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.
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.