Thursday, 12 July 2012

Reviews - do they REALLY drive our book sales?

Last week I started watching 'Blackout', a new drama on BBC1 starring Christopher Eccleston.  Now, as far as I'm concerned, Christopher Eccleston can do very little wrong in my eyes.  He's a great actor, and I've been a fan for a long time now.  He first came to my attention in the utterly brilliant 'Our Friends in the North' back in 1996 (which also featured Daniel Craig, with a Geordie accent!), and he made an extremely good Doctor Who too, but he'll never overtake David Tennant as the best Doctor EVER, oh no... nobody will ever manage to do that in my eyes... Anyway, I digress...

Christopher Eccleston in BBC drama 'Blackout'
So, I watched this new drama, mainly because Christopher Eccleston was in it and he's never made anything I didn't like before, but also because the story sounded interesting.  However, about half an hour into the first episode and I was having problems.  Yes, the story was good, and yes, Christopher Eccleston was his usual brilliant self, but I was distracted.  And I was distracted because I absolutely hate the way it's been filmed.  I'd read in an interview with Eccleston before the programme aired that the director had filmed this drama to make Manchester look very Gotham City-esque, so everything was very dark, with some shots (especially those on the steps of the City Hall) coming straight out of a Batman movie.  And, for me, all it did was distract me from a very good storyline and some great acting.  I'm sticking with it, because I want to know what happens but, if I'm being honest, I did find episode two this week a bit of a chore to get through and I'm actually glad it's only got one more episode to go.  I'm not fully enjoying it as much as I would have done if they'd just filmed it without the dark and eerie feel.  It didn't need it, in my opinion.  But, that's just my opinion.  Because reviews are just one person's opinion, when all is said and done, aren't they?  But - and this brings me onto the real subject of todays post - as far as the indie author, especially, is concerned, there's a growing consensus out there that reviews are something that can make or break sales and, if that's true, then that's a worrying thing for me as I have a range of reviews for all of my books, from 1 to 5 stars for almost all of them. 

But, as I mentioned before in my very short "review" of 'Blackout', the style of filming just wasn't for me, but that's not to say it won't be for everyone else, it's just how I feel, personally.  And when someone leaves a review of your books, they're leaving a reflection of how they feel too.  However, whilst some reviews can make a writer's day - even those that leave a little bit of constructive criticism, because that can actually be quite useful - others can just be downright hurtful and rude.  And we as writers can't do a thing to stop unecessarily nasty reviews being left, we can only sit there and watch as they lower our rating and, possibly, damage our sales.

But, do these type of reviews really damage sales?  And do a bucket-load of excellent reviews really drive sales forward?  Do people - when looking for books to read - really place a lot of importance on the star rating of a book or the amount of reviews it's received? I've had some amazing comments and feedback on my books from people on Twitter and Facebook, all positive, all telling me they really enjoyed my books, but not all of those people have left reviews on Amazon, and that doesn't bother me.  Somebody telling me they enjoyed my books is more than enough for me, I don't need to see it written down in review form.  But, do other readers choosing a new book to read need to see that evidence?  I don't know.  I can only assume that the majority of readers are intelligent people who may well check out reviews - postive and negative - but then be sensible enough to make their own minds up by making use of Amazon's 'Look Inside' feature, reading a sample of the  book, and then deciding for themselves whether they'd like to buy the book or not. Because, if they go purely on what other people may have written then that can only be damaging for those of us who may have fallen victim to the odd really negative or unecessarily nasty review.

I've read a lot in the past few weeks about how a lot of indie authors think it's reviews that drive sales, and whilst they do help, of course they do, because a handful of reviews - both positive and negative - at least give potential readers some idea of the book they're looking at, don't they?  But surely reviews should only be taken at face value, because, after all, they're only one person's opinion, aren't they?  And you can't please all of the people... if only... ;-)

I mean, let's look at movie reviews for a second - they, as with book reviews, are just one person's opinion.  I've watched movies that have been given 1 or 2 stars by a reviewer and yet I've thoroughly enjoyed those films.  And the same can be said for the other way around - movies that have had 4 or 5 star reviews have left me cold.

So, I'm hoping, just incase I get a run of really tragic reviews (I am so pessimistic sometimes, I really must learn how to shake that...) that the majority of readers do actually take reviews at face value, check them out but then make their own minds up. 

So, are there any readers out there who'd care to share how they feel about reviews?  Do you take a lot of notice of them when looking for books to buy?  How much importance do you place on reviews when searching for something to read?  I'd be really interested to hear your opinions on this.

Anyway, that's enough from me for one day, I think.  After all, I've just begun work on book number 6 this week and I really need to knuckle down and get cracking with that... but, watch this space to see who's become the inspiration for Zac - a hot American ski instructor who's going to be the main man in my Lapland-themed winter romance... ;-)

Right - I'm off for a cup of tea...


  1. Personally, I pay attention to reviewers I trust. If I trust the opinion of a reviewer, then chances are their thoughts are worth listening to. But then again I'm smart enough to look at their opinions and see them as just what they are - their opinions.
    When I write my own reviews, I make sure I balance them. I'll put in any constructive criticism which is necessary, and I'll put in any positives I've noticed as well. I'll also note my own opinion, yes, but it's the balance that a good review really needs. And these are the sorts of reviews that matter.

  2. Hi Michelle
    You raise some interesting points. We all want reviews, but in so doing we must decide as authors which ones really matter. I'll happily take a three or four star with constructive criticism over a blank five star review any day.
    In my personal opinion there are far,far too many five star reviews out there without any tangible evidence that the reviewer has read the whole book. The large number of five star reviews suggests to me that as authors we may have a tendancy too kind, perhaps in the hope that others will then show equal generosity in reviewing our efforts. I'm not convinced this 'generosity' helps anyone in the long run as it starts to feel like dumbed down 'A' levels or GCSE's i.e. devalued.
    Perhaps the question reviewers should be asking themselves is where on a percentile scale a particular book falls when compared with everything else they've read in the same genre. Are we suggesting that there are so many books that really deserve to fall within the top 20% of books a reviewer has ever read?
    My own style on my e-bookmuncher blog is to review books using a points system. The aim is to cover all the aspects of a book purchase and its relative enjoyment. For me these are: Title - does it grab me enough to stop my search (Max points 2); Cover Image - does it make me want to delve further (Max 3 points); Blurb / Description - does it hook me enough to part with some cash (Max 5 Points); Content - is it well written , well edited, do I enjoy the story and believe in the characters? i.e how much would I recommend the book to others (Max 10 points) Total points available; 20 points, with only 16 points and over attaining a five star review, 13-15 four stars, 9-12 points three stars etc.
    I believe that this system combined with a commentary helps potential buyers and the author alike.
    Oh, one last thought - I only ever review books that I have bought as I believe that authors deserve to have a value placed on their hard work before I have earned the the right to (constructively)criticise it. It also means that a book has to get a good points tally in the first three categories above before I'll buy it!
    Thanks for your post - it's a fascinating subject.