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Why do you give such high ratings to all the books you review?”

cocaineIt’s a fair question, and not the first time I’ve been asked. The answer is simple. I don’t review books I know I won’t like. That doesn’t mean I only accept them from a particular genre, but rather that I triage the ones I read. If I can tell right away that I won’t like it, I don’t accept it for a review. If I get a few chapters into it and realize my review will be under three stars, I tell the author. (Not one has ever asked that I go ahead with the review.)

I was adding a review to Goodreads recently for a book that had almost all five-star reviews and noticed there was one reviewer who only gave it two stars. I was curious, so I looked at that review. The reviewer said he thought the book was well done, and acknowledged great plot and terrific writing. But, he said, he didn’t generally read that kind of book, and didn’t really feel qualified to comment on it. I wanted to shake him. That two-star I-dunno was a review. It needlessly lowered an otherwise outstanding score.

Then there was the reviewer who gave one of my books a one-star rating with no explanation. Okay, I know you’re not supposed to respond, but I admit it. I was curious. I looked at that reviewer’s history and saw that she gave every book in my genre a one star review—on the average of over fifty books a day. Either she was a hella-fast reader, or she was a complete jerk. (I can’t be the only one who thought it was the latter, because shortly after I complained, I noticed that ALL her reviews disappeared.)

“But wait,” you say. “Don’t you, O Book Reviewer, have a duty to your review-reading audience to warn them about the books that aren’t good?”

Well, no.

I have a duty to tell you about the ones I like, and what I like about them. But it’s incredibly hard and incredibly wonderful to finish writing a book. Just because I don’t like one, it doesn’t mean others will have the same objections. There may be millions of people (just look at all the Fifty Shades sales) who like books I loathe.

Here’s the thing. The best—and worst—part about making the review process available to everyone is that the market can really help steer people to books they’d like. I turn down well over half of the review requests I get. I tell the authors I’m not a good fit to review their book and suggest they send it elsewhere. That’s not just me being polite. If there is a reader somewhere who can convincingly tell what they like about that book, then they are far more qualified to be its reviewer than I.

So no, I won’t write that review.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t!

This picture actually has absolutely nothing to do with writing book reviews. I'm just happy it's finally spring(ish)  in Scotland!

This picture actually has absolutely nothing to do with writing book reviews. I’m just happy it’s finally spring(ish) in Scotland!