People trust peer reviews

According to consumer research conducted by Square, consumers think peer reviews are the most trustworthy.

Square’s survey of 1,800 consumers was conducted for retailers, not authors, but the findings are still relevant to authors seeking reader reviews.

According to the research, 43 percent of respondents said that customer reviews are very or extremely trustworthy. This is why Amazon wants honest reader reviews.

The research also revealed that 53 percent find customer reviews only somewhat trustworthy — which is also why Amazon wants honest reviews. Amazon knows that consumers are increasingly savvy. They know a fake review when they see one.

Fake review characteristics

Square’s research shows that 44 percent of respondents said that it’s very or extremely important that the tone of the review isn’t overly positive or negative.

I understand this — and hope you can, too.

It reminds me of how I approach audience evaluations after I’ve presented at a conference or event. I toss out the form that gushes about my presentation — that one was probably completed by a friend. I do the same for the worst one (some people are never happy). I focus on everything in between to learn and grow.

This applies to books, too. As readers scan peer reviews, they intuitively focus on what’s in between the five-star review that shouts, “Best book ever!” and the one-star, “Hated it.”

Readers know the good review is trying too hard, while the bad one was left by someone connected to a competitor or who is, quite simply, a fool. (This is why authors shouldn’t obsess over negative reviews unless they’re the norm).

Another red flag? When the reviewer refers to the author by first name. It’s not a dead giveaway, but if it’s followed by “Everyone should read this!,” there’s a chance the reviewer knows the author.

Why friends and family aren’t good reviewers

Many authors rely on their friends and family network to generate reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and elsewhere for obvious reasons. They believe that people with a connection to them are more likely to make the effort to review their book.

While it’s understandable, it’s not wise for a few reasons:

  • Amazon doesn’t allow immediate family members to write reviews. If they do, Amazon will probably delete them.
  • The people you’re closest to might not read the kinds of books your write. In that case, expecting them to actually read your book, then review it, is not only unrealistic, it’s unfair.
  • It puts a lot of pressure on people who like you as a person but not as an author to write something lovely about a book they might not have read or liked.
  • It forces people who do like what you write to make the time to read your book and review it. It seems like a simple thing, but when you’re busy, it’s hard to make time for this sort of task.
  • Some of the relatives you’re relying on to write a positive book review share your last name. That’s not only a red flag to book buyers, it’s a red flag to Amazon, which will probably remove the review. Amazon’s technology is the equivalent of a mother with eyes in the back of her head. You just can’t fool it (or her)– Amazon sees all.

As I explain in another article, it’s important to manage your expectations with friends and family.

Go after honest peer reviews

Your goal is always to generate as many honest reviews from “real readers” — the peers of those reading the reviews — as possible.

The process starts with writing a great book.

If you’re self-publishing, you’ll need to invest in a professional editor and cover designer, both with experience in your genre or category. (Traditional and hybrid publishers usually provide that service.) Authorship is, after all, a business.

With a great book in hand, there are a number of ways to generate honest peer reviews. They all have one thing in common: Giving complimentary copies of your book to the people who are most likely to love it — your target audience — with a request for an honest review.

The books you offer in exchange for reviews can be digital, rather than printed, to reduce costs. But you have to get your book into the right hands.

Make it as easy as possible for readers to review your book, too. Give them the Build Book Buzz Reader Book Review Form (there’s one for fiction, another for nonfiction), an easy-to-use, fill-in-the-blanks shortcut that readers love using. It allows them to quickly write an honest, meaningful review that tells other book lovers what they need to know about your book.

Consumers are smart

As the Square research shows, consumers are smart. They trust recommendations from friends and strangers alike, but they can also spot fake reviews.

Don’t waste your time pursuing “fake” reviews. They won’t help. Write an amazing book and get it into the hands of people who will become your champions. They are the “peers” that readers trust.

Help readers trust your reviews — and you.

What do you do to generate honest reviews? Tell us in a comment. 

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  1. I have a bad review for a book at one of the Amazons. The reviewer has only ever reviewed one book, and her likes include only one author. My conclusion: The author that the reviewer likes is the one who posted the review. Sour grapes? Probably.

    To get honest peer reviews, I now include a reminder near the end of my books: “P.S. If you like this book, please leave a review. Thanks!” Following the reminder is a scanned graphic of my signature (first name only).

    1. That review request at the end of your book is definitely a best practice, Kathy, so you’re smart to do it. I hope it helps. I love how Kindle prompts me to review the book as soon as I hit the end!


    1. Yvonne, I know! It’s so validating when a stranger says, “I really enjoyed this,” or whatever. That feeling alone is an excellent incentive for reaching beyond a personal network. Thank you for mentioning it.


  2. Thank you for the advice. A reader recently gave me a wonderful review with a four rating. I read later that it fits the pattern of a review the writer buys. I’ve never bought a review and now I can’t even enjoy my review. “Beautifully written. I recommend it.” That’s the whole review. And no one else will believe I didn’t buy it. So I’m thankful for the four rating. They usually give fives.

    You can’t win.

    1. Patricia, I wouldn’t worry about that at all. As readers who pay attention to reviews, we’re looking for patterns, meaning, if all of your reviews looked like this, we’d wonder. I’m sure that’s not the case for you. It’s a wonderful review — enjoy it with no worries!


  3. “Of course, as soon as it’s published in NEJM it becomes *peer reviewed fact* that can support political arguments. Well, if you look carefully, you will see that this was published in the Correspondence section. It is a letter to the editor, not an article. And the NEJM does *not* peer review letters. Letter selections are made by the editors. Now, it is possible that the material in the letter and the Appendix were first submitted in article form, and perhaps the response either by an associate editor, or after a round of peer review was “we won”t publish this as an article, but would reconsider it if submitted as a letter. So it may have undergone some peer review in that way, but if so, it was rejected after peer review. I think that even relatively naive journalists understand that letters are different from articles and do not carry the same imprimatur as article publication, even in a very prestigious journal. To be clear, I”m not saying that this would deserve greater credibility if it had undergone peer review. I”m just pointing out that it very well may not have, and if it did, it was shot down. And I doubt that the media and press will treat this as if it were a NEJM _article_.

    1. Ivan, you’re referring to “peer-reviewed” in terms of academic or medical journals, whereas the study referenced here uses “peer” for “consumer.” Different topics.


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