Reviews #2: You gotta have a method, right?


I’ve written a lot of reviews.

At one heady point in the Noughties, I broke into the Top 500 reviewers on Amazon! Can you credit it?

Admittedly most of the reviews were for non-fiction books and video games, but a creditable number were for fiction – usually the bestsellers du jour or the kinds of memoirs that I liked to read at the time.

Reviewing fiction seems to be more sensitive these days, possibly because so many people are doing it. Any writer from whatever genre either side of the fiction/non-fiction divide, knows that a string of mediocre reviews can choke a book before it’s had time to breathe.

I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of why people review books a certain way, and why reviews vary widely for the same basic text, but I’d like to share the model I use to help me grade a book, given that the standard model appears to be the “Five Star”.

I mentally split the book into five loose categories:

  1. Plot/Story
  2. Characterisation
  3. Setting
  4. Language and style
  5. How it made me feel

I then give it a mark out of ten in each category. This gives me a final mark out of fifty, then divide by ten and round up or down to the nearest star.

Wow, right? All well and good, you might say – but what a complete loser you must be to try to quantify everything?  When does a book ever score 10/10 in every category? How will anything ever get five stars?

Of course, this is a stupid way of trying to write a review. Because of item #5.

Look at #5. How did the book make me feel? A ten there will all but guarantee a five-star rating from me, even if the other categories are sub-optimal.

Because in the end, you can have a methodology, and try to quantify everything carefully, and be as fair as you possibly can.

But I remember that in the end – it isn’t fair. It’s completely subjective, and the heart can overrule the head any time it pleases.

And that’s a 100% fact!