Friday, November 26, 2010

Review Repetition?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

My turn to talk about something that's bothering me. What does Kelli call it, Me Time?

As a reader (NOT wearing my editor or publisher hat) I'm getting a bit concerned about a particular aspect of online reviews. As in, how many of the reviewers actually thoroughly read and think about the books--or how many are just copying someone else's review? Every person has individual reading tastes and preferences, so I'd expect opinions on books to reflect that diversity. Why am I seeing more and more online reviews that say the same things about a book? (I'm specifically talking about online review sites and bloggers who post reviews, as those are the most prolific and the ones I'm most likely to read. I'm not talking about reviews at big businesses like Publishers Weekly or the New York Times.)

Okay, if a book has very apparent glowing elements or serious flaws, likely most readers/reviewers would notice and mention those. But type of plot, characters, setting -- everybody's different, so should have different things to say. But I'm seeing multiple reviews with almost the same wording. And that's not matching up with the diversity of comments from my fellow readers. For example, I just read a steampunk romance by a well-known author. The book got a lot of buzz and a number of online reviews. A lot of those reviewers had close to identical comments about the hero. Yet when I read the book, I saw the hero in a completely different light, I had a different understanding of his motivations and emotions. And when I talked to others who'd read the story, they had varying takes on and opinions of the hero. If a dozen readers voice a dozen different opinions, it seems odd that another dozen readers who happen to label themselves reviewers churn out almost identical opinions.

The same thing happened with a recent erotica story. Every reviewer seemed to make the same comment about an item they felt was unnecessary. In fact, the sentences in reviews on different sites were practically duplicates. And yet comments from readers reflected that some of them appreciated that element or felt it was not a problem -- again, diversity of reader opinion that was not reflected by diversity in reviewer opinion.

A "reviewer" is just a reader who posts their comments for others to see. And nowadays anyone with a blog wants to post reviews, whether they have any skill at explaining a book's strengths and flaws or not. It isn't like there's special training or testing to be allowed to call oneself a reviewer. Just (hopefully) a love of books and an ability to analyze what you like and dislike about a story and express that coherently.

Unfortunately, sometimes authors are so hopeful to have someone mention their name and praise their book that they provide free copies to any person who says they'll write about the book on a blog or review site. Authors should research all such requests for review copies: ask the person for all the places they post reviews and under what names, how many books they have reviewed and in what genres, what their process and timeline are, what their criteria are for selecting books to review and what books they will not accept, what they do if they DNF a book. Make sure you trust this person to read your whole book and give it a fair and well-thought-out review. (And I am leery of reviewers or sites that never post negative reviews -- I don't want nasty, but I do want honest. I learn a lot about a book that got an F or DNF at AAR, SBTB, DA or GBU, and I may choose to read some of those books based on the analysis in that review.)

It was pointed out to me by someone associated with a review site that six online reviews are not necessarily six reviewers. It isn't just that a person may post their review in multiple places -- lawdy, how many places can you find the same Harriet Klausner review. But some reviewers use several "pen names" to post on different sites. They just slightly modify the wording of the review to post it elsewhere as if they are a different reader. And it has always been rumored that some reviewers don't read the books -- they read the blurb, excerpt, and other reviews, and then post a review under their own name. So of course in such a case they'd be mimicking someone else's comments and reflecting the same opinions.

Why? Are some people so eager to believe their opinion matters to others, to suck up to authors, or to see their own name online that they will "cheat" in order to post lots of reviews?

I don't really care whether a reviewer liked or disliked a book. I read reviews to find out about the plot and characters, the writing style, particular elements it contains -- so that I can decide if it's the type of story I would like. So it does bother me that I may be misled by reviews that are just a copy of someone else's opinion. For example, I would avoid a book if multiple reviews say the heroine is TSTL -- I assume if that many people had that same reaction, it likely is accurate about the story. But now I wonder if I'm missing books I would enjoy, because really only one or a few people had that opinion, and others just copied them.

I appreciate insightful and informational reviews, I thank and applaud the dedicated reviewers who put time and effort into reading and analyzing a story. So it's discouraging that I'm seeing less of that, more useless repetition from a minority who are diluting the value of the reviewing process to readers.

If you read reviews, have you noticed this phenomenon? Do you post reviews and have an opinion to offer on this?


Suzi McGowen said...

I don't post book reviews and I don't read them either. Why? I think it's because I'm easily influenced by other people.

For example, I saw a movie that I liked. It wasn't the greatest movie ever, but I enjoyed myself. Then I heard some reviews. They didn't like it for X, Y, and Z. Now that someone mentioned it, I could see the X, Y, and Z problems.

So now, if someone asked me about that movie, I would say, "It's ok, except for X, Y, and Z." Once someone pointed it out, the problems were there for me, and I would probably use very similar words to describe the problems.

Maybe the "repeating reviewers" are just influenced by an earlier review and don't want to say, "Yeah, what she said."

KT Grant said...

As a blogger, I've seen many cases where some bloggers will plagiarize other blogger's reviews and don't think they will get caught.

Once blogging was for fun and people posted reviews for fun. But now it seems more are starting up blogs and reviewing because they can get free books and don't take any care with the wording of their reviews. Bloggers like that give review bloggers a bad name and we all get groups as "mean girl bloggers" and other choice names.

Anonymous said...

Which is why I shy away from reading any other reviews on a book I have on my "To Be Read" pile because I don't want my opinion skewed by other reviews. If I read other reviews they might get stuck in my head. I also generally only post my reviews on my own site. Though there have been a few instances that I posted them on Amazon at the authors request. I think I may have maybe 2 or 3 on Goodreads. Most are only on my site.

I have a tendency to think the complete opposite of what everyone else thinks to. Not sure if that's a good thing or not LOL. Take for example: I am currently on the 4th book in a highly loved series. While I certainly agree about the male lead character...I still think the books overall are just "ok". Im not blown away. So when I sit down to write my review of those it will probably vary greatly from those over everyone else.

Maybe ppl are reading other reviews first and then letting those reviews steer their own opinions? SHOOT, yeah what Suzi McGowen said :)

Unknown said...

I've been reviewing books at Amazon for I think, 10 years now and blogging on and off for the same. I only just started up again because I have the time and really a need to be useful with that time.

I never use blurbs from the publisher or back of the book and my reviews are probably too long most of the time. They're also likely too wandering and goofy to ever make me any author's best friend, but I don't think anyone would say I'm using anyone else's material. I always cross-post at Amazon unless I'm very specifically told not to (and there needs to be a really, really good reason - haven't heard one yet).

Anonymous said...

As a book blog follower, I've seen a case where it appears an author used a few of her book reviewer friends to "railroad" another author's book. For what reason Jealously? Spite? It doesn't matter. I hope this is not common practice. To me that is worse than a few unoriginal thoughts in a book review.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to online reviews, the thing that I find most distressing these days is authors who give their own books 5 stars. It skews the books' ratings and doesn't leave me with a warm fuzzy feeling about the authors, either.

Bill Greer said...

I've read book reviews that have used an incorrect name for one or more of the characters. It makes me think they haven't even read the book.

Katalina Leon said...

This was an important issue to bring up.
Every e-author has to be their own promotion department. You simply must promote an e-book or languish. An honest well-written review is a blessing, especially if a book covers difficult material.
I would like to suggest an independent scoring system and a "Review" of the review sites. All are not created equal.
Many established review sites are tough and professional, and read books carefully. They supervise their reviewers, edit and check the facts, but a few review sites are sloppy and suspect.
The review sites who take their work seriously and behave professionally are the opinions I pay attention to. A so-so review can be a great teacher.

cheystempts said...

I agree. I use Amazon to purchase books and I have collected at least 300 books in the last three years. To purchase the book of an author I haven't read, I read the reviews.

When I read reviews that are similar, I've always thought - sounds like a great book, only to be disappointed so I'm thinking the author must urge glowing reviews because I was not impressed.

I only review when I read an impressive book, and this makes me think I've also been unfair. Perhaps I could have saved someone the trouble had I also reviewed the books I did not like.

As far as my favorite authors, I never read the reviews as I know I will not be dissappointed. I would love to have this kind of talent that people would follow and buy something I wrote - sight unseen.

Anny Cook said...

In the past, I have experienced more than one review where my characters names were wrong.

In the past, I have experienced more than one review where the plot, location, or genre was wrong.

In the past, I have experienced more than one review by more than one reviewer where the entire review was word for word for DIFFERENT titles, DIFFERENT months, and even DIFFERENT publishers.

That's all in the past. I no longer read any reviews for my books. After a bit of despair because Katalina is correct--we need to promote our books--I have moved on to more individual means of promotion. And I pray no one reads those reviews...

Anonymous said...

When I read reviews, particularly on places like Amazon, I read the five star and the one star reviews with a very skeptical eye. Often, the one star reviews are overly critical, and often from grouchy-sounding complainers. And the five star reviews often sound like they came from the author, her mother, her publisher, or other authors who "traded" reviews with them. Especially the first review. Ever noticed the first review always comes within 1-3 days of it being listed on Amazon, and is ALWAYS a five star review? Also, when someone mentions the author's name in the review, especially the full name, and it's a five star review, I'm skeptical also. I find the 2, 3, and 4 star reviews more honest and insightful. Not that I haven't learned a lot about books from the 1 and 5 star reviews...but I take them with a grain of salt.

Cryselle said...

I read, I review, and I try to think like a writer putting a story together, so I can understand how to take it apart. It's not as much fun as when I used to read just for reading, but the jewels stand out better. I buy 99% of what I review, so I've weeded a lot of the 'don't like' stuff out by genre and willingness to exchange $ for words. And I try not to read other reviews before- sometimes I should refresh myself on the blurbs! But I'm the same name on blog and Goodreads; I won't do Amazon b/c I won't buy there. (I read m/m and recall Amazonfail quite well, scroomall and I'll give $ to publisher directly.)

And some of my reviews go directly against the tide, like a 1.5 for a 4 from others. I'll suspend disbelief but I won't forgive logicfail.

Anonymous said...

see, that's the thing.

Readers are allowed to collect free books from desperate authors. Readers are allowed to give it whatever review they want, even if it's a crappy review just to be spiteful, or just because they CAN give it a crappy review. Sometimes they don't even bother reading it and give it a crappy review. Sometimes they even ASK for the book, get it for free, then don't bother doing a review at ALL.

But authors always must be professional. Authors can't get angry. Authors aren't allowed to vent. Authors have to put up or shut up.

It's an industry where the author cannot win.

Anonymous said...

authors aren't even allowed to vent on their OWN blogs. It's total BS.