Monday, 27 August 2012

The three star death knell

Chichester Cathedral

It's difficult, isn't? Here in the UK we're not given to praising something we consider good but unexceptional. We reserve our praise for the truly great, exceptional things that occur only occasionally. I had experience of this difference way back in the eighties when I went to Maine as a Summer Camp Counsellor and was astonished to hear a US counsellor praising a child to the skies for something sporty that I thought was pretty mediocre. Not that I would have told the child it was mediocre, you understand; but I wouldn’t have praised it, thereby letting it know that there was (lots of!) room for improvement.
We got to talking about it later, and I discovered that the US had a system of praising everything in the belief that all a kid needed was confidence, and given enough it would blossom and turn into a prize sportsperson if not overnight, then very soon. In the UK, I explained, a child would have its shortcomings pointed out and be told where it could improve. Ah, those American Counsellors said, that's hard on the kid. But then, it's hard to know which system works best in the long run - constructive criticism versus praise-no-matter-what. Perhaps it's a case of each to its own culture.
But I’ve discovered there are metaphorical playing fields where both sets of players meet head on, and that's the internet where writers, readers and book reviews are concerned. I read last night that Amazon algorithms give any reviewer the power to support writers - or to send them on the slippery slope to obscurity. Reviews of 4 stars or more are rated as good by Amazon. (Authors think they're good, too.) A three star review slips below Amazon's radar, and will penalise a book in the Amazon rating system; it may very well deter sales and therefore destroy any potential income the author would otherwise have received.
I don't know an author who doesn't read their reviews, nor would I believe them if they claimed never to look at them. I'm not saying a reviewer should lie, far from it; there are books that really don't appeal to certain readers, such a case, perhaps it's better to simply accept that in this case you didn't hit lucky, and not review it. After all, there may be many people out there who did like the book. If you decide you must write a review, tell what you liked about the book and where you think it could be improved, but don't give a mere three stars if you wish to read more from that author!
Almost as an afterthought, I should point out that until 1st September, DARK POOL, my book about Vikings and Christians in eleventh century Dublin, is available on Amazon Kindle at a special low price of £2.30/$3.61 from 26th August for one week. Check it out -

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