Do You Trust Reviews? - The Hierarchy of Book Buying


Photo by Jeff Nelson (cc)

This week on one of the author loops I'm on, there has been a discussion about book reviews--particularly ones on Amazon and Goodreads. One of the authors on the loop linked to this discussion on Amazon by readers about "padded" reviews. Meaning--the author's family, friends, and minions go and jack up the average by writing 5-star glowing reviews.

Be warned, some of the readers in that discussion are pretty harsh in their opinions of authors--kind of painting us like we're these evil puppetmasters who look to deceive readers by getting biased reviews. Some even go so far as to say they never trust a five star review and think the ones are much more valid. Any other author reading this get a shudder of fear over that one?

Now, I am not going to sit here and say that some authors don't send their friends and family over to give them reviews. It happens. But my guess would be that it's a very small part of reviews. And I get most wary when I see a book only has say 5 or 6 reviews and all of them are five stars with "this book is perfection" kind of reviews. But if a book has a good number of reviews and most are positive, I tend to believe it. (I like looking at the average rating.)

However, this whole discussion did get me to thinking how I as a reader (not a writer) look at reviews when I'm making purchasing decisions. And you know what? I do kind of skip over the 5-star ratings (unless it's by a review site I recognize) and I ALSO discount the 1-star ratings. Ninety-five percent of the time the one-star raters have some bigger issue outside of this specific book (they thought it was going to be in a different genre, there was too much sex i.e. they didn't realize it was erotic, or they took some personal offense to the book.) Those reviews aren't helpful to me.

So I usually gravitate toward reading the 2-4 star reviews. I'm not so concerned with the number of stars as I am what the people said about the book. That's usually where I get the most helpful info to let me know if it's going to be a book for me or not. So even as an author, I'm inadvertently discounting those 5-star reviews. Ouch.

But really, for me, the reviews on those sites kind of fall low on my radar when it comes to buying books. It's not so much as a lack of trust as it is I know opinions vary so greatly. For instance, the movie critics loved Contagion. I thought it was completely boring, lacking conflict, and had zero character development.

So here's kind of my hierarchy chart for book buying. 


My Hierarchy of Book Buying



  • It's an author I already know and love. Blurb doesn't really matter. He or she has proven to me that their books are made of win. Until they prove otherwise, I'm buying.




  • Recommendation from a friend whose tastes are similar to mine.

The old word of mouth thing. It works. I know the friends I have that recommend winners to me every time.

  • If it's a publisher I trust + Good Blurb

I know this may be more of a writer thing because we're more aware of who is publishing what. But way before I ever had an agent or a deal with Berkley, I was a Berkley fan girl. I knew that I liked 95% of what they put out, so as long as the story blurb interests me, I will usually buy.



  • Good blurb + Good cover

Yes, covers shouldn't matter. But they do. If the story souds interesting and the cover looks great, I'm in.

  • Good review on a book blog or review magazine I know and trust.

These are the reviews that I think are much more worthwhile. You find those book bloggers who have similar tastes to you and then you can get recommendations that you can trust.



  • Good Blurb + Good ratings on Amazon/Goodreads

As you can see, this is very low on the list. All the ones above are how I make most of my decisions. Maybe this is because I don't totally buy into reviews, or maybe it's just because I'm buying so many books for the above reasons, that I rarely get down to this point.



  • Blurb I'm not interested in.
  • Genre I don't read.
  • Clearly homemade cover 

I know it's not fair. But especially with indie pubbed stuff, the cover to me is the first sign of whether or not the person has put forth the effort to be professional. If they didn't spend money on cover design, they probably didn't worry about paying a good editor either. (Not saying that's always true, but just telling you how my mind automatically responds.

  • A lot of reviews and they're mostly bad

A few bad reviews won't scare me off, but if that's the majority of what the book received, I'm probably not buying.


So that's how I make my decisions, but I'm curious to hear how you make yours?

Do you put a lot of stock in Amazon and Goodreads reviews? Do you trust 5-star (or 1-star) ratings? What makes you most want to buy a book? What scares you off a book? What book blogs can you always count on for reliable reviews? What would your hierarchy of book buying look like?