The Ins and Outs of Book Reviews (Part One)


This is a post I have been dreading to write, but feel the information is too important to ignore.  Better this is discussed now before a possible mistake is made (assuming you haven’t made one of these already).  Do not take offense to what is being said here, I am putting it out for your own benefit.  This is not meant to be an attack by me, but rather something I am trying to help authors understand should they not know already.  Please believe I have your best interest at heart.  If none of this applies to you, great job, but if it does you might consider fixing it.

Lately there have been a growing number of readers on various forums who are discussing the validity of certain book reviews, particularly on Amazon.  It has become a hot topic that could be detrimental to an author’s career and sales if they are caught doing certain things.  Some of them are against Amazon guidelines while others are simply considered bad taste.  I’m sure for most writers their goal is to gain a large readership.  Part of this is done by word of mouth.  The thing is, word of mouth can work against an author as well.

Therefore I want to explain how some of the reviews authors receive for their own work, as well as write for others, may be red-flagged. Don’t get upset about these, just calmly think about why they may have a problem with them.

1)  Self reviews of your own book.  This is absolutely forbidden and Amazon will take them down (eventually).  The product description area is where an author may put all relevant book information.  Most people know this one and abide by it, but there are those who don’t.  To add to this, you can’t let your family use your Amazon account to post a review.  You also can’t post someone else’s review with your account.  These are two of the main excuses given, but they’re still not considered acceptable.

2) Posing under a different name and reviewing your own book.  This happens more often than some of you may think.  I just saw a case of it yesterday where the so-called reviewer had the same picture on his account as the author did in their profile.  It is generally easy to figure out when an author is posing as someone else by a number of methods.  There are whole threads where readers catch this and discuss it with each other.  The practice makes an author look dishonest and unprofessional.  Do not do it.

3)      Having family members (especially ones with the same last name as you) write reviews of your book(s).  Yes, there are cases where the last name is a coincidence.  You can’t exactly help that.  Yet a discerning reader can still tell the difference most of the time, especially if that person lives in the same state as the author and gives a glowing five-star review while having never reviewed a book before.  I know everyone has family that wants to be supportive.  That is wonderful that they are, but their reviews are going to hurt more than help so it’s best to not let them do it.

4)      Writing reviews for other authors, particularly if they wrote one for you as well.  This is a tricky situation, and I know many of you have done this.  Sometimes it’s hard to find reviewers so these exchanges seem like the only way to get them.  Believe it or not, I’ve seen numerous instances where readers have checked to see if the authors reviewed each other’s work.  They don’t take those reviews seriously and believe both sides to be false in their sincerity, even if the authors were completely honest in their opinion.  Unfortunately it isn’t easy to tell the difference so they assume the worst (I know this is frustrating but I had to include it because this is being discussed out there).  The main way readers know to look is because some authors sign their reviews with “Author of [insert book title]” or have it as their reviewer name.  That brings me to my next point

5)      Signing your reviews with “Author of [insert book title]” is a very bad idea.  Some authors believe it makes their reviews seem more legitimate because “who can do a better job reviewing a book than a fellow author?”, but to most people it actually doesn’t.  Very few authors post critical reviews (yes, there are some but not many). Today I saw a discussion on it where readers were questioning the practice.  At this time it is unclear as to how much this violates Amazon guidelines (it could be argued that it is a form of advertisement) but you would be better off not putting it at the bottom of your reviews.  It doesn’t inspire most people to look your books up anyway.  Plus there have been cases where Amazon did come and delete part of the signature.  You can always tell because it says “Author of [blank]” (the book title having been removed).

6)      Other people who should not be reviewing your book besides relatives include editors, publishers, agents, or anyone with a financial interest in the book.  This is straight from Amazon’s review guidelines page of what is not allowed:

Promotional content:
• Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively
• Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
• Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package

I’m going to stop there on issues of reviews for this post.  Once again, please do not get offended by the things I have listed.  This is a subject that is going around Amazon and other sites right now and has been for some time.  Forum comments even include author names of anyone found guilty of one or more practices above.  Don’t ask me where. I will not give that information out here and end up starting some kind of battle as that is not my intention.  The point is, if a growing number of people (potential customers) are discussing the topic, it might be worth considering if you are guilty of any of the above.  Do not be that author who gets talked about.  I want to see writers have successful careers free of this kind of drama.

If it will help any, I do plan to write a future post on how you can get legitimate and reader-trusted reviews.  Those are the ones that would help your sales far more than any of the above practices.

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~ by Suzie on May 24, 2012.

33 Responses to “The Ins and Outs of Book Reviews (Part One)”

  1. I’ve always thought it weird for an author to rate their own books on Goodreads. Maybe they want to up the average, but it’s not a real average then. On Amazon though? That’s crazy.

    You know what’s funny, not one of my real-world friends has reviewed my books, even though some of them said they would. (That sounded bad, I mean non-online/social media friends.) And I’d like to think that my social media friends who have read and reviewed were honest about it, since I didn’t ask them to “do me a favor.” Make of that what you will.

    Number 4 is tricky. I read books by my friends, and I want to help them out by leaving a review. I try to be honest, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t this sense of pressure to make it good. Actually, I can’t figure out how to get Amazon to let me leave a different name on my reviews, because that would make things so much easier!

    • I don’t think there is anything wrong with reviewing a friend’s book so long as you really read it and be totally honest. It only becomes a problem if you do it for the sake of each person’s book getting more reviews.

  2. Valid points. I think this is a hot topic right now and you addressed it beautifully. I was going to just rate this post 5-stars and move on, but decided to come back and comment.

    I’ve seen a lot of mess with reviews lately that’s quite alarming, like competing indies rating others low to bolster their own books. I mean, that is terrible. But what’s interesting to me is that in all this bad review business, indie books seem to be the only ones targeted. When people investigate reviews, it’s only on indie books. When people complain about authors behaving badly, only indies are mentioned. When sites enforce their own review policies…you got it–it’s only on indie books/authors. Or at least this is what I’ve noticed by being on both sides, author and reader.

    And so the disparity between indie and traditionally published books continues beyond the stigma of poor quality to suspicion of false reviews. There is a particular reviewer (I can email you the name, Susan, since I decided to delete it from this post) has been reviewing big name books for years on Amazon and her reviews MUST be shams. Yet, she is a Hall of Famer. On May 1st, she posted 71–that’s SEVENTY-ONE reviews, and many of the books were new releases, as in released May 1st. Her reviews continue to bolster big published books, and nothing’s done about that.

    Publishing/selling books for all authors is a hard business. It’s even harder for indies, who not only are usually operating with smaller budgets and zero fan base, but are also having to fight against folks who apparently do not want them to succeed, even when they have a good product.

    So, yes. I agree with what you posted. I also understand why these practices are occurring and probably will continue until the playing field is more leveled.

    Now, bring on part 2. ;)

    • Dicey, there is talk when it happens with the big authors too. I gave a trad published author two stars and all her fans came and down-voted my review. No idea if they did it on their own or if she encouraged it, but that does happen even with the big guys. Readers and reviewers do discuss those cases too.

      As for the particular reviewer you mentioned. There is nothing taboo on this blog about saying HARRIET KLAUSNER. Yep, I know exactly who you are talking about. In fact, there is a whole thread dedicated to just her in the Top Reviewers Forum. I’ve participated in it many times myself since finding it. The thread is titled “Harriet took a big dump today” in reference to the massive amounts of reviews she puts out. For a good laugh read what all people have said about her here:

      http://www.amazon.com/forum/top%20reviewers/ref=cm_cd_pg_pg1?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2Z5LRXMSUDQH2&cdPage=1&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx12M697WMZYSPW

      She also has a wikipedia page and a fan site (which isn’t really fans). Both can be found if you Google her name.

      I hope my next post (the part two) will be helpful. You have books worth reading and there are ways of getting the word out there. It won’t work for all indies because quality and reader interest factor in as well, but with your genre and types of books it should make a difference :)

      • “Harriet took a big dump today”–LOL! I just checked out that thread and her wikipedia page. Looks like I’m late to the party, because she has certainly been found out. There ain’t that much speed-reading in the world. Eagerly awaiting your next post!

        • Dicey, it’s not just the speed reading, but it takes time to write reviews! Granted, Harriet’s are poorly written with grammatical/spelling errors and the plot points she discusses are usually wrong, but in her standard three paragraph reviews they would still take some time to put together.

  3. This sure is a “hot” topic, Mistress! My policy has always been to leave it to readers and see what happens. It means I have less comments, but the upside is that I feel I’ve both received more useful feedback, and presented my book more fairly to the marketplace, as a result. With regard to friends and/or family, I’m with Angela, and feel they have the same right as anyone else to write reviews – my rule is only that they need to do them themselves, by their own will, and in their own hand. To be honest, they’re usually equally reticent to post.
    To Dicey’s point, I’ve also suffered from the scourge of internet-trolls (fortunately not too often). So far, the odd low rating doesn’t seem to affect popularity too much. IMHO, I can understand writers wanting to help one another but any writers who deliberately and inappropriately undermine another person’s work should have their pens taken off them… ;)

    • I checked out your reviews, Anthony, and see what you mean. You have a varied selection of star ratings, but I would say most readers would find that to be a good thing. Based on them, a reader can trust what they are getting into when buying.

      According to Amazon guidelines, so long as a person (even family or friends) has no financial stake in your book, they can review. it The problem is some readers won’t be able to tell whether a relative has that stake or not. Not to mention very few relatives would ever write a critical review for someone they are related to. It’s something the author has to decide whether or not to allow, but my point was to let people know it is being frowned upon by some of the folks in the reading community. As some would say “perception is reality”. I hope to keep people informed of the latest topics being discussed so they can at least be fully informed on the matter. I’m not here to tell people what they have to do, though.

  4. Great post, Susan. It worries me to write reviews of indie books, and I’m not an author, and certainly do not get any compensation for writing reviews of books I’ve read. I don’t bother reviewing books I don’t like, mainly because I rarely finish them. I ONLY review books I like because I want others to know about this great book.

    • MM, we’ve talked before over this. I know you will only read what you are really interested in. Technically, I am friends (online) with some of the people’s books I’ve reviewed. The main thing is everyone has learned I don’t just hand out high ratings; some have been less than four stars. My reviews are honest and people know that when they ask for them. If I really can’t get into a book, though, I just don’t review it. Same as you :)

  5. Very well said.

  6. Another point about big name authors.. they have agents who find people to do reviews… and pay them…. and how can every big name author (or agent-represented author) be a “New York best seller”? they must have ‘best sellers’ 100 X a day….. and yes, I agree…. big time authors don’t want an independent to sell…they do send out their trolls to give bad reviews on independent books….. it is an unfair war…

    but a regular reader does not take time to roam around and compare reviews to see who is leaving too many reviews…. it just does not occur to them to ‘police’ the reviews.. they just read and go on their merry way…. and most readers do not take time to do reviews.. even ones they adore…. i have read thousands of books and many I have admired and loved… but I never did a review…. it did not occur to me…. and I was busy…
    wait, I did write a letter once (when I was a child) to the author of stories about the lives of their collies… and I got a reply…. silly me… the author had long since passed away…. it so depressed me.. (as a child)..
    Reviews are what sells a book and big time authors don’t want competition… that is a fact..

    • I’ve actually seen a lot of agented authors who have no reviews. I’ve seen authors that have been NY times bestsellers that can’t hardly get reviews on their latest books. Agents may help a little, but they aren’t the only way an author gets boosted in sales.

      As for big time authors not wanting indies to sell, that isn’t necessarily the case. Let’s take Ilona Andrews, for instance. She is a NY times bestselling author for Urban Fantasy. She found an indie series she liked written by Connie Suttle (I have Connie’s book linked on this page because I love her work too). Anyway, on her blog where many of her readers check regularly she announced her enjoyment of this indie series and told people they might want to check it out. Many of them did, though some had already found it like myself. This indicates to me that not all big authors are trying to down indies. In fact, Ilona Andrews self-published a book with another best selling author, Jeaniene Frost. A lot of authors who have been traditionally published before are trying out indie publishing. It’s hard to believe they are all against it if they are even doing it themselves.

      As for regular readers, you would be surprised how many of them compare reviews. I have been doing it for years. Just because most readers don’t write them doesn’t mean they’re not reading them. Some people are too shy or unwilling to share their opinions, but they do read what others say in reviews. With millions of books available on Amazon, everyone has become more discerning because they want to make sure they find books they will actually enjoy for their time and money.

      It might not have occurred to me at first to study reviews, but it did once I was badly burned by fake reviews. Back a couple of years ago I found a book that really looked like it was exactly what I was looking for. It had two five-star reviews that gave it a glowing report. I thought to give it a chance despite it costing $9.99 because I trusted those two reviews. That was a huge mistake. As it turned out, the “book” took less than ten minutes to read in its entirety. Not only that, but there were numerous typos and grammar mistakes. I can’t tell you how angry I was for paying almost ten dollars for something like that. Basically I paid more than a dollar a minute to read the book. Might as well have called the psychic hotline instead. I gave it a one star to warn other readers before they made the same mistake. Does that mean I was working for the big publishers to bring down the indie book industry? I certainly hope not because I lost money on that deal.

      • I wouldn’t label you a ‘regular reader’…. : )
        Also the number of pages that each novel contains is listed under its price note……. if an author does not give an estimate of page numbers, then I would totally ignore that book…..

        And a Ebook is only a digital copy…. you can’t hold it or dress up your book case with it…. why pay $9.99 for any ebook?

        • Jan, a couple years ago Amazon didn’t have the estimated page count. It came later after a lot of complaining. My case being a good example.

          Yes, if an ebook intrigues me enough, and the sample is really good, I will pay up to $9.99 for it (that is my cut off limit). I don’t purchase books often for that price anymore with all the cheaper ones available, but occassionally I do.

  7. Great post!
    I hesitated once to leave a professional but negative review on an indy book, and one of my FB friends encouraged me to do so. The author had over a dozen glowing reviews, which if you read between the lines were all friends and family. The book had potential, but needed serious re-writes- written and pushed out the door in (proudly) less than 30 days. My FB friend said that she counted on honest Amazon reviews and if I didn’t leave my negative one, how would potential readers know this alternate view of the novel’s merits?
    So I did it. And I hold my breath expecting some backlash once my book is released. Sad to be afraid of being honest.

    • Debra, that is the major drawback to posting critical reviews if you are a writer. There could be a backlash against you once you do publish (I have those same concerns). It’s a tough call to make, but I truly believe if you are going to post a review, it should be an honest one. Telling an author what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear is not actually helping them. When people give me feedback on my writing, I appreciate it even when it hurts. They are making me better. I’m sure many of the best selling writers out there received lots of critical feedback before they ever got to be where they are now.

  8. I find this obsession for reviews to be off-putting. Having been in this business for more than 30 years I know that a good review won’t necessarily sell more books nor will a bad review hurt sales. A review is just one person’s opinion. That’s not to say that the person’s opinion isn’t valid, but that’s really all it is. I don’t agree that reviews are what sell a book. How would that explain a beautifully written book receiving 1-star reviews or a poorly written book receiving 5-star reviews? It’s all so subjective. I have found that word of mouth (not what’s posted on Amazon or Goodreads) is much more effective at increasing sales. Rather than obsess over reviews, an author should concentrate on producing a professional product, and that means a book that is free of errors. Another thing to keep in mind is that people can and often do post negative and often-times scathing reviews while hiding behind the anonymity of the cyber world. I have no problem with authors reviewing each other’s book provided they actually read the book. Many of the books I read were written by authors I know. I rarely write reviews, but I would not hesitate to recommend the book to others if I truly liked it.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Nancy. I was actually reading the new Taleist Self-Publishing Survey that released on Amazon a couple days ago and found that the top earners for indies were actually ones who spent much more of their time writing than marketing. It had a lot of really interesting data they had collected. They did say the top indie earners had more reviews than lower earners, but you could also argue that the more sales you have, the more reviews you would receive. Kind of a catch-22.

  9. As Long as we’re on the dubious self-promotion on Amazon topic, what is the general feeling about finding a popular book in your genre, then adding your specific title and character names to the book’s tag list? I may be old-fashioned, but that just seems like another less than ethical way to raise your own book’s visibility. As far as I can tell, there is little to send up a red flag to potential buyers that the search has been rigged.

    • That is certainly an abuse of tagging, Richard. Drives me nuts if I do a search of a certain type of book only to turn up stuff that isn’t even related. It certainly doesn’t make me want to buy those books!

  10. I have always found this an intriguing topic. In fact, last year I did a blog post on why I think authors should NOT review a colleague’s book. By colleague I mean another writer. The review cannot help but be biased when you seriously think about it. How is another writer supposed to give an honest, unbiased review? What he.she doesn’t like the book? See the dilemma? Now you’ve placed another author in a tenuous situation. She’s compelled to tell the truth — after all, reviews are for READERS, never authors, and number two, she risks losing an internet relationship if she tells the truth. Not a good idea any way you look at this. It is rare that I have ever reviewed a book. If I really, really like a book and feel readers would benefit in some way by reading it, I might “endorse” the book — but again, this is very rare.

    My blog post last year focused on another author giving *bad* reviews on books in the same genre that SHE writes. Anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a “review site” but beware, some are hiding behind their author hat.

    Authors sometimes think reviews are for them — and this is sooooo not true. Reviews are for readers. Period. They’re investing their hard-earned money on books and they have the right to expect, unbiased (either good or bad) reviews presented in a clear, concise manner wherein the person reviewing has no personal or financial interest in the books. Again, I cannot stress that last sentence enough. Reviews are for readers — not authors or for the person writing the review.

    Let me clarify an instance I think it’s all right for an author to post a review on Amazon or another venue. I have some personal experience on this topic too. The wrong review was posted on one of my book pages on Amazon. When their technical team REMOVED the review meant for another author, they accidentally removed ALL my reviews. I was heartsick when I discovered 15 great, legitimate reviews were gone and Amazon had no way of retrieving them. I contacted all the reviewers, but keep in mind the posted reviews were two years old. Seven reposted for me — bless them, but eight did not respond. So I choose the best lost review and posted it by logging in under my account but making certain I listed the REVIEW SITE. So I’m saying, sometimes technical glitches occur.

    Thanks for posting about this topic. I’d really like to see authors stop collecting reviews from other authors, or at least “stop asking for them.” If another author reviews my books, I assure you, I never asked them to do so. It’s just a bad practice all the way around.

    Let’s leave the reviews to the professional review sites that have no interest whatsoever to the book or the author.

    Happy Reading, Keta

    • Thanks for your input, Keta. I write all my reviews for the readers. Of course, you know the author may see it as well, but they shouldn’t be the focus for what you choose to say. It should be for the people who may spend their hard earned money on a book and they want to know if it will be worth it. Of course, reviews will always be subjective to the person writing them, but they will still provide insights that help a reader decide. There have been five star reviews that made me not want to buy a novel and there have been one star reviews that actually made me want to check it out. Either way, those particular ones were so well written that it wasn’t even the star rating that effected my decision.

      I will say that if I see “Author of…” anywhere in the review (unless I actually know and trust that author’s opinion), I will not even bother to read what they had to say because I’ll assume it’s biased.

      It is rather disturbing that there are authors who have posted negative reviews for their competition. I don’t know how they think that will help them, but it is a deplorable act. I saw it once before and reported the author for it. Her reviews got deleted, but she keeps posting more against her competition. Not only that, but she leaves comments on all the positive reviews of her competition trying to convince them not to read any more of that author’s work and instead read hers. It takes a twisted kind of person to do something like that. I’ll admit, I watch her closely and slam her with nasty comments and reports to Amazon every time she does it. She scurries away every time I come along, lol.

  11. I want to add that new fiction writers often hurry ahead to production and review before learning about the importance of beta readers in the final editing. Because of this, I think a lot of new authors use reviews from other writers instead of the beta reads and developmental editing their books really need.I was guilty of that with my first novel, because I really didn’t yet understand the entire process. Besides, writers always seem to feel the need to become copy editors more than readers. It’s the delight the red pen provides, having been on the receiving end so many times I suppose.

    • In the corporate world we cringe at software companies that use their buying public to beta-test and debug their product, releasing it fast to market before it’s ready. The damage to their reputation is huge, but companies still do it. Writers too.

      • I suppose you’re not including Microsoft in that group?

        Anyway, the entire Industry of independent publishing and distribution is still emerging, so the forms of marketing and promotion available to Indie Authors as “acceptable” are still in flux. Most of us are learning as we go. I know I hope my potential readers forgive me my early mistakes. Corporations have been known to make a few… publishers, too. It’s a shifting, rolling playing field right now and few of us have solid footing. I only hope readers have the sense to read samples if available, before taking the plunge. I know these days, I even do that with vetted industry-hyped writers work. It’s the only safe way to proceed.

        • I use those samples a lot too, and certainly for both indie and trad. There are too many good books out there I might not get to if I’m slowed down by the ones that don’t interest me much. It’s a very useful tool more people should use.

    • Richard, you are absolutely right about the importance of beta readers. It takes longer to publish because you have to wait for feedback, but they catch so many little details you miss that I can’t imagine not using one.

  12. Susan, I’m so glad you decided to go ahead and post about this topic. As a new Indie author, I admit the topic of reviews has been on my mind recently. Everyone I’ve spoken to has said they will not even bother deciding to read a book if it isn’t on the New York Times Best Sellers list or have reviews. As a new author, this is very discouraging. However, Nancy Morse’s comments have eased my mind. So I’m going to work on marketing next and let the reviews fall where they may (Thanks Nancy!). Even so, Susan, I’m holding my breath for Part 2 of your post. As I have no clue what I’m doing in regards to marketing, finding out about legitimate reviews and how that process works couldn’t hurt. But I am going to stop obsessing over it. If I may ask, what is a Beta Reader? (Told you I was clueless) :)

    • I understand what you are saying, Debbie. It can be tough for authors just starting out. I’ll go over a few things about getting reviews when I put up my post tommorow. Hopefully it will help those that need it.

      As for beta readers (another subject I hope to discuss soon), they are usually fellow writers or even avid readers who look at your early drafts to find any plot holes or inconsistincies in your story. Writers often get so close to their work that it can become difficult to see those things. Having several good beta readers saves you from getting called out for simple mistakes later after publishing. Of course, even the best of novels gets criticized but beta readers help to reduce most problems.

  13. […] all those things I mentioned in part one of this topic series?  They can come back to haunt you if you were guilty of any of any of them.  […]

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