We’ve been looking at this star rating thing all wrong…
I think I finally get it, let’s see…
In the American grading system (generally) grades are given in an ascending scale from F-Failing, D, C, B and A, with A being the best grade. In some schools you might have variations like B-, B, and B+ to show levels of effort. A C meant your work was, at best, mediocre, just barely passing, not showing your best effort. In reality, it was intended to mean you comprehended the material and applied it properly, but that’s not how our achievement oriented society works. Those in sports could get Cs, but they excelled on the playing field. Everyone else wanted those As and Bs, bringing home anything less was a guarantee for a grilling by the parents.
Then came the age of entitlement, where the focus shifted to not damaging self-esteem and every child was rewarded for best effort – just showing up was enough to win a trophy, and there was no such thing as bad spelling (which leads to many an argument even today – yes English is fluid, but people do still have to understand you.) On the other end of the spectrum came a sudden seismic shift – the gifted programs. Originally intended to give the small number of children who were truly gifted – the prospective candidates to MIT, Harvard, etc. – an opportunity to get the special attention they needed, no self-respecting parent didn’t want their children labeled gifted. They didn’t want to drive to the golf club and listen as someone else bragged about how their son/daughter had been labeled ‘gifted’.
My ex-husband was a teacher – algebra – with both gifted and non-gifted classes. He did an experiment once – he gave the exact same test to both groups of classes. The grades were exactly the same. Save for one student he already knew was truly gifted, the rest were just intelligent kids. The only difference between the two groups was the level of effort some parents put into bullying, cajoling or otherwise pulling strings to get their kids into the gifted program. Heaven help the poor teacher who tried to say that someone’s child wasn’t gifted… smart, yes, capable yes… but if they weren’t ‘gifted’, nothing else mattered.
So it’s been ingrained – certainly in the American psyche – that you want that B or better. You want to be in the gifted program. Whether you truly earned it or not, and most didn’t know that they hadn’t really earned it. At least until they encountered the real world.
The problem is that teachers also tended to grade to the curve – no school wanted to have a class where not a single child got an A. I experienced that one myself – in geometry. The teacher had… ummm…. issues. He very kindly took me aside at the end of the school year and said he could only really give me an A-minus – the best grade in the class – because he was grading on a curve and that really wouldn’t be right.
Unfortunately the real world doesn’t grade on a curve, and it’s not teachers grading us, but the general reading public. Especially with Indie writers. Now most of readers are incredibly generous, and most of them hand out As or Bs because they’re readers and they love the fresh writing Indies bring them. Many of us heard tales in school about teachers that ‘just don’t like me’ or ‘Mr. Johnson hates me’, but most of us also knew that the reason Mr. Johnson gave the C or D was because someone didn’t do the work. In most cases teachers really struggled not to give bad grades if could find a way not to. Most good reviewers follow the same path, they’ll search for something good to say about the book, try to find a reason to give it at least a C. And that C, for many reviewers, is saying – it’s not bad, it could just use more work, a little more effort, some polish, or a good editor.
In real life, though, there are people more than glad to hand out that D or, even better, an F, just because they can. There’s also that lovely sense of entitlement, the ‘I’m supposed to be gifted, so anything less than a B (4 Stars) just isn’t acceptable, and I really should have an A (5 stars)’ attitude.
The reality, of course, is that the vast majority of writers are going to be Cs (3 Stars) and Bs (4 stars) – they do good work, the stories aren’t bad, but they’re not Shakespeare or Stephen King. Not everyone is going to be. And maybe they could raise the level of those stories with a little more effort, or the help of a good editor.
By the way, both Kai and I were in the gifted program, but I’d like you to take notice of the title of this blog. We’re both Midlist Indies and proud of it. We’re also constantly trying to make our work better, to make it shine so maybe we will make the top list, but we’ll do it on merit.