Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Three, Four, Five Stars a Liar?

Something hasn't been sitting well with this Writer Chick and I would like to discuss with you, my wonderful friends and followers. That subject is:


(dun dun DUNNNNN)

I've been reading a lot lately, particularly books by indie and self-published authors. So far, I've been quite impressed. However, there are times when I am not. You can't please everyone all the time, right? But although I have received a 1 star review (ouch), I've never left one and I probably wouldn't leave one on books by authors I web-know. So here's the thing: I've checked out several debut authors' self-published books and found an insane amount of 5 Star reviews. I look through them and realize that more than half of the reviewers are also indie/self-pubbed authors. Okay, a little strange but no huge deal. 

Then, I look at the 1 Star reviews.

Most of these unfavorable reviews are not malicious; they simply state that they did not like the book and the reasons why: shoddy character development, unrealistic plot, clunky prose, etc, which are all typical mistakes made by first-time authors. (I call attention to my own 1 Star review for my first novel, "Maladrid"). These are things you learn through time, experience, and critique.

However, when you click on the "comments" below the negative reviews, there are a barrage of responses from the same 5 star-giving authors accusing the negative reviewer of "attacking" the author or trying to "bring down the rating on purpose". Just like a high-star review lays out what the reader liked about the book, shouldn't a low-star review talk about what they didn't like?!

It really makes me wonder if we, as authors and reviewers, are doing a disservice to our readers by perhaps not being as honest as we could be. Plus, I don't care if the author is your best friend, an author should never EVER insult a reader because they had a differing opinion. Personally, I think Amazon should ditch that "comments" section. 

But I won't ditch mine. Feel free to let me know what you think. Thanks for the time, droogies!


  1. A review, and a comment on a review, should always be honest. I did, once, leave a comment on a poor review of a book written by someone I know online, but I was still honest. I didn't object to the review given, or the star rating, I objected to the fact the reviewer completely revealed the plot and ruined the story for anyone else who wanted to read it. No matter what ratingyou give, it's common courtesy not to spoil the story for anyone reading your review for guidance on whether to read the book.

    Dishonest reviews are a disservice to the industry as a whole.

  2. It's a sticky situation, isn't it?

    A while back I wrote a similar post, only it was about Netflix movie reviews. The idea is the same though. I questioned the 1-star/5-star conundrum in which *every single movie* a person reviewed was either "the best movie they had ever seen," or "the worst movie they had ever seen!"

    I suggested the the majority of reviews should really be somewhere in the 2-4 star range, reserving 5 stars for only when a movie (or in this case a novel) truly stuck out as one of the year's best. (Or 1 star only when it is truly one of the year's worst).

    If you go to the Amazon forums, you'll find similar discussions by readers who distrust reviews for this very reason: they *know* indie writers have other writer friends or friends and family leaving 5-star reviews. They aren't bothered by that so much as (what you mentioned) when these same reviewers (or god forbid, the author) comments on anything less than a 5-star.

    This is becoming too long for a comment, so I shall stop! ;-)

  3. Thank you for your insightful responses! I agree with both of you. It's sad that readers are inclined to be distrustful of 5 star reviews, especially when they're legitimate, but I'll admit that as a reader, I'm extremely wary of self-published first time novels with a 5-star majority. Yes, there are some genius first-time writers out there, I'm sure, but....maybe I should leave it at that. ;)

  4. Ha, it's funny because I totally agree, *and* I happen to be one of those first timers (first time to kindle publishing anyway) with all five star reviews (so far. I'm sure it'll change soon).

    As a reader, I am more likely to base my decisions to read on the synopsis and sample than I am on reviews. This isn't because I distrust all reviews, rather, I've learned that I'm more likely to enjoy things others don't... I like weird shit, in other words. ;-)

  5. I think 1-star reviews serve a purpose, when done honestly. I've given them, and stated my reasons (usually they involve a completely unredeemably badly-written book, and the fact that one cannot actually leave a "zero-star" review), and I like to take a cue from Roger Ebert when it comes to my ratings. He will mercilessly savage a "no-star" movie, but he also does this sparingly. Most movies (and books) that are bad can still have saving graces; maybe the characters were well drawn, even if the plot sucked, for instance. But if you get a no-star review from Ebert, you have done something really, really bad. Something UNFORGIVEABLE. Your characters are racists and misogynists, on top of being psycho ax murderers--that kind of thing. (If you read through Ebert's no-star reviews, you'll see what I mean.)

    The point is that there are some things we can forgive, as readers, and other things we really can't--and shouldn't. So the 1-star review serves its purpose. I certainly prefer to give good ratings to books that deserve them, but if a book is really bad, I would rather say so and warn other potential readers about the negative experience they will likely have, based on my own perspective.

  6. I agree we are all entitled NOT to like a book.
    Not everyone is going to give a fair and unbiased opinion.
    When I first published my stuff, my sister found a review
    of one of my books she thought was rude and harsh. She looked at
    the reviewers other reviews and found she had MANY MANY nasty responses to
    the books she read. I think she was having fun. And she was BRUTAL. Well-
    we put ourselves out there--it is gonna happen sooner or later--I prefer later--MUCH later...:P