Reviews and ratings are a tricksy thing. As writers, what do we expect from our friends in the public eye when we put our work out for the world to consume? Ego stroking? Reassurances? Love it or else? Honesty? Flattery? We want people to like our stories, but the truth is, not everyone will. I knew this before I gave my beta readers Family Ties. I knew there was a possibility that someone would tell me they hated it. While they stroked my ego with the praise in their notes, they were honest with what needed work and what they wanted to see. Did I use every piece of feedback? No, but I used the majority of it to make my story richer, which is what feedback is supposed to help writers do.
My initial experience with Goodreads when I started using it a year ago, was to rate books usually with a four or five star. Then I started reading books where the phrases were wrong, plots were thin, characters weren’t developed, and nothing was believable. I stopped and reassessed what I was doing because when all is said and done, if I’m rating/reviewing something high when the writer’s skill in that particular piece of work really isn’t that high then it reflects back on me. I consider the technical writing with plot, character development, continuity, and realistic behavior/situations when rating/reviewing. My emotional response factors in there, but not as much. I recently rated a novel by a well-known sci-fi author with three stars because it wasn’t his best.
When I see reviews (because I do all I can to avoid reading them) on Amazon or Goodreads that are four or five stars when the book is riddled with plot holes, inconsistencies, unrealistic behavior/situations, and/or typos it makes me wonder what everyone is thinking when they’re reading the same thing I’m reading. Reviews are completely subjective and we are all drawn into a story in different ways. But there are storytelling basics to be followed and if they aren’t, I question the ratings and reviews. Even before discovering Goodreads, I didn’t put much stock in book reviews as a reader. I never choose what book I’m going to buy/borrow based on reviews.
I tend to be honest and blunt because I don’t believe in sugar coating things, and working with teenage boys for a decade honed that tendency. It wasn’t helpful to them to be anything but forthright after all they had been through before I worked with them. We want people to be kind to our “baby” when we publish it. We want people to like it. We want our friends and family to support us because it’s invaluable, especially coming from our most trusted loved ones. But does that support include a review/rating that isn’t entirely truthful? Just like with the boys, it’s not helpful. It’s not true validation and it’s misleading to potential readers/fans who do read reviews before purchasing a book.
I want genuine feedback about my writing, especially from my friends. I want to know what I missed so I make sure to make it present in my next novel. I want to continually hone my skills and I can’t do that if reviews only pile on the praise.