Chris had an excellent post recently about an author wanting to sue over a one-star review. A few days ago I discovered I had some ratings on my books on Goodreads. Both these events got me to thinking.
The ratings on my books are okay. I have a 4-star, a few 3-stars and a 2-star. My initial impulse was to be disappointed, but then I reconsidered. I pulled up the books I’ve reviewed on Goodreads and found what I had expected. I give very few 5-star reviews. The books I give them to have either touched me deeply in some way, stood out as being exceptional or, as in the case of books like The Lord of the Rings, are books I’ve read over and over again.
Then I took an honest assessment of my own books. I like them, obviously, or I wouldn’t continue to write them. However, if they had been written by someone else, would I have given them 5 stars? Probably not. 4 stars? Yes. I’m my own target market, and they are the types of books I like to read, so yes, I’d probably give them 4 stars, although even I might only rate my first one at 3.5.
So what conclusions (if any), can we draw from this? Readers and writers have different views on reviews. Authors want the 5-star reviews because it’s good for marketing, and, let’s face it, they feed the ego. Readers, however, assuming many of them are like me, are often more sparing with their ratings. I give a fair number of 3 star reviews for books I enjoyed and for books by authors I intend to read again. Why a 3 star? Because it was a good book but not exceptional. Take, for example the Richard Bolitho series by Alexander Kent. I’m making my way through the entire series on Scribd. I enjoy the sea battles and political maneuvering. I don’t enjoy Bolitho’s series of bad decisions of the heart. When a book has lots of good battles and no Bolitho thinking with his little head, I give the book 4 stars. When too much time is spent on the latest failed relationship, I knock the rating down to 3. However, I absolutely intend to finish the series and have read 17 of them so far.
There’s another factor. I did some research on the reader who gave me a 2 star rating. I looked at the other books she’s read and reviewed. What I discovered is that she’s not my target audience. (It looks like she wants more relationship/romance and less action. My books are the opposite.) I’m glad she bought the book and gave it a try. I’m not surprised that she didn’t find it to her tastes. That’s okay. Her rating (I hope) reflects more a difference in reading preferences than on the quality of my book. Assuming I’m correct, I wish she’d left a review so someone who is my target audience would have more information on which to base a decision, but hey, no one owes me a review. Just like no one owes me a purchase.
Where I’m going with this is that I think we need a new system. Do I think we’re going to get one? No, but I see services like Book Bub, which require a certain number of reviews and a certain numerical average, as feeding the skew on the system. Honestly, when I see wording like “over 100 5-star reviews” in marketing material, I get suspicious and wonder how many of those are real. As I watch ratings on Goodreads, the books I enjoy tend to average around 3.5 stars. Books with much higher ratings (and certainly anything over 4.5) tend not to be ones I enjoy.
So thoughts. Are you like me and are sparing with your stars, or does a 5-star review mean something different to you?