Avoid Bad Book Reviewers

Many book reviewers are out there. Many good book reviewers are out there. But so are some less than honest reviewers who will produce reviews for books they haven’t even read. No matter how popular a book reviewer may be, if that reviewer isn’t reading the books he reviews, he is doing authors a disservice.

Good authors deserve legitimate book reviews.

Authors need book reviews to sell their books, and of course they want great reviews. Authors who learn their craft, do their research, and produce quality, well-written books deserve good reviews, and by putting in the proper time and effort, such authors usually receive glowing praise from reviewers. But even good books can receive bad reviews—and I don’t mean reviews that say negative things about the book. I’m talking about book reviews written by people not qualified, no matter how highly esteemed, to write book reviews. Why are they not qualified? Because they do not read the books.

Let’s face it. Books are a business. Authors need book reviews, and reviewers know authors need them. Free book reviews are becoming harder and harder to find. Reviewers are now being paid for their services, and reviews are not cheap—nor should they be; a reviewer’s time is valuable, and reading a book and writing a decent review can take many hours. Authors who want reviews need to be prepared to pay for the service and to realize it’s a business investment, just like advertising and marketing, where money is invested in hopes it will result in book sales.

But unscrupulous people—I hesitate even to call them book reviewers, so let’s call them illegitimate book reviewers—are willing to prey upon authors’ needs. They realize they can make money off a book review without providing a legitimate service. Let’s say you’re a book reviewer and you make $100 for every book you review, and it takes you eight hours to read a book. That’s $100 a day. But wouldn’t it be nice to make $200 or $400 or $1,200 a day? What if, instead of reading the books, you just skimmed them, or you just regurgitated what the back cover said? Think how many book reviews you could pump out, and how much money you could make, while giving authors what they want. So what if the review is only four sentences? As long as you give it five stars at Amazon, the author will be happy, right? Cha-ching!

Sadly, yes, in many cases, authors have been happy. But mostly they are first-time or self-published authors new to the business who got lucky getting an accurate review. I’ve known many such authors rave about how they got reviewed by one of these “esteemed” or “top” reviewers, often a reviewer ranked close to the top of Amazon’s thousands of reviewers.

Early on when I started offering book reviews, I realized it was unlikely I would ever be ranked in the Top 10 Amazon reviewers, not because my reviews lacked quality, and not because I didn’t review a lot of books, but simply because I was not a robot, and I actually read the books I reviewed. If you look at the list of top Amazon reviewers, many of them have reviewed over 5,000 books. If you are a book review service with several reviewers on staff, such a number of reviews is understandable, but most of the top reviewers are individuals. How can this be? Even if book reviewing was your full time job and you could read a book a day, or even two books a day, that’s only ten a week or about five hundred a year. You’d have to have been reviewing at Amazon for ten years to break 5,000. Okay, I guess that’s possible, but take a look at some of these reviewers: http://www.amazon.com/review/top-reviewers-classic. Some of them have reviewed up to fifteen books a day. Yes, some of them are legitimate and write quality reviews and I don’t mean to disparage those individuals.

Granted, a few of these people might be speed readers, but the jury is still out on the legitimacy of speed reading. I had a friend who claimed to be a speed reader. I gave her three mystery novels to read that she returned to me the next day. When I asked her whether she had figured out who the murderer was in one book, she couldn’t remember “whodunit.” If you’re reading so fast you can’t retain the basic plot, you’re not really reading the book.

Worse, some of these reviews have nothing to say that an author can even use. I’ve seen some reviews that are only three or four sentences of plot summary without anything that states the book is “good, excellent, engaging, or not to be missed.” An author can’t get a blurb for a back cover if a review only summarizes but does not rate the book’s quality.

Still worse, many of these reviews, because the books weren’t read and the reviewer must have been hurriedly rewording copy from the back cover, end up with characters’ names misspelled, factual errors about the plot, and sometimes even mistakes about the theme, content, and whole point of the book—all dead giveaways a book was never read. Sometimes these reviews are simply confusing, and if a reader is confused, he’s not going to buy a book or waste his time reading it.
Some authors might not care about such details. If the review is good, it’s good enough to sell books, right? But if the review is misleading, readers are not going to be happy when the books they buy do not reflect what the reviews said about them. Hopefully, when readers have those experiences, they’ll know better than to trust those reviewers again.

Sadly, as long as money is involved, illegitimate reviewers won’t be going away any time soon. But as an author who is paying for a review, you deserve to have your book read. Most authors, myself included, want legitimate feedback on what readers think about our books. We write our books as much to entertain, inform, educate, or invoke an emotional response from our readers as we do to sell a few books. As authors, we deserve better.
So what can an author do about illegitimate reviewers? I don’t see any point in getting angry over the situation since I don’t think it will change anything. You can write to these illegitimate reviewers and complain, but it’s unlikely to do any good. A few things you can do are:

  1. Do Your Research. Look at a reviewer’s history and past reviews. How well-written are the reviews and are they more than just a plot summary? Ask yourself whether it’s worth your time and money to pay for such a review, or even just pay the postage and give away a review copy to such a reviewer.
  2. Request Corrections. If you get reviewed, and the review has errors such as misspelled character names or the book is incorrectly listed as a sequel to your last book, contact the reviewer and request that corrections be made. I have known several authors who have successfully had the reviewer correct their review—especially in situations where they paid for the review.
  3. Vote on Reviews. Every review posted to Amazon has below it the question, “Was this review helpful to you?” and the opportunity to vote “Yes” or “No.” If you look at the top reviewers list, many reviewers farther down the list have written more reviews than those higher up the list. Reviewer rankings are not based solely on how many products are reviewed. While figuring out how Amazon determines these rankings remains largely a mystery, votes on the reviews do impact the reviewer’s ranking. Voting may do little to help a good reviewer or hurt a bad reviewer on Amazon, but if reviewers can review books, there’s no reason why readers can’t review reviews.
  4. Learn from the Experience. You’ve learned your lesson, and it might not even have been a difficult one, but you now know in the future to stay away from these reviewers. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher might use such a reviewer anyway but you can request otherwise. Nevertheless, remember that publishing is a business and that makes it a dollars game; sadly, accurate representation of your book may not be as important to your publisher as making a buck.
  5. Share Your Knowledge. Share with your fellow authors your experiences in being reviewed. That doesn’t mean you’re gossiping about reviewers. You are assisting other authors in making legitimate business decisions about how to spend their money in acquiring book reviews. Legitimate business decisions should not end with illegitimate results.

Many good book reviewers are out there. Find them and build lasting relationships with them; then you won’t need to depend on illegitimate book reviewers to find readers and sell your books.

Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.