As an author, I occasionally read the reviews of my books on Amazon, and sometimes this is a torturous event. I’m going to share with you what those stars mean to authors. But first let me give you a little background.
Some readers (especially those who don’t review often) tend to get hung up on tiny issues and judge those instead of the entire novel. Others write that they LOVED the book and CAN’T WAIT for the sequel, but only five three or four stars. You may think your four stars are helping, but if a book’s overall rating is above four stars before your comments, your rating will actually take their overall rating DOWN.
See the screen shots from my novel Tell Me No Lies. I have a lot of great 4-star reviews, but every 4-star review has brought my overall rating down. I had to get 100 more reviews, with enough of them 5-stars to bring it back up to 4.5 overall.
So while your review might be great for the author in words, your stars might not reflect your enjoyment. The author will have no idea why you took off a star or what she failed to do right.
One time a reviewer told me how much she’d enjoyed my book, and that she’d LOVE to review another one on her website, if I’d send her a copy. But she’d given me only 3 stars, which to me means a C book (boring, neutral, just okay—at least according to Amazon ratings). I’d have grounded my children for bringing home such a grade unless there was a very good reason for it. Part of her reasoning was that she’d expected the book to be a different genre, but that reasoning did nothing to help my book. I wasn’t interested in sending her another book. I’ll get enough three-star reviews without her help.
Reviews help sell or stall books
Many readers have no idea of the importance other readers give to reviews. But consider what you check for the next time you are looking for a book from an author you’ve never heard of before. I bet one of the things you do is to read the reviews to see if others liked the book or if there are any serious issues with it. So in a very real way, reviews help determine the wage the author earns. Reviews also decide whether or not certain companies will accept advertising for a book (some will not accept books rated below four stars), so your rating is important and it affects the author in serious ways.
Oh, and if you think an author will never see your review, think again. Authors are people, too, and I can’t tell you have many of my friends have been the recipient of really mean and ugly comments in thoughtless reviews.
What Those Stars Mean to Authors (and to Booksellers and Advertisers)
5 stars is an A, A-, or even a B+. Great for authors. This means you enjoyed the book. It fulfilled the measure of its creation. Meaning that a romance isn’t judged as a general fiction, a teen story as an adult novel, or genre fiction as a literary novel. The 5-star novel was enjoyable, didn’t have any major plot holes, and the writing was good enough that you’d recommend it as a nice read. These 5-star reviews help balance the 1 and 2 star reviews from people who picked up the wrong genre or wanted sex in a clean book (or vice-versa). Or the picky reviewer who found one typo and therefore decided the entire book was poorly edited (if that was the case, EVERY published book would be junk). Five stars doesn’t mean the book has to be the best you’ve ever read, or even better than the last one you reviewed. It just has to be a good novel. This rating could also be given to a novel you would have rated only 4 stars but one feature (world-building, a character, or plot element) was so cool that you reward the author’s effort by giving them that extra star (and you can say this in the review).
4 stars is a B, B-, or even a C+ novel. Okay for authors, but if they have an overall rating more than 4 stars, keep in mind that you are taking down their rating. The 4-star rating is for novels that you liked but had at least one issue with. A plot hole that disturbed your reading enough that you didn’t enjoy the overall story. Maybe a few too many typos. Too much repetition. But you still found the story compelling enough to read in a short time and you enjoyed it. The novel doesn’t have to be the best one you’ve read in the genre, it just has to hold your attention. Think of yourself as a teacher giving a grade. Again, if you had been going to give the novel 3 stars, but something cools really stood out, give the author the benefit of the doubt—and the extra star.
3 stars is a C or a C-. So only average or NEUTRAL. You neither liked it or disliked it. This really is the kiss of death rating. The “okay” novel. If you give a novel this rating, there should be SERIOUS issues because, remember, many advertisers won’t accept novels with this overall rating. So the 3-star novel should be one you didn’t feel compelled to finish, or one whose overall plot didn’t quite make sense (and you feel wouldn’t make sense to others). This is a novel that you wouldn’t recommend unless it was the only thing someone had to read and they were stuck in an airport for two hours.
2 stars is a D or a D-. This is a novel that has at least three major negative issues and you feel these issues will prevent others from enjoying it at all. There are sex scenes in a supposedly clean novel, the character thinks about their college literature classes entirely far too much, or the character isn’t consistent. Maybe there are typos on every other page, or repeated use of wrong words. A 2-star rating could also be a book that you felt you really wanted to give one star to, but because it had some redeeming feature (great world-building, a character you really enjoyed), you gave it an extra star to encourage the author.
1 star means F. The author completely and utterly failed. You hated it totally and absolutely. That means there was no plot, it was riddled with grammar errors, and everything about it was boring, boring, boring. The author should throw the book away. Never give an author a one-star review unless you feel they really should give up writing and get a job at the local grocery instead.
Are my rating descriptions correct? You may not feel so when rating a book, but I bet you feel that way when reading reviews! And I assure you that’s what book advertisers and sellers see—and it’s certainly what those stars mean to authors (or most of them).
DOs and DON’Ts of Reviewing
1. If you have a real issue, mention that, but rate the overall book not that one thing.
2. Don’t give the book a terrible review because it’s not a genre you like. Just don’t review it. For instant, if you hate romance, people who love romance won’t be helped at all by your review.
3. If a review contains explicit scenes (or violent, or religious, or whatever), don’t give them a bad review because you hated that part UNLESS it goes against what was in the book description. So if a book description talks about fighting, don’t be shocked if there’s violence. If it mentions faith, don’t be shocked if the characters see things through a religious point-of-view. If it says romance, don’t be surprised if there is a love story. In these cases, your review will only make you sound like an idiot for not reading the description. And it’s not fair to authors.
4. Unless you are a reviewer and received the book in exchange for a review, don’t point out that you “bought” the book for free or for a discounted price. Sometimes publishers will offer a book for free or at a discount as a way to advertise the book. But it is unlikely the book will be free for long. If you say you got the book for free, people will feel cheated when they have to pay, and that’s simply not fair to the author or the publisher. You are reviewing the book not the price. However, if you were GIVEN the book from the author or publisher for the purpose of reviewing, then by all means you need to state that, but not everyone is chosen as a reviewer so this is different than saying you downloaded the book at a discount. I can’t tell you have many time reviewers will say something cruel like “This was junk, but fortunately I downloaded it for free so all I wasted was my time.”
5. Be kind with your wording. Authors are real people with real feelings. I’ve known promising authors who never published the third in a series because of cruel reviews. I loved the books and am still waiting to read that third novel.
6. If you were having a bad day when you read the book, consider not reviewing it at all.
7. If there is a certain subject you hate, and it happens to come up in the book, consider not reviewing it at all, or at least mention your bias in the review. Again rate the entire book, not just that scene.
8. Don’t tell everyone what happens in the book unless you put SPOILER ALERT. Even then, I wouldn’t do it. Readers won’t buy the book if you tell what happens. The author was careful in the blurb not to give it away, and you shouldn’t either. Remember, this is the author’s JOB. They get paid on how many books they sell. Careless reviews make it hard for authors to keep writing.
9. Do say what in particular you liked about the book. Use specifics without giving away plot. Tell us WHY you are rating the book this way.
10. Do give a 5-star review if the book fulfills its purpose. It doesn’t need to be earth-shattering or the best book you’ve ever read. It just needs to be a good, compelling novel, comparable with a novel of that same genre. You can be very glowing in your review if you feel it deserves more than 5 stars, but don’t knock a good novel down to four just to say it’s not as good as that brilliant novel. If we all read only brilliant novels, there would be only a few dozen books to read. Some people feel they’re not being critical enough if they rate something with 5 stars. I say baloney. If you enjoyed it and would lend the book to someone, give it a good rating.
11. Do click to report reviews you feel are abusive. These would include reviews that attack the author as a person or that attack a group of people, a religion, etc. Or anything that is not a review. Example: “I’m giving this one star because I couldn’t download it and Amazon wouldn’t give me a refund for the Kindle I don’t know how to use.” Yes, this is real review on one of my books.
12. Do comment on other reviews if you disagree or feel they are being too harsh. But do so KINDLY. Better yet, write your own review and rate the book higher to even out their negativity. But don’t hassle other reviewers, even the rude ones. Everyone has a right to their opinion.
13. Do comment on other reviews to thank the reviewer for good information they’ve included.
14. If your review is 3.5 stars, say that in your review, but always round up not down.
So now you know what those stars mean to authors. Please let me know if you think of any more Do’s and Don’ts and I’ll add them. Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share this post on social media or with a friend.