Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why you shouldn't read your Five Star Review!!

My fellow author Randy Ingermanson just wrote an article about why you shouldn't read your one star reviews. I agree with him up to a point. If you can read them and not let them affect you, they can sometimes be comical. Some one gets their kicks thinking they are Rogers and Ebert of the literary
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world and usually failing miserably.

If you let the criticisms get under your skin and cause you to doubt your abilities in spite of all the 4-5 star reviews, then by all means don't read them. However, I would suggest that 5 star reviews, especially the gushy, this author is wonderful and can do nothing wrong reviews can be equally harmful, but in a different way.

The Bible observes that "Pride goes before a fall." Nothing can inflate your pride like a really effusive five star review.

So, you ask, what's wrong with being proud of your work. If you mean taking satisfaction from a job well done independent of anyone else's evaluation of that job and without considering yourself better than anyone else because of the work you did, nothing. Unfortunately, most of our pride doesn't come near that definition.

Too often we require some sort of external validation of our work and the belief that we are in some way better than "the average bear" because of it. Herein lies the danger of the five-star review. It feeds that need for validation and inflates our egos to a place where we consider ourselves better than others.

However, and this is something we must remember, in most cases, it is no more valid in any objective way in evaluating your book than the one star review.

:::Sound of needle popping balloon.:::

Isn't it interesting how easily we can dismiss the unsupported criticisms of a one-star while basking in the glory of an equally unsupported critique of a five star. The core of the problem lies in giving any credence at all to customer reveiws individually because, regardless of the name on the page, they are rarely reviews. They are just reactions.

There is a difference. If I tell you I like Broccoli and Cheese soup at a certain restaurant, that's a reaction. I'm simply stating my experience and my feeling about that soup. My evaluation of the soup is based entirely on my personal likes and dislikes.  However, if I tell you that the Broccoli and Cheese soup is excellent, the broccoli is cooked to a consistency that is still a bit al dente and has a bit of a snap to it and the blend of cheddar with just a hint of mozzerella creates an unusually rich sauce, but the soup was served a bit cooler than it should be for this particular soup, then I have done a review.

I am giving more than my reaction, I am giving you the reasons behind that reaction, I'm appealing to something other than my preferences, I'm being objective about the factual material presented, I'm given examples, and I'm giving a mix of what was good and what might have been improved. I'm doing a reasoned evaluation of the soup.

That's a review. How many of those do we actually see under "customer reviews"? A five-star review, therefore, is rarely any more valid than a one-star in learning anything that will help you become a better writer. It is based entirely on the enjoyment of a single individual. You can feel good that you brought joy to that individual, but the review itself, by itself, tells you very little about your writing ability or the quality of the book itself.

The problem with paying attention to any individual review (good or bad) is that we are confusing the opinion of one person with that of all our readers. Worse, we are judging our own capabilities as a writer based on the opinion of someone who may have no understanding of literature and may be an anomaly among those reading your book.

So, what does this have to do with reading 5-Star reviews. After all, they are good reviews and make you feel good. Well, therein lies the danger. You can see a bunch of 5-Star reviews and think, "Hey, I'm pretty hot stuff." They can lead you to believe that you will always produce top notch writing regardless of how hard you try.

Here's the problem with customer reviews, they tend to skew to the high and low ends. Usually, you are only receiving reviews from those who really, really, really liked the book or those who really, really, really hated the book. In the first case, you find nothing but glowing comments without any suggestion that the book was not perfect. In the latter, the implication is that it had no redeeming value at all. In other words, you learned nothing of value from either one that can help you improve.

If you feel you MUST read reviews, then read the three and four star ones. They are more likely to have specific reasons why they like or dislike something without the adoration of a fan or the vitriol of a troll. But even then, don't get fixated on a single review or a single criticism. Look for trends. Don't pay attention to a criticism (good or bad) unless it appears at least three times. One time is that person's opinion. Two times could be a coincidence. The third time is the beginning of a trend.

Look at both the negative and the positive things. You don't only want to correct what you did not do so well, but you also want to continue to do things people seem to like. However, there is a danger there as well. Giving people what they want is a good thing, but, as with any other art, becoming  predictable or formulaic can lead to popular, but stale writing.

In short, whether it is a good review or a bad review, regardless of star count, there is one piece of advice I can give.


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