With the development of ebooks, reader reviews are becoming an important arbitrator of quality. Anyone looking for a book online will most likely read online reviews before buying. This gives reviewers an important role in book sales and with it comes responsibility.
But, just like books, there are well written reviews and not so well written reviews, and I believe that as readers, to be fair to the author, we should evaluate the reviews we read. In order to do this, we need to consider the following.
What are the responsibilities of a reviewer?
They are responsible to readers who want an honest review and to authors who want a fair review.
Is this an informal review or a formal review?
An informal review is usually short and just says whether a reader enjoyed the book or not. This is completely based on personal likes. These reviews are meaningless to us unless we know that the reviewer likes the same books as we do. I put these sort of reviews on Goodreads for books that I’ve purchased myself.
A formal review is something you put on your blog or in a paper. These are in depth reviews that look at the details of a book. They should tell you why the reviewer feels as they do and should help a reader to make up their own mind about whether they will like the book or not.
How much should a reviewers personal likes dictate a review rating?
This is one that people will have different opinions on, but I think that readers, as well as wanting details of the book so they can make up their own mind, want to know whether we like a book or not. Authors, however, simply want – and need – an unbiased judgment.
A well-written review will have both. I believe that reviewers should try to judge a book objectively, putting their personal preferences aside, but at the end say whether they personally liked it or not. A really good reviewer should be able to give a book that they don’t particularly enjoy a good review. Others may not agree with that, but here’s an example.
Hunger Games was an excellent book when viewed in terms of the criteria below, but I really didn’t like it. I just found it too painful to read. Not because it was bad, but because I don’t like reading about people in such dire and painful circumstances. It’s just not a world I want to immerse myself in. Does that mean that I give it 2 stars? No. It’s a 5 star book and if I don’t give it that I’m not being fair to the author or to readers who may have different likes to me. But I can tell my readers my personal feelings too.
The other instance is when you read something outside of your usual genre, or tending towards a genre you aren’t that keen on. Are you going to give a well-written book with strong thriller elements a 2 or 3 because you don’t like the thriller genre? Wouldn’t it be fairer to evaluate it in terms of the genre it was written for? After all, the writer is writing a thriller, why should you evaluate it in terms of, for example, YA romance.
I think that the body of the review should be completely objective and the personal ‘likes’ mentioned briefly in the opening and more elaborately in the closing statements. The reviewer should also be able to say who might like it, even if they don’t.
On what criteria should a reviewer base their judgment?
Here are my ideas.
- General impression – one sentence or paragraph introducing the review. If I liked it I’ll mention it here, if not I’ll probably leave it until the end.
- About the book ie the blurb
- Story – interesting /different/unusual /predictable/unimaginative/formula
- Characters – well rounded/ interesting/believable responses/ clear motivations/ easy to relate to /flat/stereotyped
- Relationships – believable?/interesting?/ well developed?
- World – well developed? / believable?/ parameters explained
- The ending – satisfying?/ questions left unanswered / cliff hanger
- Whether I liked it and why – if not already clear.
- Star evaluation
- Who might like it or who I recommend it for
Do you agree with these criteria? Can you add anything? How much influence do you think your personal ‘likes’ should influence your review?