Is The Fault Really In Our Stars?

There’s been a conversation in one of my book marketing groups that I’ve been finding interesting. Authors have been discussing their Amazon reviews.

They’ve told some ridiculous, hilarious, and infuriating stories about getting 1-star reviews. Things like, “I bought this book by mistake so I’m giving it 1 star.” Or “I don’t like thrillers” even though the description clearly said it was a thriller. I even heard of one outrageously negative review because the author’s name was similar to her ex-husband’s. Not the same, just similar. The entire review was an ex-husband rant.

My favorite ballsy review starts, “I didn’t read this book, but …”

I wouldn’t be surprised if some poor schlub got a 1-star review on his masterpiece because a cranky reader “missed the bus today.”

Scuttlebutt is that Amazon is clamping down on egregious reviews like these. Hope so. But that’s a topic for another day.

The conversation the last few days swirled around 3-star reviews. Some authors hated getting 3-star reviews, others didn’t much mind. And it led to the question of how authors rated books. Some are brutally honest and will give 1 star to a BFF. Others never review books at all. Ever.

But most of us fall into that hand-wringing middle ground. Much of what we read is written by people we know and we want to love everything with the white-hot intensity of ten thousand suns. But sometimes we don’t. Then what do we do? Many of us, myself included, fall into the ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’ category. Plus, just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean that you won’t. It doesn’t even mean there’s anything wrong with it.

Personally, I don’t think a 3-star review means it’s a bad book. It entertained me for most of the allotted time, didn’t require heaving it against the wall, perfectly solid. Fine. Okay. Average.

But I never give 3-star reviews to people I know.

First, because it will probably bring down their average. No way, no how do I want that on my conscience. It’s hard enough to be a writer without your friends sticking their foot out when you’re lugging packages up a steep hill. Or some writing metaphor.

And second, I don’t know how they view a 3-star review. Everyone knows that five stars means spectacular and one star means craptacular, but what about those pesky middle numbers?

I read the restaurant reviews in the newspaper and am flummuxed. They only have a 4 star system and much of the time the restaurants only earn a one or a two, so I don’t think the food is very good. But when I look closer, one star means it’s good. Two = very good, three = great, four = exceptional.

The nuance is as subtle as their house Chardonnay.

But the book review discussion roused my curiosity. My world revolves around books, authors, reviews, and Amazon in a million different ways. Yours probably doesn’t. So, I want to know …

What are YOUR definitions of the five stars in an Amazon book review? Do you even read book reviews? Do you assume all 5-star reviews are written by the author’s besties and family members? If you were contemplating buying or reading a book and you saw it had a 3-star average, what would you think? Would it be different if it had a lot of reviews and a 3-star average, or just a few reviews and a 3-star average?

That reminds me … must go see if I have new reviews!

5 thoughts on “Is The Fault Really In Our Stars?”

  1. hmmm, I don’t pay all that much attention to the star system – I like to read a book without knowing much about it and being surprised. but I love the idea of reviews from people who write they haven’t read the book, but have an opinion on it. Or they don’t like it because of the name of the character reminded them of someone they are made at.

    Maybe there’s a book in there somewhere?

    You could call it “I bought this book by mistake so I’m giving it 1 star”

  2. I think the same way you do about 3 star reviews. It means it was a good read. And when reading reviews for anything, I often arrange by low reviews so I can see what the criticism is about. Then do the same with high reviews.

    1. I usually read books for other reasons, so the opportunity to make decisions based on reviews doesn’t really come up for me. But when I’m shopping for something ”” lately, dog toys and turntables ”” I do the same thing. Many of the low reviews are perfectly valid, but don’t apply to me. (“My dog is a chewer a destroyed this in the first 5 minutes.”) Books are probably the same. Unfortunately, too many reviews don’t really explain anything, just “I didn’t like it.” That doesn’t really help anyone.

  3. The Goodreads world also has review conundrums. I have a friend whose book is coming out in July with Harper Collins. The info is already on Goodreads (for some reason) and the book has a person who gave it a 1 star already.
    The BOOK IS NOT YET OUT PEOPLE – the author is…disturbed by this. SIgh.
    But back to your question. Most books I read are a 3. It’s good. It’s fine. If I really liked the book it’s a 4 star. If I would read it more than once – it’s 5 stars. Generally speaking.
    I only do a written review of a living author if I can speak well of the book. 4 or 5 stars.
    I personally have an essay on Amazon, it is a niche market and doesn’t have a lot of reviews. That said, after a few 5 stars I received one three star review and I thought “NOW I’m Real!”
    So, there we go.

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