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Reviews aren’t for Sissies – by the One and Only Amy Metz

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Amy Metz is the kickassical-est writer in the world. I begged and pleaded and cajoled her to honour my blog with a guest post and boy, did she produce the goods!

Her post is on that topic over which internet battles are waged, fiery emotions come to the fore, friends are lost and foes are won – Reviews.

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Reviews Aren’t For Sissies

by Amy Metz

ImageI have a confession to make: I can’t give a book a negative review. I mean I could. But I won’t. I just can’t do it. Knowing first hand the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to write a book, knowing the author put a piece of him or herself into the book, and because I’m a really, really nice person, I can’t post a bad review for a book. My philosophy with reviews is: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

However, there are a lot of people who can. Don’t get me wrong, they’re probably perfectly nice people too. But they have no problem telling the world that they read your “baby” and frankly, it sucked. Every author has gotten at least a few bad reviews. If they haven’t, just give them time. Even the best sellers get their share of one and two-star ratings. Just for fun, I checked today’s best seller list for Amazon Kindle, and number one, Beautiful Creatures, by Kim Garcia and Margaret Stohl, has a whopping 1,622 reviews, with an average of 4.3 out of 5 stars. And here is the breakdown (don’t hold me to these numbers because they change daily, but you’ll get the point):

5 stars  926
4 stars  391
3 stars  164
2 stars    84
1 star      58

Yes, you read that right. Fifty-eight reviewers gave the number one best seller in Kindle one star!

Which just proves my point that if you write it, bad reviews will come. No two people read the same book, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yada yada yada…all of those platitudes boil down to one thing you learned in grade school: not everyone is going to like you. (By the way, you know what Miss Piggy said don’t you? “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it may become necessary from time to time, to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.”)

So what’s an author to do when he gets a bad review? One might be tempted to first judge said bad reviewer on their poor grammar, but that would be petty.

One might be tempted to take Miss Piggy’s advice, but that would be, well, piggish.

One might re-read all of the great reviews his book has gotten, to remind himself that he’s good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like him! But that might be self-indulgent.

One might say, ‘Okay, did this person have a valid point? What can I do better?’ But that’s hard to do when the reviewer only wrote two-lines, saying, “Somewhat entertaining, but really not well written. Would not recommend.” That doesn’t tell me much. What’s entertaining to you might not be to others. To that type of reviewer, I say, as a high school teacher might, “Explain your work, please.”

Some people have no compunction to say they hated the book: “The whole book is offensive and sadly idiotic.” The whole book was offensive and sadly idiotic? There wasn’t anything that held their interest? Then why on earth did they read the whole thing? If it’s not well written, and it’s not entertaining, then put it down and pick up another one! There are too many books in this world to waste your time on something you don’t like.

And then there are the people who say they loved the book. They spend a lot of time telling people how great it was and what they enjoyed about it. BUT. (There’s always a but.) They give it three or four stars.

Huh?

I ask you, does this sound like a three or four star book:
“phenomenal job of writing…I was so delighted…such a fun read…memorable characters … thoroughly enjoyable…”

I don’t know about you, but when I read a book that is “thoroughly enjoyable” I don’t give it a four. “Enjoyable” is a four. “Thoroughly enjoyable” is a five in my book. Which leads me to wonder, do most reviewers put much thought into the rating they give a book? Do they know the power they wield with just one click?  Do they understand the concept of the ratings averages? If not, how can the ratings be taken seriously, and if so, what made the book a four and not a five?

But maybe the better question is, does it really matter? Does a four-star rating really mean anything to a potential buyer or is lowering a book’s star-rating average its only function? Obviously five stars means different things to different people. So I wonder, is the star rating system fair? Is it serving its purpose, i.e. selling books? From the looks of the best seller list, one might think the star average is irrelevant (to everyone except the author).

Well, authors, get over it. That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…blah, blah, blah.  The purpose of reviews is not to stroke the author’s ego or damage their self-esteem (although often that’s the result). No, the purpose of reviews is to recommend the book to other readers. Or not. If someone genuinely doesn’t like a book, that’s fine. All I ask is tell me why. The way I see it, reviews should inform the customer, not pad the ratings or reduce them unfairly. Amazon knows reviews are important because word of mouth sells books. In a nutshell, that’s the purpose of Amazon’s reviewing system: reviews drive sales.

Last year, Amazon made a mess of things when they removed reviews they deemed to be false or in violation of their guidelines. Joe Konrath is one of the more vocal authors to criticize them for this (he is also one of their biggest supporters). In part, he said, “It was a knee-jerk, inappropriate reaction to a ridiculous case of unjustified moral panic, and a Big Fail.” (You can read his entire letter to Amazon on his blog, A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing.)

But Konrath also said,  “Fake reviews, like sock puppets and trolling and flame wars, will always be part of the Internet and are no big deal. They are better than the alternative; Amazon policing reviews and deciding which are legitimate and/or have value.”

So there’s the shocking truth: fake reviews are out there just as sure as there’s an email in my Inbox promising me instant riches, a true soul partner, or a bigger…well, you know.  Fake reviews are the spam of the book world. Should people be aloud to post anonymous reviews? Konrath thinks so. Free speech and all that.  Even positive reviews can be considered fake if given by friends and family instead of objective reviewers. After all, the word is: “review.” An evaluation. Not propaganda. Can the average customer tell the difference? Can Amazon?

Here’s another shocking truth from Konrath: “Amazon didn’t create a system of customer reviews to level the playing field for all products in a fair and unbiased way. They did it to sell stuff, because they are smart and understand how user aggregated content works.”

But if fake reviews and sock puppets are common occurrences, does Amazon’s review system unfairly hurt an author’s, and ultimately its own, sales? Nobody wants phony reviews, but everybody wants freedom of speech. We want our cake and we want to eat it too. The system is flawed, but what’s the alternative? And in the end, do one-star ratings hurt a book’s sales? If a best selling book can get fifty-eight one-star reviews and still rise to number one, do negative ratings matter?

That’s the bottom line. A two-line review with a one-star rating won’t necessarily keep me from buying a book. What it will do is lower the author’s overall rating, which could hurt sales. If Amazon doesn’t care, should an author?

So to reviewers, I say: thank you for taking the time to leave a fair and unbiased review, but please be fair, unbiased, and thorough. Tell us what you liked and what you didn’t like. Tell us if you’re a friend of the author, or if you received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. And think about that star rating before you click the mouse.

To consumers, I say: look for reviews that back up the rating of a book. Heed reviews that sound like the person actually read the book. If you don’t see those things, mentally toss it.

To authors, I say, life is like a box of chocolates and so are reviews. There will be great reviews, so-so reviews, negative reviews, fair reviews, fake reviews, even sock puppets and unfair ratings. What authors (and readers) need to remember is: take them all with a grain of salt. Learn from them if you can, and if you can’t, in the words of Elizabeth Taylor: “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.”

Because my mama always told me life’s not always fair. And neither are reviews.

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If by now you still haven’t bought Amy Metz’s book, Murder and Mayhem in Goosepimple Junction you should. Time is a-wasting people, and life is too short. Read her book and spread the love, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0985138874, and don’t forget to vent about reviews here.

Check out Amy Metz on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/AuthorAmyMetz.

 

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9 Comments

  1. joehempel says:

    Obviously great content here. And Amazon’s reviews are very skewed especially since (like I said in my guest post) people do BUY reviews. John Locke anyone? But I do disagree with her to a point. If a book has enjoyable characters and a great story and was a fun ride, it CAN be a 3 or 4 star book if there are misspellings, if certain ways things are said don’t jive. If there are grammatical errors all over the place.

    I recently read a short story that was enjoyable, and the characters were great, but there were so many errors that I gave it a bad review. Not for story content, but for editing! It’s a complete package! You could have the best idea in the world, but it’s not going to amount to a lot if it’s not presented in a way that the reader is constantly being taken out of that world in order to figure out what the physical text is trying to say.

    It’s more prevalent in indie and self-published books, but they are there in “bix six” books as well! I think with the eBook, you will see more and more of it, and unfortunately , it will become acceptable to have sub-par work out there for consumption. And if priced right, consume people will.

    And again…if looking at reviews…PLEASE READ THEM. Don’t just go based on stars. You really can tell if a review is farmed out. Broken English, all in caps, very vague. The latest Wheel of Time book has 337 ONE STAR ratings, and it has NOTHING to do with the story…it’s because it didn’t come out in eBook format the same day as the HC. And that’s just one example of how ratings are very very skewed! Happy reading!!

    • pattersonty says:

      I have a rather peculiar way of reviewing. If the story can hold me, then i lose sight of everything else, including the grammar and punctuation errors, if any. it would have to be a Grand Canyon sized typo to get me out of the story and focus on the rest of the book.

      • joehempel says:

        People review differently. If there are only one or two in like a 300 page novel, then it’s just fine, stuff happens. But on my last review, the story was fantastic, I loved the story, but there were some things that as a reviewer, I couldn’t over look and not put in the review. On a side note…I saw about 4 or 5 other reviews for this book post today….and can you really do a good review in only one paragraph?? wow!

        http://topoftheheapreviews.com/primal-creatures-eric-wilder/

    • Amy Metz says:

      Joe, I’m curious. In your opinion, what makes a book 5 star worthy? 4 star worthy? Thanks for commenting on this. I had hoped to get some other viewpoints.

      • joehempel says:

        I used to say, “If the story entertained me, it got 5 stars.” After all, isn’t that what we are all after when we read? To be entertained?

        As I started to read more and more, and also writing myself, and learning about the writing process, I started to notice things that I didn’t notice before; spelling mistakes, grammatical errors (I know my reviews have tons of them, I’m learning.), formatting problems, (those are a biggie for me, even before writing, it’s why I learned some HTML in the first place). And the started taking me away from the story itself. I am forgiving of these mistake unless they become a problem.

        For instance, I’ll point to my latest novel review of Primal Creatures (http://topoftheheapreviews.com/primal-creatures-eric-wilder/), I LOVED the story. It was original, the imagery was fantastic, the characters were alive! However, there were several things that took me out of the narrative. It didn’t happen just once, it was dozens of time. However, the story was THAT good that I gave it 4 stars.

        For 5 stars it’s got to be a fantastic story with little to no errors in the book. It’s got to keep me engaged from beginning to end (I know some parts of books are slow, but that’s not what I’m talking about). Check out the WOOL Omnibus by Hugh Howey. That series of stories is probably the best thing I’ve read in such a long time. WOOL – the first story – is an example of a PERFECT short story to me.

        I hate giving bad reviews….with a passion. But if I want to keep my integrity, and keep alive what my site is about, good book reviews (I don’t blog hop, I don’t do the I’ll like you if you like me sort of thing) as thoroughly and as professionally as possible. And if it means saying something is bad (in my opinion), then I’ll say it, and apologize to the author.

      • Amy Metz says:

        Thank you for elaborating, Joe. It’s interesting to learn what the star rating means to different people. The more you know…

  2. I try not to read my reviews if at all possible. My husband reads them and then shares the ‘news’ with me. It makes it easier. My books & characters are my ‘babies’ as Amy put it. Even if there’s a small ‘but’ in a good review, it hurts a bit to read. I’m still new at this. Maybe in time my ability to read the criticism, constructive or otherwise will become stronger.

    • Amy Metz says:

      I’m doing much better with the negative reviews than I used to, but I don’t see any way that a criticism can’t sting even if only a little bit. It’s just part of the gig. Thanks for commenting, Natalie.

  3. Amy Metz says:

    Thanks for hosting me, Ty! Your awesomeness is astounding!

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