I am in a few different writer’s groups online. It does not matter how many times we all talk about the importance of integrity (especially among Self-Published and Small Press authors) or honest reviews. Every once in a while someone will still pop up with “I’m looking for only 5 Star reviews” in a thread. It is aggravating and disheartening. And it does not matter how many times the rest of us call these people out on this practice. People still pop up and do it.
What Spawns the Need for 5-Star Reviews?
Two things prompt writers to seek out only 5-star reviews. First, we have the retail sites. While they rank by best selling, some of them offer readers the chance to look by review count. Amazon especially does this. They will also highlight highly reviewed works. This all leads writers to think that in order to get good sales on sites like Amazon, they need to have high-star ratings.
Second, we have promotion and review blogs. Some of these blogs will only accept submissions from people who have a minimum number of reviews at a minimum score threshold (mostly 4-star, but a few want 5-star only).
Feeding a Broken System
I understand that these review sites think that putting a review requirement will limit their submissions and ensure quality submissions. The truth is, people desperate enough to get onto those sites will just trade or buy their reviews. Which means that they will still get the same low-quality content they think they are avoiding. If they are seeing a lower turnout in submissions, it’s because 1. the integrity of writers not to buy reviews in a market that it is hard to get reviews in and 2. the rest who shake their heads and saying, “all you’re doing is feeding a broken system.”
Retailers, on the other hand, sort and promote by what they think will make money. If people tend to download highly reviewed books more, then they are going to push the books with high ratings because that is what will make money. They too feed a broken system, albeit for a different reason than the review blogs.
Tarnishing the Image
What the review blogs and the retail sites are missing is that their requirements for and promotion of high reviews are creating an atmosphere where authors think they have to get these high reviews, or else. They will not get on blogs and they will not get sales. This is not true. They can get sales. In fact, the more sales they get, the more reviews they will get. The rating depends on what they put into the work. If they take the time to write a quality story and do their best to get it edited (rather that is putting in the hard work themselves or with a partner or purchasing editing services) then they will get the high reviews.
What both writers and readers see when they see a plethora of 5-star reviews are fakes. They see people who have traded or bought a lot of reviews for their books to try to inflate the books’ worth. Among writers, this means that we’re likely to dismiss those writers when they are looking for cross-promo opportunities or shares. After all, why are we going to reward someone for doing something dishonest?
Readers are also getting more savvy about reviews as well. When they download a book with nothing but 5-star reviews, and they see it is barely edited with a flat plot that is full of holes and bored stereotypes, they stop believing that those reviews matter. If they bother to review it, they are particularly scathing. Most won’t, however. Most will just put the book down in disgust. A few might attempt to return it if they had to pay money.
The Bitter Truth
The bitter truth is that even the best books out there do not get all 5-Star reviews. Not everyone is going to like even the best books. Maybe they think the characters are unrealistic. Maybe they hate the setting, or the writing style. I remember groaning over having to read page after page of Nathaniel Hawthorne describing the Scarlet A. I might be exaggerating how long the description was, but it was far more detail than was needed in my humble opinion (though I at least get why he did it). Here are some of the greatest literary works of all time. That is not my opinion (as you will see at the end). It is someone else’s opinion. While a majority of the reviews are good, 4 and 5-star, they also get some bad reviews too.
Why? Because when we are honest, we do not always like what everyone else likes. And sometimes, we’re not ashamed to say so.
Thanks to Amazon for having the review chart handy.
My own novel, The Shulim Cycle Book of Dahlia, has 3 reviews. All of them are 5-Star. I am very proud of the reviews because they are all honest reviews. I don’t get as many reviews as I ask for (I have tried, and tried, and tried to get people to review the book, even when I have it up free). I would love to see some 3 or even 2 star reviews of the book show up. At least then, I would not have to worry when I am hyping the book that people will think the reviews that I have are paid/traded for.
That is the fear we have as writers, that our hard-fought and honest reviews will be seen as fakes, because so many others are getting fake reviews.
So for those of going around and asking to buy or trade for 5-star reviews, stop. You are hurting what it means to have reviews in the first place. Ask for reviews. Offer to trade for reviews. Trade honest reviews. If you get a 2-star review, accept it. If you get a 1-star review, accept it. Do not try to challenge the person (I had to deal with an author attempting to do that over on StreetWraith Press After Dark … sigh. I ignored it.) because that is tacky and it will get you a bad reputation among readers and authors. Just accept that people actually reviewed your work.
It is nice when it happens.