What’s in a number?

Review Numbers, that is.

My puzzlement has been brewing sometime, not only over inflated ratings but the sheer volume of reviews. I’m looking at Amazon, specifically here.

Now before anyone accuses me of whining, of course I want my books rated and reviewed. This isn’t a ‘cry for help’; I straight up ask for reviews. They make a difference. And no shill and gush, please. Every honest rating adds value and provides information to potential readers/buyers. (I have a review to write for a fellow writer, in fact.)

That said, if you go by the flood of Five-Stars floating around Amazon these days, you’d think we’d entered a new Golden Age of Literature. Either that, or there’s serious fan-boy/fan-girl (fan-person? person of fandom?) inflation going on.

Congrats to anyone who writes and finishes a novel. It’s a serious accomplishment. I applaud your courage in publishing it too. Really.

But I think a lot of readers have lost points of reference. Does anyone read great literature anymore? Scratch that, does anyone even read the classic, defining works in their preferred genre? In my experience, most books are competent, coherent, exhibiting a working knowledge of plot, character, and the fundamentals of grammar – in other words, Three-Star books. It’s the minimum requirement for a decent, solid story. It’s the median, the AVERAGE.

A One-Star equates to treachery: the author should re-take Freshman English Comp, and return the purchase price along with some recompense for pain and suffering. Five-Star means not only does it exhibit exceptional literary skill, but had a profound impact on my life. Two and Four-Star ratings fall below and above average, respectively. It’s not rocket surgery. Yes, much of the process is subjective, but there are benchmarks. Objective Standards have to enter the equation somewhere.

I get daily BookBub alerts – notice of new releases, deals, freebies – and the descriptions always tout phrases like “over seven-hundred 5-star reviews on Amazon!” and “Highest rated in xyz category” Seriously? For “Shaniqua – Elven VampireHuntress of the Lycan Wars, Part 7“*

Three-quarters of the offerings are like that. It’s gotten so bad, I don’t believe any of it. Worse, I’m auto-hitting ‘Delete’ about half the time.

Even allowing for passionate fans, a new generation of readers, a failing educational system, what’s up with the atmospheric review numbers?

For example, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that popularized, even defined the Cyberpunk genre, currently has 625 reviews and is holding steady at Four Stars. The author’s debut novel won the Hugo, Nebula and PKD Awards in 1984. The archetype, it represents a tectonic shift in science fiction and is counted among the top 100 english books of the last century.

Contrast that with Hugh Howey’s “Wool Onmibus” at six-thousand plus reviews and Four and a half Stars as of this writing. Now I’m not slagging HH. All props to him. I bought the W:O ebook. Yes, I want those sales numbers. But Wool is a stock, serialized Post-apoc tale. It’s derivative. It’s average. Those numbers are Marketing fluff, not indicative of quality.

Cyberstorm by Mathew Mather: Pubbed this year in 2013, 1,808 ratings at Four and a Half Stars.
John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War (Hugo Nominee, btw. Pubbed in 2005) Only 861 at 4.5 Stars.

Patrick Rothfuss’ very excellent Kingkiller** novels Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear have 2,000 odd and 1,000 plus ratings respectively, whereas Ilona Andrews’ brand new Magic Bites is already rocking 426 at 4.5 Stars.

Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator (Dire Earth Cycle, book 1) is my most recent disappointment. Heavily Suggested, it had 48, 4 and 5-star reviews prior to being released, via something known as the “Amazon Vine Program.” We’re at one-hundred eleventy solid Four-Stars at the moment, and they’re already pimping books 2 and 3. Which aren’t even out yet. I slogged through to 80% and finally deleted it from my Kindle. It was steaming pile of tedious pedestrian trope.

We could go on and on, finding more extreme examples, but my real questions are (aside from how can I legitimately boost my own numbers) how to sift the wheat from the chaff, and how to counter-act loss of credibility due to Rampant Review Inflation?

Any ideas?

*not a real book. Names have been changed to protect the clueless
** Him and Joe Abercrombie restored my faith in contemporary fantasy.

3 Replies to “What’s in a number?”

  1. Right. So what’s up with 1800 plus reviews and Movie Options? How does that happen?

    I know it makes me sound jealous, but if it’s really that lame, is success down to Hype, Gush, and Shill?

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