Why 5-Star Book Reviews are Utter Rubbish

The pencil is mightier than the... oh, hang on. Not any more it isn't

The pencil is mightier than the… oh, hang on. Not any more it isn’t

I’m having a bad week in the non-fiction world, so I’ve decided to take it out on something inanimate. And that something would be the 5-star book review.

Look. Book reviews have never been more important. If we want our books to become bestsellers, good reviews are essential. We live in an age when reviews themselves are being reviewed, for goodness sake.

However, 5-star book reviews, particularly in the realm of self-publishing, are about as trustworthy as a 4-time Winner of the International Liar Of The Year Contest; as useful as a mercury oven mitt, and as precious as wasps in August.

For these reasons:

1. They Are Often SCREAMING Fakes

If we’re looking at something with a top ranking of around 985,403th in Fiction Sales, well, c’mon now. Word of mouth actually does have more power than that. It’s statistically more probable that the 5 stars were awarded by the author, or his Mammy.

This of course applies to friends of the author, too. They may very well mean it, but how often are 5 stars awarded on the basis of pure merit, rather than just being a case of “Holy Crap! My friend wrote a book! That’s soooo cool! Here, have 5 stars for that alone!”

You can also identify the forced review, where the author gets a friend to dish out a minimum of 5 stars (by begging, pleading and using emotional blackmail over that incident involving the dog and the hairdryer), through the strained prose employed within its confines. Just underneath, if you listen very very carefully, you will hear a teeny, tiny voice squeaking “Help me! I’m not allowed to tell you what I really think!”

2. Seriously. 5 Stars?? Really??

You really want to award 5 stars to this? The highest accolade of the Internet? This is seriously one of the best things you’ve ever read? It’s better than all the no. 1-10 bestsellers combined?

No it isn’t. Stop 5-Starring like it’s the 1980s. Give it the 3 it deserves.

Sun Reading in the Sun3. Who Said 4 Stars Wasn’t Enough?

5-star reviews are all very well for truly exceptional books – I’m obviously not dismissing them entirely. And it’s all very well to award 5 stars to a deserving book which has been edited, polished and painfully abraded by an angle-grinder.

However, just yet, 4 stars should be thumbs up enough to the vast majority of decent fiction. And much as we all love the gloriously Democratic State of Self-Publishing, we’re not there yet, folks. Especially the unedited stuff. I feel more comfortable with 4-star reviews, especially if they have just a tiny bit of negative comment in them, because they feel more discerning. And more honest.

4. They Rarely Justify Themselves

You don’t often see 5-star reviews which give you any indication as to why the book was so particularly stupendous, which makes me think that it’s been awarded by someone who hands out 5 stars like medals at a school sports day. (And the top prize of 5 stars goes to… every book I finished reading this year! Awww!)

5. There Is No Such Thing As Being Nice on Amazon or GoodReads. Just Be Fair!

I know people who won’t award any less than 5 stars because they don’t want to discourage, or seem nasty, or harsh. But just because an author is emerging, or the book is new, or you know them, or it’s Tuesday, doesn’t mean that anything less than 5 stars is a blow. Authors should have thicker skin than that, and if they don’t, then they should open up a B&B and go on Tripadvisor, and see how they like the mudslinging there.

6. The Number of 5-Star Reviews should not equal the number of reviews

One 5-star review is ok. But, if there are only 7 reviews in total and all of them are all 5 stars, I don’t believe a single one of them. So I disregard the lot and vow never to read the book instead. Which rather defeats the purpose.

7. Because, The Internet

All online criticism and reviewing is meaningless when it’s written by someone you don’t know or trust. It’s not like traditional criticism, where someone is selected and put on a payroll because upon mature reflection, they seem to know a few things about their chosen subject.

As a reviewer, you have to earn credibility by what you write in each and every review. So if you’re handing out 5 stars willy-nilly, or have only 2 reviews to your name (1 of which was possibly written only to lend back-up credibility to the original review you wrote for your bessie mate’s foray into erotic fiction), or don’t bother backing up your starry abundance with some actual reasons, you can just take your 5 stars and stick them on the nearest passer-by, for managing to get out of bed this morning.

bookmark chasing book not creepy at allThen, please go and write me a nice 2, 3 or 4-star review, so we can all get the benefit of some honest opinion. ‘Kay?

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  46 comments for “Why 5-Star Book Reviews are Utter Rubbish

  1. October 23, 2013 at 11:39 am

    I clicked on this post because I’ve recently reviewed a few books for Amazon that I absolutely loved–and gave them five stars. “Was I wrong to do that?” I was thinking. Well, after reading your post, I don’t think I was. Those books did deserve five stars from me, because all three were books that I couldn’t bear to put down. I know that’s a cliché, but in this case it’s also the truth. I read a heck of a lot of books, and so many of them (and we’re talking traditionally published books here!) are just not engaging, even grating at times. So when I find those books that sweep me off my feet, I have to give them five stars. And it sounds like you’re not opposed to that. (But maybe I should write a few more reviews for those books I actively disliked? It’s just harder to get motivated for that!)

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    • October 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      Of course a book deserves 5 stars if it sweeps you off your feet! That’s what a 5-star book is supposed to do. I think it’s brilliant that you found books lately which transport you off on a cloud of fabulousness. They should get the stellar reviews they deserve. But what about the other ones? It’s all about context. If a book is better than everything else, review it and give it 5 stars. If it isn’t, review it and give it 3. Then people will see that your opinion is a considered one. Too many people only leave reviews because they absolutely loved or hated something. I’m a big supporter of the ones in between.

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      • johanna buchanan
        October 23, 2013 at 6:56 pm

        Reviewers should NOT be given a form to fill in scoring for plot, language, credibility. This is not an exam folks or a thesis. People read books for lots of reasons – and give 5 star reviews for different reasons too. Maybe it is because its the best book ever written in your opinion or maybe it’s because the plot carried you above the dodgy language or maybe it’s because the story simply distracted you from your troubles on a wet Monday. You shouldn’t have to justify your reason. I’m sure plenty of people gave 50 shades five stars because they loved it and that book wasn’t going to gain stars for language, plot or believability.
        And by the way the idea that reviewers on someone’s payroll are there because they know something about their subject isnt necessarily true either. They could have that gig for a host of other reasons – like the editor doesn’t know what else to do with them. I prefer reader reviews to critic reviews just as I prefer the reviews people leave on cinema websites rather than some art critic.

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        • October 23, 2013 at 8:26 pm

          But my point is that 5-star reviews are not being given because it’s a reviewer’s opinion that it’s the best book ever written. Instead 5 stars are being given out wholesale to lots of things, instead of being reserved for the very best stuff out there. When they’re cheap, they’re meaningless.

          I would much rather be given 4 stars myself, particularly when a 5-star review doesn’t contain any information in it which might help the reader to understand why it’s supposed to be so great. If I can’t see anything in a 5-star review to convince me, I don’t identify with the reviewer, and their opinion is of no value to me, especially if it’s extreme, at either end of the scale. 4 stars is ten times more likely to make me take a chance on a book, than 5.

          Sometimes I prefer reader reviews, too. But not when they’re no help whatsoever to someone who’s trying to make a decision about whether or not to buy.

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  2. October 23, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Perhaps people writing reviews should be provided with a score sheet to fill in, ranking the book for plot, language, character drawing, believability etc. I’ve read five star reviews for less than believable chit lit efforts, and three star reviews for what I would consider excellent books by established authors. Guidelines might help reviewers to critically assess what they have read and award a more realistic number of stars to it. And yes, I think in these days to achieve less than five stars is seen as failure which is why the entire review system is so suspect.

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    • October 23, 2013 at 8:33 pm

      Perhaps the best solution, then, is for authors and reviewers to have more realistic expectations of success, than to try and standardise reviews in a field which is thankfully full of lovely variation.
      As I said, I’d rather 4 stars than 5, myself, because most of the time I just don’t believe the 5-star ones. We are of course absolutely welcome to disagree with reviewers, 100% of the time. But I do rely on them for information about a book which the blurb is not going to give me, and I find reviews containing just a bit of negative criticism ten times more informative than the super-gush of 5 stars, with the end result being that more often than not, I will buy the book. If authors knew that, perhaps they wouldn’t feel so much that anything less than 5 stars is a failure.

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  3. carolannwrites
    October 24, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    Looking forward to your book review of ‘Summer Triangle’… I think!

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    • October 24, 2013 at 9:16 pm

      I hope to do you justice! It’s hard because people feel so differently about it (never got so much polarised opinion with any other post like I did with this one) – some people really do feel that anything less than 5 stars is a failure – whereas others seem to be on the same wavelength as myself in thinking that 4 stars is actually fantastic. I hadn’t realised this was so controversial!!

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  4. Pamreader
    October 25, 2013 at 11:40 am

    I think it depends on the context of the five star rating. On Amazon five stars stands for ‘I loved it’. This does not factor in the quality of the writing but your personal emotional response to the reading experience. Four stars equals ‘I liked it’. I have given both to books. Other readers may not feel the same way as I do about a book and that’s fine because reading is subjective. Personally, I’d rather ditch the star rating altogether and just review the book, which is what I do on my blog.

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    • October 26, 2013 at 12:25 am

      I wish everyone thought as you do. Reviewing the book should be mandatory, rather than one-sentence reviews dashed off without thought or usefulness. Star ratings are supposed to be a standardised method of scoring but they’re also lazy. Far easier to click on 1* or 5* than sit down and think about what you really thought about a book, which would give all the context a rating needs to be truly meaningful. That alone differentiates the great 4* review from the rubbish 5* review.

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  5. October 25, 2013 at 11:52 am

    I tend to agree – I get a bit suspicious if something has dozens and dozens of 5* reviews. I think the whole reviewing system on Amazon particularly could do with looking at. I laughed at your analogy of it being like giving out medals on Sports Day and getting all your relatives to add their glowing reviews.

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    • October 26, 2013 at 12:26 am

      Thanks, Alison! See, I’m a sucker for a nice comment despite all my moaning and complaining 🙂

      Like

  6. October 25, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    While I agree reviewers should give an honest review of what they read, I do not agree that all 5 star reviews are “utter rubbish” and as someone who reviews everything I read, I feel a bit insulted by that statement. 5 Star reviews are often more difficult to write than 2 star reviews. I hate to think that my honest opinion on how a book impacted me is discounted just because I personally loved the book.

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    • October 26, 2013 at 12:29 am

      But your honest opinion is not discounted. A headline does not an entire blog post/article make, and you can see from the rest of my post what I meant.
      True 5 star reviews are worth their weight in gold, and I’m sure yours stand out as the genuine article amongst the rubbish.

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  7. October 25, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    What many people don’t realize, and it’s too bad that they don’t, is that 3 stars is still a good rating (worth reading).

    http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

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    • October 26, 2013 at 12:31 am

      Absolutely. In my book, 3 stars isn’t bad at all, at all. Unfortunately, there’s a massive contingent out there on the internet who for some reason think that anything less than 5 is a fate worse than the slush pile. More realistic expectations would make for a hell of a lot of happier authors, and that’s saying something.
      I like the way you explain your scale on your own site – that 4 stars means “I loved it” but 5 stars means “I couldn’t put it down”. There is a difference, and you make it clear, which makes it more meaningful. I haven’t a clue what people mean on Amazon, so they’re little or no use to me.

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  8. October 25, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Agree with this entirely. I see so many 5-star reviews out there, they’ve become worthless. And I would include my own books in that. If someone gives reasons for their rating, great. But if it’s all “I loved this book!!!11!eleventy!!” then nah, not buying it.

    Like it or not, friends and family DO give out undeserving 5-star ratings all over the internet. I remember seeing one author I used to know getting a 5-star on Amazon and someone else pointed out it was awarded by her own father. The author’s friends then dogpiled this person to the point where you’d think she was Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Jane Austen all rolled into one, and her dad awarded her five stars because she shits rainbows which cure cancer.

    Another problem I see is reviewers (who are often also authors) who refuse to rate anything less than 4-stars? Why? Because there’s a “Be nice,” culture in erotic romance epublishing (the genre with which I’m most familiar) and giving your HONEST opinion of a colleague’s work might be seen as nasty. We’re supposed to support each other, so they say, because we’re all in this together and fluffy bunnies and kittens and other reasons.

    Nine times out of ten, effusive praise comes from a friend or relative or even editor of an erotic romance author. Or from people who hand out 5-star reviews like they’re sweeties given to trick-or-treaters.

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    • October 26, 2013 at 12:38 am

      And if more people saw 4* as being a success instead of a failure, we’d get a more meaningful rating system. But you just know that even if the scale went from 1 to 20, there’d be floods of tears all over the web in minutes over scores of 17 and 18.

      An interesting point on this discussion was made in relation to Amazon – that on their reviews page, the top-liked least favourable reviews now start at 3 stars. Which means that Amazon themselves are saying that anything below a 4 star review is unfavourable. Which of course is ridiculous. If too many authors now see anything less than 5 stars as a failure, Amazon are at least partly to blame.

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      • October 26, 2013 at 9:18 am

        I’m currently with four publishers and each has its own Yahoo group. I say this to fudge details a bit, protect the guilty, etc. So I’m not being TOO specific. 😉 On one of these Yahoo groups, a writer posted that she’d received a three-star review on Amazon and people were ‘liking’ it, or equivalent. Saying the review was helpful, that kind of thing. The effect was, said review was bumped up to the top of the list and it was the first readers saw when reading about her book. She asked other authors at this publishing house to go online and ‘like’ the 5-star reviews and dislike the three-star one, to make the good reviews more visible and the terrible, terrible, three-star one, less so. A pal of mine calls this ‘gaming the system’ and I agree with her entirely. This is one of the reasons why reviews on Amazon are NOT reliable. Authors get their friends to review their books and downgrade reviews which give anything less than 4 or 5 stars. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly. And to think…I always thought the best way to get 5 stars was to bloody well EARN THEM by writing a 5-star-worthy book!

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  9. October 25, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    And indeed the very nature of reviews on Amazon has become suspect if not thoroughly dismissible: http://five-report.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-fake-review-report.html

    Like

    • October 26, 2013 at 12:40 am

      That’s an extremely interesting post, Greg. And I have to admit: quite depressing. 😦

      Like

  10. Niv Kaplan
    October 27, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Problem is that AMAZON is an algorithm. Authors want their books to look good instantly and chances are that if you see a book appear with 3 stars you might brush it off instantly and go on to the one that has the 5 stars because there is such a huge selection (so why look at a 3 star book when you can look at a 5 star). And I agree that people mostly rate books based on how the liked them rather than how they were written. Everything about AMAZON is promotion and ratings so its not really how good your book is but how you have managed to push it up (or down).

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    • October 27, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      That’s a really interesting point, because like anything else, authors need to treat Amazon like they would treat anything else in terms of search engine optimisation. It’s all about how high up you are on the list, and how to get your name into search results. I would never buy anything because it’s 5 stars rather than 3 – as is evident from my post, but if a reader is pushed for time and can’t read a lot of reviews, more 5 star reviews than 3 stars will certainly help on a macro level. But isn’t that just like someone who purchases Twitter followers? It’s just headline numbers. There is no quality in the quantity.

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      • Niv Kaplan
        October 28, 2013 at 12:40 am

        Why would anyone purchase Twitter followers I have no clue but with a book I think its different because obviously the higher up you are on the list the more exposure you get and the more books you sell. I guess its all about exposure because as an author you hope that good reviews will get you noticed and that will lead to more sales and eventually the more known you are the less you care about 5, 4, or 3 star reviews. However, you need to get there first.

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        • October 28, 2013 at 1:40 pm

          I think the purchase of Twitter followers is just to bump up the numbers again, with the idea that if you have 2,000 followers people think you’re more worth following than the person with just 200. It’s pretty easy to spot the fakers though. Exposure is paramount for an author, but it only goes so far – people have to hear of you, but if you’re not publishing quality stuff, the window of opportunity is gone and those who sampled your work will probably never come back. There is a knack to marketing yourself online, but I still believe the cream will always rise to the top, social media or no social media…

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  11. November 12, 2013 at 11:02 am

    I appreciate this post, and agree with most of it (and a lot of the comments). However, it’s worth reminding readers that Amazon’s star rating is different, and more lenient, than most other markets out there. According to Amazon:

    1 star: I hate it
    2 stars: I don’t like it
    3 stars: It’s OK
    4 stars: I like it
    5 stars: I love it

    I take that seriously — even though I think it’s a bad scale, leaving no room to differentiate brilliant, thought-provoking books from something silly that made me scream with laughter. So, when I review for Amazon I only hand out 4 or 5 stars. Why? Not because I’m being nice, but because my time is valuable to me. If a book was only “OK” to me, I wouldn’t have bothered to finish reading it — and I would never review a book that I didn’t read to the end. (I don’t review a lot of books, although I read a hundred or so, most years, and start countless others.) Does that mean every book that I give 5 stars on Amazon gets 5 elsewhere? No. Just the other day, a 5 star Amazon review turned to 4 stars on Goodreads.

    There are only 5 reviews on my own book so far, all five stars. None were written by relatives or puppets or whatever else is lurking out there. Apparently, most of the contributors to this thread would therefore conclude that my book is rubbish! I have done no promotion yet. So now, when I do, what’s the plan? Beg for three star reviews from people who loved the book? Piss off fellow authors so they’ll trash a book that took 5 years to write? I’ve gotten fan mail from people who STILL didn’t bother to review the book! One fellow — a stranger, I feel obligated to point out — said it was one of the best books he’d ever read. Honestly. He said that. (Sure, he could be nuts, but nuts is good. My book is nuts, too.)

    So, now what? Write him back and say, Hey, do me a favor and say my book was “fair-to-meh”?

    I’m hoping to get on a banned book list somewhere and get some rotten reviews!

    (Sorry for the rant. Kinda.)

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    • November 12, 2013 at 11:39 am

      Lindy, firstly thanks for dropping by – and congratulations on the great response to your book! Nothing can take that away from you. But this article was about rubbish reviews, not rubbish books, and nobody says anywhere that 5* reviews mean the book is rubbish. As I say, I don’t dismiss 5* reviews entirely. Some of the reviews I write are 5* reviews. But they are for my exceptional, one-in-a-hundred reads which stick with me for ages and are shelved in my house with the intention of going back to them. My own rant pertains more to the fact that I don’t like my 5* reviews being cheapened by silly, thoughtless ones written with an ulterior motive contrary to the actual rating of a book’s intrinsic worth.

      You are obviously an extremely conscientious reviewer, and I wish there were more like you. Some reviewers grade on a curve, but a hell of a lot more don’t. Assigning 5* to a book because you know the author, or don’t want to be nasty, or you finished it and it was grand, does nothing for that book except cast suspicion on any genuinely good reviews it might actually have. Nobody’s saying that a reviewer has to change their grading system to suit what I or anybody else thinks, but this article was meant to start a debate on what the rating system actually does, and I think it at least achieved that.

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  12. November 12, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Here’s an idea (works real good for a place like Amazon): Ignore the stars, and reviews, and act as if you’re in a physical bookstore. 1) See what cover nabs your attention. 2) Sample a couple chapters. 3) Decide to buy, or move on.

    That’s how I do it, anyway, and I’ve found some I really liked that others didn’t (for whatever reason), and how I’ve discovered stinkers that folks raved over (I’m looking at you 50 Shades).

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    • November 12, 2013 at 12:06 pm

      I like your thinking. Because on top of everything else, it might just mean that people approach books with less criticism (which might mean in turn that thin-skinned authors stop thinking everything less than 5* is a failure).

      I’m all for bettering myself, but nowadays, it’s almost like people think that because a book is available online, it’s open season on the author. Especially when it’s self-published. I’m guilty of it too – the first typo or grammatical mistake, and I’m looking for plot holes. We’re only ruining things for ourselves!

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  13. August 6, 2014 at 7:07 am

    I wrote a piece recently about reviewing, told people not to expect five stars as I very very rarely gave them out, and said if they got four stars from me they should consider themselves lucky. I didn’t get a single argument 😀 I obviously have a different style of reader to you.

    I read some tosh recently where people were saying reviewers had to justify a four star review by explaining why they had deducted a star! You don’t start from the premise of five stars and work your way down. You either start from three in the middle and go up or down, or you start right at the bottom and work your way up. But starting with five? Oh no. People I have written four star reviews for were happy enough to publicise them on their blog, and as of yesterday they hadn’t jumped off a cliff at my niggardly allocation of stars.

    The issue is comparing within genre. Because there’s no way you can compare Meyer with Dostoevsky (Dost is a five star author for me).

    If you are interested here is the post. If nothing else read the first comment where Maurice explains why he hunts out two and three star reviews.

    http://roughseasinthemed.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/im-reviewing/#comments

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    • August 6, 2014 at 10:12 am

      That’s a great post. A lot of issues covered and well explained. Thank you for sharing (in a most non-pushy way, I might add!)

      I think I bring the arguments upon myself! It’s because of incendiary post titles, mostly, and I don’t worry about that, because we all know I’m only looking for attention. If I’d called this post “Why I’d rather you gave books 4* Ratings instead of 5” I’d probably have got 2 comments, one of which was trying to sell me fake designer handbags.

      People’s approach to reviewing is so different, and subjective in itself, it makes those of us who rely on reviews to make buying choices cynical and, sometimes, annoyed. A significant number of people have also said to me that they only read the bad reviews, because they find it much easier to get a good sense of the book (and the reviewer) from those. I’ve actually bought books myself in the past because of the bad reviews, because I didn’t feel that I’d be bothered by the things which annoyed the reviewer. I wish more authors realised this.

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      • August 6, 2014 at 10:56 am

        Thanks Tara. I think it started germination when I thought I should explain to people why I don’t give five star reviews, and why I don’t review some books ie they are badly edited – if at all – poorly written, and the plot is crap. While established best-selling authors won’t give two hoots about my view, eg Ellen Schreiber, J K Rowling, I’m really not in the business of writing an acidic rant about someone’s self-published appalling first novel. It’s very much like your Get an Editor post. If I can’t get past all the literals, there is no point in even thinking about the writing because they really need to produce a clean novel in the first place.

        Can’t say I go for sensational deadlines on my blog – think The Observer rather than tabloid of choice – but I did read your post, probably because I agreed with the headline though! If you’d written why all indie authors deserve five stars, I’d prob have skipped it 😀

        When I was buying hard copy fiction, I usually used the reviews in the broadsheets at the weekend. And I agree again, people have also said to me bad reviews are helpful, so long as they are well written. Not just, this book was abysmal and I couldn’t finish it, there has to be a because in there to explain why the reviewer thinks it is bad. Just like you need to explain why a book is good. Hardly difficult but it takes time to write one. A one line review is meaningless. I’ve got three review copies on the go at the moment. I’ve got to read them, and write a thoughtful, balanced and fair review. That takes time out of my paid editing work. Which is why the whiney demands for a review at the end of every self-pub book get up my nose. Anyway, back to work instead of self-indulgent wittering.

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        • August 6, 2014 at 11:13 am

          I agree that if someone hates a book, they shouldn’t review it at all – I used to feel differently, but reviews are just too subjective for me to be stomping all over authors simply because what they wrote didn’t suit me.

          I have no qualms however about leaving a review that says “the plot, structure and characterisation could have been great, but the book hasn’t been edited, and is completely ruined by so many errors. If you care about this sort of thing, don’t read this book.” There is no excuse for authors putting shoddy work out there when it’s so easily fixed by a professional edit.

          I hate the whiney demands also. And the fact that I have other work to do than discuss this with you for the day, which would be much more fun. 😉

          Like

  14. August 15, 2014 at 1:16 am

    OK, I’m gonna have to take exception to this one, Tara! A little discernment is in serious order, now, come on!! 🙂

    I think it’s possible you’re conflating the ridiculous tendency of many self-pubbed authors to do bogus review swaps or browbeat friends and family into leaving 5-star reviews with ACTUAL readers who review a book completely and utterly at their own volition and end up loving it and finding nothing about it for which to award lesser stars.

    5-stars does not, as you put it, mean “It’s better than all the No. 1-10 bestsellers combined”… it means it was a fantastic book that met the reader’s expectations (and maybe then some) and left them feeling like they’d just had a fabulous literary experience. At least when I leave a 5-star review that’s what it means to me… and I hope it’s what it means to my readers. But given your barometer?

    Currently my book at Amazon has 33 reviews; 32 are 5-star, 1 is 4-star. While I’m delighted by the fact that readers appear to be moved by my book, I don’t mention it to brag; I mention it because the last thing I would want you or anyone else to do is dismiss my book because you’ve presumptively decided those reviews are unauthentic, coerced, or insincere. That would be so far from what I would want it gives me chills just think about!

    Many of the reviews are from people I do not know, some are from people who’ve read my blog or my column at Huff Post and came to the book already familiar with my work; none are from reviewers who were gifted my book, nor are any from review swaps, paid reviews, or reviews solicited from family and friends. The closest I would get to a “solicited review” is when someone sends me an unsolicited email after reading my book exclaiming how much they liked it, and I say “thank you” and graciously ask if they could do me the favor of posting what they wrote in their email at the Amazon page, which they usually do. I never suggest what “stars” to choose.

    I don’t believe people should ever feel obligated to either leave a 5-star because it’s expected or NOT leave a 5-star because others might think it’s utter rubbish. While I know why I leave 5-stars, I cannot say why anyone else does, nor why the reviewers who left 5-stars for me did so. I only hope no one seeing those reviews makes the erroneous presumption that they are bogus reviews and negates my book because of that. I hope they take a look themselves and come to their own conclusion and if they want to honestly leave fewer stars after reading it, they would be most welcome to do so.

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    • August 15, 2014 at 10:45 am

      Hi Lorraine, thanks for your comment.

      The title of this post was deliberately provocative to inspire debate – and that certainly worked! Reviews, just like my opinion, are 100% subjective, and I’m not going to please even some of the people all of the time. The other comments on this post will show you exactly that. Some people agree with you; some with me.

      Some people only read 5* reviews. Some people never even look at them. Some people (not just me) have bought more books based on 2* reviews we didn’t feel we would agree with, or 4* reviews which seem perfectly reasonable, than authors ever seem to realise. It’s a personal thing, and I don’t think we’ll ever achieve consensus in our lifetimes 🙂

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  15. October 4, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    I agree with you, Tara that there is a sort of black market in reviewing. There are authors who buy reviews or swap five star reviews. That is pretty sad if you ask me. But, what I think you have to also bear in mind is that a lot of readers are not particularly discriminating. Not all readers would enjoy the kind of stuff that is reviewed in the Guardian or the NYRB. Lots of people actually enjoy what I would call dross and for them it deserves five stars. Which is why I only read articulate, well-written reviews. If I see the word ‘awesome’ anywhere in the review I don’t read it. If I see the book compared favourably to Dickens, Shakespeare or Tolkein I don’t read it.
    What I do is use the look inside feature if the blurb and the cover grab me. I am quite capable of making my own mind up by sampling the opening of the book. I don’t need anybody to tell me that it gets boring half-way through. I didn’t expect to know all the ins and outs of every story I ever bought before Amazon and I don’t now. Call me old-fashioned, call me arrogant, but I actually trust my own judgement better than anyone who thinks a book review can be reduced to the ‘A’ word.

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    • October 5, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      I wouldn’t call you anything, Jane! But I know what you mean. I think a lot of us have triggers like that, which turn us off something immediately – I know I do (see rants #43, #985 and #284,573)

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      • October 5, 2014 at 5:32 pm

        If those are real rants I’d like to read them. I love reading rants that reflect my own 🙂

        Like

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