Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Back to the Beginning

by Holly West

Lately I've been thinking about a few things that have convinced me I need to make some changes. The first is my personal book review policy.

Since I got published, I kind of gave up reviewing other people's books. In fact, I discussed the issue in my very first Do Some Damage post. After struggling with the issue for awhile, I decided I wasn't going to review books anymore.

As I indicated in that first post, I had my reasons:
"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."
Lately, I've realized that I miss one of the things that led me to social media in the first place--the desire not only to connect with other writers, but to connect with other readers. Talking about books and promoting those books I like is one of my favorite things to do. 

But there's another reason for my change of heart. For reasons I still don't fully understand (and if someone would please explain it to me in the comments I'd surely appreciate it) Amazon reviews continue to be very important to the success of a book. The more you have, the more promotion you get, or something like that. If one of my goals is to promote the books I like, then I really should be posting reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. Furthermore, if I'm out there begging for reviews of my own books, shouldn't I be willing to review those of other writers?

Admittedly, I've decided it's not unreasonable to "relax" my rating criteria a bit. Just because a book doesn't compare (for me) to, say, THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt (which is one of my all-time favorites) doesn't mean it doesn't deserve 5 stars. I read plenty of books these days that are so good that I'm sad when I finish it because I no longer get to live in that world. To me, that book probably deserves 5 stars, but in the past, I would've likely given in 4 stars.

I still won't review books that I can't give at least 4 stars. I have a few 4 star reviews for my own books and they don't bother me in the least.

I've had two books published. I'm no longer a debut author and I don't have another book coming out any time soon. But it's not that I feel like I've got nothing to lose by publicly reviewing other people's books again--far from that. I'm more energized about my career now than I've ever been. I'm more excited about publishing and reading than I was, even at the beginning of all of this. But after a brief funk about the state of publishing and my role in it, one of the things that brought me out of it was the knowledge that I still love everything I always did about reading and writing.

And with the Anthony Award nominations just announced (please note that my fellow DSDer, Kristi Belcamino, is nominated for Best First Novel for BLESSED ARE THE DEAD), I have plenty of good reading to do in the coming months. 


Kristopher said...

This is why I have never used a rating system, Holly. And I don't like to read reviews that use them.

Even before I read a word, I see 4 stars and that makes me think the book is good, but not great. But as you point out, this may not be what the reviewer intended (and hopefully that is explained in the full review), but first I have to GET to the full review.

Also, ratings like that are dependent on how much someone has read. If someone reads 2 books a year, one is going to be better than the other (and likely their favorite), but if someone reads 50 books a year, those books might not even make an impact for them.

Whereas, if I read a review and they tell me what they did or did not like, then I can determine if this is something that I should consider reading.

Kristi said...

Holly, thanks so much for the shout out!
I also have a no review policy and I think you are brave and have really good reasons for going back to reviewing. Before I was ever published one of my writer mentors and I talked about why he never left reviews and I've followed his lead. I honestly am too wimpy to start reviewing other writers. This blanket policy to me is playing it safe. I'm mortified that by chance I won't love a book by a writer I adore and then I'm put in a shitty and awkward position. Some say, well, just lie and say you loved the book, but that goes against my personal philosophy of wanting to be taken at my word. I'm way too wimpy to give friends three or four stars. I'm not saying my way is right because I really don't know if it is the right way to go. It might just be the wimpy way to go ... And if I read a friend's book and love it, I try to do everything I can BESIDES leave a review to bring attention to it, including blabbing about it incessantly. Anyway, thanks for bringing this up. It made me take another look at what I do and my policy on reviews and I'm still not sure what the right answer is!