I have a bit of a guilt complex about free books. I enjoy them, and I can afford them, so I read them. But since I got them for free, I try to leave a review. It’s the least I can do, but it’s not always easy!
Writing a review reminds me a little too much of grading. Just like in grading, everyone wants to know why they didn’t get a perfect score! But if you read the criteria carefully, everyone has a difference scoring system. Amazon considers “I liked it” to be a 4 and Goodreads considers “I liked it” to be a 3. Anyone in the US would recognize the difference between these two as the difference between a B and a C – a pretty big difference!
The solution – Most countries have a numeric system that matches okay, good, and excellent, but this isn’t an assigned paper! Any of the top three is just fine.
If you are thinking in terms of okay, good, and excellent, then you have to decide what is the highest standard of excellence. Do you compare every book you read to the best in their genres? Romances to Jane Austen? Fantasy to Tolkien? Both authors are considered unique, exemplary models to aspire to. It doesn’t seem quite fair to use them as a standard when they’re so exceptional.
The solution – Err on the side of generous. Jane Austen wasn’t widely recognized as JANE AUSTEN until the 1940s.
Then there’s the whole question of a review versus a critique. A review focuses on what you like and didn’t like in a book. A critique compares the book in question to the literary standards mentioned above. Do you mark a book down because you don’t like a character or do you confine your comments to how that character was constructed?
The solution – Keep it personal. Say ‘So-and-so reminded me too much of my ex, so I didn’t like him.’ Readers then have info, but can make their own judgments.
Most of the book bloggers I’ve worked with only leave reviews if they can rate the book 3 out of 5. The book is already out, so there’s not much point in trashing it unless you want to assume responsibility for editing it or crushing someone’s dream.
The solution – Unless you can say something like ‘I love the way the lack of back story kept me eager to learn more about the character’ without sounding sarcastic, say NOTHING!
Writing a review, particularly a negative one, is not easy, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to say something. After all, you got the book for free and if you can point out one good thing, the author will know what to do more of next time!