Announcement 20 March, 2020: Rating Scale

Is Haskell is practicing the art of camouflage to avoid rating anything? Nope, that’s just me.

Initially, I *did not* want to give ratings. I wanted to write reviews and post them only here and Twitter. But life is not that way. In order to come up with some way of objectifying my scale I meditated and thought through this process methodically because I refuse to be subjective 100%. I tried to establish a rating scale of 1-5 over the course of September – November 2019. Thank you to all of the indie authors that patiently worked with me as I developed this rating system.

Then that one book by those Best Selling Authors happened that dragged on and *really* shaped the bottom of the rating scale.

I admit my biases because I don’t hide those things. I am accused by some of being too honest. Not in the “you talk too much” way – more like the “you’re too blunt” way. I refuse to do paid reviews, ever, on ethical grounds, but I understand that ethics are subjective. Every person is allowed to shape their own independent understanding of right and wrong. ANYWAYS – I wanted the whole process to be less subjective – I didn’t want to guess on what number I was giving a book. That’s not fair to the author or the reader.

As an aside, I’ve taught nursing students. Nursings students would lose their ever-loving minds if grades were entirely subjective like some book ratings seem to be. Have you met a nursing student or been a nursing student? I think of authors in the same way – intelligent, detail-oriented, hyperaware, and information-seeking. It is not fair for reviews to be entirely subjective, just like it’s not fair to anyone in the position of teaching or taking a microbiology lab for nursing students.

A bit about my rating scale:

5 stars are reserved for books where I absolutely love the story. They must be very close to meeting the 1/10,000 word editorial standard for basic proofreading or blow me away and move me. Any book I am immediately inspired to gift to someone in my life automatically gets a 5/5.

4 stars are reserved for books where I love the story, but they don’t meet the 1/10,000 word editorial standard, have some consistent problems, or have one or two major content concerns, such as a major plot hole.

3 stars are reserved for books where I do genuinely enjoy the core story, but the book does not meet the 1/10,000 word editorial standard, has many consistent problems with following sequence of events, requires a large amount of work on the part of the reader to understand the story, and/or possesses additional concerning issues. My long form review may be vague – I do that as to protect the privacy of the author. As many authors I have previously reviewed books for know, just because I don’t say the page number in the review, doesn’t mean I don’t have it. I can refer you to examples for every single concern I mention.

I do not publicly post 1 or 2 star reviews for any author that is not a “Best Seller”. Even then it may take me 4 months and I’ll need to have a good reason. I will send unposted reviews privately by request to the author only. These are NOT available to anyone else. I won’t add these ratings to GoodReads or Amazon without talking to the author first. Point is: I will still write an honest, thoughtful review with constructive criticism explaining why I had that reaction even if it’s for the author’s eyes only. When I say my reviews are author oriented – this is what I mean.

Things that never influence a the rating a book is given: the additions of content warnings or anything related to the sensitivity of the content. This is too subjective for me to base a rating on. I will mention it in the review for the benefit of potential readers, particularly if there is reason to believe that the content could be potentially harmful. I have never, ever allowed this to impact a book’s rating. If I suggest an author consult with a sensitivity reader, this does not influence the rating of a book and is because I genuinely believe the author would benefit from hearing a professional perspective. I am not a professional sensitivity reader.

Authors are welcome to request examples to be added to reviews for clarification. I can always add detail to reviews and edit them to reflect changes made if an author notifies me of what has changed in future editions.

I am meticulous in detail in my notes and am happy to share examples of the trending issues directly. My notes focus on Fundamental Editorial Standards. FOR EXAMPLE: POINTING OUT THE NEED FOR FACT CHECKING BECAUSE AN AUTHOR’S BOOK SAID THAT NASSAU, BAHAMAS IS IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE IS NOT “STUPID NITPICKING”.

I research what current readers care about – I spend hours dedicated to ensuring my review benefits both a reader and the author. Please remember that I AM NOT BEING PAID AS A DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR, so please do not expect me to provide feedback to the extent of one. It is the job of the author to hire a paid developmental editor if their book requires one.

I’m an indie author too, y’all. I put out short stories bi-weekly and I’m working on longer manuscripts. I do this because I’m publishing a book soon and I write short stories. I make mistakes too. I open up and read my published works and think based on my own scale “that’s a 4/5” or “that’s a 3/5”. I don’t give myself a 5/5 on my own scale. I try to earn it during the editing process though.

Listen: I self-published a book in 2008 under a pen name, then pulled it from digital shelves because I was scared. I sold 1 copy to myself. My grandmother was the only human who ever read it (I don’t count dogs). I honestly couldn’t afford to take the risk of printing and distributing more than that one, lonesome pre-reader copy. I chickened out. Any indie author I’m reading is brave. They didn’t chicken out. That’s already something to be proud of.

Anyways, back to our regularly schedule programming.

My First Bad Public Review: “The Princess Beard” by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

Note: I did this review as contrast. This all started because I was pissed that someone dared to make a comparison of these authors to the great Sir Terry Pratchett on the back of the book. They didn’t even come close. What I learned is that what makes a best selling book is not the quality of the work, but the amount of money a publisher sinks into marketing. Potentially, there is a role for the amount of money they’re willing to sink into paid reviews.

I purposefully delayed posting this review because I’ve struggled to write it. Honestly, I struggled to finish the book. I’m really disappointed. Mostly I’m disappointed by the publication team at Del Rey. I believe that the publisher did a disservice to the authors in many ways I will explain below. The reviews used to market the book referred to the other books in the Tales of Pell series and did not refer to this book itself. Because of my experience, I am unlikely to read another book by these authors, or from the Tales of Pell. THAT’S AN AWFUL EXPERIENCE. I blame Del Rey. As a traditional publisher it is part of their responsibility to be held to a higher standard. If their publications don’t meet that standard, I can’t support them.

Summary (Warning: Mild Spoilers):

The book begins with the introduction to the future Sn’archivist, Itchmael. The Sn’archivist is inspired to finally write something new! With fiber!

In the next chapter we are suddenly whisked away to the Lady Harkovrita. She wakes with a beard and long nails. She also has a very full bladder. In the first of MANY menstruation references in the book, she wonders why that was not a problem for her while she was asleep. With no concept of how long she was asleep, we find out that she was betrothed and is ready to escape her tower once she packs and chops away her excessive nails and hair.

She changes her name to Morgan and goes off on a pirate adventure where she meets up with a series of characters: an elf, a dryad, a centaur, and many more. Each one discovers that they don’t actually want to be what they thought and that there is no such thing as fate through a series of trials. And they all live happily ever after. The End.

For the sake of keeping this review rated PG, I have to skip over any part of the story that involves characters with names of body parts or functions my husband would not want to explain to his aunt during a family game of Cards Against Humanity.

The third installment of the Tales of Pell, it is not part of a series, so much as one of three books that take place within Pell. I thought? There are references to the other books as are to be expected.

My Overall Response:

I am terrified of sounding mean. I love humor and puns. I attempted to read this book aloud to my husband on a road trip because I was genuinely really excited.

The book seems funny at first. The problem is that it beats every joke to death. The jokes are then brought back to life as zombies. Then the zombie jokes try to eat your brains. A reader really can’t enjoy a joke ever again once it has tried to eat their brains. This pattern repeats ad nauseam. If that was the only issue with the book that wouldn’t be a big deal.

But wait, there’s so much more.

These characters don’t grow much. I think the authors attempt character growth, and there are fragments of character growth visible in forced parallelism constantly used as a redundant story telling tactic ad nauseam. None of these characters have unique voices, except the parrot whose Rs are exaggerated.

One of the most egregious offenses involves the misnaming of their own characters as if there was copying and pasting of scenes between completely different, unrelated manuscripts and someone forgot to change the character names. Then this was missed by editors. In other places in the book, character names are inconsistently spelled and this is again missed by editors. In writing it looked like an attempt at a reference to “Whose on First” with too many typos to properly appreciate.

Remember that thing I said about “other laws of physics”? There is no way to lose yourself in the world of Pell. The world is cartoonishly inconsistent to the point that it is unbelievable. It is full of half-baked pop culture references (aka “TV Tropes in a Blender”) and the magic has no rules reflecting poor causation review.

The audience the book was written is inconsistent. Is there an audience? I feel bad asking this question, but I could not tell who this book was written for. On numerous occasions I checked if I the book was registered as Young Adult. At the end of the day, the book was not for me. As a reader I felt this book wasted my time and money; borderline insulted many of the genuinely difficult experiences the authors attempted to portray in a half-hearted manner.**

**I want to emphasize that I am very nervous saying this and it is part of why I have delayed this review for so long.

What did I actually like? Chapter 15. Pg 204 – top of Pg 206 and a few other bits are lovely. There are tender, well-written scenes that demonstrate the authors as capable, thoughtful and talented.

My Response To The Publisher & Marketing Team: What the heck? You spent a ton of money marketing this book on Twitter and other platforms, but you couldn’t spend that money on an editorial team?

LGBTQA+ Friendly?
The book is not inclusive of LGBTQA characters in major roles. I would not recommend this book for an LGBTQA+ reading list.

Grammar and Writing:
The vocabulary used in this book is incredibly inconsistent. As mentioned in the live tweet review sometimes it seems that the authors took the time to find as obscure a synonym as possible for a word, while at other times they then used downright overly simplistic phrasing that kept jarring the reader back and forth like a freaking concertina falling down a flight of stairs. Because of the inconsistency with vocabulary, it’s impossible to judge an appropriate age group for this book – some of the words are great for 10 year olds, while the content is appropriate for 18+, then suddenly the words are GRE level out there unexpected. I honestly don’t know what the authors were thinking with their word choice or why their editors didn’t flag this as a potential issue. Some of the word play is very forced, beyond normal repetitive pun level humor and actually gets in the way of the sentence structure.

Additional concern, particularly for a major publisher such as Del Rey: this book does not meet the 1 error/10,000 word industry standard.

Twilight Zone Moment:
There are so, so many. I lost count. I will focus on this example:

The authors seem a bit confused about whether or not the character of Captain Lucre is able to make facial expressions as a bird. Sometimes the descriptions are correct – feathers flattened as a sign of emotional expression.

Other times they refer to a parrot making human facial expressions readable as emotion, then go back to talking about the parrot not being able to make human like facial expressions and therefore not able to have readable emotion. This inconsistency is one of many that was difficult, particularly for anyone that likes birds.

Why did I review this book?

This book is an example of why I switched to reading only new, emerging, and indie authors. When I bought it as an example I had no idea it was going to be this bad. The Amazon reviews showed it 4.4/5 stars. Later, I realized that the majority of these reviews received complimentary copies. I wanted to have an example of a “traditionally” published book and expected pristine editing. Instead, I learned that the only thing supporting traditional publishing is the power of money driving marketing.

Support New, Emerging, and Independent Authors. Ditch Traditional Publishers.