This isn’t a new rant … my friends and family can attest to that. It began when my wife bought me a Kindle a few years ago and I set out reading the self-pub books at Amazon. With so many, many books added to the list each day and with me having so little time to read, I took to glancing at their five-star rating system and choosing books with the most 4- and 5-star ratings (4 for “I like it” and 5 for “I love it”). But many of those books had glaring editing problems, which took away from my reading enjoyment.
On the other hand, I found books with overwhelming 1- and 2-star ratings (1 for “I hate it” and 2 for “I don’t like it”) that I had read and really liked. They contained no editing problems.
I quickly surmised this as a case of different strokes for different folks. Unfortunately, it cancelled the rating system’s effectiveness for me. After all, some books had as many 1- and 2-star ratings as 4- and 5-star ratings. Yep, different strokes for different folks.
But the rating system isn’t my rant.
It was upon further inspection that I found those same books had contradicting bad and good reviews. For example, the following reviews for one book at Amazon gave me the following information:
- A Disappointment. Do not waste your time reading this drivel. Lots of errors. A self-published nightmare.
- Well written. Interesting read. Very good plot. Held my interest during the whole time I was reading.
- Poorly researched. Poorly plotted. Poorly edited. Altogether a poorly written book.
- Very well written. Good story. I look forward to reading more from this author.
I know firsthand that readers bring their own expectations to a story. And when an author goes in an unexpected direction and/or ends a story shy of those expectations, a reader may give the book a low score out of disappointment of its plot. Plot is fickle. What forms a good plot today may not be so in a hundred years or less.
But when sides cannot agree whether a book is written poorly or written well, then someone clearly misunderstands the concept of what establishes each. It’s one or the other. A book that has grammar and spelling errors is a book written poorly, no matter how well readers find its author’s plotting, research and characters to be. In other words, if you tell me that a book is written well, then you’re saying it has very few if any spelling and syntax errors. Vice versa if you tell me a book is written poorly. Anything else, like plot, research, characterization, is biased expectations. If Joe Smo didn’t get the girl at the end of a romance novel, then good for the author for writing something outside the straightjacket that’s been strangling that genre for ages. But don’t say it’s a poorly written book because its plot dashed your expectations.
Thankfully, Amazon includes a nice “look inside” feature that allows potential buyers to peruse the first few pages of a book they’re considering buying so they can get a feel of how the story flows. If I see spelling and syntax errors while I’m looking inside, I may choose to pass on purchasing and reading the book. Or I may buy it and end up reading a well told story with spelling and syntax errors because more than one thoughtful reviewer said they gave the book four or five stars because they “liked” or “loved” the book’s plot and characters despite the spelling and syntax errors.
Reviews need to be clear to give potential readers the facts.
A review like “A Disappointment; Do not waste your time reading this drivel; Lots of errors; A self-published nightmare,” next to a review that says, “Well written; Interesting read; Very good plot; Held my interest during the whole time I was reading,” means that someone found the errors problematic while reading a story that someone else found interesting with its “very good” plot. Imagine how beneficial it would have been to those of us considering buying the book if the earlier listed reviews had been written this way:
- “I did not like this book because of its spelling and syntax errors.”
- “I liked this book because its plot held my interest during the time I was reading.”
- “I did not like this book because I believe that it is poorly researched, plotted, and edited.”
- “I liked this book because I thought the story was good. I look forward to reading more from this author.”
This, of course, takes effort on the reviewers’ part to be honest and direct, omitting their personal feelings in the forms of biting remarks and flowery praise. If all reviewers did that, it would make shopping for books at Amazon a lot easier.