I have a brainy, literary friend who won’t review a book unless he can wholeheartedly give it five stars. He’s well-read, favors the heavyweights. Knows all the classics. Which means he hardly ever writes a review.
I’m not that picky. I’ve read plenty of classics (not nearly as many as him), and I admire the hell out of great writing. But in my mind, those authors are the top strastophere of writing. They stand APART from we regular mortals and shouldn’t even be ranked alongside ordinary writers. And let’s face it, we’re all biased. What we consider good writing is subjective. I’d list Elizabeth George, Alice Hoffman, and Sarah Addison Allen as icons of greatness, and maybe add Caleb Carr and Barbara Hambly, but my friend would list Stephen King, and another friend would add Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor. We haven’t even mentioned the classics, because who could live up to those?
Today, I only read heavyweight books occasionally. They demand too much time and emotional energy. These days, I read books just as often to relax and enjoy. Agatha Christie was an author I could count on for hours of fun. Does she compare to Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles? No. But would I give her five stars? In a heartbeat. Because what she did, she did well.
That’s my new test for books I read. Do they deliver on what they promised? When I pick up a romance, I don’t expect The Thornbirds. That book was romance on steroids. I expect an interesting heroine who meets an intriguing hero and plenty of bumps to keep them apart before a happy ending. And good writing. The stronger the writing, the better. I’m talking about ALL the components of good writing–grammar, language, pacing, plotting, description…the works. The more it delivers, the more stars I give it.
And that brings me to “stars.” I’m a writer. I tend to maybe be more generous than the average reader. I know. That surprises some people. They expect me to be pickier, to have a higher standard. But I know how HARD it is to get the balance right and to hold a reader’s attention for an entire book.
I worked as a waitress for two years when I was in college. Being a waitress is hard work! To this day, I overtip because I remember all of the times I was tired, grumpy, needed to study for a test, and didn’t really want to wait on people, but had to. If the waitress doesn’t get my food to me at a decent time, I remember when we were short-shifted, and I was trying to pick up extra tables while giving decent service to my own customers. I know there are bad waitresses out there, but I still leave them some kind of a tip.
Because I’m a writer, I can’t make myself write a review that’s under three stars. A decent book deserves three stars. A good book deserves four, in my opinion. And an exceptional book that keeps me entertained, even if it has a few flaws, I give five stars, because it made me happy for three or four nights before I fell asleep. It stood out for me in some way. I wish there was some giant, gold star you could give to books that stand far above the rest, but there isn’t, so I try to say that in the review itself.
One and two star books? I probably don’t finish, and I’d never review them. I know some people would say that’s being a coward. They’d say I bought a bad book and wasted my money and I should warn other readers not to go there. But books are sort of like movies. Some of the ones I didn’t enjoy at all, someone else loved. Plus, I just can’t do it. I know how many hours and how much effort went into those books. I can’t make myself trash them.
As for reviews, in general? Every writer needs them. I think the magic number is 50 to get Amazon to notice your novel. 25 is good, but that might have changed by now. Kensington put my fourth romance up on NetGalley to try to get advance reviews, but there are a LOT of books to compete with. Some authors get reviews with book tours. I found this article that I need to read: https://booklaunch.com/amazon-reviews/. I don’t know if you write reviews when you read books or not, but it’s the best way to support an author you like. That’s why I make an effort to do it–as long as I liked the book.
Happy reading and happy writing!
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