3 Star Ratings: the Authors and Publishers Turn

Today it’s the authors’ and publishers’ turn to  speak out (or write out!) on the topic of those 3-star ratings.

Since I’m a proud member of the SFR Brigade, I asked some SFR authors over at the Brigade to send me their thoughts about what it’s like for them when one of their books receives a 3-Star Review. Here’s what they sent:

Heather Massey, author of Queenie’s Brigade and the new Clockpunk Erotica The Watchmaker’s Lady, and also the pilot of the SFR-focused blog The Galaxy Express, had this to say:

A book review, any review, is for readers. A review represents enthusiasm for the written word and I applaud those who take the time to do them. It’s an invaluable service.

What does a three-star review (or its equivalent) mean to me as an author? It means that with so many book choices available these days, someone has chosen to not only read one of mine, but also enjoys sharing his or her thoughts about it with other readers. That’s a very special honor.

It also means (to me) that I delivered an entertaining and/or thought-provoking story, one that the reviewer found worth analyzing even if all of the elements didn’t work for him or her. And what didn’t work for him or her might work for other readers—or vice versa. I find these types of discoveries fascinating. I appreciate the chance to discover impressions about my stories that I could only learn through the eyes of a reader. Once I send off a story into the world, it belongs to them.

Diane Dooley, the author of the SFR novellas Mako’s Bounty and Blue Galaxy, said something slightly shorter and pithier, but equally to the point.

On 3 star reviews: A three star review means someone liked your book. They didn’t love it or hate it. Nothing wrong with that!  I’ve had enough one and two star reviews to appreciate a three star. I guess it’s all in your perspective. Writers who whine about a three star review really need to toughen up and get over themselves.

And A.B. Gayle, the author of the recent SFR space opera novel Isolation, reflected more of the ambivalence that many reviewers sense when we give a 3-star rating in her response to the question.

Such a hard topic actually. I angst about a “3” rating, but it does depends on the reviewer. Some are tougher than others and rarely give high ratings, so I do look at their averages and what else they give high and low ratings to!

Going by the definition it means they like the book, but many use it to indicate “meh”. A lot depends on if they back it up with a review and say why they didn’t score it higher. That’s what I want to know. It may not be their “type” of book or didn’t meet their expectations. Always a killer. Some split it and rate plot/characters/writing separately and then average them. I like that type of feedback.

Theoretically ratings are for other readers to rank a book against what else that reader has read so their friends can work out if they want to read it.I find it difficult to remember that and just use it as a yardstick on my writing. Which I know is wrong, but I can’t help it. In a nutshell, I see it as a “pass”, a “C”, and I was one of those students who went for “B”s and “A”s.

And what do the publishers have to say?

Representing the Publishers Perspective, we have the PR Manager for Curiosity Quills Press, Verity Linden:

When one of our books gets a 3-star, it tends to be either the best kind of review, or the worst, rarely anything in between! Option one, it is someone who liked the book overall but had certain issues with it. These tend to be great feedback, broken down into what they liked and what they didn’t, which often gets used in the editing process for that author in future. Option two, the other half of 3-star reviews, where the book has elicited the worst kind of response possible – bland indifference, damning with weak praise. I would almost rather someone hated the book and told us why.

Overall, my opinion of 3-star reviews is about as mixed ‘6 of one, half a dozen of the other’ as… well. A 3 star review!

Last, but not least, a comment from from Eugene Teplitsky, Operations Director  of Curiosity Quills Press:

In my experience, 3 stars tend to be those reviews which either fall into that frustrating category of people who praise, prase, PRAISE the book in the text of the review, and then give 3 stars without saying why they docked us – OR – people who were sadly unimpressed with the book to swing either way. For me, this is pretty bad, actually, because it means we 1. failed to impress a reader enough to make a conclusive decison that they loved it, and 2. failed to piss them off enough with a hard-hitting divisive twist to make them REALLY hate it. Intead, it fell into the realm of MEH.
I do not like the realm of MEH. I do not like it, no sirreh.

I think it is fair to say that no one likes the realm of MEH. No one at all.

The recipients of those 3-star ratings have pretty mixed “ratings” on the ratings. But there is one common thread. Everyone who receives those ratings is very interested in the “why”. Without the “why” the “3-stars” can look a lot like “realm of MEH” from the receiving end.

With the “why” it can be great feedback.

But let’s hear from other authors, publishers and reviewers out there. What does a 3-star rating mean to you?
Here are all the blogs participating in this event:

15 thoughts on “3 Star Ratings: the Authors and Publishers Turn

  1. Pithy. That’s me, lol!

    I clicked several of the links and, once again, am confuzzled by the sheer number of writers who take reviews so very, very personally. Maybe because I can remember the days when romances did not get reviewed at all. I mean – never! The internet has given so many readers and lovers of romance the chance to share their opinions. And, hey, we’re an opinionated bunch. Based on what it used to be like, this is a good thing. It’s a very good thing.

    Both poor reviews and rejections from publishers have given me one of the the things I need to be a professional writer: a tough skin. I’m grateful for them. The very worst thing that could happen to me as a writer is for my books to be utterly ignored. I’ll take even a one star review over that possibility.

    1. The ignoring is the absolute worst. When I do Ebook Review Central on Mondays, what always makes me sad are the books that no one cares about enough to review at all.
      3 Star reviews, especially when the reviewer provides some context, means someone cared enough to not just read the book, but write about what worked for them and didn’t. That’s still book love!

  2. I recently participated in the Book Bloggers and Publisher’s Online Conference where they discussed this very topic. It was pretty eye opening to me to hear that from a reviewer’s point of view, the three star wasn’t always bad. For them, particularly for tough reviewers, it was pretty good. I’d fallen in with the group who considered it a “C” and I also like to be A’s or B’s. It did make me feel better about what I’d also considered a “meh” review.

    While I would never expect everyone to love everything I write, it still feels personal when someone isn’t wowed by your book. It is what it is and we deal with it–hopefully with a measure of grace. Like Heather, I’m always grateful when someone took the time to read my book. I think the only time its…challenging…is when the review comes across as a personal attack. Where it doesn’t feel like the book is really the problem. Or I pushed a button for that reviewer and they use the review to hit back. (A reviewer once gave away the whole plot of my book, accompanied with snide remarks. I didn’t respond, but I quit sending my book to that review site.)

    Thanks for diving into this murky pool and for your support of books and authors. I know I am grateful to find people still reading and loving books!

    1. The Washington Post just had a great article about “The Excuses of a Mean Book Critic”.
      Still, spoilers with a side of snide wasn’t cool.

      The one thing that comes out of all this that fascinates; the internet is the latest in a long line of technological marvels that was supposed to kill books. Instead, we use it to discuss how much we LOVE books.

      We just use it to discuss our different opinions on which books we love and why.

      1. LOL! I suspect that mean is in the eye of the reader, on occasion. I can take a bad review, but hate it when someone spoils to the book for another reader. 🙁

        Of course, there was a time, when reviews were anonymous that people were using the reviews to take shots–or boost themselves. FUNNIEST review ever was this one author that went to the Harry Potter books, called them awful, then recommended HER book. Only she forgot to be anon and there was her name on the review. Oh my.

        1. Oh that must have been a serious OOPS!
          But, there have also been a couple of reviews that are absolute works of art on the books or items on Amazon that cost in the $5000+ range. Yeah, that’s thousand.
          If they are actually getting that much money per copy, I suppose they can take it. Or expect it. Or it’s an interesting neighborhood more people would like to be in, anyway!

  3. While I might flinch a bit over a review “score” I have to agree that attention is attention, and I appreciate anyone who takes the time to write an opinion about something I’ve written. Sometimes, the conversation around a review is far more significant than those stars.
    I’ve had a “meh” review turn into a fascinating discussion about my work in the reviewer’s comments section. That, to me, is a big win. People talking–even disagreeing–about my story.

  4. My penny’s worth on a three star review –
    1.They were interested enough to buy/download my book in the first place.
    2.They’ve taken the time to read it and review it (so many people don’t bother to even give a rating, let alone a review).
    3.Okay they didn’t love it, but they didn’t hate it either.
    4. Three stars is still ‘above average’ and always beats one or two.

    My only quibble with any review, even if it’s a five star one, is if they don’t leave any feedback at all. Five stars or one star tell you either they loved or hated it (although I’d still like to know what did/didn’t do it for them), but with three stars I’m left wondering what they didn’t like. Where I might have failed them. It wouldn’t necessarily change the way I write (everyone has their own taste) unless it was because they thought it was badly written. That I’d like to know so I can fix it.

    1. Pippa Jay, you’ve hit on one of the most common threads in this whole discussions! Everyone wants the feedback as much, or more than the rating. It’s the conversation that really matters.

  5. My first book (first edition) got a 3-star review from RT Magazine. I was concerned, until I read it, and realized the reviewer had many good (quotable) things to say. A 5-star review that gushes but says nothing concrete is not nearly as helpful, but I’m still thrilled to get one! Bottom line, it’s the feedback on what we did right or wrong that is the most helpful.

    1. I LOVE a good pull quote. I’ve had wonderful reviews, but nothing to pull otu and quote. LOL! And managed to find good pull quotes from “meh” reviews. It is, IMHO, a real art, the writing of a review. When you think about, having to explain the story, say what you like and what you didn’t w/o giving away the farm. And then the big finish? Real skill, that.

    2. RT is funny. For one thing, they rate on a 4.5 star scale, which is umm, different. But I would think that getting into RT is huge! They have a pretty big circulation. Also, libraries get RT and buy from those reviews, in addition to regular readers.
      And I think I see the quotable bit you mean. That is a good quote!

  6. Interesting discussion and you’re all so right that poor reviews can hurt but writers have to learn to get over it. Lots of people (including me) didn’t think much of “the Da Vinci Code”. I doubt Dan Brown cares.

    These days I tend not to get involved with reviews unless I can use them to market ;). Criticisms which I think are correct I’ll remember for next time. Anything else I can’t do anything about. The book’s out of my hands.

    1. The Da Vinci Code? Don’t get me started! I read it to see what all the fuss was about. And after I read it, I still wasn’t sure. 😉
      But you’re undoubtedly right, Dan Brown is laughing all the way to the bank. But the first time he published Angels and Demons, it didn’t do very well. I wonder what happened?

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