I’m glad that my books have received a lot of five-star reviews on Amazon. But I’m starting to wonder if four-star reviews might actually be better.
How is this possible? Given what I’ve heard on some listserves, people are starting to be suspicious of five-star reviews. The idea is that if a potential buyer sees a lot of five-star reviews, they’ll just assume those reviews are by the author’s family and friends and therefore biased. And sometimes that’s true.
Apparently it’s also possible to buy five-star reviews for as little as $5 from people who’ve never read your book. It’s questionable how well those work, though, if they don’t contain any real content. Personally, I think I can judge whether a review is biased or not based on the content of the review, though that does take time. In general if I’m browsing for new books on Amazon, I’ll look for those that have at least 15 reviews so that any fake or biased reviews are somewhat outweighed by unbiased ones.
Sure, those could all be friends and family reviews – but speaking as an author, it’s really hard to get people to review your books, even family and friends, even assuming your family and friends have actually read your books (often not the case). There’s just that overhead of going to Amazon, signing into your account, getting to the review page... and then coming up with something to say. People are intimidated by this. Even other writers are intimidated by this.
When someone I know tells me they liked one of my books, I try to politely say, “Reviews are always appreciated, of course!” I emphasize that I do not expect a five-star review or a in-depth analysis. An honest review is preferred. You can briefly mention something you liked – and it’s fine to also mention something that didn’t work for you. After all, reviews work best when they let the reader know whether or not they would really like the book. “This is the greatest book ever!” doesn’t really help, as that’s a matter of opinion that obviously won’t be true for every reader. But commenting that the book had too much sex/violence/raunchy humor/cute animals for your taste, or not enough, helps a potential reader make her own decision based on her own tastes.
I’ve heard of authors getting horribly upset over three-star reviews. In my opinion, three stars isn’t bad at all, especially if the review mentions some positives and negatives. That helps me make my own decision. If the reviewer mentions a lot of typos, I know that would bother me, so I’ll skip the book. But some people don’t care, so they may buy the book if the story sounds interesting.
And again, all opinions on literary quality are personal. We don’t all like the same thing. If someone gives a book 3 stars because “I was hoping for more of a mystery but the romantic elements were stronger,” that’s a great review in terms of letting the reader know what to expect.
When I’m browsing new authors, I’ll particularly look at the bad reviews. They won’t necessarily keep me from trying the book, but I want to know what bothered other people. Than I can make my own decision.
Knowing how valuable reviews are to authors, I’m trying to do more on both Amazon and Good Reads. (And it is hard to find the time.) I won’t trash a book, but I will give a review as low as three stars, trying to point out what worked and didn’t for me. (If I’d give a book lower than three stars, I probably quit after the first chapter or two so I won’t review it.)
What do you think? Are we seeing star inflation in the same way some schools complain about grade inflation? Is there a backlash against five stars? Do you even read reviews, and if so, how do they influence your buying decisions? If you review books, are you afraid to give a bad review?
The truth behind the reviews? Rattledhas 19 Amazon reviews, many of them from people I don't know, averaging over four stars. Whispers in the Darkwhich I consider to be a stronger book, has seven reviews, six of them five-star reviews from people I know.