Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Reviews – the fault in my stars

Book reviews can be a tricky business, especially for writers.  Recently I had an author get very angry with me for leaving a 3 star review on Amazon for one of her books. 
According to Amazon: 1 star = I hate it; 2 stars = I don't like it; 3 stars = Its OK; 4 stars = I like it; 5 stars = I love it.  The scale is slightly different on Goodreads: 1 star = did not like it; 2 stars = it was OK; 3 stars = I liked it; 4 stars = I really liked it; 5 stars = it was amazing.  My own personal scale is somewhere between.

In my opinion the book was “okay” and I gave specific feedback; my review wasn't overly negative, in fact the most negative comment I wrote was "I did not find any new or incredibly groundbreaking information."  I titled the review “good, basic info”.   The author called my review ‘particularly vicious’. I guess I was actually very surprised at the author’s reaction - but I really felt it was an honest review.  BTW it was a non-fiction book.  I know that many authors have had struggles with book reviews and I have read horrible stories of retaliation for ‘negative reviews’.  Is a 3 star rating negative?

I know some authors will not give a review below 4 stars, but that feels somewhat dishonest to me.  I am not only a writer, I am also an avid reader, and I do look at those reviewer ratings to help make a decision whether to buy/read a book.  I don’t expect a book to have perfect ratings, and I know book reviews are subjective, based on personal taste, etc.  Every book is bound to have at least one bad review; even NY Times bestsellers have negative reviews.    

I do admit, I may be a tough reviewer, my years working as a teacher sometimes influence my reviews, but I really believe that helpful criticism stands to make us all better writers.  I also believe that fellow readers will appreciate an honest review so they can decide if this book is a good choice for them. 

There are many nuances to this discussion.  If authors only post 4 or 5 star ratings, is that fair to potential readers?  Are those authors artificially inflating the overall score for fellow authors?  Is it possible that some authors give lower scores to their ‘competition’ in hopes their own books will sell more?  I can’t help but think of the age old passage “Honesty is the best policy.”

I know as an author I was less than pleased when I received a 2 star rating for one of my books on Goodreads.  The reviewer said complimentary things about the information in my book, but said she felt it was not funny.  All of the other reviewers enjoyed the humor in the book.  I was disappointed, but I didn’t get angry with this reviewer, she is entitled to her opinion. I will admit getting a 4 or 5 star rating feels much better than a 2 or 3 star rating, but really I am thankful someone enjoyed my book and took the time to write a thoughtful review at all. 

I would really like your input on this topic.  Has anyone else ever had an experience where an author got very angry about a review?  Should authors give reviews?  What about bad reviews?  Let me know your thoughts. 


  1. Authors should never respond to reviews, especially if they're negative. It's considered very unprofessional, so the author was at fault here.

    Whoever told you that the Goodreads and Amazon systems are different was right, but they got the info reversed.

    Amazon considers a three-star review to be "critical"--that is, negative. This affects Amazon's algorithms, so a 3-star can really hurt sales. It can also keep a book from being included in the big bargain newsletters essential for marketing, like BookBub and ENT.

    But on Goodreads, a three-star means the book is fine but not exceptional.

    If you look on most book pages on Amazon, you'll see a sample "good" review and a sample negative or "critical" review. The "critical" one is often a three-star.

    I'm sure that's why the author was upset. But she should have kept her reaction to herself. Any honest, thoughtful review is a gift

    1. Thanks Ann - I actually got those scales from the Amazon and Goodreads sites themselves but there is some obvious confusion. It is such dilemma - when authors are asking, practically begging people to do reviews but not everyone is going to like their work. It is never my intention to be hurtful, but i do think an honest review is important, not only for my own integrity but for fellow readers as well.