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BC TIPS: How to Write Reviews/Use Star Ratings
Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Saturday, March 19, 2011 3:51 PM

A writing workshop is only as good as the feedback its writers receive. And Book Country aims to be the best, most useful online community for genre writers and readers like you. In order to meet that goal, though, I’d like take a moment and share with you some tips about how to write reviews and use our star rating system.


Writing reviews and giving feedback isn’t always easy—the key is to be honest but kind, critical but constructive. You want to be positive about a work’s strengths and potential but not tight-lipped about its weaknesses.


My approach to reviewing is always first to recognize the points which I found most appealing and compelling. I’ve found starting with the positives makes a writer more open and receptive to the negatives I may have encountered.


Then I ask myself about the work’s weakness: What areas did I find a little flat or lacking in some way? What would have improved my experience with the piece? What did I not understand? What techniques did the writer use that didn’t quite work? Thinking about the piece as a whole rather than going line-by-line (which isn’t as helpful in the draft stage as it is in later stages) is the best way to figure out what areas need work. Then I’m able to think more closely about the specifics, about the why’s and express those in a thoughtful and helpful way. As I mentioned, it’s not as important to drill down to the sentence-level, to point out errors, etc. Obviously, if there are issues that are overwhelming and disturbing the experience of reading, it’s extremely significant to let the writer know, but minimal tidbits here and there where an “i” isn’t dotted or a “t” isn’t crossed, don’t necessarily need to be pointed out. There are bigger, more overarching issues in every draft.


I also always ask myself about the book in terms of the market. Does it fit into its chosen genre? Is it familiar or fresh in its concept within that genre? Is the writing appropriate for the audience? These are important questions because publishing is an industry where items do in fact fall into categories and those categories determine the audience, which in turn determines how a book is marketed, promoted, and sold. Categorizing a book improperly can lead to its downfall, even if it’s a well-written and entertaining book. That’s why here at Book Country we feel the Genre Map and our granular categorization process is so important—not only will it help readers to find what they want to read, but it will also help writers to place their books in the correct places. So, as you write your review, always bear this in mind. The writer may be less successful than he or she otherwise would if a book is in the wrong place.


Once you’ve written your review (and it’s one with helpful comments and/or suggestions, not just gushing about how great it is!), it’s time to give it a star rating. The first thing I want to say is that a low rating doesn’t necessarily mean a book is “bad”; it means the book needs work. Everything on Book Country is a “Work In Progress” and every book, even ones by bestselling authors, has room for improvement.


The way I look at the star ratings is not only as a scale from good to bad, but on a scale of rough draft to final draft. So, keep both of those things in mind when giving your ratings. For example, you may have loved the voice and really enjoyed reading but still found a lot of areas that need attention—so maybe instead of giving those instinctual five stars, you should consider those “other” pieces, the ones that make it a draft, and rate accordingly.


Well, that’s about it from me on a general overview of reviewing and rating! I’m off to a pool match where I will likely get my butt kicked, but hey, at least I have you all to come back to, with your optimism and support, when my head is hanging.


Happy reading!


Your trusty editorial coordinator,


Posted: Friday, March 25, 2011 1:03 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 102

Thanks Danielle. This explanation was helpful.
Posted: Monday, March 28, 2011 6:20 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 29

"...the star ratings are not just a scale from good to bad, but a scale of rough draft to final draft". Excellent summation! Since we are all posting works in progress, good/bad is a little too simple. Yes, we need to think in those terms, but more importantly what makes something GOOD?

Thanks for this, Danielle.
Posted: Friday, April 1, 2011 7:25 AM
Joined: 3/30/2011
Posts: 10

Thinking of it as a scale from 'rough draft to final draft' works really well for me as both a reviewer and writer. I will keep that in mind for this place specifically, but also in other contexts as well, especially on the days when I'm struggling to see the merit in my own work. (It's the bad writing days, you know? I think a lot of writers have those moments!)
Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 11:28 AM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 1

Ii think it is a good idea to rate the positive first before moving on to the negative. Also, kind words, and not attacking the author tends to help.
Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 1:46 PM
That's very true, Polo! It's important to be positive and encouraging while still being constructive
Susan Roebuck
Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 9:55 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 3

Excellent advice - you can criticize without being negative and there are ALWAYS good points to pick up. I do hope people aren't going to give five star reviews in the hope of receiving the same back again.
Michael Guarneiri
Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 5:02 PM
Joined: 4/27/2011
Posts: 28

In the workshops that I attend, I've found it helpful to address the work rather than that work's creator. Literally, I will often say "You need..." and I will say it to the document rather than the writer. It make the criticism feel less aggressive/offensive. Sometime critiquing others can be difficult, but we have to realize that we are here to better our writing. In the end, that is what matters most.
Posted: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 9:31 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 1

Since these are works-in-progress, shouldn't we be tracking a book we have reviewed in order to (hopefully) upgrade the rating we have given in the early stages, as the work progresses?
If we do this, does a second review of the same book 'count'?
Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 1:23 PM
@Michael That's a wonderful tip! Critiques are not of a writer but of the writing itself. Thanks for sharing!

@Phil Yes! You can Follow a book you'd like to get updates on as the writer revises (if they so choose, of course). However, after you review a book, you won't be able to review it again until the writer uploads a "new draft." If you're Following a book though, you will see when this happens in the activity notifications.

Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 5:50 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 34


I'm not sure this is the appropriate place to ask this, but I'm also not sure it's worthy of its own thread, (and it's probably answered somewhere obvious which makes it even worse, so, yikes...)

I reviewed a neat little story last night, hit "submit" (or whatever) and of course, completely forgot the name, and author. Did I write it anywhere? Of course not! I don't even remember the category -- it was kind of weird (which was why it was neat)

Now I don't know where to look to see whether my review posted, and I'm just feeling foolish. Is there a section that sort of explains it all for newbies that I can't find?

Someone help me please, without making me feel stupider.

Thanks, and sorry to hijack the thread!

Marnie Owens
Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 8:24 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 1

Back to the topic of star rating - have you considered two ratings - one for creativity/concepts and one for the quality of writing?

Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 8:38 PM
Joined: 4/28/2011
Posts: 4

This was very helpful. I like the star rating peer review system, it is tougher and more constructive than other sites I've browsed. "The writer may be less successful than he or she otherwise would if a book is in the wrong place." - is a great point.
Posted: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 12:09 AM
Joined: 5/2/2011
Posts: 13

Has anyone tried editing their review? I don't think it's allowed. Also, where are the books we review listed? Do we HAVE to follow them so that we can check on our own reviews later?
Mimi Speike
Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2011 6:18 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

I've just joined the site. I've not examined anything yet, but I'd like to put my two-cents worth in on this.

When I read, I want to be thrilled. It's got to be a good story, of course, but I am especially beguiled by great style, a superior feel for language. This is something that can't be achieved in the editing process. I've seen many drafts substantially rewritten, but not substantially improved, by a pedestrian hand, probably a wanna-be author. 

I work for a book compositor, configuring the input of major publishers. I'm continually astounded by what is considered profitable, and I chuckle at the stories we all read about the triumphs of self-publishers. Go, Book Country! This is the most promising, most intelligent site that I have found.

That said, I look for the gold in any project. There's almost always something that makes me go, 
Yikes! Terrific! Is there more?

Perhaps grace, or finesse, or whatever you may call it, can be learned, over time, by reading the Greats. Perhaps it's a gift, you have it or you don't. I'm not sure.

I recall, as a student at Syracuse University with a part-time job working in the archives, thumbing though a box of bequeathed early drafts, I discovered stuff which I judged drek. I read the printed piece at a later date and was astounded by the transformation. The author? Louis Auchincloss.

I am excited by the level of intelligence that I see on Book Country and intend to be an active participant.

Mimi Speike

Mimi Speike
Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2011 6:41 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016

Mimi Speike here, again.

I've just been informed by my husband, who is German, that I've spelled drek wrong. It's dreck. From now on I'll have him proofread my postings. 

This man is my most valuable resource, more useful than my hundreds of histories, biographies, and delectably awful Victorian novels. (Here's a tip: anything with a copyright of 1930 or earlier and a name you've never heard of is pure gold)

He gives me marvelous advice on a variety of topics. The project which I will eventually upload is set in the sixteenth century, and is heavy on obscure early science and philosophy. My Eberhard is a treasure, with an astounding education and a photographic memory. I call him my walking encyclopedia. 

Mimi Speike
Mimi Speike
Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2011 6:55 PM
Joined: 11/17/2011
Posts: 1016


Now I've mangled 'Oops'. That's what comes of having ants-in the-pants to upload.

Let's see, now. A n t s - i  n - t h e - p a n t s. 
That looks OK. (I'm starting to be paranoid).

Easy, girl. Where's the dictionary? You've got enough of them!

Mimi Speike
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2011 10:04 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 353

Mimi -

Welcome to the community! =)



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