The Dilemma of a 3-Star Review
In high school, I had a math teacher who was totally batshit insane. He taught Math Studies to us IB kids, and for anyone who knows the IB program, basically Math Studies was for the math illiterate folks out there—aka me. Anyway, the guy was crazy in a lot of ways, but he was also immensely helpful when you met with him one-on-one. A lot of the rambling, sweaty antics of class would disappear, and you’d realize you knew more than you thought you did with his careful prodding.
He also insisted I should be a lawyer because I liked to argue with every little thing he said—but that probably says more about me than it does about him.
One day, he gave us back our math booklets that he’d photocopy and give out for us to work on rather than just using our textbooks, and it was probably the first day we all collectively lost our cool. Because the bulk of our papers were marked with: Satisfactory.
We went ballistic. I attended a school where excelling in academics was big and it wasn’t unheard of for many to rock a 4.0 GPA term after term. And satisfactory was not in our vocabulary.
“What are you all upset about?” he demanded when we confronted him. “You did a good job. Satisfactory means you did what you were supposed to do.”
But satisfactory didn’t mean that to us. Satisfactory meant average, mediocre—we all wanted to be outstanding.
Fast forward seven years and I’m entering the publishing world, navigating the choppy waters of self-pub life one little doggypaddle at a time. People are rating my books, leaving reviews. Other authors talk about reviews, and time and time again, I see people lament a 3-star review like it’s the biggest travesty they’ve ever been dealt.
And hey, I can’t really say anything to it. I’ve absolutely felt the sting of getting a 3-star rating when I was hoping for a 5—I think we all have. But it certainly got me thinking: what’s so wrong with a 3-star review?
It’s higher than the mid-point of a 5-star rating system, right? Many rating systems define a 3 stars as “I like it”, right?
When I see authors feeling blue about 3 stars, I think back to that batshit insane math teacher.
“Satisfactory is not a bad thing! You did the work. It was good. A few errors, but otherwise fine. Now, stop bugging me about it.”
And I wonder if his thoughts on Satisfactory should factor in to how we view a review of our work the next time someone marks it a 3-star piece. Do we get upset because we don’t want to be average? Do we anticipate everyone will adore our book babyand crumble when they don’t love it as much as we do? What is it about 3 stars that tells us we aren’t good enough?
Thoughts? Opinions? What do 3-star reviews mean to you—either when you give them or when you receive them.