Friday, May 20, 2011

5 Star Reviews


I was speaking to a group of writers a couple of weeks ago when a question came up about what my opinion of a good review on Amazon was.

I winced, because I knew what the questioner was getting at.

If I were reading a movie review, 3 out of 5 stars means a good movie to me. Maybe it’s no Academy Award winner, but it’s good entertainment. It’s no waste of time to watch. 4 stars seems to mean very good to me…maybe a more complex plot with some top-notch acting. 5 stars? I should be watching Casablanca, Citizen Kane, or The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Now, if it’s Amazon, then it’s totally different. Many of the published authors that I know consider anything less than a 5-star review something of a slap in the face. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong…I’m just saying that’s what I’ve heard. Of course, none of us feel good about a 1-star or 2-star review, but most authors aren’t rejoicing over a 3 or 4 star one, either.

If I were to apply the same rating system to books that I apply to movies, I’d make a book like The Complete Works of Shakespeare a 5 star, The Great Gatsby a 4 star (because it’s VERY good, but not really on par with Shakespeare), then I think many of the rest of us would be 3-star-good. Good entertainment… a nice read… good use of a reader’s valuable time.

Would I actually use this scale to rate my friends’ books? No, I sure wouldn’t. I wouldn’t have a whole lot of friends left. The way the Amazon scale runs is more like a recommended/not recommended rating—if it’s 5 stars, you heartily recommend it. If it’s fewer than 5 stars, in the Amazon environment, you’re not really recommending the book to others. I’m not saying this is right, but it seems to be what authors and what I think many Amazon readers believe. Amazon could practically switch to a Facebook-esque thumbs up or thumbs down symbol and just cut to the chase, if that’s the way we’re all treating their ratings.

To me, it looks a little phony to have all 5-star reviews. It has the appearance of being in cahoots with our reviewers. I just don’t think that everyone is going to love my book. I’d love it if everyone did, and I deeply appreciate the readers who feel that way, but the reality is that different readers enjoy different types of books. Some might love my book, some might think it was pretty good, some might put it down and pick up a thriller instead. I know I prefer some types of books over others.

The emphasis on a standing ovation review was driven home to me on Wednesday at the pharmacy when I was asked by my pharmacist to call a number on my receipt and complete a survey to be entered in a drawing. “But please,” he said, “don’t give us any fewer than 5 stars. Anything less than that is a strike against us, in Corporate’s eyes. If you’re only somewhat satisfied, please just don’t fill out the survey at all.”

It left me with a icky feeling that someone could suffer negative consequences from an overall favorable review of their service.

What do you think? Has Amazon changed the way we think about book rating and review? What’s a good review on Amazon? Are you hesitant to give fewer than five stars for a book?