Amazon Reviews: Is Four Stars the New Five Stars?
My apologies to those logging on expecting a post on Amazon’s pricing and royalty structure for Kindle Direct Publishing; that will have to wait. And it’s my blog. So there.
Reviews are necessary for giving an unbiased critique of your book, to help inform readers what they might find inside and its quality. They’re a necessary filtering system, pushing well-received books up rankings and exposing them to more customers and forcing less well-received books down the rankings.
Every restaurant owner knows that for every one person that points out the fly in their salad or the suspect smudge on their cutlery, there are nine that don’t. It’s the same with the converse of this, in regards to compliments for the chef: one gives a cheesy grin and says their soufflé was tiptop, nine think about it, twiddling their thumbs as the waiter collects the plate. This is true for book reviews, too, though for about every 100 reads a book receives a review. They’re hard to come by. Especially five-star reviews.
Now, Amazon is full of five-star reviews, praising almost every book. Amazon, if they can provide substantial evidence to prove that the author knows the reviewer, will delete the review; but many slip the net. If I had a pound for every book I’d seen with a decent number of five-star reviews that was terrible when I looked inside, I wouldn’t be writing this now; I’d be holidaying in Barbados, thinking how wonderful it would be to go home to my luxury condo. Ok, maybe not that many, but you get the picture.
When I published my book The Goldfish and the Earthquake, I decided I wouldn’t be coercing my friends and family into writing rave reviews for my book. I told them about my book, of course, and some of my work colleagues will be writing reviews—at least I hope, they’re proving to be slow readers.
Thanks to my obsessive Twitter use and my amazing followers, reviews are coming in. And I, as naive as the day is long, expected these acquaintances to write rave reviews: “Best read ever!”; “Makes Chaucer seem like a dime-store hood”; “Where has this author been all my life?” But it hasn’t happened that way. Surely our conversation about the subtleties of preparing mac and cheese swayed them into giving my book five stars? No.
Is this a necessarily bad thing? I don’t think so. I have four four-star reviews at the time of writing and one three-star review. (I’ll get to the latter in good time.) When I finished my book, had read it for the first time, in my head I gave it four stars. It starts slowly, much quicker than the first draft did, but still, it doesn’t set off at hundred miles an hour. But it gets good, and there are some points of drama and humour in the beginning to get the reader over the hump. After the slow-ish beginning, it sets off like a rocket, and keeps the reader guessing, all along to the “exciting and surprising conclusion”. The reviews are well written, and, per the title, are warts-and-all. Here’s one:
My book isn’t the next big thing. It’s an exciting and dramatic read about a teenager's search for happiness after the death of his mother, and about friendship, especially when compared to the relationships you have to form, in this instance, George’s with his narcissistic, sociopathic younger half-brother. It is a four-star book. And, hopefully when people read its reviews, they will see that I haven’t coerced anyone into writing glowing reviews, and they will be well informed before purchasing it.
People aren’t stupid. I wasn’t stupid enough - even before I’d thought long and hard about Amazon’s review system - to buy a disposable razorblade sharpener, despite or, most probably, because of its rave reviews.
I’m not saying don’t try and go out there and get five-star reviews. They’re great. I’m sure at some point someone will read my book and give it five stars. Just go out there and get them organically. Prospective readers are looking for fakes.
Just for giggles, here’s the three-star review. I was quite friendly with this person on Twitter before she wrote it, and was diplomatic when critiquing some writing she’d sent me. Three-stars isn’t that bad, right? People have thousands upon thousands of books from which to choose, so aren’t inclined to dedicate three or four hours to a so-so book. Add this to its size on the screen compared to the others and my fledgling book ranking, which plummeted because of it, and I have a near-on disaster - but only until I receive more reviews. Anyway, I thanked her for it. Here it is.
I know, ouch! I said it was going to be warts-and-all. To be fair to her, she did encourage people to “find out for themselves” about my woolly characters and over-subtle style. That’s okay; I enjoy irony.
When you publish your next book or your first, think twice about putting someone up to writing an exaggerated review when you know deep down that it isn't what you say it is. You’ll only make people sceptical, or you could dupe someone into buying your book, only for them to find out that your book isn't the literary genius a review had told them it was and find yourself on the end of a scathing one-star review.
You book probably isn't as good as you think it is. (Bear in mind the readership for this blog is fledgling indie authors.) But it’s probably a fun read with a few flaws, which is an achievement. Your reviews should reflect this.
I’ll leave you with this partial review:
Thanks for reading. As always, leave comments below. And if you like, check out my book, and write a review … but only if you want to. However many stars you want to give it is fine.
The Goldfish and the Earthquake is available now on Kindle at Amazon: