Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Art and Science of Reviewing By Marie Wells Coutu

Marie Wells Coutu
As an author, I know the importance of reviews. As a reader, others’ reviews help me determine which books to spend my money and time on.

So I try to post reviews of the books I read, especially novels. Thanks to Amazon, if I’m reading on my Kindle, I get a reminder and it’s easy to write the review as soon as I’ve finished.

But here’s the thing: how good should a book be to rate five stars?

Does five mean I loved the book and found nothing wrong? Do three stars mean it was only “so-so”? Will I hurt the author if I give her book four stars? (This especially concerns me if she’s an acquaintance.) On the other hand, if all my reviews are 5 stars, do I lose credibility as a reviewer?

Recently, I finished a book that I really enjoyed and couldn’t put down. But there were a couple scenes where I was momentarily pulled out of the story. In one, for example, there was a severe thunderstorm and a car accident where the heroine was injured. Yet when the police and the hero arrived, everyone stood around talking while the victim was loaded into the ambulance—with no reference to rain, water, or the storm having passed. As a writer, I couldn’t help but notice the omission. But was it serious enough to downgrade my rating?

In the end, I asked myself the following questions before deciding on the rating I’d give:

  • Did I enjoy reading the book in spite of the minor deficiencies?
  • Are there similar deficiencies throughout the novel, or did they occur in only one or two spots?
  • Would the average reader notice these weaknesses, or did it bother me because I’m also an author?
  • Could I recommend the book to a friend (because, after all, that’s what a rating is—a recommendation)?
  • With the exception of the “problem” spots, is the book well-written, are the characters well-developed and is the story believable?
Based on my answers to these questions, I chose to give the book a favorable review. Since I know the author, I could address my concerns with her privately, but I decided a public review is not the place to point out minor—some might say “petty”--weaknesses.

I’ve read other novels where there were so many “issues” that I could not enjoy the book and thus could not rate it higher than a 2. In those cases, I chose not to post a review. Mother taught me, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

But I’m curious. What’s your approach for reviews? How far do you go to provide an honest review without damaging the author’s overall rating, ego, and potentially your friendship?

The Secret Heart
by Marie Wells Coutu
About the Author
Marie Wells Coutu retired in 2013 from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. She now spends her time writing fiction—when she’s not busy having fun with her husband or with their four grandchildren. She has written three novels for Write Integrity Press, including the award-winning For Such a Moment and Thirsting for More. Her most recent book, The Secret Heart, released in February. She is working on a historical novel set in western Kentucky, near where she grew up.

Marie is a regular contributor to Seriously WriteFor more posts by Marie, click here.


  1. I'm so there with what you're saying, Marie, and those are great questions to ask when deciding how to rate a book. I don't ever want to hurt a book's chances, so I'm picky about those I choose to review. I won't agree to review a book if I think I can't give at least four stars. I wish Amazon allowed reviewers to give stars with decimals, though, like 4.3 or 3.8.

    1. I agree, Sandy! Decimal points would make it easier!

  2. I struggle with the same things, Marie. I sometimes wonder if I lose credibility as a reviewer because I don't leave reviews with anything other than 4 or 5 stars. There have been a few times when I've explained to the author via email why I decided to give 4 instead of 5 stars.

    1. Dawn, contacting the author via email is a great idea if you know him or her! It might reduce the author's angst. 8-)

  3. I also hesitate to give a book a bad review because I don't want to hurt the chances of another person reading it who may like it. My review may just be I didn't like that particular story but someone else might. For that reason I don't do reviews of books I don't like, but that doesn't mean if I didn't review it I didn't like it. Sometimes I (unfortunately) just forget to do it.

    1. Barbara, I am so glad to know I'm not alone! That's why I like the Kindle feature reminding me, but I don't always read on Kindle. Thanks for sharing.


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