Sunday, March 5, 2017

EDITORIAL: Make Your Words Count


A Case for Words vs. Numbers…And Being an Informed Consumer

I’m sure most mathematicians would argue otherwise, but words are better than numbers. Am I probably biased? Yes, I have a background in English literature. Words describe emotions, expressions, moments of being. Can numbers do that? Probably not. Or at least not eloquently. But I’m not writing today to argue which field of study is more important; they certainly both have their merits. Instead I’m going to make a case for a place where words speak volumes, and numbers…well they can be misleading.

I’m a book blogger and book reviewer. I understand the importance of writing reviews. The key word there is writing them, as in analyzing the story and leaving an opinion on the strengths and weaknesses. I promise, it’s really not that hard, and if you’re a reader that feels overwhelmed with the task, I refer you now to a previous post I made entitled Book Reviews 101.  But wait! Before you go, maybe you should keep reading to find out why I think reviewing books means more than just leaving a number.

Any kind of product review is aimed at keeping the manufacturer honest and the consumer informed. That’s why it’s so important for readers to leave them. Whether they are good or bad (and I mean that in more ways than you’re probably thinking, but I’ll get to that point in a few), they can be so helpful.
Helpful to the manufacturer, or the author in this case, as feedback— A well thought out review helps the writer hone in on their work’s best selling features as well as the places where improvements could be made.

Helpful to the consumer, or reader in this case, as a recommendation— A well thought out review helps other readers decide to one click or keep browsing.

So why just stop with a star rating???

Simply clicking on the number of stars says very little. It’s a particular pet peeve of mine when consulting reviews. I peruse all levels of stars before making my selection and let me tell you there is nothing more frustrating than star ratings with no text to back it up. I know, I know, time is short and life is busy. But if you felt compelled enough to punch that star button 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 times, take an extra few seconds to jot down why you choose that rating. Because here’s what happens when you don’t:

1. The author has no idea why you loved it, hated it, or rated it something in between.

2. Other readers have no idea why you loved it, hated it, or rated it something in between.

3. Some readers will just ignore that rating all together because there’s no support to back it up. (That would be me!)

4. Some readers will blindly allow it to influence their purchasing decisions and quite possibly either end up wasting their time on a story they may hate or missing out on an awesome tale they may love.

Case #1 👚
I was doing a little on-line shopping a few weeks ago and came across a nightshirt I thought was cute and looked comfy. Do I buy the pink, black, or gray, I lamented. Then I spotted the average rating—3 stars. Hmm? Here’s where I paused on the ‘add to bag’ button and made sure I did my research. Now, had I just taken the star rating at face value, I might have kept browsing. Being that it was clothing, an obvious assumption would be that the rating reflected the material quality. However, upon closer inspection I found there were only 3 reviews which comprised this 3 star average: 1 five star, 1 three star, and 1 one star—not a lot to go on but a sampling of responses none the less. Well, the three stars didn’t leave any explanation. Disregard that one. The five star thought it was well made and a cute gift for her granddaughter. Okay, at least she commented on the quality of the material. The one star was also purchasing it as a gift for her granddaughter. She, however, vowed it was her last purchase from this site! Apparently she was unhappy about the "see-through" quality of the fabric, though she didn’t specify which color she chose.  Conveniently, Valentine’s Day was just around the corner and my hubs generally doesn’t mind me spending his money as much if he’s getting something out of it too if you catch my drift. 😉 What didn’t work for her, worked for me. So the granny who was worried about what boy was going to see her granddaughter at bedtime was ironically the “bad” review that sealed the deal on my purchase.  But had she not explained why she 1 starred it, I wouldn’t have had at least some buyer feedback to make my purchasing decision, and I wouldn’t have been able to understand the reason behind her 1 star.  I ended up buying both the pink and black. They were both soft, comfortable, and not translucent! 😲 Perhaps she bought the gray, which I didn't; perhaps she has x-tray vision; or perhaps she was as dramatic as her review suggested. (Seriously? Never buying from a major retailer again because of the style of one item?) Either way, I was a satisfied customer and glad I ignored prudish grandma.

Case #2 🌊
Warm weather had me jumping the gun on swimming season so I went looking for a pair of water shoes for around the pool. Color me confused when a low star review complained the shoes were uncomfortable walking around in all day. 😕 These are shoes designed for the beach or the pool, made by a well known brand whose name screams swimwear.  Everything about the product should have made it obvious that it was not meant for hiking.  Purchase decision on my end: Side with the high star reviewers who actually bought the shoes for their intended purpose. 

Case #3 📚
This one actually deals with books, just not in the romance market. I was looking for some women’s history titles to use for my children’s educational studies. Now since I have a background in women’s lit I already had a fairly decent handle on the topic so I knew a bit of what I was looking for.  Imagine my amusement when one particular publication that I was considering sported a 1 star review that described the book as a feminist rant. Well gee, women’s history and feminism do tend to go hand in hand. But then it got even “better.” It seems this reviewer felt that the author projected her hatred of religion into her analysis of multiple religions. Now, I’m not including this example to get into any kind of debate, but I think most unbiased women studies scholars would agree that religion has historically oppressed the female gender in a multitude of forms and depictions.  Anyways, the reviewer stated that she DNF-ed the book before finishing that section, and I was left wondering if she wasn’t exactly the type of person who needed the enlightening. That aside though, what she did do in her review was point to her very lack of prior knowledge on the topic as well as her inability to fully grasp the subject matter discussed in the text. Plus, she didn't read the whole book. Believe it or not, (and I swear this on my copy of The Second Sex) that one of the key points of a book review is to establish that you possess a basic understanding of the book’s purpose. Clearly this reviewer did not, and if you haven’t already guessed, I 1-clicked that baby.  See my review HERE.

Case #3 📚
Lastly, this one deals with a 5 star review that made me run screaming away from that purchase.  See if you think browsing and choosing books in the romance is tough, it's a cake walk somedays compared to choosing textbooks (which can be really expensive) for your homeschooled kids.  So when I came across one 5 star reviewer who explained that she chose the book because it was out-dated and politically incorrect!  I swear, I'm not making this stuff up. That was actually the reason she chose it--to instill those ideas to impressionable young minds.  Well that made the decision to pass that one by quite easy. Sadly, while her views and approach to teaching were disgusting, her review was helpful. In fact, I ended up finding a newer, brand new condition text in that subject for a great deal. I can't tell you how thankful I am that I read the reviews in that scenario. 


My point to all this, if it’s not clear by now, is that readers need to take the time to explain their rating and stop fretting over leaving bad reviews. But at the same time, readers also need to stop relying on simply the star rating and take the extra time themselves to read the reasons why another reader rated it the way they did. Then authors can stop worrying about receiving negative reviews and feel more secure that their readers are also informed consumers, not easily led by….numbers! Heck, in simply the last month it was negative reviews that positively influenced three of my purchases and a good review that ensured that I wouldn't buy! Guess the "bad" reviews aren't so bad after all. And the "good" aren't a guarantee that other readers will agree or 1-click.

So next time you finish a book…Tell us how you really feel!

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