A response to Raani York's "How Authors would wish their books to be reviewed"
Once upon a time Raani York, an author, wrote a blog post titled How Authors would wish their books to be reviewed and some people thought it was cool. Others thought it was kinda lame. I decided to read it. I fell into the latter category. And, I decided to write a blog post, too!
York had a list, so let's start with that...
York-Peppermint #1: If you aren’t convinced of our work, and you don’t feel it deserves a 4- or 5-Star review, please contact us in private and let us know why you are not the biggest fan of our book. When you find constructive criticisms we understand, but still have good words about our writing, we can decide together, whether or not a quite positive 3-Star review can be published.
Ratings vs. Reviews: Let me start this segment by saying, I believe there are two very different parts to a review, and I'm not sure that was evident in York's post. There's the rating (1-5) and review (words). My understanding is that the rating is data and the review is the opinion of the reader. The book is rated on a scale of 1-5. All of the ratings are added together and averaged into a total score for the book. You know, data?
The data, rating, should not represent opinion... in my opinion. It should represent quality. Let me give an example...
If someone asked me which of Orson Welles' movies was his best, I'd say Citizen Kane. Without hesitation, it is his masterpiece. If someone asked which of Orson Welles' movies was my favorite, I'd say Touch of Evil. I love that movie. If I went on IMDb to rate these movies out of a 1-10 score, I'd rate Citizen Kane very near 10. I'd rate Touch of Evil around average (5 or 6). While I absolutely love Touch of Evil, and can watch it repeatedly, I recognize it is not the better film. It is flawed. While Citizen Kane is a great film, and his masterpiece, it just doesn't have that entertainment replay value like Touch of Evil does. Sure, I could watch it repeatedly, to study filmmaking or something, but for my own opinionated pleasure I'll have me some Touch of Evil.
In that vein, ratings should be honest. They should reflect the quality of the craftsmanship of the author. Not the opinion of the reader. The review is where the reviewer can sound off about their opinion and review the work. But the data should be unbiased.
"please contact us in private": If someone read my work, and thought it stunk, I'm not sure I'd wanna give them my number, but more power to York on this one, I guess.
"we can decide together": Not really. You're a little biased. You want the highest score possible, because you wrote it and are invested in it. That's like asking your teacher to give you an A or B, maybe a C for effort, because it was really hard to write this awful book you didn't like.
And think about that... you're being graded by the reader. Which means they're the teacher in this relationship. You are the student. You don't get to tell them how to grade. And sometimes, people work really hard at something and it still stinks. Sorry, but it's true. Which means, it is possible that someone could work really hard at writing their novel and it actually stink. So, no... automatically handing out 4s and 5s (As and Bs) or negotiating 3s (Cs) isn't an option.
I, like many I'm sure, utilize the ratings and reviews on Amazon for all kinds of things. And a 4 or 5 that says, "Awesome! Works as expected!" does me very little. Just like a 1 or 2 that says, "Stinks! It's horrible quality!" does me very little.
So, solid rating and a productive review is really what other readers need to see. And authors should want that. They should want reviews and ratings that are the same kind the readers want. Because if they're 4s and 5s, and productive for readers and convince more readers to buy, then you're really selling books.
York-Peppermint #2: Make sure you REALLY read the entire book before reviewing it. I was given a review by a person who has clearly “jumped” half the book before telling me it was extremely bad(how can anyone judge a book who hasn’t actually read it?). Thank God that review was never published!
"how can anyone judge a book who hasn't actually read it?": In the scenario, York is discussing someone who read some of her book and gave up. That's fine. I can totally understand that. I've given up on lots of books in my life. Most the time, if it seemed to be written alright, but just wasn't working for me (Harry Potter, cough, Harry Potter), I don't bother with reviews or ratings because it just wasn't for me. But if the book is clearly poorly written, it is possible to give an opinion and say something like, "There were so many typos, grammar issues, bad formatting that it was impossible to read. It may have been an OK story, but it needed an editor. I couldn't get through it and gave up after page 3." And a low rating would be good for something like that as well. Why? Because this reader is warning, productively, other potential readers. But, I guess the assumption I'm not making, which I think York was, is that the book is good (4 or 5) and the person just didn't read all of it. I just thought I'd point out that it is possible to judge a book without FINISHING it. She should said have said FINISHING, because that was really the question she meant to ask.
York-Peppermint #4?: Before criticizing my grammar and typos, please make sure your review is impeccable, otherwise you might not be taken seriously. Keep in mind that a self-published 1st edition still might have a few flaws. I don’t say that’s how it should be – but it happens. Every Author who is permanently working on getting better is going through it again to correct these mistakes in a second edition. So am I, together with my editor.
I don't know if it was intentional irony, but York jumps from 2 to 4 in her list to talk about grammar, typos and editing. But in a list, and somewhat scathing review of reviewers, if it was intentional I'm not sure it was wise. The internet is full of trolls. Trolls, I tell ya!
"Before criticizing my grammar and typos, please make sure your review is impeccable": Ah yes, the old BEFORE YOU _____, YOU BETTER ______ internet argument. I'm pretty certain that technically qualifies York as an internet troll. And I'm pretty certain internet trolls were recently reclassified as terrorists, so we may have just seen the beginning and end of Raani York (fake name?). But for the time being, I'll keep indulging her.
Early on in the post, York had another list of things that was to educate reviewers how much time and effort go into making a book. That list included a lot of gems, including these:
- more correcting
Maybe that's why some people do get uptight about a book being poorly edited or having flaws. Maybe. Maybe reviewers do know the amount of work that should go into a book, and are frustrated when they feel like they paid for a book which clearly did not put the time and effort into it.
I've never gotten excited about a second or third edition, by the way. I read whatever edition I buy. And usually that's the first one. Unless it's an old book, of course.
While I do think some people can be pretty uptight about a few flaws, I also think it's silly to think that people should excuse flaws because it's a first edition and that maybe next time they'll edit it better in edition 42.
York-Peppermint #5?: Don’t rip us to shreds just because “you can”! It seems there are a handful of Readers out there who like to read books and write reviews – but apparently not even one book is “good enough” for them to give it more than 1 or 2 stars and their reviews are written in a very rude way and a very poor grammar and spelling. Seriously: if books are so bad – you might want to consider finding another hobby?
"Don't rip us to shreds just because 'you can'!": I won't argue with that. But does York realize an exclamation point (!) means she's yelling at them? I'm so confused.
"It seems there are a handful of Readers out there who like to read books and write reviews – but apparently not even one book is 'good enough' for them to give it more than 1 or 2 stars and their reviews are written in a very rude way and a very poor grammar and spelling": She's trolling again. In #4 she asked for a little understanding about her flaws in grammar and typos, because she's a writer with an editor, but shows no mercy to readers who presumably aren't writers and don't have editors. I hate to say it, because it's kinda trolling, but this sentence of hers is also one mammoth of a run-on sentence and has some grammar issues. Again, intentional irony? I sure hope so, because I'm losing faith in Raani York being a good writer, and am starting to believe the 1s and 2s.
York-Peppermint #6?: In your review we Authors don’t want to read what you “would have done” writing this book or changing the plot. Please don’t forget that this is OUR novel! Don’t re-write my book for me. I’m the Author. If I had wanted it to end differently or change the plot, I would have done so!
"In your review we Authors don't want to read what you 'would have done' writing this book or changing the plot": Back up top, I said the review is the opinion piece by the reader. So, theoretically, it would be OK for a reader to say, "I wouldn't have killed off Jack, if it were me" or whatever. But, I can understand if York is so freakishly uptight about her plotlines, like an aging starlet is about her wrinkles. But please, I hope she didn't include me in her "we Authors", because I don't care and sometimes it is enlightening hearing what others think about your story and characters, and what they would do. There was a series of screenplays I was writing and filming a few years back, and my actors were so vested in the characters and story that when I told them one of them was going to commit suicide at the end of the third film in the series it became an ongoing discussion for several months. Every once and a while, someone would go, "I was thinking about the suicide, and what if..." I'd usually erupt into laughter, because it was hilarious how much people were trying so hard to find another way to end that character's story. But honestly, deep inside, and as we discussed their ideas, it was very encouraging and fantastic to see just how much people were invested in my story and character. Sometimes, the best thing that can come out of our writing is contention. Just look at some of the greatest literature in history, and you'll find a lot of it was controversial at the time, meaning there were some people saying, "I didn't like that. I would have done this."
As authors we should hope and revel in great delight, if people are arguing and discussing our works. It means we've done something right.
On a rather interesting note... author Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote Fight Club, said he preferred the movie ending to his own in the book. He said he wrote the ending on an airplane, not knowing how to end it, and took the only one he could think of at the time. So he considers the movie ending to be the actual, preferred ending. Just because it's our story, doesn't mean it's perfect or that someone can't come along and give us a better way to shape it up. The day we quit taking advice is the start down a rough road.
You know what I want? Honesty.
When it comes to ratings and reviews, as an author, I want honesty from readers. Why? Because I like writing, I like my stories. I like my characters. I like thinking about them, developing them and discussing them. If my readers can't be honest, we're probably not gonna have very good discussions about my works. And I like talking about my works. I'm not gonna want readers coming up to me on the street and screaming, "4 out of 5, awesome!" How intellectual. It would be cool, in a way, I guess. Now that my ego thinks about it.
I think I'll file Raani York and this post under Narcissism. Huzzah.
And after that long read, and madness, I think we need to get up and dance it off!
ROULETTE by Russ Conway