I’ve got a number of items on my “to do” list related to the blog that I hope to accomplish between now and when I go back to work next week. One of those items is updating my book rating system. Why should I post it for everyone to see? Well, I feel like it’s just good manners to let an author know how their work was judged. I also think readers of the blog will appreciate knowing what went into a rating other than my subjective whim at the time of writing. Maybe nobody cares, but here it is…
What I was using before worked but I just didn’t like it enough. I spent some time the last couple of days doing a little research (most of it fruitless) and finally settled on a revamp that utilizes what I was using before with some changes to how the overall score is produced. I’m sticking with the 5-Star system, just changing how I come up with the number of stars.
Previously I had five categories, Concept, Writing, Character Development, Plot, and World Building that I would use to rate a book. Each of these categories had subcategories. I’d give a 1-5 rating for each subcategory then average up the score for each category as a whole. Then I’d combine the category scores to come up with an average rating which would be the overall rating for the book. Bonus points could be earned for book covers. This worked, but I was just kind of “meh” about it. What I’ve done now is taken those same categories, fleshed them out a bit and borrowed a system to assign points I found off the web (can’t remember where I found it…sorry). So, here ya go. But first let’s remember that anytime someone rates a book in terms of quality it is subjective. Even if you try to assign objective criteria with a point system, how you assign those points is subjective. There’s no way around that.
I’m still basically judging books based on the five categories I named above, Plot, Writing, Characters, World Building, and Concept. Here’s what I’m looking for in each category:
- Am I interested, is it captivating?
- Am I consistently second guessing the plot?
- Is it believable (as much as SFF can be…is it easy or difficult to suspend disbelief)?
- Themes or symbolism (I recognize for SFF this doesn’t work like normal narrative fiction)
- Beginning, Middle, End (does the opening line, paragraph, chapter grab me; what about the closing line, paragraph, or chapter; what about the narrative trigger, the quest, surprises, the climax, etc.)
- Does the writing get out of the story’s way?
- Does the writing blow my mind?
- Use of language and technique, dialogue, philosophy
- Is the style of writing applicable to the story?
- Are the characters distinct?
- Do they seam real (for fantasy the non-fantastical aspects of them. Of course mages aren’t real…right?)?
- Do their past and current actions influence current and future actions?
- Do they evolve (becoming more rigid also works)?
- Do I care about or hate them?
- Back story, inventing the past and present
- Magic system (fantasy), the science behind things (SF or fantasy), the rules of the world in other words
- Cultures (language, customs, figures of speech, names for people/places, religion, etc.)
- Scenery, landscape, universe; how much of it do we see and experience?
- Map drawn out on page, or in mind’s eye based upon what the author has written (does it have one, is it good, does it need one)
- Is it original, is it the same old story told well or poorly, or a new fresh idea?
- Why this story?
- Is it true to genre or does it upend genre norms, use them in fresh new ways?
- Is it a worthy subject?
- Does it attract or repel me?
Bonus Points/Demerits: Awarded for book cover
Now, when I start a book it automatically starts with a 2.5 score. I’m going to give the author the benefit of the doubt that the book is worth at least that amount. As I read a book I’ll be keeping an eye on the above criteria, jotting down notes here and there. Each category will be worth up to a half-point toward the overall score based on the bullet points. That half-point can be positive or negative. Each bullet point essentially awards a positive or negative 0.1 to the overall rating. And before you say it, yes I realize all negatives could give an overall 0 for a rating. If a book is that bad I’ll say it. I doubt it will happen though.
So what about the bonus points? Yes, I award bonus points or demerits for the book cover. Well really this is where I round up or down. If I like or dislike the cover I’ll round the overall score up or down to the nearest half-point. Now before you tell me I’m never supposed to judge a book by it’s cover let me say that’s non-sense. We all do it. And the cover has an important part to play. If it didn’t publishers wouldn’t spend a bunch of money hiring artists for covers. Put simply a book cover provides the first lens through which we interpret the book. Once you’ve seen the cover you can’t un-see it. It sticks with you as you read for better or for worse and if you’re honest it bleeds into how you see the narrative events unfold. So yeah, I’m factoring the cover into the rating.
So there you go. My new rating system. Maybe I’ve made it more complicated than it needs to be. We’ll see. I just don’t want it to be a rating on a whim. I also don’t think the changes I’ve made would make a difference on the overall ratings of the books I’ve already reviewed. Let me know what you think, or if you have any questions. And if you’d like to share your criteria let me know that too.