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When a five star review is unhelpful

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Initial post: 28 Mar 2012 19:33:40 BDT
I've had a few five star reviews on my books from people who are acquaintances, but the way they are written makes it clear that they know me. The reviews are genuine [not inspired by me] but, while I am thankful that people want to express their enjoyment of my work, I worry that other readers will just think I've put people up to it.

Posted on 28 Mar 2012 19:46:07 BDT
Last edited by the author on 28 Mar 2012 22:22:15 BDT
DaveOz says:
I suppose it's one of the risks of the e-publishing platform. You've just got to hope enough non-acquaintances familiarise themselves with your work and feel compelled to write a review.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Mar 2012 19:46:30 BDT
Ethereal says:
If that were the case you'd encourage them not to make their connection to you clear.
On the other hand, I would put such glowing reviews down to bias and pay more attention to ones by strangers to you, but then I tend to discount all 5 and 1 star reviews anyway as being extreme.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Mar 2012 21:28:39 BDT
Oracle says:
Sadly no one will believe a five-star review by someone who knows you, regardless of how honest it is.

However, it's very commendable that your acquaintances admit that they know you as there are far too many glowing and untrue reviews out there which are obviously written by friends, relatives and even the authors themselves!

Posted on 28 Mar 2012 21:53:48 BDT
Last edited by the author on 28 Mar 2012 21:54:42 BDT
I must admit I would rather they did admit to knowing me - at least there's some honesty in it. I'm a self employed electrician and sent a mail shot to all my customers when each of the books were published [paperbacks not ebooks]. Some of them sent letters of congratulation, which was nice of them, but others obviously wanted to post reviews.

@ Oracle - I think you may be right about the believability of 5 star reviews by people who know me.

@ Ethereal - Unfortunately the reviews that have been posted were done without reference to me. If acquaintances ask I do explain the dilemma.

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 07:41:28 BDT
Sou'Wester says:
Possibly the best things for an author to do are (a): discourage acquaintances from posting reviews (they can never be impartial), (b): if they insist on doing so to be up front about that acquaintanceship, and (c): to be as honest as they can in their star rating. As the original post suggests, 5* reviews are now held in such low repute by many readers that awarding such is not doing the author any favours.

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 08:37:06 BDT
I've only got one review (4*) so far (no one I know) but am actually quite pleased it's not a 5*. Otherwise people would draw their own erroneous conclusions.

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 10:11:41 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Mar 2012 10:13:05 BDT
gille liath says:
Everything on Amazon has at least one 5* review doesn't it? That's almost the default level, if it's less than that the product must (it seems) have something wrong with it. And the vast majority are unhelpful for one reason or another - though I realise the OP means 'unhelpful to the writer' rather than to the reader.

Personally, I have to say if I see a review which is by a friend of the author, or looked suspiciously like it might be, it sometimes puts me off buying the product altogether. It's that smell of desperation again (even though, as here, it may not be the writer's fault).

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2012 10:51:26 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Mar 2012 10:52:25 BDT
'unhelpful to the writer' rather than to the reader.

I think it is perhaps unhelpful to both writer and reader equally. The writer misses potential readers because the reviews look suspect and the reader might be missing a good book because, as has been pointed out, 5 star reviews are now considered biased. It is difficult though. Writers want reviews to help the reader make informed choices, but without readers there are no reviews, and many reviews are treated with suspicion because of the way they are worded.

We seem to live in a world that has incredible possibilities for communication, but many of us, myself included, distrust much of what is communicated.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2012 12:01:34 BDT
I'd agree with that. Be upfront. No harm done to post a review. But I still think that other readers might not take it seriously.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2012 19:36:58 BDT
gille liath says:
Because most of it is spam! And most of what is not spam is chaff (quite a meal you'd get out of that combination). At the moment there's this inverse ratio between raw 'information' and actual understanding.

But I agree, it is unhelpful for the reader too. One of the many types of unhelpful review.

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 19:49:41 BDT
The question is - where does it end? If everybody assumes that a 5 star review is fake, which seems to be the consensus of opinion, then anybody who wants to try to manipulate the system simply posts made-up reviews that are 4 or 3 star presuming that they will be accepted as real. The net result is that you just can't trust any of them fully. I actually think that the worst of all reviews are the ones printed on the book covers, usually from a newspaper. 'Thrilling story, full of suspense, captivating drama'. I'm reading a book by a well known author with just such a 'review' and I'm finding it dull and padded out with unnecessary words. It was passed to me by a friend but I doubt I will try another.

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Mar 2012 19:58:35 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 Mar 2012 19:59:33 BDT
gille liath says:
Yep - most professional reviews are not much better. At least you can reasonably assume that an Amazon reviewer will have read the book, which I don't think journos always bother to do. And they are often just as corrupt, mates with the author or whatever.

I certainly don't assume 5* reviews are fake - I just think they are often rather undiscriminating. There are some good, authoritative ones out there, but it can be a frustrating job finding them.

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 21:58:17 BDT
Garscadden says:
I think reviewers scores should all be normalised, to give a running average of 3*, I also think that star ratings shouldn't be shown for any reviewer who has rated less than 10 (arbitrary number) items, and rated things over a period of 6 months. Basically make it hard for people to post shill reviews - these rules probably wouldn't affect most people, so wouldn't be a problem.

But then I'm just an ar*e most of the time.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2012 09:56:44 BDT
gille liath says:
There are a variety of reasons why the majority of reviews are always going to tend to extremes - the majority to saying something is brilliant when it isn't, with a few going the other way and saying something is worse than it really is. But I'm sure Amazon like it that way, because something rated at 5* is likely to sell more than something rated 3* - even if the reviewers' reasons don't stack up, and even if everything else is also rated 5*. So I don't see that changing.

Posted on 30 Mar 2012 10:37:55 BDT
Keith Hoare says:
I don't ask for reviews, although thinking about it I don't know anyone who has a Kindle to ask. Mind you looking at my star ratings some must love, or hate my work. Except I can safely say if I get a five star review it is genuine, exactly like the one star review and I thank them all for taking the time to voice their opinion. Whether it influences a potential reader, that is another question more directed to the person making the decision to buy my book.

Posted on 1 Apr 2012 10:14:27 BDT
Maria says:
I think that as long as people make clear that they know the author their reviews are fine. If a review is honest then that will be reflected in the number of stars . I read some of each of the different stars and then decide, after I have read the synopsis. Now if that is badly written I won't go on to the reviews but leave it there.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Apr 2012 11:26:52 BDT
That is a fair way of selecting, rather than instant dismissal. To tell you the truth, I would be very unhappy if someone I knew posted a dishonest, favourable review. It took a little while to make the friends that read my manuscripts understand that I wanted genuine criticism. Flattery does not help strengthen the writing, but they needed to understand I wouldn't be offended. Far from it. I can point to the significant impact of their involvement. I count myself luck to have people I can trust to be brutal, if necessary, and it was at times. Fortunately they are avid readers so they have a vast experience of books to give comparison.

Posted on 1 Apr 2012 14:08:52 BDT
Jane E. (UK) says:
Clive for "brutal" I read honest? Have read all the postings here and agree with Maria ~ any intelligent potential reader will approach all reviews with an open mind and should stay that way even after reading the review. Readers often check other sites for reviews rather than Amazon because as you state most don't trust any of them!
I have been known to take the plunge into an horrific 2 star book (says Amazon reviewers) that satisfies and surprises. A 5 star review does not entice nor repell.
Are you 'reading' too much into your reviews?

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Apr 2012 17:13:17 BDT
I was really after the thoughts of people about how they respond to reviews by someone who knows the author. You are quite right about books that seem to carry a good review being mediocre and some that are rated lower giving a surprise. I suppose it is often influenced by the readers taste as well. If a book is written well I would like to think that I could say so even if the genre didn't particularly appeal.

PS I did mean honest really, it just sometimes felt brutal. :-) The two friends that read for me are superb in their observations and criticism and helped develop my two novels well beyond the first draft and I was happy to credit them for it in the acknowledgements.

Posted on 1 Apr 2012 20:51:00 BDT
monica says:
Clive, I don't read many books whose reviewers are likely to know the authors--and in any case I pay far more attention to the content of the review than to the stars--but I've no problem with an intelligent review that happens to mention (near the beginning is best)that the author is the reviewer's professor, or an acquaintance of his aunt's, or someone with the same publisher as the reviewer. I'd probably need a fair bit more salt to take seriously the review of someone who states that the author is a mate of his, but I've yet to read a review by someone honest enough to say any such thing. 'Knowing' the author could cut both ways, couldn't it, now?

I was in a discussion re whether a perfectly ambiguous review could be written, and I'd certainly admire fervently a mate of the author of a bad book who could write an honest review in terms that wouldn't kill off the friendship . . .

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Apr 2012 21:41:54 BDT
Last edited by the author on 1 Apr 2012 21:42:32 BDT
I think you're right, perhaps friends would have the sense to keep quiet if it were that bad, simply to save the friendship. I note that you review quite a lot of books and perhaps that helps you make an informed choice when you evaluate what others have posted, thereby making the star rating less important.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Apr 2012 21:46:23 BDT
gille liath says:
Yes, but the problem is we have no way of knowing whether your mates' reviews are honest. Nor are we under any obligation to try and sift their motives. Why should we?

Posted on 1 Apr 2012 21:52:16 BDT
Accepted entirely. It would be much more of a problem if the people were close friends, even for me. They are generally customers I have worked for over the years that I sent mailshots to, but it is interesting how 'matey' the language used is. One claims to be a close friend and I have no idea who it is!

Posted on 1 Apr 2012 22:15:18 BDT
Last edited by the author on 2 Apr 2012 00:38:38 BDT
Mark Thrain says:
I really do not trust a single review I see. I am sure they are all legit, and everyone is always saying they are the key to selling more books, but I only consider book recommendations from people I actually know, and like. I would never choose which books to read based on a strangers suggestions or comments. They may not share my tastes. I would never take an Amazon customer review remotely seriously, personally, however many or few stars.

I suspect many many reviews are done by friends, they certainly read like that. Why would dozens of people who have never met you suddenly decide they need to not only review your book, but provide a careful plot synopsis, and sing its praises in the prevalent formulaic way that exists in the reviews. I mean my friends are hardly queuing up to review my book, even if they really like it, they may say they will review it, but never do. Can I expect people who never met me to be more loyal than my good mates. I would have to stretch my imagination with that.

Likewise, I certainly would never change my mind about reading a book because someone I didn't know said they didn't like it.

If I really like a book, I may mention it to some friends, I never think, ooh, I must rush and write a customer review on the Amazon website because I enjoyed that so much, unless of course it was written by a friend, or unless I was seeking to gain status as a reviewer.

When a friend who's opinions are sometimes in accord with mine suggests a book to read, that is when I may, possibly consider the recommendation. Other than that I guess I generally select my own recreational reading through browsing online or in bookstores.

As a force for encouraging and developing new reviewer talent, the Amzn review system is unparalleled. As a reliable buying guide... I wouldn't rely on in.

Why would you want to read this comment? Because it is gripping, poignant, and well written. First of all the Narrator suggests s/he doesn't set much stock by amzn book reviews. Then s/he suggests there may be ulterior motives for writing amzn book reviews. Yet a friends recommendation may count for more. So are there any benefits to amzn book reviews?

The characterization is very enjoyable, I am on the edge of my seat for the next installment. 4 stars

Actually, having said all that, as a writer I am delighted when I get 'Trusted' reviewer reviews, and these ones may influence buyers perhaps.
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Discussion in:  fiction discussion forum
Participants:  38
Total posts:  304
Initial post:  28 Mar 2012
Latest post:  13 Jun 2012

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