We all know how important Amazon reviews are to writers, indie writers in particular. With most bookshop chains in thrall to marketing managers from the Big Six, how else can we make any impression on the market which seems to be expanding exponentially? And if we publish only in digital formats, the online review really is the only real way to get exposure. With this in mind I try to do my best for fellow writers and post reviews whenever I can. With my own novel, A Kettle of Fish, I am keen to have as many reviews as possible and although less than 4 stars (see below!)is always a disappointment, I’d rather have a less than wonderful review than one that’s insincere, or even no review at all.
And there’s the rub. As a reader (rather than a writer) I’m beginning to wonder how much faith I can put in the Amazon 5-star system. For instance, I’ve just read a novel which, being aware of the author’s reputation, I expected to like a lot. Well for me it was okay, but not a book where the plot or the characters really engaged me. In fact as a writer I itched (as you do!) to do a bit of editing, to take out the ‘flash forward’ that robbed the story of suspense in the opening chapters and to give more space to the sub-plot which I found at least as interesting as the main event. But what bothered me more was that the book had over 100 reviews which averaged at 4.9 stars, i.e. nearly all 5 star reviews. Did all these people really stay awake turning the pages?
But hang on. For 5 stars, Amazon only asks that we ‘love’ the book. It doesn’t have to be an all-time classic. A while ago, I decided I should get over myself and be more generous. I gave 5 stars to a well-written rom-com, which I would not class as great literature but it did do exactly what it said on the tin and with some style, so why not give it the full five? The trouble is, that novel is now superficially on a par with books I have liked a lot more and that doesn’t feel quite right either.
Once upon a time, Amazon allowed us to grant half a star and I admit that 3.5 or 4.5 stars made life a lot easier for a ditherer like me. 3.5 was above average, suitable for many books which I felt were competently written but didn’t quite do it for me. Now that the half star has gone, I have to decide between 3 stars (which feels mean) and 4 which in the case of my latest read feels like too much. I also suspect that this has contributed to a kind of grade inflation in book reviews. Suddenly anything less than four isn’t worth having.
|Looks like it might be a ten!|
Come to think of it, a 1-to-5 star rating with nothing in between is a very crude measure of a book’s qualities. If Strictly used one to ten, can’t we use at least as many for books? Then we could award a joyous SEVEN for a very decent read, eight would be pretty damn good, and 9 or 10 would be very special indeed.Or maybe we are all hooked on maximum points and even a ten point scale would soon be debased, which for readers may not be a problem.
But I think that writers would benefit from something a bit more refined. It might encourage readers to rate more books and to think a bit more about what that rating means.
Isn’t that what we all want?