Each year I examine a number of short story collections and anthologies and share my findings with you. My aim is to review the writing and editing choices to provide insight into how theme, selection, organization, storytelling, and editing contribute to the success or failure of a book of short fiction.
My book review criteria are much the same as my manuscript assessment criteria, and align with the self-editing flow I outline in the post “How to Hate Editing Less.” Here is my rubric:
Book Review Criteria
The manuscript lacks clarity at the developmental level. The ideas are unbelievable, illogical or incoherent. Or, the author’s approach to the subject matter, however lucid, disregards human rights, includes discriminatory or hateful language, or detracts from the spirit of literature.
While the ideas underpinning the story are coherent, they are not structurally sound. Perhaps the premise depends on an unaddressed plot hole, neglected character arc, continuity problem, or incorrectly applied literary device; the manuscript neither meets nor subverts the conventions of the literary tradition it belongs to; the POV is unclear, or the author’s own thoughts are mingled with the characters’; or the stylistic and/or mechanical expectations are consistently unmet and make the book difficult to read.
A purely subjective division: the story is a two, but I think about the good parts long after I’ve read it.
This is a good story. All of its foundational elements are ordered in a plausible structure, the characters are relatable to a diversity of readers, no part stands out as much better or much worse than the rest, the editing is clean enough that it doesn’t interfere with reading, and the story is ready for publication. However, there is nothing that sets it apart from other stories or makes it particularly memorable.
Another subjective division. This is an engaging story. I will likely recommend it to the right person.
This story is not only engaging, but its narrative is concise and articulate. The work stands out for what it contributes to the form as a whole or its genre. I will use this story as an example when I want to demonstrate an interesting approach, and I will recommend it to others.
This is also somewhat subjective. A five-star story often starts as a four, but since the first reading, I’ve read it again (and again) and have found it to expand my personal perspective. I continue to make an example of it and recommend it widely.
Request a review
Most of the books I review come from the Early Reviewers Program on LibraryThing. If you would like me to review your published collection or anthology, send me your query. Here is an aggregate of all my reviews. Here are my reviewer profiles: LibraryThing, Goodreads, and Amazon.