The Deception of Starred Ratings

by Samantha Hoffman

Do you buy your books based on Amazon's ratings? How accurate do you think those ratings are? Dan Klefstad touched on this subject in his article The Tyranny of Starred Ratings, and I touched on it in my post Books We Did Not Finish in 2021. In mine, I spoke about the unreality of the ratings on Where the Crawdads Sing, which are now up nearly 57,000 reviews since that last post, and hanging in at 85% 5-stars.

Do we care if the ratings are realistic, or do we only want to buy the books with the most stars?

If you have a published book you probably live and die by those stars. I recently saw this comment on last week's post Fear and Publishing (another by Dan Klefstad): "My debut, which has loads of four and five star reviews on GoodReads, also has a couple of two stars. So far, I’ve successfully embraced them as part of the package, but they do nag at me."

Why should they nag? Don't we want an honest, balanced view of our work? Don't we want people to gather opinions - positive and negative - and then decide for themselves whether or not to buy? Only honest reviews can provide that. But maybe we don't want that. Maybe we think that if people don't like a book or a movie or theatre, they shouldn't write a review.

We, as authors, can't truly think every person who reads our work will love it. We hope so, of course, but intellectually we know that's not possible. We live in the real world, a world full of opinions, a world where there's hardly consensus anywhere about anything.  In today's world kids get trophies for participation. Does that feel as good as a trophy that's received for success? For some, I suppose that's a trophy is a trophy. For the rest of us, we want to earn our accolades with effort and hard work and tenacity. With all that, though, there's no guarantee that everyone will like our work, or even that anyone will like our work. 

But that's our writing life. It takes courage to put your work out there. It's not just your writing that's on the line, it's YOU. Be brave. Do your best work and hope for the best. It will resonate with someone. Maybe only a few. But maybe hundreds, maybe thousands. We never know. However many stars you get for your book, it's more than you had before.

Here's a one-star review I received for my novel. It doesn't nag at me.
First of all, I consider myself a pretty avid reader. I will read everything that is put in front of me, and every so often I read a chick lit book for guilty, relaxing pleasure -- to take my mind off of the daily grind of life. I don't expect much from these books. So when a book is so awful that I find myself skimming and skipping pages just to finish (I try not to leave a book unfinished, regardless of how terrible it may be), you know I think it's bad. It was a ridiculous concept and a book that had me shaking my head thinking "this is one of the worst books I have ever read." Mind you, I am more of an adventurer and a quester, more than conservative by any means. Given my personality, one would think this book might appeal to me, since the "not always taking the safe and steady route" is an intertwining theme in this book. However, I could not be done soon enough with this book. And then it went where it belonged -- the trash. I couldn't even bring myself to donate it as I typically do with my completed books. Enough said. It was the first and last time I ever read anything written by this author. To each his own!

Share Facebook   Share on Twitter

Back to Write City Blog