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Are Book Blogger Reviews Honest?

“I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.” This line can be found in many book blogger reviews, as well as on Goodreads and Amazon/Audible. Self-published authors and big publishers like to give free books to influencers and reviewers. It’s one of the pillars of book promotion these days!

On and off, there have been discussions whether book blogger reviews are honest. Or if that line above implies that it’s all lies anyway. Even whether bloggers can even be considered real readers at all (instead of marketers)!

After all, aren’t they earning money with it? Can you even trust a blogger’s rating of a book? Haven’t you seen tons of positive book blogger reviews for stories you hated?

In this post, I want to share with you some insights into the world of book blogging. Information you can then use to decide whether reading book blogger reviews is right for you.

This blog post is a companion post with Jo from JoLinsdell.com. While my post is for all you non-blogging readers, hers is for book bloggers. Jo has much more blogging experience than me and we both have our own views on the book blogging community. Visit her to read her perspective on this question!

Why do some Readers not trust Book Blogger Reviews?

I’m in a book discussion group on Facebook and at several points, other members mentioned that they were upset with bloggers. They felt there was a bias towards positive ratings. That it wasn’t just a thing of different taste, but that the reviews were always positive, no matter how many issues a book had.

And then there’s this assumption that bloggers make a lot of money with their websites.

That they have a financial interest in providing positive reviews. We’ve all seen the fancy Instagram influencer posts. Why would anyone blog if it doesn’t make them rich? If it’s on the internet, lots of people will read it. And then you rake in the cash.

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Book Blogging Reality

The reality is entirely different. Many book bloggers are young people who simply use it as a way to connect with like-minded readers who are just as crazy about books.

Personally, I can only think of a handful of dedicated book blogs that seem to actually earn a living. The vast majority, however, are hobby blogs that either aren’t monetized at all or only earn small amounts that cover website and book costs.

There is no financial incentive for most book bloggers to lie in their reviews. While there are a few websites that actually sell reviews, these are black sheep and not even that difficult to spot.

And while readers might perceive bloggers as these shiny influencers who know everything about the fanciest new editions, book bloggers perceive their own reality very differently.

Who reads Book Blog Posts?

A while ago, Drew the Tattooed Book Geek had a poll among bloggers. He asked about the number of page views we get for our book reviews. Of the 338 voters, 78% said they get an average of 1-100 views for a book review post.

That means most book blogger reviews only reach 10, 20, or maybe 90 people.

The Tattooed Book Geek - Twitter poll results

The social scientist in me was intrigued, so I followed this up with my own poll, asking who bloggers write their reviews for.

The majority (58%) of the 117 people who voted said that they think only other book bloggers read their reviews. 7% said their audience are readers (book buyers). And 35% think that both book bloggers and readers check out their reviews.

book blogger poll

To sum that up, book blogger reviews are usually read by less than 100 people and most often by fellow bloggers.

Which influence does this have on reviewing?

The people book bloggers are in touch with, who comment on their blog or Social Media posts or share them, are other book bloggers and indie authors. Despite my own Facebook group and the visitors I get from there, it’s still other bloggers who engage with my posts on my blog.

So, in light of those view statistics and the engaged audience, it’s no surprise when bloggers don’t aim their reviews at readers, but at their peers, while keeping in mind the author who gave them the book and will likely read the review.

Now, book bloggers are book buyers, too. Very much so actually. But they also know about the intricacies of book reviewing and might look for specific aspects of a book instead of the general overview a non-blogging reader might want.

I regularly see tweets from bloggers who worry how they should handle their criticism of a free review copy that they received from the author. Now, it’s easy to say: “Just be brutally honest, whatever!” But, again, most book bloggers have a fairly small audience and know most of their blog followers well.

When they hesitate to be negative, it’s for social reasons, not for financial ones.

While there are some reviewers who enjoy writing mean reviews, the majority prefer to be nice. As bloggers, we are close enough to the writing community to know how much they struggle, how hard they work to publish a book, how – just like us – they have to put in a lot of time and effort to draw attention to their work.

The more I’ve become aware of this, and the more I’ve come to respect this, the less I feel like just saying: “Meh, didn’t like it.”

Does that mean the Reviews aren’t honest?

They’re honest because we know which books we like!

I usually listen to 3-4 audiobooks a week. On my blog, I write about two-thirds of them. I prefer to only review audiobooks I enjoy and can honestly recommend.

Sure, some people love reading rant posts (I actually do, too). But I mostly read self-published authors who have only a small audience. So, unless I feel like my criticism is really important (unexpected problematic content), I don’t want to waste my or your time with it. I much rather use the influence I have to tell my readers about books I loved.

And that’s the thing. Book blogger reviews are often positive because we know which books we like and we pick those to read and to write about. That also goes for review copies. So, if all our reviews are positive, it’s not because we lie. It’s because many book bloggers – like me – only review books we can recommend.

But we aren’t all literary Critics!

As book bloggers, we are on a mission. We want to tell you, the readers, about new books (or old ones you might have missed). We just like talking about books!

Personally, I don’t feel particularly equipped for literary criticism. I haven’t studied for that. I can tell you when writing doesn’t flow well or when I don’t like a story. But when I enjoy a book, there isn’t much reason for me to point out how the writing was less elegant in chapter 3.

I try to communicate which feelings a book gave me. And I think that’s what many book bloggers do.

But it’s also fair for experienced bloggers to recommend a book that wasn’t their favorite. Because they can still tell which kinds of readers will likely enjoy the book and can recommend it specifically to that group of people.

Should you read Book Blogs?

It took me two months to finish and publish this post because it was really difficult to write.

Firstly, I want you as a reader to understand that negative reviews are a problem for book bloggers that we try to handle very consciously. But many bloggers also know well which books to pick, and negative reading experiences become a rare and special situation.

Secondly, I would also like you to take away from this post that there isn’t much money in book blogging. Except for a few black sheep, book bloggers have no financial gain from recommending bad books.

A dishonest blogger will have a much harder time to gain and keep followers. Because people’s lie detection skills are actually much better than we tend to believe. You’ll have some vague feeling if a blogger isn’t trustworthy and you probably won’t visit their website again.

Thirdly, I would like you to believe me that a lack of negative reviews doesn’t mean a blogger isn’t discerning. Many bloggers (Lovely Audiobooks included) only recommend books and don’t publish negative reviews.

Lastly, I want to say that I’d like you to read book blogs because they are a great way of finding books you otherwise might not have heard about.

Book bloggers know a lot of really awesome things! Trust your instinct and sign up to a bunch of blogs with your favorite genres.

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28 thoughts on “Are Book Blogger Reviews Honest?”

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful question and careful analysis!

    I strive to always write honest but kind reviews. I strive to always fulfill my netgalley obligations and prove honest reviews…..once I had to contact an author who had contacted me directly and explain that I couldn’t review her book….well…I could but it wouldn’t be a 4 or 5.

    I put ALL my reviews on Goodreads but only the 4 & 5 star reviews on my blog……so I guess it could appear that I am only giving good reviews …. when in reality I’m being incredibly selective about what gets promotional space on my blog! I’ve never thought about this from my followers’ perspectives and perhaps I need to address/clarify this!

    You’re right about financial remuneration not being a factor!

    I have noticed that some book reviewers only give 4 & 5 Star Ratings …..Once I figure that out, I usually don’t read their reviews. I give very few 5 Star Ratings….lots of 4s……many 3s ……a smattering of 2s……and my 1s are usually shelved as DNF. For my 3s and 2s I always trying to include some strengths or why other readers might like it. Writing reviews is difficult! I still like the star system and use it.

    I appreciate and depend on reading thoughtful, kind, and analytical reviews to make my reading choices! It really annoys me to be mislead into reading a book!

  2. Great Post. I’ve thought the same occasionally. Though I have unfortunately rated a few arc’s at 2 stars. Though I blog for the for the readers not authors or publishers.

    1. I sometimes wonder if I would feel a bit differently about negative reviews if I read trad pub books that have a much bigger platform. With indie books, I can decide to help promote or decide not to. But I just don’t want to make it even more difficult on them. It doesn’t feel right.

    1. Yeah, it’s really a shame when people judge book bloggers as a whole, considering that many of us bloggers don’t like reading superficial, saccharine reviews either.

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