Great Expectations.

by , under personal, writing

Reviews. They’re both a nuisance and important. Especially for a self-published author who are trying to earn a living by selling ebooks. Or if you’re Anne Rice, occasionally you vent at Amazon reviewers who disliked your book.

Why am I sharing this? An author posted a blog with guidelines about how to post reviews on Amazon- which mostly seemed to say that if you posted anything less than a 4 or 5 star review, you were being rude to the author. There’s been a fair amount of backlash (this is an excellent post on it, and this is as concise as you can possibly get on the subject), and the woman has been backpedaling a bit.

But as I thought about how ridiculous the situation was, I realized that it wasn’t just for her suggesting that you game the system or seeming to imply that if you aren’t going to rate your friends as high as you possibly can that you just aren’t friends. It was her expectations of what was a fair review.

By her guidelines, you should review a book like you would any regular product. Like a pair of jeans or a toaster. Was the book everything you were promised? She suggested you give it 5 stars. Was it just a little off? 4 stars. And so on and so forth.

When did we skew our ability to rate things?

Back in high school, I was in the honor’s track. Where A’s were handed out like candy, even if I turned in what I felt was mediocre work. By the time I was in college, A was meaningless. It wasn’t something to strive for, or an achievement. It was a reminder that the bar was lowered somewhere along the line.

Elsewhere in the world, most people get C’s. Not because they aren’t smart. But because a C is average. It isn’t nearly failing, it is quite simply what everyone is expected to get or know. Getting A’s are nearly unheard of in some schools in Europe.

One of the first times I got a performance review for a job, I was having the scale explained to me. Satisfactory, which was in the middle of the performance scale, I was told was just that. It meant I was doing my job well. Outstanding meant I was going above and beyond, and Exceeds Expectations meant that I was walking on water. It was refreshing. Knowing that it was unlikely for anyone- even a good employee like me to get an Exceeds Expectations made me feel like my evaluation actually reflected me.

The strangest thing about all this is that we expect people my age and younger to have inflated self-images because we’ve been told how awesome we are since we were little. The woman who wrote the blog post is a baby boomer, and has tried to use this as an excuse. Like she didn’t think her blog post would get that much attention. She didn’t think other Boomers would know how Amazon ratings worked, so she was explaining it. Right. Which is why she started off her post by saying how if a friend gave her a 2 star rating, they weren’t really a friend at all. She also said she was mentioning higher ratings because Amazon won’t recommend books with low star ratings (that’s in the comment section of the first reply post I linked), but actually didn’t mention that anywhere in her post- which is interesting information. (On the whole Baby Boomer thing, my mom is a Boomer and is extremely internet savvy. She would never have posted something on the the internet that she wasn’t prepared to stand behind. Or try to use her age as an excuse.)

Realistically, she wrote a post saying that if you want authors to love you, you should stroke their egos by giving them well-written and highly rated reviews on Amazon. She might say otherwise, but that’s what it is.

But if you do that, you’re doing everyone a disservice. I’m guilty of saying that something is the “BEST EVAR” when it’s just enjoyable. We love superlatives. But when you rank thinks as being the Top when you just mean to say it was a decent book- who are you helping? Nobody, really. We can all learn from bad reviews- not the “I bought this because I thought it was a spy novel and it was a cookbook” type of comments. But from the ones who thought plot elements were confusing, or that some parts weren’t explored enough.

For me, the satisfaction is in finishing it and putting it out there. Having it be well-liked would just be icing on the cake.

Am I alone in thinking that we need to stop grading everything on a curve? That it’s okay to say something is fine instead of needing to gush about it?

Day 28 of NaBloPoMo