Indies, Goodreads and Rating Books

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.

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4 thoughts on “Indies, Goodreads and Rating Books

  1. I’m new to Goodreads and concur with most of what you say. It’s a great way to link up with other readers and writers, all from the point of view of generosity. I can see no value in proffering a ‘hey i think you’re stuff is CRUD’ when it’s possible to bend over backwards and say nothing. My only complaint with Goodreads is the interface. Seems a bit clunky and weirdly organised. But, I’m in — and so is my stuff — and I’ve submitted a few positive reviews along the way.

  2. I don’t necessarily agree that authors are locked out of the review system on Amazon. If I’m buying a product there and using it as a consumer is supposed to, there’s no reason why I can’t leave a review.

    Goodreads is clunky. I love the idea of the site but the terrible interface makes me lukewarm when I’m using it. Which is a shame because there are some great group there. I just wish I could socialize with those people more easily!

  3. Authors aren’t really locked out of Amazon. They just delete our opinions. How nice! I like to support indie authors, but I will write a scathing review if the author betrays my trust as a reader. I hate being led on through a series which never delivers, and is set up just to sell the next book. It’s a problem for me when the description is deliberately misleading. I was asked by a small press, through Goodreads, to do a review on a book. I chose it because the description was interesting. The book was nothing like the description. It was poorly written, drivel, and I couldn’t finish it. I emailed the publisher with the book’s problems, and asked them if they really wanted my review. I strive to honor my commitments. They had requested the review, but no one there had actually read the book. We all agreed that they didn’t want my review, and I didn’t want to finish the book.

    There is a review on Goodreads which I feel is an ethnic attack on the author because she is of Italian heritage writing about an Italian woman. I asked Goodreads to remove it and they refused. That was their right, but it made me uncomfortable that they wouldn’t protect authors from such personal, bigoted attacks. It made me feel vulnerable (like we aren’t already). I found the review because I posted a review for the same book. It was a good book!

  4. I have not done much on Goodreads past setting up an account months ago. I really do need to become more involved there.

    As far as reviewing books, I am in the do no harm crowd. If I think a book really rates a 1 or 2 star rating I typically won’t review it at all. I feel it is best to just keep that to myself. You know the whole if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing that our mothers warned us about.

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