Sarah: After several RITA Reader Challenges and after a few years of editing all y’all’s reviews, I’ve been pondering a post that explains with greater detail what our grades mean, aka our rubric. What is an “A” book for you? Or a B? What does a C mean? When do you give a D and why?
For example, sometimes I grade by comparing the book I’m trying to evaluate against a book I adored or really freaking hated: “Well, it was better than X, so it’s not an F,” or “It’s not quite as good as that book, so more of a B-range than an A.”
But I also notice that there are some authors who have their own rubrics in your minds – Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, for example – they write good books at a minimum, and so there’s a different evaluation for you.
Elyse: For me, A means it worked on every level. I loved it. I read in one sitting.
B is a good book but there were some issues.
C is meh. It’s average. I enjoyed it but it didn’t blow me away and I probably wouldn’t recommend buying it.
Carrie: The truth is, I HATE assigning grades and I’m often at a total loss.
A+ means there was nothing wrong with it and it worked on a technical and personal level, I swooned, and it had an influence on how I think – it made some kind of difference for me, it didn’t just entertain me for an afternoon.
Redheadedgirl: A for me is good book noise and the compulsion to throw the book at people’s head while I yell, “READ THIS RIGHT NOW”
Carrie: DNF means I obviously didn’t finish it. Everything else – ugh, ugh ugh I struggle.
Redheadedgirl: A- to B+, the throwing compulsion isn’t there.
C – “Well, that was a book. It had words”
Sarah: “Meh” is always the hardest review to write.
Carrie: Meh is usually a C.
Sarah: What kind of issues keep a book from being a B or an A for you?
Carrie: Parts were awful and parts were great, or it was messy but at least it tried something new… those are also usually a C.
Or if it doesn’t keep me very engaged, it has technical problems, or it’s inconsistent in quality.
Redheadedgirl: And there is that weird place of “I didn’t like this, but it wasn’t bad, and it’s probably good for people who would like this.”
Please see You Will Know Me.
Sarah: “I finished this book because I wanted to know what happened, but not because I actively cared,” usually gets a C from me. Along with, “Eh. it was there.”
Oh yes, grading a book that’s all, “This wasn’t for me but I can think of 4 people who will LOVE this book,” is very difficult.
Carrie: That kind of issue (there’s nothing wrong with it but I’m not the right audience) is, for me, usually a B.
Sarah: Like me and South Pacific – I’m unqualified to grade it because musicals baffle me every time. WHY ARE YOU SINGING.
Redheadedgirl: That’s why I was really glad Elyse and I did that You Will Know Me together.
And I just said, Elyse, you grade this.
Carrie: But I love musicals and South Pacific is, at this time, all the fuck over the place quality wise.
And SP is so tough to grade that I still wasn’t happy with a C – my problem was I couldn’t figure out any other grade for it.
Sarah: There’s also the weird grading moment of, “I know everyone liked this, but oh my gosh, I REALLY didn’t like it.” See 50SoG, and Kill & Tell by Linda Howard.
Redheadedgirl: And there’s the issue of grading something that is out of its time: I almost think that grading it based on modern tastes and mores isn’t fair.
Sarah: I’ve had to explain that a few times – Johanna Lindsey does that to my brain.
Modern present-day brain: WTF IS HAPPENING.
Very fluent romance reader brain: Yeah…. I know why this is the way it is, and I see allll the problems, but it is still delicious, effective, absorbing reading that gets me every time. Silver Angel, you devil book, you.
Carrie: I think with some material you have to be really clear about whether you are grading “for its time” or “right now”. With classics I run into this constantly.
I will give a classic a pass for brief racist or sexist moments that I would never grant in a modern book.
Sarah: An A for me is very, very rare.
It has to knock my socks clear into the next time zone to qualify. Part of that is because I read so much, and part of it is because an A has a LOT of meaning and weight. It means practically damn near perfect if not absolutely awesome, and not many books hit that point for me.
Hence I don’t use the A+ anymore. It exists because it exists in the archives, but really, what’s the difference between A and A+? There isn’t really a difference.
Carrie: I feel like A is this book was amazing and A+ is this book changed my life in a large or small way.
Sarah: That’s not a massive difference, though.
Carrie: Example: Fast Woman is an A, Bet Me is an A+.
Sarah: But the + doesn’t communicate anything specific, really.
Carrie: Why do we have it for C’s and B’s? what does a B+ tell a reader as opposed to a B?
Redheadedgirl: To be honest, I do the letter grade last, after I’ve written the review and do it based on a gut feel once I’ve processed my thoughts.
Redheadedgirl: If I think about it too much, I get all flaily and then it’s another hour.
Sarah: The + and – help me personally when I’m looking at past reviews I’ve written and align the book I’m trying to grade against past grades. Like, Ok, this was better than that book I gave a B- to, but not as good as that B+ book, so B it is.
There’s a high and low range for most grades for me.
What does a D mean?
Redheadedgirl: There is some redeeming quality, but it doesn’t balance out the rest of the crap.
Sarah: What’s the difference between D and F?
Redheadedgirl: F has no redeeming qualities. The book is bad and it should feel bad.
Elyse: I look at from an investment standpoint.
A – worth the time and money. Would buy the book new at list price. I will probably lend an A book out or give it as a gift or reread
B – probably would buy, might wait for a sale. Enjoyed the book but it has some issues.
C – would not buy. Might be worth checking out from the library but it was meh.
D – would not buy. Would not recommend to other readers.
F – this is a disaster and I want my goddamned money and time back.
Before I had access to review copies, I had to be picky about what I actually purchased because books are expensive as hell and I read a lot. So a lot of it for me is helping readers make the choice of what to buy because I think a lot of them are in the same boat.
Redheadedgirl: To go back to the, “it was good but not for me,” there’s a grid, right? One axis is “good or bad” and the other is “liked it – didn’t like it.”
Things can be bad but I liked them.
Sarah: I see the grid as good/bad and enjoyable/not enjoyable. There are plenty of books that might fall under various definitions of bad that I find immensely enjoyable
Redheadedgirl: Thankfully we have F+.
When I am reviewing a book, I’m usually trying to explain how a book made me feel, what I thought about it and whether I recommend it. Then I translate that into a grade. Other times I know the grade first, almost right away, and I have to explain why.
I also have to examine the total of things I specify that I liked vs things that I disliked. The percentage of how much I liked vs how much I didn’t like should match or correspond to the grade. A-grades are therefore rare because it’s not often that I have nothing critical to say.
Also interesting: the more popular review categories for stat purposes are A and B ranges and also F and D.
Carrie: One of my criteria for a F is if the book is sloppily produced – riddled with errors (not one or two, but tons), hard to read – just something someone threw up on the screen or the page.
I always assign the grade last.
I also care about whether the book delivers what is offered. Chuck Tingle offered me a book about gay coffee cup porn and I got well-produced, properly spelled coffee cup porn with humor and social commentary. So is it literature? I’m going with NO. Did it deliver as promised? Sure.
On the one hand, I don’t think a book by Jane Austen and a book by Chuck Tingle deserve the same grade. But I do think it’s fair to grade something based on whether it gives you what it says it’s going to give you.
I don’t grade on the cover unless the cover and marketing overall are actively misleading.
Sarah: I could theoretically give Austen and Tingle the same letter, I think. Just different reasons. But that’s where a specific author’s influence on their rubric applies.
Amanda: Okay, so grades. I don’t really believe there’s such a thing as a perfect book because I can find faults with just about anything. But an A+ or A grade is usually given to books that I just love. They’re fun. They’re engaging. I love the characters. And all those things outweigh any pickiness I can find to gripe about.
B grades are more of, this book was great and I enjoyed it, but it could have been better. C grades, while they aren’t bad, are the middle ground for me. They could either mean they were meh or just weren’t good, but they weren’t terrible.
D and below – Houston, we have a problem. Whether it’s the writing or some shitty characterization, my enjoyment of these books is low and it usually means it took me a while to get through it.
I agree with Sarah that certain authors have a different set of standards given to our connections to their backlist, their writing history, etc.
But I will also knock down points or a letter grade for certain things that bother me. I don’t want to call them triggers necessarily, but they’re just pet peeves I have in writing. Like if there are no other female characters besides the heroine. Or if all the other secondary female characters introduced serve as competition for the hero’s affection. Slut shaming that doesn’t get redeemed. Sexual assault that feels unnecessary to the plot. Those are all things I’m very touchy about.
Sarah: Me, too. When I think about the books that to this day still piss me off, I can pinpoint the thing (or, more likely, things) that made me rage angry and they still piss me off, in that book or in another book that includes them.
Slut shaming is a good example. Heroes whose “alpha-ness” rests largely on misogyny and indications of toxic insecurity and rape culture – nope. Nope nope nope.
The DNF is a separate thing for me. For example, if the plot and the characters require me to be stupid, I’m DNFing.
Carrie: I’ll DNF if I’m outraged or bored.
Redheadedgirl: I won’t write a review for a bored DNF, or a, “I put his down and then forgot it existed,” which is slightly different.
Carrie: I usually don’t end up reviewing anything that I don’t finish unless it involved outrage.
Redheadedgirl: I usually won’t even try a review unless I have something to say – hence the massive writer’s block this summer.
Sarah: I review DNFs if there is a reason worth talking about it. Otherwise I just move on.
What makes a book difficult to grade? Is “meh” the hardest for you?
Carrie: Meh is torture.
Redheadedgirl: Grade or review?
Carrie: Oh, good point. Meh is easy to grade (C). Hard to review. What’s to say? “It was meh.”
Redheadedgirl: Because as I said, grading comes last once I’ve processed my thoughts. That’s the easy part.
What about you? Do you review books, or grade them? What merits an A or B from you, or a D? And do you have any questions about how we approach our own rubric?