Key to the Ratings

Story Line

Is the story itself interesting and engaging?  Is it something most people would empathize with and understand?

Characterization

Does the work have strong, nuanced, multi-dimensional characters?  Are ALL the characters portrayed in a way that a reader has a good grasp on what makes them tick (even ancillary ones)?  Does the dialog engage the reader?

Readability

This comes down to line/copy editing (grammar, punctuation, spelling etc.), content/development editing (does the story flow in a way that is easy to follow) and electronic formatting.  Has the book been formatted in a way that pagination, fonts, sections etc. are consistent?  Are odd spellings consistent throughout the work?  Are homonyms corrected (my own personal headache)?

For most authors this is the most tedious part of writing (and worth having a good editor – good editors  should be prized like rare gems) and where there is a tendency to be lazy (uh, yeah – guilty as charged – it is NOT FUN).  However, these errors can be likened to potholes on a superhighway, jeopardizing the work as a whole as far as the reader’s ability to “suspend disbelief.” Example – you’re driving along on a beautiful highway, the scenery is breathtaking and suddenly – kerthunk, kerthunk, kerthunk – WTF!

Writing Craft

A little more difficult to define, but for me writing craft includes things like the ability to thread together a story line in a seamless way, not leaving any loose ends or obvious questions that can send a reader off track.  Does the author have a strong but subtle Voice?  Is the prose itself precise?  Does it have a good meter (yes, good prose has a meter too)?  Very often craft masters can get away with breaking some of the rules that go with readability – but as far as grammar, spelling and punctuation they can be stern disciplinarians (I have been scolded by a few of them!).

Cover Art

Does it reflect the nature of the work itself?  Is it professional looking? Will it render well on a computer screen?

World Building

World Building is one of the cornerstones for speculative fiction and in turn one of the hardest to get right.  To create a world or universe where the reader can actually buy into the premise that such an outlandish thing not only could happen, but they can see it in their mind’s eye.

One note – as a reader I find it heavy going to be tossed into a different story universe with no preparation, and find myself trying to piece it together through action, dialog and description throughout the book.  Sometimes a writer can get away with it, but I think it takes a master to do it successfully.  A brief introduction as to the setting is usually greatly appreciated by the reader, certainly is by me.

PS

I give first books a break….  🙂