Thursday, March 28, 2013

Reviews: What those stars mean to authors

What do those Amazon and Goodreads stars mean to you? How do you use them to rate the books you've read? An author friend of mine posted an eye-opening article on this very subject and encourgaged her writing buddies to share it. I told her I would be glad to do so. Check out her blog as well.

The Way Author Look at Ratings:

5 stars is an A or A- or even a B+. Great for authors. This means you enjoyed the book. It filled the measure of its creation. Meaning that a romance isn't judged as a general fiction, a teen story as an adult novel, or genre fiction as a literary novel. The 5-star novel was enjoyable, didn't have any major plot holes, and the writing was good enough that you'd recommend it as a nice read. These 5-star reviews help balance the 1 and 2 star reviews from people who picked up the wrong genre or wanted sex in a clean book (or vice-versa). Or the picky reviewer who found one typo and therefore decided the entire book was poorly edited (if that was the case, EVERY published book would be junk). Five stars doesn't mean the book has to be the best you've ever read, or even better than the last one you reviewed. It just has to be a good novel. This rating could also be given to a novel you would have rated only 4 stars but one feature (world-building, a character, or plot element) was so cool that you reward the author's effort by giving them that extra star (and you can say this in the review).

4 stars is a B or a B- or even a C+ novel. Okay for authors, but if they have an overall rating more than 4 stars, keep in mind that you are taking down their rating. The 4-star rating is for novels that you liked but had at least one issue with. A plot hole that disturbed your reading enough that you didn't enjoy the overall story. Maybe a few too many typos. Too much repetition. But you still found the story compelling enough to read in a short time and you enjoyed it. The novel doesn't have to be the best one you've read in the genre, it just has to hold your attention. Think of yourself as a teacher giving a grade. Again, if you had been going to give the novel 3 stars, but something cools really stood out, give the author the benefit of the doubt--and the extra star.

3 stars is a C or a C-. So only average. This really is the kiss of death rating. The "okay" novel. If you give a novel this rating, there should be serious issues. It should be one you didn't feel as compelled to finish, or one whose overall plot didn't quite make sense (and you feel wouldn't make sense to others). This is a novel that you wouldn't really recommend unless it was the only thing someone had to read and they were stuck in an airport for two hours.

2 stars is a D or a D-. This is a novel that has at least three major issues and you feel these issues will prevent others from enjoying it at all. There are sex scenes in a supposedly clean novel, the character think about their college literature classes entirely far too much, or the character isn't consistence. Maybe there are typos on every other page, or repeated use of wrong words. A 2-star rating could also be a book that you felt you really wanted to give one star to, but because it had some redeeming feature (great world-building, a character you really enjoyed), you gave it an extra star to encourage the author.

1 star means F. The author completely and utterly failed. That means there was no plot, it was riddled with grammar errors, and everything about it was boring, boring, boring. The author should throw the book away. Never give an author a one-star review unless you feel they really should give up writing and get a job at the local grocery instead.

Are my rating descriptions correct? You may not feel so when rating a book, but I bet you feel that way when reading reviews!

DOs and DON'Ts of Reviewing:

1. If you have have an picky issue, mention that, but rate the overall book not that one thing.

2. Don't give the book a terrible review because it's not a genre you like. Just don't review it. For instant, if you hate romance, people who love romance won't be helped at all by your review.

3. If a review contains explicit scenes (or violent, or religious, or whatever), don't give them a bad review because you hated that part UNLESS it goes against what was in the book description. So if a book description talks about fighting, don't be shocked if there's violence. It it mentions faith, don't be shocked if the characters see things through a religious point-of-view. If it says romance, don't be surprised if there is a love story. In these cases, your review will only make you sound like an idiot for not reading the description. And it's not fair to authors.

4. Don't mention if you got the book for free. Sometimes publishers will offer a book for free as a way to increase the number of reviews or to advertise another book in a sample chapter. But it is unlikely the book will be free for long. If you say you got the book for free, people will feel cheated if they have to pay, and that's simply not fair to the author or the publisher.

5. Be kind with your wording. Authors are real people with real feelings.

6. If you were having a bad day when you read the book, consider not reviewing it at all.

7. If you there is a certain subject you hate, and it happens to come up in the book, consider not reviewing it at all, or at least mention your bias in the review. Again rate the entire book, not just that scene.

8. Don't tell everyone what happens in the book unless you put SPOILER ALERT. Even then, I wouldn't do it. Readers won't buy the book if you tell what happens. The author was careful in the blurb not to give it away. You shouldn't either. Remember, this is the author's JOB. They get paid on how many books they sell. Careless reviews make it hard for authors to keep writing.

9. Do say what in particular you liked about the book. Use specifics without giving away plot.

10. Do give a 5-star review if the book fulfills its purpose. It doesn't need to be earth-shattering or the best book you've ever read. It just needs to be a good, compelling novel, comparable with a novel of that same genre. Some people feel they're not being critical enough if they rate something with 5 stars. I say baloney. If you enjoyed it and would lend the book to someone, give it a good rating.

11. Do click to report reviews you feel are abusive.

12. Do comment on other reviews if you disagree or feel they are being too harsh. But do so KINDLY. Better yet, write your own review and rate the book higher to even out their negativity. But don't hassle other reviewers. Everyone has a right to their opinion.

13. Do comment on other reviews to thank the reviewer for good information they’ve included, especially if it helped you buy the book.


  1. To me, five stars are reserved for works that are exceptional, go above and beyond expectations. That's how you make someone really happy. Four stars are simply good, but aren't good enough to potentially stick with you forever. That leaves three stars not as a kiss of death but the place where most material actually settles, the average, what's the least you can expect from something you followed all the way through. Anything less is where there are serious problems. Two would be where you pretty much finished, survived, didn't feel completely burned by the experience. One star is acknowledging that you pretty much wasted your time.

    I find it a little insulting, actually, that so many people throw the five stars around so easily. They overinflate the value of something and whatever they write about how they reached that conclusion doesn't even begin to justify the rating. It's just someone they were supporting rather than something. That's great and all. You like the creator. Fine. Say so. But don't pretend that their work is automatically genius, because five stars should be considered calling something genius, not that you enjoyed it. Just saying.

  2. Tony, thanks for sharing. I actually agree with your point of view. My friend, however, gave me something else to think about, and I could see her point too. That's why I shared this post. Honestly, I'm a little torn between your view and hers.

  3. Interesting post. I admit I am terrible at writing reviews because I don't like to be critical, if I don't like something I usually just keep silent about it. I enjoyed reading this!

    I'm one of the A-Z Minions and just wanted to stop by to say hello. I'm glad to have found your blog, it's great to meet you. Good luck with the Challenge! :)

  4. Thanks Julie. Good luck with the A to Z challenge as well. I always enjoy it.