Rating the Raters

This will seem like the ultimate first world problem.

Even worse, it’s a pathetic, futile whinge – but I have an outraged sense of justice which needs to be expressed.

Book rating sites (especially Goodreads and Amazon) are very important for both readers and writers. For writers they are a valuable source of feedback and a bit of a marketing tool.

For readers they are a means of registering their feelings after reading plus a great resource for other readers wondering how best to spend their time and money.

They are also a medium via which readers and writers can connect to enrich the experience for both. For the system to work efficiently it needs two crucial ingredients – the objectivity and good intentions of the reviewer.

Now we come to the source of my gripe.

I recently indulged in a giveaway for my historical fiction novel – The Fighting Man. It has been a fairly successful novel – sold out of its hard copy print run and had nothing but great reviews. It was sitting proudly at 4.5 average rating on Goodreads when I decided it needed a marketing shot in the arm, so entered it for a giveaway.

A giveaway event is where readers get a free copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.

Less than a day after my giveaway, a new one star rating appeared from one of the people who had accepted The Fighting Man – which is quite a long book and reading the whole thing in less than a day would be an amazing effort. The sort of effort that could only be made by someone who absolutely loved it.

Now, I’ve had one star ratings before, and they didn’t particularly bother me – my stuff can be both challenging and confronting for some readers so not everyone will love it. But this one really annoyed me. If a person signs up for a free book in exchange for a fair review then certain implied clauses of the contract must follow.

For a start, the need to be fair.

She obviously didn’t finish the book, in fact, barely even started it. If that’s the case, she should not be rating the book at all because she did not finish and cannot therefore judge it fairly.

At the very least, if she disliked the book so much she could not continue, but still wanted to express her objection with a bad rating, she should have offered a review to say why her opinion was in such stark contrast with all other ratings.

Moving beyond my own subjective outrage, it is also a massive disservice to other readers who might be interested in the book as it distorts the apparent quality and potentially puts off those who might genuinely enjoy it.

So I am proposing a new system, where authors get to rate readers.

Just as uber has a reciprocal rating system for both driver and passenger – book rating services ought to have a similar system for writer and reviewer. If you are going to give me one star (and no review to say why) when everyone else has given four or five, I should be able to rate you back to limit your access to giveaways.

When I checked again this morning, I saw she’d (just one day later) given another one star rating to a book averaging comfortably over four. This is very obviously tyre kicking of the worst kind: sign up for a free book – didn’t like the opening – damn it with one star. Sign up for another…

I give her no stars!

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