Getting reviews as an indie author is tough, really tough. I treasure every one I get, because the wonderful people who give up their time to give feedback are absolute angels. But there’s no denying that they’re few and far between.

The rub of it is that reviews are pretty much your bread and butter, when it comes to marketing your books. Without them, you can have all the fancy cover art and a whole stack of ads lined up (I’m taking the fact that you’ve written a book that’s as best as it can be for granted), it won’t sell if you don’t have a few stars somewhere on the sales page.

The more the better. Writers break their backs trying to win reviews—good ones, but honest ones. There’s no point in getting your family and friends to give you a heap of five stars, because… well, people aren’t stupid, and they’ll see through that. And many get really angry at that kind of deception.

Bookbub, giveaways, free runs, promotions; it’s all geared not towards making money, but exposing yourself to new readers, hoping all the while that you might get a few solid reviews in exchange.

It’s part of being an indie—no, a writer in general. Trad pubbed authors might have their publishers pick up some of the slack in securing reviewers, but the onus still falls on them a whole lot, these days.

Yeah, I hear you say, we all know the score. So what?

Well, what I’m finding a lot, is that people quite simply have rating systems of their own devising, so disparate and misaligned that a book’s rating total, on the face of it, is actually rather misleading. Most reviewers do seem aligned along the lines of:

  • 1 star: Awful. Do not read!
  • 2 stars: Pretty bad
  • 3 stars: Meh. Okay. Does what it says on the tin.
  • 4 stars: Great book. Recommended.
  • 5 stars: New favourite. OMG. Changed my life. Buy this now!

However, in my experience, there are more than a few who have another conception of how things should be rated, entirely. A few examples:

  • 1 star: Amazon shipped my book to the wrong address!
  • 2 stars: My own philosophy disagrees with this book. I also disliked the protagonist’s name, and the bad guy’s style of clothing. Well written book, but sorry, no buscuit from me!
  • 3 stars: Loved it. Excellent book.
  • 4 stars: A stellar achievement, best book of the year.
  • 5 stars: For all intents and purposes, unachievable

The above might seem a tad facetious, but it’s pretty much on the money. The main one I want to focus on is the three-star, which takes the place of the 4/4.5 star rating in most ratings. For some reason, a few people consider only exceptional books worth four stars, and NEVER give five stars (maybe once or twice in their reviewing lifetime).

That’s cool with me. In fact, I think it would be a better system, preventing rating inflation and the sensationlist ‘OMG WOW THIS BOOK IS AMAZING’ style that some reviewers seem almost obligated to plaster over the top of their comments before delving in to what they actually thought about the book—something that stems from a bleedover from advertising, and all that nasty clamouring to be heard.

But, it’s only a better system is everyone adopts it. As things stand, it muddies the water, lowers the overall rating of the book, and gives a false impression at first glance—and, let’s be clear: first glances are pretty much the deciding factor on whether to purchase, for most people.

So how do we deal with these renegades?

Two words: thank them. Thank them heartily, and genuinely, because they gave their free time to come back to your book’s page and give you the scoop on what they thought. Without them, nobody would sell a whole lot of anything, and the publishing world would be all the worse for it.

I have several people on my mailing list who love my work and read everything I write. I love their hearing from them, and we exchange email all the time. They always leave three stars, two if it wasn’t for them.

I could pull my hair out over that, but why? I’m grateful, and grateful only. The important bit, they get right: they give their honest opinions about what they read. That’s all I wanted, all I could hope for, and what any prospective reader deserves to see, in order to help them decide whether they want to come aboard the SS. Manners.

Perhaps, if you find this particularly troubling, then put a proviso in your dispatch email, if you’re putting out a give-away or a read-to-review program, asking them (very nicely) to consider how your rating system is structured, and how most readers review your work. It won’t work with everyone, because people who review tend to review a lot, and so have their own systems. But it’s worth a shot, so long as you’re gentle, and you’re cool with people doing what they think is right.

How Writers Can Cope With Reviewers’ Varying Rating Systems
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2 thoughts on “How Writers Can Cope With Reviewers’ Varying Rating Systems

  • Huh. I admit, I only started reviewing books in the last year or two, because I never thought they were important. I don’t buy based on reviews, I buy based on the back cover pitch and the first chapter and occasionally by cover image.

    That said, when I started reviewing and decided on star rating, I went by what the tool tip states. For example, on Goodreads the stars rank as follows: 1 – did not like it, 2 – it was okay, 3 – I liked it, 4 – I really liked it, 5 – it was amazing.

    I’ll admit, my hardest part is the 3-5 ratio – usually, I’m a yes, no, or eh. I don’t usually rank my ‘yes’ in levels, but over the last year I’ve figured out that while I like most books, there are ones that I’ll constantly talk about and recommend to other readers. Those are my fives. The ones that send me on a rampage because it was a good book but some element irritated me to no end are usually fours – though I’ve been known to bump those to fives if they elicit enough passion. *grumbles under her breath* Stupid Red Queen.

    1. I find it fascinating how varied people’s priorities are when it comes to what causes them to press BUY. For me, it really is all about the reviews–though I am a complete sucker for a juicy cover.
      Your four-star rating criterion is interesting, and what I was talking about. We need that kind of variety, and it’s what makes real pages of reviews valuable in terms of providing a balanced view.
      We only run into a problem when we have to the deal with the realities of book buying, where people make snap judgments on whether to click on your book. All they have to go on is the thumbnail of the cover, and the rating. I think the average is a two-second viewing.
      It’s that kind of brief window that we’re dealing with, and the imbalance in standards can work against you.
      It’s just something we’re going to have to accommodate ourselves to as time goes on.

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