The age-old consternation over Amazon ratings hits home with the release of my first novel.
Like a number of book bloggers, I juggle between my author hat and my reviewer hat. Having done both now, I can see how fraught and loaded the issue of Amazon ratings can be. As an author, I’m deeply aware how consequential those little yellow ★ are to self-esteem and financial rewards. I definitely want to support deserving authors on Amazon, but I need to have a system in place if I want to still keep up my reviews as a book blogger.
Here’s the TLDR: I am only leaving 5-star ratings for books that I liked on Amazon, even if my blog gives out fewer stars for the same book.
Why So Controversial?
First, a bit of background. In the bookosphere (I didn’t invent the word, but I’m going to use it here as the confluence of the publishing world, social media and the internet) there’s a fair amount of energy expended by trolls giving out maliciously negative reviews and also by authors behaving badly over honest, but negative reviews. I’m not linking to any of that, it’s way too depressing.
I’m going to focus on Amazon ratings. Amazon is the proverbial 800-lb gorilla of the publishing business, particularly for e-books. So it’s logical that for authors, especially indies, a higher Amazon star rating is crucial, and anything that hurts the average rating will be painful.
But how important is the number of stars, really?
On the one hand:
- Amazon ratings don’t actually impact the algorithm that is used to determine a book’s ranking or visibility.
- The number of reviews is important, but not the quality of those reviews.
But on the other hand:
- There is evidence to suggest that positive ratings do make a difference to sales (and that really negative ratings can be devastating!)
- Booksellers and advertisers also look at Amazon star ratings to determine if they wish to carry a book.
What Do Those Stars Even Mean?
I come from a technical background, so I like everything I do to be systematic, even for something as subjective as reviewing a book. But therein lies the problem. As reviewers, we all impose our own subjective system for rewarding stars. On top of that, different sites have different meanings assigned to the number of stars. And I’ve come to realize that’s OK.
On Amazon, star ratings should be thought of in the same manner as ratings for all the non-book related products on offer. It’s a way of measuring customer satisfaction, rather than the presumed quality of the book. In this system, anything less than 5 stars is not really considered good.
What’s This Mean for My Blog?
Way back (only two years ago, really) when I started reviewing books online, I didn’t understand any of the things I just wrote about. I thought I’d rate books according to my own personal system and then, for consistency, I’d just leave the same number of stars on Amazon.
But now, as an author, I realize now how much anything less than 5-stars doesn’t particularly help. So if I really want to support an author and show people that they should buy the book, I’m going to leave 5 stars on Amazon, even if I give out less on this blog. You can put this down purely to self-interest, but I hope you’ve seen I’ve given this a lot of thought into this.
And for anyone reviewing my books who happens across this, don’t take it as a request to leave only 5-star reviews. You gotta do what you gotta do.
But all of this is a roundabout way of explaining that just because I’m leaving different review ratings between here and on Amazon doesn’t mean I’m being inconsistent. I’m just trying to navigate the rules of a very complicated game.