Can Readers Trust Book Reviews?


As I prepare to publish my first novel (myself), I’m looking at sending ARCs out for review purposes. The more I think about this, the less I want to do it. Why? It feels wrong to ask for reviews. I know we need them, particularly if one is self-publishing as I am, but I wonder how reliable these reviews would be when I am asking for them.

I receive ARCs from some small publishers, and I am honest in my reviews, but only to a point. I don’t review books that I absolutely hate. If I don’t have anything nice to say at all, I simply say nothing. Mind you, I rarely rave over a book either. In this business, there is no such thing as perfection, and I know readers would look at such a review skeptically.

I looked into booking a blog tour that included book reviews, but it all felt dishonest. I know the reviewers are not going to be all hearts and butterflies if a book sucks, but because they’re hosting the blog, giving away the book, and promoting the author, there will be some over-positivity involved, would there not? And many of the blogs are author blogs, so will readers actually see these reviews? If they do, will they trust them?

So, with all this in mind, I’ve been wondering how a reader determines which are the bullshit reviews and which are the genuine reviews. I don’t know, but there are a few things I look for when I’m on Amazon or Goodreads that have never failed me when choosing a new book to read.

Look for the good, the bad and the really bad.

Real reviews are usually a mix of thoughts and opinions. They rarely focus only on the positive or only on the negative. If you see a review that rips the author a new one, and has nothing positive to offer, then it’s not trustworthy. On the other hand, a review that shits sunshine and unicorns is probably insincere as well.

Writing quality matters.

When I read a review that is full of typos and bad grammar, I trash it. It’s not worth reading because if the reviewer isn’t articulate enough to compose a decently written review, then I know I can’t trust their opinion of another person’s writing. On the other hand, if it sounds like an infomercial, I’m skeptical as well. Smooth, salesy-type reviews are almost always positive and paid for.


If the reviewer doesn’t identify himself, he’s full of shit. Most likely an anonymous review is from the author himself, or a hater that hasn’t read the book. Either way, it’s not going to be genuine. Don’t waste your time reading it.

Screen names

Some fake reviews are posted under fake identities, but they appear legit. How do you tell which is which? Well, on Goodreads and Amazon, the name will track back to a real person. Their profile will show real links to blogs, other reviews, and personal information that will give you a heads up when something’s hinky. Not always, but most times. If someone is reviewing as SoftKitty789, and has very limited personal info, such as location, favorite books, real name, gender, age, etc. then I’d ignore that reviewer’s opinion.

Perfect Reviews

When you come across a book that has only five star reviews, you must stop and wonder at how this is possible. First, it’s human nature for assholes to vote down a book that’s doing well, even if it’s a fantastic read. So if you don’t see any conflicting reviews, or at least a couple of three star entries, you have to question what five stars even means for that particular book. I’ll tell you. It usually means that those reviews are either written by family and friends of the author, or they’re paid for. The reviewers might mean every gushy word they say, but none of it is objective, so it’s useless to the consumer. On the other hand, a book that gets only one star across the board is worth picking up. Why? It’s obvious someone’s got a hate on for the author, and that person isn’t reviewing the actual writing.

In this wonderful age of online media and marketing, we’re looking at huge advantages, but also huge disadvantages when we’re comparing books. I used to rely on magazine and newspaper critics for honest reviews, and I still do for the most part, but I’ve noticed that even some of these are getting trapped in the “Be nice no matter what” mentality that permeates this industry. Listen, we don’t have to be liked all the time. If you’re giving a review, be honest. Authors don’t want to burn bridges, and I get that, but it’s better to post nothing than to be dishonest.

I don’t usually write reviews on my blog. I do write reviews or what we call “Spotlight” articles at On Fiction Writing. Fifty Shades of Insanity as an exception here on my blog because I spent so much time discussing it, that I felt I should read it and I promised to give my opinion. Also, it was a great opportunity for humor. I never pass up the opportunity for funny.

When I review for OFW’s Spotlight, I want to offer a review that’s honest and valuable to the reader. I try to be positive, while including the elements that didn’t work for me, or that I think might be a problem for others. A balanced and honest review. We don’t use a rating system at OFW because we feel that doesn’t offer anything. The value to a review is in the review itself.

If you can’t decide which reviews are real and which are fake, then here’s a simple solution: Amazon lets you read sample pages of a book. The first five pages really do say a lot about a story and its author. Use them.

As readers, do you trust reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or anywhere else online? As writers, do you feel dishonest arranging or asking for reviews?

5 thoughts on “Can Readers Trust Book Reviews?

  1. As a reader think it’s good to read all the Amazon reviews, including the one star ones because then you get an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of a book. Traditional publishers give out tons of “review copies”, asking for reviews, so i think it’s important for indy authors to do the same. I find people are generally honest and will give a true evaluation.

    1. Good point, Erma. I think it’s important to give out review copies, and I plan to do so, and you’re right about looking at all reviews. However, it helps to keep in mind that most of the ‘extremes’ (1 star or 5 stars) are not honest reviews. Actually, I’m not fond of the star system. I know we need it in some ways, but I don’t find it helpful as a reader.

  2. As a recent, avid reader, I usually pick up a book, read the back cover, then read the first few pages. If it excites me, I’ll go ahead and read it, if not, I move on. I tend to ignore reviews because those are other people’s opinions, which are subjective. I do the same thing for movies. I don’t watch trailers or read the reviews. I just watch the movie. If I like it, I’ll rave about it, if not, I leave it alone. I found gems that people have hated of which I loved.

    1. I think your approach is perfect, Jack. I’m like that with movies too. I almost never watch a movie just because everyone’s raving about it. Almost never. Wish I could unsee a couple of the ones I watched on recommendations. 🙂

  3. Great list of aspects to consider.

    I tend to read the 4* reviews more than any others. I look for the reason the reviewers didn’t give that one last star, as well as for the positive things that made up for the mistakes.

    But ultimately it’s the genre and the blurb (what the book is about) that make me buy a book.

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