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Opinion: Friends, Glazed Eyes & Five Stars: An Indie Author’s Take On Book Reviews

Opinion: Friends, Glazed Eyes & Five Stars: An Indie Author’s Take on Book Reviews

In the run-up to the publication of her second novel The Labyrinth Year, the sequel to Baby, Baby, British indie author Claire Weiner (who writes as Mari Howard) considers the process of soliciting and receiving book reviews, and debates whether all five-star reviews on Amazon should be taken seriously.

Clare Weiner

British indie author Clare Weiner

You know that feeling – inspiration hits in response to something you read – article pretty much plans itself in the brain but life takes over, and the thing slips through your hands. Today, post-posting off my re-read, finally edited, follow-up to Baby, Baby, the memory returned: friends, glazed eyes, and five-star reviews. Someone had written on the validity of 5-star Amazon reviews, and my response button was set buzzing…

Friends

Friends are the best: retail therapy, encouraging, intelligent interest in the WIP (work in progress). Friends are the best if they hold the key to some research: my friend the GP with her quick-response medical personality, and helpful guidance about a staggering range of diseases, conditions, and treatments the characters might need; my friend the thoughtful, but fiery, Scot with the down-to-earth wisdom; my friends’ lively, curious, precocious children.

Never ‘characters’ in the story, but colourful pieces of the patchwork (or the fruitcake?) of the writer’s world. And friends who ask you to tea and ply you with cake and are, essentially, friendly. Including my copy-editor, who’s turned out to be a superb beta-reader, enjoying the text for itself while admitting it’s the kind of book he’d never usually read.

Glazed Eyes

Self-publishing has had a bad name, backed up by the problem of the ‘no self-published’ review rule. Maybe it was wise to have this helpful rule of thumb in the past – how does the editor sort through the plethora of newly-published books? So, if it’s been accepted by a publisher, that surely is one way to trust it may have some quality. And now, in this digital age, the possibility that someone has sent something without style, quality, flair, originality is a real.

As a crazily curious optimist, I admit if a friend writes a book, I’ll give it a go – (there’s always the possibility it might be good, and it doesn’t have to be a best-seller to be fun, or interesting). But there is the friend who defends themselves from the embarrassment that a (‘self-published’) book might be hideously bad, who with an awkward laugh says ‘I never have time to read!’ The eyes glazed over, the retreat hastily made.

And Five-star Reviews

Cover of Baby Baby by Mari Howard

Clare Weiner writes as Mari Howard

By contrast, there’s the one (maybe from a writers’ group) who gives a 5-star review to all her writing friends. As the slang phrase went, ‘too, too, supportive’. What should prompt 5 stars? Probably a tick list of plot, depth of character, style, lack of cliché, page-turn-ability, and production. Or am I over-fussy? Someone recently mentioned their wariness of too many 5-star reviews: I went to my Amazon page and checked all my reviewers. Did they regularly review other books? Or was their review for mine their first and only?

Creepily, there were some who’d only written a review once, and it was for mine. Sweet of them, and they had genuinely loved it. But I’d only have given four to my Baby, Baby. It’s a debut novel, so there’s a way to go to become a confident, top-of-the-game writer.

The reviewers I really appreciated were those who read and reviewed widely, but roughly within a genre which connected with my writing.

So, hoping The Labyrinth Year will call back friends and others, and they’ll enjoy this Baby, Baby follow-up, I’m sticking with my conviction: my top reviews for others remain usually 4-star, unless I am absolutely over the moon. The only way to keep superlatives up my sleeve for those stories which bowl you over flat, and you could even read again.

Your thoughts?

To help you share this thoughtful post on Twitter, here’s our suggested tweet:

“Five-star reviews – should indie authors take them seriously? via @hodgepub & @IndieAuthorALLi: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/opinion-5-stars? #selfpublishing”

Clare Weiner

Clare Weiner, who writes as Mari Howard, is the author of "Baby Baby", published by her company Hodge Publishing and listed for the People's Book Prize (Fiction). Based in Oxford, England, she is now writing the sequel. She blogs at www.writethinkeditblogspot.com about writing and what inspires her to write.

This Post Has 16 Comments
  1. Hi Everyone,

    We try to stay positive with our reviews. We look for special talents. We don’t like to pick and criticize – that is too easy to do. It’s more creative to see the good in most every author. Sometimes it’s difficult, of course.

    We do free book reviews if your book interests us. We are a group of retired people in New Zealand who play golf, read books, write books, and do free book reviews if we like your book. We write books too, so we like to see what other authors are currently doing and it is amazing to see what writers are creating. We try to post our reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble and our social media.
    See our book review page for more info > >
    https://www.teamgolfwell.com/free-book-reviews.html

    #bookreviews #kindlebookreviews #amazonbookreviews #indiebookreviews

  2. Not only are reviews important, but they can also hurt. Especially if the book isn’t edited well. I have created an indie publishing company that has a model that I think will overcome this problem. We have a submission system in which the author submits their work (for a fee), and then they either get accepted for publication with 70% royalties, or they get comments on how to improve the manuscript. They can then make revisions and resubmit the manuscript for another round of comments or acceptance. this can be done up to three times for one submission fee. Our promise to the author of no form rejections is one we can keep with this model. In this way we hope to improve the quality of the work and make the final product great. http://www.cawingcrowpress.com

  3. I would imagine that it’s only the most naive and deluded author who goes starry-eyed over 5* reviews of his or her own work. They are all but completely useless as a guide.

  4. Claire

    I did a blog on this same theme just before I published my novel in June.

    I am not altogether pleased that most of my reviews are 5’s, with a few 4’s. I believe my novel is well-written and professionally produced, but I do not believe for a moment that I belong in the same category with the likes of Sue Monk Kidd or Barbara Kingsolver or Anna Quindlen. How does the reader distinguish between my book and theirs?

    For myself, I tend to read the 3* and 4* reviews. They’re not necessarily more thoughtful, but you can be pretty sure it wasn’t written by a friend.

  5. When I leave a review on a website, I always try to follow the star-guidelines given on that website – even when I disagree with them. For example, according to my own internal compass, 5 stars means that this is a rare and special jewel. But according to Amazon, 5 stars means simply “I love it”.

    I don’t think every book I “love” is worthy of 5 stars. But when I post a review on Amazon, that’s the standard I use.

    I do this because I want to make my reviews as informative as possible, and I figure that if we all go our own way on what those star rankings “really” mean, then they cease to have any real meaning at all. At which point it’s the people who are reading our reviews who are left guessing, and who ultimately pay the price.

  6. Hello Clare: Thanks for your fine article. There is no doubt that reviews are important, however, I feel that they are simply a follow up after the COVER and TITLE attracts the attention of the potentential reader. Allowing the buyer to Sample the first chapter or two, is more important as a marketing tool. If the reader isn’t hooked in the 1st 10 – 12 pages, a review will not result in a sale.

    I wish you wonderful success…

    Warren..

  7. I’ve always bleated on about five star reviews, which are frequently supported by useless comments such as ‘couldn’t put it down’, ‘Wow!’ or, may favourite ones: ‘beautifully written,’ or ‘wonderfully crafted.’ I used to subscribe and even review for newbooks and was for a time taken in by such effusions. I’d think, ‘there’s so much wonderful stuff out there and if only I had time …’ And then I ordered some of these marvels and gradually come to realise that 5* was the norm and that the main function of newbooks was … exactly, to sell new books – and they did a pretty good job of it too – took me in at least.

    So, to return to the 5* question about 5* reviews: ignore the stars completely, and concentrate on the substance of the review. Most people would give Marcel Proust a one-star rating, with such incisive comment as ‘Boring!’ or ‘This guy is really up himself, isn’t he!’ Within two lines of a review you’ll know whether you’re being given a bum steer or whether the reviewer has really appreciated the quality of the book and has something intelligent to say about it.

  8. My top review rating is 4 stars, unless I’m consumed by admiring passion and have been temporarily enticed out of the conscious world to read this wonderful book. After all, a 4-star hotel is top-notch to me.

    Saying that, I love having 5 stars for my own books (what a hypocrite!), because 5-star reviews sell a book. Apologies for the cynicism. More valuable for a writer is having a logical and detailed review, even if the stars aren’t there.

    Reviewing is so subjective and can even reflect the time it took for the book to arrive. Sometimes the rating reflects sloppy formatting even though the story is brilliant.

    Reviews have given me some new ideas and valuable pointers as well as saying completely opposite things! They should be read in aggregate and analysed, but in the end, they are but opinions…

  9. “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” is a quotation from the 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke.”

    You and I are not communicating.

    There must be something wrong with me.

    I started reading this post FIVE TIMES and each time I gave up before finishing three paragraphs. I just don’t know what you are trying to say.

    The last time I had this feeling I dropped calculus in my freshman year of college.

    Also, I did not need you to explain “WIP,” but what the heck is a “GP?”

    My latest: “Do As I Say, Not As I Did.” http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981661769

  10. I love it when someone decides to review one of my books. It takes time to write a review and if they give me five stars — which means something to *them* — I’ll take them and be grateful for their time and enthusiasm. This business is tough and it beats you up in a lot of different ways. You’re going to get the one star reviews, too. So enjoy the stars. 🙂

    And you don’t really know why someone “only” gives five stars. Maybe they don’t write reviews for less. I know I don’t. If you give someone less than five, it can rebound on you, too. O.O

  11. I do think that reviews are difficult. If I don’t enjoy a book, I rarely get to the end of it, so I’m not inclined to review it anyway. Also, there is the fact that just because I didn’t enjoy it doesn’t mean that somebody else will enjoy it.
    I think of all the hard work that went into the book so I’m inclined to stay away from leaving a review. I was always taught, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all and I think that’s very relevant as far as book reviews are concerned.
    There’s also the issue for the emerging author that if too many low reviews are left, then the author is unable to use some of the necessary resources to promote the book because the average rating is too low.
    For me, it’s a matter of finding my ‘1000 loyal fans’ and writing for them. They will naturally leave positive reviews and (hopefully) attract similar like-minded readers.

    1. While there is a time and a place for the “if you can’t say anything nice… ” mantra, respectfully, I don’t think book reviews are it.

      When considering this issue, the question I always ask myself is what a site would be like if _everyone_ followed that policy. People read reviews (at least for the most part) because they’re trying to figure out if a book is worth buying.

      1. oops… hit the wrong thing and posted that reply before I meant to!

        What I also wanted to add is that if nobody leaves bad reviews, and every review is positive, then a positive review just doesn’t mean anything any more. In that world, we’re not only short-changing readers by depriving them of information: we’re also short-changing those authors who genuinely _deserve_ a good review, because there’s no longer any way to tell them apart from the bad writers.

        Except perhaps that that bad writers may not have any reviewers. Of course, so would any writer without a built-in fanbase or a powerful marketing machine behind them. There wouldn’t be any way of differentiating between the authors who were simply bad, and the ones who just weren’t established yet.

        So in the end it’d be the readers and the _good_ indy authors who would suffer most.

        And… you know. Feel free to give a bad review to my reply-posting skills!

        😉

  12. I do share your caveat that 5* should be the ‘bowl you over’ book…in my case stimulate thought, arouse speculation or move to tears or laughter.

    In the case of my book, which has no known genre by which to compare it with any other I suspect the uniformity of 5* was as much for chutzpah as anything else! It has received mainstream and long reviews for much the same reason.

    So the professional reviews have gone some way to breaking down the ‘no self-published’ prohibition, yet I am more moved by (and appreciative of) the readers reviews, because they come from so many different directions…without preconceived ideas.

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