Recently, I came across an article written by an author who was giving advice to reviewers on how to review on Amazon. Most of the article contained good advice. Don’t write a really lengthy review, make sure you mention what you liked, be sure to leave a star rating. Good advice, definitely.
But one piece of advice really got under my skin. Paraphrasing, it amounts to, “Authors really get hurt, both emotionally and in terms of sales, when you leave low ratings, so don’t leave a rating on Amazon that’s 3 stars or less.”
To me, that just smacks of arrogance. I can see where the author’s coming from, but it’s awfully high-thinking to assume to give that advice. For one thing, it’s entirely self-serving. If I were an author and said, “I don’t like low reviews of my books no matter what you thought of them, so I demand that you not publish said bad reviews,” it would cycle around the blogosphere so quickly that it would make your head spin. I’ve seen it happen. It ends up doing little but making the author look like a fool and generating hits for whatever blog the author said that on.
In all honesty, if I think a book is bad, I’m not going to avoid saying so just to spare the author’s feelings. If that makes me a cruel person, then so be it. But I’m not going to keep quiet when I have something to say. Hard to believe, but low-star reviews can actually contain some really good advice to the author. If someone rates a book 1 star and says simply, “This book sucked,” then sure, that doesn’t really tell you anything. But if somebody rates it 1 star and then talks about the pacing was uneven and how the characters weren’t very believable and how there were typos everywhere and that a quick Google search would have prevented some factual inaccuracies, then too bad, author, but you might just have to put up with some constructive criticism. The people saying that aren’t trying to screw over your sales, but give you legitimate commentary on what you might need to improve on as a writer. Nobody’s perfect, and everybody can improve on something. And to demand that people only rate your book as 4 or 5 stars isn’t reasonable, it is arrogant, and it’s not going to be advice that’s taken well by reviewers.
To illustrate, I’ll point out what I’ve heard so often about self-published books. A lot of readers and reviewers are leery of self-published books that only have 5-star reviews. Why? Because those reviews likely came from friends and family, and don’t actually reflect much but the loyalty that the reviewer has to the writer. A lower review may not look that great to your rankings, but what it means is that people are reading your book. People who don’t have a particular reason to keep you happy. A couple of lower ratings means that you reached other people, which means that if nothing else, your book has an interesting enough premise to attract strangers to purchase it. Which will make other people interested in purchasing it. And so on down the cycle.
Again, I can understand some of where that author is coming from. I know that if I were an author and I saw negative reviews of my books, I’d be a little upset. On the other hand, I also accept that such things happen. You put your work out there for everyone to see, and not everyone is going to love it. Lower reviews provide perspective and sometimes contain good advice. If they lower your rankings and hurt your sales a little, it sucks but it’s part of what being an author is about. Sales have ups and downs. A 3-star review might detract one potential buyer, but if a 5-star review convinces 2 people to buy, then you’re still in the plus column. Your potential readers have a much better idea of what’s contained in your book, and you might have some pointers to pay attention to for your next book. You take the good with the bad. It’s what you do. But telling people not to post ratings of 3 stars or less just makes you look whiny and needy, like you got a bad review and just can’t take the criticism.
If your book is really good enough to deserve all the 4- and 5-star reviews you’d like to have, then a couple of bad apples won’t actually affect things all that much.
Again, I say that it’s too arrogant a demand to be worth making. And good reviewers are going to ignore it anyway. We’re going to continue on as we have, reviewing honestly, posting the bad alongside the good, and insisting that nobody has the right to dictate our opinions but ourselves. You have as much right to tell us what to write as we have to tell you the same.