The Round Table: A Peek Into My Review Process

June 11, 2013 Round Table 6

sergey galushko About two weeks ago, I received an email from author asking if I’d change my review rating for a book she wrote because she fixed several of the issues I pointed out. This was for a review written months ago and while I’m glad the problems I brought up were addressed, I feel as if I’d be cheating by changing the rating. First of all, I’d have to reread the book to see what changes were made and second of all, I’m not in the same mindset when I first read the book. How many times have you read a book and thought it was brilliant, but reread it later only to change your mind? I don’t consider myself a difficult / picky reviewer. I do have an academic background and might pick up on things other reviewers might miss.

Here’s a little insight to how I review and how it affects the way I rate. First, I look at the use of conventions (ie: spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc) and how it affects the overall piece. A book with a lot of convention errors will more than likely not achieve a score higher than a 3. Then I look at character development. Are the characters full developed? From there I look at narration. Is it told in first person? If so, do the thoughts, feelings, and opinions come directly from our narrator? Is everything we read their point of view? If the author introduces another point of view and doesn’t tell us, this affects the way I will rate. Even with a third person narrative, I ask the same questions. Then I look at the writing itself as a whole with regards to the entire story. Are there any plot holes? If so, what are they and does it affect the timeline that takes place in the novel? Can I suspend disbelief? If not, why not? If it deals with a topic or a situation, did the author do the appropriate research? Finally, I look at tone and I realize that tone is difficult to gauge because reading is subjective.

Knowing a little at how I review a book, doesn’t mean I follow the same format for each book. Mystery / suspense / thriller novels are reviewed a little differently. The same goes for romance novels. In a romance, I don’t need a happily ever after to enjoy the book nor do I need x number of sex scenes in order to rate it high. I’m probably one of the few reviewers out that there that will give a lower rating to a book if there are more sex scenes than actual plot. Novellas also are reviewed differently from full length novels.

What I’m trying to say, I have no clear formula as to how I rate a book. There are a lot of factors at play and changing a few details I pointed out, may not necessarily change a rating to a higher score. I consider myself a thorough reader, but I’m also a forgiving reviewer. If a plot drags on, but has strong character development and the writing is engaging, it may receive a 4 instead of a 3. There’s no direct equation I use when coming up with a rating. Just because I may decide between two ratings and not go with the higher, doesn’t mean if everything I addressed was fixed, it would get that higher rating. There are a lot of factors at play and most of it has to do with the moment. I’ve been there before, a reading high, saying book is a 5 and beyond, but upon further reflection, there are little things that nag at me and the total LOVE moment has just passed. This is one reason why I tend to sit on writing reviews then curse myself for waiting. I also don’t compare books or authors when I rate. I treat each book as if it’s the first book of an author I’ve read even if I’m a fan of series or have read them before. I’m aware of bloggers who compare books to different authors. For example, one blogger only gives 5’s to books that compare to Tolkien or C.S. Lewis and this is difficult for me to grasp because she reads romance primarily. I have yet to find a romance author whose book is on par with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I couldn’t do that to a modern author writing a different genre to Lewis’ nor I could I do that with one that writes in the same genre. Each work is different as well as the author and then you have to factor in their personal history, lifestyle, time period they lived in, etc. So many factors to consider when comparing authors in order to get a rating. That doesn’t seem fair to me.

So in short, I did not reply to this author nor will I change my review. What I will do is modify a review to say the author has made changes, as I did with a recent review when the author informed me that the copy I purchased was bought a week before she updated the new copy.

How do you rate / review your books?

6 Responses to “The Round Table: A Peek Into My Review Process”

  1. Fran

    Seems perfectly clear and honest reviewing to me. In all honesty, authors shouldn’t be in a rush to publish a book if it isn’t the best they could do. It’s strange that you have to look at things like grammar, spelling etc – I would have thought any writer would sort those issues before publishing.

    • Jessica

      I agree Fran! I’ve heard some authors say they hired an editor, etc, but then I wonder if they didn’t look at their manuscript after that process.

  2. Shannon (Giraffe Days)

    It was really interesting reading about your approach, Jessica. I was a bit stunned to hear an author wanted you to change your rating because they’d done some copy-editing on their already-released book! Like Fran says, they shouldn’t release it until/unless they’re completely satisfied, and for self-published authors like this one, it’s a learning experience: next time they might want to consider farming it out to more than one copy-editor or something. Also, your review was of a specific edition. If she’s made changes, then it’s not the same edition, technically, as the one you read: you can only review the edition you read, right?

    I’m not a big fan of scoring books. I introduced ratings to my blog a couple of years ago; I was using them on Goodreads so it wasn’t a big stretch to include them, but I hate how they make me feel confined. A rating out of five can’t possibly capture the often complicated response I have to a book. So I use them to sum up my overall response to a book – often more an emotional one than an intellectual one – while my actual review hits on all the things I want to discuss about a book, good things and flaws.

    I can give a flawed novel a high rating because sometimes, occasionally, the flaws don’t matter to how much I love a book. As long as I do my best to articulate it in the review, I can use my rating to give that final vote on how much I liked, loved or disliked a book. Hmm. Does that make sense?
    Shannon (Giraffe Days) recently posted…Review: InkMy Profile

    • Jessica

      I totally understand about the use of ratings and I’ve debated using a different system. I agree with what you say regarding a flawed book. I’ve given a high rating to one that typically shouldn’t have received one, but there are so many elements at play. Each book is different.

      • Shannon (Giraffe Days)

        Exactly! I always struggle with myself when I have to pick a rating. And it could completely change depending on how much time has gone by since I read it, too. And I hate it when people bitch at me (on GR) for giving Twilight 5 stars but their favourite book a low rating – as if every book were equal or judged against the merits of another! I just pick ratings based on how much I enjoyed a book and try (but sometimes fail!) not to take it so seriously. 🙂
        Shannon (Giraffe Days) recently posted…The Shelves Are Groaning – XIV/06My Profile

  3. Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

    I really struggle with ratings, because they don’t necessarily reflect all the facets of the book. But since I have to use them on Goodreads, I’ve started putting them on my blog as well. Like Shannon, I try to let the rating reflect my overall reaction, while I talk more specifically about the books pluses and flaws in the review itself. For that reason, I put the rating at the bottom, so it doesn’t prejudice the reader going into the review. (Can’t do that on Goodreads, more’s the pity.)

    I have been known to adjust my rating later, usually only by one notch. I’ve bumped a book down a notch if I reviewed it in the heat of a “book high”, as you describe it, and later find myself seeing more of the book’s flaws. I’ve also occasionally revised a rating upward, particularly if the book really lingers in my mind. But I usually do this within a few days of finishing the book.

    Like you, I approach reviewing different genres somewhat differently. If I’m reviewing a mystery, I may mention whether the author kept me guessing or whether I was able to spot the solution (without giving away the solution in the review, of course.) For a romance, I’ll talk about the MCs and their relationship, because that’s both the focus of the book and the reason someone chooses to read the book or not. Fantasy and SF will get comments about the worldbuilding and believability. And so forth.

    I’m not sure what I would do if an author asked me to change a rating. I agree, even if the only changes were in copyediting, you can’t really know what’s been changed (or missed) without re-reading the book. I would certainly be willing to write an update indicating that a new edition is available, or the author tells me the new edition has undergone professional copyediting, or something like that.

    I’m curious as to why you didn’t reply to the author, though. Was there a reason you didn’t just give them the same explanation you gave in your post?
    Lark @ The Bookwyrm’s Hoard recently posted…News & Notes — 6/15/13My Profile

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