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What Is Wrong With the C Review

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Last week we saw yet another author/reviewer contretemps in which an author, upset over a review, engages the reviewer in a comically bad mannered way. When we’ve witnessed this in the past, it almost always seems to be over a C review. An average review. A review that says this book is competent but it’s not for me. Often these reviews articulate carefully exactly the reason a book does not work for the reader.

After some head scratching, I’ve come to the conclusion that a C grade means a failure to many authors. I remember that Jamie Sobrato once wrote that she would rather evoke some strong reaction than a lukewarm reaction, even if the strong reaction was not positive. It might be stating the obvious since I am referencing a post written over two years ago, but Sobrato’s comments really stuck with me. I’ve never really understood it. I might be conflating lukewarm with average, but I don’t think so. Maybe the C review signals to an author that she’s failed to move the reader emotionally and thus is a failure overall.

While readers go in hopeful that they are going to get something better than an average read, the base expectation is that the book is worthy of publication. But let’s be realistic here. No matter how awesome you think your baby is, the fact is with 400 books printed in one month not all of them will be A or B.

We measure books against each other and out of 400 hundred books only a small percentage of those books will be A/B reads for me. I try to pick out the books that are going to be A/B reads and stay away from books that are likely to hit my hot buttons (no lawyer books for me, generally, although I did read the upcoming debut book by author Julie James Just the Sexiest Man Alive which features a female trial lawyer because, well, I had to see how much of it was done right). But back to the topic. Let me give an example

I absolutely adored Kristan Higgins’ Just One of the Guys and I bought ecopies for several people. Catch of the Day, the book that won the RITA was good, but it was not an A book in my estimation. It didn’t have the mirroring of issues that Just One of the Guys had. The hero was a cipher and in the first person, it was hard to see what really was the attraction for the heroine unless it was that she didn’t want to be alone. I felt that one character was absolved of too much sin and the other not enough.

I re-read the Compass Club series this weekend after answering a few private emails about which Goodman book to start with. Let Me Be the One, the first of the Compass Club books, is one of my favorite Goodman books. I think the entire Compass Club series is a phenomenal feat of plotting given that all four books, published in one year increments, have overlapping storylines to the extent that some books contain the very same scenes only from a different point of view.

There is one book in that series that I generally don’t re-read because I find it mostly boring. It is the third book, All I Ever Wanted. That book, if I were to give it a grade, would be a C. Goodman has another series, The Dennehy series, and the only book I’ve ever re-read in the 5 book collection is the last one featuring the lapsed (? don’t know what the word is for a nun that leaves nunhood) nun and the Indian scout, Only in My Arms (captive romance at its best).

The other four were meh to me (to the point I don’t think I could recall the characters or plot if you pressed me). The fact that there are books in Goodman’s backlist that bore me, that I would say are C or average books, doesn’t diminish her in my eyes. She’s a great talent whose writing I find tremendously entertaining. She is a wordsmith and I look forward to reading her books every year.

To any longtime reader of Dear Author, you’ll find that we hand out C reviews for authors we think wrote keeper books (Lara Adrian and Nora Roberts come to mind). I thought Lara Adrian’s first book, Midnight Rising, was a snoozer and her third book, Midnight Awakening, a wonderful take on a tired genre. I loved Angels Fall and High Noon by Nora Roberts but was less than enthused about Tribute. I’m not going to stop reading either author simply because one of their books didn’t resonate for me.

While average means failure to the author (and yes, I am making an assumption here, just go with it for now and take me to task in the comments), to me it means that this one particularly book did not work for me. It was competent. It had good sentence structure. It had a decent plot. It had character arcs, but it lacked something to move it to the next tier of grades.

To some extent I wonder if the grade for the book is conflated with the author. I.e., by saying that a book is average we readers are saying that the author herself is average. Witness Leslie Carroll’s invoking the “ugly baby” accusation to one Amazon reviewer. I’m increasingly concerned about the level of vitriol toward reader reviewers for the average grade. One average graded book means so little to me. It means that this one book didn’t work for me, but I bet I would try the author again under the right circumstances (cover, blurb, recommendation, availability).

So I’m curious to hear what authors think of the C review and what readers think of the C review. Does C mean competent but not Best? or does C mean failure, never to read again?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

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