Monday, August 13, 2012

MMWUC - The Rating System and Penguins

You only need motivation.

Recently, someone asked me to explain my rating system for the books I review. On the surface, this seems like a straight-forward question. In reality, explaining any rating system these days from crotch-thumping balance beam performances in the Olympics to kids taking a geography test in school has potential issues--mostly pertaining to validity. I admit it upfront: I'm old school. I like grades: A, B, C, D, & F. Sometimes you fail and need to be told, "You failed." I like it when we keep score during games or timed in competition. I didn't want a mossy green ribbon for finishing 2nd to last in the 1/2 mile Presidential fitness race in 1966; I wanted the gold ribbon, but I wasn't worthy of it. A ribbon for finishing--yuck, phew! Mossy green sucks and so did coming in 2nd to last. Yeah, my ego hurt. It should have hurt. I was an out of shape porker and needed to know that when that bear comes and chases the other 158 kids in my grade, it was either me or Augie he was going to eat.

Any rating is partially subjective. Reading a good book on a day when your hemorrhoids are screaming bloody murder will affect your subjectivity. I try to be as fair as possible, and thank God, I don't have hemorrhoids. I don't feel the need to get fancy with the rating system and went without icons: stars, books, movie reels, thumbs up, thumbs down, etc. My scale is similar to Amazon, and in general goes like this.

1 = Yuck, don't bother. I've never given out a one rating. I know how hard it is to write a novel and publish it, even one that is not very good. I can see me giving a "1" rating, but it'd have to be a deceptively bad, stolen idea rehashed, or misleading book with no redeemable value. They are out there. I have just been lucky enough not to run into one...yet. I have critiqued a novel more than once that might get a "1", but not read a published book.

2 = Only if you have extra time, disposable cash, or are stuck in a Kazakhstan airport. I've redacted the only two "2" ratings I've given. Why? Upon reflection, they were honestly written books, and while they rattled my teeth with glaring mistakes, they completed their mission of telling me a story. I'll let the textual portion of the review give the reader plenty of heads-up before purchasing. Any book that I pick up for the purpose of reviewing and can't finish would probably get a "2" rating or lower.

3 = It's okay, despite flaws. This is an average read. It probably tells a good story, but the execution, writing, or key plot points need help. Still, lovers of the genre or author or subject-matter for a book with a "3" rating would probably forgive and read it anyway. The shame is, many books I rate as 3's appear to have been dashed off and published in haste. This is the curse of too many self-published books. Frustrated and ready to move on (or buoyed by the back-slapping of well-meaning family members), many self-published authors don't refine their stories out of fatigue, delusion, or lack of money to pay for the outside help that would have strengthened their efforts.

4 = It's good and worth reading, especially if it's in a genre you like. When I give a "4" rating, it's obvious the author has tied up the loose ends, had someone competent edit or review the book, and taken care to structure the story for maximum impact. Will the book have flaws? Yes. But unless you get OCD about a particular type of flaw, you can read past it and have an enjoyable read.

5 = Most readers will find superior value in the book on probably many levels. A perfect book does not exist. To Kill A Mockingbird is in the top ten of every survey I've ever seen about all-time great books. It has over 2,000 ratings from 1 to 5 on Amazon. Don't be surprised if you disagree with me, subjectivity and genre preference does play a part in any review. But in my world, in my book rating system, some books speak with a louder voice because the author took time to pay attention to the finer points of the art of writing. Those books get a "5" rating. Books like Little Mountain by Bob Sanchez, Just Like That by Les Edgerton, Child of My Heart by Shelia Rudesill, Red, Green, or Murder by Steven F. Havill, and The Mighty T by Everett Powers. Perfect? No, but damn good. Gold ribbons all the way around.
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No penguins were harmed in the writing of this blog post.
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Beauregard Shamus is a figment of my imagination.
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Still looking for a few more guest bloggers before recess in September. Interested? email me.


Unknown said...

Love it, Rick. There's a reason I don't review books (publicly), and that's because the vast majority of what I read would get 1's and 2's, hehe. You're right, though--if it's written honestly and the author has spent valuable time editing, researching, etc., there's value hidden in there.

Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

Rick, I am humbled by your review of my novel. I have to add that your reviews are just about as well written thought out as your novels! There are many more 5 star reviews for your writing because you "pay attention to the finer points of the art of writing."

Rick Bylina said...

Holy, moly, Guilie! Ones and twos. Yikes! Stop critiquing my book immediately if that's the best I can hope to attain. Sorry, I will never misspell D'oh! again. Honest.

Francene Stanley said...

I totally agree with your rating system. From me a five star rating says 'this book can't get any better'.

Beth Camp said...

At last! A rationale that will help me stop feeling guilty when I give a book a 4 for an enjoyable read. Thank you, Rick! That 5 is reserved for books that make me think and cry and remember the characters long after the book is set aside.