“I Feel Deceived”–Book Reviews: A Cautionary Tale

Recently, I received a 2-star review on Amazon for my novel Only Scandal Will Do.  Now, I admit I was disappointed that my work didn’t please a particular reader.  Writers usually hope that their works will be well received, and I’m no different.

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In this case, however, I thought one of her major criticisms was very interesting.  She goes on to talk about why she didn’t like my heroine, but the title of her review was “I feel deceived.”  And her complaint is that because my book had received a lot of very favorable reviews, she believed she would like it too.  If you’d like to check out that review, you can find it here.

Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it?  If, in general, a lot of people like one thing, and you believe you have similar tastes to most people, it stands to reason that you should like it too, right?

The problem with generalizations, however, are that we are all individuals.  So while a whole lot of people may like a particular thing that in general you like too, sometimes we all  march to our own drumbeat.  This happens in all kinds of things–movies, books, television shows, video games, foods.  I’ve stopped listening to critics for movies because I’ve found that a lot of times I really disagree with them.  My particular taste is different from theirs.

So, if we can’t always depend on reviews, how do we decide whether or not we will like a

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particular book or movie?  For me, when choosing a book, I notice the cover first, then I look at the blurb to see if it pulls me in.  Then I either read a sample (e-book) or read the first page (print) of the book to see if I like the writer’s voice and then decide if I want to buy.  This isn’t fail-safe, by any means, but if you don’t want to rely on reviews, you have to come up with other mechanisms to help you decide what to buy.

 

What are some of your strategies for choosing books or movies?  Have you ever been deceived before and dissatisfied with a book that had been recommended?

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24 Responses to “I Feel Deceived”–Book Reviews: A Cautionary Tale

  1. I depend on recommendations too, from people whose taste I trust. But we’re all different. It’s part of the excitement of reading and discussing books to me. One reason I love Goodreads.com.

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  2. First thing I read is the blurb. If it intrigues me, I’ll read the 1-3 star reviews first to see why the reviewer chose not to give the book a higher rating. If I feel their comments are subjective, I’ll read some of the 4 or 5 star reviews. Lastly, I’ll read a sample if its available. A cover may get me to look closer at the book, but I don’t purchase on the basis of the cover. I’ve already purchased “Only A Scandal Will Do” based on some of your posts. I’ll read the review, but to me it sounds like the reviewer didn’t do her homework first.

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  3. Liza OConnor says:

    I have to admit, your fabulous trailer got me to buy your Only a Scandal book, and I was not disappointed in the least. The plot sounded like something I would like and I did.

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  4. I read reviews but I pay attention to what the reviews are saying. If they mention something they don’t like that I do like, then I dismiss that review. If there are more than 2 reviews that mention something that I don’t like to read in books, then I usually don’t buy that book.

    The great thing about books is that there are so many that everyone will find something they like.

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  5. Carrie-Anne says:

    I often read the 1-3 star reviews first, since I don’t want to only read glowing praise. Sometimes negative reviews (when well-written and mature) tell me more about a book than a 5-star review that just repeats what everyone else has already said. I prefer to find books that have more 5-3 star reviews than an equal number of negative reviews, since it usually means that most people loved or liked the book.

    I also tend to stay away from books surrounded by massive amounts of hype (though I may finally crack and attempt LOTR, since it’s proven its staying power). The required historical selection in my YA Lit class this semester was a book I absolutely hated, and I did feel let down because I’d heard only wonderful things about it. Then I read all the negative reviews, and found a lot of people thought the same way I did about the author’s writing style, inability to focus on a semblance of a story arc and plot, and overuse of vulgar German words that no real German would ever dream of using as supposed twisted terms of endearment for a spouse or child.

    These days, I prefer to read third-person books, since first-person has become so overdone. I probably sound like a hypocrite since I do some of my writing in third-person present tense, but I’m highly unlikely to read anything in first-person present these days. That makes me put a book down really fast. As for movies, I generally will watch anything silent or from the early sound era, even if it’s not the greatest story. The only modern movies I willingly watch tend to be foreign or historical dramas.

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  6. Great post, Jenna! I agree with your procedure. Also, word of mouth is huge for me. If my friends read a book and fall in love with it then I definitely want to check it out. Also, I check the feed of my followers on Twitter. If a bunch of people are talking about a new book then I’m inclined to check it out too. 🙂

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  7. I use the same procedure you do for choosing a book. However, I also look at how many reviews are fives and how many are ones. If there are a bunch more ones and twos than fives, I’ll read some of them to see what the readers objected to. Maybe what bothered them won’t bother me at all. But if they all complain about formatting, grammar, spelling, etc., I’ll probably pass on the book. Those kinds of errors take me out of the story and ruin a book for me.

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  8. I look at the cover first, but not to judge the story. The cover gives you an idea about the publisher more than anything else. If the publisher can’t be bothered to put a decent, appropriate cover on a book, then they’ll skimp on other things, too, like editing and author remuneration. Once I’m good with the cover, and (theoretically) with the publisher, Next I’ll read the blurb. Does it catch my interest? Does the heat level described suit my tastes? Is it spelled correctly? If I’m intrigued by the blurb, I’ll read the bad reviews. Yes, the bad ones. If I find that the complaints are mostly about technical details (word choice, spelling, formatting), I’ll pass on the book. If the complaints are more about subjective things, I ignore those reviews because everyone’s taste is different. If I know the author on a more personal level or if authors I know and respect have recommended the book, at this point I’ll buy it. I’ve rarely gone wrong with this series of evaluations, though of course, nothing is perfect.

    I think it’s fascinating to read about how others choose books. I know that my own books wouldn’t appeal to everyone, and you have to respect the fact that a book is a personal thing. You invest your time and thought process to a book. You’re entitled to get what you pay for.

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  9. I look at the blurbs and the first few pages. I’ve discovered I’m a very picky reader so I rarely look at interviews, unless one talks about historical facts.

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  10. Brenda says:

    I know my own tastes and I know they are different from others–even my trusted friends. So I rarely read a book or watch a movie on anothers recommendation.

    As for reviews, they don’t factor in at all!

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  11. Ray G says:

    I rarely buy a book based on reviews. I also don’t buy best sellers. I feel good if a book becomes a best seller after I have read it, but a best seller still has to have a blurb that appeals to me. I can’t read an excerpt unless I plan on reading the book immediately. If I wait I will remember word for word what I have already read and think that I have already read the book until I get past the excerpt. After I read a book I check reviews to see what other people think. The professional reviewers such as at NY Times always make me think of former Vice President Spiro Agnew’s “Nattering Nabobs of Negativity.”

    As to movie critics. I usually like the movies the critics don’t like and wonder why movies they do like are ever made. The same with fashion critics. Why do you have to have bad taste to decide who looks good on the red carpet?

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  12. Sue says:

    I found a great book – paper – by reading the blurb on the back cover, something about the author and the first line.

    Last year a Canadian book was making the rounds of winning prizes, it sounded interesting and I think I did read the review. I couldn’t read the book. It’s rare that I don’t finish one I’ve started. The writing was poor the characters stiff and the plot seemed static. Friends have enjoyed the read and I can’t imagine why. Perhaps writers read differently..

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  13. Jerri says:

    Sorry about the review, Jenna, I can so relate. I don’t even look at reviews when I’m choosing a book to read. I look at the cover and read the blurb. It’s so subjective what one person loves, or hates. I’ve seen this in the reviews I’ve gotten.

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  14. cgricci says:

    I first look at the category. Covers can sometimes be deceiving. Then I look at the cover and blurb and a sample if available. Finally I look at the ratings and reviews. If a book has several bad reviews and no good ones there is a good chance I will pass it by. If it has some of both a will read a few if each and see the reasons for the bad reviews

    Then of course there are authors who I buy books by because i have read them before and know I like them regardless of what other people say

    Christina

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  15. Cait says:

    I look at the dedication, if it’s an interesting one or if there is a quote there that I believe in, then I buy it. But I am also very much swayed by covers — looking at my book shelf now, over 60% of the book spines are blue or shades of it!

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  16. I’m sorry about the low review but that’s only one. Lately I find myself going by the recommendations of ‘friends’ on Goodreads a lot. But I also go by covers, blurbs and authors I like. Botom line you are bound to come across a stinker now and then.

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  17. reviews don’t make a huge impact on me…although I’ll skim a few usually. The blurb and cover make the biggest impact and, if its a physical book, I’ll read a couple pages…or if it’s e- I’ll read the preview available through Amazon. Those make the decision for me usually. The reviews are a bonus.

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  18. I don’t necessarily read reviews in making a decision to read a book. I might skim over to see if they have a mixture of reviews from favorable to unfavorable. If the unfavorable outweighs the favorable though I might dig a little deeper. But generally a review is just an opinion and I don’t know one reviewer from another enough to base my decision to buy or not to buy on what they’ve said. The only people that have that power are people I know well…and even then what they say might not sway me one way or another!

    WOW…I sounds like a tough customer, but I’m not. LOL

    If the cover and blurb and a few sample paragraphs grab me, I’m buying it no matter what others say or don’t say.

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  19. Jennifer Lowery says:

    I choose a book by the cover, blurb, excerpt and first few pages if the blurb didn’t sway me. I never read reviews because I like to make up my own mind about a book and form my own opinions. I don’t want to be swayed either way before I read it 🙂 Reviews can be a scary place for authors, but don’t let it get you down, Jenna! Your book is awesome!

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  20. gaele1 says:

    I take all sorts of things into consideration; cover, blurb, sample, and even information/note from the author if they ask me to review their book, and I look at the other reviews – usually the ‘lowest ratings’ to see if they are detailed and specific to issues.
    I always do my level best to find what others found they loved in a book, even if it doesn’t appeal to me. I had a book recently that had rave reviews – but I found it overwordy and overly descriptive with too many metaphors – and that distracted from the plot (which was a good one) and added about 300 pages to an already weighty tome – without great positive effect. I made all of that very clear in the review – that while it was beautifully written – an editor would have adjusted to allow the reader more interaction with the story rather than having each facet of every scene detailed so specifically without real need.
    The author wrote an exceedingly wordy comment telling me i hadn’t read the book properly – if I had taken my own advice and used the positives I brought forth I would have given it a higher rating. I did the best I could with the book – it took me 10 days to get through it – when I read 300 -500 pages a day. The author’s response was far more upsetting to me than it should have been- and felt more like a scolding than an actual dissent with facts provided – and that is just unprofessional and amateurish.
    Was I disappointed with the other reviews? No – because I’ve learned that everyone looks for something different. I was disappointed that I couldn’t like the book more, or that it felt like a trial to read – but that wasn’t the fault of any who had reviewed it before me.

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  21. caseamajor says:

    I look at covers and blurbs first. If that draws me in, I look at averall average reviews and the more reviews the better. I don’t read individual reviews – or at least, I don’t let those sway me. From the mouths of two or three witnesses a thing is established.

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  22. Daryl Devore says:

    I have found local movie reviewer who is that a reviewer – not a critic – so he’ll say “This isn’t going get nominated for an academy, but it’s worth the cost of the ticket.”
    I tend to run in fear of reviews or trends – the worst thing a sales clerk can say to me is – Everybody’s wearing it. Then why would I want to wear it?
    I don’t even own a copy of a Harry Potter, Twilight or 50 Shades. But I will confess to having seen all the HP movies.

    Good way to look a 2 star review. Your books are ones that I like and no other person’s review will sway me from that.

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  23. Yeah I find reviews can be totally unreliable I have read books that I loved then seen reviews complaining how awful it was. You’re right books are as subjective as anything from art to movies every one like something different. I usually pick a book based on cover and blurb and sometimes a review I have a few sites that I know their opinion pretty much gels every time with mine.

    Excellent topic 🙂

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  24. Jamie D.Hayward says:

    I also look at the other books the author has written to see if the reviews are consistent. I know some authors can have great books and then write a not-so-great book, but generally speaking if their other books were good reads chances are the one I’m considering is too.

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