Writing reviews: my philosophy

Before I start, I feel I should point out that this post isn’t my review policy.

This is my review policy:

I’m not primarily a book blogger, and I don’t take review requests; I post reviews for books I happen to be reading and felt strongly enough about that I wanted to share my thoughts with others. Please don’t ask me to review your book — as my local grocery says, refusal may offend.

Although that makes me wonder exactly how they refuse! 😉

So. Having established that, let’s move on.

Before I joined Goodreads I wasn’t a book reviewer. A book addict, yes, but I didn’t leave reviews anywhere … unless you count enthusiastic word of mouth. I joined that site in 2012, but mostly used it to sort and track my reads. If I left reviews, they were a paragraph or less. I did leave star ratings, though.

That changed in mid-to-late 2013. By then I’d joined Twitter and started blogging with Aussie Owned and Read, and I’d really begun to understand how vital reviews are to authors, especially indie and mid-list authors who struggle to get the word out. That was when I started writing longer reviews and blogging about them, becoming a pseudo-book blogger.

I call myself a pseudo-book blogger, because I’m only on the fringes of the very enthusiastic and dedicated book blogging community. I don’t get free ARCs from publishing houses — thank goodness, as I don’t think I could handle the pressure — or chase ARCs in general. I buy my books, because I love to support authors. And I love to own books.

(I got heckled by the removalists as they were hauling box after box of books up to what is now my study. True story.)

Goodreads helpfully pointed out to me the other day that my average star rating for all the books I’ve reviewed since I joined Goodreads is 4.38 stars. They even provide a handy graph.

Star ratings


I remember having a discussion with another reviewer where I gave something four stars and then listed a few things that left me wanting more in the book. She told me that, if it were her, such a review would carry a three-star rating at best.

All of which got me to wondering whether I rate books too highly when I review them.

For those that aren’t familiar with the Goodreads star ratings, they are:

One star: Did not like it

Two stars: It was ok

Three stars: Liked it

Four stars: Really liked it

Five stars: It was amazing

After thinking about it, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that, by those descriptions, I’m rating just fine, in my own way. Here are a few reasons I think account for my high average ratings:

  • If I give something a half-star rating, I round up rather than down. This means that, at a guess, my true average would actually be in the high 3-stars. The reason I round up is because writing is hard work, and I prefer to be nice to fellow authors where I can. If maths gives them a slight bonus, I’m okay with that.
  • I’m not that risky a reader, all things considered. I know what I like, and that’s what I usually read. When I read outside my usual genres, it tends to be books by writers that I’ve met on social media or otherwise admire. This means I’ve been exposed to their writing before and generally have a sense for what I’m in for. (For example, I discovered Chuck Wendig’s and Delilah S. Dawson’s books by reading their blogs.)
  • On the handful of occasions I’ve read books where I really was tempted to give a low rating, I’ve usually just not rated the book. There are, of course, exceptions: for example, Red Riding Hood filled me with rage. I didn’t feel bad about one-starring it, because the decision that got under my skin was one the publisher (presumably) made, not the author. And I think we can all agree that publishing without the last chapter in a whodunit is a low blow.

Does choosing not to rate a book rather than give it a one- or two-star rating mean that my reviews somehow have less integrity? That’s one of the things I’ve been wondering. I don’t think that it does, but I guess others may agree. It kind of brings me back to what I said originally: I’m not a book blogger or professional reviewer. I review for fun, to spread the word about awesome stories that I’ve enjoyed.

What do you think? If someone reviews books, are they obliged to rate and review every book they read in all its messy glory?

7 Comments on “Writing reviews: my philosophy”

  1. I ask myself the same question. I have the same policy as you (actually, I only rate 4 and 5 star books). But I do it for a few reasons 1) I’m a writer, so I know what it takes just to write a book; whether or not it’s my cup of tea is on me as the reader, not on the writer. 2) what I hate, you may love and vice versa. 3) it’s bad PR to bash another writer’s work and I’m VERY opinionated. 4) you may have to work with those authors/their publishing houses in the future so you don’t want to burn bridges. 5) there’s enough negativity in the world (especially online) without me adding to it; I’d rather praise the books I love, than tear apart the ones I hate.

    So, no, I don’t think you are under any obligation to review every book you read. The obligation wasn’t there pre-Goodreads and just because you use the tool doesn’t mean you are beholden to it.

    • I’ve been trying to keep the your first and second points in particular in mind when I write reviews. Just because I didn’t like a thing, that doesn’t mean that others won’t. 🙂

  2. I think your approach makes a lot of sense, but I’m more a reader than a writer. As a reader, I value a diverse spread of ratings on Goodreads and other review sites. Ratings help me decide what to read. For me:
    ***** 5 stars means I will be raving about this book for a long time. Years. It was amazing.
    **** 4 stars means I really liked this book and will buy the author’s next book on sight. Probably even pre-order it.
    *** 3 stars means I liked this book and will look out for more from the author. If they keep writing like this, I’ll keep reading. I aspire to write at this level.
    ** 2 stars means it was okay. It deserved to be published. I won’t go looking for more from this author, but I’ll be content to read a similar book they’ve written if I can’t find something more promising.
    * 1 star means either it was sufficiently dull or badly written that I didn’t finish it, or I did finish it and found it offensive. I’m not a masochist when it comes to finishing books, so 1 star/DNF from me doesn’t mean others might not like it.

    My ratings on Goodreads are normally distributed around a mean of 3, because I’m also pretty good at picking books that I’ll enjoy.

    Because I know the impact that ratings and reviews have on authors and publishing-houses, though, there is a gradually expanding category of books that I’ll leave unrated. If I would have rated a book 1 or 2 stars, I’ll now simply mark it as “read” if:
    * I know the author; or
    * I know it’s by a new author; or
    * My rating would be one of the first few ratings for the book (unless it’s by a best-selling superstar, in which case, they can handle it); or
    * My rating would be one of the first dozen or so and I know it’s from a small press.

    • Oh: I’ll add that I rate entirely subjectively. If I read a book for which I wasn’t the intended audience, I still rate it according to how much I enjoyed it, not how much I think the intended audience would enjoy it. So if I accidentally pick up a gritty crime novel when I was looking for a cosy mystery, it will probably get 2 stars.

  3. Stumble on your blog post, and enjoyed reading it. From my viewpoint, I do believe not everything is an opinion, but there’s also no one single way to review anything. Some do so by check list, and other might generalize everything. In the end, all that matters (at least to me) is whatever position the writer is taking they have to explain themselves depending on the statement. For example, I write reviews about movies so there’s a difference between me saying I hate said movies to simply saying this movie is awful. The former wouldn’t require much to accept since it’s how I personally feel therefore any explanation I apply is solely connected to me. Whereas the later you would have to explain yourself by providing examples of what you’re criticizing, and explain why it’s bad. Reviewing is a broad topic, though it’s always good to have some sort philosophy before starting out.

    • Thanks for stopping by. I like your distinction between a personal opinion and a statement of fact about something you’re reviewing; I tend to phrase things in terms of how I felt about them, but I’ll definitely keep that in mind in future!

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