Monday, 27 January 2014

Are you a Reviewer, an Influencer or a Basher?

By Iola Goulton

Last week I talked about how book reviews are for readers. But not all reviews are created equal. When it comes to online reviews (at Amazon or other sites), it can be hard know which reviews you can trust.  

The trick is knowing something about the reviewer’s history. On most sites you can click on the reviewers name and see their profile, which includes their reviews. Sites like Goodreads and Christian Book show the average rating for a reviewer. Amazon doesn’t show this statistic, but the reviewing page will soon show you if they a reliable reviewer.

Personally, I ignore reviewers who only have one review, or who only ever review books by a single author. To me, those shout ‘fake’ (biased friends and family, shill, sockpuppet, or even paid reviews). I ignore reviewers who only ever give five stars, because that doesn't tell me anything about their reading tastes and whether I'm going to like the books they like. And I ignore books that only have five-star reviews, because even the classics have one-star reviews.  

Equally unreliable are the reviewers who give a lot of one-star reviews, who bash books, or who write about the author rather than the book. Authors, you are not your book. If I write a critical review, I’m critiquing the book and the writing, not the author as a person.  

Reviews are for readers

My reviews are written for readers. They range from gushing to critical, because I want to help readers make good choices about what they read. After all, our time is precious, even more so than our money. I don’t want people to waste money—or time—on book they won’t enjoy. It’s better that your book has one well-written critical review that points out the intrusive omniscient viewpoint and overbearing Christian themes than dozens of reviews from bashers who feel they were tricked into reading Christian fiction (as an aside, if your book is Christian fiction, please categorise it as such to prevent these reviews).

It’s worth remembering that a review can be positive without being five stars—the star rating is a subjective indication of how much the reviewer liked the book, not an objective rating of how good the book is. Note that star ratings vary across sites: four stars at Amazon means “I liked it”, which is how Goodreads currently defines a 3-star review (we’ll see how long that lasts now Amazon owns Goodreads). And a low-star review can still give readers valuable information that might even convince them to buy the book (e.g. "there was no sex").

Influencer reviews

But some of my reviews are influencer reviews, in that I am actively trying to encourage people to buy and read this particular book because I did like it. I liked it a lot. My personal standard for being an influencer is that I will only offer if I’ve read and enjoyed the book—which tends to mean something I’ve edited or beta-read.

Here’s my view: if it’s a five-star review and the reviewer discloses they got the book free in exchange for a review, they are an influencer. I’m a reviewer and I do rate some books five stars. I may have started off as a reviewer for that title, but as soon as I rate a book five stars, I know I’m influencing others to buy and read that book.

Street Teams

I am seeing more authors ask their blog followers to consider being influencers for their new release books. Sometimes these are called Street Teams or Launch Teams. Basically, it’s a group of readers who are going to read the book and share it with others, promoting it on social media and telling their virtual and real life friends.

I’m happy with this in principle, but in practice, I’d want to read the book before influencing others to buy. Here’s an example: last year, Dee Henderson released Full Disclosure, her first book in years. I loved her Uncommon Heroes series and her O’Malley series, so was keen to get an advance copy of Full Disclosure. As things turned out, I’m glad I didn’t get on her influencer team, because I can’t recommend Full Disclosure to anyone (if you want to see why, read my Goodreads review).

I did agree to be an influencer for Carrie Turansky and The Governess of Highland Hall, because I’d read an early draft and really enjoyed it. It’s now getting positive reviews and I’ve already had friends asking me when the sequel is due. But being an influencer extends beyond reading and reviewing the book, as Carrie’s blog posts about Carrie’s Reading Friends shows. Jody Hedlund makes a similar point, quoting Kim Vogel Sawyer

An influencer is meant to encourage others to read the book ... A reviewer shares his/her opinion of a book.


Author Kaye Dacus breaks reviewers into three basic categories:

Gushers - I love this book so much I want to marry it
Critics  - In the general, not the negative, sense of the word)
Bashers - Which probably doesn’t need explaining, and it should go without saying that this is inappropriate behaviour for anyone.

On that basis, I'm a critic who occasionally gushes, and tries never to bash. What about you?


By Iola Goulton. I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website (www.christianediting.co.nz), or follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christianediting), Twitter (@IolaGoulton) or Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/iolasreads).


I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog (www.christianreads.blogspot.com). I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon Reviewer Rank that floats around 2600.

26 comments:

  1. Hi Iola,

    Your post is one of the best I've read about reviewing books. I usually only review books I've read and liked, but recently I agreed to be an influencer for a book based on the fact that I liked previous books by this author. I'm torn about what to do. I can't recommend this book now that I've read it, but I don't want to write a bad review. Should I let the author know?

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    1. If you've agreed to influence and find you didn't like the book, then I think you should let the author know. Perhaps you could post an interview with the author instead?

      I had a similar situation recently, so emailed my review to the author and we agreed I wouldn't post as part of the blog tour.

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    2. I agree with Iola's solution. In this situation there are three choices: write a review which compromises your integrity, remain silent or write a review that isn't what the author wanted. The first is to fail to be true to yourself, the second to break a promise and the third needs a careful address to the relationship.

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  2. Iola, excellent post! It's important for authors, reviewers and readers to understand the difference between influencing and reviewing. Many authors influence rather than review, which can explain why the majority of their reviews have 4 or 5 star ratings.

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    1. I think the 'rules' of reviewing are slightly different for published authors, and this will be the subject of a future post. As much as anything, authors need to be aware that their fans might buy (or not buy) their next book based on their review of a title they have endorsed or reviewed.

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    2. Hi I ola
      I might not go as far not buy the author's next book but I have been caught once too often by a recommendation. Thus there are some authors whose recommendations I totally ignore.

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  3. Thanks Iola, I'm really getting a lot out of your posts. It's so helpful to know what the difference is in practice between simply reviewing and being an influencer.

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    1. It's an interesting question, and one I've thought a lot about. It's also worth remembering that I sometimes recommend book (i.e. influence) books I've rated as less than five stars. Subjectively, I didn't enjoy them, but I can still objectively recommend them to readers who like that kind of book.

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    2. Hi Catherine
      It's funny but regard all reviews as influencing, one way or another. I find it fascinating that influencing has moved out of the general area of "endorsement" into reviewing. A natural progression, I suppose.

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  4. Great post, thanks Iola. I like your comment "even the classics have one-star reviews". I just recently read a classic that I found a real drag to read. Not that it wasn't well written - but the almost nihilistic zeitgeist that breathed through the book grated on me. It's a great reminder that we all have different tastes and values and just because we don't like a book doesn't mean that others won't and vise versa. When I write reviews I give a personal opinion that looks at what I liked and what didn't like in the book - I rarely gush (though I have agreed to be an influencer on a couple of occasions) and I hope I never bash.

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    1. Thanks for responding, Jeanette.

      There is a huge amount of personal taste in reviewing. For example, I love Jane Austen, like Anne Bronte, but never managed to finish Wuthering Heights. Many claim that is one of the finest books ever written, and it may well be. But I couldn't finish it.

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    2. That's so true Iola. I love Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte (among others) but absolutely hated Wuthering Heights. But as you say, for some people their favourite book. There books that I can acknowledge are well written which I still don't like because the themes or values or maybe the dubious nature of some the truth claims just don't sit well with me. Other books may lack in craft but the story carries it and leaves me thinking for days.

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  5. Hi Iola

    Thanks for such a thoughtful post and well-argued post. I agree it's possible to be an influencer even without a five-star review. There are quite a few books I've read I didn't personally enjoy but I was able to say that others might, if their tastes in particular areas are different to mine.

    And I agree that, if I see a reviewer has only five-star reviews, then I'm really not interested in their opinion - since I have no idea if their tastes reflect mine. Thus I see only five-star reviews as counter-productive in the influencing stakes. As I've been chatting about this issue since your last post, I've discovered most people I talk to agree with me. "All five stars" whether as ratings for a particular book or as a reviewer's average is used by almost everyone I spoke to as a signal to ignore the review.

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    1. And this review is an example:
      https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/184210232?book_show_action=false

      I didn't like this book. I didn't like what it said about human nature, about the way people treat each other. But the plot is outstanding, the characters felt real, and the writing is excellent. I've only given the book one star, because that's how Goodreads defines "I didn't like it", but I'd recommend it as a worthwhile read - for someone who doesn't mind being taken out of their comfort zone (and it's not Christian fiction, so parts are pretty graphic).

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  6. Hi Iola,
    This is another post I'll share and bookmark. I'd like to think I can be an influencer without being too gushy if there are aspects of a book I have issues with. No, never a basher. People work too hard on their books to do that to them. I don't enjoy reviews by bashers either.
    I always appreciate the honesty of your reviews.

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    1. Thank you, Paula (and it's nice to see I'm not the only one who sometimes has trouble with comments in Blogger!).

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    2. Lol, what happened? I only pressed post once and it tripled my comment. I'll try to get rid of the other two :)

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  7. I have been asked to influence for different authors and it normally means posting the review on several sites like amazon, goodreads, christian book, barnes and noble and your own blog if you have one. They want the review on as many places as possible. In return I get the book free and often early. They mainly want a good review and if you are going to post a bad review they prefer you dont post.

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    1. Do you get your books directly from the authors? I agree that is a different dynamic. I get most of my books from NetGalley or book blogger programmes, which is strictly reviewing, no influencing required.

      Other books are direct from the author, and I point out that I review it as I see it, and my reviews average four stars. I've had a few who don't send me the book after seeing that, which is fine.

      Like you, I post the reviews in as many locations as possible: on my blog, and on Amazon (UK, US and AU), ChristianBook, Koorong, Goodreads, Novel Crossing, Soul Inspirationz, Pinterest and Riffle. Yes, it takes a while... :)

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    2. Yes I have a few who will offer there book on Goodreads for us to review. I also have a few authors who have me on there automatic send list. These are books if I dont like them I will let the author know and then not put up a review but they are mainly authors who I do love like Janet Tronstad for one, I dont use pinterest and not sure about riffle. I haven't posted any reviews for awhile and a few have said I want to send the book with no pressure to review. Now my gall bladder is out hopefully things calm down. my headache is even much lighter today so I can hope there is a connection even if its only a little one. may not know for sure for a few weeks.

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  8. Excellent post, Iola.

    Have you ever done any comparisons between typical averages of Christian fiction vs secular fiction? Probably be very hard to do anything meaningful. Be interesting to see whether Christian reviewers typically rate higher than secular? As you say all the classics have had plenty of low ratings.

    I typically will buy books I read & review. If offered a free one as part of a launch team I will still typically buy a copy so I can give one to another reader once I've read it. This helps me be more objective when doing my review as I bought it.

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  9. I've never done any analysis of reviewer rating secular vs. Christian - interesting idea... Personally, I think it's around the individual reviewer. A lot of Christian reviewers only ever review five stars, but so do a lot of secular reviewers. Such an analysis would be made more complex by the number of reviewers who review both Christian and secular titles ...

    I'm going to stop here, because otherwise my other side, the side that loves statistics and spreadsheets, is going to come to the forefront, which will take the conversation completely off-topic!

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  10. What a helpful post! I rarely write reviews as most of the time besides working on my M/Ss I am scripting weekly radio programs. On the odd occasion I have I've realized that my opinion might not jell with many.
    After reading your post, Iola I can see that's all that is expected of us...our honest opinion.

    I had one review once that was a real spoiler. The person didn't say what they did or didn't like but outlined the whole plot. I am puzzled by some comments here that say leaving a 5 star review was not acceptable. If one truly enjoyed a book, why isn't that OK?

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    1. There's nothing wrong with leaving a five-star review on a book you truly enjoyed.

      However, too many five-star reviews makes it appear you love everything you ever read, which doesn't exactly show discernment. As an example, there is one reviewer on Amazon with over 27,000 (yes, twenty seven THOUSAND) five-star reviews. That's not useful.

      I will be discussing this more in a future post!

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  11. Interesting post, now I'm finally able to get in and make a comment. I don't give many 5 stars. I have to have absolutely loved the book and would not want to change a thing. Even so, some books I loved may only get 4 or 4 and a half. When I don't like something I say why. In the end what I try to do is give an honest review, allowing for the fact other people may not think the same

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    1. I agree, Dale. For me, most books are four star, some four-and-a-half, and a few are five. I'd love to read more five star books, but I'm mostly reading pre-release copies ... so don't have the benefit of reading reviews first to try and sort the wheat from the chaff.

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