Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Five Stars: Real or Not Real?


So the other day when I was at an LTUE panel about reviewing books, the conversation turned to rating books. As always, the discussion gets fairly lively for this topic, but I was shocked when one of the dudes on the panel said "five star ratings are fake!"

Perhaps he was referring to Amazon star ratting exclusively, because you know we've all heard of the stories of people getting paid to put positive reviews on there. Because, yes, we did talk a lot about the difference between reviews on Goodreads compared to those on Amazon. And Amazon is just not to be trusted. I guess.

But the way I took it to mean was that all five star ratings should be dismissed by the author and even the reading public with the idea that that reviewer is just way too bias to give a legitimate review. Or something. And that the only meaningful reviews are those that fall in the 3 and 4 star category. I mean, I sat there confused for the rest of the time wondering about it and getting even a little miffed. Of course, I didn't have the guts to ask a follow up question and make him clarify what he meant.

Instead, I sat there and wondered about what rating I should give to all those books I absolutely love! The books that stick with me, that I can't stop thinking about, whose characters I completely fall in love with! The books that I want to read over and over again, and tell everyone else to read NOW! The books that I want to hug and keep forever!  Do not those books deserve a five star rating? And if I give it to them, is that FAKE? And to be dismissed as worthless? What?

Okay so I've been accused of liking too many books. A thought that I find funny, actually, given the fact that I've made the habit of reading and talking up books a huge part of my life! It seems you'd just assume that I like them for the most part, right? And in fact, there was a guy on the panel, a book reviewer, that seemed to talk a lot about all the books he hates. (Because the discussion of course tended to go the direction of what to do when you DON'T like a book.) And it made me think, I wonder if he likes ANY of the books he reads and reviews? But of course he does, he has list on his site!

Anyway, so yes, it appears that I like most of the books I read, and lately I've tried to be more stingy with the five stars so that they will mean a little more, and I understand that if I give everything five stars, then the meaning of the rating is essentially gone. But if I am consciously trying to only give five stars to books that fit the above criteria, then one thing they are not is FAKE.

They are so very very real, and it truly means that I love that book.

So I will keep giving out the five stars, even if I review on Amazon. Take it or leave it!

That being said, I did come away from this panel with a cool new way to look at reviews (and I think it was even the above mentioned guy who came up with this):

Amazon reviews are to get people to BUY the books
Goodreads reviews are to get people to READ the books
Blog post reviews are to ENTERTAIN people about the books.

Makes sense to me.

For those that are interested, other notes I took while at this panel:

* the difference between a book review and a critique (review: speaks to the audience about your feelings of the book, a critique speaks to the author about your suggestions and advice to fix the book.)
* think of your audience (share in your book love? want to buy the book? friends?)
* there are good reviews, there are bad reviews and there are UGLY reviews (don't be ugly)
* remember kindness and honesty
* is your greater responsibility to the author or the audience? (Audience! But... don't kill the author.)

So all my expert reviewer friends, what say you?


43 comments:

  1. I like your little summary about the intention of reviews on different platforms. I should be more suspicious of Amazon reviews, but I continue to read them anyways. I dole out my five stars very sparsely, only for the books I truly love and want to keep forever and read again and again. I think they're perfectly legit- as my reviews are based on my response to a book (not a critical analysis) I don't see why anyone should question the accuracy of how many stars I stick on a book (figuratively). The fours and threes are for good books, the ones and twos for books I don't really recommend. I think it's pretty clear!

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    1. Jeane: It is pretty clear! And I love that you mention the word "response" because that's often how I see it too.

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  2. Great post Suey! Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts.

    I agree that Amazon is definitely suspect. But I am still cautious of Goodreads because there is the desire to bump up an author, so I tend to survey the reviews if I haven't a friend who'd reviewed it.

    I have to say I tend to question someone who gives 5-stars ALL the time. Although any rating system makes better sense in the context of who the reviewer is. When You say 5 I can know those things you listed feed into it. The niceness of finding great blogs (like yours) and/or having friends on Goodreads and the like. Someone still has to have some credibility with me when I regard their rating. If my sister put a 5 on something I would have a really good idea that I wouldn't like it.

    Some have to find and harp on negative things about most every read in order to feel relevant; I feel bad for them if that is what makes them feel Critical--even as I understand the pressure (especially with those books Everyone raves on.) Critique is a skill and "flaws" do not necessarily deny a book a 5th star.

    ~L (omphaloskepsis)

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    1. L: I love that you said flaws doesn't mean it's not a five star. LOVE that! Yes. Yes.

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  3. This was an interesting post - and you know what...I am with you. I read far more books that I love than books that I hate and it is because I know what I love and I am really pretty good about picking books that I love. I give a lot of 4.5 and 5 star ratings and they are NOT fake. It kind of makes me sad that people are so cynical these days (although I agree about Amazon - I never pay any attention to the reviews there because they are either overly glowing or overly hateful). I hope that the people who read my blog go there because they trust my opinion and they enjoy what I have to say.

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  4. Amazon reviews are to get people to BUY the books.
    Goodreads reviews are to get people to READ the books.
    Blog post reviews are to ENTERTAIN people about the books.

    I've never heard it put that way but it makes sense. As hardcore readers we get pretty good at picking books to read that we know we'll like. I mean, duh right? Why would we read otherwise?

    I don't rate books on my blog but I do on Amazon and Goodreads. I'm pretty picky about giving out 5 stars because I save those for books that I truly can't imaging living without ;)

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    1. Jennifer: Yes, it seems like we'd end up reading all stuff we like, for the most part. It just makes sense.

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  5. First of all, I think this idea is rubbish! Ratings are based on people's opinions. If I feel like a book gets 5 stars (or more), then it does! No one can tell me my opinion is fake!

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  6. I am by no means an expert, but if I really love a book I am going to give it 5 stars. My thoughts may change when a read a book for the second time, but in that moment it touched me in some way and I want to let the world know how amazing I thought it was.

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    1. Lisa: I'm no expert either, and hopefully we don't have to be to dole out the five stars, right?

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  7. How sad that he made such a blanket statement about 5 star reviews and never explained it! A 5 star review usually means something, even if it's done on Amazon to drive up ratings. I can usually tell when someone is rating something just to make it look good. Keep loving what you read and keep giving your 5 star reviews!

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    1. Melissa: It sorta makes we want to give out even MORE five stars!

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  8. Excellent post, Suey! Like others have said, I think it totally depends on the reviewer. We all know that you're a "nice" reviewer and so we take your reviews in that context. People know I'm a "mean" reviewer and take my reviews in that context. We're both sincere and I think that's what matters the most.

    Sounds like a fun panel. Wish I had been there to hear it!

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    1. Susan: It was a fun panel, I wish it could have gone on longer. I probably would have got the guts to raise me hand and make him clarify if it had lasted just a touch longer! LOL, I'm nice and you're mean, huh? Go us! :)

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  9. Oh, and I just checked out the review blog you mentioned. Wow! Full of yourselves much, boys? Sheesh.

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    1. Susan: He was pretty snarky in person, that's for sure. Though he did make us laugh a lot.

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  10. I agree with your post and the comments. It does depend on the reviewer and I can really only say how I personally rate a book. I tend to give more 4 star ratings than anything else but I do give 5 star ratings for really great books. When you love a book, it makes you think and feel, I think it deserves the highest rating. I review books on Amazon, Goodreads and my own blog and my ratings don't change from the varying sites.

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    1. Cindi: And since we only give that five out to a few books, it makes you crazy if someone thinks it's fake, right? Ugh.

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  11. I think Susan has a great point...it all depends upon the review...some are harder than others and some may have similar tastes to the reader while others may not. At the end of the day one has to look beyond the stars to the content of the review and the tastes of the reviewer and let that be the guide.

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    1. Melissa: And again, I say exactly. Everyone is so different!

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  12. Not to be a jerk but I kinda want to shake the person that said 5 star ratings are fake. That's basically saying NO ONE is capable of liking a book enough to recommend it to the most full level that is available. That's just silly and personally I think will end in a regress of sorts since then you'll have to question the 4 stars and on and on.

    It's just silly. Yes ratings are relative but hopefully for honest reviewers there is some consistency within their own personal rating system. I know what my friends mean when the harsher one rates it as a 3 and the easier one rates it as a 5.

    Ugg maybe it's years of philosophical training but I don't understand how you can accuse an openly relative system of being fake. Sorry for the rant great topic!

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    1. Marissa: I think what you are saying here is just how I was feeling when I was sitting there trying to figure it all out. Yeah, it made me crazy for a bit!

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  13. I very rarely give 5 star reviews. Even if I love the book, it only gets a 5 star review if I absolutely know I will want to read it again. It's interesting to hear what others think of 5 star reviews.

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    1. Melissa: So... when you see a five star from someone else, do you tend to dismiss it? Probably, as everyone said, you look at who's giving it out, right?

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  14. I don't think five stars are fake. I've read plenty of books by authors I personally know and love and I don't always give them 5 stars. I only give five stars to books like you described--books that stay with me forever, books that make me want to recommend it to everyone in the world, books that I want to gush about, books that I want to read over and over again--essentially (and the way I view them), my favorites.

    I often wonder if I give too many positive reviews. I'm not as critical as some people and I wonder if that's bad. But, I don't think it is. I might be easy to please, but I genuinely have books that I hate too and I give mostly 3 and 4 star ratings. I try to avoid the books I'll give 2 or 1 star ratings, and 5 stars for for my faves and they have to be a fave to get it.

    Anyway, I hope that makes sense. Great discussion post!

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    1. Jenni: I don't either (giving fives to the authors I know.) And it's hard sometimes, because I WANT to, but if you know it's not an absolute favorite!

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  15. Interesting review. There are books that I adore and would give a 5 star rating. There are also people who just love to give bad ratings. There are a couple that I've seen with low ratings on Amazon and when I checked over to see other critiques, the person has virtually said the same things to every author "I'm confused" "The story doesn't make sense" etc. The reason I like blog reviews is that I get to know the blogger and what they like and there are many I trust and wouldn't hesitate to add a book to my TBR list based on their recommendations. I also saw a documentary where someone was paid specifically to write bad reviews for books that were considered competition for another author. So I'm back to knowing who the reviewer is and who I do and don't trust. The others I don't take much notice of either as an author or a reader.
    Ann

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    1. Ann: So people are paid to give good ones AND bad ones? So frustrating! Yep, just know the reviewer! I guess that's the main answer here!

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    2. Ann is correct, Suey. It's really disheartening to think this goes on but it does. I immediately question any 1 star review that appears quickly when a book has only been available for sale for a day or so. Particularly when the rating isn't followed up with an actual review. Same thing for the sudden 5 stars.

      I've rated a number of books as 5 stars because that's the way I feel about the book. I don't worry about whether others agree or not. I think the only way that I can really get a 'feel' for the ratings for a book is when there's a large number of them. It is too bad that some people (the guy you mentioned) seems to question just about all 5 star reviews. Pretty cynical.

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  16. Thanks everyone for all the great comments today!

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  17. Loved reading this Suey and it's something that I've thought about a lot. Ratings are subjective aren't they? And for me they're indicative about how I felt about a book at that time. For me ratings change up and down after time has passed--because you're right--it's about how well a book sticks with you and how much you care about the characters and how the writing burrows under your skin (in a good way). That said, I am pretty stingy with my 5 star ratings. Basically a book has to make me sob and that's tough to do. ;) But absolutely you should NOT feel guilty giving 5 star ratings if you loved a book! To say they're fake is missing the boat.

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    1. Trish: They definitely are subjective, but nonetheless real, right? I really do hope that when most of us give a book five stars, we REALLY mean it!

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  18. Great discussion, Suey! I don't give 5 stars on goodreads lightly (and I don't rate books on my blog) - but when a book changes how I think or who I am, then I give it a 5 - and that's not fake at all!

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    1. Alison: Just what I was thinking! :)

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  19. Awesome post! As you well know, I'm incredibly stingy with my five star ratings. I can't believe this guy said they were fake, though. Sounds like he let being on a panel go to his head. And like everyone else that commented I think we all know each other pretty well and can gauge or reactions to reviews good or bad.

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    1. Jenny: I'm still not sure what point he was making. He did say once though, that he had no idea why he was on that panel! It was quite funny....

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  20. I actually bought quite a few books off of Amazon based on the reviews there and really wish I had known of Goodreads back then! It is interesting to see it broken down like that, though ... I hate it when people criticize about bloggers giving all high ratings, though. I try to rate based on a mix of ratings and enjoyment -- sometimes I just really, really enjoy a lot of books in a row. Nothing wrong about that.

    I can totally understand people getting paid for high reviews ... or even friends and family who give high ratings for a certain book to bump it up in the charts.

    Great post, Suey!

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  21. Rating are completely subjective - they only accurately reflect how I felt a book the moment I closed it! I am pretty stingy with my 5 stars - the book has to have really drawn me in. Occasionally, I reflect on the book a bit more and think maybe it should be a 4.5 instead of a 5, but at that moment in time it was how I felt.

    I do wonder about people who read so many books they don't like. As a person who reads a lot, I have a fair idea of what I will like and not like and so I tend to choose the books that I will like. This means that I have a lot of 4 or 4.5 star ratings but it has to be really special to get the perfect 5. That doesn't mean to say that I don't have disappointments, but the fact is that I want to read books that I will love so I won't often choose a book to read that I think that I won't like.

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  22. If I did reviews on my blog, which I don't normally, I would give a lot of five-star reviews. I mostly read what I like or even love. Why? If it's something I don't like, I usually give up on it and don't read it. Why waste my time on crap? I'm not being paid to review and I have too little time to read as it is (what with all my Netflix watching and Facebook and Twitter surfing, half- ;) ).

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  23. I think that I hand out 5 star ratings like they are candy. My average rating on goodreads is 4.02. I know for a fact that my ratings aren't fact -- I base my ratings on how I feel about the book -- either it was really entertaining or it was gorgeously written with a lot of literary merit. Eh, I guess instead of looking at it like I need to feel weird about being 'nice' I will look at it as I am super lucky to know what I like and to have the talent to be able to assess based on cover, summary, and author name whether I will like or hate the book -- and if I will hate the book to not read it.

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  24. Very interesting article!! I really think you have to take the ratings with a grain of salt, particularly depending on which platform it was given. I don't even look at Amazon reviews. I do look at Goodreads and definitely blogs. But, I don't personally use ratings on my blog.

    Thanks for sharing this great information!

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