On not rating indie books generously

On not rating indie books generously
Here’s a prediction: my 2017 will feature a bunch of independently published LGBTQIA+ fantasy books, and very few of them will earn as many as four stars.

Every now and again I come across a post, Tweet, or glass bottle in the river with a message curled inside reading It’s book-blogging best practice to rate indie books more generously than traditionally published books.

Reasons for said generosity typically include things like:

  • Indie authors are less likely to have access to the high level of editing available to traditionally published authors.
  • Because indie books don’t have the benefit of extensive marketing and promotion, their success depends largely on ratings. A low rating can have a significant impact on the author’s sales.
  • Some readers avoid reading indie books because they believe “indie” implies “more likely to be poorly written,” and these prejudiced readers need to be shown that lots of indie books are actually wonderful.

I can see a lot of potential benefits of rating indie books more generously; for example, if higher ratings lead to increased sales, they might also lead to:

(a) more productive authors, who, because they’re practicing their craft, might
(b) hopefully begin to produce higher-quality work, which
(c) will gain even more praise and attention from readers, and might
(d) encourage major publishers to produce more stories that have been relegated to indie publishing (such as minority-led and minority-written stories).

Whatever their reasons, bloggers who rate indie books more generously are doing what feels right and best for them, and that’s exactly what they should do. Every blog’s audience and goals are different, and that’s awesome.

But giving out extra stars just because of a book’s publishing route feels wrong for me, personally—and because I’ll be featuring more indie books in 2017 than I did this year (my thirst for gay, asexual, and genderqueer fantasy is wrecking me, you guys), now seems like a good time to explain why.

Why I Won’t Do This Thing

1. Critical readers need honest ratings

As a super-critical reader (who can’t turn the criticalness off, oh my god, why did this not come with an emergency shut-down switch), I only fully trust reviews from other super-critical readers—who, unfortunately for me, appear to be in the minority of (the gazillions of) book reviewers online.

Honestly, I get discouraged and frustrated by the fact that I can’t trust a book’s high average star rating on, like, Goodreads to be even a vague indication of the book’s quality. It’s awful to be consistently bored, aggravated, and/or infuriated by books that have an average rating above four stars.

So I rely on a group of several dozen critical readers to better gauge which books I should read, and I thank god for every one of them. I need reviewers whom I can trust to not sugar-coat their ratings, because they’re the ones who save me from getting my heart (and sometimes will to live) broken by one disappointing book after another.

And I want to be a trusted reviewer who helps other picky readers determine if a book is with their valuable time, money, and critical-reading hearts. Softening my ratings would, in my eyes, be kind of a betrayal of the trust readers put in me as a reviewer.

2. Writers need honest critiques

Oh lord no, I’m not saying that authors need to read the negative reviews of their own books. What I’m saying is that other writers—whether they’re hobbyists or aspiring authors or many-times-over published authors—can learn to better their writing by reading and engaging in honest critiques of other people’s books. That was actually the primary reason I started this blog: to improve my own writing through critiques, and hopefully help other writers do the same.

Because yes, writers need outside feedback on their own works, but learning from the successes and failures of others is equally important. And if my perspective on a book’s execution can help some other writer craft better books, I’ll be ecstatic. I can’t imagine a better, more fulfilling achievement than that.

But being more generous with my ratings and softer in my critiques would have the opposite effect. Boosting ratings creates the false idea that those books actually deserve that generous rating. I don’t want writers to think that mediocrity is anything but mediocre; I don’t want them to think that poorly written stories are actually fairly good; I don’t want them to decide their writing is of an acceptable quality and doesn’t really need further work when it can be vastly improved.

I know I don’t have any real influence all by myself, but I do feel it’s my duty to remain honest and critical.

3. Publishers and editors need honest reader responses

It’s not just writers who need that honesty; giving higher star ratings to poorly or adequately written books can indicate to publishers and editors that readers are satisfied with that level of quality. Readers should never stop supporting and demanding better-written books. Yeah, perfection is impossible, but we deserve the best possible books we can get our hands on.

Honestly, the idea that writers, editors, and publishers might doom me to a life spent wading through mediocre books because they’ve read those mountains of uncritical and too-generous reviews and decided “Readers are satisfied with what we’re putting out, so we don’t need to waste time and money improving our books” fills me with horror. Hopefully this is just a thing of my nightmares, and not likely to actually occur.

Now Let Me Clarify My In-Critique Disclaimers

You’ll notice in the few indie and self-published book reviews I’ve already posted, I’ve said some variation of “Because this is an indie book, I’m going to phrase my critique more gently than I normally would.”

What this does not mean: “I’m going to be more forgiving of flaws, and give the book a higher rating than I normally would have.”

What this does means: “This critique will not involve obscenities and capslocked snark, for the sake of the author’s feelings.”

I’m fairly confident stating that no author enjoys a negative review, but I feel an extra stab of sympathy for self-published and indie authors, for whom one negative review might not be so quickly drowned out by a flood of positive ones. In general, the more popular a book is, the more comfortable I am with expressing in careful, italicized detail, the full force of my eye-rolling, boredom, headdesking, etc.

(This isn’t to say that I will never resort to obscenities, snark, and plaintive wailing while critiquing indie books; just that my instinct is to be more diplomatic.)

Regardless of how gentle my phrasing, though, if an indie book deserves only one star—like Wild, in the featured image—that’s how many stars I’ll give it.

What do you guys think? Are you more generous with indie books? Do you have strong feelings about the “best” way to rate indie books? I’d love to hear about it!



67 thoughts on “On not rating indie books generously

  1. I totally agree with this! I consider myself to be a critical reviewer (at least I’m trying to be more critical in each and every one of my reviews), and I cannot imagine softening up for any book. It is important to gain your readers trust, and putting off a less than genuine review is not a good way to do this. I have to say you are one of those amazing reviewers that I can count on. Thank you for always putting out amazing reviews that I always trust (and usually throughly agree with)!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never heard of that saying before! I review all book on the same ground, whether they are indie, self-published, ARCs, or even library books, Though I do think that Goodreads should allow half stars, because it can be difficult to decide whether to rate up and down. Like, if you rate a book 2.5/5 stars. On Goodreads, do you rate it two or three stars? THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. Thanks for talking about this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Equal reviews for all the books! Confetti!

      YES, OH MAN. Come on, Goodreads, we need those half stars and we need the YESTERDAY. Because even though sometimes it’s not too difficult to decide if that 2.5 book should be 2 or 3 stars, sometimes the indecision can literally (not literally) kill us. Hopefully you don’t encounter that struggle too often.

      Thanks for the lovely comment! ❤


      1. I JUST FACED THIS PROBLEM! I gave a book 4.5 stars, and the struggle was real. Because I liked it more than four stars, but I didn’t like it enough for five stars. And like, I didn’t want to rate it lower than I thought it deserved AND THE STRUGGLE IS TOTALLY REAL.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think I’m more generous with Indie books because, honestly, I couldn’t care less. It really makes no difference to me how well know the author is. If the synopsis of a book sounds interesting, I’ll read it and then I’ll rate it according to how much I enjoyed it.
    On the other hand, I don’t think I’m a critical reader since I rate books based on how much I enjoyed reading them and not so much on how well written they were. I mean, I’ve rated plenty of children’s picture books 5 out of 5. (Not saying that picture books are not well written).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! I love your comment, it’s A+.

      I fully support rating books on pure enjoyment, and seriously wish I could do the same. For me, “well-written” and “enjoyable” go hand in hand, and not even my most earnest, broken sobs can detach them. Maybe my new year’s resolution should be to learn how to read like you.

      There are so many amazing picture books out there! They can definitely earn a full five stars, and I’m glad you give that rating out. =)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “or glass bottle in the river with a message curled inside reading…” Yes, this is how I send all of my good ideas. Also, I look forward to your 2017 reviews because gay, asexual, and genderqueer fantasy is something I am greatly missing from my life (asexual and genderqueer books, in general, tbh).

    Ahem, now that that’s out of the way, I 100% agree with you. This is, obviously, why I love your critiques so much. I don’t have to wonder if you’re pulling back your punches completely for some weird reason. As reviewers we (I’m just going to loosely include myself here) have something of a duty to be as genuine as possible to our trade. While I do think indie books are precious babes, giving them higher ratings for the sake of giving them higher ratings is doing them a great disservice. You can’t expect an author to grow in their writing without some kind of constructive criticism. Though, I do make it a point not to comment much on little editing mistakes for indie books since they haven’t gotten the same treatment as their big publishing house brethren. But that’s really the only “special treatment” they get from me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bottled messages are a time-honored and exciting tradition; I can see why you’re drawn to that method of idea dissemination.

      If I read any good asexual and genderqueer books, you’ll be the first to hear about them.

      That’s all perfectly said! Wow, I wish you’d written my post for me; it’d have been beautifully succinct. Can I, like, contract you own for future posts? I’ll pay you in grateful emojis.

      That’s an excellent point, about not dwelling too long on indie books’ editing mistakes. I’ll have to keep that in mind in my upcoming reviews.

      Happy almost New Year! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve always wanted to be a pirate king. Old habits die hard, I guess. YES PLEASE! I have, like, negative twenty in my possession.

        This is all I’m good for… even if my own posts are miles and miles of me just screaming into the ether without ever getting to the point.

        Happy (almost) New Year! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Rest assured my ship has all of the usual amenities. There is also a well-stocked library because would I live without being suffocated by books all the time? No. No, I would not.

        Yaaay. Someone enjoys my accidental rants!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. We’re going to be those pirates that literally do nothing… like maybe we overtake a ship or so a year to strike fear into our enemies’ hearts, but other than that we do nothing.

        You are like the only one outside of my carpool buddy (who is forced to listen to me no matter what) who thinks that. Gold star.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Absolutely, utterly, totally agree with this post!
    My experience with indie authors has been ‘this and that’… I have discovered some true gems… indie books that are better edited and have more quality than a professionally edited book… I have come across indie books that are a complete trainwreck… and I have always given my honest opinion about them… simple: give credit where credit is due… 🙂
    Love this post! Happy New Year and good luck with the indie adventure 😉 I hope you discover some gems as well! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re much better acquainted than indie books than I am! Do you have any tips on finding the gems (other than, say, reading samples on the authors’ sites)? Any advice you have to offer an indie newbie would be amazing!

      Thank you so much! Happy New Year yourself; hope it’s the start of a great year for you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmm… with indies… I think for me it’s really just been Lady Luck! I don’t think there’s a way to figure out the gems before giving an indie book a try…
        Funny thing with what you would consider the usual telltale of quality to be, such as author website, their online presence, etc, doesn’t actually give you an insight what an indie book might be… I have read indie books that have been just mindblowingly good and yet the author doesn’t have much of an online presence… Maybe it’s just that they spend more time with their book than with socializing? It’s a double edged sword and not really a rule either…
        As for the indie books that really don’t meet the mark… I have been lucky to give a critical review of an indie book to which the authors got back to me thanking me for criticism and taking my comments on board to better the story. So, my suggestion, always stay honest with your opinion about the book. It does help authors 🙂

        Lastly… last year was massive for me in terms of indie books… indie’s were mainly what I read and I started feeling like I was missing out on the current big reads that everyone else was reading and raving about… so while indie world is full of fantastic to discover, don’t forget to actually take time to read what you want to read… or the fun will go out of the whole task 🙂

        I probably haven’t been much help here but… I hope your indie adventure will be surprising in a positive way 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No, you’ve been a great help! All of your advice is golden (I hadn’t thought about authors blogs not being an indicator of writing ability!), and will definitely be useful—though some guidance on how to lure Lady Luck onto my side would also be beneficial, I think.

        Thank you so much, Liz! I really appreciate you sharing your insight. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Liam, you sound like my spirit animal! I completely agree, studying English literature has forever spoiled me as a reader – I analyse everything to death.
    Keep up the good work and the honest reviews, we’re all behind you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahaha, awesome!

      YES. I can’t capslock “yes” enough. I was so much easier to please in high school; why can’t we just temporarily forget our literature educations to enjoy some silly books now and then? Is that too much to ask?

      Aw, thank you so much! That means everything to me. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I totally agree with this! I think I read around 2 indie books this year and for one of them I was part of a blog tour. I didn’t have to write a review for the book (thank God), but I did write a review during my wrap-up for the month. The book wasn’t great, so I was hesitant to write a review cause I didn’t want to hurt the author’s feelings, but I posted it anyway cause I would want people to know going into the book and if he ever came across the review it might help him with future writing. I still feel bad though at times. Lol my ACOMAF review (which still needs to be written) won’t be pretty and I find that even harder cause the author is so well known and loved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh man, I don’t think I could ever do indie book blog tours, for exactly that reason: what if I end up not enjoying the book? I’d feel kind of weird prominently advertising it on my blog. Do you think you’ll do blog tours again in the future?

      The post-negative-indie-book review guilt is AWFUL.

      Aaaaah I am so excited for your ACOMAF review, I can’t even tell you. At least you can rest assured that the author will have billions of swooning fans to cheer her up if she ever catches wind of your negative review; that’s something.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m definitely a lot more reluctant to do a blog tour now for an indie book. I really thought I was going to like it, otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed to it. I’m not sure about doing blog tours in the future. Maybe if I’ve read the author previously, that way I’ll have a better idea whether I’ll like the book or not.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I had never heard not thought about this. I’ve been living under a rock apparently, haha! But I completely agree with you. Even though the points for rating more generously an indie book are valid, I would not see my review to be fully honest if I rounded up a rating just because of the publishing path the author went with. I try to rate books according to the story, nor the author or publishing company, so I feel it should not influence my note.
    This is a fantastic post 🙂 Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe it’s not that you’re under a rock, but that I just follow a handful exceedingly generous reviewers? I won’t lie, it’s a relief to hear that some of you guys haven’t heard this discussion before; maybe that means the generosity toward indie books is less widespread than I’d imagined.

      Your stance on reviews is part of what makes you one of my favorite reviewers. Thanks for being great!

      And aw, thank you so much ❤


  9. I LOVE this post, and I agree with all of it. When I give a negative review to a more popular or “main stream” book, I wonder more if I’ll offend the fans, whereas for indie books I’m more aware of the fact that the author may come across it. When I review an indie author, I do it with the more with mindset that I’m trying to give them something that will help them to improve their writing and storytelling. It helps that I’ve taken writing workshops and have given people critiques to their faces, and have had my own writing critiqued harshly. I know writers can take it, and sometimes they need it. I think the worst kind of author – whether they’re well-known or not – are the ones who believe they have nothing left to learn. And of course, in doing this, I want other readers who read my reviews to know what to expect if they pick these books up! Like you said, I see no point in engaging with book reviews if they’re not honest, and it’s SO much less fun. Which is why we’re all here, right??

    Also, I really look forward to the gay, asexual, and genderqueer fantasies you have in store this year. I need those like I need water.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m nodding along with everything in your comment!

      That’s a great point about the concern of angering a popular book’s fans more than its author. Have you ever had angry fans comment on any of your critiques? If you have, how did you deal with it?

      “I think the worst kind of author – whether they’re well-known or not – are the ones who believe they have nothing left to learn.”

      Perfectly said! I agree completely.

      And you’re right (as always) that “softened” reviews are less fun to engage with. Most of the soft reviews I’ve read gave vague but enthusiastic praise without delving too deep—which makes sense, since the reviewers can’t just make up well-crafted aspects of the book as evidence to support their high rating. Where’s the fun in reading that?

      I hope I manage to find some great books to recommend you! If you come across any first, kindly let me know?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Luckily I have never managed to offend any fans (that I know of), but I’ve seen it happen to other bloggers. Everyone I’ve interacted with have been very respectful- as long as everyone is good natured it’s fun to have disagreements!
        If I find any gay/asexual/genderqueer fantasies I will definitely let you know!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s a relief! It helps that even your negative reviews are carefully and politely written; I don’t imagine you’ll be ruffling many feathers.

        There’s a lot of good to be had in friendly, open-minded discussion of differing opinions. It’s awesome that the book blogging community (what I’ve seen of it, anyway) is so thoughtful and polite, and willing to engage with each other in that way. Everyone here is awesome.

        Aw, thank you! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  10. To add to the myriad of thoughts here, I think one of the reasons you’ll find indie reviews who appear softer is because some indie writers do whatever it takes to get a review, and so may end up soliciting someone who normally wouldn’t be inclined to review and so wouldn’t know what to say. So they’ll say “They liked it” and rate the book high–probably because they have the writer looking over the shoulder, too.

    A good test, personally, is to read exactly what the reviewers have to say–what they liked about the book, what they didn’t like. I really like the 3 and 4-star reviews for this sort of insight…often I’ll find that I don’t mind the faults they cite the book for having, or I may even like exactly what the reviewer didn’t like and so end up getting the book anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, that’s really interesting; I didn’t know that! My heart goes out to those authors, doing everything in their power to get their works out there and noticed. My heart also goes out to the reviewers who feel like they’ll be letting authors down if they give a negative review. Both situations sound stressful (though the author’s position is clearly the more stressful of the two!).

      That’s a great test, and I’m glad it serves you well! It is always interesting to read other people’s criticisms, especially when what they cite as faults either wouldn’t bother me or would be exactly what I’m into. It’s neat to get those differing perspectives, and an extra bonus when those perspectives lead to good books.

      Thank you so much for your insights! I’m incredibly glad to have an author comment on this post; that’s a perspective I didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to hear from. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s tough, for sure. When you’re an indie or small-press published author, you’re still competing with the traditionally-published authors for review spots. Reviewers only have so much time and they’re often booked well into the year, and many of them won’t even look at self-published works for quality reasons. I’ve often found reviewers outside of book review blogs–i.e. through regular readers who either volunteer or whom I query. I’ve lucked out in that I’ve received some very thoughtful reviews this way, but I can imagine that many will fall into the trap of finding reviewers who are not quite sure what to say so end up with a “Good job!” and a 5-star review. Nobody’s fault, really–everyone’s trying their best. And it’s not the worst thing in the world, but of course it doesn’t quite tell people what to expect from your book, either. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Is it much of a blessing that there are so very many reviewers out there? Or does the (seemingly) vast sea of potential reviewers create its own problems for authors trying to get their books read?

        It’s great to hear you’ve been able to find thoughtful reviewers, and I hope you find many more! Do you tend to read the reviews of your books, or does reading them stress you out?

        That’s true, there are worse things than simple 5-star reviews. Even if they’re not informative or engaging, they still might encourage other readers to broaden their reading horizons. That’s never a bad thing.

        (Sorry to bombard you with questions! I’m just so excited to learn about the author’s side of reviews. I hope I’m not being a bother. 😅)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh, it’s definitely a problem because there’s so many authors competing for the reviewers’ time. 😛 Too many review blogs close down just because of the demand on their time. I think even Amazon has stopped endorsing free copies in exchange for reviews. I’m hoping that cuts down on the demand, but probably not…

        I tend to skim over reviews. Reading them does stress me out, even the ones who end up giving me 4-stars (the honest ones). And it’s not even that I disagree with their points…I actually agree with them! It’s just tough to get the energy to write if you feel like you’ve somehow missed the mark, so it’s just easier to try to move on.

        And no problem, I enjoy these discussions. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  11. ah gosh this is such a brilliant post and I agree so much! (even if I don’t have the same method of dealing with this) The way I personally get round this is I won’t review an indie book I rate less than 3*. Because I agree with you- honesty is the main focus of my blog- if I can’t review a book honestly, then I won’t review it at all. But if a book is by an indie book then I don’t want to give it bad publicity (and despite what some people think there is such a thing as bad publicity) so I just won’t review it at all. It may be a bit of a copout, but for me it’s the best compromise I can come up with this. But I totally respect your decision to review and rate fairly! I wish more people would do that!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, that’s a great approach! Minimizes the chances of the author being hurt (emotionally and financially), while also preventing you from stressing out too much over the potential repercussions of your review. That’s such a smart and compassionate way to handle the situation; I might end up adopting it myself, if I end up eaten with guilt over any super-low ratings.

      Thank you so much for sharing this! If I see anyone else expressing concerns about posting low ratings, I’ll be directing them to your comment. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s such a brilliant idea! I think I’ll do that, too. Do you disclose this method with the authors so they know that if you don’t publish something, it means you didn’t like the book? Because I worry that they’ll think I simply didn’t read it or that I’m taking too long.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you! Well, I don’t do ARCs in general, so if an indie author approaches me I just buy the book. I don’t know if it’d work so well for ARCs- I think you’d have to disclose that individually. Hope that helps!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I love this, Liam! I really, wholeheartedly agree with this – I don’t plan on ever closing my review policy off to indie/self published authors (because I always want to support their community), but I also don’t want to fall into the habit of being more generous with my ratings when it comes to indie/self-published authors. I’ve read some blog posts that believe otherwise, but I really agree with what you’ve written above. Great post, per usual!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Katherine! Yeah, it seems like it’d be a very easy thing to start doing–especially since it’s so easy to imagine how the negative reviews affect authors, and who wants to ruin someone else’s day/self-esteem/chances of making some sales? Nobody, that’s who. We definitely can’t blame the more generous reviewers for their decision!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve been reading and reviewing indie books these past few months and I feel terrible giving them bad ratings, but I can’t lie. I hate fake ratings, they are not helpful for the readers or even for the authors. I’m always pretty “calm” on my reviews, whether they are for big publishing houses, small ones or indie authors, so my wording doesn’t change, but I’m definitely more careful when I write them for indie authors. I try to be as constructive as possible with my criticism or state why it didn’t connect with me. A fantastic post, Liam, and the comments are incredibly interesting as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My heart goes out to you, posting negative reviews even though you feel awful for it. It’s not a great position to be in, but I admire (and, as a reader, greatly appreciate) your honesty, as well as your thoroughness. Yours are exactly the type of reviews I need in my life.

      Thank you so much! And thanks for the comment, too; I’m blessed with so many thoughtful, amazing readers who all have great perspectives and advice to share. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  14. What a smart post!
    I see the benefits of rating indie books higher but on principle it ignites my gag reflex. Sacrificing honesty in book reviews isn’t something I can stand for, no matter the positive results. And you’re right about critical reviewers, they’re trusted far more! If I see you rate a book 4 stars—BLIMEY TIME TO READ THAT ONE. I’m constantly pushing myself to be more critical and the more I read the more I subconsciously transform. At one point my average goodreads rating for one year was 5 stars (yikes!) but it’s been lowered to a comfortable 3. (not near your 2.90 yet!! ahhhh i love that so dearly) I can already sense the drawbacks, though—my once favorite I now much smack against a wall.
    This reminds me of another comment I stumbled upon—rating diverse books high even if there are critical flaws. But?? No?? I understand giving a book an extra star for diversity, it’s important !! I do it too. But ignoring crappy writing or insufficient world building?? Why?? Again, I see the perks but sacrifice honesty for one purpose and you’re integrity is lost forever.
    Dazzling discussion, Liam!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so sweet to me, Becca, I can’t handle it. 😊

      I really admire your drive to be increasingly critical in your reading and reviewing, and your awareness of how you’re changing as a result. In my ideal world, everyone would be like you. Shakes a fist at everyone who isn’t like you.

      3 stars is a beautiful average, and I swear I’m going to raise mine to match it–not because I’ll be gentler in my ratings, but because I’ll be more careful not to pick up sub-standard books. This is my new year’s resolution, and you’re the only one I’m telling it to, so take note.

      Oh man, I feel the pain of old favorites not living up to your love. I actually first started emailing snarky book reviews to my friends, oh, ten years ago, when I reread Tanya Huff’s “Wizard of the Grove,” which I’d previously loved and later realized was bloody awful. Throw-against-a-wall awful. Snark-to-death awful. So I actually have that book to thank for eventually spurring the creation of this blog! Good things do come out of those disappointments, sometimes.

      Oh my god, I hadn’t heard of people rating diverse books high despite critical flaws, but I’m shocked at the idea. I mean, yes, we need more diverse books, and high ratings will drive up demand for them, and publishers might pay attention and start publishing more–but diversity isn’t enough of on its own. We need well-written diversity. I completely agree with you: there are definitely perks to rating them higher, but I can’t ever bring myself to do it.

      Thanks so much for improving the discussion by joining in! You’re the best. 😊


  15. Really interesting post! I appreciate honest reviews for indie books (or indeed, any book!) for all the reasons you mentioned, as they make it easier to trust the rating/review if you know the reviewer isn’t going to give it extra points just for the way it was published. However, one of the reasons I don’t actually write reviews myself (other than that I seem to be incapable of expressing how I feel about a book in a detailed way without getting frustrated or repetitive!) is because I hate the thought that I might hurt an author’s feelings… and since I can’t just give everything five stars because that would be pointless, it’s easier to just not do reviews and only mention and rate books I enjoyed. So I really appreciate honest, bold reviewers, but I don’t think I could be one myself… which is maybe hypocritical of me, but I like to think of it as recognising my limitations and leaving it to those more capable 🙂

    Interestingly, I recently read somewhere that on Goodreads that a few negative reviews can help to give a book more credibility… which kind of makes sense I guess because if I saw a book with a round 5/5 stars I’d probably be suspicious! Though obviously too many negative ones wouldn’t do it any favours.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Nicola!

      I don’t think your method of reviewing is hypocritical at all; you’re being honest to your readers (by only reviewing books you genuinely enjoyed), while being a sweet person (avoiding hurting authors’ feelings) and taking care of yourself (avoiding doing something that would stress you out). That’s a smart, kind, and healthy way to review books!

      Ah, that’s a great point, about a few negative reviews giving a book credibility. I’ve heard the same, but completely forgotten about it. Thanks for bringing that up! Because you’re right; nothing but five-star reviews does look suspicious (“Have only the author’s friends and family read the book? That’s a bad sign”).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh good, I’m glad it doesn’t seem hypocritical! I do find it far less stressful to do it this way so it seems to be the healthier choice for me. Also I can still read, like and comment on other people’s more extensive/critical reviews, so I figure at least I am supporting more thorough reviewing in that way.

        And yes, that is exactly what I think when I see a full five stars: perhaps all those reviews are just from friends and family! I guess that’s why a few negative/varied reviews in the mix, and also positive reviews that look like they were written by an experienced impartial reviewer (not Uncle Bob!), can make such a difference.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Completely agree. I swithered about not rating a ready bad indie book I read last year rather than being honest but cruel – then saw the author had given himself 5* and I HAD to balance that (with an honest ‘1’!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I support your decision entirely!

      I don’t think honesty is necessarily cruel, though, even if it does mean a one-star rating. Cruelty is in how the rating is presented: insulting, like, the author’s writing ability and themselves as a person is cruel, but honestly pointing out and explaining flaws isn’t.

      So have no fear, Calypte! Your honesty is appreciated by everyone, and there’s no need to feel bad about sharing it. 😃

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there, Amanda! I completely agree; on the off chance that an author or someone in the publishing industry reads my article, I’d hope they take it seriously instead of dismissing it as one contrary voice in a sea of praise. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Thanks for the support! 🙂


  17. Stumbled across this post, and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind when perusing Amazon and other ebook sellers for self-published works, thinking “There just CANNOT be this many books of 5-star quality!” While I’m all for writers getting constructive criticism, it needs to be honest and critical to avoid the “back-patting race to the bottom” that seems to have been created.

    I think an unfortunate side effect of the “self-publishing revolution” is tolerance of lower quality and a flood of unoriginal ideas under the guise of freedom from the chains of traditional publishing. Is it OK that anyone can now publish their “Twilight” clone series and get it into the hands of readers who might enjoy it? Sure. But are all those Twilight clones 5-Star books? Absolutely not.

    Your post also resonated with me because I’ve received criticism when reviewing a book as average or 3-stars, and people think I’m slamming it, when in reality I’m saying it’s an adequately written book, but not phenomenal. The internet seems to foster reviews as an all-or-nothing endeavor where anything less than 5-stars might as well be zero.


  18. I agree with your reviewing approach. When reviewing indie books, I try to be civil, but adding stars just to be nice hurts anyone’s credibility. I’m an indie author myself, and as they say, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    Someone in the comments mentioned that having a lower-than-five-star rating makes a book more attractive. I agree – in fact, I’d rather get a four-star rating than a five-star one. It signals my work has been read by a discerning reader, not just a friend.

    That being said, I don’t think we need to worry about “inflated reviews” lowering the quality of literature. Good books will always be written, and we’ll always be able to find them, if we examine a book carefully before purchasing it. It’s no different than wading through the breathless phrases (“a triumph,” “magisterial,” “a thriller that moves at the speed of light”) that accompany traditionally-published books.

    Read a book’s reviews, and use Amazon’s Look Inside feature. Some authors may have even posted longer excerpts somewhere online, or they may have another book set as permafree to entice new readers. If you don’t like what you see, move on. It’s basically the same process as browsing through a brick-and-mortar bookstore back in the good ol’ days.


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