I've been thinking a bit about something that Garbhan Downey said on Ger Brennan's Crime Scene NI blog earlier in the week about writing reviews. To repeat the relevant bit (click here for full text):
'As a former reviewer, I understand entirely the reluctance to tell the reader when a book stinks.
Writers in particular tend to be sympathetic to other writers. You know the hellish amount of work that goes into a) scripting and re-scripting a 70,000 novel, and then b) getting the shagging thing published. And you don’t want to disrespect anyone who’s got that far.
Plus of course, if you do have a slap, you’re worried about being seen as jealous (big one for published writers this); or you’re worried that you’re actually being jealous and are being unfair (big one for conscientious published writers); or, most importantly of all, you don’t want to get sued. (Stop for a minute and think, when was the last time you saw the line “This book is pure shite” in any review?)
Yes, the central problem with being a reviewer, as I discovered in a past life, is that for all these reasons, you wake up one morning and find you’re praising bad books; books you don’t like and books your readers aren’t going to like either.
But as an author you know exactly how much bad reviews sting, discourage and disillusion. So you can’t do that either.
That’s why sites like this one, Peter’s and Dec’s are vital for the industry. They serve, for me at least, as the last remaining quality control on crime books. They assess, fairly, new work and old. They report, encourage, inform and, where necessary, judge. They have teeth – but they also have the authority of their impartiality.'
There's a lot to live up to here, but also some very good advice about providing an honest review of a book that unambiguously sets out what I think about its merits and gives a clear indication of how I rate it vis-a-vis others. The review itself will help but, given I'm right at the start of this blog and only have two reviews written so far, I've decided to introduce a basic rating system to provide an overall verdict. This is as follows:
Outstanding. Get me the full back catalogue ASAP!
Quality stuff. Will be tracking down books by the same author and recommending to friends
Enjoyed and would read other books by the same author
Passable, but in no rush to read the author's other works
Struggled with this and in no hurry to repeat the experience.
no stars - How did this get published?
There will be very few 5 star reviews as I'll be holding this back for books that truly blew me away and probably very few one star reviews as its unlikely the book got as far as the check-out till or I won't have got past the first few pages. We'll see how it goes and hopefully it'll provide a useful verdict.