Are your book reviews driving you crazy?

Book ratings are a numbers game, but not the one you think. Too many authors focus on one review at a time, practically (or literally) biting their nails off every time a new rating appears for their book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodReads, and the like. I'll let you in on a little secret: individual ratings DO NOT MATTER. Not in the long run, and here's why.

When someone looks up your book online, they see the point values for all ratings ever given to your book, divided by the number of people who have rated it. This tells them not only how good people think your work is AND how popular your work is. Believe it or not, that second number -  "the number of people who have rated it" - is way more important to a new reader than the overall number or a couple of bad reviews.

Why? Because everything is a popularity contest these days.

Look at it this way:

  • On GoodReads, Stephen King's Pet Sematary has a rating of 3.87, but it has been rated by over 247,000 people. So, a number of people clearly thought it was a stinker, but it's one of his most well-known pieces, and many more people told their friends to go read than told their friends not to.
  • By contrast, my book Into the Darkness has a rating of 4.09, but only 11 people have rated it. This means that my 4.09 has less weight than Stephen King's 3.87, because not as many people have read my work. The word of mouth around my book isn't driving the ratings number up.

So, when should you worry about an individual review?

  1. When you've first released the book, but ONLY IF it's your first review. Pray the next rating is better.
  2. When you've first released the book, your average rating is already low. A 2-star review won't drive your average down much, if you're already in the 3-star range. If you get a 1-star review, it can do more damage. Be concerned in this scenario, because not only did someone dislike your work enough to rate it at a 1 or a 2, but the other people weren't impressed either.
  3. Whe n a  lot of people have rated your book (10 or more), and no one seems to like it that much. In this scenario, you go from bad to worse with each new bad review.

What should you do if your book's ratings fall into one of these categories?

For the first and second scenario, I recommend you encourage more people to review it. Give out a few copies in exchange for a promise to give an honest review online. Then, just wait and see what ratings it's given with subsequent reviews.

If your book falls into the third category, however, I suggest you start reading every single review your book has received. Start looking for patterns to see what might be causing the low ratings. If it is getting dinged for rampant typos (which I'll say should never happen in a book released to the public), yank the book immediately, and find a proofreader or copy editor to help you revise the book before you try to sell the book again. If your readers say the ending is unbelievable or the dialog is choppy, it's up to you to decide what you want to do with it.

One last point I'll make, and that is to say, I've heard and read authors freaking out about getting a 3-star review, and I never understand why. A 3-star review just means the reviewer didn't hate the book, but didn't like it very much either. It's an average rating, not a bad rating. If you're going to freak out reserve it for 1-star or 2-star reviews, and even then, I recommend you look at the body of your reviews and not just one person's opinion.

A.M.