by Mike Knowles
As time goes on, I think I’m getting a thicker skin. Good reviews don’t make me jump up and down and bad reviews don’t bug me much. I wrote before on the blog about how I hated reviews that didn’t clearly give an opinion on the book, but this week I have decided that I hate something more. I hate the anonymous star reviews that pop up on different websites. Now to be fair, I haven’t done that bad in the star department. It’s usually hit or miss for me.
My issue with the star system is it’s ambiguity. The stars are there, but not why and the why makes all the difference. When I was thinking about this topic, I was reminded of an episode of Frasier I saw once. Frasier watched a panel of people listen to his show and everyone liked him except one person. The one guy had only one thing to say, “I hate him.” Frasier completely disregards all of the positive comments and begins stalking the one negative reviewer until he can get him to clarify his statement. The stars make me want to do the same thing.
Let’s be honest, the stars are dual purposed. They are to let the members of whatever site they appear on have a voice. But, the stars are also a marketing tool for the writers. There isn’t a lot of ways to make someone read or buy your book if you are an unknown and so writers hope that the presence of a few stars under their titles might sway a passerby into a purchase.
Problem is, not everyone reviews what they have read and those that do often do not justify the number of stars they graded the book with. I’ve never reviewed a book online. I buy plenty, but I don’t go back after I’ve read a good book and let the site know. I usually let the market know by buying more of the same writer’s stuff. I think that is a pretty common response to online book buying.
I think people are really more likely to make it a point to go back to report on something if they hated it. Think of a really good meal you had in a restaurant. I mean really good. Good food, good wine, good service. How often do you pull the manager aside, or the chef, to give him a fist bump? Conversely, how likely are you to speak with the manager if your meal is terrible. I’d say unhappiness breeds more criticism than satisfaction.
The lack of detail of a star review is also an issue for me. I’ve done this before, and not to get on a whole food rant, but let’s take my wife’s cooking for example. Last Sunday, my wife made orichetta with walnuts and broccoli topped with a parmesan and a butter sauce. If I were going to rate my wife’s dish, it would be a one star plate of food. Doesn’t sound like she can cook from my review does it?. But what if I told you that I hate broccoli, I find hand made orichetta pasta to be too small and its texture slimy and creepy, and that I don’t like butter on pasta. The dish was never going to be a winner with me. Never had a chance. It could have been the best possible representation of the dish in the world. I don’t like the components, so how would I like the finished product?
In the same vein, if a cosy reader or a James Patterson fan picked up one of my books, it probably won’t be what they are used to or even what they may like. Their star review will be as low as mine was for my wife’s cooking. But if they put a comment in like “too violent” or “too dark” or “not for cosy lovers.” Other people might see the review differently. I wouldn’t mind a book that would shock a cosy lover. In fact, I might buy a book that someone else thought was too dark.
When you read this, keep in mind my whole take on the star thing could be just one guy’s bitter reaction to criticism. Maybe my book sucks and I just hate hearing it, and I am being petulant. But for the sake of argument, and this blog, let’s just go with the assumption that I rock and everyone else is wrong.