Wednesday, 3 February 2016

IWSG DAY! Star Ratings - how they haunt us, and what they mean

Welcome IWSGers!  My biggest insecurity?  Star ratings.

When my first novel was published, my mentor told me: “Don’t look at your reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.  Particularly Goodreads.  No, really.  Don’t.  If your book continues to sell, then you know it’s good.  If your publisher buys your next book, then you know it is good.  Don’t  torture yourself by reading the criticism of non-writers.”

I found it next to impossible to follow his advice.  The lure of reviews on your work is pretty strong.

It took ten books – all published by traditional publishers – before I really felt I had a handle on ‘the dreaded review star rating.’  Here’s my list. (My opinion only, everyone. You may have a different interpretation.)

Anatomy of Star ratings

Five stars:  Just one word: Joy!
Bless them, every one.  A million thanks to reviewers who take the time to tell you they loved your book.

Four stars:  Okay, they really liked it. Maybe even loved it.  But even if they loved it, some people  reserve five stars for their very favourite authors, and the masters, like Jane Austen.  And literary writers.  A genre novel is...well…a genre novel.  Not quite as worthy (in some eyes).  But they really enjoyed it.

Three stars:  These are the ones that make me sad.  A reader is telling me that the book was okay.  I want them to think it was great!  Sometimes, this can be a reader who loved your books in another genre, and decided to try this book that is in a different genre, one they don’t normally read.  Often, they will give you that clue in the review (“I don’t normally read scifi”). 

For instance, I have enjoyed Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series very much.  Recently, I tried one of her romantic comedies (classified under the Romance genre.)  I am not a romance reader, and not surprisingly, I found this book lacking in the type of fast-paced plot I enjoy.  I would probably give it a 3 rating, where no doubt a seasoned romance reader would give it a 4 or 5.

Two stars:  These are often people who wandered into your book by mistake.  They thought it sounded interesting, so they bought it thinking it was one thing, and it wasn’t.  They’re mad at having spent money on something that isn’t their thing.  It’s not a happy event when you get these, but understand that these people aren’t your market.

One star:  These are simply people who enjoy hurting others.  Ignore them.  I do.

Here’s my advice, if you find that reviews haunt you, and keep you from writing:

1.  Stop reading them.  Really.  

2.  Never comment on a review.  Never.

3.   If you can, employ a personal assistant to read your reviews as they come in, and forward you the good ones only.  (This is my dream.  One day.)

One more thing: When you give away a book for free, there is a downside: you often get people picking it up who wouldn't normally spend money on that type of book.  Not surprisingly, they might not like it, as they are not your market.  Always expect some poor reviews, if you give a book away.  There are still many good reasons to do so.  Just be prepared.

Check out other great IWSG posts today!


  1. These are good tips. I only have a few Amazon/Goodreads reviews. Most are positive, but I did have one two star review, and your explanation of the two star review makes a lot of sense. My mother actually said something similar, that this particular reader was probably expecting something different, possibly a story that wasn't so clean. By the way, I found your blog through the Insecure Writers Support Group, but I've already "met" your writing partner, Cynthia St. Pierre, through some group on Google +. So, I have "A Purse to Die For" on my Kindle right now. It may take me a little while to get to it. I bought several books at once, and I'm about 75 percent through the book I'm currently reading. Anyway, I'm looking forward to it.

    1. So nice to hear from you, Susan - I really hope you like Purse :) We aim to make things fun to read, and to give people smiles. Please let me know if you like it.

  2. Great post, Melodie. Thank you for sharing your experiences and tips and congratulations on all your accomplishments so far.

    1. Thank you, Nicola! So kind of you to take the time to comment.

  3. This was an excellent, excellent post. I do book reviews on my blog also and I'll review just about any genre, although everyone has their favorites. I base my reviews on the plot, flow of the story, character development, writing, pace, and believe it or not - the basics like spelling and grammar.

    It's good that you don't pay attention to the reviews that make no sense or are cruel and of no value to you as an author. I'm enjoying looking through your page and can't wait to read one of your titles. Have a great day. Eva, IWSG Co-host

    1. Hi Eva - thanks for dropping by and commenting! I've taught Fiction Writing at college since 1992 (gulp - can it really be that long??) What you base your reviews on are exactly what I teach in class :) Thanks for commenting.

  4. I've felt the WTH sting of someone leaving a review to tell me how much they didn't like the genre and have no idea why they purchased the book. People like them should have their browsing rights taken away for a month! Excellent Post.

  5. Excellent advice. Now I just need to market more so I can experience the highs and lows of those stars.

  6. Excellent advice. Now I just need to market more so I can experience the highs and lows of those stars.