Writer, Broadcaster

Tag: Robin Hobb

Ratings and Reviews

Photo by Ekrulila from Pexels

This past month I was fortunate to have sold plenty of copies of A Time and a Place. About 1400 copies, all told. And copies of Other Times and Places, too. People have been reading my work, and forming opinions about it. This is great, and I’m pretty happy about it. It has resulted in reviews and ratings on several platforms, primarily Amazon, Kobo, and Goodreads. And not just Amazon Canada, but in the US, Australia, and Great Britain as well, and some of the ratings from those locations have shown up on Amazon India too.

Although I wish I was impervious to reviews and ratings, I’m not. Maybe one day I will be (I kind of doubt it). Whenever I notice a new review or rating has been added, I get butterflies. My curiosity gets the better of me, and I scroll down to see how one tiny portion of the universe has reacted to my work. Sometimes the response is positive; sometimes less so. You have to take it all with a grain of salt. You have to develop a thick skin. But that can be easier said than done.

The work I’ve publicly released into the world, that I consider worthy of an ISBN, that I dare to charge money for, is the best I was capable of producing at the time I created it. I gave it all a great deal of thought and in most cases injected massive amounts of time and effort into it. If someone indicates that they’ve liked it, I’m gratified and feel a tiny bit vindicated. If someone indicates that they really dislike or hate it, I get a bit deflated, at least temporarily. If someone reveals that they’re ambivalent to my work, or they kind of like it but consider it flawed in some way, I’m disappointed but okay with it.

I’ve received a couple of one star ratings on Goodreads. They haven’t been accompanied by reviews, so I consider them meaningless. I’ve heard Goodreads described as “crazy town” by other writers, so some of what shows up there you just have to ignore.

Now that I know how much work goes into writing and publishing a book, I’m a bit bemused by the whole concept of ratings and reviews. Sometimes I think you shouldn’t be allowed to simply rate someone else’s work without an accompanying review. You should have to defend your rating. Shouldn’t you?

A writer spends (in some cases) years of their life working on their opus only to have someone read it in a matter of days (perhaps not even closely) and then dash off a rating in few seconds (or a flippant review in minutes). It doesn’t seem quite fair. Fortunately, this doesn’t bother me too much. I have long since abandoned the idea that life is fair (it’s a recurring theme in my work, after all).

For ratings and reviews to be fair they would have to be produced with integrity. Ideally the reader would read the work reasonably closely and reflect upon it before producing an opinion that they then back up with a cogent, considered argument. Although I much prefer to receive four and five star reviews, I don’t mind receiving a three star review if it’s accompanied by a solid rationale explaining why my book only merited three stars. I might even agree with it.

Myself, I can’t rate any book less than four stars anymore (although I have done so in the past). I just can’t bring myself to do it because I relate too strongly to the authors of those books. I know they’ve worked hard on their book, and they’re trying to sell it, and anything less than four stars isn’t going to help sell the book. I hasten to add (for those of you who have given my work three stars) that this is just me. I’m not complaining about your rating or asking you to change it (something I would never do). Different ratings mean different things to different people. Megan Lindholm (writing as Robin Hobb) posted the following on her Goodreads account:

“I am shocked to find that some people think a 2 star ‘I liked it’ rating is a bad rating. What? I liked it. I LIKED it! That means I read the whole thing, to the last page, in spite of my life raining comets on me. It’s a good book that survives the reading process with me. If a book is so-so, it ends up under the bed somewhere, or maybe under a stinky judo bag in the back of the van. So a 2 star from me means yes, I liked the book, and I’d loan it to a friend and it went everywhere in my jacket pocket or purse until I finished it.”

Megan lindholm

So that’s what a two star rating means to her. It’s not what it means to me! Myself, I’m appalled that she would even consider rating the work of a fellow writer two stars. Three stars I could see: the existence of three star ratings accompanied by a well-reasoned review helps lend integrity to the rest of the reviews. But two stars? That’s just insulting. And I say that as a fan of Megan Lindholm’s work. The Wizard of the Pigeons is one of my favourite books. I rated it four stars (instead of five) because of the ham-fisted execution of the final three pages, which, in my opinion, almost completely undermines the quality of what comes before. Perhaps I should revise my rating to two stars.

I know that ratings and reviews are ultimately meaningless. All that really matters is that we do the best we can when we produce our work. We mustn’t derive our self-esteem from external sources. True value (and self-worth) comes from within.

And I shall do my best to remember that.

The Great Bookshelf Tour: Second Stop

Yesterday I began a virtual tour of my main bookshelf, because I know that’s what these troubled times call for: knowledge of my bookshelf. (Take that, out of touch celebrities! Nonsense from an out-of-touch ordinary person).

Moving on from where we left off yesterday (John DeChancie’s Starrigger) brings us to another of my personal favourites: Megan Lindholm‘s Wizard of the Pigeons. I love this book of a homeless man who may or may not be a wizard, or who may just be mentally ill, whose life is beginning to fray at the edges. I love it despite the book’s deeply flawed ending. It’s as though Lindholm abruptly decided “I just need to end this sucker” and then turned what had been a fascinating, evocative, poignant tale into an action thriller belonging to a completely different, rather inferior book. But don’t let that put you off: it is a testament to how terrific the rest of the book is that the ending doesn’t completely undermine it. A conceit from this book has informed much of my life since having read it: that we all possess little bits of personal magic. I have three myself that I have always been able to count on, which I would divulge, but then they might go away. And it’s when your personal bits of magic go away that your life begins to fray. Megan Lindholm, incidentally, is rather more popular now writing as Robin Hobb.

Next up, On a Beam of Light by Gene Brewer. This is Brewer’s follow up to K-Pax, which I first discovered as a movie starring Kevin Spacey. Not as good as K-Pax, it’s still worth a read to see where the story goes, but may not survive the next great purging of the bookcase. Where is K-Pax on my bookshelf, you might ask? I probably gave it to someone. I give a lot of books away, because I believe that they’re better served in the hands of other readers, rather than simply languishing on a bookshelf somewhere. And I never loan books: I give them away. That way my friends don’t have to worry about getting the book read and back to me. They can take their time, deciding which book to read next, and then reading the book I gave them when the time is right, so that it can be properly enjoyed.

Roger Zelazny. I first heard of Zelazny when my roommate at the time, one Paul Darcy, shouted at no one in particular, “You bastard!” and slammed the book he’d been reading shut. It seemed Zelazny had finished his book on a cliffhanger. Paul explained to me about the Amber series, which I immediately read (Paul has rarely steered me wrong. Did I say rarely? I mean never.) My favourite Zelazny book, though, is Lord of Light. It is said that Zelazny, who died too young at 58, never quite fulfilled his promise, never quite wrote the magnum opus expected of him. They are wrong. That magnum opus is Lord of Light. A book, legend has it, conceived around a terrible pun buried deep within (it may be true; the pun is there, all right, as terrible as the book is brilliant).

Stephen R. Donaldson. This guy’s one of my favourite authors. You either love him or hate him. My first exposure to Donaldson was Lord Foul’s Bane, of the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series. I found it in a bookstore in Summerside, PEI, read the first three pages, was immediately captivated. Took it home, read as far as a certain infamous scene, and then bit it as hard as I could and threw it across the room. Or at least, thought about doing that (Paul Darcy told me he did that once reading a Margaret Atwood novel). I persisted, read the rest of the series, and recently reread them. I consider that first series genius. So genuinely character driven, all hinging upon the protagonist’s psychological make-up.

Sitting atop these books are two by Jack Campbell. I haven’t read these yet. The novel I’m trying to write right now (when I’m not procrastinating by writing lengthy blog posts) is pure space opera, so I’m reading the competition to make sure I’m up to date. Campbell is supposed to be good at space battles using real universe physics, something I’m interested in incorporating.

That’s that shelf. I ask again: what’s on yours?

Other Stops on the Tour

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