Three Cheers for Three Star Reviews!

Often, a newly-published author will want five-star reviews for their book. Along the same lines, the friends and family of a newly-published author will often want to give five-star reviews for the book, thinking that high praise will promote the book and help the author sell more. They may also want to avoid lower ratings because they might "hurt" the author's feelings and/or sales. This is nice, but concerns about hurting sales are not very accurate. Surprisingly, while four- and five-star reviews can be pleasant for the author to read, there is a lot of value in a three-star review. Authors shouldn't be dismayed to receive them, and readers close to the author shouldn't be afraid to give them. Consider this blog post a "celebration" of three-star reviews!

In a nutshell, the value of a three-star review is that it demonstrates three valuable things to potential readers:

  1. Someone took time to read the book and comment on it.
  2. The review itself is not a “shill” review. It's a real, honest review that the potential reader can trust.
  3. The book is good enough to not warrant a lower rating.

In all areas of life, people generally don't like having their time wasted, nor do they want to blaze new trails. It's easier and seems safer to follow others, and when choosing a new book “following others” offers some assurance that the reader's time won't be wasted. A book without reviews hints at time-wasting trail blazing (as of this writing I have two books like that — wanna take the risk?), and that hurts book sales. This is why reviews are so important. Admittedly, any thoughtful, honest review — no matter how many stars — is valuable in this sense, but let's face it: One- and two-star reviews can be painful to read and they can hurt sales.

While reviews are important, not all reviews are valuable. Glowing reviews with five star ratings can look fake, and that can hurt sales by making the reader distrust the author and the book. Chipping away at a buyer's trust is not going to loosen their wallet; instead, it will encourage them to look for a different book to buy. What the reviewer thinks will help is actually hurting instead.

Lower-star reviews can also be motivated by things other than the book itself, or by a substantial misreading of the book. Examples I have experienced include the one-star rating I received from someone who had never read my book but was angry about something and falsely accused me of being a part of it, and another lower-star review where it was clear the reader had skimmed the book (at best), as evidenced by comments in the review that didn't match the book at all.

By providing something that is not potentially inflated (and thus not trustworthy), nor overly critical in ways that may not be very connected with the book being reviewed, a three-star review gives the potential reader something meaningful by which they can decide whether or not to read the book. Three star reviews avoid the problems at the ends of the rating spectrum, and – by showing others have read the book – help a book get beyond the apparent obscurity of a book with no reviews. It marks a book as “safe” territory, if not necessarily the best thing the reviewer has ever read. It can also leave doubt in the potential reader's mind. Does the book deserve better? Would I like this book more than the reviewer? Doubt might make them turn away, but not so fast as a “shill” review or large number of low-star reviews. That doubt may gnaw at them until they take action to resolve it and find out for themselves, either by viewing the online sample or even buying the book.

When I'm shopping online, whether on Amazon or Newegg or anywhere else, I tend to skip over the 5-star and 1-star reviews (unless I see a significant trend on the low end). I'll look at the 2-, 3-, and 4-star reviews and see how they're worded in an effort to determine what information I can really use for my product choice. I know I'm not alone in this, and it applies to all kinds of products, including books. If you're a writer with your work on the market, you should be glad to receive reviews in that range.

Three cheers for three star reviews!

About the Author
Stuart J. Whitmore is an author of fiction and nonfiction, as well as a photographer, technology developer, and more. If you enjoy reading his blog posts, you might also enjoy reading his books. Take a look at the books by Stuart J. Whitmore today, and download your copy of one that looks interesting to you!