The Rules for Reviews

I just got the first review for the last book I’ve published. Cissy Moonskipper’s Travels, book #20, a science fiction novella, has actually been read and evaluated by somebody who wasn’t me. I am tickled blue to get a good review. I don’t see any reason mentioned why it was given four stars and not five. But four is a good review, and I am not totally convinced that I am the second coming of Saul Bellow… not totally convinced. Maybe I shouldn’t be arbitrarily lumped into the same star-category as Faulkner and Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mark Twain. But I have noticed that a lot of not-so-great reviews are heavily influenced in their judgements by whatever the first reviewer said, and the number of stars they bedazzled me with.

As an Indie author with self-published books, I realize the importance of having people read and respond to your books. Especially when you can’t get a beta-reader you know to look at a manuscript before publication. My sisters don’t read my novels even after I publish them (and give them a gift copy and ask them specifically to read them.) And my wife is a fellow English teacher, so she wants to dissolve the book conversations into arguments about spelling and usage and points where my ideas diverge from her fundamentalist religious beliefs. So, I rely on strangers, some of them apparently semi-literate but highly opinionated, to tell me how they received my books. My source of validation for what I spend so much time doing is dependent wholly upon Amazon, Goodreads, and Pubby reviews. (Pubby is an authors’ review exchange where I earn reviews from other authors in return for my own books being reviewed by them through giving them the best reviews I can muster on their sometimes brilliant but often awful works of literature.)

It is all a matter of opinions. I give them my onions. They give me theirs. And, no, that isn’t a spelling or word-choice error in spite of what my wife probably is going to tell you when she tracks you down for reading this article.

The thing about putting Onions in the stew of reviews, is the way they can easily overpower the entire flavor. You must have a recipe, rules for the use of Onions in the stew.

I honestly don’t expect every reviewer to follow the recipe I use. That’s why I offer these rules only as a guide to how I do a book review.

Rule #1

I always look to give the book the best possible rating I can justify giving it. Therefore, there will always be a reason or multiple reasons given for how I rate the book.

Rule #2

Spelling errors or other minor proofreading or editing errors don’t lower the rating unless they make critical parts or lines in the book incomprehensible. (A five-star book may have such errors noted in the review even if it is otherwise perfect.)

Rule #3

I will not reveal important plot points or cause any spoilers to appear in the review, though I will talk about character-creation, world-building, inconsistencies of plot or character development, or other factors the author got wrong which mess up reader comprehension or basic interest in the story.

Rule #4

Comments are limited to praise or constructive criticisms. I have no wish to ruin the author’s perception of himself or herself even if they are literally a bad writer. Books too foul to do that with, I simply do not review. (And, unfortunately some of those do exist.)

I wish every “honest” reviewer would use these same rules. But they don’t. One Pubby reviewer reviewed my book Recipes for Gingerbread Children, a book about an old German woman who survived the Holocaust and dealt with it by telling fairy stories to children in Iowa in the 1970’s, and said about it, “This book has some really great recipes.”

The bum earned points for a five-star review on a book he not only didn’t read, he didn’t even look at the description on the Amazon page he had to go to to leave a review. Amazon has since removed that review.

  • Here’s what a good fiction book has to do to get a five-star review from me;
  • The lead sentences and paragraphs need to grab my attention, and hold it by telling me who this story is about, what they want or are pursuing, and what they fear most will halt them or harm them.
  • The characters have to be well-developed. I must like them even if they are bad people in some ways, and it is up to the author to make me like them.
  • The story must be well-paced, moving me forward through it because I want to read it, not because I have to read it. Surprises that make sense help. But the story can’t become boring.
  • The ending must be satisfying in some way. It can leave me hanging, but there has to be an identifiable conclusion. The book needs to feel like it has reached an end.

The reality behind all this blathering about rules I will never get all reviewers to adhere to is that I, as a retired English teacher, am not only a teacher, I am a writing teacher. I will be one even after I die and become a ghost writer. So, deal with it.

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Filed under book review, humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, writing teacher

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