Aug 27, 2012

The uselessness of starred reviews on sites like Amazon


Starred reviews

I submit to both Goodreads and Amazon and both require star reviews.  I find this almost useless as a measure of judging a book or recommending it. 

First the reviewer is given a continuum of emotional reactions from, I hate it = 1 star all the way up to, I love it = 5 star.  So that’s all that the star system really is, it’s not a cut and dried comment on quality, it’s an emotional reaction or it should be.

This is the spirit in which I generally use the system.  Which can lead to confusion when I might give a book a 2 star (I didn’t like it) but talk about how good it might be technically. Or who might like it. But you need to know about my likes and dislikes to interpret that information. You don’t get that from reading Amazon reviews, there is no community around the reviews and least not that I have experienced.

You’ll note I don’t star the reviews here.

The trouble with readers

The trouble is of course that it’s not terribly clear to a reader that this is what the stars mean, on Amazon in particular, mousing over one of the stars only give you a decimal rating ie 1.0 to 5.0.  I think this creates a good deal of confusion and leads readers and authors to settle the on 1 star =shit, 5 star = best book ever written, interpretation.

Authors have no right really to get cranky at someone’s feelings about their book (not openly anyway) not everyone likes the same things, has the same experiences or views things the same way.

People dislike the classics, have done since they weren’t classics.  Good books should evoke emotional reactions. If they don’t then we might as well be reading cornflakes packets. But is this what most reviewers(and I use that term broadly) are doing?  Are they looking at it and saying this is a shit book and I hated it, in giving it a one star? Are they saying I hate the author? Are they saying look at me, I have an opinion?

Getting cranky at misinterpretations, and hate fuelled messages I think is another matter though.  It appears to be happening more that one star reviews are the space in which readers come to grind their axe against the author, rather than the work.  So incensed, are they that the author held a gun to their head and forced them to read such a crap book and then go and comment on a site that you have to sign up to.

What to do?

I have been checking out a few different ways I might present reviews on this site.  Including something similar to the way in which SF Signal formats their reviews.  But honestly I don’t know what way’s best.  The shorter more formulaic reviews are easier to do if I am trying to keep up with the review load but I don’t know if they entice readers to read them? 

I have had some feedback from listeners to Galactic Chat that seems to indicate that talking to authors about their books enables listeners to get a better sense of what the book is like and whether they should buy it. 

So fire away readers let me know what you prefer i.e. set word limits, formatting, , star ranking (don’t you dare),whatever you want?

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