Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How Low Do You Go?

By Holly West

Hello there.

Since I’m new here, I suppose a quick introduction is in order. My name is Holly West and I write historical crime fiction. My debut novel, Mistress of Fortune, comes out on February 3, 2014 from Carina Press and as you can imagine, I’m très excited.

I'd also like to thank Steve Weddle for asking me to be a part of this group.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get right down to it. Last week, Steve posted about review etiquette, specifically, whether to thank, or otherwise acknowledge, reviewers. If you haven’t yet, take a look at that discussion as it’s rather thought provoking.

Reviewing has been on my mind lately, albeit from a different perspective. Here's my question: As an author, should I be writing reviews?

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I may be a writer, but I was a reader first. Of course I should be writing reviews and rating books! After all, this is one of the best--and easiest--ways to support my fellow authors.

In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that I had no issue with writing book reviews. I happily participated on Good Reads and posted Amazon reviews, and took great joy in sharing my opinions on books with anyone who would listen. And I still have no problem with sharing my opinions about the books I like. I regularly recommend them on Twitter, Facebook, and my blog. Essentially, my dilemma is with the rating system.

I recently purchased What to do Before You Launch by M.J. Rose and Randy Susan Meyers. I haven’t had a chance to look at much of it so I can’t speak to the quality of all of the advice just yet, but I did read something that struck me:
Don’t write negative reviews of books, or give any book less than 5 stars, unless you’re willing to receive the same.
I knowingly gave up the luxury of writing negative reviews almost as soon as I started writing. It seemed kind of obvious that I wouldn't want to do anything that could be perceived as bad mouthing other authors. A bad review of a particular book might be justified, but it's not worth it to me.

But what about those 4-star reviews? Early on, I made a "policy" never to give any book less than 4. If I didn't feel it deserved that, I didn't rate it at all. In my own personal rating scale, 5-star books are the ones I've loved for years, the ones I've read over and over or resonated strongly with me for one reason or another. Truly, there's only a handful of books that hold that rank for me.

If I rate a book 4 stars, it means that I loved it, that it deserves high praise and gets my sincere recommendation. I've rated many books 4 stars in the last few years, but even as I did it, I wondered if the recipients might take it as a slight. After all, how are they to know my criteria for rating books? Over time, I started rating most books as 5 stars, then, feeling conflicted, I stopped rating books altogether.

I'm curious if any other authors struggle with this? Have you continued writing reviews and rating books after getting published? Do you ever give less than a 5-star rating? If you've received a 4-star rating from a fellow author, how do you feel about it?


Kristopher said...

Hi Holly. Not an author here, but a book blogger and reviewer. What you bring up about star ratings is always something I have struggled with.

I don't use them!

(and I don't post to Amazon or Goodreads, where I think the are required).

A star rating to me is only useful if you know the history of the reviewer. Do they read 200 books a year or 20 books? Not that quantity of reading has a "real" effect on a review, it might affect a star rating simply by virtue of having more to compare it against.

Does that make sense? Since a star rating system is limited (you only have 5 choices, unless half-stars are allowed) so it becomes even more subjective. I would much rather read an insightful review that I can "compare" to my own likes and dislikes. That type of review is useful.

I like when authors I read also review, but I do think not writing outright negative reviews is a good policy. I too, only post generally positive reviews, but that is because my goal is to encourage people to read, so if I don't like a book, I just don't talk about it.

Dana King said...

First, Hi, Holly. It’s great to see you on DSD. This is my favorite writers’ collaborative site, and it’s good to see you here.

I don't review books I can't give at least four stars to, in good conscience, unless I've been asked to do the review by a third party; then I feel I owe them my honest assessment. But no, there is nothing wrong with a four-star review, and anyone who would be upset by receiving one needs to grow up.

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

Four stars means it wasn't QUITE Dashiell Hammett or William McIlvanney. I think it's a sign of how pernicous the phenomenon of Amazon-style reviews is that an author (or anyone) else could even for one second worry about giving a book "only" four stars.
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
Detectives Beyond Borders

Monson said...

I agree with Peter. My book of crime stories has six four-star reviews so far and I'm very happy with those. They are stories I wrote over a one-year period after beginning beginning fiction writing late in life. The stories are pretty good, I think, fun to read, and there is something original and unique in a lot of them. But, if Donald Westlake, George Pelicanos, etc. are getting five stars -- I'm fine with four. Seems just right. But, all the five-stars are nice and very helpful.

On my blog I only review books that I love and are excited about. That's because I'm not really a very technically critical reader. Either a book is fun to read for me or not, you know?

Anonymous said...

I can see not giving negative reviews. Basically, if I don't like the book, I don't finish it.

But only five-star reviews? That's something put forward by people who don't want their feelings hurt, in which case, I say, "Don't put your own work out in public."

If all you give is five-star reviews. The five stars become absolutely meaningless beyond "I finished the book and did not become violently ill."

I'm willing to go as low as three, but if I know the author, I might give them a heads up.

Alan Orloff said...

I followed much the same "path" as you, and I've also stopped giving reviews (not that I reviewed too many before). It's too complicated, and really nothing good can come of them. Now, if only I could stop reading reviews of my books!

Holly West said...

I'm glad to see that most of you treat the 5-star review like I do. And here I thought I was being unreasonable.

Ron Earl Phillips said...

Welcome to the crew of DSD, Holly. You'll fit right in.

I understand the necessity of a star rating. It's a quick visual reference for potential readers and a gauge for the writer on the books popularity before those royalties come in. And not to be a hypocrite, because saying so will make it so, but I got turned off of giving star reviews on Good Reads and Amazon because a friend grilled me when I gave them only a 4 star review. At that point, like you, 5 stars were those books that not only entertained, but elevated me as a reader. Then I get blunt questioning of my friendship and support over a 4 star review. It was, and still is, in my opinion a fun racing read.

We're still friends, but I don' rate books too often.

Dale T. Phillips said...

Hello Holly- good to see you on DSD. Yes, this is a big problem. We want to be nice to nice people, but our art and integrity demand a high standard. So we're trapped much of the time. Who wants to publicly downgrade the work of someone we like? Also seems like we're victims of inflation if a 4-star review is seen as an insult.