Friday, February 12, 2016

The 5-Star Rating System: What Book Reviewers Mean VS How Indie Authors Take It

Indie authors and book-reviewers: we are made for one another. We're two sides of the same coin. We're the yin to each other's yang. Like pretzels and cheese sauce. Like Mr. Frodo and Sam. Like...like....Okay, you get my point. One cannot exist without the other.

And yet, even though indie authors and book reviewers are so inextricable entwined, often times we seem to be speaking two completely different languages.

Take star ratings, for example. To a book reviewer, a star rating can mean one thing while an author can see it as something completely different. Allow me to explain:
5 out of 5 stars

What the book reviewer means: Yep. I loved this book. Great writing, fun characters, epic themes. There were either no issues or only some very small ones. Everyone should read it! Have you read it yet? No? Go read it. 

How the author takes it: *gasps*  Will you be my new best friend? I love you. You rock. Also, may I compliment you for your amazing taste in reading material? *gives high five*

4 out of 5 stars

What the book reviewer means: I really liked this book. There were one or two issues that bothered me a bit, thus the loss of a star. But I'd read it again and I'd definitely recommend it to people. This story had a lot going for it. Good job!

How the author takes it: Ah. So close. But it's okay. It's okay. 4 stars means they still liked it. Besides, I can see how their critique makes sense. And they had a lot of nice stuff to say, so we're good here. 

3 out of 5 stars

What the book reviewer means: This story was just about average. I didn't hate it, didn't love it. There were parts that really didn't work (typos, flat characters, mediocre writing), but there were also bits that I really appreciated (the ideas, the interesting worlds, the message). I'd be hesitant to recommend it to some people, but I also wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it. 

How the author takes it: Average?! Average!! Who are you calling average? My writing is NOT average. Right? Right? Oh my gosh. What if it is average? What if this reviewer is right? Oh crap. Oh crap. 
*goes and sits in a corner* *gives self a pep talk* Okay, calm down. Just walk it off. Walk it off. 

2 out of 5 stars 

What the book reviewer means: Meh. There were a few things holding it up and keeping it from being a 1-star, but only a few. I wouldn't read it again or recommend it to anybody else. 

How the author takes it: 
Who asked you, anyway? You have poor taste. Poor taste, I tell you! Leave now, and never come back! You scruffy looking nerf herder. You could have just not left a review. What did I ever do to you? 

1 out of 5 stars 

What the book reviewer means: Well this sucked. I wish I hadn't read it. 

How the author takes it: *stars cussing under breath* Okay, I've had enough of this! I know my worth. There's absolutely no way I'm a 1-star writer. I hope anyone who sees this review will recognize that it's idiotic. Now where's my ice cream? I need some ice cream. And Netflix. And more ice cream. ICE CREAM. *goes off to think depressed, the-world-is-against-me thoughts while wielding a pint of ice cream and a remote control* 

Okay, so maybe not every indie author reacts in these ways. And maybe each book reviewer uses a slightly different rating system. Here's what I'm trying to say:

To you indie authors (or just-starting-out, traditional authors): You're amazing for doing what you're doing. Take the good reviews and rejoice over them, take the critical reviews and use them to improve, and use the mean/stupid ones to grow a thick skin. Try not to overreact, but eat as much of that ice cream as you want to.

To you book reviewers: Thank you for taking the time to leave your thoughts. You're what keep indie writers going. Please play nicely, but also tell the truth and give us your intelligent, thought-out critiques. We can take it. And, if we can't, that's our problem. Don't let some half-crazed author or fan hunt you down and make you feel bad.

Now it's your turn: How do you rate books? And how does that compare to how you interpret star ratings when they're given to your own writing? 

But, most importantly, how many stars do you give this post? And please don't say 1 out of 5. I don't have any ice cream on hand. 

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29 comments:

  1. Love this! It's so true and that GIF of Kuzco is my favorite. :)

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    1. Haha! Thanks. I'm a fan of that GIF, too. =)

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  2. I'd give this post 5/5 stars. I found it humorous, and I could relate right now. Even though I don't currently have any publications for readers to review, I can know what to expect in the future. I especially liked the way you described an author's response to 2/5 stars. So. Many. References!

    There are so many things I consider when reviewing books, but generally speaking, I'd say 35% of my reviews are based on how the book made me feel, 35% is determined by whether or not the book made me think, and the other 30% calculates the writing style, characters, plot, etc...

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    1. Yep. The references just slid right in for that one. I didn't even have to try. It makes me happy when that happens. =)

      It seems like you review in a way very similar to mine. I put a lot of weight by whether or not the book had any kind of meaning. That kind of makes or breaks the deal for me. =)

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  3. This looks like incredibly accurate. I almost dread getting published because I know I'll be an emotional wreck for at least the first year.

    I've found myself giving a lot of five star ratings lately. And I don't know if it's just because I'm nice or because I'm a bad reviewer or because I've been reading a lot of good literature lately. My parents are always annoyed at me for how harsh I am in my critics of movies and yet all my book reviews are so peachy lately. So I'm over here having an existential crises because of these inconsistencies. Help, I've falling into over analyzing things and I can't get up.

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    1. Lol! It is a scary thought. However, you're a lovely writer, so if people give you a low rating, then they're just idiotic. =)

      How interesting! Maybe it's because the more you write, the more you recognize how difficult it is, which makes you a bit more lenient in your reviews...? I know that's happened to me. I give a lot of 4-stars, unless the story fell short in the meaning department, then I give it 3.

      I'd try to help you up from you fall, except I'm almost always on the floor for the same reasons. We can just lay down here and over-analyze together. =)

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    2. Aw, thanks.

      I think that might be it. I always put myself in the writers shoes and I do personally know how hard it is to craft a story, so maybe I'm just throwing them a cookie.

      Yes, we can stay down there and over analyze together. That sounds like the best option. :)

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  4. I'm laughing so hard! This post was super accurate while being hilarious. I give it a 5 out of 5. You included a Star Wars reference, that makes it a 5 in my book. :)

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    1. Lol! Thank you. I like that Star Wars gives me a free pass. You have good taste. =)

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  5. Haha, this is so accurate. As a reviewer, I feel bad ever giving lower than 3 stars, but I suppose it's not really my problem if I'm being honest (and graceful and kind in it, of course). I tend to give a lot of 4- and 5-star ratings to indie books...when I liked it, or the person is my friend (those are the hardest reviews to write!), or it was good and there was nothing "wrong" with it, per se. I should probably be tougher, but I'd rather err on the side of being generous, knowing that the author put hours upon hours into it and it's to like I didn't enjoy it.
    I am more critical of mainstream, though. Mostly when the content/language/themes are what I do or don't like particularly.
    Anyway.
    Great post. Very true.

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    1. Thanks! And yes, I agree: it's very difficult to leave reviews for friends or small authors who don't have very many ratings. You want to be honest but also kind and helpful. I still struggle to find the balance. =]

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  6. What a great post, Hannah ... So creative and spot on! I am an Indie writer AND a KidLit book reviewer, so I walk a fine line. To keep my sanity (and integrity), I prefer to review authors I do not know and don't write reviews for books I consider to be a "3" or below.

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    1. I like your reviewing policy! It certainly gives perspective when you've seen things from both sides (writer AND reader).

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  7. I rate the books I review as you said above, but I also rate them for spiritual content: Christian and evil. I just published a free booklet about it.
    https://indd.adobe.com/view/e203b945-13d7-4941-9637-2664ee790bb1

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    1. Rating on spiritual content is an interesting idea! Though it would seem to be just as difficult as other rating systems because many people (unfortunately) disagree on what is "Christian" and what is "evil."

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  8. Spot on. I only write fan fiction, but she see this in reviews there also (though not on a star system). Newer writers can be devastated by some troll just looking to be mean, or they think they have to do everything the reviewer says in order to be a good writer. Too often, the reviewer doesn't know what they are talking about (in specific critiques - "that's not a word", "you used that word wrong", etc.; nine times out of ten the reviewer just thinks they are right and hasn't bothered to check. When I see this sort of thing, I try to leave a more positive review, pointing out what is good about a story and what needs work, and I advise them to take what reviewers say with a grain of salt. Consider it honestly and make changes if they are correct, but understand that sometimes it is just a matter of opinion.

    - Kay

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  9. Note to self: Please, please, please proofread before emailing/posting! :(

    - Kay

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    1. Lol! No worries. I've often wished that Blogger gave the option to edit comments after posting. =)

      Your comment was very accurate. People often have a very narrow view of how a story should and should not be written, so it's hard for people who are testing out new areas. It's awesome that you go out of your way to leave encouraging thoughts! The writer is an insecure being that often needs people like yourself to help them out. =)

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  10. Then there's what the good reads ratings say: did not like it, it was okay, liked it, really liked it, it was amazing. Some books I feel like giving five stars but don't quite go up to amazing.

    BTW: I nominated you for the Leibster award: http://annasbrie.blogspot.com.au/2016/02/liebster-award.html

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    1. Exactly! I always ignore what Goodreads interpretation of star reviews. =)

      Thanks for the nomination! Looks like fun.

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  11. I don't do star ratings on my blogs simply because they're too nerve-wracking for me, and too vague. I know they're fast and easy for people to glance at and say, "Ahh, she loved/liked/disliked/hated it." But there's so much more nuance to my reaction to books, so... I don't do it.

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    1. Same here! Like you, I don't do star ratings on my blog because I don't want people to just glance at my rating of a book and them immediately want to read it or immediately blow it off. Books deserve better. =)

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  12. One good thing about Amazon reviews is that you can easily see other things that the reviewer has reviewed, to give you some idea of what you're being compared to. Even that can be deceptive. If the reviewer is another indie author he might not hold you to as high a standard as he would an established author. I had a three star review of my first novel where the reviewer was almost apologetic about giving it only three stars, but she gave the novel Dune the same rating.

    One meaning for one star reviews is "this person is evil and must be stopped." I've given one star reviews to e-books that take public domain works already transcribed by Project Gutenberg and try to sell them.

    Established authors get one star reviews because somebody thinks they are too successful and need to be taken down a peg.

    As an author I'm more interested in comments than in stars. The comments give potential readers some idea if they'll like the book, and encourage them to check out the preview.

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    1. Great points! I also tend to focus more on the comments of my reviewers rather than the ratings. That's where I can learn the most, thus it's more valuable than the number of stars.

      And I agree about the 1-star for big name authors. I think I've only ever read one book deserving of a 1-star, so it's funny when I see super popular books getting tons of 1-stars. I mean, sure, the book may not deserve to be such a hit, but 1 star?

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  13. This sounds about right from a reviewer's perspective! And that's definitely true for authors; they need to be emotionally prepared for the inevitability of low ratings (everyone gets them to some extent). And instead of thinking of themselves as "already arrived", they should recognize that no matter WHERE they are in their careers, they are always a work in progress! And lower ratings are just opportunities to learn how to improve and grow. :) (I'm sort of preaching to myself, too, because I will probably be self-published in about a year and a half. xD)

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    1. Lol! Pump yourself up! I like it. =) All great points. Not only do writers need to have a thick skin, but they need to be open to learning from their reviewers. If several people have the same negative comments on the story, then it's probably a good idea to listen. Though I wouldn't be too concerned about having that issue if I was you. You're a great writer!

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  14. Reading new reviews is heart wrenching. Every. Single. Time. Luckily, I don't have many so my heart is in good shape. Sort of...Anyway!

    When I leave reviews, especially of indie authors, I try to always write them as if I was talking to the author. Respectful, honest, yet constructive. That's how I would want reviews of my books to come across. And if a book really is downright awful, I probably won't review, especially if there are other reviews for the author to work off of. I don't think there is any need for me to tear another indie down.

    We all get better with mistakes and practice, right?

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  15. So hilarious!!! LOL. Sadly, so true as well (in much too many cases...) Well, you know what they say: you live, you learn. Great post, Hannah!

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  16. This is a great article, thanks for sharing this. I've been using www.leaderpoll.com to generate polls and share on social media. It's fun, simple. and free to use which is great.

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