Indie-Author Stigma Part III: Are 5-Star Reviews Meaningless?

Like many indie authors, I only sport small sales and a scant number of reviews. And like many indie authors, I’m fairly sure that’s not a reflection on the quality of my writing, but rather the state of the current market. Here’s the harsh reality: it’s difficult to sell a 12-20 page short story for 99 cents when others are selling full novels for that price, or even offering them up for free.

I used to chalk my low sales up to just that fact. Flooding the market with so many inexpensive books has muddied the waters, if you will.  But after a recent experience on Twitter, I’m seeing that there’s much more to it than numbers.  The water’s not just muddy, it’s outright toxic.


Scanning Twitter one evening, I noticed quite a few author Tweets plugging their latest works and their 5-star reviews. Naturally, I clicked on their provided link, took a look at their glowing reviews and then used Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature (I think most quality indie-authors already know where I’m heading).

My first horror went something like this…

The prologue heading read “Many Millennium’s Ago.”

How can you call yourself an author when you don’t know the difference between a plural and a possessive? Of course, removing the apostrophe doesn’t correct the matter either, because the plural of “Millennium” is “Millennia.”

Then I read the first paragraph. The author used the tags, “I readily agreed,” and “I say,” within the first three lines. They’re not the standard “I said,” which is fine, but they’re also in two different tenses.

But this book had three 5-star reviews. Cough…gag!

And for my next horror…

I saw another author’s promo Tweet for a short story collection. I jumped at the chance to see this one and clicked over. This collection had about 110 pages and six mixed reviews.

There were five P.O.V. shifts in the first ten lines, including internal thoughts from different characters. I know that such a technique is possible, but it should only be done by the hand of a master. Like Dune, by Frank Herbert. If you’re not Frank Herbert and you don’t have a manuscript to match Dune, then don’t even try it.  This particular author was clearly not practiced in the art of P.O.V. shifts, as it was clunky and impossible to follow whose head I was in.

Yet the collection had one 5-star and nothing below 3-stars. Cough…gag!

If I’d purchased either of these, I would’ve shut off my Kindle and sent out a 1-star review. Does it make anyone else ill that shoddy works are being advertised with 5 stars? I have a very hard time believing that those reviews weren’t paid for, or solicited from friends and family.

I do not cajole, pester, arm-twist, guilt-trip, beg, plead, finagle, nag, or purchase reviews from anyone; what you see on my books is honest feedback from real readers. Between the poor workmanship and the misleading reviews running rampant on Amazon, is it any wonder that indie authors are stigmatized? Doesn’t that get under your skin?


The Reality

While writing this post, I surfed the internet in an attempt to find others who feel the same way. After all, sometimes I second-guess myself and think I’m being a meanie. Sure enough, I did find a myriad of posts that confirm my sentiments.

This one from Catherine Hoover sums things up:

“When a self-published author doesn’t take pride in their work and just slaps a book up for sale that isn’t even close to being ready for publication…it reinforces the notion that self-published books are of a lower standard.”

I completely agree; poor quality is what has muddied the waters of indie publishing. Now that the “shoddy-ne’er-do-well-wannabee-hacks” are recruiting people to leave misleading glowing reviews, they have turned the water toxic.

In today’s market, being good just isn’t good enough, and if that is not a sad enough reality then consider the following:

Being meticulous, talented, artistic, and making a painstaking effort in order to turn out the finest quality product simply isn’t good enough either. Because through no fault of your own, you had a tainted reputation before you began.

For Readers and Authors

How do you deal with the stigma? Can anything be done? How do you think the community of quality indie authors can fight back?

***See all the titles from Ernesto San Giacomo on Amazon***

20 thoughts on “Indie-Author Stigma Part III: Are 5-Star Reviews Meaningless?

    • Hi Colin
      Good point concerning the grammar of the reviewer. Thanks for the reminder. I had a pretty good laugh when I noticed that the reviews were a much higher quality read than the opening paragraphs.
      But I’ll be watching for that in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Very true. The practice doesn’t bug me, to be honest, mainly because I don’t think too much about it. But I can certainly see why Amazon is trying so hard to stamp out the practice of false reviews – esp. those for sale. Despite many Indies’ furious complaints, I find it a step in the right direction.


  2. Over the winter, I’ve been looking closer at reviews by other writers at Amazon, but not for the same reason you did. However, when I did look inside these best-selling, five-star reviews, I was quite shocked that many appeared to be written by people who didn’t have a grasp on basic writing skills; in others words, they didn’t know how to write a basic sentence.

    One that seemed to pop-up a lot were lists of sentences within one sentence separated by commas. There might be three to five sentences in one. And forget about paragraph structure.

    I am like you: I don’t make a lot from my books, but each year that income slowly increases. I have only a few reviews, but those that are there are honest (non-paid-for) reviews. I don’t believe low sales and few reviews reflect the quality either.

    It somewhat bothers me that I can take a large amount of time (for my recent release, it took four years) editing, revising, editing again, getting beta readers to read it and editing again and editing at every stage of the publishing process (including the paperback proof) to ensure I’ve done everything I can to make my book perfect, but others write a draft, read it once then publish it. I’m always learning, always trying to better myself, but I preview books on Amazon in the Look Inside, and I see some authors don’t do that.

    Over the past twelve months, I’ve read this idea a few times in a few different spots on the Internet: those who don’t know how to do it, don’t know they are doing it wrong.

    Is this the case? Do these writers think they are doing it right because they don’t know the difference?

    How do I deal with stigma? I ignore it. I created a publishing company to separate me the writer from me the publisher. Diane is published by Quarter Castle Publishing. When I’m at markets, I do not reveal I am also the publisher unless I happen upon someone who wants to learn more about writing and publishing, but the general population doesn’t know. Online, it is easy to keep that distance.

    Can anything be done about it? No. We have no control over what others do, so I ignore them. Personally I strive to make the next book better than the last; I am my own competition, and if I accomplish this, I am happy. Sure more sales would help but if I were in this for the money, I would have quit five years ago.

    How can quality Indie authors fight back? Same as above. Ignore the ones who don’t strive for quality; they won’t last long, though another will step up to fill their space. Work hard and make your next book better than your last. That’s all we can do.

    As a reader (and writer), I’ve discovered five-star reviews and best-selling author tags (including the New York Times list) are meaningless. I ignore them all, including quotes by famous people on book covers. This didn’t come about just from self-publishing. It really hit home when I bought a fantasy novel about 15 years ago, influenced by the quote by one of my favourite fantasy authors (I won’t mention her name because I don’t want to influence your opinion of her). It was the worse fantasy novel I read (excluding a few self-published books in the past six years), published by a traditional publisher.

    The marketing game is to sell, regardless if the quality is great or poor. Over the winter, that’s what I’ve learned: regardless of the quality, you need a great marketing plan. It will sell anything.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Hi Diane!
      As for your first four paragraphs…agreed. We’re on the same page. 🙂
      “…don’t know the difference?” I didn’t when I started. But I didn’t publish anything. My first inclination was to find a critique group.
      Marketing is where I stumble. I keep finding the same message droning over and over again. Get a Facebook and Twitter account…duh. Got any recommendations?
      Thanks Diane for your wonderful input. You’re the bestest 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember the war of ratings that broke out with Amazon and pay-per-review. This brought a lot of people to the conclusion that ALL 5 star ratings were faked. It wasn’t just paid reviews, it was also review exchanges: two authors leaving rave reviews even though neither had read the other’s books (you could tell by the review itself, example “Great Book. Impulsive page turner.”…then nothing.)

    There’s a suggestion going round the net about concentrating on the 3-4 star, but even this system can be hacked. Like Diane says above, it’s meaningless. A marketing system that really doesn’t work as well as it should. Word of mouth, that old tried and tested sales pitch, if your work’s good enough it’ll get about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Alex
      Agreed Alex, word of mouth is the best way to market anything.

      According to one of the guru’s of self-pubbing, being anonymous is the greatest enemy. What gets under my skin is the fact that I had a poor reputation before I wrote my first word.

      However, short stories are a rough gig. But I like to think that I’m ahead of the game, because I’ve got a moderately active blog, social media accounts, reviews, and I haven’t published a book yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah, the stigma of indie publishing is painful. I try my best to not add to the muddy water. I send my stuff through critique group, test it on beta readers, and then hire an editor to clean up what I’ve missed. I figure there will always be someone out there who reinforces the stigma. All I can do is try my best to stand out from the crowd.

    As far as reviews go, I’ve kept my purchasing Amazon account separate from all my other accounts. It’s not tied to Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter or anything else. The reason is that at one point, Amazon added to the logic that if you’re friends with a person on social media, then you can’t be impartial. Heaven forbid I follow an author on Twitter after discovering I love their books.


  5. The sad part is that traditional isn’t helping the case any either. Last month I read a recently released novel that I didn’t think an editor would have ever let out of their grasp. This novel has received glowing reviews and I just keep shaking my head and reminding myself that I should be glad I borrowed it from the library instead of buying it.

    I’m releasing my first novel next month (as indie) and I don’t want to add to the toxicity of the water either. It’s frightening to jump into, but I guess I’ve set my standards low: if I can entertain at least 1 person, it was worth it. On the same note, I put a lot of time and effort into putting out the best that I can (and pestered a lot of people along the way to critique/beta read).

    As for dealing with the stigma, I’m soon to figure it out. When previously asked if my plans to go traditional or indie, I would kind of sink down in my seat and avoid answering (I was in a room with a lot of people that wanted to go traditional and had started bashing indie). Now I’ve been asked by a moderator of that group if I would speak on my experience going indie. I think that by sharing our own journeys and reasons for embarking on it, we can slowly show people that there are indies out there that truly care about the quality of their work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mr/s/Sr/a Jackson (although I’m guessing Jennifer) welcome to the club and thanks for your input.

      I have heard about some unsightly errors within traditionally published books as well.
      Congrats on your novel. Mine will be coming soon as well…hopefully.

      Good plan, that’s the way I do it. I don’t claim to be some type of wise old sage. I’m learning as I go and documenting things here.
      Great that you’ve been asked to talk about your indie experience. I sense some blog posts coming from you.

      P.S. What type of novel are you releasing? There are many famous self-pubbed books, like A Christmas Carol and The Martian.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, that’s me.

        I’m thinking about the blog posts, but I’m going to see how it goes with this group. Trying to organize my thoughts and I’m not sure what people would be interested in. I know I had a billion+ questions and I’m mostly running on half an idea and a prayer at this point.

        Twisted Magics falls into contemporary fantasy/science fantasy, but I usually tell people high fantasy in a modern setting to make it easier.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I read the post and all the comments, slowly shaking my head. The issue reminds me of the problem brought to light in the many SEO posts populating the ‘net – as if a high Google ranking was the only goal worth attaining.

    After a search, I frequently jump over to view the top ranked [non-promoted] post before drilling down. Sad to say, the quality often improves once you get past page 2, content as well as writing. I’m not sure how that applies to Amazon’s star-ranking system, but both seem to bring to mind the rapid change in marketing practices since the advent of the i’net.

    Sadly these days, it seems that marketing means little more than repeated exposure tweeted endlessly, regardless of “product” or product quality. I wish I could offer a solution, but all I can do is assure you that you are clearly NOT the only one who sees the problem.

    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”


      • I know – and that’s a wonderful attitude – thinking that way keeps us keepin’ at it.

        But isn’t there a tiny (admittedly not so high-minded part) of each of us who would like to see the cream be lauded and the dregs be thrown on the compost heap – and we get to know it happened?

        Hey, it’s a compost heap, not a garbage heap – they get to be “reborn” as flowers. 🙂


  7. People in this day and age simply don’t know how to communicate through the written word. Yet they know every texting lingo and abbreviation ever known.Not to mention, they will even create others that they pass on, and invent new slang to shortchange the English language. It’s sick and wrong. 😦 The growing number of grammar offenders increases by the day. 😮

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I agree despite being guilty of everything the writer said. While I appreciate my 5 star reviews, I know I do not deserve them while denying that I do not deserve 1 star either. 5 stars means there was NOTHING wrong. 1 star means there was nothing right. Rarely are either of these true. When I began, I was ignorant on many levels but I worked hard to educate myself. I am humiliated at what I published in the beginning. From art to editing, it was a disaster. I’m glad readers found the story engaging and entertaining enough to look past my glaring failures, but still, 5 stars? Thank you but I don’t deserve it. I have gotten better. I have invested in editing and a proper cover designer, but I still have a ways to go to EARN five star reviews. Not only is it getting harder for me to find readers, I’m now having a difficult time finding good books to read. We need sources that can give honest reviews to good work. Not perfect, not nit-picking, but just good reviews highlighting good indie work from terrible.

    Liked by 1 person

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