With Batman V Superman We Have Reached Peak 5 Star Insanity

I’ve been droning on about this for years, but I’ll say it again. 5 star reviews do not sell books. They do not sell movies. At this point, a 5 star review would have a job selling panty liners at a Justin Bieber concert.

Every time I meet a published author nowadays, I have the same conversation with them.

Author: I’ve been under pressure to get my review score up. I need more 5* reviews.

Me: You know, I’ve never ever bought a book because of a 5* review. I don’t believe them.

Author: But I need them.

Me: No, you don’t. I’ve bought far more books because of moany or irritating 2* and 3* reviews I didn’t feel I’d agree with. 5* reviews never sell me a book. I assume they’re all lies.

Author: That’s an interesting viewpoint. But I need them to bring up my score.

Me: Why, do you have a pile of 1* reviews dragging you down or something? What does that tell you?

Author: 5* reviews are pretty. I need them.

Me: Are you crying?

The brouhaha about Batman V Superman has brought this to the fore. Critics hate the movie. Moviegoers hate the movie. It is possible that the actual movie hates the movie.

With Batman V Superman We Have Reached Peak 5 Star Insanity

Quotes brought to you courtesy of critical luminaries such as @teenagetwitteruser294 and @followmeplease72

The critics had a field day following the release of Batman V Superman. Not because they were writing about a bad film: but because they got to write about criticism, and what it actually means to be a critic in an era when both solicited and unsolicited reviews have made everything meaningless.

The critics also had fun dreaming up new and inventive ways to slag off the film. And to be fair, they did it very well. (My favourite so far is from Lindy West in the Guardian: “Batman v Superman is 153 minutes of a grown man whacking two dolls together”.)

It seems that Batman V Superman was such an obvious turkey to all the marketing folk behind it, they knew it was going to get decimated as soon as reviews were released. So they prevented all the usual suspects from publishing their reviews before the movie opened, got a couple of unknown soldiers to write gushing 5* reviews, slapped them into trailers and posters, and on went the marketing machine.

What this proves to me – a long-time advocate of setting fire to 5* reviews and then banning them altogether – is that 5* reviews are indeed, as I have argued before in this parish, utter rubbish.

What happens these days is that the moment I see a movie poster with “***** 5 STARS!!!” written anywhere on it, a little imp who lives inside my head (goes by the name of Rocky) whispers “Turkey. Avoid at all costs.”

With Batman V Superman We Have Reached Peak 5 Star Insanity

Someone was ‘over the moon’ about this movie. It ended

If you look deeper into the source of the 5* review, you’ll see it comes from “J Magazine Monthly” – i.e. a website run by a 17-year old from his bedroom in Idaho. Or “Movie Reviews Inc”, a similar setup in the Bahamas. They have no credibility, and no readers. 5* reviews now have the same standing as a restaurant booking in the name of Lehman Bros.

It’s the same with books. Reviews are subject to the same economic rules as anything else. The more you have of something, the less valuable it becomes. And 5* reviews are being thrown around the internet like cherry blossom in spring. Except they are not pretty, like cherry blossom. They are ugly, like Carrie Mathison’s cry face.

We can’t stop people writing 5* reviews they don’t really mean, be it for the money, for their friends, or out of loneliness. We can only ignore them. So for the love of a superhero, stop looking for them. Stop soliciting them. Look at the 2, 3 and 4-star reviews instead. Read reviews which actually say something. And perhaps then we can all go back to snarling at critics, just like the good ol’ days.


  47 comments for “With Batman V Superman We Have Reached Peak 5 Star Insanity

  1. April 7, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Do you think it would be a good marketing ploy to put terrible one star reviews in the book cover’s blurb, or even on the cover itself?

    1* ‘Appalling nonsense that proves illiteracy is no barrier to fiction writing,’ or

    1* ‘A book so bad it taught me to appreciate Jonathan Franzen.’

    I’m still proud of the ABNA judge who wanted to cut my throat.

    Five star reviews may not do anything for sales, but they don’t half pump up the ego. I couldn’t get through the front door the other day, and my new red carpet from Argos contrasts nicely with the green of the lawn.

    Liked by 4 people

    • April 7, 2016 at 9:07 am

      First comment again. How good am I? Come on,admit it…

      Liked by 1 person

    • April 7, 2016 at 9:47 am

      I think this is a stupendous idea. In fact, Chris, your thinking is so stupendously ahead of its time, I’d like to make you my Chief of Secret Police once I take the world by force and cast it into misery and despair. Are you game?

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 7, 2016 at 9:52 am

        Yes, does the uniform come with a peaked cap?

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 7, 2016 at 9:56 am

          No, obviously it has to be a beaver top hat. Now you’re making me reconsider. Tark and Mara have to pass every candidate on fashion credentials.

          Liked by 1 person

          • April 7, 2016 at 10:03 am

            Beaver top hat’s fine. I don’t want to turn down a secret police role because of an errant peak on a cap. My apologies to the Tarkamara.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. tbrpiledotcom
    April 7, 2016 at 9:10 am

    I can’t argue with this – I don’t even want to! This is one reason why I don’t agree with people who say they won’t post a review unless they can give it four or five stars. I do understand the reasons why they won’t, and I do respect that it’s their right not to, but I have stopped reading some reviewers because I know that their review is going to be praise only and not tell me what I want to know. (Oh, they’ve posted a review; they like the book. Next!) It’s become a game trying to spot the fake/mate reviews – and a joy to discount them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 7, 2016 at 9:51 am

      I’m with you. I can understand people saying they won’t post a review for someone they know unless it’s a good one, especially in this country where there are only 1.67 degrees of separation, but not when they don’t know the author from Adam. I still say if authors knew I’d bought their book on the back of a 3-star review, they’d stop panicking over the bloody things.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Ali Isaac
    April 7, 2016 at 9:32 am

    I’ve never believed in the review as a selling tool. The 5* are suspect, the 1* entertaining, but do they make me want to buy a book, or indeed any other product? No. I’ll make my own mind up by reading the look inside, or the quality of the cover, or how much the blurb appeals. All they do is make the author feel good… or crap, as the case may be. And as they’re so subjective, they don’t even add feedback value, unless you get a lot, and they all say the same thing. If Amazon did away with reviews completely, it wouldn’t make a jot of difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 7, 2016 at 9:54 am

      I confess I do read reviews, Ali, and I take them into account, especially for a book cover or blurb which caught my eye when I’m half way to the online checkout with it, but still not sure about whether it’s going to live up to what I want from it. I find reviews very useful, but never ever 5* reviews. I never even read them. Give me a 4* review any day for the best of them, and a reasoned 3* review for my TBR pile.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ali Isaac
        April 8, 2016 at 7:38 am

        Don’t mention the TBR… mines long enough now that if they were real books and I stacked them up, I would have my very own staircase to the moon!

        Liked by 1 person

      • April 28, 2016 at 9:26 pm

        I do read reviews too, and I do find them useful. Sure, there are books I don’t care reading reviews for, becuase I’ve already decided whether I want (or don’t want) to read them, but for many other books, I like reading reviews, both because normally I learn more about the actual story than just reading the blurb, and because I like balancing the different opinions to see whether I can form my own opinion.
        Usually it works.

        But yeah, 5 stars reviews don’t sell a book to me. I normally start reading the 1 star reviews, though I have to admit they are seldom useful. Most of them are just very personal rants about the book. I find that reading as many of the other reviews as possible usually allows me to form an opinion about whether the book is something I might want to read or not. Even some 5 star reviews are useful.

        I don’t trust 5 star reviews when an author has only few reviews and they are all 5. I always assume they come form the author’s friends. And I have to confess something, I once posted a 5 star review for a friend because she asked me to. I would have given her a 4 stars anyway, but I really didn’t like it that she asked me. Because she’s a friend asking for help, I couldn’t say no, and as I said, I did like her story (that was actually one of my favourite stories of hers and she knows it, maybe that’s why she asked), I still didn’t like posting a review which rate I’d been especially asked for – but I do suppose this happens quite often with self-pubslihed authors.

        I think that in the end it all depends on us readers. We should develope the ability to weed reviews so to single out the ones that will be useful. Being a reader in today’s word is just as hard as being a writer.

        Liked by 2 people

        • April 28, 2016 at 10:53 pm

          Great point, Sarah. There are so many of us thinking about reviews and how they’re written, I forget there must be tons of readers out there not saying anything but getting hugely frustrated with the whole scheme. Blog only knows where we’ll all be in 5 years time with the shenanigans now!

          Liked by 2 people

  4. April 7, 2016 at 10:30 am

    But the problem with anything less than 4 or 5 stars when you’re a newbie Indie author who sells little like me, is that your book has a lot less chances to be discovered because it’s relegated at the bottom of the 1000th page (thank you Amazon/Google algorithms!). When a novel has 100+ reviews, then the star ratings doesn’t matter so much, because search engines will push that book to the top of searches and recommendations.
    And let’s not start with most e-book marketing sites (BookBub I’m looking at you!) that demand a rating over 4 star to even consider you, though I don’t know if those sites are worth it or not, so maybe it’s not such a problem.
    Yes, I’m trying not to be bitter about it all lol.

    I wish star ratings disappeared completely, to leave space for written reviews only. Everyone has their own scales for ratings (the 3 star rating is the most contentious). Some are easy to please and genuinely rate most stuff 5 stars, others are stricter in their judgement and rarely reward anything over 4.

    Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that casual readers DO believe and follow the star rating system, compared to avid readers who are more meticulous in their search. I think it’s the same with movie-goers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • April 7, 2016 at 10:45 am

      I understand the conundrum, but the fact remains that 5* reviews will not get any author to the 100 or so reviews necessary to make a difference, and in the vast majority of cases, indie books are lucky to hit even 30 reviews in the 12 months after launching. The exceptions are truly exceptional. And BookBub charge so much for promotions it’s a big doubt whether it’s beneficial to any indie author, unless you have 10+ books out and are running a promotion across your entire catalogue.

      I can’t say with any authority whether or not casual readers seek out 5* reviewed books. I think it’s more likely that casual readers never buy any indie books at all, and stick to bestsellers. What I can say is that nobody is going to Batman v Superman because it has 5* reviews. They are going because of the title, and because being awful doesn’t change the fact that it’s the biggest (or only) action movie to hit cinemas this quarter.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. April 7, 2016 at 11:17 am

    I give this post 2 stars, nice job.

    Liked by 2 people

    • April 7, 2016 at 11:28 am

      Excellent. Thank you. Now to sit back and wait for the flood of contention-driven traffic…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. April 7, 2016 at 11:40 am

    Reblogged this on Imelda Conway-Duffy.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. April 7, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    I think you’re absolutely right, Tara. Five star reviews can make you feel good, but I don’t think they do much to sell books (certainly not in my case, anyway!). Either your book strikes a chord with the reading public, or it doesn’t. Sometimes it takes a while for that to happen, and sometimes it never does. I’ve always maintained that the only driver to book sales that matters is word of mouth. I never go trolling for books by looking at reviews. I check out books that people are talking about. I flip open to random pages and read a few lines. That’s all I need to tell me if the writing is good and if the writer’s voice speaks to me. The gushing reviews on the back cover have no bearing on my decision.

    Liked by 2 people

    • April 7, 2016 at 3:22 pm

      It’s all fine on paper, Jim, if you pardon the pun, but the problem isn’t engaging readers, it’s getting readers. And there’s so much market noise out there it’s become a gargantuan battle to get your book even into someone’s eye line, let alone their hand. I don’t know what the solution is. There may not even be a solution, but bogus 5* reviews have certainly become part of the problem.

      Liked by 2 people

      • April 7, 2016 at 4:18 pm

        Again, you’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head. The market noise has become deafening. In my mind, I envision it as a sea of people, all of them writers, all of them jumping up and down, waving their arms, and shouting, “Me! Me! Look at me! Look at my book!”

        Out there in that sea of people there are a few writers who have truly produced a fine book, a great story, even a work of art. But how do you pick them out of the crowd? And if you’re one of those gesticulating writers, how do you stand out? How do you get your book into someone’s eye line? We’re all told over and over again that you have to build a platform. You have to blog, have a Facebook page, a Twitter account. You have to constantly put out posts and tweets and so on and so forth.

        But there are already too many great blogs out there (yours being one of them), so this whole platform thing just becomes another way of joining that shouting crowd, and your voice is lost in the noise.

        For my own part, I have decided to divorce myself from the crowd. I’ve never been one to join the masses (sometimes to my detriment — but that’s another story). So, yes, I have a blog, but I don’t feel compelled to constantly post. I write on things that interest me, and only when I feel like it. Same with my Facebook page. I rarely “tweet.” (Honestly, I just don’t see the point.) I’ve decided to spend more of my time writing new books instead of hawking the ones I’ve already written. Maybe that’s a bad idea, but the way I look at it, when it’s all said and done, at least I’ll have a body of work instead of a pile of pointless, forced tweets and posts.

        Maybe someday I’ll get “discovered,” and maybe I won’t. I guess I’ve become a little fatalistic about it. If it’s destined to happen, it’ll happen. In the meantime, I get to do what I love: write books.

        Liked by 2 people

        • April 7, 2016 at 5:06 pm

          From what I can see, advice to authors is outdated long before it spreads. This is what contributed to the destruction of Twitter and the pointlessness of most book marketing endeavours. The problem as I see it is not the marketing tools themselves: it’s that they’re being used by people who may have plenty of writing talent, but none whatsoever for marketing. Sorry to be blunt, but there’s nothing worse. And it’s not just indie authors: traditionally published authors are having exactly the same problems.

          Besides, blog readers can spot a mile off if someone is only blogging to sell something. And although some traffic is polite enough to stop by, it’s still not going to win you any buyers. Unless people have something they enjoy blogging about on a standalone basis, be that writing, fashion, book marketing or cheese-making, it’s a joyless experience for everyone.

          Actually, I think that’s part of the reason fashion and beauty bloggers are so successful. It’s because it’s patently obvious that their love for their subject matter goes far beyond the realm of blogging. (And also because they have image-heavy posts which can be zipped through in seconds.)


  8. April 7, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Well Tara you are spot on again but my first ever review was a one star and I still smart from that. He only read 7% and felt qualified to comment! Ahh yaboo sucks. As ever the middle ground is the truth. Yours ever Steve

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 7, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      Steve, as an avid reader of 1* reviews, I would have noted the 7% figure and discounted the review. But the most unintentionally hilarious reviews always hang out at either end of the scale. The middle is much harder to ignore, which is what I hope you eventually did with your 7 percenter.


  9. April 7, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    You know I SO agree with you on this topic of reviews and have written a few screeds on it myself. The whole exercise has become so corrupt and pointless it makes my head spin. When I see an indie author work themselves into pretzels getting enough books “sold” in a free/giveaway round to get some kind of (very temporary) high ranking on Amazon, then chortle about being (and actually then branding their book as such) an “Amazon bestseller,” I know we’ve lost our soul in this slog.

    But still, here’s another thought (or two): I was writing a review on Amazon just the other day for a book I’d read and thoroughly enjoyed, remarkably so, since I’m a picky reader. I looked at the star rating descriptions and they go like this: 1 star = “I hate it.” 2 stars = “I don’t like it.” 3 stars = “It’s OK.” 4 stars = “I like it.” And 5 stars = “I love it.”

    I loved the book… I really did. It wasn’t the best book I’d ever read, it wasn’t bound for “classic” status; but it fully met all the criterion for an excellent, page-turning, well-developed book and so I awarded it an “I loved it.” Cuz I did.

    So there’s the conundrum, at least at Amazon; NOT awarding an “I loved it!” because you don’t want to seem overly generous or because the author already has so many of those and, dammit, they need some lower-star reviews to look more bona fide and authentic, is as silly as piling the 5-stars onto a book that sucks just because an indie writer you know and like happened to write it.

    I think the star assignation has — or should have — far less weight than what the reviewer actually has to SAY about the book/movie. If the review that follows a 5-star says something like, “Good stuff. Plot held my attention. The hero was HOT!,” then odds are good I’m going to find that star rating dubious. But if that 5-star is followed by a thoughtful, specific write-up of why, exactly, that reviewer “loved” the book/movie, then I’ll buy that any day.

    I know I said this before, but sometimes a thing — book, movie, song, etc. — really is so good, so far above the rest that it absolutely deserves the stars it gets, so it’s important, too, for people not to get all pendulum-swingy the other way and dismiss something just because it’s been “too highly” rated.

    Ya don’t want to throw the Batman out with the bath water (I didn’t see the movie so it may very well suck just as much as everyone’s saying…it probably does…I generally find comic book movies yawn-worthy so I’m no one to judge, so your thesis is likely right on… your theses usually are anyway… OK, I’ll just shut up now!).


    Liked by 2 people

    • April 7, 2016 at 4:52 pm

      I suppose the scales will never suit everybody’s personal feelings, Lorraine – I would never award 5 stars to anything less than a book I couldn’t put down and cannot wait to re-read – but it’s a moot point when people don’t follow any scale at all by writing bogus reviews. But as you say, only a reasoned back-up of the stars can prove whether they were warranted (or not).

      The other thing of course is the meaningless nowadays of loving anything. I love cheese (because I’m hungry). I love that comedian (I’ve never met him but he made me laugh that one time). I love designer clothes (I don’t have any). Or I love that actor in that particular movie (to be fair this is much closer to the truth if he appeared in my fantasies 4 times last week and I have 27 pictures of him on my wall… and 3 in my wallet).


      • April 7, 2016 at 5:19 pm

        Well, the only way around the “love” thing is, as another commenter suggested, removal of the star rating all together. Which I agree with.

        I don’t necessarily agree that “love” as a response has become meaningless — if we’re being asked to choose between “like” and “love” and we more than “liked,” we’re sorta stuck with “love” — but I do think the whole system has been manipulated to the point of being little more than currency for too many, making honest response a rarer thing. And that’s where it all gets hinky.

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 7, 2016 at 5:54 pm

          I suppose it’s all down to this awful scale of Like we’re stuck with now. As opposed to rating the actual books. I’d be much happier with “ok” “good” and “really good” or even “bloody brilliant”. The whole ‘like’ thing makes me feel like I’m a 5 year old who is constantly being asked whether things are my favourite or not.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. April 7, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Wonderful post, Tara. You had me at “droning.” Really superb!! Best post of hour!!! An instant classic!!!!! Now, do you think I could maybe trouble you for a 5 star review?

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 7, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      G’way, you oul’ charmer. You’ve ten minutes to stop that. I’m all out of 5* reviews, but I could stretch to a pun.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. April 7, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    A friend once wrote a review of one of my novels, thinking to do me a favor. It was over-the-top purple-saccharine (read damaging in it’s praise) She meant well. Any day now I might remove the paper bag from my head.

    That said, do Kirkus reviews sway you a little?

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 7, 2016 at 11:16 pm

      Oh yes oh yes. Kirkus reviews are still the holy grail, no? A starred review is hard won, but easily sold. Anyone who gets one of them should blow their own trumpets to high heaven.


  12. April 7, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Sparling! You had me at “selling panty liners at a Justin Bieber concert.” ***** for that at least. I used to have the star rating thing turned on on the blog but some tosser kept giving me * reviews. I couldn’t stand it. Now people have to actually write something. Lots do, as you know. Thanks for giving me my regular laugh. You’re a star!

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 7, 2016 at 11:19 pm

      Everyone’s a critic, eh Conor? Thankfully those of us who are of a feather can support each other. Some people don’t find me funny at all. Mind you, they don’t read the blog either, so I suppose it’s a kind of lose-lose situation. When I am President of the World and you are my Censorship Dictator, we’re going to fix everything.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Ruth
    April 7, 2016 at 10:53 pm

    Really interesting! I’d never thought about it that way, but I think you’re probably right.

    Do you think, though, that there could an exception for books/movies where the 5 star review has a “harrowing” clause? As in, when they say “this entertainment piece will change your life BUT the extremely painful depiction of [insert misery-lit theme here] makes it a tough one to get through.” I always find myself compelled to watch those – maybe I take it as a challenge!

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 7, 2016 at 11:27 pm

      I’m not sure, Ruth. I think it depends on how it’s written. Most of them seem overly melodramatic and therefore a bit disingenous to me. I think sincerity easily shines through, though. It doesn’t seem to try so hard, somehow!


  14. April 8, 2016 at 7:57 am


    Liked by 1 person

  15. April 8, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    Unfortunately, review averages are key to getting a book accepted in some promotional sites, not just bookbub, so there is a driver to have at least an average above 4 stars. That said, when I’m picking out a book I’m much more likely to look at the average rating in relation to the number of reviews. Ten 5-star reviews mean little except that “friends and family” liked the book. Sixty reviews with a 4-star rating is probably a more accurate reflection of the read. And those 5-star reviews… they do feel pretty good. You’ll see.

    Liked by 2 people

    • April 8, 2016 at 5:08 pm

      It all seems kind of broken, doesn’t it? We only need 5* reviews to promote, and most people are inherently cynical about promotion anyway… the big problem is still getting the volume of reviews in. Fortunately, I’m always here to give out about what we can’t fix. I know everyone loves that.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. miladyronel
    April 9, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Enlightening and entertaining. A few months back I bought a book from an unknown writer – the cover was gorgeous, the blurb fantastic, the first chapter engaging and the two pages of four and five star reviews didn’t alarm me. Then I got to chapter three and wanted to send fire-rain to the publishers, reviewers and especially the writer. It was like everything above was written apart from the actual novel. And it’s part of a trilogy. A published trilogy. I should have gone to Goodreads first to read reviews by real readers instead of going on the first chapter and blurb… Though reviews on Goodreads might be nasty and sarcastic at times, at least it’s honest. I’ll take your advice about five star reviews and run the other way 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 9, 2016 at 10:16 pm

      It’s a tough one to see through, isn’t it? Seems like Amazon is flooded with fake 5 star reviews, but I’ve seen a lot of malicious-looking reviews on Goodreads at the other end of the scale, where some sort of vendetta is being waged against certain authors. And who has the time to check both and get the average? Not even me, and I’m a notorious time-waster…

      Liked by 1 person

      • miladyronel
        April 10, 2016 at 6:30 am

        I checked out the trailer for Batman v Superman – the only thing that might save it is Jeremy Irons playing Alfred. Maybe…

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 10, 2016 at 1:17 pm

          It’s a lot of weight for one man to carry on his shoulders. I suppose poor Jeremy has bills to pay like everyone else 😉

          Liked by 2 people

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