Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What's With All Those Five Star Reviews?

Yesterday I discovered a snarky 3 star review on The Time Baroness' Amazon page, and, as has been the case with the other less-than-five-stars I've received there and on Goodreads, I went into a major funk, and thought: OH MY GOD, NOW I HAVE TO REWRITE THE WHOLE BOOK. That lasted  about five minutes, and yet the review stays with me like a headache. Out of sixteen Amazon reviews, only two are less than five stars. On Goodreads, there are two out of seven. As my career moves forward, I'm sure there will be more and more of all kinds, because, let's face it, not everyone will love my book, though hopefully many will. Some people will even (gasp, god forbid!) hate it. The first time I received a lower than perfect review I assuaged my wounded ego my going to Audrey Niffeneggar's Goodreads page and checking out her reviews. She has 29,205 reviews and her overall star rating is less than four. I read through some of the reviews and some were really, really bad. I was stunned. Audrey is kind of my hero(ine) and TTW is one of my favorites of all time. So, you'd think this would prove to me that one person can love a book while another hates it and I just shouldn't be so sensitive. As a matter of fact, I think of writers like Thomas Pynchon who killed himself, ostensibly, because of his lack of faith in his work...or John Kennedy Toole, author of A Confederacy of Dunces. If your self-esteem is that wrapped up in your writing, then something is wrong.

What really irks me though, is that that this reviewer called into question my fourteen 5 stars, implying that I had gotten them by devious means. Well, let me say this, if any reader is naive enough to believe that your mother or your sister or your best friends aren't going to leave you great reviews, then they need to wake up and smell the ditto paper. The fact is, the people who love and support you want you to succeed and think you're great no matter what you write and you can't stop them from saying so. But most of my 5 stars come from people I've never met, who weren't asked to read my book, who came out of the blue and wrote great reviews because they loved my book. Period.

Notice how, that one 3-star review made me so annoyed I had to sit down and blog about it! I wish I could e-mail ol' Audrey and ask her how she feels about the abysmal reviews she's gotten. You know what? She probably doesn't care at all, because she's laughing all the way to the bank. Yet we don't write for money. We write for love...the love of the creation, the love of telling the story, the love of expression. And when all is said and done, I love The Time Baroness. I love my story. I wrote it for myself. I tried to write the best story I could because, once I decided to sell it, I wanted it to be a great product too. But it won't resonate with everyone. If it did, I guess I'd be Harper Lee. So reviewers, please keep in mind that we're not trying to trick you into buying our books. We hope you will love it and are sorry when you don't. We appreciate constructive criticism, but sorry, no matter what you say, we're not going to rewrite the whole, darn book.


  1. I feel your pain. My first novel EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY has 30 Amazon reviews. 29 are 5-star and One is 1-star. It's a really stupid review, but it's irked me since 2006!

    I don't know why we over-react like this. I suppose it's just that bad reviews are more memorable because they're painful to read.

    Even if some 5-star Amazon reviews are written by friends & family, I'm pretty sure some 1-star reviews are written by jealous authors or wannabes!

  2. You're probably right about that, Linda. I guess that what I'd like to say to all reviewers is that authors don't just sit down one day and say, "OK, I'm gonna whip this book out in a month and see how many suckers I can get to buy it." We spend years, usually, honing a work, over and over until we, our editor and other critiquers think it's perfect, and then we release our baby out to the world, hoping someone will read it and like it. I'm not saying we can't take criticism, 'cause we should be able to, but reviewers shouldn't act like writing a novel is some get-rich-quick scheme we dreamt up to lure them in. Hah! Far from it.