What Makes a Review Fair?

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Hope you’re all having a great week.

With the recent brouhaha (love that word!) over reviews and Amazon taking it upon themselves to purge the site of scores of ‘unfair’ reviews, a question came to mind: what exactly makes a review fair? Is it really unfair for friends and family to post reviews to support the author? For authors to review other authors – positively or negatively? What about reviewers who receive a free copy of the novel?

How far can we go to determine the validity of a review, and who should determine it?

I certainly don’t have the answers to these questions, but  if I was crowned the Goddess  of Reviews, I’d start with the following.

Reviewers/ reviews should:

*Have read the book

*Not contain spoilers

*Not contain insults personal to the author

*Not judge anything other than the work itself (rating the book low because of speed of delivery, etc)

*Provide at least one reason why they liked/ disliked the book (other than ‘it was crap’ etc)

What do you think? Are all reviews valid by virtue of providing a consumer response? Should there be guidelines?

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  1. Sounds about right to me. To be honest, I think most people can spot a valid review from one where the reviewer just wants to hate on the writer or the book. A person who puts stock in a straight “I hate this book, the author sucks and is a horrible person” comment is likely looking for an excuse not to buy the book anyway.

  2. Well said, Paul !

  3. I’m noticing a lot of personal attacks towards authors on Amazon reviews these days, and quite frankly, it shows the reviewer up rather than the author. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with friends and family reviewing a book – we all need support. A good friend of mine received a review recently that gave the plot away. It was pretty damning and extremely unfair. A lot of reviewers have no idea the amount of work that goes into penning a book; not sure it would make much difference if they did, but far too many just thrive on negativity.

    • Talli Roland says:

      It’s unfortunate when reviewers give away the plot. I’ve had a few of those on Amazon, and when I’ve flagged it up, I was told it wasn’t against their policy. Well, fair enough, I guess. But still…

  4. I don’t think all reviews have to be good reviews, as long as they are honest, and useful. If you were looking to buy a book, a review that says ‘this is the worst written pile of rubbish ever, the author can’t write and it sucks’, is next to useless. A review that says ‘I didn’t enjoy this book because I don’t like stories about haunted sofas ‘ is more useful, because if you have no particular reading hang-ups about haunted sofas then YOU may enjoy it. So I think reviews should be specific about what worked and what didn’t work, in order to help the reader choose. It’s all about the reader really, after all, isn’t it?

    • Talli Roland says:

      I agree, Jane – nothing wrong with glowing OR negative reviews as long as they provide a reason WHY. And yes, it really is about the reader. If I have a potential reader who doesn’t like books about haunted sofas and then they read a review saying my novel is about that subject and then that puts them off buying it, I’d consider that a good thing.

  5. Victoria Howard says:

    As someone who has been on the receiving end of reviews by people who openly admit NOT to have read the book, I’m of the opinion that the majority of these ‘reviewers’ people who download the book for free. I agree with Jane, all reviews should be honest and useful and written by people who have actually purchased and read the book.

  6. D.J.Kirkby says:

    I crown you the Goddess of Reviews Talli. Jayne – haunted sofas? Seriously though, I agree that reviews should be constructive whether the reviewer feels negatively or positively about the book they have read.

  7. I agree with Jane. I just want reviews to be honestly written by people who actually read the book.

  8. Your suggestions are excellent, Talli! I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of reviewers are just plain confused. In addition to people giving 1-star reviews because they had a problem downloading or the book took longer than expected to be delivered, I saw a review of an author’s book that said, “Definitely a 5-star read.” The reviewer gave it–and I swear I’m not making this up–3 stars. I mean, come on. That makes about as much sense as wearing lipstick to a dental appointment.

  9. DS says:

    I hate when people post a review on the previous reviewer and gives the book a 1-star because they didn’t like the reviewer who posted first. I have seen that. It had nothing to do with the book, didn’t even indicate that the book was actually read. I told Amazon about it, but they didn’t take it down. I read the book because I purchased it elsewhere, but I think that on Amazon they only want the review if you purchased from them. Still, reviewing the reviewer instead of the book is just wrong.

  10. SK Holmesley says:

    Occasionally, with the apps, when we get a bad review that seems to have nothing to do with our app, I’ll click on the reviewer and glance through his other reviews. Invariably, that reviewer seems to have a career dissing apps, whether they’ve bought them or not. At that point, I assume that they’re after the attention I have no self-directed skills that are deserving of such.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with authors reviewing other authors, because invariably, we’re readers too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with friends reviewing as long as they’ve read the book. But if I’m understanding correctly from what I’ve read these last few months, I’m getting the impression that Amazon thinks every good review was written by a friend of the author and that bad reviews are the only legitimate ones and the only ones they don’t delete. Or is that a mistaken impression on my part and just an occasional happening?

    Just curious.

  11. David Slegg says:

    I especially think the first item on your list is key. As D.D. mentioned in an earlier post, we actually have a one star review from someone who says they haven’t read it RIGHT IN THE BLEEPING REVIEW. What do you even say to that?

    Here’s the review:
    “I have not read it yet. But it looks good. I love humorous stories and I’m looking forward to reading it.”

    It looks like a generally favorable review, although what that is based on is anyone’s guess. So why the one star? Welcome to the Twilight Zone…

    • SK Holmesley says:

      I don’t even look at reviews anymore for books I buy for myself. I read the first 3-4 pages (whatever’s searchable) and go by that. The only exception, is books I by for my 5 year old granddaughter. I do look at the reviews on that, because parents/grandparents will usually say what age their child was and if the child enjoyed the book.

    • Talli Roland says:

      I’ve seen that on other books, too, David. Very strange.

  12. Sibel Hodge says:

    Good list, Talli. This one is a must – “*Not contain insults personal to the author” — There are too many reviews which do contain personal insults or are just rude. There’s really no need for it. :)

  13. giselle says:

    Talli, your point about reviewers who receive a free copy of the novel is a good one … as in the Amazon Vine Program. When I googled this, there seemed to be plenty of people on this program who admitted they were more likely to leave a good review becaue they wanted more ‘free stuff’. Human nature, isn’t it?
    Don’t see how that is any ‘fairer’ than friends (who happen to read) or relatives giving their viewpoint.

    • Talli Roland says:

      That’s a great point, Giselle. It seems Amazon isn’t playing by their own rules when it comes to the Vine program… I wonder exactly what the selection criteria is?

  14. Marina Sofia says:

    Very good list, perhaps even too modest with your demands, Talli!
    I write reviews of books not only on my blog but also on Crime Fiction Lover website. As such, I receive a lot of advance copies of books – so free copies. But we always tell the publisher or author that we cannot guarantee a review if the book does not fit with the website or if the reviewer just does not get on with it (and doesn’t finish it).
    And I would always include something both positive and negative in the review. There is not book on earth, surely, that has NOTHING going for it. I have to admit sometimes it’s hard to make the decision: if I feel the book is only worth 1-2 stars, should I still review it, or should I just refuse to, so as not to upset the author? Because I do know how much hard work goes into it.

  15. Recently I saw a review that said something like, “Excellent read. Loved the characters and can’t wait for the next book.” But they gave it one star???

    I read somewhere that Amazon is sending out emails prompting people to review books they’ve bought, sometimes as early as a day or two after they bought them. Maybe that’s behind some of the, “I haven’t read the book yet, but…” reviews. Maybe some people don’t understand that they can wait. They don’t have to review the book right that moment.

    As far as reviews that essentially say nothing about the book go, readers are smart. They overlook those.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Sarah, that could be the reason – I’ve got some of those emails, too. And yes, when I see star ratings that blatantly don’t match the review, it makes me wonder if the reviewer knows what they’re doing.

  16. Joan Reeves says:

    I often think that too many online reviewers are clones of the famous Dorothy Parker, the queen of snark.

  17. Totally support the principles of this article. Ultimately, it’s also in a book vending site’s interest, as well. If the reviews don’t meet minimal standards (at least), they will become worthless and also serve to annoy people who are trying to make a purchasing decision.

    Generally speaking, stupidity is never a good lubricating agent for the wheels of commerce.

  18. As an author, I have begun to wear body armor daily! Some reviewers are so nasty – stating right up front they have not read the book but think they would hate it and leaving a 1 star review. Other’s don’t like the cover! Another yelled at me for not updating the old paperback she purchased for 1 cent (really!) Another said she hated romance novels too many adjectives/adverbs (then why buy one?)…Some are just downright nasty/cruel.

    I’m thinking its a power thing…the fact that with a push of a button the reviewer becomes the all powerful Oz..oh wait…that got a bad review too! LOL…

  19. To add to the discussion…I’ve tried to review 2 writers’ ebooks only to have them removed because I am “too close to the author.” I believe it was because I was thanked by the author in the acknowledgements for supporting them (I also helped with editing), so I’ve asked these authors not to thank me in future ebooks. It’s a shame, don’t you think? I’ve read the ebooks and loved them and now find I can’t share anything about them via a review. So, just a word of warning to watch those “thank you’s” to other authors in your ebooks!

  20. I had a one star review that said the book was terrible because it had bad grammar and spelling – which was an outright lie.