World Book Day: What makes a review?

01 Mar
World Book Day: What makes a review?

Happy World Book Day to one and all. I have fond memories of book-themed occasions having received annual book vouchers at school and prize book gift vouchers when I achieved in my subjects. Yes I was that geeky student waltzing off to his nearest WHSmith to cash in for previously un-bought Hardy Boys, Sharpe, or Robert Ludlum story depending on my age. Reading is wonderful, a medium that interacts with its consumer in a way movies cannot. The writer can spell out every little detail he likes, but what those mean to the reader is completely individual. Therefore every person has a slightly different encounter with a book. With the movies, an extra few layers of our imaginative powers is removed. Forsaken for million dollar special effects budgets. That’s good too. But it doesn’t beat your imagination…

So while I hope everybody is enjoying the various events that have been ongoing across the web and in libraries and community centres I have a reading themed question to ask.

You may already know that my short story The Lazarus Experiment was available for free last weekend as part of an anniversary celebration – one year since I submitted the former #tuesdayserial weekly tale to my publishers Books to Go Now. It’s now back on sale in the Kindle stores at its regular price (77p in the UK.. 99c or $1.22 in the US.. the website seems to keep showing me different prices, but I’m not American anyway…) which, lets face it, is the price of a chocolate bar and cheaper than a cup of tea in most places. One of the bonuses for me as a writer, and my publishers, this week has been the sudden appearance of reviews at last!

One reviewer over on Amazon scored my tale about Frank Swan with 4 stars, suggesting whilst she had received it free it would have been worth paying for. Jackpot! Cannot ask for more from a reader than satisfaction and endorsement like that…

The other reviewer over on the UK Amazon however scored the World War 2 set science fiction tale with just one star. One. Uno. Jeden. Een. This is the intriguing part however… the review is largely positive – crediting the plot and wanting more. However it is the lack of the more which hurts the review. With this reviewer saying if he had paid for such a short story he would have been very unhappy.

Quite the contrast between the two reviews eh? Ah, the life of the author…

I have politely pointed out that Amazon does indeed show how short the story is, and that it is tagged and promoted as a short story, but have thanked the reviewer anyway for what I feel is a fair review. It is short after all! I only responded to the review because I did not want people to think myself or my publisher to be trying to con people – it is clearly marketed in a similar way to other short stories available on the e-book market and anyone following my twitter or Facebook streams knows I am at endless pains to include the #shortstory hashtag. Short stories are back in vogue like they haven’t been since the pulps of the 30’s and 40’s or Dickens before them. I am happy shouting from the rooftops that I write them.

And yet… it has got me thinking about what goes in to a review?

What makes a story 5 stars, and another one 1 star?

It’s certainly a question with unlimited answers but to go on the second reviewers apparent scale, then War and Peace, the famously long tome by Leo Tolstoy, would be a five-star extravaganza… even if its mode of writing bores the tears out of you (as it does me). Likewise the movie Godfather may struggle to get 1 star because people prefer the 90 minute feature, despite its unquestionable status (go on i dare you…) as one of the finest films of all time.

When I review something I do it from the perspective of how the book, music, movie makes me feel. Did I enjoy it? It’s as simple as that. Obviously i expand on that notion. But if it gave me great pleasure, if I went to bed each night early just so I had more time to read more of the book…then I give a positive review. Even if it’s not technically perfect or dare I suggest it, it’s too short.

So what makes you give one star, three stars or five stars to something?

Do you start in the middle at three stars and add and detract as I do?

Or do you have some arcane method that involves the slaughtering of a turkey and the drawing of a circle in front of your bookcase in its blood? Hey, it takes all sorts…

Please leave your thoughts in the comments, and feel free to tweet me on twitter or drop a message on the Facebook page!

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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Reading Initiatives


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