If you’re like me, then you take 5-star ratings with that proverbial grain of salt. After all, how many times have you seen gushing reviews that give no details as to why the reviewer liked the book, product, or service? How often have you suspected that reviewers were paid or doing a favor for a friend or family member? So, if you’re like me, you pay attention first to the critical and even negative reviews.

No one selling anything wants negative reviews. Even critical reviews can be perceived as the negative reviews of dissatisfied customers. It’s kind of a catch-22, as coined and immortalized in Joseph Heller’s book.

Then, of course, one hopes to consider the source of the review. I came across this comment in a critical review of “By Water Reborn” in Goodreads: “I have some issues with the Fae of the modern literature. The whole ‘sexy, but deadly and weird’ thing is getting really old, to be honest. I seem to see it everywhere!” That, of course, makes me wonder why that reader bothered to download the story in the first place. After all, if you’re tired of the genre (or sub-genre), then read something else.

Of course, when it comes to service reviews, one cannot necessarily consider the source. I recently received a review of less than five stars and asked the client what I could have done to have merited a 5-star rating. His response was that it was his first time using the service and that he wanted an aspect of service he hadn’t bothered to identify. Since I don’t read minds, I didn’t know he wanted advice that I normally don’t provide. Of course, the platform used doesn’t notify vendors, “Hey, this is a first-time buyer.” The client did change his review to the desired five stars, but the experience underscores the unreliability of such reviews.

The subjectivity of rating systems leaves much to interpretation. I still give credence to the more critical reviews, if only because they tend to be more detailed as to why the buyer wasn’t completely satisfied or wowed by the product or service. When reviewing a book, if it’s well written, engaging, cleanly edited, and generally excellent, it will receive a 4-star review. If the book just makes my heart go pitter-patter and wows me, then it gets a 5-star review. Those books are few and far between. If I dislike a book for whatever reason, but it’s well written and well edited, then it will get at least a 2-star review, because technical competence deserves at least one full star. Technical incompetence will eliminate a full star. Yes, folks, I place at least a full 20 percent of the review of a book on the author’s craftsmanship. Writing is first and foremost a craft.

The subjectivity of rating systems has been lamented for years. Anyone selling anything needs positive reviews; because, who buys anything that hasn’t already satisfied other customers? It’s a referral system gone amuck. We trust the opinions of complete strangers to persuade other complete strangers to buy our products and services. How crazy is that?

However, the review system is here to stay. If you buy something or a service, leave a candid review. The vendor will appreciate it. Whether the review receives a posted response depends upon the business. Some industry niches take advantage of reviews to show that, yes, they really do listen to their customers and want to please them. Other industry niches know better, because responding to reviews inevitably leads to involvement in petty drama.

You win some, you lose some.