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5 Ways to Spot a Trustworthy Amazon Review

With all the uproar over the recent New York Times article The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy--especially the admission to buying 300 hundred reviews by "bestselling" indie-turned-traditional-author John Locke--people are wondering if Amazon.com reviews can be trusted at all. (Not to mention all the gushing reviews that authors bribe encourage from friends, family, neighbors and publicists...)

I'm here to tell you that yes, they can. Here's how to spot them (as well as bogus reviews):

AMZ Reviewer Profile Cropped

1. Look for the Real Name badge

In order to have a Real Name badge as an Amazon.com Reviewer, an individual must VERIFY her identity via credit card. When an individual puts her name on a review, she is saying "I stand by my review and will put my reputation on the line for it." 

2. Hall of Fame Reviewer or Top Reviewer badge

In order to reach this status, a reviewer will have chalked up hundreds (or thousands) of reviews posted...with TENS OF THOUSANDS of "helpful" votes for the total. Unless the reviewer doesn't have a life outside of reviewing, this signifies passion and dedication to the art and craft of reviewing (rare suspect reviewers like Harriet Klausner aside).

3. Quality and depth of the review

It's a no-brainer that anyone can type "This book sux". While a review doesn't have to (and shouldn't) rival the word count of the book being examined, a quality criticism contains examples of why the reviewer didn't like a book. Generalities such as "this books lack any inherent value" are meaningless. Quality reviewers (and thinkers) back up their assertions. Quality reviewers usually know how to spell and use good grammar, too.

4. Comparison with other posted reviews

One book. Thirteen 5-Star reviews. One 1-Star review. No 2, 3 or 4-Star reviews. You do the math.

5. Stars given over the long haul

In 2009, the FTC told bloggers and reviewers to disclose freebies from publishers or financial interest in a product--or face fines up to $11,000. This ruling was supposed to ameliorate the distrust of netizen reviewers. However, most bloggers and Amazon reviewers still do not post full- disclosure notices. So, how do you know if an Amazon reviewer is on the up-and-up...or just a publisher's go-to gusher because 5-Star reviews are the only thing she cranks out? Here's how: Scroll through the reviewer's profile on Amazon.com. Criteria 1-4 above being met, check to see if there's a mix of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5-Star reviews. Pages and pages of 5-Star reviews are to be taken with a grain of salt.

So, what about you, readers? How do you determine if a review is worth your consideration? What rings your alarm bells?

-- Janet



LOL - Then you have people like me. I don't review a product I can't endorse. My reviews are really more along the lines of "Here's what this is. Here is what I like most about it" and maybe, "Here is something I'm not wild about" or "here's something that some folks might not like." I do get review copies from publishers, but I only request the titles I know I will probably like (primarily based on subject matter). So far, I have not received anything I absolutely hated or felt I needed to blast with negative criticism.

Reviews are interesting because good ones do reveal what I might or might not like in a book (or movie or whatever), and that might help me decide whether to read/see it. For example, if someone writes that a book "has a lot of great, gorry violent scenes with decapitations and stuff" -- I'm not reading it, even though they meant that as praise. :)

Janet Boyer

Right! If you basically say what the product is/contains--and the benefits/drawbacks of it--you're giving readers enough information to make an informed decision. :o)

I started reviewing BECAUSE I was getting shafted for trusting online reviews (especially at Aeclectic.net). Was so tired of wasting money on decks that I THOUGHT were attractive, but were NOT in real life. Come to know it was because AT only shows SIX cards (usually)...and the prettiest ones in the deck, at that. That, and the fact that negative reviews are NOT accepted by Solandia for publication. Deceitful. :oP


Hi Janet.

I only leave reviews for books I like. Life's way too short for me to slag those I don't, which is the majority. Over time, the quality of the work will determine whether folks buy it or not, so my saying I found it prosaic or poorly edited or amateurish is unnecessary. So anyone looking at my reviews will find only four and five star reviews.

I think that people need to take some personal responsibility and read the Look Inside feature, and then think for themselves. I can tell after a few pages whether a book's my cuppa or if the author has competent craft, and a slew of glowing five star raves won't change that, nor will a slew of one star bashes.

On books, I believe quality will win out over time. A Locke may have been able to pump himself into the limelight, but that won't sell books two years down the road. I think readers are smarter than that, and in the end would hope that the market is a meritocracy. I guess we'll see.


Hi Janet!
I am SOOOO glad you addressed this subject! I am a Book Review/Blogger and this issue IRKS me the MOST! FAKE book reviews on Amazon POSTED BY THE AUTHORS, OR, THE AUTHORS HAVING FRIENDS AND FAMILY POST BOOK REVIEWS FOR THEM and you KNOW THEY HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK!
1. The book ALWAYS has a 5-star rating!
2. Click on the name of the Reviewer. They will ONLY EVER have '1' review written!
3. The review is RAVING!
4. The review is generally 2-3 sentences long and that is IT!
5. The review is vague and VERY general.
6. As SOON as the book is posted, it has 5 5-star reviews, or in the vicinity of. You take a look at those reviews, and they CAN be from ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, BUT, do what I just said, click on their names, and they have '1' review of THIS BOOK ONLY!
When I am approached to review a book, I go to Amazon FIRST and look to see if there are ANY FAKE REVIEWS I CAN SPOT FIRST! IF there are, I REFUSE TO REVIEW THE BOOK! I REFUSE to put up with Authors who feel they MUST POST FAKE REVIEWS, OR HAVE SOME REVIEWS DONE ON THEIR BOOKS, EVEN IF THEY ARE FAKE! If an Author has CONFIDENCE IN THEIR WORK, THEY WILL POST THAT BOOK WITH "ZERO" REVIEWS and let nature take it's course!
This VERY article you wrote has been DRIVING ME CRAZY for the LONGEST while lately! I would say over the last year or so, it seems as if they are ALWAYS INDIE AUTHORS WHO POST/OR HAVE FRIENDS AND FAMILY POST THESE FAKE REVIEWS! It's been getting worse and worse!
I have NOT YET told an author as to WHY I won't review their book but maybe it's time I do so! Call them on their own game! IF they fight back with me, then I will KNOW they ARE FAKE!
Just in general, if I refuse to review a book, I've had HATE EMAILS come my way telling me I'm missing out on such a GREAT book, and I really should 'reconsider'! HA! NO WAY! I ignore them after that.
I had an Indie author want to write an article for her blog about writing reviews for Amazon. Once I pointed out my issues I have with FAKE REVIEWS, she pulled OUT of writing the article! I had to laugh! I KNEW what she did!
Thank you for pointing this SERIOUS SUBJECT MATTER OUT! IT NEEDS TO BE DONE! No one seems to want to address this subject AT ALL! It NEEDS to be done!
Oh, one other issue I wanted to make you aware of.
There are websites that help authors get their books up and going. They have Reader's subscribe to their site and become members. They are TOLD to NEVER POST A REVIEW UNLESS THE BOOK IS A 3-STAR REVIEW OR HIGHER! NEVER EVER POST A REVIEW THAT IS A 1 OR 2-STAR REVIEW! These Reader's/Blogger's are COACHED into writing reviews this way! It's WRONG! Some of the people who own these companies are BIG names, too, in the Indie Publishing market. They have written several Best Sellers, and this IS what they want from the Reviewer/Blogger!
That will be the day when I give up MY honesty over what I think about a book! If I want to give a 1 or 2 star review, I WILL! IF the book honestly deserves it, I DO IT!
I couldn't believe the email I received from a well-known author who has one of these companies telling ME I cannot post a review if it is less than 3-stars! She tried to tell us it is NOT HELPFUL to the author, but a very hurtful thing to do to the author. IF we felt the book really was that bad, then completely SKIP posting ANY REVIEW on that particular book!
That'll be the day!
That really took a LOT of respect I HAD for that particular author AWAY! I was SHOCKED that she would say that, even!
So, your suggestions of an all-around reviewer with stars in 1-5 is EXCELLENT! Thank you for writing these guidelines down!
I have to add that I have ONLY EVER given 1 book a 1-star. Why? Because the author badgered me SO badly! I've been AFRAID to give a 1-star again!
I have given very few 2-stars, but HAVE given them. I give 3, 4, and a 5-star is ONLY for a Masterpiece! I don't give a lot of them unless the books really DOES deserve it!
After that one author told us ALL 'NEVER' give a book lower than a 3-star review, I HAD to re-think HOW I ranked the books! Yes, she somewhat halted me from writing what I HONESTLY thought!
Oh, also, I DO add a tag line at the end of EVERY review (I will admit I have forgotten on very few reviews) that does state the FTC Guidelines and WHERE I GOT THE BOOK! I even go so far as to write down where I received a book if EVEN IF it's a book "I" have purchased for my OWN reading pleasure! So many people know I write book reviews I feel I MUST list that!
So now I AM going to go on my way and NOT feel bad if I give out a low-starred book review! This IS in THANKS TO YOU!!! I feel a LOT better about writing what I really DO think about rating books now!
Laurie Carlson

A Facebook User

This is an important post, particularly after all the furor over fake reviews, thank you for sharing your knowledge (I also blogged about the Vine Program which is a highly respectable effort on the part of Amazon to ensure the quality of reviews).

I agree with everything said by Laurie Carlson, including the fact that a review should always indicate where one got the book!AND a review should be well-structured, balanced and judgmental AND come from a reviewer that has done several respectable quality reviews in the past, or else!

Keeping these simple rules in mind, you, as a reader, won't be misled! Certainly that is the way I do it, though my decision to buy is ultimately based on the free sample that Amazon, in its great marketing wisdom, allows you to read before deciding!

Janet Boyer

I must respectfully disagree with you, Books. A slew of 1-star reviews, especially when from organized haters of an author (retribution "reviewers") do, indeed, affect sales...especially of indie authors who don't garner as many as reviews as traditionally published authors.

Janet Boyer

I SO agree with you, Laurie! (Sorry for the delay getting back to you. TypePad didn't notify me of the additional replies to this post and I just now saw them. Ack!). You are very welcome.

Isn't it pathetic when authors (or their spouses or friends!) badger, harass or defame you as a reviewer over 1 and 2 star reviews? Good grief! (I had that happen to me a few months ago.)

Janet Boyer

Excellent points! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us. :o)

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