The Five Star Review: What's It Good For?
by Dianne Salerni
Readers seem to be incredibly cynical these days, and a positive review for a book will not get you the respect that it once did. In a recent online discussion about what readers look for in a review, one of the participants claimed that she examines the profiles of reviewers on Amazon before deciding whether or not to trust their reviews. “If I see that a person only writes 5-star reviews of newly released books,” she said, “I assume he is getting the books for free and feels obligated to write a good review.” I admit; I was taken aback. What a suspicious frame of mind! And yet, as I read through the numerous responses on the discussion thread, it became apparent that many, many readers no longer trust 5-star reviews. When they find a reviewer who writes numerous positive reviews, they suspect an ulterior motive, and when they find a 5-star review written by a person with a blank profile, they know they’ve found a shill.
It is true that the review system—on Amazon in particular—can be compromised. There are countless instances of authors using sock puppets (fake profiles) to write glowing reviews of their own work, start discussions about their books, and comment angrily on negative reviews. In some cases, it is believed that authors have managed to get negative reviews deleted by enlisting a small army in a “click” campaign to report the review as abuse. The “helpful” votes for reviews are shamefully manipulated; readers tend to vote based not on helpfulness, but on whether they agree with the review, and sometimes the reviewers themselves will engage in warfare—voting down their rivals in an attempt to raise their own ranking!
So, what’s a poor POD author to do? Clearly, we want to acquire reviews of our books, and since most of the mainstream book reviewers have barred the doors against us, online sellers such as Amazon are an important market for us. However, readers have become jaded, and although many of the authors engaged in unscrupulous shenanigans are traditionally published, POD authors unfairly take a lot of the blame. Apparently nothing is more suspicious to a reader than a self-published book with an average rating of 5.0!
Discerning readers expect to see a balance of reviews on a book; they want to know the best and the worst it has to offer. Some readers report heading straight for the 3-star reviews, which generally identify strengths and weaknesses—something the potential buyer wants to know. Others look for the 1- and 2-stars, to check out the “worst case scenario” and decide if it’s something they can live with. In many cases, a well-written “average” review will sell more books than a 5-star review which foams at the mouth with unadulterated praise that hardly anyone believes.
Now, I am NOT suggesting that POD authors should put socks on their hands and start anonymously bashing their own work! However, as a group, I believe we need to get over our own insecurities and welcome reviews that present a less-than-glowing assessment of our work. I’m as guilty as anyone of moaning and whining about a lackluster review. A teenage reviewer at Flamingnet said my book was “long and drawn-out”, with people engaged in “tedious scamming”, and she had trouble finishing it. Yeah, my feelings were hurt, but a review like that one provides a counterpoint that shrewd readers use to make their buying choices. At the time, I was relieved she didn’t post it on Amazon, but now, I wish that she had. It would provide a needed balance for the positive reviews already there. As authors, we need to trust that readers know what they like to read and are capable of picking through both positive and negative reviews to find the books that will entertain them.
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