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Frustrated with poor reviews costing me money!


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Initial post: Jul 4, 2012 7:43:08 PM PDT
S. Miller says:
With the onset of ebooks and self publishing, there are a million books available from which to choose and purchase. I am frustrated with readers who offer stellar reviews to average, or worse, books! What happened to constructive criticism? I spend money to purchase an ebook based on the positive trend that is related. Lately, I am so disappointed with the results of my own reading experience after trusting the reviews I wonder if I read the same book! Why can't we call a spade a spade? How can a new author improve if we say what a great job she did but the characters are flat, the writing stilted, and the conflict contrived? ...not to metion horrible editing!!! And, why are writers reviewing other writers only so they can each say how great the other is?? I feel we should look out for each other's pocket books and tell the truth, no embellishment, about our experience with the book. When reviews aren't truthful, how can they be helpful, so then what's the point?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 4, 2012 8:11:28 PM PDT
cathyr says:
Your experiences and complaints aren't new. And are correct. Almost every customer on Amazon has the same issues, for everything from ebooks to toasters.

But let me make a few comments...

- Reviews are for readers, not authors. Any statement that begins "How can a new author improve if" is basically irrelevant. Reviewers aren't supposed to be helping the author improve his/her craft but rather informing the next potential customer.

- Reviews are very much opinions. The ratings as stated by Amazon are "I loved it", "I liked it" and so on. They are coloured by the reviewer's own expectations and experiences. Unfortunately, because so many reviewers exist (over 10 million), you will get a varied interpretation on the star rating, and lots of different baggage brought to the review.

- Authors reviewing authors is a Big Problem. Amazon's guidelines for authors who write reviews states "On a related note, we also ask that authors do not submit Customer Reviews for books that are of similar content or subject."[1] The majority of reciprocal reviews are by authors who "meet" on blogs and fora for their genre. But because it is a "suggestion", as consumers we can only point out the issue, but not necessarily expect Amazon to take action.

- The other annoyance for readers are shill reviews and sock puppets - the reviews from family and friends or the author using another name. Amazon's regulations for reviews state you can't review "Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product".[2] So they will be removed if you can demonstrate the relationship to Amazon.

But there are things you can do.

- Find reviewers you do like, and follow their reviews. If they have similar tastes to you, then the books they also like are a good place to start.

- Write reviews. The more "good" reviews out there, the better. Authors self-review and populate the book page with "false" reviews because they (and Amazon and other customers) feel reviews are important. If more people take it upon themselves to leave reviews (for everything from 1 to 5 stars, including the 3s), then the *need* to buy the reviews or (as it has been called by one author) defraud the reader will be decreased.

- Report reviews that break Amazon's guidelines. It is assumed that the more people who click the "report abuse" button on a review, within some given time period, the more likely it is Amazon will take action. So report the ones that are a problem. If you are wrong, it goes to a mediator and no harm done. You can also contact Amazon Customer Service directly (via email, fax or phone in the US) to flag a "repeat abuser". And then you *know* the issue is addressed.

- Mark reviews that are helpful as helpful. Frequent reviewers get very little feedback, especially those in niche areas. Give the reviews that actually make a difference a little pat on the back. But don't automatically click "unhelpful" because you *disagree* with a review. "Unhelpful" and "not the same opinion as mine" are two very different beasts. If you want good reviewers to keep reviewing, don't automatically negate their opinion because it isn't the same as yours.

- Leave comments on reviews. A nice comment to a good reviewer. But also a heads up on shills, socks and author self-reviews. Polite works best. And it gets your point across.

Anyway, S Miller, you are right. There are plenty of problem reviews out there, and pretty much every frequent purchaser of ebooks has been burnt by them at least once. But since the reviewing system isn't going away in a hurry, maybe there are ways we as consumers can make them work in our favour.

Good luck on your future purchases, and happy reading!
----
[1] https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/help?topicID=200533620#write
[2] http://www.amazon.com/gp/community-help/customer-reviews-guidelines

Posted on Jul 4, 2012 8:24:15 PM PDT
Colleen says:
You can also complain to Amazon and return the book.
They're super nice about it.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 4, 2012 8:28:21 PM PDT
cathyr says:
You can return ebooks trivially within 7 days via Manage My Kindle. But I have a bad habit of leaving ebooks in my huge tbr pile for *ages*.

How difficult is it to return an ebook after that?

I do note there is hearsay suggesting if you return too many books Amazon will stop you (this isn't a lending service).

Also, self-pubbed authors are told both how many books are sold, and how many are returned. If readers do start to return the utter trash en masse (and note you can still leave a review), maybe the author will work out it needs revising...

Posted on Jul 4, 2012 8:30:20 PM PDT
L. Burns says:
Not too long ago I picked up a kindle freebie that had many positive reviews. I don't remember if it was self-published or from a small press, but it definitely wasn't a "name" author. It started out pretty good but after 50% or so I had to force myself to finish it. I know we all have different expectations when it comes to reading, but I really don't see how anyone could think this was a 5 or 4 star book. Yet the majority of the reviews are just that - glowing. My first thought was "sock puppets", since many of the reviews were posted by customers who had only reviewed that one item. After looking closer though, I *think* I've figured it out.

It seems like people have a hard time separating the author as a person from the work itself. Many of the "newer" authors have a decent Facebook following; they are active on twitter...in other words they are marketing savvy and good for them. That's how it's done these days. The problem is, reviewers seem uncomfortable with posting anything less than positive when they feel that they "know" the author. With the book I'm referring to, you could see just that happening. People would leave a comment on the author's facebook page about how much they loved the book and were going to post a review on Amazon. I didn't see where the author was soliciting this; there just seem to be a "fan" mentality out there now.

Bottom line for me is that I give little weight to reviews unless the reviewer seems to read a lot of the same genre that I do and we have similar feelings about the books we've read. There are just too many people who feel that it's not appropriate to ever be critical in a review, or to say something negative about a book that you got for free. And if a reviewer has hundreds of reviews and they are all 4 & 5 stars then I just disregard those reviews. Either they love everything they read (in which case they must be very easy to please), or they're promoting their blog which will be called "The Happy Happy Reader" or some such nonsense.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 4, 2012 8:36:52 PM PDT
Colleen says:
Honestly, I've returned one book (Play It Safe) because it was nothing like the summary. I don't really know anything about the return policy, because I read as I go. No tbr pile for me.

I wouldn't be shocked if Amazon did have a limit, but it makes sense. Without that, the abuse of returning books would be astronomical.
As for returning books after 7 days, I bet you could get away with it a few times, especially if they can see when you've accessed the book.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 4, 2012 8:43:15 PM PDT
cathyr says:
Interesting post. You raise a couple of points I'd like to follow up.

- Reviewing the author rather than the book. Particularly true in political tomes, but also an issue for authors with large fan bases. But *many* how-to's on publishing ebooks say "create an off-site presence", make people like you, be interesting, gain fans. Word of mouth gets more publicity than spamming fora. If people like you then they'll read your book with a positive outlook. And are more likely to tell someone else. It's a bit of a no-win situation if you are saying authors who have a fan base shouldn't, well, have a fan base. *shrug* (Myself, I haven't joined any authors on fb or other places, but there are authors I have read as a result of their posting around here. And, yes, I looked at their books slightly differently).

- Reviewers who write predominantly positive (or negative) reviews are automatically suspect. It actually takes more investigation than that. Yes there are *many* purchased reviews, ones on the friends and family plan, author reviews, reviewers who have never met a book they didn't *love*.
BUT there are also reviewers who only leave reviews when they feel passionately about it. Or (like me) buy all their books (no freebies) and don't go looking for books to hate - I'm not wasting my money just to say I hated a book. Or avoid the stress of leaving "negative" reviews for fear of attack from author or fans. But then, if they are frequent reviewers, you should be able to get an idea of their tastes and make your own judgement.

Anyway, interesting thoughts.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 4, 2012 8:59:50 PM PDT
L. Burns says:
<<Reviewers who write predominantly positive (or negative) reviews are automatically suspect.>>

I don't mean that they should be "suspect" to everyone, just that I tend to disregard them because I have no way of knowing what their motivation for being 100% positive all the time is. It's true that maybe they only review books that they like, or they don't want to deal with the cr@p that goes with writing a critical review (fangrrls can get real ugly, lol!). It's also true that there are about a gazillion people out there with book blogs who seem like they love every single thing they read. I don't want to take the time to figure out which side of the fence the reviewer is on. It's easier (for me) to give more weight to a reviewer's opinion when I can see that their reviews run the gamut from "loved it" to "mediocre" to "I can't believe I just read that".

I have no gripe with author's building a fanbase via social networking. It's good business and I respect a savvy businessperson. I'm just more aware of the "fan" mentality now. It is what it is.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 4, 2012 9:24:39 PM PDT
cathyr says:
This is interesting. You are making me think.

I find myself ignoring reviews from the formalised reviewing blogs (the paid reviews) - there are a few I feel are realistic, but there are at least 2 I see frequently which seem to turn up with 5 star reviews just after a book has received many negatives. Like they're legit...

However, I'd hate to have someone (a real live customer) put off reviewing because they feel they're opinions wouldn't be valued if they only ever give books 4 or 5 stars. If you buy a book, you want to like it. And it is far easier to leave a positive review than it is to leave a 3 star. They're hard to write. 1 or 2 star reviews open you to "attacks". Which is very confrontational. Everyone has to start somewhere, and usually it's with reviews for books you feel passionate about.

But if we as consumers are going to change the author's attitudes regarding "false" reviews, then we need to put our fingers where our mouths are, and review. If we can demonstrate there are "real" reviews available, then maybe we'll see a change in the way *authors* view the reviewing process.

There are "normal" reviewers who I don't worry about since I know our taste in books isn't the same. But then there are things I know don't worry me too much, but do like it when it's mentioned in a review as a heads up (eg bdsm, editing, book length).

Some reviewers tend to only review books that have no or few reviews. Their reviews may actually make a difference to how the book is publicised on Amazon. Adding yet another review to the 50 shades book isn't exactly going to add to the reader's knowledge.

On the other hand, if that reviewer *did* review 50 shades, then you'd have a better idea of what they like, and how they rate. It adds to the reviewer's "portfolio", and the critical customer's view of his/her opinions.

Some reviewers only review one book every 6 months, others are more prolific. Some do a range of genres, others are very niche. And all these things colour the way we view reviews. It puts the reviews (and their reviewers) in context.

BUT I will say, the reviews I am most likely to ignore, are the ones from fans who have only ever reviewed that one author's works. The fans who think they are "helping" by leaving a one line "I loved it! 5 stars" review, but give me nothing else to go by. Yes, it helps the book gain prominence in Amazon's rec lists. But I will ignore all 5 star reviews for that book as a result (even the legit ones because I can't be bothered working it out), and target the 1 star reviews for honest critiques. And if there aren't any, I'm going to try something else.

Posted on Jul 5, 2012 11:08:46 AM PDT
Yes, S. Miller, it is frustrating to see great reviews and then upon purchasing the book find that it's a real dud! I read mostly mystery and suspense myself, and usually stick to "tried and true" authors. Recently, however, I have tried a few romance novels. I always look for the ones that allow you to read a sample and this usually is enough for me to decide whether the book will be worth my time. I can at least tell whether the writing itself is acceptable and whether the story is going to be fast-paced or plodding (which I hate). Unfortunately, the sample may not be enough to allow me to tell whether the book is well edited. As a former teacher, I have to say that poor editing even with an interesting storyline turns me off.

Anyway, kudos to the previous posters. Great advice. Your points are well considered!

Posted on Jul 5, 2012 12:03:45 PM PDT
MelissaB says:
This is why I trust my friends reviews on Goodreads and pretty much ignore the ones on Amazon. If you have friends on Goodreads whose opinion you trust give a good review, the chances of a dud are much slimmer.

I never trust the reviews on Amazon anymore, there are too many fake reviews especially on indie books.

Posted on Jul 5, 2012 12:30:24 PM PDT
Melanie says:
I am with MelissaB: I go to goodreads for reliable reviews. I have a good number of friends there and the "friend" reviews pop up first followed by other community reviews. It does not take long to weed out the duds.

Posted on Jul 5, 2012 3:47:21 PM PDT
This is my perspective as a self-published Regency romance author. Basically, romance readers are really, really, really nice people. And once they are on your FB page, they usually give at least a 4 star review, which is why I rarely ask for reviews because I don't want to "fool" readers who have never heard of me, but have found my books. I see books by authors I love like Sabrina Jeffries and Stephanie Laurens sometimes getting 3s -- or less! That's because the public is a lot harder on the big authors than the newbies.

And, as has been noted, other self-pubbed authors will ask you to review their book. They're not looking for honesty. As the reviewer you're torn between wanting to be supportive and wanting to be honest.

As as also been noted earlier, when it's a self-pubbed author, I look for reviewers who have reviewed a lot of stuff. But, again, even they tend to be nicer with the newbies. My three books have averages of 4 1/2, 4 and 5. If you're only judging them against indies, that might be accurate. But if you're really judging them against everything, I would honestly give them a 4, a 3 and a 3 1/2.

Try out self-pubbed but be very cautious.

Posted on Jul 5, 2012 5:14:29 PM PDT
Mosaiclady says:
I have purchased many ebooks based on reviews and have been disappointed. Figured I must be hard to please or something as 30+ reviews give it 4 stars. I am starting to recognize the "more honest" reviews and go from there. I don't want browbeating the author, I just want a true account of their opinion of the book content. Is there a plot, for instance? So many don't have much of a plot these days.
Thanks for the information everyone.

Posted on Jul 5, 2012 6:32:58 PM PDT
J. Powell says:
I just wanted to chime in and say that even though this is probably wrong of me, I rarely review a book unless it evokes a STRONG emotional reaction in me, be it positive or negative. If a book is so bad that I can't finish it, I may leave a review, more often than not I just back out and delete it.... I think it's a more of a 'not my style' thing than a crappy writing thing that causes me to delete yet not review...
If a book is so awesome that I hunt down the author's other works, I TOTALLY leave a review. I know this is probably not the PC thing to do... But there ya go. I'm just a regular girl that reads a lot. I have no emotional investment in any of these authors (ok, I do know one author). I might have pimped her book out on FB, but I STILL have not left a review, despite the fact that I did dearly love her book... It just felt unfair, because of how much I dearly love her. Not only that, I've never discussed in on a board (it's YA not Romance).
My point is, I do a few reviews here and there, but mostly if I am intensely passionate about a book, or I'm really impressed by an author. SO, if there are FOUR five star reviews, maybe only FOUR of the people out of 1000 that got the book for free felt strongly about it? IDK...

I do feel your pain though (as a book consumer). I've felt mislead before. However, I rarely spend more than 2.99 on a book. And I don't even spend that much unless it's a proven author and I'm following a series. I don't feel 'duped' if the book is free... KWIM?

@cathyr made some excellent points, and great suggestions! All in all, I feel your pain, but sometimes we just have to watch a book that we are considering spending money on (if the author is not proven). I wait it out and watch for more reviews.... Usually time will tell, and you'll eventually see a 1 or 2 star review that accompanies a WTF dialogue. Sorry you feel jaded!

Posted on Jul 5, 2012 10:15:31 PM PDT
J. Weaver says:
I used to only leave reviews for books I felt really strongly about, but after wasting a lot of time reading (or at least trying to read) some really bad books (that I paid for, checked out from the library or got for free), I finally got disgusted by not just the money but the time that I was losing because these books were bad. Now, I try to write a review for all the books I read. I figure I can help some other readers to filter through possibilities, but even more, I think I've started doing it for myself. I read so much that sometimes I can't remember whether I've read a book or not, much less whether I've liked it. Especially on books that I didn't leave a 1 or 5 star review, my own review help me to recall an author's style before I decide to purchase, download, or check out again. When I am looking at reviews by others, comparing my own ratings helps me to get a better idea of whether or not I would enjoy the same types of books they do.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 5, 2012 10:32:25 PM PDT
cathyr says:
@ J Weaver - I started making myself listmania lists to do this, as well as reviewing pretty much every book to keep track of what I'd read. I make lists of single authors, and make notes about the books including the cross over characters. You have a finite number of characters to work with in the comments section (so keep it succinct), but now when the latest book from the author comes out I can reference back to it to refresh myself, as well as use it to jump to my reviews.

Posted on Jul 5, 2012 10:53:15 PM PDT
S. Miller says:
Thank you, cathyr, and all of you for the excellent ideas and suggestions. I guess you can tell that by the time I started this thread, this situation had occurred to me a few times, and I was over-the-top frustrated. I will definitely be practicing what I preach and spending a few minutes to write an accurrate review, from now on, to help us all weed out the pointless ones. We're all too busy and economically focused these days to waste time and money on bad writing! I'm going to do my part! Thanks again.

Posted on Jul 5, 2012 10:56:19 PM PDT
cathyr says:
Okay, committed reviewers, have you come across ARAT (Amazon Reviewer Analysis Tool) yet?

A piece of software written by Kirk Hodges, it's a really simple way to track your reviews and see where all those nasty helpful and unhelpful clicks are coming from.

It is NOT an Amazon product. It is software available from http://arat.kghodges.com/, currently in a beta form for Macs, but the Windows version has been running for years.

It isn't perfect, and relies on information fed to it by Amazon so sometimes isn't as up to date as you'd like, but definitely fun, and the data can easily be fed into a spreadsheet if you really care.

Please note, if you find the product useful and want to support its development, you can make a donation to the developer.

Thread from Top Reviewers forum on the release of xARAT:
http://www.amazon.com/forum/top%20reviewers/ref=cm_cd_pg_pg1?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2Z5LRXMSUDQH2&cdPage=1&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx32FQZM3ZFJL7F

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 5, 2012 11:06:05 PM PDT
cathyr says:
Not a problem, S Miller. It's an interesting topic and one many have complained about but no one has yet found a solution for.

A final comment regarding reviewer "friends" like on goodreads. I believe once upon a time there was a way to become a "follower" or "friend" to a reviewer on Amazon. This option is long gone. But if there is a reviewer you do like, it's possible to rss their reviews.

RSS is basically a "feed" of information to your chosen reader eg email, web etc. In my case, I get an rss "feeds" sent to my email, and they're automatically updated when a new post is made.*

To do this, go to their profile. At the "see all reviews" bit there's also an "RSS feed" option. Click there and have a look at the options on the right.

Anyway, happy reviewing!

----
* Another reviewing tip - I rss my own reviews. It keeps them all together and is an easy search method as a folder in my email. It does only get the first post (so edits don't follow through) but is another tool to keep track of my reading and reviewing.

Posted on Jul 5, 2012 11:10:47 PM PDT
K. Hippolite says:
I'm guilty of leaving "mostly positive reviews" and I'd like to mention that I rarely finish a book that I'd give 1 or 2 stars to. When I was all young and energetic I could finish those books. But now, if a book makes me want to vomit, I'm out quickly.

If I didn't make it halfway, I feel weird leaving a bad review. Maybe the book wasn't for me. Maybe someone else would love it. For example, I could never get through a Harry Potter book... but I'd have to force myself to finish one before giving it a 1 star. So it's not a L. Burns suggests that I only review books I like, so much as I only manage to read books I like.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 5, 2012 11:42:20 PM PDT
cathyr says:
You raise another interesting question - should a reviewer leave a review on a Did Not Finish book?

Personally, I don't think I would. But there are plenty of reviewers who do. Here's the theory:
- Buy a book based on a preponderance of 5 star (possibly false) reviews.
- It is so utterly carp you can't get more than 3 chapters through (but possibly past the "Look Inside" pages).
- Do you leave a DNF review stating why you didn't get any further, to offset the 5 star raves? Or do you simply delete/return/forget it and hope to never be reminded of it again?

There are plenty of reasons why a DNF review would help the next reader:
- Appalling grammar or formatting.
- Written from the first person pov.
- Has strong religious/political/sci-fi overtones.
- Strong language or adult themes.
- Plagarised.

This is different to "it just didn't suit me" or "I couldn't get into it". But a good reviewer might also be able to express *why* (were you mislead by the description/review/author), and thus also inform.

So which benefits the next potential reader? Obviously leaving a DNF review with a good reason why you didn't manage to get to the end could be helpful. But can you be bothered? It's not like anyone is being paid for their opinion here. And you open yourself to a heck of a lot more criticism as a result.

But if *no one* except the reviewers being paid to comment or those on the friends and family plan are even able to finish the book to leave a review, then there'll *never* be contrasting opinions. The next buyer will not come at the purchase as well informed as possible.

I know there are reviewers who are far more critical readers than I and so stop reading much faster, and refuse to give the book another shot. And those DNF reviews can be very critical, and are often attacked. But their reviews are (usually) still of value.

In the end though, I choose books to *buy* because I expect to *like* them. I want to, like K Hippolite, give them all 4 and 5 stars. Otherwise, it really was a waste of my time and money. And so I'm not really likely to even buy a book I don't intend to finish. And I suppose the Look Inside feature would stop me from picking up the likely candidates in the first place?

Posted on Jul 7, 2012 9:31:44 AM PDT
flowerpower says:
Did you ever think that people might actually be enjoying the books?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2012 9:48:16 AM PDT
HJ Leonard says:
Maybe so, in some cases.

Unfortunately, it's a VERY well-documented fact that there are tons of shills and fake reviews out there, simply to fraudulently entice unaware readers into buying sub par offerings.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2012 10:00:32 AM PDT
Thinksign says:
You can obtain hundreds of free ebooks via libraries. It won't solve the 'good reviews for mediocre or worse books' issue, but at least you won't be out any money.
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Initial post:  Jul 4, 2012
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