before, It’s a shame to hear that some of those reviews may have been purchased, but I believe that’s probably wayyyyy in the minority. My guess is that Amazon is scrambling to identify the users posting reviews-for-hire after that article came out. When they find them, the reviews will have been deleted, and those authors will be out some money, at the very least.

    • Barbara Delinsky on August 29, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Thanks for your take on this, Jenel. It’s always a shame when a few bad people taint an entire practice. We do need to hear the other side. And my thanks to you and Judy for reviewing only books you enjoy. Keep at it.

  10. Linda on August 29, 2012 at 9:15 am

    When I decide to read a novel I want no spoilers. Therefore, I read no reviews, nothing about the book or see the movie. The way a reader reacts is a personal thing and so I believe each reader is the best one to enjoy/critique his/her novel of choice.

  11. Janet Cotner on August 29, 2012 at 10:23 am

    I have long ignored the over-enthusiastic FIVE STARS!!!! reviews, skeptically thinking it was way too easy for those to be false in some way. Usually I find out about new, interesting books from my friends or my library and I glance at online reviews (usually goodreads first) that are rated between 2-3 stars. My thinking is that I’m already interested enough to look up more information about a book, so I just need to be aware of any reasons I should NOT read it. If the complaints in a negative review are things I either disagree with (like differing personal or political viewpoints with the author) or can live with (like foul language or literary elements that may bug some people), then I typically ignore the review altogether and pick up the book!

  12. Ev Bedard on August 29, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Hi–I have chosen to use “Word of Mouth” since I am an avid reader & volunteer at our local library. Many people/friends ask me what have I been reading or which author to select (this even happens at doctor offices, since I always have a book with me). Often, I will recommend one of your books if I think it is a good fit for them. I have recommended you as an author many times, so I hope that once they read one of your books, they will continue to read them (or do as I do & go back in time & read your earlier books). Thanks for all the enjoyment your books have brought to me & to my friends. Ev

  13. Donna on August 30, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Hi, Barbara, I read the reviews but five minutes after I read them I couldn’t tell you what they say. It doesn’t influence whether I will read it or not. I tend to read the same authors over and over. I will read a new author if the subject or place is something that interest me. If I really like the book I will send a note to the author . If I read a book and it doesn’t make an impression on me I keep quite because maybe I just read it at a bad time in my life. Why should that effect someone else?

    With all that said I can say I have NEVER read one of your books that I haven’t liked or better yet learned from. Your research shows. I recommend your books all the time. If in a book store I see someone who just can’t find a book they are interested in I tell them to try one of yours. For me you are my absolute favorite. I have others that I read and enjoy but yours are at the top of my lit. If I had to decide between groceries and your newest book I would find a way to buy the book. Luckily I’ve never had t do that! My son usually gives me a gift certificate for my birthday and Christmas with a note that says I’m sure that Barbara lady has a new book coming out soon. I love it because he’s not a reader unless it’s about hunting and fishing.

    Can’t wait for the next book!

  14. Marilyn Holman on September 1, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Wow, Barbara, I am just reading your blog for the first time, although I have been reading your books for years. I always read the reviews on the websites where I purchase books, and whatever is written on the book jackets. Sometimes I read the book, and then say Huh? Why did so and so write that review that this is so good when I do not like the book. Authors can get somebody to say anything for them if they need them to.

    May I say honestly that I have loved and devoured every one of your books … Lake News was my first … For my Daughters was my favorite … the Summer I Dared was amazing, I read it twice just for the joy. I live in New England, so you always take me to a place I love whether it be the coast of Maine or a New Hampshire Lake and make it real for me. You teach me about an industry like Maple Sugaring. You always create nice characters that I enjoy spending my time with. You always give us some tragedy and drama to worry about, but I am always confident that you will not break my heart with a gut wrenching ending.

    My book club is about to start reading Family Ties .. We will write you a fair and honest review afterward. Keep up the good work.

  15. Barry on October 5, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Capitalizing the freedom of opinion to control a perception is disappointing, though no entirely shocking. I think that’s what saddens me most; the fact that I am not surprised yet I still read the reviews!!

    Unfortunately I’m not sure there is a fool proof way of determining the value of a book from the value of a review. Like a lot of others have suggested, I think your friends are always the best source of a good recommendation.

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