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You Think 5-Star Reviews Are So Great? Think Again

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Article by Tara Sparling © 17 February 2018.
Posted in Guest Blogs ().

Book reviews have never been more important. If books are to become bestsellers, good reviews are essential. We live in an age when even reviews themselves are reviewed, by people who, under the guise of agreeing or disagreeing with them, can now actually be passive aggressive towards reviewers, as well as authors.

(This article is a case in point. Nobody can say that the internet isn’t an equal-opportunities insulter.)

However, 5-star book reviews, especially when anonymous, are often about as trustworthy as a 4-time Winner of the Tangerine Liar of the Year Contest; as useful as a mercury oven mitt, and as precious as rain in February.

For these reasons:

  1. They Are Often ROARING Fakes

If we’re looking at something which achieved a top sales ranking of around 879,403rd in the book’s specific genre, well, please. It’s statistically more probable that the 5 stars were awarded by the author, or his Mammy.

This of course applies to friends of the author, too. They may very well mean it, but how often are 5 stars awarded on the basis of pure merit, rather than just being a case of “Holy Sheet! My friend wrote a book! That’s soooo cool! Here, have 5 stars for that alone!”

You can also quite easily spot the forced review, where the author gets a friend to dish out a minimum of 5 stars (by begging, pleading and using emotional blackmail over that incident involving the underpants and the microphone), through the strained prose employed within its quivering sentences. Just underneath, if you listen very, very carefully, you will hear a teeny, tiny voice squeaking “Help! I’ll be killed if I tell you what I really think!”

  1. Seriously. 5 Stars?? Seriously??

You’re certain you want to award 5 stars to this? The highest accolade of them all? This is truly one of the best books you’ve ever read? It’s better than the last 20 books you read and the 20 you read before that?

No it isn’t. Stop 5-starring like it’s the 1980s. Give it the solid and absolutely fine 3 it deserves.

  1. Who Said 4 Stars Wasn’t Enough?

5-star reviews are grand for truly exceptional books – obviously I can’t just dismiss them entirely (even for comic purposes). And it’s all very well to award 5 stars to a deserving book which has been edited, polished and painfully abraded by an angle-grinder.

But let’s be sensible about it. 4 stars should be thumbs up enough to the vast majority of decent fiction. And much as we all love the gloriously Democratic State of Independent Publishing, we’re not there yet, folks. Especially the unedited stuff.

As a reader, looking for a book, I always feel more comfortable with 4-star reviews, especially if they have just a tiny bit of negative comment in them, because they feel both more informative and more informed.

  1. They Rarely Justify Themselves

A so-called ‘negative’ review (although I disagree with that label for anything above a 2-star review) will generally go out of its way to tell you why stars have been docked. It will do its best to explain why the reviewer couldn’t award it any higher.

However, you don’t often see 5-star reviews which give you any indication as to why the book was so particularly stupendous, which makes me think that it’s been awarded by someone who hands out 5 stars like medals at a school sports day. (And the top prize of 5 stars goes to… every book I finished reading this year! Well done for trying!)

  1. There Is No Such Thing As Being Nice On The Internet. Just Be Fair.

I know people who won’t award any less than 5 stars because they don’t want to discourage, or seem unkind, let alone harsh. I know others who will award 5 stars just because there are a number of obviously fake 1-star reviews which are unfairly bringing the average down.

But it’s up to every individual reviewer to be balanced. Just because an author is emerging, or the book is new, or you met them, or it’s Wednesday, doesn’t mean that anything less than 5 stars is a blow.

Authors should have thicker skin than that, and if they don’t, then they should open up a B&B and go on Tripadvisor, and see how they like the mudslinging there.

  1. The Number of 5-Star Reviews Should Not Equal the Total Number Of Reviews

One 5-star review is fine. But, if there are only 7 reviews in total, and all of them are all 5 stars, I don’t believe a single one of them. So I disregard the lot and vow never to read the book instead. Which rather defeats the purpose.

  1. Because The Internet

All online criticism and reviewing is meaningless when it’s written by someone you don’t know or trust. So if 5 stars are constantly being handed out willy-nilly, or a reviewer only has 2 reviews to their name (1 of which was possibly written only to lend back-up credibility to the original review written for a bessie mate’s foray into erotic fiction), or starry abundance is never backed up with any actual reasons, you can just take your 5 stars and stick them on the nearest passer-by, for managing to get out of bed this morning.

In the meantime, please keep the 5-star reviews to a minimum. And while you’re steadfastly refusing to do that, I myself will continue to buy books as I always do – on the basis of a 3- or 4-star review, or not at all.


Follow Tara online, on Twitter and on Facebook.

Tara Sparling writes fiction and satire. Her blog www.tarasparlingwrites.com looks at book humour, bestselling book trends, the realities of traditional and self-publishing, writing follies, book marketing, author success stories and spectacular failures. She also pokes a lot of fun at character and genre stereotypes. She can be found lurking @TaraSparling on Twitter.

2 comments so far

  • It would be far too easy–and likely ineffective– to give this article five stars. But come now, it’s really, really good! And as much as I hate to say it (since those ***** reviews I have on the Zon are pretty close to the only thing I have going for me) I have to agree. Four stars should be strong, five left for life-changing. Getting anyone to accept that a three is still good (especially the author) might be a bridge too far. So now we’re into the half-star territory and I fully understand you didn’t want to go THERE…

    Four stars!

  • As a fan of some of the 5* reviews I have, I’d like you to make an exception for the LONG 5* review that goes on in significant detail about WHY the rating is being bestowed on something written by a mere mortal. Usually those also mention a few quibbles, just to keep the author off balance.

    Short, anonymous reviews are useless, regardless of their rating. And reviews which use the opinion of the reviewer, unbolstered by facts (examples from the work will do nicely here), are only proof that reviews are subjective, something we already knew.

    But the long review that catches a nuance, and blares it out for the reading public, saying what the author would never dare say, that is a gem. Those are the reviewers I write to in trepidation, asking if I might quote them. With attribution, of course.

    If you don’t have some literate fans warmly praising what took years to get exactly right, you have not yet made it.

    And an older gentleman in Saskatchewan actually wrote, ‘[PC] has helped me to look inside myself and see many things I need to see and deal with’
    and
    ‘You did not cause any pain.
    You gave me increased awareness of myself.
    For that I am eternally thankful.’

    Doesn’t get much better than that.

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