As spring chases away the winter blues, the Roses are finding inspiration in the words of others. For April:

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. ~ Margaret Mead

Saturday, February 1, 2014


This month’s theme is ‘Love and Hate.’ What came to mind was my love of reading and reviewing books written by my colleagues, but my hate for rating their novels.  Now that I know how much work goes into writing and publishing books, I wish I could give everyone a five, but I know better.  I mustn’t rate on effort; instead, I score a work based on my big picture sampling of the genre, placing the book I’m reading on a spectrum of quality from one to five.  (Heck, I just finished CASUAL VACANCY by the Potter-famed Ms. Rawlings, and 3.5 is my rating of her tome.) 
My role as a high school principal, opening a brand new high school with a demanding curriculum, taught me a good deal about rating inflation.  Teachers yearned to grade on effort, but I encouraged them to measure learning, a student’s grasp of the subject matter, instead. As a matter of fact, as a staff, we eliminated ‘D’ as a passing grade.  Could a student with a ‘D’ understanding of a subject be successful at the next level of that subject?  Our answer was no.  We became the only school in the district where a ‘D’ was not a ‘passing’ grade.
So, back to novels, suspense/romance, in particular.  If certain contemporary novels by Suzanne Brockman and Linda Howard are 5’s to me, then a whole lot of novels I read in that genre are 4’s.  To me a 4 is an excellent rating, not quite the page-turning, riveting quality of the pros.  Will that 4-rated writer get to a level 5?  Of course they might, and I’m happy to continue reading books by a 4-rated writer while she builds to that prowess.
I’d love rating more if people understood that a 4 from me (from anyone!) is an honorable score. 
FADEOUT won a RONE award!  LIE CATCHERS is out on KDP right now!  It goes free Feb.11-15!


Leah St. James said...

I am SO with you, Rolynn. I'm a tough reviewer, and I save 5-star reviews for books that make me laugh and cry, that make me fall so in love with the characters I feel like I've lost good friends when I turn the last page. I reserve 5 stars for books that touch me profoundly. (I don't even give Nora 5 stars often anymore!) I don't want fellow authors to think 4 stars is anything less than what it is--my appreciation for an excellent story with interesting characters that kept me engaged and entertained. Of course I want to write the kind of book that would rate my own 5 stars, but right now, I'd be happy with one of my 4s!

Angela Adams said...

To me, a five star book is one I know I'll read over and over again. Four stars is a "really" good book. I consider three stars as "plain, old" good. Thanks for the post.

Lilly Gayle said...

I pay little attention to the number on a review. I look to see what they said about the book. Did they love the characters, find my plot original? Or, did they find it cliche? If a writer can distance his/her self and not take it personally, maybe he/she can learn from reviews. But I hate 1 star reviews like the one I got that say: "Don't waste your time with this one." How is that helpful or informative?

Liz Flaherty said...

Lily said something about 1-stars. What always gets me with them is how often the reviewer talks the book UP and then gives it one or two stars. I don't get that.

If I can't give a 4 or 5, I don't review at all simply because I don't want to harm another writer. But, just as I'm not much of a grading-system fan in school, I don't really like it that much in reviewing.

Madeleine McDonald said...

For me, 3 stars is a book worth reading, enjoyable while it lasts but ultimately forgettable. 4 stars is a book that lingers in the mind and 5 stars is one I want to keep and reread.

For non-fiction, however, I sometimes give 4 stars for tackling an important topic, even when the writing style is clunky or plodding.

Lynda Coker said...

Great question, Roylnn
To give a five rating, the story must excel in all areas. It must keep my attention, touch me on an emotional level, and it's characters must linger in my mind after the book has been closed. A four rating is almost there, but lacks just a little on some or all of those elements.

Can New York financial executive, Victoria Ballard, survive a forced marriage with a Middle Eastern Prince?

LJ Vickery said...

I'm with you. If I can't give a book at least 4 stars, I don't rate it. Everyone works hard to produce a good book, and I don't want to belittle anyone's vision, which can be different from mine. On the other hand, I give a lot of 5 star ratings. If I love the characters, can suspend disbelief and not be brought out of the story, I consider that good writing even if the plot isn't deep. Typos do bother me. As a new author, I hope people "catch" and tell when they find them. Do TWRP authors tell colleagues in the garden when they find typos? Does it hurt feelings or is it a good thing?

Rolynn Anderson said...

Wow, I feel so much better now. As many of you said, 5 is the high bar, a story that makes you laugh, cry, and remember what the characters learned in their struggles. These are the plots that keep you awake in the wee hours..the "just one more page and I'll go to bed" books.

Now, based on what we've said above, I'm thinking we should be pleased to use '3's as well. But I agree, if a book merits a 1 or a 2, best not to review it. Geesh, I hate this pressure to get reviews. The majority of readers aren't comfortable writing them!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Wow, I feel so much better now. As many of you said, 5 is the high bar, a story that makes you laugh, cry, and remember what the characters learned in their struggles. These are the plots that keep you awake in the wee hours..the "just one more page and I'll go to bed" books.

Now, based on what we've said above, I'm thinking we should be pleased to use '3's as well. But I agree, if a book merits a 1 or a 2, best not to review it. Geesh, I hate this pressure to get reviews. The majority of readers aren't comfortable writing them!

Jannine Gallant said...

Okay, Devil's advocate here. I don't have any problem giving five stars to a fellow author who writes a good, solid book even if it isn't the best book I've ever read. For me, it's all about support. After free days, there are plenty of critics out there willing to give low ratings (especially on Good Reads). I'm thinking every little bit I can do for the cause of raising those ranking helps! If I don't like the book, I won't rate it.

Joanne Stewart said...

Great topic, Rolynn. I think reviews are very subjective. I've gotten some by people who picked up my book on sale, who might not otherwise have read it. And some of them have flat out said that they don't read or even LIKE the genre I write it and thus, that's exactly what they hate (and rate down) about my book. Does it make the review any less? No. I look at what they say. Do they leave me anything I can take away from the review, to hopefully do better next time? For example, my readers like epilogues. they like that glimpse of the characters world after the HEA happens. The couple of books without them have gotten a lot of flack.

As a reader, though, to be honest, I look at all the reviews, even the 1 stars. So, I don't think holding back is a good thing. As a reader, I judge whether or not I'll like a book based on a combination of reading what people love...and what they hate. For example, are all the one stars harping on the same aspect of the book? Is that something that's going to take away my enjoyment of the book? I'm a very picky reader. I have certain no go areas (such as heroes treating heroines with disrespect, as is so popular these days).

As a writer, some of my best reviews are the 3 stars. Very often, they tell me what they loved about the book...and what they found wrong. I find the 3 stars are often the most honest reviews.

I try not to give reviews too much weight anymore. It's not easy, but I'm learning to let go. After all, it's just an opinion. Nora Roberts is considered the queen of romance. She's written what, over 300 books and she's reached a level where her readers auto buy her. I don't know if I'll ever get to where she is, but as a reader? I can't stand her. She head hops, and I can't get into her characters because of it. I've never liked her, either. Does it mean she's less of a writer because of it? Nope. Just means that I don't like reading her. To each his own. And that's how I'm trying to think of reviews.

Glenys said...

You raised great points there - I give a 4 to books I really like, have enjoyed, and consider well-written. Books I'd recommend to others. A 5 - well, that's a super, super, super star! I give 4's most often, sometimes 3, but if I can't give more than a 3, then I won't put the review up. Reviews are subjective, really - a book I hate might be loved by someone else and it doesn't seem fair to saddle the writer with a low review point when others might well like the book. So, nothing less than a 3!Be interested to hear what anyone else thinks of giving really low reviews?

Barbara Edwards said...

I'm one of those who don't do reviews very well. I'm not confident in writing an opinion about another writer's efforts. I have done a few for books I absolutely loved and am happy I did. said...

This is all very very interesting, Rolynn. As authors we all fret over those reviews. I agree with many of the comments here but I keep thinking, what do you do when an author asks to exchange reviews with you & you think their book is a 1 or a 2? What do you then?

Rolynn Anderson said...

Jannine, I agree that there's an element of commiseration that goes into my reviews of authors I know...I realize how hard they work and that there are creepy reviewers out there.

Joanne, I want to have your attitude when I grow up. Gosh, I'm an infant/infantile right now. My first free book goes up on Feb. 11 and I'm already nervous about the bad reviews that seem to come with freebies. I'm going to save your comment to remind me to keep perspective.

Andi, I think I'd tell the writer if the review would be a 1 or 2...and beg off writing the review. I've done tradeoffs...especially dicey when the trades are different genres. We've all been there!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Reviews can be a touchy subject. I have done them for our local school district's writing program and always stress what I'm saying is one person's opinion. Giving reviews on the work of fellow authors, the same rule applies. I too am confused by the 1 star ratings that follow with - Loved the story and the characters. What?

Ashantay said...

I'm weighing in with Janine on giving five stars to a good solid book. I also agree with those who've stated they won't rate a book that wouldn't get a minimum three stars.

Now I'm going to take you to task, gently I hope, about a comment in your post. You said you compare suspense books to Linda Howard (for one), and that a book by an unknown author may not compare to the "pros," thereby not meriting five stars.

First, although I'm not a best selling author, I count myself a professional writer. Second, considering anyone who hasn't made the NYT list as less a professional than an author who has, is to me, an insult that I'm sure you didn't mean to make. We all know and can name books that should never have made the best-seller list! We may even agree on some of the titles.

Next, that idea, that "unknown authors" aren't as skilled as "knowns" is also an indication that reviews are always subjective and the number of stars garnered means nothing.

Finally, those nasty reviews only hurt if you let them...I agree with Joanne - read the comments and only pull out what helps you grow as a writer.

Thanks for the challenging post.

Katherine said...

I agree with Glenys - I usually give a 4 to books I really enjoy and a 5 to books that I would want to read again or those books that stay with me long after I've read the last page. I rarely give a 3 and have never given a 1 or 2 rating. Being an author myself, I don't want to bash or hurt another author's feelings, at least not intentionally. That being said, I do point out things such as misspellings, punctuation issues, etc in my reviews if they pull me out of the story. In the past, I have felt that I've paid for those reviews by being shunned (for lack of a better term) by some of my fellow writers so I've started contacting the author with a preview of my review (unless it's a 5 star review) and asking them if they want me to post it or not and leave it up to them.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Good for you for taking me to task, Ashantay. You're right, we don't have to be big sellers to be called professionals (I should have said well-known writers whose works are 5's, to us), and some great writers are never acknowledged by the NYT. My point is, we all have different views of 'the high bar' as varied as our personal preferences. Heck, one of my first rejectors told me not to use semi-colons...her 'high bar' writers were semi-colon free. This is exactly why reviews/ratings need to be taken with giant-sized grains of salt.

Ashantay said...

I hope you use semi-colons anyway, Rolynn!

Lilly Gayle said...

Rolynn, my first experience with free days didn't not gain me many reviews at all, good, bad, or indifferent, despite the book briefly making the top 10 on Amazon's free books. So, a lot of people ordered it while it was free, but how many actually read it. And most of those people didn't write a review. But hey, it's exposure. So, good luck with your free days. And BTW, one my most cherished reviews was only a 3, but it was in RT magazine and the reviewer had only nice things to say about the book. I guess it just wasn't one of those books she'll remember forever, but I'll remember her review. :)

Rolynn Anderson said...

I DO use semi-colons, by Gawd! I love them.

Katherine, interesting idea: asking the author if she wants you to post the review. I'm amazed that authors would shun someone who gave a 3 review, but there are some thin-skinned folk out there. Like I say, it's a lesson to us all to read the range of reviews of a guy like Steven King. He's GOT to have a thick skin, but I imagine raking in the big bucks keeps him from worrying too much :-).

KK Brees said...

The crux of the problem is that Amazon does not provide a rubric so that reviewers can leave consistent feedback. As the system currently stands, it's all subjective.

That said, as a former teacher, all I can do is break the scale of 1-5 into percentages. 20, 40, 60, 80, 100. That equates to the 4's being the B or B- students and the 5's the A students, ranging anywhere from 90-100. 3's fall into the "nice try but no cigar" category.

So, give a 4, and you're giving 80%. Give a 5 and it's 90 percent and above. If I'm going to spend the time reviewing a book, you can bet it will have to be either a 4 or 5 or it's not worth my time. And honestly, if it's a good book that grabs me, I have no problems giving a 5.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Karen, you're so right about the absence of a rubric! Frankly, I love your percentages...must be because we were both teachers and had to explain grades to kids until we were blue in the face. Sigh, little did I know I'd have to think about this stuff as a writer!

Alicia Dean said...

Just now saw this, sorry to be late! I don't really think that much about the 5 star rating, but perhaps they should be reserved for those really, really special books. I always give a 5 star if I like the book a lot, but I suppose that makes a 5 star mean less. From now on, my 4 star is the ones I love, and the 5 star are the ones I can't stop thinking about. Or something like that. BTW, I'm always thrilled with a 4 star review on any of my books. :)