I visit the site a few times a day and I can lose hours (hours!) just scrolling through the home page, looking at what readers are reading and saying about books that they had just finished. It’s almost like a sport as I moan and then cheer.
Yeah, I can get depressed by how few classics are being read by the population (I’ve never been one of those people who believe reading something is better than reading nothing), but it is always a thrill to see this immediate literary data. People always like to claim that literature is dying, but I see breath and heartbeats on this site everyday.
Right now, I have over 4,300 “friends” and over 80 fans. Some of this is related to my Twitter account, but I think it’s also because of my books, my blog (Hello!) and the book reviews I do on my local NPR station (you can check them out via links on this page).
The thing about book reviewing is that in many ways it is an art onto itself. Yet, ever since Amazon so long ago allowed customers to review products and books, that special door controlling whose voice is heard in the market has swung so far open that the hinges are broken. That door will never be fixed, and everyone is now welcomed in.
I know someone who will never give a book 5 stars. Never. Her reasoning, nothing is perfect. Case closed. I also had one person give my novel A Jane Austen Daydream only 4 stars with the comment that she would give it 5, but she wanted to encourage me to write more. I still don’t know how I feel about that. (Does that mean I am encouraged? I don’t feel encouraged, only a little confusedly sad.)
So yes, anyone can review on Goodreads, and, yes, anyone can review how they want. But I would love to give some suggestions for my fellow Goodreaders. Consider these my recommended new ground rules before you join this new literary sport.
Is it fair to compare every play to Shakespeare? Every book to Middlemarch or Pride and Prejudice? (If you do, you might turn into my friend who never gives 5 stars.)
It’s hard to turn off the comparison bit in the brain. We all have it in there. Literature has a vast history and a well-read author is always “touched” by the works of those that have come before. However, when a review is created out of a comparison, that book being reviewed is already starting with a negative. So, again, is it fair?
I’m not saying it is possible to read every book with a clean slate—that would be impossible—I’m just saying it is best to try and focus on the one work in front of you. That way the author and the book have a chance “to play in their own yard,” as compared to someone else’s turf. Focus on the context of that book, itself.
If you see an influence in a book, definitely bring it up, just try to avoid letting that comparison shadow the novel you are talking about.
Consider the Execution
When I begin a book review, I always try to start by seeing it from the perspective of the writer. What I mean is I ask:
- What is the author’s artistic goal in this work?
- What does the author hope I experience? (For example, do they want my heart to race? Fall in love? Be impressed? Weep?)
Taking those two points into consideration I can then answer the question for myself, “Was the author successful in achieving their aims from beginning to end?”
Honestly, this can all be pretty tricky, especially if you don’t come from a college English classroom background. But consider, if you can “feel” the author’s goal by the end of the book (if it has made an impact on you on an emotional level) that can say a lot about the execution of the book right there.
Remember, A 5 star review doesn’t have to mean it is your new favorite book. It is just a great book that was well executed.
Were you entertained?
I would be the first to argue that literature/storytelling is an artform. Possibly the very first one! But art, in all its mediums, needs to be entertaining in its foundation.
The flip side of this is that everyone is entertained differently. What makes me laugh, might not generate the same reaction in another. Another example is I don’t particularly like horror stories or movies, but I wouldn’t dare take that genre away from someone else.
The entertainment factor in many ways needs to be at the heart of your review, but you need to take it a step further, by adding the additional word “How” or “Why” at the front of the sentence. “How were you entertained?” and “Why were you entertained?”
Anytime a person scans a review this is what they are typically looking to see from another reader. They are not looking for literally criticism. They want to know if this is the right book for them.
The Star System
So taking my above points into consideration, this is how I would recommend breaking down Goodreads’ 5 star system.
5 Stars: (Great!) I was entertained from beginning to end. I bought into the story the entire time (never losing my suspension of disbelief), making the author’s goals a success. Well done!
4 Stars: (Very good!) While this was a very enjoyable read there was something lacking for me. Maybe it was a little too predictable, or a character was a little weak, or the dialogue had some clichés. That could have taken me out of the story a bit from time to time. Still a very enjoyable read, in my heart I just wanted a little more.
3 Stars: (Good) My experience reading this book was very lukewarm. There were moments I liked, but they were equal to the moments I felt bored or didn’t enjoy. Maybe overall the book felt a little too “cookie cutter” for me?
2 Stars: (Blah) The weak heavily outweighed the positive. From the perspective of the author, their goals in the work didn’t pan out, making the book a failed attempt. There might be too many weak characters, plot holes. Whatever the case, by the end, I just felt like my time was wasted. (By the way, this is the lowest I will go for a book that is well-produced for publication.)
1 Star: (Run for the hills!) I save this rating for a book that is a mess. What I mean, is that the work was badly edited, has massive plot holes throughout, leaving it unreadable for most. This is a book not ready to be read, and (if it is self-published) should be taken off the market and reworked.
Things to Avoid
When you read a lot of reviews, you catch things that really shouldn’t be done. Here are three things to avoid.
- Don’t get personal. Yes, we all get frustrated by a book we didn’t like. Remember though, the author didn’t do it to you. Or their editor… or their publisher. Focus on the book and why you didn’t like it. Keep the punches for the gym.
- If you didn’t read the entire book, don’t review it! I don’t care how excited you are for a new release or if after that first chapter you had to stop. If you are going to review a book, it is your duty to give the entire work a shake before you give your grade. Hear the entire case before giving the ruling, judge! Why? Well, if you were an author you would want your readers to do the same for you.
- Authors shouldn’t review their own books. Honestly, it is just a little weird. And, in the end, says a lot more about the author than it does about the book. Just don’t go down that rabbit hole.
Book reviews never have to be long, this is especially true on Goodreads. What is important is getting your point across to the other interested readers. Consider this, if you were deciding to read a certain book what would you need to hear before buying it or turning it away?
See, that is the main thing we all need to remember, book reviews are not for that author, the publisher or even the book reviewer. The book review is only for the future possible reader. Your fellow Goodreader!
In a way, you can think of it as a conversation between you and that future purchaser. And they are just like you, a reader simply looking for their next great escape. And when it comes to reading, there is no better tool online for that then Goodreads.
What can I say? I’m a fan.
If you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years (and can all be found on Goodreads!), A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!
Need an editor? Dream of finishing that book but need some help? Learn about my editing services by visiting this page on my site. Or you can contact Rebecca T. Dickson and request to work with me by clicking the image below.
Reblogged this on Be My Guest and commented:
Tips on reviewing by Scott D. Southard, author of “A Jane Austen Daydream”.
Great tips Scott.
Hey Scott, this is a great post. Now you’ve got me thinking about my own book reviews. When I write them, I have two things in mind. First is that I want my review to be helpful to the author. I want to point out what works and what I liked. I also try to pinpoint why the book worked for me. If my review cannot be helpful to the author,I don’t write it.
The second area I try to focus on is the potential readership of the book I am reviewing. I hope that what I write in a review helps a future reader understand how I came to my review. I guess I tend to write lengthy reviews but I write them with a purpose.
Thanks for sharing thus post!
Interesting, but I think I would recommend avoiding the author angle. Most authors consider a work done when they send out to publication. It’s kind of like telling a pitcher what they did wrong in a game that already happened. Yes, could possibly help future games, but some authors might feel offended since it may look like you are telling them they are not done when they think they are.
For me, I usually just focus on my fellow readers, and if I can add some literary education into it all the better (I do this maybe a little too often in my book reviews).
Agree! I keep my review comments in the realm of what worked. I think that, in turn, also helps a potential reader decide if the book us for them 🙂
I’ve actually not been reviewing books on Goodreads because their explanation of stars turns me off. To me, “really liked it” should warrant 5 stars instead of 4, and I believe “amazing” should be used very sparingly.One of these days I will have to get over my issues, and start reviewing!
LOL. You are right! Amazing should be used sparingly. LOL. Cheers!
Pingback: Thoughts on Book Reviewing | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard