are five star book reviews bad for sales

Are 5-Star Book Reviews Bad for Sales?

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.

Tell me your opinion? Have you faced the 5-star conundrum? How did you handle it?

are five star book reviews bad for sales

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About Daryl Rothman | @drothmanwrites

Daryl Rothman’s novel The Awakening of David Rose, will be released September 9, 2019, by EvolvedPublishing. He has written for a variety of esteemed publications, and recognitions include Flash Fiction winner for Cactus Moon Press, Flash Fiction second place winner for Amid the Imaginary, and Honorable Mention for Glimmer Train’s prestigious New Writer’s Award Contest. Daryl is on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. He’d love you to drop in for a visit at his website.


  1. Darryl, thanks for this honest and frank look at the ratings of book reviews. For a year plus, I hosted a book review blog. What made me give it up? The inconsistency of ratings among other reviewers, on Amazon and Goodreads, and many other venues. I determined not to use a star rating on my blog and just post my honest review and recommendations to readers. I hesitate and frankly won’t give a 5-star review unless the book is so well written and engaging that I can’t put it down. I have on occasion contacted an author or publisher to advise that I can’t review a book because I am not enjoying it and the review I am likely to give will be a “2-star or less.” I think it only fair that I not slam an author/book unless they are aware that I will. Usually the book was returned and the review cancelled. I cannot rate dishonestly. Finally, I became so disillusioned with the whole process, I shut down my blog and stopped reviewing other than memoir and memoir-related books on my writing blog and faith-related books on my spiritual blog.

    This blog post is the kind of post that needs to be circulated far and wide so that reviewers of all ilk might read it and take heed that the reviewing process is becoming more harmful than helpful to the authors and their books. I will be sharing it as many places as possible.

  2. Thanks Sherrey, I much appreciate your commitment to honest and helpful reviews, and I also appreciate your intent to circulate the article because I think it is a frank discussion we all need to have. Thanks for all you do for the literary community.

  3. I skim 5-star reviews. I’ve found that relying on 4 or 5 star reviews has led to disappointment sometimes. I usually go for the 1-3 star reviews. Seeing what people hated about a book helps me make my mind up better than just reading the positive reviews. You just need the balance between good and bad.

  4. Oh, I so agree with this.

    In fact, my first book just started garnering three star reviews, and I was really quite glad for it because I feel like the most honest reviews are three stars. Not to say that I want to be down voted, or that low ranking books are things I’ll buy, but that the range of opinions can help with credibility.

    Besides that, Amazon has deleted 8 of my 5 star reviews anyway.

  5. I get what you’re saying, and I think it is a problem. I think the biggest issue is at the heart of Amazon’s rating system. As I understand it, anything below a 4 star means “not recommended” or “do not buy”. This seems a bit lopsided. I just can’t bring myself to give a ‘do not buy’ feedback on a book, unless it really is irredeemable. Knowing the hard work that has gone into making a book, I can’t bring myself to do such a dis-service to an author as to say “this book is completely worthless and nobody should ever read it”. That’s essentially what I’d be saying if I gave a 3-star review. This then reduces the sample space to only two scores – 4 or 5.

    I actually dislike the whole idea of having to reduce my thoughts on a book to a numerical value. I prefer to just outline in words what I think of a book – praise its good points and discuss what aspects I thought could have been stronger. The other problem with star ratings is that they mean different things to different reviewers, so even if Amazon redefined their system, people will just do whatever they think.

    • I hear you Adam, but unfortunately star ratings are quick and easy marketing wise, but as you say this phenomenon makes things more confusing than things should be. Although numerical value is silly to an extent the main issue is that some people write brief and rushed paragraph about why they rated it the way they did. No matter what ratings mean to each person, they are more reliable to the customer if there number is supported. The combined factor is what makes a review honest convincing and clear. I also think there are more reliable systems in general such as 1-10. People can still abuse that and have different opinions on what constitutes, but at least it gives more variety while still being quick and easy for customers.

  6. Personally, I don’t bother to review a book unless I loved it, so I only do 5* reviews. As a reader, I don’t utilize reviews to make my decision at all – no two people read the same book. What I love someone else will despise, and vice versa. It’s a fact of life – just look at the 1* reviews on even the most popular and well-lauded books. Instead I use the method I’ve always used – the cover gets me to read the blurb, the blurb entices me to sample the writing and then I either buy or not. It’s the same method of chosing a book I’ve used for almost half a century. The problem is that somewhere along the way, other people’s opinions started being looked at as something we need to base our own choices on. It’s silly and it needs to stop. Make up your own mind, reviews are for authors, not readers as one size never fits all.

  7. I often review books of writers I know socially from Facebook writer groups. I do NOT give out 5 star reviews easily. To soften the blog, I tell folks that of the 4 Gospels, I give only 2, Luke and John, 5 stars. The other two Evangelists, Mark and Matthew, have to be content with their 4 star reviews.

    3 star reviews, for me, are ‘OK’ books. When I write a 3 star review that is mostly praise, I hope it is understood as a good review. If I had to give a 3 star with mostly criticism, that’s not really a good review, but I hope it will help the book find readers anyway.

    Even a two-star review can be good for an author if the reviewer mentions some good points. A one-star review is not something I’d write because most one-star reviewers are just mean, and often show prejudice against the book author’s political or religious POV.

    When I am looking for a new book to read, I never look at the 5 star reviews. I look at the lower reviews, even the one and two stars. I often get more of an idea from such reviews on whether I will like the book than from the praise-filled 5 star reviews from the author’s friends and relatives.

    A final consideration against the 5 star review: when you give it out that is the most you can give to that author. What if the author makes a major writing breakthrough and you want to give him praise? If you’ve already given all his other books a 5-star what more can you give? I have had a number of authors I read make this kind of breakthrough and I’m always glad that I gave them 4-stars before so I can reward them with a 5 now.

    I really enjoyed this post and found it helpful in becoming a better book reviewer.


  1. […] has been told. And the more that authors jockey to get fans to leave four and five-star reviews,  the less authority those reviews are going to have. Just like printing more paper money in a bad economy eventually is going to make the paper money […]

  2. […] Rothman presents Are 5-Star Book Reviews Bad for Sales? posted at Helping Writers Become Authors, saying, “thanks for your consideration–this […]

  3. […] Daryl Rothman wrote a guest post, Are 5-Star Book Reviews Bad For Sales? earlier this summer at the site of author and editor K.M. Weiland. His points bear serious […]

  4. […] Daryl Rothman wrote a guest post, Are 5-Star Book Reviews Bad For Sales? earlier this summer at the site of author and editor K.M. Weiland. His points bear serious […]

  5. […] SOLICIT REVIEWS ON AMAZON For my first book, Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, I solicited reviews from Amazon’s Top Customer Reviewers, as well as from four- and five-star reviewers of similar books on Amazon. I figured if they gave similar books four or five stars, they were more inclined to give me a great review too. The more great reviews I get, and the higher profile the reviewer, the more synergy I create on Amazon, which leads to more numerous and visible listings and recommendations. Unless your publisher is willing to mail books out to reviewers (mine was, thankfully), you’ll have to run up some postage by sending them out yourself. Click here to see Laura Pepper Wu‘s detailed article, “How To Get Amazon’s Top Customer Reviewers To Review Your Book.” But beware! Too many five-star reviews can work against you. Here’s why. […]

  6. […] some cases the ones posted are fake. These fake reviews could be positive or negative. According to Helping Writers, five-star reviews discredit books because they are not […]

  7. […] some cases the ones posted are fake. These fake reviews could be positive or negative. According to Helping Writers, five-star reviews discredit books because they are not […]

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