After watching my friends squirm at the thought of writing a review, and doing a little squirming myself when author friends ask the same of me, it occurred to me that no one really knows how to do this—I mean, what’s the difference between four and five stars, and for that matter, three or even two?
Simply put, the difference is in sales—not sales from individuals who might read before they buy, but the metrics. It’s the mysterious way it works so that higher ranked books appear as recommended, and lower ranked books flail around at the bottom of the website sludge.
Like with google SEO, I don’t think anyone can tell you exactly how it works…but we know we need one thing: reviews.
And we can see the horror in your eyes when we ask.
And we share the pain.
But it doesn’t have to be hard, and you don’t have to worry about our feelings when we read your review (really, you don’t…you have no idea how much rejection we’ve faced just to get the thing published).
To start with, you are approaching it wrong if you gave the Bible a 5 star rating, and that’s the best book,
so now you feel guilty for giving any mortal creation 5 stars.
The ratings ARE NOT a comparison between books.
I happen to love, I mean LOVE James Joyce. Does that mean that I should hold a modern romance novel to the same literary standards? If that were the case, I’d be alienating my romance writer friends left and right, because they’d all be getting 2s and 3s—I mean, who can compare with Joyce?
The ratings ARE a way to express how the book met YOUR expectations.
My quick guide focuses on the following sentence:
This would have been better if the author had only ____________.
5 stars – This novel did exactly what you hoped it would. It kept your interest, the characters were true, and it met whatever other expectations you had when you picked it up. If you finished the novel and cannot complete this sentence, “This would have been better if the author had only _____________,” then you have a five star book in your hands.
4 stars – You thoroughly enjoyed this book. Maybe you would have liked it if the author had developed one of the characters a bit more. At the end of a four star review, you can fill in the above blank without a problem.
3 stars – This book was good, but you probably wouldn’t recommend it. It was entertaining and you finished it without feeling like you wasted your time, but you could come up with multiple options to fill in the above blank.
2 stars – This is not recommended reading. There were a number of things wrong with the book—characters were underdeveloped, there was little in the way of artistry. In fact, you only finished it because you are the kind of person who doesn’t like to leave things unfinished.
1 star – Plowing through this book was like another job. In fact, it made you mad that you even invested the time. If you find yourself giving one star it’s because you thought, more than once, that you should highlight the horribleness and send an annotated copy back to the author—except it’s not worth the time to find an address.
What do you think? Do you hate writing reviews? Love writing reviews? Do you have any “rules of thumb” for approaching the task?