Reviews & Ratings Part 1

I have had a few people ask me about my thought process while reviewing books. As it has recently been, and probably will always be, a prominent topic of discussion among writers, I decided to share my personal rating system. While I cannot tell you how to write or structure your own reviews, I can give you a few ideas and some things to think about.

In this two part article, I will introduce you to my general thoughts I apply to all of my reviews, followed by the list I use to decide what to write and how to rate individual books. These are my personal opinions and/or observations. As such, not everyone will share the same stance as I do on certain issues.

To an author, a review is the most important thing a reader can offer. It is a validation of the hard work and dedication that goes into every novel. To a reader, it is a chance to voice opinions and thoughts. The best part of a review is it can be as small as a few words or as long as a short story. Of course, to someone who has never reviewed anything before, writing up anything can seem a bit daunting. The best advice I can give is not to stress too much. If it is your first time, start with a simple message. Before you know it, you’ll be writing reviews better than you can find in any newspaper.

Before we get started with anything that could be considered a formula for setting ratings, I would like to invite you into my thought process. To me, a five-star review doesn’t mean that a book is perfect. There is always room for improvement. It simply reflects my opinion that the author has captured something in his or her writing that sets it apart from other works. I also will never leave a one-star review. Anyone who has worked hard deserves to have his or her work recognized in a constructive way.

It isn’t only the book that people will evaluate, but also the reviewer. As with anything in life, if you are dealing with a negative reaction, the best practice is to step back, take a deep breath and count to ten before hitting the post review button. Take the time to re-read what you have written. If you come across as mean-spirited or petty, it reflects back on you. Try to make your criticism, if any, constructive and helpful. Even in a book that you didn’t enjoy, find something that is good to add in. It may simply be that the author’s story has promise or perhaps one quote. I am in no way suggesting that reviews should be entirely rosy and nice, but rather that they should be worded in as positive a way as possible. Rather than using words like ‘hate’, try using phrases such as ‘I would have like to have seen’ or ‘It might have been beneficial if’.

There is one topic which is rather sensitive in the writing world. Some readers claim it is the be all and end all to the enjoyment of books – to others it doesn’t make a difference. If you guessed we are talking about errors, you are correct.

The human mind is an amazing thing. If any of you have seen the facebook posts that ask you to re-read a sentence twice, you know our subconscious often replace words for what we believe they should say. The same principle applies to books. Our eyes scan the words and our mind interprets them. What is actually written and what we perceive as being written are often two different things.

If we are going to be honest, there is probably at least one mistake in 99% of published works. To those of you who are involved in the writing community, have several English degrees, or are teachers, that mistake you found in a book might be like a smack in the face. It doesn’t matter if it is spelling or grammar, it probably nags at the back of your mind. For me, I tend to notice problems with quotations. Keep in mind, a good portion of the general public, if they read the same book, probably wouldn’t notice anything wrong. As long as the book flows well, these mistakes don’t take away from reading enjoyment. For that reason, if I find something that I feel warrants attention, I message the author directly with my discoveries rather than including them in a review. Most of the time, he or she is grateful for the information and makes the necessary edits.

If you feel the need to add this type of comment into your review, keep in mind it is other readers who you are writing for. Not everyone knows, or cares to know, what a dangling participle is. I’m not here to argue what is right and wrong. Every reader needs to decide for themselves what he or she considers acceptable. I would, however, like to quickly mention that there are some authors who use certain grammatical ‘no-nos’ to enhance their writing style quite effectively.

Thanks for reading. Make sure you watch for Part II where I share the detailed list of what goes into my Reviews & Ratings.