Saturday, May 05, 2012

A 5 star rant

Are readers lowering their expectations? I only ask because of the plethora of 5 star reviews that I see some indie books receive compared to books that have been professionally published, and the subsequent slant this has on the Amazon top rated charts.

I’ve read a number of these books now (and I count my own among the indie numbers), and while many of them are competently written, a lot lack that certain panache, characterisation, pace and plotting that makes them exceptional, which to me is what a 5 star rating denotes. Many of these books receive higher ratings than their professionally published counterparts, some of the authors of which have been in the game for a long time.

While I imagine much of this might be down to these professionally published tomes selling far more and so garnering more readers, which then has the potential to generate more reviews with a broader range of ratings, I also feel that discounting the ‘friends and family reviews’, it’s because readers now seem far more tolerant about punctuation, grammar and spelling errors, which probably has something to do with the dumbing down of the English language, as typified by the new ‘text speak’ and instant messaging where abbreviations abound and words are often spelt phonetically rather than correctly. But I also feel it’s because many readers, knowing it’s an indie book, give it a break and choose to ignore the books faults, because they know the book hasn’t been through the rigorous stages that a professionally published book goes through. So in this respect, it’s almost expected that there will be problems with indie books, but they are overlooked for this reason.

Many reviewers are also afraid to point out what they feel are faults for fear of vitriol. This is especially true when authors review other authors, as they are afraid said author will reciprocate with a harsh review regardless of whether it is warranted or not. Another reason for this is that I feel that while professionally published authors generally don’t respond to any negativity, indie authors are not as tolerant and so people are afraid to comment.

Ultimately this helps nobody though and I feel many, many indie authors release subpar work. Now that readers are the gate keepers, a role previously maintained by the professional publishers whose books were generally considered to at least be edited to a high standard, shouldn’t it be said readers job to now cast a more critical eye and not throw out 5 star reviews as liberally as confetti at a wedding?

False praise helps nobody as both the author and potential readers are being misled, and a few harsh truths, while sometimes hard to accept, will ultimately help both the authors and the work they release if they take heed. And this can only be a good thing for all involved.


Phil N. Schipper said...

As an author who just self-published my first book myself, I completely agree with what you're saying.

I certainly don't speak for everyone, but I really won't get offended at all by a (constructively) negative review. As I write the sequel, I'm trying to fill in and compensate for some of the shortcomings of plot that have already been pointed out to me.

Even some of my closest friends who liked my book the most surprised me by pointing out certain scenes they thought were subpar, and that made me happy. It showed me that they actually paid attention to my book instead of just giving me their good opinions blindly, which in my view is a bigger compliment than a positive review.

And for any reader who's still not convinced, I can say that the ability to give an honest review makes you look more intelligent. If you balance out your reviews and fairly give positive, negative, and neutral ones for different books, your reviews will be more valued by the community. On some sites, I've said to myself, "Well, this reviewer was unimpressed with this book, so what DID s/he like?" And I actually found some great books that way.

James Garcia Jr. said...

I certainly can't argue with your points here, Shaun. I know that I have definitely been concerned with how my reviews of other writers might be viewed. I really try to be fair, although it isn't always easy to be firm when the author is a friend. You have given me something to think about as I pen future reviews...


Stephen Theaker said...

I'd agree with all that. I think the Amazon Confirmed Purchaser tag is becoming quite useful for identifying which reviews to take seriously.

Phil, I'd just quibble with your use of the word "constructively". I know you're not expecting reviewers to act like writing coaches or anything like that, but I think it's fine to give a book a negative review without telling the author what they could have done to make it better - reviews are for readers rather than authors.

MichelleR. said...


I agree with all your points. I'm very supportive of indie writers, but it's difficult not just to wade through the unedited options, but to have a serious discussion of the issues.

Many indie writers have high standards, but there's a tendency for many to circle the wagons when there is talk about meeting the professional standards.

For some, an editor is what they get when they have some extra money. It's common for an author to -- talk about cart before the horse -- use profits from the book to pay for editing, formatting, and a decent cover.

The ability to put any quality book up for a sale seems to sometimes get confused with permission to put up for sale the first draft.

I'd be the first to agree that self-publishing offers opportunities, but it also demands greater personal responsibilities.