“Arbitrary” or “On Stellar (and Less Than Stellar) Ratings”

So I was reading this blog post, and it got me thinking about starred reviews.

Okay, let’s get real. I’m an author. I think about starred reviews just about every time I think about my books in the hands of a reader. (Like the newly-released “One More Day” anthology, for instance…) I also think about them when I’ve finished reading a book borrowed from the library or won in a blog raffle and I’m pondering whether I feel like letting Goodreads know about it.

I’ve never much liked using the star rating system. I don’t fancy trying to pin a concrete number on something as “based on or determined by individual preference or convenience rather than by necessity or the intrinsic nature of something” as my opinions. For that matter, I’m not a huge fan of stating my opinions on the record unless they’re very strong and very positive – in other words, unless I’m geeking out about something. And while I’m happy to geek out about books as a species, it’s harder to get me worked up about most books individually.


Confession: I am a picky reader. Not in the non-eclectic sense, but in that it takes a heckuva lot to get 5 stars out of me. I use a 3 as, “Yeah, it was pretty good, I liked it well enough; might even read it again.” 4 generally means, “Really liked it. Really good. Quite possibly among my favorite books of all time, and I would totally recommend it.” To get 5 would mean that book really hit me somewhere deep inside, making me go around in a fog of love for it for days. Truthfully, I wouldn’t give some of my own stories a hard 5.0, not because I don’t love them and think they’re awesome (I wouldn’t try to publish them, otherwise), but because they just didn’t reach me in that specific way.

So for every 5-star review I’ve received for my first books on the market, I’m thrilled! For every 4, I’m quite pleased. A 3 wouldn’t break my heart. (Maybe mildly tick me off, depending on the reasons given for the rating, but hey, every reader’s looking for her own special strike to the sweet spot, right? Not even the best of us can win ‘em all.)

A book would have to be exceptionally lousy for me to give it a 2- or 1-star rating in public. Normally if I dislike a book that much, I’ll keep it to myself or within my circle of friends. Which isn’t to say I think it’s morally reprehensible to give a book a low mark where everyone can see; like I said, I’m just generally disinclined to air my private opinions. If I don’t have anything exceptionally nice to say, I may not bother to say anything at all.

That’s just how I roll. I think every reviewer should follower their own convictions on this, with a minimum decency requirement of not giving cutting reviews just to be a jerk. There’s plenty of room for honesty and civility to coexist.

How ‘bout you guys? How do you determine how to rate the books you read? Do you think another rating system would be more effective, or do you like the stars?

12 thoughts on ““Arbitrary” or “On Stellar (and Less Than Stellar) Ratings”

  1. Interesting thoughts! I don’t review many, if any, books. At least, not online. I do think there are not that many that would really deserve a five-star rating, although as a reader, I do look for the ones that have a high overall rating. It matters much more to me what the reviewers actually SAY, though. I often read all of the reviews of something if there are 20 or less. When there are 500-5000, I read the first few to get a taste for the overall opinion, and then grab a few one-star reviews as well.

    Not sure how well the system works from a bookseller standpoint, but for this reader, the star system does work well.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Susan!
      I didn’t used to pay reviews any attention at all. Borrowing books free from the library, there was little enough riding on whether I thought I’d like them or not. Only since I started taking notice of new books I might want to purchase without having read them first did I begin to poke around and see what readers who’d gone before me had to say on the matter. And now that I’m a writer, of course, there’s often a sense of “Will write for reviews!” going on. XD

  2. Personally, I think the “rate from one to five” idea is a really lazy way to do it. Not only that, it doesn’t really give a good idea of the book in any case. I’ll read books that did really well on one thing, but poorly in another, and whether or not I liked it depends on which element I value more. I think it’s silly to try to rate the story without taking so many variables into consideration.

  3. Hey, thanks for the pingback! With everything I said, I must say that I personally don’t get offended with reviews, even if they’re 2 stars. If someone decided to read my little book and give an opinion on it, then this Mama is happy 🙂 Like my editor reminds me, if someone didn’t like my book, it doesn’t mean the book is bad, it just means my story wasn’t meant for them. I like that outlook!

    • It is a good and positive outlook to have! Maybe one day my levels of over-sensitivity will lower to the point where I can fully embrace it as my philosophy. #EverHopeful

  4. I give every book I read a star rating on Goodreads, but I don’t review them unless there is something particular I want to say. When I give stars, I use this system:

    1 – hated it
    2 – didn’t like it
    3 – it was okay
    4 – liked it
    5 – loved it

    So, uh, I find myself giving lots of 4 star reviews, because I generally end up reading books I know I’ll like. Usually I give books a 1 if I can’t bring myself to finish reading, which is very rare. I am not the pickiest reader. But I do reserve 5 stars for books that grab me by the heart (or the stomach, depending) the way you described. That way when someone asks what my favorite books are, I can just check the 5 star books on my Goodreads list and remember. 😛

    • Sounds like we’ve got a similar starred review style going on; it’s the one that makes most sense to me, personally. The nitpicker in me just wishes I could more often resort to fractions or something (4 and 2/5 stars!) so I could more precisely show where a book stands with me. But maybe if I could do that, I’d waste even more time fussing with the numbers than I already do. X)

  5. some of my favorite books are actually just 3 stars… but for me the rating often relies on not just how much I loved it but the complexity of the tale and the writing style… I love romance novels… but most of them are over done and not that hard to pretty much know how it’s all going to end and so as much as I love to read them again and again they’re just 3 star books… I have given out two 1 star reviews before… I’m like you lots of times its just the book isn’t for me so I don’t bother but in those two cases they were horrible books across the board… and so I had to warn people… but lost of times I’m like I don’t know I think it’s this and that’s why I rely more on the review than the number of stars I get it… I hate it when people just give stars and no review because that honestly doesn’t say that much to me…

    • Interesting. I expect many readers tend toward the opposite, giving far more weight to their enjoyment of the story than their opinion on the technical execution. Then again, there are those for whom the emotional experience is directly influenced by the book’s mechanics; gosh knows I have a really hard time enjoying a story riddled with errors or my linguistic pet peeves.

      • well if I tied it to just pure enjoyment they’d pretty much all be 5 stars… I love books more than anything… and for different reasons… sometimes I just want a simple read I don’t have to really think about… and sometimes I want something that keeps me guessing and is more complex… it’s all about that moment… but I do also want to think about how much effort it had to take to write some of them… not to say that any of it is necessarily easy… but it seems some put more into really trying to be different… and others just go the good ol’ story route… like harlequin romances… I love them but geez you know before you even crack it open exactly what you’ll get… and so I just can’t rate them on the same level as others…

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