Review Criteria and Grading


I’ve always been what’s known as a destructive critic. This means my tendency is to find fault rather than to find joy in anything I read or watch. It doesn’t mean I don’t find the good side of anything, only that my predisposition is otherwise. While I’m an attack dog looking for errors, my goal has always been to focus on the work and not the author. Just because you write a turkey one day (I shudder at the thought of my first novel length piece ever coming to light), doesn’t mean you can’t write the great American novel with some practice.

I’ve chosen to use the letter grade system as everyone has an understanding A, B, C, D, F and INC. The only one I’ll spend any time discussing is INC (short for incomplete). INC will be used in the cases that I just couldn’t finish reading the piece. It’s almost a grade of my own failure to complete my task. I will try and give a reason in those cases, such as “Didn’t hold my interest,” “Editing too poor to wade through,” “Lost and can’t find my way back.”

While we all have a visceral knowledge of what the letter grades mean, I’ll tell you things I specifically grade on (in no particular order):

  • Editing
  • Cover illustration / layout
  • Deus Ex Machina
  • Character development
  • Dialogue
  • Typesetting
  • Story

Editing – any book that hasn’t been professionally edited is probably doomed to suffer in my grading.

Cover Illustration / layout – books are judged by their cover. Never add to a grade, but can be a negative if it puts me off.

Deus Ex Machina – this covers a number of sins. A classical one is the infamous “and then he woke up,” plot ending. Another is inventing a technowidget that allows you to get out (Star Trek is infamous for this).

Character development – do the main characters have a logical background? Does he/she/it/they arc through the story or stay flat?

Dialogue – I abhor wooden dialogue. An example I always use is Babylon 5. I love that show. J. Michael Straczynski has more skill at writing plot/story than anyone I’ve ever met. But the dialogue on the show sounds like a seven year old wrote it (shudder).

Typesetting – as I will read most in E-book format this shouldn’t be an issue

Story – One famous author said (paraphrased) “Don’t show me how fancy you can write. Tell me a good story.”

Every book I review I’m willing to give more a more in-depth critique to the author at his / her request. I’m also willing to have personal conferences with them to discuss my critique. I’m only human (gasp). I’ve been known to make mistakes. If I’ve overlooked something, or judged something harshly, I’m willing to re-examine and even rewrite my review.

I will never review a book of TANSTAAFL Press or of authors who are currently printing with TANSTAAFL Press. Both are serious conflicts of interest.

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  16 Responses to “Review Criteria and Grading”

  1. […] B- (See Thomas’ notes on how he grades) […]

  2. […] Unexpected A- (See Thomas’ notes on how he grades) […]

  3. […] Hilarious B- (See Thomas’ notes on how he grades) […]

  4. […] Inc (D) (See Thomas’ notes on how he grades) […]

  5. […] Nice solid B (See Thomas’ notes on how he grades) […]