What is a Review Worth?

So, What is a Review Worth?

Recently I’ve seen many comments about reviews and whether they really reflect whether a book is worth reading or not.  When I read a reviewer’s comments about how he or she never gives 5-star reviews, I am reminded of some teachers I used to know that bragged about how students rarely made an A in their classes.  Their excuses were usually along the lines that A’s meant the student was perfect, or as good as the teacher, that their (the teacher) standards were set higher than other teachers, or some other inane reason for justifying their position.

Is it being in a position of power that allows people to look down on others whom they see as having lower standards?

Some reviewers state that all 5-star reviews are bogus, that any book can be improved. Of course, any book can be improved, but a 5-star review doesn’t imply that a book is perfect.  If you check on the meaning of Amazon’s five stars, one star means I hate it. Two stars mean I don’t like it.  Three stars mean It’s okay.  Four stars is I like it and five stars mean I love it.  I don’t know about you, but I read many books that I like, even books that I love, that I can see ways in which the story could be improved.  So what?  I liked it the way it was.

I am a writer, but long before I was a writer, I was a reader.  I still am a reader. On an average, I read several books a week.  I just don’t do reviews for all of the books I read.  Perhaps if I had to, I’d become jaded about reviews too.  Thank God, I’m not.  I still enjoy reading a good book and I do leave reviews for some books.  I leave a 4 or 5-star if I enjoyed the book.  I leave a 3 if the book was okay, but had problems.  I leave a 2 or 1 if I did not like the book.  When I buy books, if I haven’t read anything by the author before, I always read the reviews.  Sometimes the two or three star reviews convince me to read the book, simply because I have a different world view than the person who wrote the review. My personal opinion is that all reviews should have reasons for their placement.

Sometimes writers are devastated by a bad review of their book.  If that writer is you, don’t take that review personally.  Maybe the reviewer was merely having a bad day?  Who knows?  Maybe he/she should never have read that book?  Since reviews are only opinions, then we should take all reviews with a grain of salt.  One person’s hot chocolate may be another person’s cup of hemlock juice.

What is your opinion on reviews?

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About Sue

From the time, as a young girl, when Sue read the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, she was hooked on fantasy. She loves to read fiction and write within many genres, but she always winds up going back to fantasy. For years she has had fantasy stories spinning around in her head and now that she is retired from many years of teaching, she is putting those stories into book form. She has many interests, including quilting and playing the mountain dulcimer, but writing is the most satisfying of all. Sue lives in the great state of Maine with her husband of 38 years. She has been a factory worker, a waitress, a librarian, and a teacher. Her biggest job was being a mother and she has three grown children. Now that she is a grandmother, she is enjoying that role immensely.

Posted on November 16, 2011, in about writing, Authors - Sue Santore and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Hi Sue, What a wonderfully cogent easy on reviews. I am a writer not a reviewer but I’ve done a few very brief things for my Goodreads page. I couldn’t agree more about your point about sniffy reviewers who seem to be on some sort of power trip and who delight in limiting praise. I’ve noticed that those that do that tend not be published writers. Writers tend to be a little more… humane, perhaps. I’ve been lucky so far and have not had any stinkers but I’m sure it’s only a mater of time. I am dreading it because I do not have the thick skin I feel anyone who lays their work before the masses needs. I even get a bit hurt by my editors comments!
    I really don’t see any point in tearing strips of someone’s efforts. It’s possible to be constructive and encourage a writer to do better or point out weak areas in a thoughtful and kind way. Anything else reflects badly on the reviewer.
    Nice blog Sue, I’ll be following with interest.
    Regards, davidrory

    • Thanks, David, for dropping by and making a comment. It’s possible to be constructive and encourage a writer to do better or point out weak areas in a thoughtful and kind way. Anything else reflects badly on the reviewer. I have to agree with you on this.

  2. I’m glad I read your article. I was thinking of working out a way of giving ratings to books/movies, using a list of elements cross-matched with weightings for each element – but it was starting to get too complicated. You mentioned Amazon’s ratings system; it’s a lot less “scientific” than what I was thinking of, but far easier to work out and use – I think I might go with that one.

    Thanks,

    Red

    • Hello, Red,

      A writer/reader friend and I were discussing the other day about possible G/PG/R ratings on books. That would be in addition to the star ratings. You’re right, though, add in too many factors and it begins to get way too complicated.

      I appreciate your comments.

  3. Sorry Sue, with NaNo and my daughter’s birthday coming up (plus a few other things that are urgent) I completely forgot to post.

  4. I enjoyed the conversation, and I appreciate the advice/thoughts. The thought that “anything else reflects badly on the reviewer” is one with which I agree. I also like the point that writer’s often have a more sympathetic review…kind of like the fact that one who has worked as a waiter will tip better than one who has not. I am glad to know that it is O.K. to take reviews “with a grain of salt.” I assume that also means not to let great reviews go to our heads!

    • Naomi, as a writer, it does give a warm glow to receive a great review, but you’re right. If we let it go to our heads, then we might start believing we’re just so good we don’t need to improve.

  5. I’ve been doing professional level reviews for the Washington Independent Reader, and one of the things I’ve had to remind myself is that the reviews are for the readers — NOT for writers. As a reader, I have made decisions not to buy books based on the reviews (in this case, a cookbook that said it was for two people, and the reviews pointed out that it was two with leftovers).

    In evaluating reviews, I think a lot of the 5-star ones are worthless. I reviewed a book where the author had done an anthology of short stories in fantasy and horror. The stories were clearly not ready for publication and needed more work (the author admitted he had gotten no response rejections on them). Everyone else gave glowing 5-star reviews that made me wonder if they’d actually read the book or how well-read they were. I was the only 1-star review, which in my definition, means, “Book doesn’t work.” For novels, that’s usually because there are major flaws with the book.

    A 5-star review, to me, is a book so good that it’s a book I want to reread. Very few books qualify for this — and those that do, I wear out copies. A pretty decent book will get 3-stars from me.

    Unfortunately, reviews have become like gold to writers who can’t figure out how to promote their books, when instead, they need to start with writing a good book.

    • I agree that some books being published are not ready for publication. That includes books being sold by traditional publishers as well as Indi publishers. And, I have to agree that SOME 5-star reviews are worthless, but certainly not all of them, (as one reviewer commented recently.)

      But, Linda, what is a good book to one person may not be a good book to the next person. I’ve seen poor reviews on books that I thought were wonderful and good reviews on books that I thought were crap. That’s one reason why I think all of us put too much emphasis on reviews.

      • Some of it is clearly a matter of taste. I’ve also seen some big name authors really botch up a book (sometimes in a way where everyone hates it!).

        But word being passed among the indie authors that everyone should “support your fellow author” by giving reviews. NOT find a book you enjoyed and give it a review. I had a writer melt down because he asked me to do a review and I turned it down. I looked at the samples of the book and told him it wasn’t for me (it was published before it was ready). It should have ended there, but he thought the review was owed because we were in the same genre. When did a review become an obligation?

        QFT “That’s one reason why I think all of us put too much emphasis on reviews.”

    • I don’t think that all 5 star reviews are worthless, but I know what you mean. It is obvious from looking at reveiws on goodreads that many of those who give 5 stars or even 4 overlook poor writing. They get caught up in the story despite the mistakes and amaterish writing. I can’t do that and I think it’s a shame that many do. I hate bad writing so I always check the lower ratings to make sure that it iisn’t a problem for the book I’m interested in. I really appreciate the reviewers who mention these things, just like I appreciate those reviewers who mention that I write well.

      I think that readers who review need education on what makes good writing. I guess it’s up to us writers to try to do it – do I feel a blog post coming on.

  6. No one “owes” a review to anyone. I have reviewed other writer’s book when I enjoyed reading them and felt that they were well written, enjoyable stories, but I did not feel obligated to do so.

    I realize some writers find any kind of rejection difficult to take. (Remember a few months back when an Indie writer got into a heated discussion about a review of her book and her comments went viral.)

    What we need here is a balance which seems to be lacking with both reviewers and writers in some cases.

  7. There is a wonderful German sort-of-proverb. It goes like this: “You can quarrel about taste,” the monkey sad and ate the soap.

    It applies to reviewers too. Some people simply ignore bad editing and like stories that others find boring or too hard to read because of spellos and grammar. A book by one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, was a bestseller (American Gods) and I fought to finish it because I only like one tiny thread of the story.

    I agree that no one owes a review but they have become valuable for the decision of other readers whether to buy or not to buy. Si I’m always grateful for every review I get.

  8. Fabulous post and discussion.
    As an author of course I devour any review and glory if it’s positive- we need the strokes, and e-pub/self-pub is going to have more folks like me who have had less feedback from agents and print editors. So it’s valuable reinforcement.

    But of course as a reviewer, I’m trying to think first of potential buyers- my “stars” and comments are primarily designed around “should you read this”? Five stars means a big “yes”, not that a book is perfect, but that you won’t regret the purchase.

    In epic fantasy, we like to harumph about how Tolkein’s work would never have made it past the agents- and probably would have gotten bad reviews. He just took too long to get going! Everyone agrees, about 10 pages before the party hits Rivendell it gets really interesting- the council starts and suddenly you can’t put it down- but that’s 150 pages in! WAY too late. So yes, it takes all kinds- but it would help my work if I’d published it before TV and the internet came along to compete.

    The way some folks review, like the teachers Sue mentioned, is beneath contempt. I think the restaurant critic in Ratatouille said it all- the critic’s job is easy, and panning something is fun to write and read. Giving a good, positive, constructive review? Much harder.

  9. Thanks, Cat and Will, for your perceptive comments.

  10. The other thing to keep in mind is that even poor reviews can be good, depending on the reason 😀 I received one that marked me down for having what the reader considered explicit sex in the story. Obviously a no-no for her, but for a lot of readers that will be a plus. So who’s to say whether that review will hurt or help in the long run?

    The moral for writers is: don’t get wrapped up in the reviews. And NEVER give in to the temptation to respond. That’s a no-win situation.

    • “And NEVER give in to the temptation to respond. That’s a no-win situation.”

      I agree, Debbie. Arguing with a reviewer just makes the writer look petty.

  11. As a writer who reviews I take incredible pains to write the review honestly but in a way that won’t offend the writer. I don’t publish a review if I can’t give it at least 3 stars and sometimes I give more detailed feedback to the author (if the book came directly from an author). My aim is to be as helpful to the author as possible, even so, I had one woman who was vicious in her attack on me because I didnt write a review. I asked her, would you rather a bad review or no review? What she wanted was a good review and I couldn’t give it to her. She emailed me recently to make sure that I knew that she was still bad mouthing me around the place. Sigh. You can’t please everyone, but I will not compromise my standards.

    Apparently people are buying this book, and enjoying it according to the author. Examples of the quality of the writing are – an ‘as’ in every sentence, and constant use of a ‘to be ‘verb and ‘ing’ endings eg ‘was running’ and so on where ‘ran’ would have been better. That was added to problems with characterisation and dialogue. When I pointed out that these were a problem she abused me. I would thank someone who gave me such specific feedback privately as I did with her.

    Had I been vindictive like her, I would have published my review, but that’s not my way. I want to support authors whose work I think is good, not share a writers failings. Sorry about the long comment.

    • Tahlia, thanks for your comment. I know many, many reviewers are helpful and give quality reviews. That this writer felt you “owed” her a good review and her reaction says volumes about her character.

      As a writer, I LOVE to hear that readers loved my book, but I know not all readers will. I’m not going to go ranting about a 3-star review!

    • It takes all kind… and some people just can’t stand the truth. I’d rather have no review than a forced on. After all, it’s your time that you invest in something I wrote. You could have spent it on something else. I love getting reviews, especially from people I don’t know. It makes my day (even if it’s a bad one because it means the reviewer was passionate enough to care about reviewing), but I’ll never fault someone just because (s)he doesn’t comment or didn’t like the book.

  12. Reviews, love them or hate them, sometimes that’s the only way an author gets their name out. Think of the reviews in your daily paper. I think we have to learn to take reviews in perspective. Yes bad reviews suck, but I often wonder, how do we know that bad review won’t turn into a sale? For myself, I know I’ve bought books because of bad reviews. On the whole, though…I don’t use reviews to do more than give me a tad bit more about the book than the average blurb does. And a good review, 4 or 5 stars, won’t necessarily cause me to read that book, if it just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing for me. I can name you several books, in point, (none of yours here, i assure you :)) but I don’t want to incriminate myself. 😉

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