6:33 AM

The 5 star controversy

I've become a bit of a reviewer. They're not super in depth descriptions of what the story is about but more my personal feelings on how I enjoyed the book or what I didn't like about it. I try to always be polite and I know that criticism  goes best between compliments.  I do these reviews for two reasons:

1) To let others know how I felt about the book and possibly turn them onto it or warn them to stay away (although to be fair, that's rarely my call)


2) To give the author some feedback on where I think they shine or could use a little more polish.

I feel like I'm doing both the reader and writer a service. That's the way it should be. That's the logic behind reviews in the first place.

Therefore, when I hear things like people paying $5 bucks for a 5 star review or asking friends and relatives and fellow writers to choke the system with phony 5 star reviews it makes me kind of lose my shit.

I get it. You are proud of your work and you want to spread the word so others will come read it and bask in its glory. That's all fine and dandy, except I don't know about everyone else, but I am QUITE stingy with my 5 star ratings. A book really has to be well written and emotionally impacting (to me personally) in order for  it to get  5 stars. I don't even rate my own work  5 stars people. That's not to say I don't love my stuff and I haven't worked hard on it, I do and I have, BUT I know there are things out there that just blow my writing away and that's why I'm honest with myself and my readers with my ratings.

This buying stars and backwards comradery of "I'll get all my followers to rate your book 5 stars, even if they haven't read it or didn't like it if you'll do the same for mine" is utter bullshit.

You've got money to spend on buying stars? Use it on a good editor to make a better product instead.  You want to bring traffic to your book and get reviews? Find book bloggers and hold contests to give out ARCs and ask for honest feedback in their responses and ratings.

People who do this kind of thing are giving the indie/self published a bad name. It's already a struggle for those of us not going the traditional publication route and when a reader comes along and sees a book has fifty 5 star reviews they think "Hey! This should be good!" Then they read it and (often) find that the book was nowhere near 5 star quality. This post, by a a fellow "indie" author goes into detail about how these things going on makes him not want to be associated with the indie crowd. I understand his frustration on how a few are making it bad for the rest of us. (Be sure to take time to read the comments on that post!)

Not only is it bad to dupe your audience, but you're not helping yourself as a writer and you're certainly not going to gain any repeat business. There is one specific book out there (which is discussed in one of the blog links above) where much of this occurred. I found a mere smattering of unhappy reviews in an overwhelming sea of 5 stars.  Those few 1 and 2 star reviewers were as baffled as I was "did we read the same book as all these other people?" I almost gave the book 1 star. 1 STAR! That's a rating I normally  reserved for a bunch of monkeys who type gobbledegook. I don't care if that author wins a Newbery award , I'll never buy another of her books. 

There are others out there who are trying to cheat the rating system in other ways. Recently, a friend of mine noticed a particular Goodreads member was going around and rating immense amounts of paranormal novels. 3,500 novels to be exact. Doesn't sound too bad, right? Except that she was rating them all with 1 star. Every.Single.One. She only had two friends on Goodreads. One of them was a paranormal author, whom I'm sure got her only good review.  Thankfully, several people brought it to the attention of the site staff and the account was killed. Whether or not they can undo all the reviews she gave, I don't know, but seriously lady? Did you really need to knock down the confidence of 3,500 people by rating them a one? Not cool. Bad karma is coming for you.

As discussed before, it really just comes down to being honest folks. Be honest about what you like and dislike. Be honest about the quality of the work. Be honest with yourself. You'll be happier in the long run and if you're a writer,  think of how much better you'll feel when you get those good reviews knowing you actually earned them rather than bought or bartered for them. Maybe those lower starred reviews will help you grow as a writer and you'll produce something that is 5 star worthy. If I see it, if it moves me, if it's worthy, I'll give you that coveted quintuplet rating. You'll have earned it.


Melissa said...

I don't know. I think readers are really savvy to this sort of thing. When I look at reviews, I'm more apt to pay attention to the 1, 2, and 3-star ratings more than the 4 and 5 (not that I don't want to read the shining stars, too).

Most of the books I rate get 3 or 4 stars. I know some writers balk at 3-star ratings, but I'll stand by my assertion that a 3 is not bad. Maybe the story didn't blow you away, but you liked it enough that you wanted to see it through to the ending. If a reader makes it through one of my books and rates it 3 stars, I consider that success.

PS - I *do* rate my own books 5 stars. Yes, there are other books out there that put mine to shame, but I'm sure those authors feel the same way when they compare *their* books to others. I want the world to know that I'm confident I told that particular character's story to the best of my ability.

Patricia Lynne said...

Stuff like this is annoying and irritating. It also makes me wonder. What exactly is the author thinking? Does the author believe the 5 star review will get sales? Doesn't author care they are duping people? Is author deluded?

Honestly, I couldn't do that, not without feeling guilty. I want my reviews to be positive and if that means a few one star reviews, fine. I know not everyone will like my book (MB! Someone bought it and told me it made them cry! YAY!) I just hope that my writing is good enough to keep most reviews at 3 or higher.

Melissa, I agree w/ you on 3 stars. It can mean the reader just enjoyed the story instead of loved/worshiped/drooled over.

MBee said...

I'm cool with a 3 star review as well.

And I certainly have no issues with authors giving themselves 5 star reviews. That's just my opinion on my own stuff.

I saw that Patty! Squee!

Anonymous said...

I am so excited someone is FINALLY talking about this! I see this ALL the time and have been afraid to mention my disgust at these methods because I seemed to be the only one, until now, who has a problem with this.

For the past two years I've belonged to a large writer's group. At least once a week one of the members requests everyone either give them a 5 star review on Amazon, vote for their submission in a contest, or purchase their free e-book so it moves up in the Amazon rankings and makes them look better--so readers will buy their backlist.

So if it's all about how many friends you have that are willing to rate your work as good, even if it sucks, what's the point of the ranking system?

As a writer I want my 'readers' not my friends to rate my books. If it's a good book, it will get good ratings. If it's a bad book, then it won't.

Why cheat and lie to get ahead?

I'm a writer. I need to write--whether I sell 10,000 books or only 2--I will write no matter what. And if I get a 5 star ranking it will be because I DESERVED it. There's a deep satisfaction in that knowledge.

MBee said...

I'm definitely not the only one talking about and obviously I feel it's something that needs to be discussed.

While I don't think it's wrong to ask people to purchase the book (friends, relatives whomever) but ask them to leave honest reviews and ratings. Not the "oh..I know them and I can't be mean give them a 2 or 3...I don't want them to be mad at me!"

But yeah, specifically asking folks to give the 5? Just wrong.

Tamara Epps said...

I think this is a totally valid post. While I haven't got anything published (yet), I do read, rate and review a lot of books. But I always put my total honest opinion in. I would feel like I am doing other readers and the writer a disservice by not rating honestly, not to mention it would a complete blemish on me.

bibliofreak said...

Cool post - I totally agree with this. I only started reviewing a few month back, but even before then I lost faith in many online review sites for this very fact.

Sadly, I'm not sure most readers are savvy to this yet. Scrolling down the review of a book you've never heard of and finding that everyone reviewer absolutely loved it should be suspicious but it still sucks people in.

Well done for speaking out about this, and trying to retain some respect for the indie publishing industry.