Why do Bad Books Get Good Reviews?
Updated: Sep 24, 2021
I hadn’t started reading self or indy-published books until I decided to do one myself. I thought … ‘My book is good. I like it. I went thorough all the rigours of a Developmental Editor for over a year, spent years doing homework on how to write a novel that works, practicing and using beta readers and used a professional Copy Editor, so others must have as well. So there’s a whole bunch of books out there that I have missed out on reading!’
I have now read several self and indy-published books, and have learned how wrong I was. I won’t name the books, or the authors or reviewers, this post isn’t to shame people individually, but I can’t keep quiet any longer concerning the amount of excellent 5 star reviews being … and only being … posted on these books that in no way deserve the ratings and reviews they are getting. I’m not talking about ‘well, the book just wasn’t for me’ or ‘I just didn’t like the content or genre’. I’m talking about books with such blatant mistakes and issues that it is hard to believe they aren’t being addressed in these reviews and ratings. You can like the story, but if story writing skills are lacking, it should not recieve a perfect review telling other readers there isn’t a fault in the novel. It is misleading, and will be noticed when the book is read.
To a degree, some of that is good. It’s part of marketing your book. Yes, get your friends and family to put up some reviews to help you out. But when you start deleting the bad ones, or act as if you’re the best new writer out there because all you have are 5 star reviews … I take issue.
Do you think I’m just jealous? Am I envious of other authors getting many more reviews than me, all depicting 5 stars? No. I assure you this is not the case. I am an INTJ-A, and I believe people need to earn their accolades. This has been a pet peeve of mine for decades. Like people wearing olympic team gear like a badge, when olympic athletes spent their lives training to earn the right to wear an olympic outfit. Security Guards calling themselves Police. Emergency Transfer Attendants calling themselves Paramedics. Army Cadets saying they were in the military. Training, hard work and education made these people who they are. It is disrespectful to call yourself one when you didn’t put in the work and earn the right to do so.
This way of thinking bleeds into my beliefs concerning ratings and reviews of books as well. You should earn a 4 or 5 star review. And to add to this, it’s not like having twenty 5 star reviews is going to affect or change the mind of a discernible reader who didn’t like the book.
‘Hm, I didn’t like this book. But wait, everyone else gave it 5 stars, so I must be wrong.’
No. A discernible reader, one that is not a friend or family member, or paid reviewer, or someone who bartered for good reviews, but one who picked up the book by chance or because the premise looked good and up their alley, is going to recognize the issues and mistakes of the book. At least, the mistakes of the books in which I have read. I know there are well-written, well-edited, working stories out there that are self-published. I’m not referring to them. And I have read a few very good self-published books. But nfortunately, only a very few.
Most of the books I’ve read have had really good, strong plot ideas, premises, and even some good characters, but that only gets you to a 2 star if you can’t write the story correctly. There are other elements to story writing that make stories work, that make them good. And when these things are blatantly missing, I can’t understand why the book gets such high praise, like … ‘Best book ever!’ These are published books for purchase, be it trad or self, and should be better than the average person who thinks anyone can simply write a book. I think we all can agree that writing and publishing a novel is a lot more work than the average person thinks. So when books are filled with …
1) no logical reasoning for characters to make decisions or come to conclusions
2) have no sense of action or movement of a story
3) spend way more time concerned with the outfits and hair colour of the characters than their emotions and actions
4) lack research in easy-to-obtain areas of expertise … as in a simple google search would have made the research better
5) typos everywhere (a few is going to happen, even in trad books)
6) multiple POV slips (this is basic writing 101)
7) tells the reader everything instead of showing them, or worse, tells them and then tells them again
8) after reading several chapters you still don’t understand anything about the world building or where the world takes place
9) lack any understanding of how science, space, military, medicine, legal systems, governments ect. work
10) protagonists that take almost half of the book for the reader to even want to read about them (yes, I understand character development, but sometimes too little too late takes over and the reader will get fed up). You don’t have to like the protagonist, if fact sometimes that’s a good thing, but eventually you’ll want the reader to at least understand them and where they are coming from, and see some sort of change that might make you want to root for them.
And specifically in sci-fi and fantasy …
1) science that does not meet up with the technological times (why are characters driving gas filled cars in a time when FTL exists and there’s interstellar travel? Why are people wearing glasses in the 25th century?)
2) magic systems that don’t follow their own rules or aren't justified in a world where that magic could have changed everything
These issues in a book cannot possibly allow for a 4-5 star review. ‘But the story is good!’ is not enough.
And as far as bad reviews go … don’t be afraid of them. They can be your friend. Generally speaking, 1 and 2 star reviews are from readers for whom the book was not meant for. As in, they were probably never going to like it in the first place. But sometimes, a bad review is a good review when they are legitimate. I recently received a 2 star review of my audio book. I have nothing bad to say about this review, it centred on a legitimate concern that may affect other readers/listeners. I have no intention of trying to remove it or argue that it is wrong. It is an opinion of the listener and it concerns something they do not like/agree with in books. Instead, I take heed of what the reviewer said. Also, this 2 star review helps me in other ways. It lets other potential readers/listeners know what they might be in for, and if they too don’t like language in books, then they know perhaps not to read my book. I will not apologize for the language in my book, but I will probably try to tone it down for further books so as to open the series up to possibly more readers. Maybe the listener was right? I don’t know yet, and haven’t decided whether to change or not. And if this 2 star rating alerts other possible readers/listeners from buying my book then that is okay. I’m not looking for your royalty payment, I’m looking for longevity and respect in the writing world by writing good books people like. By having this review out there, and having it stop readers/listeners from buying it because they don’t like (excessive) language either (which is what the reviewer said ruined their story enjoyment), it also stops the book from possibly getting another bad review because the ‘new’ reader/listener would never have like it anyway if they don’t like books with language … or excessive language.