Giving Five Stars

A gold stick figure holding a big gold starI've been researching series orders and connected books, and have noticed a few times the author on GoodReads or elsewhere giving her own book five stars. I'll be honest: I pretty much always roll my eyes when I see an author giving each of their books a five star rating, not the least of which because it's disingenuous.

But I also ask myself (every time I see this happening), would I give my own books five star ratings? Would I rate every example of my own writing five stars?

Nope, probably not. Definitely not.

I probably should, because as the author or co-author I should be the best emissary for my books. But in each case, and this goes for books published elsewhere and entries published here, I can see things I would change or do differently, things I wish I'd known when I was writing them that I know now. I can't read entries on the site without wanting to make edits and rearrange paragraphs. Books are subject to the same wish to continue to revise. But I can't. It's done. I can't find every copy in every store and make changes or fix things, so I let it go. It's not something I have control over. I still want to edit things, though. Constantly!

So would I give them 5 stars? No, probably not. I have 5 star amounts of pride for each one and I can explain what each book is about and who it might appeal to, but is each one absolutely five-star perfect? No, unfortunately. I always look at my own writing and think of all the ways I can do better next time.

So when authors give each and every book they've written 5 stars, I confess to being very confused. Is that a promotional rating? Is every book they've written 5-stars-of-awesome? I honestly have a hard time believing that a writer might feel that way about every book. Not even the most talented writers can get it perfect every time.

I'm guessing it's the expectation that an author is the best representative of her work, and therefore must promote each one as the best. Promotion doesn't make a lot of room for self-evaluation or self-criticism. It's not effective to say, “This isn't the best one of my books but I hope you buy it.” 

When I see five-star self-evaluations for each book, I look at it from the perspective of having written books, and whether I could do the same. When I see the five-star lineup when I'm book shopping, I ignore it. What about you? Would you give everything you've written or done 5 stars? Do you have any reaction when you see an author giving herself top ratings for each book?

Thank you to BigStock for the image! 




Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Virginia E says:

    I’ve never seen a published author give all of his or her books a perfect rating. Maybe it’s because I don’t visit goodreads. Every author I’ve known has sweated bullets over one or more of their books and frankly, they have anxieties, regrets, and panic attacks over the darned things. My first impression is that this author tooting their own horn because no one else will do it for them. They aren’t likely to find their way onto my TBR pile.

  2. 2
    Persnickety says:

    A five star review by an author, of clear friend of the author is an instant no buy recommendation for me.  It skews the overall results in the ratings, and is not an unbiased recommendation. 

    The same goes for paid for reviews on amazon.  Too many of those mean that author will be bought.

    When I read a five star review I want to know why the reader/reviewer deemed it worthy, and I don’t just want this book was great.  It needs to tell me what they found so great about that book, specific details

    On the self rating- I don’t write books, but I do write technical articles, and sometimes I rework older ones.  I will be reading along and either finding it well written or not, and have to question whether I wrote it.  There are sections which I would say, oh that really was good, but there are so many other areas where I can do better.  An author who consistently gives themselves 5 stars shows a lack of capacity for self awareness that will probably mean I will not enjoy their work.

  3. 3
    Kaetrin says:

    I do not like the author rating his/her own work 5 stars on Goodreads.  I think it’s not classy.  It looks even worse when the only rating there is the author’s.

  4. 4
    Elizabeth Houston says:

    I don’t use goodreads, so I haven’t really seen authors giving their own work 5 stars. I do however use review sites like SMTB and DA, and sometimes Amazon. Particularly on Amazon I’ve found it best to just ignore ratings all together, and look at well written reviews that explain the good, the bad, and the ugly, as it were, and make my decision based on that. For example, I have found reviewers whose 2 and 3 star books are consistently 4 stars for me. (Which raises the point- wouldn’t clouds be a better scoring system? You see a castle; I see an elephant…)
      So although I can’t comment on authors 5-starring their own books, I do think it’s tangentially related to asking friends and family to post reviews, etc. And on Amazon multiple one line, 5-star reviews are an absolutely no-buy point for me. As I said before, too many books, too little time (and money). Not worth the risk when there’s so much else out there.

  5. 5
    ThingsAlySays says:

    I started using Goodreads about a month ago and dedicated a lot of time exploring it.

    I noticed that some authors go through the “recommendation requests” and recommend their own books to users. And many users don’t even notice that it’s the author recommending it.

    Sometimes they try to be “discreet” so they recommend their own book and then add a couple more from other authors.

    I think that’s even worse than giving 5 stars to their own book.

    I don’t trust ratings anyway. They’re way too subjective. There are some pretty crappy books with super high ratings…

  6. 6

    I agree with you. It makes me feel squidgy. As an author, I get it—there’s so much pressure to self-promote, self-promote, self-promote, but I don’t know that a starred rating on Goodreads is the way to do it. That said, I can also see the peer pressure aspect. “OMG! This author and that author rated their books 5 stars! Now I need to do it, too, or their books will look better than mine!” I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying I get it.

    But I’m 100% with you on the self-critical aspect. Every time I crack open a copy of one of my books, I find stuff to fix. Every time. But like you said, I can’t run around to every single bookstore and fix it, so I let it go. And while I’d like to think that my book was the best I could write when I wrote it, by the time it hits shelves I know I’ve already grown as a writer, and god help me if I had to go back and rate that godawful writing then. :-P

  7. 7
    M. C. says:

    I tend to lose respect for authors who give themselves five star ratings (I’d prefer no ratings on their own books). It feels unprofessional and deceitful to me. They are stacking the deck in their own favor and that just leaves a sour taste in my mouth. If they want to say something about the book a review is fine and perfectly acceptable but anything more is not ok with me. And it makes me wonder why they aren’t willing to let the book speak for itself.

    I know I’ve decided not to read a couple seemingly promising books I checked out on goodreads when I found they had been rated 5 stars by the author, in a couple cases the author had rated several editions of the same book and inflated the average stars even futher. At that point I wrote off those books and that author. If they can’t act with integrity when it comes to small stuff I’m not going to reward them by reading their books or trust their judgement that they would even be worth reading.

    There are lots of books out there by authors that don’t pull stunts like this, I’d rather read their work.


  8. 8
    Ann Kristin says:

    The author giving themselves a 5 star rating is an instant turn-off for me, it shows a lack of integrity. Also, how good does the author believe their own book to be if they have to inflate the ratings by rating their own book 5 stars? Just this weekend an author on GoodReads got crossed off my list for exactly that behaviour. It really does leave a bad taste in my mouth.

  9. 9
    LG says:

    I roll my eyes a bit at authors giving their own books 5-stars, but I understand the impulse, especially when the author is new or published by small presses or self-published. I’d guess that there’s a feeling the 5-star rating starts the book off with its best rating possible, and then readers can go from there. I’m only really put off by an author if they start commenting on low-star reviews and badgering the reviewers for them. Then I add them to my mental “don’t read” list.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    Persnickety, how can you tell which are the paid reviews on Amazon?

    Also: “An author who consistently gives themselves 5 stars shows a lack of capacity for self awareness that will probably mean I will not enjoy their work.”

    Yes, that’s definitely part of what puts me off, too. There’s something inherently false and blithe about it.

  11. 11
    AH says:

    I don’t mind if an author gives themselves a 5 star rating provided that they identify themselves as the author when doing so. Then, as a reader and buyer of books, I can make an informed choice. The caveat is if you gave yourself a 5 star review and your book sucks, you lose credibility very fast.

    My absolute favorite author review was by the husband and wife team of Ilona Andrews where Gordon gave their book a 2 star rating – witty banter between husband and wife in the comments made that review most memorable to me and I went on to buy the book.… – if you notice, 68% of the GR reviews on that book were 5 star reviews.

  12. 12
    jliedl says:

    I wouldn’t rate my own book – that is unethical. There was a recent scandal in the history profession where a scholar was posting bad reviews on Amazon to competitor’s books and blamed his wife:…

  13. 13
    Carin says:

    It’s never bothered me to see an author give themselves a 5 star rating on Goodreads.  I figure one 5 star from the author is expected.  Until reading these comments I didn’t realize you could review different editions or recommend your own books.  Those two things do leave me with a bad taste in my mouth.

    On Goodreads I use the averaged rating as a gatekeeper, and I generally wouldn’t bother with something that’s under 3 or 3.5.  Once I make it to that point, my decision to read or not read is heavily influenced by reviewers I “know” or, lacking that, by well written reviews.

    On Amazon I ignore the ratings and reviews, though I do use the reviews if I want more information than the back cover blurb provides.

  14. 14
    Ros Clarke says:

    I have never rated my own books on GR or Amazon, or anywhere. That would feel really weird. But for what it’s worth, I’d give my books the following:

    The Tycoon’s Convenient Wife: 3*
    Reckless Runaway at the Racecourse: 3.5*
    All I Want For Christmas: 4.5*
    Table for One: 4*
    The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh: 4.5*
    Twelve Days: 3.5*

    I am mean.

  15. 15
    Amanda_Carlson says:

    Authors who honestly want to describe and promote their work have the blurb and From The Author sections to do that. The review section serves a different function. The only point I can see for an author to even attempt a review is as a form of critical self-evaluation, but why would you want that public unless it’s something you’re really proud of?

    I’d be much more interested in what the author has to say in a review about why they’re giving a rating. Without that explanation their rating does look like a cheap sort of dishonesty.

  16. 16
    Liztalley says:

    I don’t rate my own books nor do I create a false persona in order to reveiw my books. Crap, I don’t have that much time.

    But, if I were to rate my books, I don’t think any of them would be a five stars. Some might be closer than others, but I don’t think any are perfect. I love them, I’m proud of them, but I don’t decieve myself into thinking they are something kids should be reading in their English classrooms…they’re something they should be reading behind the books they’re supposed to be reading in their English classrooms.

    I think it’s distasteful to fool the public by manipulating your ratings. I understand the inclination, but I think it smacks of…well, smallness.

  17. 17
    Clbevill says:

    I always thought it was weird for a writer to rate their own work.  Therefore, I never rate mine.  In fact, when I go back and read what I’ve written, I have a strong urge to break out the big red Sharpie because there is inevitable something wrong, or something I want to change, or god forbid, a typo that was missed.  I like my own work but I wouldn’t go there.

  18. 18
    Jennifer says:

    I tune out the self-five star ratings & I’ll give them a pass—since they are identifying themselves.

    At least they’re not creating multiple false accounts and providing ratings to a book to plump-up a book!

  19. 19
    Silver James says:

    You know, giving five-star ratings or rating your own book is a lot like voting for yourself in a school election. But not. LOL I have to admit with my first books, I did rate them on Goodreads. Oops. Now I just list them as having read them—since I have obviously—but no rating. Am I proud of what I wrote and has been published? Definitely! Could it be better? Absolutely! I normally reread a book I wrote one time after publication, in the published form. I want to get a sense of the reader’s experience. But I invariably find things I would change, tweaks I would make, and that leads to much headbanging. I tend not to look at ratings and only check reviews when I’m on the fence about a book. I have so little time to read as it is, I want the biggest bang for my time.

    Interesting topic, Sarah.

  20. 20
    Lostshadows says:

    I generally don’t hold it against them. If they rate it under five stars, they risk losing readers who wonder why the author has no faith in their own work. And if they rate it five stars, they just look like they’re trying to pump up their own ratings. Basically, it’s a lose/lose situation they’d do best to avoid in the first place, but not all of them have figured it out yet.

  21. 21

    Persnickety, how can you tell which are the paid reviews on Amazon?

    I’m not Persnickety, but the following things in combination suggest that the reviewer is a paid shill.

    1. A history of five star reviews, and mostly only five star reviews.
    2. The review only reveals information contained in the blurb and gushes generically in a way that could apply to any book. Think of it as the charlatan-horoscope version of a review: As long as you’re sufficiently general, the gullible will believe it applies to them.
    3. The reviewer’s reviews show no reading patterns or preferences—they cover everything from historical fiction about ancient Mesopotamia to a nonfiction book on how to be a substitute teacher in Taiwan to a self-help diet book based on born-again Christian principles to a thriller involving a satanic cult. The reviewer will gush about book #3 in a series but never mention book #1 or #2. Etc.
    4. The book has multiple such reviews.

    Many of the people doing paid reviews are hired for minute sums of money—like $5 or less—and so they’re profiting on volume.

    It shows.

    Some of the items above show up from real reviews—some people don’t write negative reviews, or only write reviews to gush about books. Some people don’t articulate their thoughts as well as others in a book-review format. But the people who do those things rarely squee with equal passion about ancient Mesopotamia, Christian self-help, and a satanic thriller.

  22. 22
    Carrie G says:

    I just ignore 5-star ratings from the author. I don’t think I’ve ever taken them seriously. It doesn’t effect whether I read the book or not. But then, I don’t readily trust 5 star reviews unless I am familiar with the reviewer. I find many people give 5-star reviews to any book they enjoy, which pretty much makes the rating meaningless.

    I rarely give 5-star reviews, out of about 225 books read this year I gave 15 5-star reviews, the most in any year. Four of those were re-reads, so they don’t really count. Four more were science fiction books by Bujold and one was An Infamous Army by Heyer.

  23. 23

    “The review only reveals information contained in the blurb and gushes generically in a way that could apply to any book. Think of it as the charlatan-horoscope version of a review: As long as you’re sufficiently general, the gullible will believe it applies to them.”

    I haven’t come across any author shilling, but flacks? Yes. The above paragraph sums it up nicely, thank you. As a fledgling Nook user I am very put off by the barrage of 5-star reviews from flacks that essentially cut-n-paste the book blurb and toss in a few “I loved it” and “I couldn’t put it down” comments, et voila.

  24. 24
    Hmr28 says:

    I would say you are probably mostly right, but there are some people who review books only when they are 5 stars or 1 stars. I am one of them. I only feel compelled to either GUSH about a book or BITCH about the fact that I bought a book that was so horrible. So on my goodreads account (which is the only place I write reviews, mostly so I’ll know to either keep buying an author or never buy another by an author) I have hardly any 2,3, or 4 reviews, mostly because I can’t be bothered to post on every book I read, only the ones that made a large impression…good or bad.

  25. 25

    I very specifically avoid rating or reviewing my own work. As previous commenters up the thread have said, I feel it’s unethical for me to do so. (I DO add my own work to my Goodreads shelves, but that’s as far as I’ll go with it; that’s mostly just as a pointer for me to be able to quickly get to it without having to run an actual search.)

    Other authors dropping five stars on their own work isn’t an automatic deal-breaker for me—if nothing else because I’ve seen several of the authors I’ve been reading anyway do that, so I can’t hold it against them. But if it’s not an author I already know and am following anyway, it’ll make me a little less likely to actually pick up the book.

  26. 26
    Terrie says:

    I feel pretty strongly that authors should not review their own books.  For one, it isn’t a review: it’s promotion.  I’d make an exception for a self-review that is genuine and funny and interactive with readers, but a flat out “buy this, it’s wonderful” is sleazy.

    When it’s done under a false name, it is even worse.  Why would I want to enter the world of someone like that?  I’d have to spend the time trying to find honest reviews to see if it’s worth it, and most likely, I’m not going to waste my time doing so.  And, of course, when I see that a writer has used a false name to diss other writers, I refuse to send a single cent of support in that writer’s direction.

    I get that it’s a tough world for writers and a challenge to get word out (and as the author of a quilt book, I really do get that) but reviews are, ideally, meant to serve a useful purpose.  Author self-promotion interferes with that.

    It’s the author’s challenge to write a book so good that readers want to share it with other readers.  Weighing how well the author met that challenge belongs to others.

  27. 27
    MissB2U says:

    I ignore the stars and read the body of the review.  Reviews that are only a recounting of the story and not an actual analysis or opinion are not helpful so I tend to ignore them.  I try to read three of the best, worst and midrange reviews before making a decision.  I also use SBTB a LOT because let’s face it, y’all tell it like it is.  If I really like the author I’ll give a book a chance in spite of not so great reviews.  I’m lucky to have an awesome library system where I live and can get almost any book I want, so it’s not often I have to pay for a book I don’t like. 

    Speaking of five stars – I just started “The Duchess War” and it is wonderful!

  28. 28
    Ashley L. says:

    It always bothers me when I see authors give their own work 5 stars on Goodreads. Like others have said, as a writer I’m never that confident about my work in the first place to think it all deserves 5 stars. And really, what does that 5 star rating even mean? How does it help readers decide if they want to read a book? I don’t think it does at all. I look at Goodreads reviews to help me decide whether books are worth my time and money. And a review from the author isn’t going to help me make that decision. So why do it other than to boost your own ego?

  29. 29
    Flo_over says:

    A little humility goes a long way in keeping and encouraging fans.  I wouldn’t buy a book if I knew the author gave it 5 stars.  That kind of arrogance is a dead give away that somewhere in that book is a Mary Sue that will leap out and eat my brain.

    I used to leave more reviews now… not so much.  I figure the only people I want reading my opinions on it live with or near me or I call on the phone everyday.

  30. 30
    Kate4queen says:

    I think many years ago when GoodReads first started and I was blindly fumbling around trying to work out how it worked, I might have given one of my own books a 4 star rating just to see what a review looked like.
    I don’t do it anymore-I swear LOL

    As to are all my books 5 stars? Nope.
    If I feel something needs to be said about why a certain book turned out the way it did, I usually turn to my blog and write a post about it. That helps me clarify my issues with certain things and readers seem to appreciate the input.

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