5-star book reviews have become a bane.
They are everywhere you look. And it’s understandable—in this age of indie- and self-publishing and platform-building, what better way of garnering attention (and hopefully sales) than the come-hither testament of a glowing 5-star review? Everyone and his uncle seem to have written the next Great American Novel. Perhaps you’ve been asked by a friend to review her book. Perhaps you’ve requested an acquaintance to review yours. And this is great—unless your book isn’t.
A 5-star review is the pinnacle–a sign of near-perfection, that gilded endorsement and validation every writer seeks. But the absolute deluge of perfect ratings suggests we have a big issue in giving honest literary feedback. See for yourself: how many 5-star reviews have you ultimately agreed with, upon reading the book for yourself? What’s more, how many reviewers put their money where their fawning mouths are and proffer specific, cogent validation of why they conferred such veneration? Not nearly enough.
5-Star Book Reviews Are Discrediting Your Book
The glut of 5-star book reviews has taken much of the luster off the once-shining achievement. You got a 5-star book review? Great! But so did Susie and Alan and every other person I see mentioned on Twitter. And it seems Susie gave Alan her 5-star review, and he tendered hers.
Let me say this: there are many amazing works out there, and some merit the lofty ratings. But even many good manuscripts do not. Many are more deserving of, say, a 4, which is nothing to be ashamed of. And yes, some are not 4s, either. Some work is not so hot, and bestowing undeserved estimation upon it is a disservice on many levels. The writer and reader forfeit credibility when others feel misled and disagree with the rating/review. Plus, the author loses a valuable opportunity to improve his product/craft.
5-Star Book Reviews Are Undermining Your Literary Community
I’ve written of the importance of building literary community, and while these relationships, when properly nurtured, can prove invaluable, there is a risk inherent in what sometimes becomes the misunderstanding of well-intended reciprocity. Genuine relationships rely upon the spirit of reciprocity, but things can careen all too easily off the tracks when various notions of quid pro quo arise. Offering to read and provide feedback of one another’s’ work is standard, one of the most essential ingredients in the recipe of mutual literary support. But what happens if your literary pal loves your manuscript, posts a 5-star review on Amazon, and now it’s your turn? You excitedly take up his novel and… thud. It’s not good. Oops.
How did you like it? he eagerly inquires. It is easy for me to say hey, just be honest, every writer wants your honest response, but the fact is writers are people too (a revelation, I know), and we people often get caught up in these pesky things called feelings. And they can get messy. It’s far easier, it turns out, to help our characters cope with theirs than it is to readily navigate our own. Studies confirm that negative feedback impacts folks exponentially more than positive, so it is no wonder we often tread cautiously, and sometimes disingenuously. That is most unfortunate, and we all too often end up trading in the currency of frivolous accolades, when all the while it is the invaluable bartering of genuine, honest feedback with which we ought ply our trade.
What’s the Solution?
Embrace honesty. Asking friends for reviews is fine, but ask the ones you know will be brutally honest. If she is a good friend, then the relationship will be strengthened, not damaged, by her candid feedback, since it is intended to help you. Give honest feedback if you have agreed to do a review (again, whether before or after publication—if after, and you don’t care for the book, you’ll obviously want to tactfully but honestly explain that to the author privately, rather than eviscerating them publicly or being dishonest in your review). Point out what you liked, with examples, and what you didn’t, with examples and possible suggestions.
What’s the Result of Honest Feedback?
When honest feedback is sought, provided, and accepted, both the writer and the product improve. The reader has done a service, and the larger audience of potential readers will benefit from honest reviews and ultimately a better read. Even better, the eventual earning of a 5-star review—or a 4-star, again, nothing to sneeze at–will mean that much more for everyone, and help the author reach greater success.
Join the honesty revolution! Truth is couth. Give and demand candid feedback, and talk openly with your friends and kindred writerly spirits about the importance of doing so. The literary gods shall smile upon you.