What does a 3-star review mean to an author?

3-star reviews. In theory, they mean that a story is good. You liked it, maybe it had some issues, but overall it was an enjoyable story. On sites like Goodreads, this is exactly what it means. Their rating system is as follows:

1 star. “didn’t like it”

2 stars. “it was ok”

3 stars “liked it”

4 stars “really liked it”

5 stars “it was amazing” 

It’s pretty straightforward and easy to interpret. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t play by the same rules. A 3-star review on Amazon can bury your favorite author’s works, hurting both ranking and sales. Take a look at what fellow authors Blaise Corvin and Cory Gaffner have to say on the subject.

L,DR, 3-star reviews on Amazon = bad. 
Don’t believe me?  Look at “critical reviews” on Amazon.  They begin at 3 stars.


I was just reminded today that every other person in the world isn’t intimately familiar with the Amazon-machine.


I’ve decided to make this blog post as something I (or others) can link in the future as a quick FYI to folks who may not understand the back-end reality of reviews on Amazon.  Some readers review books for years without ever knowing this stuff.  Many reviewers have in their minds how reviews /should/ work, while in reality what they are doing may be hurting their favorite authors.  If so, it’s an honest mistake.

Of course, if anyone understands/learns how reviews actually work and still choose to follow their own, lonesome dove-esque, me-against-the-world, this-is-how-it-should-be SOP, then that’s on them.


For this post, I’ve decided to borrow the words of another GameLit author, Cory Gaffner (author of Killdozer).  His Amazon page can be found here:  https://www.amazon.com/Cory-Gaffner/e/B077XNSLX3

Before I share his words, as a reminder, one of the very best ways a reader can show appreciation for a book they’ve enjoyed (other than having bought it) is to leave a review.  Honestly, even bad reviews can help other readers make educated purchases on books, but of course, good reviews will help a book reach more people.  Good reviews on Amazon also spin up the Amazon algorithm to push the system to share a book with more potential readers.

Throwing all subtlety out the window, I’ll just bluntly say that if you like my books, please leave reviews on everything I write. : )  Reviews are the lifeblood of every author’s career.

Anyway, on to what Cory said:

3-star Reviewers:
Be aware that a 3-star review is counted as a NEGATIVE on Amazon. If you DISLIKED my book, leave it a 3-star.
Here is how the rating system on Amazon actually works. This is my job, trust me on this one:

If you liked the book and will read the next one, then leave me a 5-star.
If you liked this book, but would not read the next one, then leave me a 4-star.
If you disliked this book and would not read the next one, then leave me a 3-star.
If you really hated it, then leave me a 2-star.
If you want my family to starve to death, and for me personally to die in a fire, then leave me a 1-star.

That’s how the Amazon rating system ACTUALLY works. If you have been leaving 3-star reviews for books you like, then you have been fucking over the author. Keep in mind if you aren’t accompanying the star-rating with a written review then you didn’t actually leave a review, and you can disregard what I said. Only written reviews are counted.

So there you have it, folks.  This is the reality of Amazon reviews, as known by every author making a living writing fiction, but especially indies.  Traditionally published authors can rely on blogs and other published reviews to help mitigate bad reviews on Amazon, but indies rarely have this sort of cushion.

That said, please remember to review the work of traditionally published authors you enjoy too.  As the world grows more digital and more readers embrace e-books, online reviews become increasingly important.

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