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Reviews Influence Buying Poll

Reviews play a part in my purchasing decisions

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Sorry for the lack of poll changes last week. I got busy and then I couldn’t think of any decent poll question. Seth Godin surmises that the era of the Professional Reviewer is over and that the citizen review is now the most influential. The question for romance readers, whose genre is rarely the subject of professional reviews, is whether these reviews are influential. What do you think? (Please let me know, too, whether you consider RT reviews and the like “professional” and whether they have differing impact on you. Actually maybe that should be a separate poll?)

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Laura K
    Feb 15, 2009 @ 20:09:43

    Going on three years ago, John Connolly put a post on his blog about reviewing, its difficulties, the problems with online reviews all counting equally, etc. As you can see from the fact that I am writing about it now, it really stuck with me. One of the things he says is:

    the rise of internet reviewing which, by giving the impression that everyone's critical opinion is equally valid, has had the effect of devaluing criticism in general.

    He also addresses the issue of writers reviewing other writers and feeling either 1) afraid of backlash or 2) afraid of being seen as smarmy. Those are little clips — the whole article is really worth looking at.

    Unfortunately, most of the internet “reviews” are nothing more than opinion. I do think opinion has a place, especially when considering genre books because, as you say, getting critical reviews for them is difficult. But someone can give an opinion that has weight, or s/he can toss one off.

    Let’s say I go look at an Amazon review of a book. It’s by some stranger whose other reviews I haven’t read, so I don’t know whether I tend to like the same things as she does. But if the review is internally meaty, it counts to me as criticism rather than opinion. If the reviewer gives me excerpts, specifics, analysis, it doesn’t matter to me whether I know who she is or what her qualifications are; for that review, she’s a critic.

  2. Jinni Black
    Feb 15, 2009 @ 20:57:16

    For years I used to rely on friend or librarian recommendations. But I read four to five books a week and exhausted this.

    Then I used Amazon (people who bought x also enjoyed y — then I’d buy y). This was good, but got quite circular. And just because I like a cozy mystery (btw I’ve never read one), doesn’t mean I want to read 10 more cozy mysteries.

    Now I read review sites like this to find new authors and things I wouldn’t have given a chance because of the cover or genre (or because in the vast world of publishing midlist authors with no publicity – I just missed it). It’s not so much about what to buy as what else to buy next.

  3. Jill Sorenson
    Feb 15, 2009 @ 21:40:04

    I read a lot of reviews and they do influence my buying choices. Sometimes only because they give a more accurate summary than the back cover blurb! A rash of positive reviews will often encourage me to try a new author.

    As far as negative/mixed reviews, those carry less weight with me. I’ve never found a reviewer whose tastes coincided with mine in a predictable way. I suppose I require some kind of irrefutable evidence (horrible writing mechanics) in order to be convinced NOT to buy, based on a review.

  4. rebyj
    Feb 15, 2009 @ 21:48:10

    Amazon reviews just are worthless to me. Readers reviews are often skewed to their own agendas not just their own tastes and instead of synopsis Amazon often offers an editorial review .The first sentence of the review Amazon chose to feature of Nora Roberts ” Tribute ” for example just pissed me off. I want to know what the book is about not the reviewers snotty comments.

    I have some favorite reviewers here and other blogs that over time I know how their tastes compare to my own. But even more helpful like the article you noted is the community, not just the reviewers opinion but the commenters, visiting bloggers and how the word of mouth spreads. Heck , heated debates will tempt me into buying a book just so I can jump in with my 2 cents lol.

  5. Emmy
    Feb 15, 2009 @ 22:16:39

    Reviews are only helpful if the person whose review you are reading has the same taste in books. The only reviewer I read here is Sarah, because everybody else mostly reads het, which is SO not my thing.

    I can’t remember a single time I read a review from a “professional” reviewer, like RT or NYT. I want to know what people actually like, not what they’re paid to read.

  6. Shannon C.
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 01:22:05

    Reviews often pique my interest in books I might otherwise not know anything about, but from there, I can’t say they influence my decision very much unless I know the reviewer’s tastes, which is where I think blogs come in. It’s impossible to know whether random amazon reviewer X and I share similar likes and dislikes about books, but if random reviewer X has a blog, I can at least read previous reviews and general commentary and figure out whether her opinion means anything to me.

    Tht said, I do think there’s value in professional reviews, especially done by other writers. Charles de Lint, one of my favorite fantasy writers, reviews regularly for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I thought this was really cool when I found out, and while our reading tastes are a bit different, I was stoked to read his honest take on what he read in a professional setting.

  7. Lori
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 03:31:46

    I have found more new authors right here on DA that have enriched my reading experience (thank you SO much for introducing me to Kristan Higgins) that I can state simply that much of my book buying is influenced on reviews. And oftentimes it isn’t what is wrong with the book (as stated by the reviewer) that keeps me from buying but rather something positive about the book that will make me want to try it despite the negatives.

  8. Sami
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 03:32:21

    The only kind of reviews that influence my purchasing decisions are critical reviews, like the kind I find here and at All About Romance. You get everything — a summary of the plot and a critical analysis of the work, often with quotes used as examples. This tells me not only whether I’m interested in the content itself, but will warn me ahead of time if the book contains any of my pet peeves i.e. a TSTL heroine or a bully hero. The critical approach takes reviewer opinion out of the equation (as much as it can be), so I don’t need to worry if my reading tastes will be the same as a particular reviewers.

    I discovered Jessica Bird through a review at AAR and I’ve never regretted purchasing one of her books. So that had a major influence on my reading/buying decisions.

  9. GrowlyCub
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 04:31:30

    Is the poll supposed to be on the front page? I have an empty slot with a number of numbers in little boxes underneath, but no more polls. I only found this one through the comments.

    I’ve picked up several new authors through buzz here or at SBTB, but other reviews don’t do a thing for me.

    I do not consider RT a professional outfit because the reviews depends on ad space purchased and I consider that skanky and one of the main reasons I stopped subscribing many years ago; that and the egomaniac behavior of ‘Lady Barron’.

  10. Angela James
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 08:02:40

    It depends for me on whether the reviewer I’m reading has similar tastes to mine–for instance, I enjoy Mrs. Giggles’ reviews and read them faithfully, but her tastes are widely different from mine. On the other hand, Jane and I often have more similar tastes so I might buy (or not buy) a book based on her review.

    It also depends on whether the reviewer offers critical reviews. Meaning, do they offer the “bad” review alongside the “good” review. I’m not going to trust a review site that says only positive things about every book it reviews (or in the case of Harriet Klausner, trust the reviewer who says only positive things).

    Third, for the most part I won’t let a bad review keep me from reading a book I was anticipating. Actually, in cases where I’m anticipating a book, I usually avoid reviews altogether. I only read them after I’ve read the book.

  11. KCfla
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 08:38:16

    Well, I picked it depends.

    For instance- I don’t count “reviews” on Amazon. I’ve see just too many skewed reviews there to trust them ( be they the die-hard fan-girls, or someone with a really big vendetta!) I don’t really use Amazon all that much ( except for stuff I can’t get locally) so it’s not a biggie for me.

    I agree with many above in that since I’ve found this ( along with the SB’s and others) site, I’ve started to really expand my reading list. I’ve figured out who shares my tastes, and take their recommendations.

    But I have to be fair, and say that I’ve also *found* some new authors via their own interactions on these blogs. Which lead me to their own sites, which lead me to their books ( Shiloh Walker- I’m looking at you!)

    RT- Never really got into their site. I just don’t know why. I guess I should give them another shot, but I’m spending enough time around these parts already ;-)

  12. Jane O
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 11:50:55

    I’m definitely in the “often” category. I only started reading romances a couple of years ago after I retired. A librarian recommended Patricia Veryan, but I wouldn’t have had a clue where to go after that if it weren’t for sites like this, SB, and AAR. (So thank you, ladies.)

    The reviews here and at AAR provide an accurate summary of the book, an analysis of what was good or bad about it, and the reviewer’s reaction. That gives me a good idea of whether or not I am going to enjoy the book. That’s as much as anyone is going to get in a “professional” review, and sometimes more. The only real difference is that professionals get paid.

    RT reviews I find useless -‘ everything seems to rate at least four stars, which is nonsense. Amazon reviews aren’t reviews, they are comments. If anyone knows any other good review sites, I’d be glad to hear about them.

  13. Karen Templeton
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 13:22:22

    Couple of things:

    1 — I’ve definitely discovered new-to-me authors b/c I’ve seen several positive reviews of their work; however, if I’m going to read a book, anyway (b/c from a fave author, for instance) I won’t seek out reviews until after I’ve read the book. If then.

    2 — While I’m sure reviews influence readers who actively seek them out, the vast majority of romance readers do NOT read them. Or look for them. Or care. Hence the non-existent correlation between review grades and sales, generally speaking. Even if hundreds of readers pick up a book because of a good grade, unless you’re talking a really small press where a few hundred add’l sales make a difference, those new sales won’t really impact the bottom line.

    3 — I’ve never bought ad space in RT, and my grades have been all over the place, from 1s all the way up to 4.5 Top Pick. Not saying that those grades still carry much weight, but the Buy an Ad/Get a Good Review thing is a myth.

  14. MaryK
    Feb 16, 2009 @ 13:43:45

    @Angela James:

    Third, for the most part I won't let a bad review keep me from reading a book I was anticipating. Actually, in cases where I'm anticipating a book, I usually avoid reviews altogether. I only read them after I've read the book.

    So I’m not the only one. :) Reviews play a major part in my purchasing decisions but only for non-autobuys.

    I don’t like “professional” reviews. I want reviews by someone who reviewed a book because s/he was interested in it not because s/he was paid to do it and had a quota to meet. With “citizen reviews,” I know the reviewer is at least interested in the genre of the books they review.

    I like critical reviews, but even then I never buy or don’t buy based on a grade. The reasoning behind a grade can convince me to buy or not buy.

    I always check out the Amazon reviews. Sure most of them are useless; but you can get a general feel for how a book is received by readers, and there’s the occasional well-written review with convincing reasoning (or unconvincing reasoning that does the opposite of what the writer intends). The more information I have about a book the more likely I am to remember that it exists.

  15. Angie
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 08:21:18

    I don’t get RT or any similar magazines, so they don’t influence me at all. I do read this site and a few other mainly-review sites, and also read reviews on blogs which aren’t primarily about reviewing, and often add books from reviews to my Amazon wishlist.

    For the most part, reviews influence me most in genres (or subject areas, for nonfiction) I’m not thoroughly familiar with. For example, I had a lot of favorite writers on the het romance side for many years, but then fell away from most of it for a decade or so. And I was never into straight contemporaries anyway. So getting back into what’s coming out now, I use reviews to sift through the huge pile of romances in print.

    I rely on reviews less often on the m/m side, since I’m more familiar with what’s what and who’s who over there. And I hardly ever read reviews for SF and Fantasy; I still have enough favorite writers in those genres to keep me going.


  16. Lorraine
    Feb 17, 2009 @ 20:07:49

    I’ve been reading romance for years. I visit several blogs daily and usually the reviews are about books by authors I’ve never heard of, let alone read. So many bloggers write clever and insightful reviews that I read them anyway, even though I have no interest in reading the book.

    However, if I read a particularly great review of a book in a genre I love by an author I don’t know, I may go out and buy it. But it doesn’t matter to me if I read a bad review of a favorite author’s work, I’ll still buy the book. My reading time is precious and I know what I like, that’s all I take into consideration.

  17. Kimber An
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 07:58:09

    I receive a lot of recommendations around the Blogosphere, but I’m also a speed-reader. I can pick up a book in the store, speed-read a chapter and know it’s good for me. Unfortunately for authors stuck with inappropriate ones, it’s usually the titles and cover art which draw my attention to books in the store.

  18. Chris W
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 08:29:09

    I enjoy reading the reviews, but mainly to get a better idea of what the book is about. If it is an auto buy author, I might skim it. But I have found many new authors here. Right now I tend to use the rating backwards. There a couple of reviewers that if they don’t like it, I probably will.

  19. Amy
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 11:34:33

    I usually forget a single review, but if I see a book reviewed favorably on several sites it sticks with me. Recently I read Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl because of the reviews. Further back, I found a copy of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation in a used bookstore and bought it because I remembered reading about it everywhere online. I won’t really trust a single reviewer unless I’m certain we have similar tastes, but if lots of people liked it then I figure the author had to have gotten something right.

    That being said, the concept has to appeal to me — that’s still the most important factor in my book purchase and reading decisions. Though Talk Me Down was recommended, I wanted to read about a romance-writing heroine, too. I checked out The Hunger Games in the bookstore recently because of the review here on DA but ultimately decided it wasn’t for me.

  20. Randi
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 14:34:03

    crap. I picked ”never” but was thinking of book trailers, not reviews. If I didn’t have twitchy fingers, I would have said “sometimes”. Mostly though, I’ve found a lot of new (new for me, not new in general) authors (like Loretta Chase, Laura London, Cherry Adair) from the comments rather than the reviews. Though I did find Anne Stuart from a review.

  21. ms bookjunkie
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 15:14:34

    It depends.

    Like others, if it’s an auto-buy author, nothing anyone says can dissuade me from getting the book. I’ll read it and form my own opinion. OTOH, if it’s an author that I’ve disowned (because they turned their back on romance and I couldn’t care less about their new books) it will take A LOT of good buzz and positive reviews to get me to try her again. (Not naming names but a few authors come to mind immediately… can I just say ‘yawn’ about their new books?!)

    I rely on DA and SBTB and the community of romance readers and authors who comment here for reviews, if-you-like and recommendations. First sale stories and the chance to win free books also favorably highlight new-to-me authors in a way that adds books to my wish list and cart… I never used to have a TBR pile! Especially one that doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller…

  22. DeeCee
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 17:56:05


    I used to love Amazon reviews and the option they have of linking what one person buy as compared to what you have purchased. It helped me find some great authors. But depending completely on their one sided reviews was disappointing. Especially as of the last few years its been revealed that professional reviews (Klausner, etc.) are receiving perks, or that negative reviews can be deleted if enough rabid fangirls say that it isn’t relevant.

    As for RT, when I first started reading romances and the awards were given out for best books and all that, I remember thinking those books must be great. Because, lets face it, very very few bad reviews are written in RT. It’s mostly a glorified flier displaying the flashy covers of all the new books in bright colors.

    But the online review sites, those that aren’t compensated for reviews, are what I trust. This site, Smart Bitches and The Good, The Bad, and the Unread are honest. And I love that the honesty is frank. You don’t pull punches to soften the blow to the author and its done tastefully. It’s not like the Amazon reviews of ,”You’re books suck and you suck too.” It’s a nice community that I can pop into a few days a week and figure out if there is anything coming out that I’m willing to buy. And it helps that most of the books that have been reviewed are my kind of fun.

    Negative reviews almost seem to fuel the fire for the book too. When Shayla Black’s book, Decadent, was reviewed it caused a scramble simply to see why so many sites gave it awesomely bad reviews tinged with fantastic sarcasm.

    Lovely job ladies!

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