ScienceThrillers followers may have noticed that I give “indies” special treatment. I do not give these books star ratings, I list my indie reviews on a special page, and I often use a different reviewing format.
(What is an indie? Generally I define this as any book not published by one of the Big 6 publishing companies. These books are either self-published or released by small presses.)
Well, a shrewd and inquisitive follower of this blog asked why don’t I give star ratings for indies.
Unlike others, at ScienceThrillers.com I base my star rating on a curve. 5 stars doesn’t mean only that I enjoyed reading the book. In my system it means the book is in the top 10-15% of science thrillers I’ve ever read. Three stars is a good book that is about average for the genre (and therefore worth reading).
I’ll probably take heat for saying this, but in general indie (self-published and very small press) novels are not at the same quality level as traditionally published thrillers. Based on my reading experience, if I were to graph the quality of indies vs traditionally published books, I would get two bell curves (normal distributions):
As you can see, the curves overlap. That means the “quality” difference is not absolute. There certainly are indie novels I’ve read which are better than some traditionally published books. But at the extremes–really, really bad and really, memorably good–I have to say the graph fits.
So what does this have to do with my rating system? Well, mentally draw a vertical line down the center of this graph. This marks the location of the “average”, where half the books are better, half the books are worse. By my system, everything on the line or to the right would get 3, 4, or 5 stars; everything on the line or to the left would get 3, 2, or 1 stars.
What would the indies get? Almost entirely 3 stars or lower, because the indie curve is almost entirely to the left of the average.
So why don’t I just hand out those one, two, and three star ratings to indie books?
Because most people browsing my website do not understand that the ratings at ScienceThrillers.com are curved. The zeitgeist of our time says 5 stars means “I loved it” and 2 stars is pretty close to saying it sucked. That is NOT what my ratings mean. To avoid misunderstanding about the meaning of my curved ratings, I choose a blanket policy of giving no rating at all to indies.
Ah, now you ask, why give 2 or 1 star ratings to traditionally published books but not indies?
The reason is because I have a heart. For an author there is a psychological difference between self-pub and trad pub. With trad pub, you have the affirmation of a big company saying “We like your book!” You know some readers and critics will pan your book, but perhaps you won’t be tortured or angered as much as an author who is seeking affirmation directly from readers. Giving one or two stars to a decent debut novel by a self-published author seems likely to cause unnecessary pain. I don’t need that in my karma–or my email inbox.
Plus, the snapshot of a two-star rating doesn’t do justice to many of the indies I read. These are good books, many worth reading for genre fans. In my lengthy written reviews I can highlight the features of a book that will guide the right readers to the books they might like.
I invite readers and authors to share their thoughts on my approach to rating.