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Let’s talk about book reviews. If you have spent any amount of time in a social media space where people talk about reading or writing, you have most likely heard a lot of conflicting information about book reviews. Who are they for? Is it true that authors get upset about them? And do we really have to write them?
The simple answers, in short order, are: Book reviews serve both readers and authors. Yes, some people do get all worked up over them (we do not condone this behaviour). And yes, we – as in all of us = you too author – really should be writing them.
Why Bother Leaving a Review?
A book review is like a literary message in a bottle, drifting into the hands of your fellow readers to help them figure out whether the book is for them. It’s your way of saying, “Hey, I’ve been here! Let me tell you what I found.”
Think of the review as your chance to build a lighthouse to guide other readers through potentially treacherous waters. Will they find smooth sailing there, or should they batten down the hatches? Your insights can help them decide whether they need to come suited and booted, ready for a storm, or if an umbrella and a box of tissues will suffice.
When you share your thoughts with other readers, you don’t just tell them what you thought about a book. You are actively establishing a connection and building a sense of friendship and community with people who love to explore new literary worlds as much as you do. Never underestimate the power and value of virtual friendships.
A Perfectly Lagom Experience
Some people – I’m not mentioning any names, but I see you – are trying to tell readers not to give anything but 5-star reviews. An author on TikTok recently called out a reader for “only” leaving a 4-star review, and it’s not all that uncommon for authors to instruct their ARC readers not to leave anything below a 4-5-star rating. This is all a load of nonsense.
I understand that some may consider a 3-star book to be squarely in the meh-zone, but I can’t get behind that line of reasoning. Meh, to me, is a 2-star read. It’s what I give when the story is okay, but not doing it for me. There may be a number of reasons for this, but most likely it’s because:
- I didn’t enjoy it,
- the story or its characters were not particularly interesting/engaging, or
- it was poorly executed.
Meh is like a limp handshake or a takeaway/takeout meal that was edible and filled your stomach, but… You know, when you got what you asked for, kind of, but you won’t be going back for more.
A step up from the meh-zone, at a solid 3-star rating, I would put books and other things that Swedes would describe as lagom. This is the Goldilocks standard of ratings. Not too hot, not too cold – it’s just right. A middle ground that signifies a story or product that has found its balance and is probably appealing to a broad audience.
For reference purposes, I would place fast food joints like McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s in the lagom/3-star tier. It’s nothing to write home about, and far from the best food you’ve ever had, but some days it hits all the right spots. Nothing wrong with that. I bet we all have some pleasant memories that include some version of a McFlurry and a portion of chips/fries.
The bar for a solid 3-star read is the same as for the fast food above. It hinges on these two questions:
- Did it deliver on its promise?
- Did you enjoy it?
If the answer to both is yes then it has earned its three shining stars. Sure, there may have been some things that could have been better and some we would have liked to change. There may even have been some bits and pieces we didn’t really care for, but on the whole, it was a positive, perfectly lagom, experience.
Focus on the 3-Star Reviews
If you really want to know whether a book might be right for you, its 5-star ratings are pretty useless as far as feedback and information go. And why is that? you may wonder. Well, it’s simple: Some people just won’t tell you the truth. Most mothers, for example, are ‘some people’. I know it sounds weird, but you can’t trust the person who used to gush over your poop and hang your “artwork” on the wall to give you an honest review.
Family, friends and fans tend to be ‘some people’ too. It makes sense, if you think about it. They love you. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. They want to help and support you. And because it’s you, they may very well give you an A for effort even when you produce the literary equivalent of a turd. It’s sweet, in a way, but definitely not useful.
On the flip side of this spectrum, we find the equally useless 1-star reviews. People give a single star for all sorts of reasons, and most of the time they have nothing to do with the actual story. Late delivery – one star. Scuffed packaging – one star. Don’t like the genre – one star. Didn’t read the book, but the author said something stupid on TikTok – one star. Too much smut – one star. Not enough smut – one star. It’s bewildering, but you only need to spend an hour checking out the reviews for your favourite and least favourite books on Goodreads or Amazon to see that I’m right.
The top and bottom ratings are almost always emotional outbursts from people who speak faster than they think. And this is why lagom wins every review race.
The 3-star reviews will normally tell you what worked, what didn’t, and why. These reviews often dive into the details. They pick the bones out of the story and help you decide if the flavour seems to align with your literary taste buds. Worth noting is also that the general consensus in the 3-Star bracket is rarely that the book sucked. If anything, these readers seem to agree that it was a good read, but there were a few things that didn’t quite meet their standards or expectations.
An honest 3-star review is not – and should never be – an attempt to tear a book apart and rip the author a new one. If anything, it’s a helpful compass that can help both readers and authors navigate the vast and sometimes turbulent seas of storytelling. I seriously believe we all need to do our bit to raise the value of these midfield gems.
Next time you’re looking for a new book to read, try not to look at the top and bottom reviews that largely seek to praise or punish the author. Do yourself and the book a favour and focus on the more measured and informative 3-star reviews instead.
ABOUT LINNEA LUCIFER
Linnea Lucifer is the Captain of the imaginary, yet very real, pirate ship Resilience and her merry crew of indie authors and omnivorous readers. But that is not all – amateur liar, weaver of stories, peddler of merch, lifelong spoonie, ancient dragon lady and Maddox Rhinehart’s irreverent pet are a few more words often used to describe the bearer of many names.
The Captain was named after a delicate little flower that grows in mossy, Swedish pine forests, and a certain fiery fallen angel. She spends most of her days daydreaming and writing fantasy, smut and painfully crappy poems. A diva of delight, she takes great pleasure in everything that tickles the senses and adds a sprinkle of magic and spice to our world.
Linnea writes fantasy rooted in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore under the pen name Saga Linnea Söderberg. She also writes Sweet’n’Spicy Spoonie romance together with Leto Armitage under their joint pen name Linn Rhinehart.