I’m part of a robust Christian fiction reader’s group on Facebook. It has thousands of members, active discussions, and wonderful moderators that keep things on track and positive. As a reader, I get more book recommendations than I need, talk about my favorite authors with others who love them, and giggle at the funny memes that others post.
As an author, I learn a lot about what readers are looking for in books and why some books or authors are chosen over others. Our differences are fascinating!
Earlier this year, one reader started a discussion on leaving reviews that was quite disheartening, though. And readers have tremendous power to make a difference on battlefields within the publishing world.
Reviews and Star Ratings
We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. ~B. F. Skinner, American psychologist
Do you leave reviews or star-ratings on the books you read?
I know that’s terribly scary to most of you. It is to me, although not quite as much as it was five years ago. The reasons I saw within the discussion in my reader’s group highlighted many of the reasons we don’t say anything on book sites.
- I don’t want to discourage the author if I can’t leave a 4 or 5-star rating.
- I was taught that if I couldn’t say something nice then I shouldn’t say anything at all.
- Others liked the book a lot, so it’s only me that didn’t connect with it.
- I hold authors to a very high standard, and most of them just don’t meet it.
- I have no idea what to say!
- I’m not a writer and don’t feel qualified to write anything for others to read.
I get it. I do. I’ve thought many of the same things myself over the years.
And then . . . I became a writer.
All Reviews Are Important
All reviews are important. Well, all REAL reviews are important (more on that in a moment).
- Reviews encourage authors to continue writing, even when it’s hard.
- Reviews remind authors that what they are doing matters, even if it’s only for entertainment value.
- A positive review touches an author deeply, especially when it’s from a stranger that the author may never meet.
Even the 1 and 2-star ratings are critical to an author’s survival.
Consider for a moment that you are a publisher. You’re about to invest thousands of dollars into a book with a description that sounds interesting. What do you do? Look at what this author has done before and how well it was received by readers. If an author has no 2 or 3-star reviews, then the publishing world assumes that no one but the author’s friends and family are reading his books.
What if you are a movie director. You come across a book with a good cover and an interesting description. You want to find a new book to turn into a movie script that will wow audiences, and you know you will spend thousands of dollars on this project. What’s your next step? Finding out what people in the real world think about this book. If everybody loves the book, then something is terribly suspect about it. After all, no one will ever please everybody.
Okay, what if you are a reader, and you only have limited funds available to buy new books. And limited time to read said books. Oh, wait. Isn’t that all of us? We can love our fellow readers well by mentioning (with love and grace) what bothers us about a book. Bonus thought: What bothers you might be exactly what I’m looking for, which means your “negative” words are what encourages me to make the purchase!
Is that all?
Nope. Not at all, my dear reader. If you want quality books and movies put out on the market, then the ones that still need some work need culled (and called) out. Think about it:
- Who will convey that while the story is top-notch, the cover doesn’t draw you in?
- How does an author understand that his work needs a professional editor’s hand if no one ever mentions that the grammar or typos or timeline issues within the book are an issue?
- How does an author know that she needs to work on character development or story pace if she only ever receives good reviews and encouragement?
But we need to talk about one more aspect of reviews that most outside of the publishing industry don’t know. It’s part of the dark underbelly of the business that can hit even the most respected authors in the business. It shows up in essentially two opposing but similar ways.
[Read more about Review Bombing here.]
1. Trolls and Negative Reviews
This method has been around for a while, so you may know about it. It starts with an author’s competitor either enlisting the help of friends and family OR hiring what are commonly referred to as trolls.
These people will flood a book with 1-star, highly critical reviews. Occasionally they are honest enough to say, “I haven’t read this book, but . . . ” Frequently they are more vague with comments such as, “Don’t waste your money,” or “Not worth your time.”
These reviews pull down a book’s overall rating, which affects sales. Believe it or not, some people look only at the total star rating and buy, or not, based on that criterion alone.
An author’s best defense against this: Reviews from people like you who are honest.
2. Trolls and Positive Reviews
A slightly more advanced method of knocking out the competition is by using positive reviews. An unscrupulous author will do the same basic thing as described above except they will get friends or trolls to leave positive 5-star reviews. Then they will alert Amazon to the suspicion of fraudulent reviews, which is the really nasty part.
Why? Because Amazon will assume the reporting person is honest and doing readers a favor, and they will shut down the book and potentially the author. Amazon is a powerhouse in the publishing world, and they own and police their website themselves. Even worse, they don’t have a great appeals process, and proving another author did this to you is difficult at best.
An author’s best defense against this: Reviews from people like you who are honest and aren’t afraid to give lower than a 5-star review.
The pleasure of reading a story and wondering what will come next for the hero is a pleasure that has lasted for centuries and, I think, will always be with us. ~Stan Lee, American writer
Reviews are tricky, I know. They can be intimidating, but you taking a few moments to do this affects your favorite authors in many, many ways. And, it’s a great way to encourage the authors you love to continue writing.