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.
Reviews Aren’t For Sissies
by Amy Metz
I 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.
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.
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.