Friday, 8 July 2016

Pre-read reviews

The other day I went to the movies with a couple of friends. I really wanted to see The Shallows, but I was outvoted. The reason? The verdict from the group was "because it's rubbish!"

When I asked if anyone had seen it, they all said no. So I had to ask how they knew it was rubbish. No one really had an answer, and we ended up seeing Independence Day instead (which really was rubbish), but no one seemed to have a problem passing judgement on something they'd never even seen. That bothers me. It's like everyone announcing online that the new Ghostbusters movie sucks, months ahead of it being wrapped, promoted or viewed. I had no idea there were so many crystal balls in existence!

And it's the same with books. On Goodreads yesterday, I found a book (I'm not saying which one, that's a can of worms I'm not going to open right now!) that had hundreds of five star ratings so I had a little look, thinking that it might be a read for me. But it quickly became clear that a lot of reviewers hadn't read the book. Hell, many of them had left five star reviews before the damn thing was even published!

Which brings me, finally, to my point. Why do people leave reviews, whether it be five stars or one star, for a book they haven't even read? Sure, you could argue that they're expressing their anticipation for something they're dying to read, but what if they hate it? That five start review suddenly looks a bit silly. When I tweeted my puzzlement, Goodread responded - which I appreciated, and this rant is in no way aimed at them! - that they allow pre-rating so people can show that they'd looking forward to a book. But that's what the "want to read" shelf is for.

It would be cool to have a pre-read excitement rating option seperate to the review rating option (I'd love to see some hype ratings vs review ratings), but reviewing books you haven't read can be quite damaging. Nobody - except the publishers perhaps - benefits from a swath of five stars reviews for a product that might not be five stars, even by the standards of those who've left them. It doesn't give constructive feedback to authors just starting out, sets unfair reader expectations and sets the bar unreachably high.

I don't make up my mind about what to read on other people's reviews, but I won't lie, they definitely help sway me if I'm on the fence about a book. A few great reviews can push me off onto the buying side, the same way an incredibly well-written scathing review, delving into some of the plot of the book (and there are plenty of those on Goodreads!) can make me laugh and then realise that perhaps the book isn't for me.

Sometimes it's easy to tell which reviewers haven't read the book, whether it's excessive exclamation points or a simple statement like "I can't wait to read this book", but digging through the reviews for this particular one, it became clear that many of the five stars were left before release. Those posted after seemed to be much lower. It gives a completely skewed view of how people recieved the book and makes me question every good review left for it, many of which may well be legit.

I don't read reviews to know how excited people were when the book was announced or the cover was revealed, I read them to know what people thought of the story and characters. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing at all wrong with looking forward to an upcoming release and raving about how much you can't wait to read it (we've all done it), but reviewing it?

Giving it a five stars, stated on Goodreads as meaning "it was amazing", defeats the entire point of a book rating site.

It seems a little unfair on the authors too. I'm sure most would love a ton of glowing reviews, but if you've got a million ratings at five stars, people are going to expect a lot from your book. Anticipation is one thing, unrealistic expectations are another. A good book seems worse than it really is when you're expecting something completely and utterly fantastic. I'm constantly told in my job about managing expectations; don't promise what you can't deliver and make sure people have a realistic picture of what you can and can't do for them. It's the same with reviews, be it books, movies or anything else that relies on word of mouth and recommendation. It benefits the few but not the many to promise the world and talk a big game, only to fall short of the bar you set. Even if you still did a good job, your promised a great job, and you didn't come through with it.

What does everyone else think about pre-reviewing books? Do you do it yourself?


  1. I completely agree and I don't understand why some people feel the need to rate a book before they have read it. Unfortunately there isn't much that can be done about it. :(

    1. True. Even if reviews weren't "open" until the publish date, it would cause problems for people with ARCs and would still let people rate without reading, I just don't understand why people would want to. I've started to date order reviews on Goodreads to try and gauge how skewed the score is. It's a shame, because I've started to immediately dismiss books that are obviously top-loaded with pre-read ratings.