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April 12, 2012

Tips on Thursday: Ratings

Three stars
Three stars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The topic I'm discussing today has cropped up on a few blogs over the last few months: star ratings. You may notice I do not give star ratings to the reviews on my blog. However, if you see my review on Amazon or Goodreads it will have a rating. It is required at Amazon and I do it at Goodreads because I hate having blanks on a form. I also don't mind leaving a star rating on Goodreads, but I hate that Amazon requires it. I'll explain below.

The first post I saw about ratings was more about the algorithm Amazon uses to determine featured books. At Amazon, only 4 and 5 star ratings are considered. Because everyone knows this, it might be encouraged that reviewers leave 4 and 5 stars to help the author out. Also, because of the reliance on 4 and 5 star reviews, 3 stars have been deemed a negative review. One post I read argued for reviewers to change their perception on how they think about the ratings and reconsider 3 stars not to be helpful. It is interesting to note that Publisher's Weekly only provides a starred review. I kind of wonder if a thumbs up or down would be better than the 5 star rating system.

Concept Processing
Concept Processing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I personally do not think 3 stars equate to a negative review and I worry that we are/will experience rating inflation (much like grade inflation). If you think about the star ratings as letter grades, we would have A, B, C, D, and F. You may remember from your school days, a C is average. A C would equate to a 3 on our star system. Since 3/C is the average, by definition most books will fall into the 3 star range. When I see a reviewer giving all 4 and 5 star ratings, I think they are incredibly lucky in choosing books for review or they lack discernment. If it is the latter, then the reviewer's credibility is questionable. To me, a 3 is still a good book. I think people should read it. It's entertaining. For a 3 star book, I'm glad I read it, will probably read other books by the author, recommend it to others, but probably don't care to read it again and again.

Since most people are incapable of being 100% objective, reviews always contain at least a small degree of bias. I think ratings show the most potential for bias. Why? Because we automatically compare books when we put them on a scale. Have you ever read the most outstanding book, then read another in the same genre and feel let down? You would give it a lower rating, right? However, would that have been the rating had you never read the outstanding book? I try to vary the genres I read for this purpose.

If you are going to include a rating system on your blog, I encourage you to denote what each category means. I don't mind Goodreads rating system, because when you hover over the stars a scale is provide denoting what each star rating means (1 = didn't like it, 2 = it was ok, 3 = liked it, 4 = really liked it, 5 = it was amazing). Amazon does not provide any explanation of its rating system that I can find. Therefore, whereas a 3 star rating may mean I liked it, to someone else it might mean I didn't like it.

Because of the subjectivity in the star rating, a reviewer should always qualify their response with an actual review as to why they rated it they way they did. Nothing irks me (or the author) more to see a rating on Goodreads and no explanation as to why.

What do you think about the star rating system? Do you consider how many stars a book has when choosing it? Would it be better just to give a thumbs up or down a la Siskel and Ebert?
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  1. Great post! You definitely bring up a good point. I think a star rating system works if you explain the rating scale (like Goodreads). Personally I like to read reviews rather than see a star rating. I want to know why you liked it or why you disliked it. I'm more inclined to read a book because of the reviews rather than its star rating. The thumbs up or thumbs down thing could work, but again I'd like to see a review accompany that.

    1. I agree, the review (and not the rating) is most helpful.

  2. This is a fantastic post! I've been lucky that over the years I've been reading I've developed an eye for books I'll like - mostly fours, the occasional fives. Since I've started taking a chance on more things, I have noticed 3s. They're NOT bad books, just as you say - they may just need some development or not be quite the right fit for me. I hate writing 1 and 2 star reviews as it ruins my blogging day and I've found on the odd occasion that a book is 1-2 stars I don't want to finish it. Too many good books in the world!

    When my husband's book came out he said 'I'd love a three star average. I'll know I'm on the right track then.' To me, that seems a much more sensible approach. As an author, do you want to learn from your reviews or are they purely as a sales tool?

    1. It is rare that I finish a 1 star review. I have on occasion fishined one because I felt the negative view pointed needed to be represented. Since I do not post reviews of books I do not finish, I forced myself to finish it.

  3. Great post Donna. I agree with you 100%. I don't use the star system for the very same reasons.

  4. I don't rate on my blog either but have to on Amazon/Goodreads.

    I have gotten knocked for giving 3-star reviews but it does mean it is a good book, just not one that grabbed me.

    The thumbs up/down is like the rating system on YouTube and yes, 3 stars would be thumbs up.

    I've been told that since I don't do 1/2 star ratings that I'm more of a book recommendation than a reviewer.

    I'm not sure I agree because if I can't finish a book I can't very well rate it fairly or if I do struggle through it not enjoying it I'll be even more ticked off when writing a review. hehe It's a catch 22 I know.

    Bottom line, no one is paying me to review books so I can review them as I please.

    I don't feel beholden to the author to give it a 4-5 stars for their sales and sometimes if I find typos or sloppy editing then that's an automatic one star deduction.

    I have gotten more picky entering my second year of reviewing Indies so I am tossing books that don't 'grab' me in the first 25%.

    1. In the beginning, most of my reviews were 3 stars. Then I saw an upswing in 4s and 5s. I am hopeful that it means I was finding truly great books.

  5. I do use the star rating system on my blog, but I have a separate page where I explain how books fall on that scale. It's very similar to the GR scale. And should books fall anywhere below a 3, I do my best to include something positive in my review to offset the negative.

    Great topic!

    1. I don't think it is wrong or anything to have a rating system as long as there is info somewhere on what it means. I will occasionally refer to stars in my reviews. People are use to seeing ratings (Stars, thumbs, letter grades, etc) with reviews.

  6. I've been reviewing quite a bit more lately, and am still feeling my way, but it does seem like most reviews I write are 3 stars, meaning I liked it, but it didn't rock my world.

    I have had authors feel angry with me for that. Now that I am reading more Indie, I do what Coral (above) mentioned - I drop a book if it doesn't grab me in the first 25%.

    I tend to NOT write 1 or 2 star reviews because I can be somewhat sharp-tongued and arrogant, and I would rather not trash someone's book. I will rate books 1 or 2 stars on Goodreads, however, without a narrative review, mostly because I am working to get all books I read listed there for my own reference.

    Maybe I hope the 1 or 2 stars will be less hurtful than my words might be? Usually that rating is earned because I found a book dull, uninspired, trite, or just plain boring. I'm not sure how a wordy review can be helpful in those cases.

    Great topic - LOL - the same one I've been talking about on my Thursday blog!

    1. You could always just give a brief reason why you gave it 1 or 2 stars on Goodreads. Saying you found the book dull, uninspired, trite, or boring would be helpful. Otherwise I just have to imagine why you gave it 1 star.

      It definitely is a hot topic write now.

  7. I don't mind 3 star reviews, as either a reader or writer, as long as the reviewer explains what didn't work for them.

    What I can't stand, is when a three star review is given and no review is provided.

  8. Thank you very much for the thought-provoking post.

    I review quite a few books myself on Smashwords and Goodreads, but only rate books which I deem, in my honest opinion, to be worthy of either four or five stars, being, books which I feel that have been amazing, interesting, worthy of comment etcetera.

    I don't rate books below four stars as I only like to make other readers aware of books which I have liked for the above reasons, but this is a personal decision on my part.

    I have read quite a few books which I haven't been unable to finish or would not have awarded four or five stars to; I feel it is not fair to post a review about something which is only half-read,or struggled to read, in essence.

    In the end, though, opinions vary greatly; what may be my favorite, may not be someone else's, this is what makes things so interesting; the difference of opinion that abounds!