For a blogger, there’s nothing quite as sweet as gaggles of people getting their knickers in a twist over something.
(Those of you who don’t blog yourselves probably don’t know that the blogging equivalent of Natural Law is a list, called “Things That People Get Very Angry About On The Internet”. Whenever we’re stuck for an idea of something to blog about, we simply refer to this list, a copy of which can be purchased for 6 Emoji and a funny cat picture.)
Knicker-twisting items on the list I’ve written most about are as follows:
- Book Reviews
- Book Marketing Abuses
- Writers Who Think They Don’t Need Editors
- Writers Who Take Everything Personally
- Writer Earnings And Complaining Thereof
It’s been a while, so I’m back to Number 1: Book Reviews, as it occurred to me lately that the assignment of a star rating seems to be very much dependent on genre.
Like many other people, I read in different genres. I am a big fan of the Literary Fiction Thing. I like to relax with the odd gory Crime Thriller. When modern times are bad, I love to escape into Historical Fiction. Every now and then, I retire to the cupboard with a shameful Romance. I rarely read biographies, but it still might amount to 1 a year. And when I’m feeling intelligent, or a bit of self-loathing after a particularly badly-written romance, I might try and heal my soul with a bit of light philosophy.
All of these genres are written differently, and reviewed differently. I have to keep this in mind when I’m choosing the books I buy. If more writers kept this in mind, they might get a longer life out of their underwear. So without further ado, here is a very serious and official guide to reading star ratings and reviews, by genre.
Star Rating Requirement: 5* or (heaving) Bust
Nothing less than 5 stars will do in this category. This is because romance reviews, in the main, can be pretty poor in themselves. A 5* rating can mean anything from
“I read this!!!!”
“OMG the guy in this is the hottest ever!!!”
“yeah this was ok but I prefer XXX by X”.
“Cried my eyes out. Loved the characterisations. The story was fresh, free of cliché, and penetrated my soul to the extent that I immediately went out and told everyone in my family how much I loved them. Best book I’ve ever read”
The bottom line is that this is the one category where it appears that anything less than 5 stars is negative. It’s ridiculous, but there you go.
Star Rating Requirement: 4* is Deadly
Generally in a crime thriller the plot is the key, so it’s much tougher to please people with the reveal of the whodunit, whydunit, or howdunit, let alone hope for your readership to figure it all out at exactly the same time. And then there’s the reaction to Gone Girl: the ending became a polarising factor, deciding who liked it and who didn’t. 4* in this category is bloody good, because crime reviewers very often reserve that elusive 5* review for that one blockbuster back in 1998 which blew their mind. Not getting 5* is not failure.
3. Literary Fiction
Star Rating Requirement: 3* or 4* or… oh, never mind. We all die in the end.
Hardly anyone is yet buying Lit-Fic based on reviews, let alone star ratings, so it doesn’t much matter what star rating you get here. In this genre, it’s prizes and long- and short-listings you need, not stars. Stars are about as valuable as a second-hand copy of Fifty Shades.
4. Historical Fiction
Star Rating Requirement: 4* is Terribly Nice Of You
For authors lucky enough to receive a review for a Historical novel – although this is a growing number – the rating system is tough to quantify. Historical novels are generally longer than other books, and so are their reviews. Most often, what the reviewer is saying is far more important than the stars they assign. Whether it’s 5* or not is therefore not the issue. It’s whether it’s at on the positive end or on the negative end. Anything over 3* is a win.
5. Biography [i.e. another form of fiction]
Star Rating Requirement: 5* For Stars
This is an odd category, full of famous people who have ghost writers, and hitherto unknown people who have ghosts. For the unknown authors, whether the review is a judgement upon the biography subject or a judgement upon the biography, 4* or 5* are going to be needed to sell more books. Star ratings for celebrities are a red herring, because even the worst-written and reviewed biographies will be bought by people who are interested in seeing either how the subject looked at age 19 before they got their teeth done, or what really happened between their ex-spouse and the nubile neighbour.
There are 6.3 besquillion other genres of non-fiction books out there giving me a headache, so that warrants a whole other post. But suffice to say, not all 5-star ratings are alike, and some can even be off-putting. If you’re an author, you could make yourself feel better, by benchmarking your reviews to your genre. And for the love of Blog, don’t ask people you know to swap or write you 5* reviews. Everyone knows what they are, and they won’t help sell your book.
Do you find yourself grading by genre? What’s your reviewing system?