Why It’s Time To STOP Giving 5-Star Book Reviews



I’m at the point now where I see a writer touting his 5-star-reviewed novel and I just roll my eyes.

Five-star reviews mean nothing anymore.

Just about every self-published book out there has at least five to ten 5-star reviews. This is because every self-published author has at least five to ten family members and/or writer friends who are willing to give them a stellar review without any regard whatsoever to the actual quality of the writing.

Seriously, check out the reviews on Amazon on any self-published author. They ALL have MOSTLY 5-star reviews. If you click on “see all my reviews”, you can view the rest of the reviews written by each reviewer. It seems that EVERY book they have EVER read is 5 stars!!!

Take a look and you will find that these 5-star-reviewed books run the gamut from professionally edited, well-crafted stories to books with enough horrifically glaring grammatical and spelling errors to make Strunk & White arise from their graves and raise their fists to the sky, shrieking “Why God, why!!!”

As any of my family members and friends will tell you, I am prone to fits of righteous writerly rage when I see one of those books get 5 stars. A few tips if you’re going to write a romance novel:

* It’s physique not physic.

* Handsome has an “e” at the end.

* A question mark needs to be present if someone is asking a question. This is not optional.

* You need to place a period at the end of other sentences. You can’t just leave them blank.

* You’re not allowed to just randomly capitalize words in the middle of a sentence. There are rules for those sorts of things.

The above mistakes are all from the same novel and appear in the teaser excerpt on Amazon designed to get you to buy the novel. The book currently has eight 5-star reviews, one 4-star, and two 3-star reviews.

This is beyond ridiculousness. Look, people’s opinions vary widely. One person may love a book while another hates it. Reviewing can be highly subjective, but I’m not talking opinions here. There were even words MISSING in the middle of a sentence. The writer obviously slapped together a novel and barely even bothered to proofread the damn thing, let alone hire an editor or put forth any real effort in producing an acceptable book, before publishing it.

This kind of sloppy work reflects quite badly on self-published authors and the sad thing is that many other writers are to blame. There is a very real epidemic of “you give me a 5-star review and I’ll give you one” kind of behavior. I doubt I would get many 5-star reviews on any of my books because I am simply not willing to lie and put my professional reputation on the line by writing a fabulous review of material that simply is not good or even up to minimal professional standards. Just because you are publishing by yourself without the backing of a traditional publisher doesn’t mean that the rules go out the window. Your work needs to be every bit as polished as the pros if you ever want to sell any books outside of your inner circle of writers. Sure, you may get a handful of 5-star reviews from your friends, but you’ll never be able to break out to the next level and reach “real” readers if you don’t take the work seriously.

And you need to be careful.

Because someday somebody’s gonna tell you the awful, heartbreaking truth. It won’t be me, though. If I cannot honestly give a book at least three stars, I won’t review it at all. If you ask me to review book that I didn’t feel was up to par I will tell you, privately, why I won’t review it. I won’t give a book a bad review, but I’m not gonna lie and say it’s good when I don’t think that it is. I care far too much about my craft to cheapen it in that way.

My standards are really very simple. To me, a 3-star book is one that was well written and that I enjoyed enough, but I probably won’t remember for long. I read lots of books, so that’s not really a bad thing. A 4-star book is a well written one and one that I found really resonated with me. It’s a book that I would actively tell a friend , “Dude, you’ve gotta read this!” The mission of Wannabe Pride is to support indie authors, so I love to give good reviews whenever possible. If I can give a book three stars, I’ll put a review of it up on Amazon and/or Goodreads. If I can honestly give it four stars, I’ll try to write a review of it on my website such as Fur Ball Fever, Painted Faces, and As Wonderful As Want. However, I do worry about putting my honest 3-and 4-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, because my 4-star review can actually drag your average DOWN if all you’ve got so far is 5-star reviews!

As for a 5-star review? Well…I would reserve this rating for the best books I’ve ever read. Books that excel in style, characterization, and plot. A 5-star book is unputdownable. You get completely absorbed in the book and the characters grab you and just won’t let go. You will tell anyone and everyone about this miracle book that changed your life forever.

Pretty lofty standard?

You bet.

The standards for 5-star restaurants and hotels are subjective but lofty as well. Here are some of the criteria according to Consumer Traveler:

* Service that makes people feel like stars and important.

* Hotels where the staff is impeccably dressed and caters to clients’ needs and wants. For example, high tea being served using silver and perfectly white pressed linen. Cocktails should be served on a tray accompanied by cloth cocktail napkins and well-presented hor d’oeuvres.

*Cleanliness and décor are big 5-Star factors plus total attention to detail.

* Five-star service requires an effort on the part of the staff to understand the individual being served and to specifically tailor the service so that he or she feels completely at ease.

* The 5-Star service is uninterrupted by negotiation or by the customer having to explain or educate the personnel about their expectations. A five star establishment has already calibrated its service to the highest level.

*Every 5-Star restaurant is flawless when it comes to food and service. A large staff serves the courses but they’re choreographed to make it seem as though only one person waiting on you. There is no noise or bumping into other dining room personnel as wine is poured or during the meal. Guests aren’t rushed but when they ask for the bill, it should be processed in a timely manner..

Flawless. Service of the highest level. Total attention to detail.

The Michelin system reserves stars for exceptional restaurants, and gives up to three; the vast majority of recommended restaurants have no star at all. According to eHow.com, for a five-star rating, a hotel needs a concierge, valet parking and a fitness center, health center or spa. Many of these hotels also offer other services such as a casino, lounge or nightclub.

Giving a novel containing amateur and downright lazy spelling and grammatical errors a 5-star review is like giving a 5-star review to a Motel 6 in the middle of a rundown inner city. It’s ridiculous, misleading, and will ultimately destroy the integrity of the whole system.

Imagine giving an entire high school full of students straight-As.

If everybody wins, then nobody really does.

I implore readers and, in particular, the writing community to stop poisoning the literary waters by giving automatic glowing reviews for books that simply don’t deserve it. It is vital to the integrity of the self-publishing community, not to mention your own professional integrity and credibility, to demand and reward excellence. If we want to be taken seriously in the publishing industry, we’ve got to stop playing these games. I refuse to play “author” like little children play “house”. These days anybody can write a book, purchase a fancy book cover design, set up an “author page” and call themselves a real author without knowing anything about the craft of writing.

If you write a novel without learning the craft, publish a book without even proofreading it, and have the unmitigated gall to call yourself an author, then YOU ARE CHEATING ON A TEST THAT I HAVE SPENT A LIFETIME PREPARING FOR.

I implore you – if you’re going to publish a book, insist on the highest professional standards. Don’t sell yourself short by half-assing it. If you’re gonna do it, by God do your homework and do it right.

And, whatever you do, stop rewarding the people that don’t.

– Linda Fausnet