So the one thing I hear more than anything else when it comes to my reviews is ‘You’re so harsh! These X-star reviews are killing me. You got the book for free/You said a lot of positive things, can’t you just cut the book some slack and knock it up another star?’
The short answer is no. The long answer is a little more complicated, but is still basically no.
What it comes down to is that I’m not reviewing a book with the intent to blow smoke at the author. I don’t go into a review thinking ‘what can I say that will make the author’s day?’ Writing a review shouldn’t be about pleasing someone. It should be about giving an accurate depiction of the book based on one’s own opinions. If you ask for an honest review, you should expect me to pick apart your story, or you should ask someone else.
I use the following system to rate the books I read:
5 Stars – This book was incredible, a new favourite, will be reread a thousand times. There are faults to every book, but they were easy to overlook in this one.
4 Stars – This book was great, I loved it, I’d probably reread it on a regular basis, but it had an issue or two I couldn’t completely overlook.
3 Stars – Good book, maybe one I’d read again but maybe not. Enough issues that I couldn’t just overlook.
2 Stars – This book is not for me. It is a good idea, but not well executed. It was hard to get through for one reason or another. I will not reread this book.
1 Star – I did not finish this book or I had to pull Sisyphus to get through it, and I have absolutely no inclination to go near this book again.
I do use half stars at times, but try to do so sparingly. Most of the times, they clearly fit into one of those five categories, so I don’t need to bother with it.
I typically go into writing a review with a rating based on how much I enjoyed the book. This is based off nothing more than how much fun I had reading it, because I don’t really think about my reviews until after I’ve actually finished a book. Then I start breaking down the good points and downsides of the book, and start factoring that into my original rating.
For example, spelling or grammatical errors that are obvious even to my eye or chat speak where it’s inappropriate is an automatic loss of a star. Failing to develop your characters or your world is another star deduction each. On the other hand, a great depiction of family life or friendship might earn a star. Did you characters grow in a reasonable way from book to book? Another star right there. So sometimes, I read a fantastic book that starts with 5-stars from an enjoyment perspective, but it only ends up with a 3-star rating, because there are some unforgivable things in there.
The way I see it, writing books is your job. If a musician showed up to a performance and didn’t rehearse at all in preparation, you wouldn’t be impressed. If your accountant showed up to a meeting without looking over your file, you wouldn’t be impressed. Well, if you write a book and don’t have it edited or haven’t put in the research to see how PTSD should affect your character, you haven’t done your job as a writer.
On the other hand, for all intents and purposes, book blogging is my job. Maybe I don’t get paid for it in the traditional way, but the review copies are nice. I’m not doing my job well if I say your book is a 5-star read when there are obvious mistakes and/or shortcomings. And I take a lot of pride in my work.
As well, I want my 1-star and 5-star reviews to really mean something. If I read a book that I have fallen completely in love with, I want my rating for it to stand out. But if I’ve rated a hundred other books 5-stars, this one doesn’t mean much. But if I only have a couple dozen books that I’ve given 5-stars to, that review means so much more. And the same goes for books that I just hate.
I know that I have high standards, and anyone in my life can tell you that this isn’t just for books. Why would you settle for anything less that than the best possible thing you can put out there? You’ve got this amazing book idea, why are you letting that brilliant idea get hidden behind bad grammar and lack of research? As I tell my clients for work, I want to see you be and do the best you possibly can, and I won’t settle for anything less.
So this was a lot of me rambling about how my brain works, but in conclusion, if you want an honest review that picks things apart a bit, I can do that for you. If you want a high rating, maybe consider someone else for your review.
What about you? What aspects do you consider when you rate and review books? Do you consider yourself a harsh reviewer? Let me know your process in the comments below!