Book Reviews: How I Do It
A couple of years back, I started reviewing books but didn’t get very many posted, as I found it stressful. Most of the reading I do is from self-published, freshman, indie authors who rely on reviews to help get their books get read by a wider audience. Was my opinion worthy of influencing the career of a new author? Were my thoughts insightful enough to lead prospective readers down the right path?
I decided NO, and left reviews for others.
Yes, I tend to overthink things.
I’ve since decided to start this review thing again but feel the need to explain my point-of-view. Reading other reviews of those I’ve rated has left me feeling like maybe I’m on another planet. That is another reason I stopped posting my thoughts, but that’s just cowardly, so here goes another attempt…
First of all, I believe reviews are for readers. A review is to help someone decide whether or not they should spend their hard-earned money and invest their valuable time on a book. Reviews can truly be helpful for this. A review or two has helped me decide whether or not to buy a book. There’s even been a painfully negative review here and there that pushed me to read something when I felt the reviewer’s voice was overly harsh or seemed absurd to my point of view. This latter situation is why I stopped reviewing books myself, and, strangely enough, why I’ve decided to start reviewing again.
I think critiques and reviews are not the same thing.
I think many people believe negativity equates directly to intelligence – that finding the bad or interpreting something as inferior highlights a knowledge base above others. Inversely, if “we” like something “bad” it makes us stupid. I don’t like this. I must be too nice; not finding pleasure in saying anything that might hurt someone’s feelings. So much of it is in the approach; in the nature of the language used. I used to not post reviews under 3 stars. I stopped doing that, understanding after publishing my own books that the volume of rating matters as much as the level. Getting some 1 & 2 star reviews is healthy; a majority of them are a clue to reevaluate the writing. Still, I stay respectful and constructive, understanding throughout that my review expresses my opinion. My favorite book is someone else’s least favorite and thank god for that.
Many books I’ve really liked, despite feeling they could have been polished a bit before hitting the public eye, are worthy of reading. Depending on the kind of problems, that might mean I rate it 3 over 4 stars, though usually a 3 star comes from story problems. If I liked the book but thought it needed more development in some way, if I found myself skimming through large sections to get to the next part, the book will be 3 stars. If I forced myself to finish but couldn’t have cared less: 2 stars. 1 stars from me typically mean I DNF’d (did not finish).
5-star rating system
I continue to struggle with what to give 5-stars, versus 4-stars, versus 3. Part of me thinks a 5-star rating should be a rarity. 5-stars is the best, right? 5-stars means there’s very little, if any, room for improvement. 5-stars is for those favorite favorites.
Despite this argument with myself (still ongoing), I’ve started to toe the line. Inconsistenty equals problems. Reviews are to be helpful, not to prove my literary genius. This change of heart came after an author responded to a 3-star rating I gave alongside glowing comments. If reviews are to help convince others to read something I’m suggesting is worthy, maybe my star ratings should better reflect that.
Basically, after all this contemplation on how to best be fair to authors and their stories, I’ve decided on a compromise between my initial thoughts and my comparison of other reviewers. To reiterate, If I love a story, but genuinely think there should have been a little more development in a major case, it will get 4-stars. 5-stars go to those with very little missing. 3-stars will still signify a book worth reading but with some hiccups I couldn’t ignore.
–Goodreads’ 3 stars = ‘liked it’ while Amazon’s 3 stars = ‘it’s okay’. These are not the same thing to me. I think I tend to rate more in line with Goodreads, but because I think Amazon is more helpful to sales, I’ve been trying to gear my system to this.—
How, and Why, I Like A Story
Typically, why, and if, I like a book is based on emotion and gut. Even as I like “smart” stories and intelligently crafted characters, plots, and themes, my reviews are typically based off of my first response, emotional feelings rather than logical deductions and comparisons or deep study of nuance. If the book made me happy to read, I like it, even if I agree there may have been “better” ways the story might have been crafted, explained, structured, etc. In comparison to other reviews I’ve read, I’m definitely generous when it comes to structure, language usage, and engineering problems that most people are hung up on. One reason for this, I think, is that I read very fast, so tend to skim over “problems” that others, literally, trip over (like minor spelling and grammar errors). Secondly, I’m interested in the story. Crafting is difficult, and while I can see the argument that if you can’t craft or hire an editor, you shouldn’t publish, sometimes a story just wants to be told and we’re too impatient to figure out how to circumvent the world of capitalism needed to learn craftsmanship. If your story is engaging and real enough for me to slip down your rabbit hole, I’ll like your book, even if I can see where an editor, or a critical thinker, might have helped you immensely.
Lastly, spoilers are not necessary for a review. I’m not sure why that’s a thing. There is a book blurb for that. An essay is something that explains detailed points, critiques, argues, and analyzes. That’s not a review. The point is to explain why someone else should read the book without making it unnecessary for them to read it.
If you don’t like how I present my reviews, well, I have nothing to say about that. I like books. Books make me happy, and sometimes I like to tell people I liked a thing so maybe they’ll find the same joy. If you don’t like a thing that I liked, that’s okay. If there’s a How to Review like a Reviewer so You’ll No Longer be a Poser Reviewer memo, I’ll gladly take a look at that.
I’ll review your book! Email me a pdf with a release date (so I can give myself a deadline): firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Reading! 🙂