Reviews IV: Alternatives to Reviews

This post is part of a series:

Reviews I: Why I Don’t Do Book Reviews

Reviews II: Professional Reviews

Reviews III: Reader Reviews

Reviews IV: Alternatives to Reviews


In a previous series I wrote, only about this time last year, A Toolkit And Compass For Romanceland, in Part 4 of that series, I suggested that reviews —  both professional and reader — were the best way for a reader to assess for themselves whether a title was worth buying.

That was a year ago.  As I had pointed out even in that series, Romanceland was fracturing and changing and none of the roadmaps worked anymore.

Since then more changes have meant that even reviews themselves may not be the single best way to figure out whether a title or an author is worth buying.

In the last installment of this series, I reasoned that averaged reader reviews were a fabulous way of gauging if a book had what it needs to keep most readers entertained.  But if a book is so new it only has two or three reviews, there’s a chance those reviews are the author’s spouse, mother and best-friend-forever propping up the ratings, and even if they’re not, three reviews isn’t enough to get a really good average rating.

The Toolkit series lays out several alternatives for assessing a book in the absence of reviews, so I won’t go into them here.

What I’m proposing here is another approach altogether.  What if you, the reader, want to stop using reviews altogether as a tool for deciding what books to buy next?

What would your alternatives be, if youdidn’t listen to other readers or “professional” reviewers and what they were telling you to read?

Here’s some alternatives:

1)  Every week, buy all the new titles that appear in the top ten best sellers list for your favourite genre(s).

You don’t get to decide, this way.  You buy any new title that appears, no matter who wrote it, or what it’s rating may be.  Most of the time, the books that end up in the top ten are highly rated, but not always.  And most of the time, the books that end up in the top ten are by authors you’re familiar with, if this is one of your favourite genres, but again, not always.  Sometimes you’ll get a book you’ve never heard of, and be forced to read something entirely new…and will be (hopefully) pleasantly surprised.

2)  Subscribe to one of the newsletters that provide listings of free books.

There are a dozen or more newsletters and sites that provide daily (and more often) listings of books that are going free on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, etc.  Subscribe to one of them that provides listings for your format or favourite site, and then download and read every book that shows up in your particular genre.  You’ll get a lot of free books this way, and some of them will introduce you to new authors and series that you’ll want to follow through on.

3) Hunt down similar titles to your favourites via Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” and buy those books.

This is taking all the decision-making out of your hands.  It may feel risky, but with Amazon’s 100% return policy, the risk is considerably less than it feels like.   If you’re buying the books from your favourite retailer other than Amazon, it depends upon the return policy for your retailer.  Amazon is just a research tool for this exercise.  The point of this style of buying is to increase your tolerance for risk and experimentation, so you try new authors and new series without having someone else tell you it’s okay to do so, first.  You’re absolutely going to get some duds.  But you’re going to find some new treasures and favourite authors this way, that you would never have found while waiting around for someone else to tell you about them, first.

4)  One-on-One Word of Mouth Networking:  Ask for recommendations.

If you’re a member of Goodreads or a genre group on Facebook or Yahoo, try asking for recommendations.  Write down every title given to you, and who recommended them…and buy those titles.  Do not look at the book ratings or reviews.  Just buy them.

When you trip over really good books, look up who recommended them and either ask them for more book recommendations, or check out their reviews and ratings on Goodreads for more of their favourites.  Don’t forget to thank them for the first round of recommendations, either.  I guarantee they’ll let you know if they come across anything else good.  This is a self-perpetuating system, once you get the ball rolling — especially if you let your recommenders know of any good books you’ve discovered that aren’t on their lists.


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