Sunday, December 21, 2008

Consider Use of Words Rather Than Ratings

Where does it say that book reviews have to be “rated”? We live in such a competitive world—is it fair to rate a single book using a 1-5 point system, with that point system not being consistently applied based upon some set of specific criteria?

With television, if we don’t like a television program, we simply go to another channel. Obviously, if something is on television, especially as a series, there have been a number of people who decided that this program met at least minimal requirements. Still, not everybody is going to like that program! I prefer drama as opposed to sitcom. But when I select to watch a sitcom, I normally enjoy it. What that means to me is that if I rated drama programs as a 5 out of 5, while I only rated a sitcom 3 out of 5...the rating means absolutely nothing! It merely shows my personal preference for drama!

Taking it a step further, if I compared CSI, versus CSI NY versus CSI Miami, all of which I enjoy...I would rate them all a 5. If I rated CSI(anything) versus Bones...I’d still rate them all 5’s! So...a 5 is a 5 is a 5! I may like a particular program better one night but I still always enjoy each program!

What I have found is that I enjoy sharing my reviews on sites that don’t require me to rate them...

On sites on which I am requested to rate them, I rarely give less than a 5...

Some people may think I too consistently rate high. But...Let me share my thoughts a little more. Many people may ask you, “What is your favorite book?” Now, for me, that just is an impossible question to answer! So, my answer is, “Whatever book I am now reading!”

Don’t get me wrong; some books are not of interest to me. Some books do not “hook” me immediately as I like to be hooked! Some books may be offensive to me personally—what that means is that, if I had a choice whether to buy it or not, I would not buy it. Does that mean I automatically should give it a low rating? I think not!

I can list on my fingers of one hand the few books that I have rated less than 5.

Once, a publisher sent a book for review. Another reviewer from my site had already read it and really thought it was bad, so bad, that she was surprised it had been published and sent for a review by the publisher! I read it and said I would write the review. I gave it a “1” and returned my review to the publisher. We felt we should review the book since the publisher had sent it. If the author had submitted the book directly to us, we would have refused to review the book. We do refuse to review certain books and those guidelines are clearly published on our site.

The other book included a section that I considered offensive to all women. However, it was such a small part of the book that I felt I should do the review. The book was exceptionally well written...the author was able to use some excerpts for his marketing purposes.

Fun Versus Professional Reading

Many will have learned that I divide my daytime hours into fun versus professional reading. Some books that I review fit in any hour! I thoroughly enjoy that, because I normally keep reading that one book until I’ve finished it, some in a day or two. As you may have guessed from my comments on television programs, my fun time is normally dedicated to reading books of drama, mystery, suspense, forensics, etc.

When I’m reviewing a book to give a professional review, I set aside my personal preferences. I read that book, looking to identify and intuit the reason the book was written. Based upon author feedback, I believe I am normally successful in that endeavor.

If an author has written a book that has not been rejected based upon our guidelines, then it is rare that I rate it below a “5.” What that means to you, readers, is that I have read the book, considered that book from cover to cover, looked at the books layout, writing and editing...

And, in addition, formed an opinion on whether that individual has succeeded in writing what is a responsive document as defined by genre, specialization (for nonfiction), etc.

Please... That “5” does not mean that I personally and wholeheartedly “loved” that book and couldn’t put it down! In my opinion, those books, really, are very rare...I enjoy eating, sleeping and the rest of my life!

My goal is to help an author market that particular book. It is also to provide an overall review of the book itself and let readers know that, if they are considering a purchase, then this book has effectively and efficiently covered the topic intended.

Ok, I do gush over some books, I do get personally involved with my clients and want to help them...and I do sometimes personalize my reviews. I do not, however, rate high just because they are my clients.

When I have problems with a book(s), I contact the individual who wrote the book and/or the individual who has requested my review. Sometimes the author decides to withdraw the book for review at that time. Sometimes I proceed with the review, which may be a critical review as requested by the author. I use “critical review” to explain my concerns and/or to highlight issues that may need attention. It is not a critique; it is normally the same length as my reviews—one to two pages. The author may or may not then come back to me with a revised book to obtain a review to use in marketing the book.

From a rating standpoint, therefore, those books which I would normally rate “1 through 3” professionally will rarely be reviewed and/or posted.

Professional Versus New Authors

Do I think the writing and storyline of all books are equal? No, I don’t. But just like the old saying—you’re either pregnant or you’re not—a book is either good or bad. Good books are normally published; bad books aren’t. Some writing and or storyline may be better than another, but, to me, that doesn’t mean that both are not good books. If you really want to know about how I feel about a book, read my reviews, don’t just look at my rating because what you will see is that, say, books by J. D. Robb and Ruby Moon-Houldson are both rated “5.” Everybody knows J. D. Robb...but I review books for Ruby, so you may get to know her too!

Readers, if you enjoy giving feedback to writers and/or other readers, my suggestion is that you spend time writing your review and telling others what you liked or didn’t like about the book. But, please, think about the book as a single book, not in comparison with the many others you may read and whether you liked or disliked it. In my opinion, book reviewing is not a popularity contest; it is a statement you share, giving what the book is about and specific ways that particular book met your expectations.

Think carefully when you give a low rating just because you didn’t “like” the story. If the book wasn’t good, why did you spend your time reading it? Any writer values constructive good and bad feedback about specifics in a book.

Consider the use of words rather than ratings to share your views with others...


  1. I loved your article on rating books. I totally agree with you there.
    People spend too much time comparing a nicely written book against other books and in so doing kind of run down the nicely written one.
    I feel a book should stand on its own merit. Did the book get the point across that the writer wished for it to? Now one thing I don't like (and my husband hates) is when a writer leaves you hanging in ending or explanations to the plot they pulled you through for pages and pages. I feel that if you are going to draw your reader along on a chase or a search, then by golly, catch the person you were after (or come close to it) or find the thing being
    looked for. At least let the reader know what you had in mind.

    That's why, especially with my "Guardian" books, I always try to tie up loose ends and explain what the latest secret revealed was
    about....which then fits in with the next story. I don't like to be left hanging. It makes me mad and then I don't want to read the next book in a series because I fear I'll be left out in the cold once again. EX: What if I read three or four books in a series hoping for the final ending to be brought to light and then the writer decides to just leave it all up to my own imagination? No way, that's not what I bought the books for. I have my own imagination for my own writings--I'm taking a break from my own imagination and puting myself in someone else's. I want to see what others were thinking with their
    writing/story line.

    Well, I guess I've rattled on long enough. But your article brought out the "beast" in me and I had to ramble a bit.

    Thanks for the insight.

    Happy Holidays!!

    Ruby Moon-Houldson

  2. Thank you Ruby for your important feedback!

    I, too, hate to be left hanging! For me, that's one of the reasons why I enjoy books better than TV...I hate those words, to be continued...because I'm just never sure that I'll be able to see all of the program, always to be left hanging as to how it ended!

    I really don't like bad endings either...but that's another whole issue...

    May your Christmas be merry...and the new year bring lots of new book ideas for you!