Don’t Rate My Book Five Stars
Authors frequently email me with offers of free PDFs of their books in exchange for five-star reviews on Amazon.
There’s nothing wrong with a simple review request, don’t get me wrong. I’m guilty of them just as much as the next poor, desperate writer. However, what always stops me in my tracks and gets me laughing is when authors specify their expectations of me. They don’t just want me to review their book. They want me to rate it five stars, too. Which means they don’t really give a shit about the review itself, they only want to bump up their Amazon rating. It seems reviews have become secondary to author rankings. Book reviews don’t mean a goddamn thing anymore. The only thing that’s important is how many stars a reviewer gives you.
So yeah, when an author asks me to leave their book a five-star review, I tend to ignore them. If you ever see me asking for the same, immediately destroy my body, because I’ve been replaced. Replaced by what, I don’t know. I don’t want to know. The star rating system is a cruel and unforgiving bastard. Nobody likes it, but we all embrace it like an evil king executing peasants left and right. If you dare to question it, perhaps it will strike you next. The five-star system is not going away any time soon, and the more writers beg reviewers to leave them five stars, the worse it will probably become. It is a system that is quickly destroying the value of a legitimate critique.
Besides, you don’t actually want somebody to rate your book five stars. Sure, it sounds great, like something to brag about to your mother or local Subway sandwich artist, but come on. Think about it from the perspective of a reader. You do read books, right? That’s not a crazy assumption to make or anything? If you’re a writer, then there is a considerable chance you’re also a reader, yes? Okay, cool. Now, what makes you decide to buy a book? A book by somebody you don’t know, somebody you’ve never read before? If you’re like me, you tend to browse reviews. I like to hear about people's reactions. So I scroll through Amazon and Goodreads reviews and usually I’m able to make up my mind after a couple minutes. That’s assuming the cover isn’t terrible and the plot description is intriguing enough.
It goes like this: Word of mouth leads to searching for the book on Amazon, which leads to me looking at the cover, then reading the plot description, then skimming the reviews, then either closing out of my tab or clicking PURCHASE (although sometimes I just make a note of the title for the next time I go bookstore hunting. I recommend making a habit of not buying from Amazon, but that’s a whole different kind of article).
Here’s the thing. All those five-star reviews? I don’t give them the time of day. I skip them without a second thought. It’s already easy to guess what can be found in these reviews: an abundance of praise sprinkled with sugar, and pretty much nothing else. The same goes for those one-star reviews—I skip those, too. If I’ve gotten past the front cover/book description stages, then I doubt it’s as shitty as these reviewers seem to believe. It might be bad, sure, but one-star worthy? Unlikely.
Now, those other reviews—the ones rated two, three, and four stars? I dig into them like a medical examiner performing an autopsy. Five and one-star ratings are too easy to fall back on. They’re decisions made by reviewers who are either being too nice or too unfair. But the stars sandwiches between them? The majority of them were chosen after careful consideration, and it shows in the reviews. A four-star review isn’t usually going to consist solely of praise. Like all things worth studying, there’s going to be some buts. The truth is, there’s no such thing as a perfect book (Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers being the only exception), even though many five-star reviews seem to think otherwise. Plus, if you’re looking at something released through a small press, there’s a good chance a decent chunk of those fivers were written by the author’s friends and family, anyway. Obviously they’re not going to say anything negative about the book, unless they secretly hate the author, which isn’t too far of a stretch when you consider how intolerable authors often present themselves.
The reviewers who give two, three, and four-star ratings tend to give specific reasons for why they did and did not like the work. There is nothing in this world more honest than a three-star review. I would rather hear from somebody who can’t quite make up their mind than somebody who’s already decided something is great or terrible. I can understand and relate to indecisiveness. It’s important to note the reasons some readers might have disliked a book can be reasons others loved it. I’ve bought more books based off of reviewers’ complaints than their praise. Positivity is boring. Negativity and controversy, on the other hand, that’s where the magic happens.
Next time you review a book you loved, reconsider your rating. Are you writing an in-depth review or just a couple sentences of praise? If the former, perhaps give it four stars instead of five, otherwise nobody’s going to pay any attention to it.
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