18 April, 2016

Can Reviews Ever Be Unfair?

Any writer who submits work for competitions or publications has to be able to take criticism. This is especially true if you have a published book. Reviews from readers are the lifeblood of a new author's career and you have to learn to take the one-stars with the five-stars. But can reviews ever be unfair, or are all opinions equally valid?

I have never minded getting one-star reviews for my debut novel The Art of Letting Go. Obviously I would rather everybody loved it, but if somebody dislikes it so much to give it only one star it was never going to be for them even if I'd written it better! My novel currently has 111 reviews, averaging 4.3 stars and with 65 five star reviews. I also have three one-star reviews which I take to be part of the process - even the most critically acclaimed books have poor reviews. However, I received a three-star review the other day that I thought was unfair.

"It was OK but I feel that I have been trapped into reading a Mills and Boon."

Now, I am not snobbish about Mills and Boon - they publish romances that are enjoyed by thousands (millions?) of readers, even if they are not considered of the highest literary merit by the critics. My problem with this review is that my book isn't a romance! Anybody reading that review would assume there was a romantic core to the story and may well be put off if that wasn't their thing. Although the main relationship in the novel is between a woman and a younger man, there is no romance between them at any point. It is a story of a strange and unlikely friendship, not a boy-meets-girl romp.

I almost jumped straight on to social media to ask people to vote the review as unhelpful, then I paused. If the words this reviewer wrote were genuinely how they felt about this book, then the review was fair, surely? (And I'm hoping that the fact my ranking plummeted rapidly in the 24 hours after that review became the most recent one on my Amazon page, was coincidence!) What do you think? Can a reader just be wrong about a book?

Individual reviews aside, there ARE two aspects to Amazon reviews that do seem unfair to me. Firstly, the disappearing reviews. At least two people have contacted me to tell me that they left five-star reviews for my novel that Amazon appear to have taken down within a day or so. I'm not sure what algorithm or checks Amazon use to decide whether a review is genuine or not, but these were real reviews that don't make it on to my statistics. There is apparently nothing you can do about this either.

The other, more minor, gripe I have, is that Amazon allows you to choose to read positive reviews or critical reviews of books. Positive reviews are the four- and five-star ones. Critical are one-, two- and three-star reviews. I think it is a bit unfair to automatically assume three-star reviews are critical. My three-star reviews are a mixed bag - from "enjoyable" to "boring". What do you think? If you give something three stars is it a criticism?

As with all reviews - good and bad - the only thing to do is to keep writing and keep hoping that people will read what you've written and like it enough to leave a good review! If you have read my novel and haven't yet reviewed it, please consider doing so - reviews do mean so much to new authors.

5 comments:

  1. Aside from the validation, sometimes it's not the number of stars but the depth of the feedback that matters most. A five star review that says 'I really enjoyed it' but the one star (tombstone!) review that references the language or the setting or the characterisation gives me a choice when I come to write another book. I have been told about reviews posted that never reach the Amazon page. Truly, it's a baffling system!

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    1. I tend to find the three-stars both the most cutting and the most helpful. It's the level where you could have had somebody, but you lost them! That's where you need to know what went wrong!

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  2. I would give your review of reviews 4* (a meta-review) .. I would let it go (I'm told it's an art) ;-)

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    1. Now if only somebody had written a book about that...

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  3. I'm with you on 3 stars - many of them are mostly positive and putting them under 'Critical' can be misleading.

    One of my gripes with Amazon reviews is the way people use the 'Was this review helpful?' button. I'm sure many interpret it as 'Do you agree with the review?' which is a different thing entirely!

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