Some of you may or may not be aware that authors are limited in their ability to review books over at Amazon (and I understand why and don’t necessarily disagree). While this is fairly irrelevant for the Steven King’s of the literary world, it does impact Indie writers, because Indies are readers too and many of us read a fair number of Indie books. Many readers, myself included, don’t shop for books, we shop for authors, which means the reviews and ratings of these books can be critical for the future success of not only a specific book, but of the author as well.
Because we are mostly locked out of the Amazon review system, one of the best reader communities around and our best option for leaving reviews is Goodreads. I highly recommend checking it out. The site takes some getting used to, but it is informative and entertaining.
Even though I love the new voices coming out of Indie publishing, some of them do have their issues in terms of writing quality. To be fair, some of them are completely unreadable (I don’t finish these), while others are fantastically written original stories.
In between those extremes, I’ve read some pretty good books. But often, even these have issues, sometimes on every other page, whether it is character consistency or development, narrative pacing or underdeveloped emotional sympathy. By all rights a book like this should probably get a 2 star rating. I usually give it either a 3 or a 4. Why?
Even with these shortcomings, I usually enjoy the book; otherwise I wouldn’t have finished it and certainly wouldn’t be rating it. I’m an Indie writer and support other Indies as much as possible. I won’t slam a book (probably from a beginning writer) with an albatross of a low rating. Again, why? Perhaps I wasn’t the intended audience, or just didn’t ‘get it’. Either way, hanging a one star on their work doesn’t help them or even other readers in the end. A one star rating could mean anything from “not my genre so I hated it” to “too much swearing or violence” to “falling short of reader expectations”. This is like dining out for me. Even if the location is inconvenient, the atmosphere questionable and the plating unappetizing – if the food is good, then it’s good. And that is what matters to me.
On the other hand, if the book is so badly put together, be it basic grammar, formatting or sentence structure, it’s usually obvious from the sample (the ‘Look Inside’ feature at Amazon), so posting a review to point it out is redundant.
The other thing I take into account is genre, which is why I often give a 4 star rating, (assuming the hiccups are minor and don’t significantly affect the story). I gave Silence of the Lambs 5 stars. I also gave A Princess of Mars 5 stars. While I think that Silence is a much better book, (a bucket list book if you will), Princess deserves the 5 stars in part due to its historical significance and secondly, because it’s an amazing example of the genre (considering it practically invented it). Genre matters.
So with that said, here is my philosophy for reviewing books at Goodreads:
First, do no harm – I see no point in going out of my way to hurt another Indie writer with a low rating or a bad review.
Consider the genre – An average book in general, might be an amazing genre book.
Focus on the story – Were the core components or the tale itself enjoyable? I tend to look at this as pass / fail. If it’s a fail, I probably didn’t finish the book (or make it much beyond the first few pages).
So my baseline review is a 3 star, “Liked it and was entertained”. In the end, I’d rather read a fun or interesting story with some minor writing hiccups, than be deprived of the new voices I’ve had the good fortune of reading. I’ve also noticed that with each new book the writer publishes, those hiccups slowly begin to disappear.
So I’m curious, what is your philosophy for rating books, be it a review or how and why you recommend books to friends? The above is my philosophy only, there are no wrong answers.
As a side note, I strongly encourage readers to rate and review the books they read, especially the Indie books. Our future bestsellers depend on you.