I sit down with my Kindle or a paperback. From the time my mind reads the first word until I close the case, thoughts whirl through my mind. My opinion begins to form (and all reviews are opinions).
Staring at the review box, I must gauge what I will write. No book starts off with a five-star, not even Songs of Fire and Ice or Harry Potter. Every book starts with a three.
Here are the three criteria I use to evaluate if a book deserves a higher or lower rating: Readability, Emotion, and Plot, and, how to use these three thoughts objectively in my ratings and reviews.
Readability sounds simple enough, and it is. Are there obvious and repetitive problems with the style? Are the correct words used? Do the sentences make sense or am I stumbling through just hoping for a period?
Emotion can be a tricky one, but it boils down to this, do I connect with the character in the way the writing intends, or do I care if a bus runs them over. If they could be killed off and I wouldn’t bat and eyelash, the story is missing a huge connectivity point. Characters shouldn’t be one-dimensional, and we should care what happens to them, if the author did their job right.
The final point is Plot. If the plot-lines look like a mole went through my yard, the story has issues. This doesn’t mean the plot can’t wiggle and jiggle, but by the end of the story, the plot should have made sense. The characters should have complimented the story, and the story should have showcased the characters (not necessarily in the best light.)
If the book is hit and miss, a three is still a decent score. They hit only one point, give the story a two and explain. Telling an author it sucked doesn’t make the review worth anything. Explaining to the author and other readers what the problem was, makes a two-star worth just as much as a four-star.
If a book hit all three points, the story is a four. Eghad! A four? Yes, a four. Most books you pick up, you will not remember next week much less next month. On the rare occasions, I might find a book like Fruits Basket, Ranger’s Apprentice, or Night Angel, (or more mainstream versions might be Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter) rejoice and feel validated to give the review a five-star. That makes a five-star mean something.
But the opposite is true too. You picked up a book and loved it. Your three-star or four-star review could be the motivational factor an author needs to continue on this difficult path. (Difficult is an understatement for some writers.)
Keep all three (Readability, Emotion, and Plot) in mind when you leave a review. Don’t dance around the issue. Using the three points, explain what worked for you and what didn’t. The entire point of reviews are so that people can make informed choices, and for authors to learn the good, the bad, and the ugly truth.
Leaving reviews is easy. Choose a star level and keep on moving. But, your thirty seconds of why could do more things than just picking a number ever will.