Sunday, November 25, 2012

Grade Inflation on Amazon?

There are a number of people who have works that have appeared on my online critique which they have self published on Amazon.  I thought I'd get onto Amazon and see how they are doing just for kicks. 
I was surprised to see the number of five star reviews.  Everyone I looked at had more five star reviews than any other rating.  Maybe the people I am looking at are the greatest collection of writers ever assembled, excepting maybe the Ex-Patriots of the 1920's.  More likely, the reviews on Amazon are greatly inflated.

It's inevitable that some of the people I'm talking about will read this post.  Don't worry, I'm not slamming you.  In fact, I think most of the people I've helped with the review process have put a lot of hard work into their novels and they are quite good as a result.  Problem is, if you give everything a five star review, then a five star review ceases to have meaning.
Think of the star rating as a bell curve.  The most common rating should be three stars since it would be at the middle of the curve.  Three stars are not bad, since these writers are competing with a number of other hard working and highly determined people. 
Consider it this way.  Suppose you study Physics at Harvard and earn a high C or low B GPA.  You have accomplished considerably more than a student who studies Physics at his or her community college and gets an A average.
I've seen a lot of pretty good novels in my critque group, most of which I think are solid three or four star efforts.  In my opinion, that is still an excellent rating because, anyone crazy enough to undertake the task to write a novel is dedicated enough to develop the talent and skill to create a good one. To me, five stars are only for the very best novels out there.  I've seen a couple novels on my crituque group that really stand out, and I literally mean a couple.

I think the reviews on Amazon are inflated for two reasons.  First, people want to be nice. They want to help whoever wrote the novel they are reading the novel and give four or five stars to anything halfway good.  The problem with this is, they indavertantly water down the value of each star they give for the review.  It becomes that much harder to pick out the really outstanding works from those that are merily pretty good.   Second, and this is the more sinister reason, a lot of people cheat by having friends write fake five star reviews or even creating fake identities and writing their own. If you are one of these, shame on you. You're ruining it for everyone.
(If you are someone I know, don't worry, I'm not accusing you.  The fellow aspiring writers I am close to strike me as honest people. I know you have gotten your accomplishments through sweat and rejections. It's the bad apples I'm talking to.)
Like most people on here, I'm working on novels of my own. When I finally finish my first novel, I was considering posting it on Amazon too, if only to see what kind of reviews I get.  My goal is to learn and rewrite until I have my work to what I consider a four star effort. Maybe after a couple more years of writing experience I can get something that approximates a five star novel.  If all I get are three star reviews, it would be a sign I have farther to go than I thought.  If I get one and two star reviews, I think I will put a paper bag over my head and use a pen name from now on.

 While I'd like to succeed on Amazon like everyone else, I want only the stars I've earned.  I'd rather have an honest three star review than a tainted five star one. 
~ Chuck Robertson

1 comment:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with this post, Chuck. It's BECAUSE everyone gives 5 stars to everything that people feel obligated to give 5 stars. So if you give a 4 star review the writer then think - What there's something wrong with it? It doesn't deserve that extra star?

    It's absolute craziness. Three stars is a positive review. Even Two Stars could possibly mean that some people might find it appealing but it's a select audience.

    So with that said, not everyone's review is worth the same. You're almost better off getting one honest review from someone who is experienced as such and knows how to calculate the grade - than twenty five people who don't know what they're doing.