Saturday, May 19, 2012

An Unlikely 'Review'. . .

After you’ve finished reading a book, the reader is usually left with a decision and an opinion. Either you liked what you read or you didn’t, and it’s your job to figure out which point of view you’d like to take.

Usually, if a book is really good, it doesn’t take much coaxing to get the reader to talk about it. In fact, a good book will make any reader shout it from the mountaintops just because of their pure excitement of having words stimulate their psyche—right? Priding myself on being an avid reader, which I most certainly am, I can’t wait to finish a story so I may let the world know just how I feel about it—and trust and believe folks, I’m not shy in giving my honest opinion.

As I’ve mentioned to you before, Goodreads is a great place to document all the books you read and discuss their contents. But one of the things that drive me absolutely nuts is when I check some users’ book reviews; all they do is give a rating (which on Goodreads a book may receive up to five stars). Ok, it’s pretty obvious that a one or two star rating isn’t necessarily a good rating, which gives me some information, but doesn’t leave room for much else.

Not only does giving a rating to a book help other readers decide on their next selection, it also gives the author much needed feedback as to how their book is being received among its reading audience. Often times I check out my recommendations and I read what the book is about, and immediately I click to see what others have said about the book, or what rating does this book average, and I can’t tell you how many times that’s all the information I’m given—it’s like having the meat without the potatoes.  

I do appreciate having a star rating for the book I’m about to read, but it would be awfully nice if some of you took the time to write something about what you just spent many hours, days or weeks reading. I love books! I actually get a rush from reading—much like the athlete whose adrenaline is pumping—well, that’s exactly how I feel with reading. I’m so eager to write my review, why my fingers get tingly ready to strike the keyboard! And I realized something, I get many people who check out my reviews too, because I give honest and real reviews of the work I’ve just completed reading.

It doesn’t matter what the content of the book is about. I’ve read just about every subject known to man—from fantasy to true life—I love it all. Words are my life in every sense of the word, so how in the world could I be so passionate about words, if I didn’t take the time to say something about another author’s work? How passionate would I be really, if I remained silent? More importantly, what kind of author would I be, if all I did was give a star rating and offer nothing further?

In order for other readers to have some general idea about a book, it’s nice to read a review so they can figure out whether they will read that particular book now, add it to their ‘to-read’ pile or suggest it up for book club. I cannot tell you how many people tell me they appreciate my reviews because it assisted them in making an informed decision about what they would like to read next. You not only owe this to yourself for your personal documentation, you owe it to potential readers—and it’s really a nice thing to do.

We authors spend so much of our time playing with words and coming up with storylines and just slaving over the whole novel process, and there’s nothing worse than you’ve done all those things; the book is published; it’s ready to be purchased; readers buy it, and then either email, text or call you and say how much they enjoyed the book, but don’t bother to write a review of your book. For many indie authors, the reality of getting noticed is by reviews. The reason being, we aren’t known, so if you write a great story and people are talking among themselves, but never tell the author or others what they think, we have nothing to compare, nor do we have a way of knowing if what we did was good or not. This is why critiquing one’s work is very critical and necessary.

No matter what it is you do, everyone needs to have some way of measuring their success or failure so that one may work to fix the problems, if need be. An author would have no way of knowing how well he/she is doing, if you don’t tell them. So please keep this in mind the next time you go to rate a book—think about giving it a review too!

When writing a review, it’s not necessary to write a whole book per se, but give a few sentences on the overall feel of the story so that others can get a sense if they would like to read it. For me, I have a system I follow that determines how many stars I will give to a book and how it will reflect on my review.

In order for a book to get a five-star rating from me, the following has to happen and there be no ands, ifs, or buts about it: 
  1. Strong characters who are memorable and easy to relate too.
  2. Outstanding storyline that keeps me engaged and wanting to know what is going to happen next. (Without confusing the hell out of me!)
  3. Reasonable chapter lengths. (I detest a twenty or thirty page chapter before I’ve made it to chapter two!) If longer than fourteen pages, one star is automatically deducted. No chapter needs to be that friggin’ long! If you’re doing your job as the author, you should be able to set up your story within a reasonable amount of pages!
  4. Ease to read with minimal to no typographical errors. (There is nothing worse than the wrong verb usage, misspellings of words that make you have to continually correct in your mind and lose the flow of the story!) Two stars are automatically deducted for this travesty. I know how hard it can be to get your book reader perfect; because Lord knows mine weren’t totally perfect, but very, very few errors. Some books I’ve read I’m shocked they ever made it to print. (So, because I like most of my author friends, I will not mention whose books were deplorable to read due to grammatical and typographical errors.) Some of us indie authors really need to step our editing game up!
  5. Last, and certainly not least, the ending has to be reasonable to the whole storyline. What I mean by this is the ending must make sense and tie in with what I’ve spent the last few hours of my life reading. (There is nothing I detest more, outside of long chapters, than stupid ass endings or the wrong character dying for no apparent reason other than to leave a bad residue of the story etched in my brain forever!) Also, when the ending comes at the correct time. I absolutely hate when an author drags out the end. When it’s over, damn it, it’s over—end your story and let’s move on to the next! Two stars automatically deduct if I assess your story made me feel that way!
As you can see, the five points I raised are what makes a great book to me. But above all else, I believe in giving a fair review and rating. I don’t believe in giving five stars to a story that truly didn’t deserve one. I’m fortunate because I’ve read many five-star rated books and they were more than deserving and more. Many times indie authors’ family and friends will give five-star ratings to them, and I’m not necessarily sold on that being a true and fair assessment. Of course, I will always give myself a five-star rating for having taken the time to outline and write a complete novel and have it come to fruition. (chuckle)

No matter what, I want my readers to be honest in their reviews. Telling lies to pump up an author isn’t really doing much justice to them or their work. And it isn’t fair to other readers.

So the next time you read a book, make sure you take the time to write to the author or write a review on your favorite sites about it. This helps the author and readers to make informed decisions about what they may or may not be interested in. Even though social media is the way to go today, word of mouth is still and always will be the best form of marketing—always! Please give open and honest reviews and ratings! We authors and readers thank you!

Kimberly Ranee Hicks, Author/Poet
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