Thoughts on Book Ratings

Wow!  This is post number 400.  I could’ve written four novels by now.

(Of course, blog writing and novel writing are not the same thing at all, so that’s not really true.  But still.  That’s a lot of me blathering about random things.  Y’all are saints for sticking in there with me, so thanks!)

Alright.  Getting to the point.

I have a friend who is a huge Goodreads user.  (At least if Facebook posts are any indication.)

And recently this friend posted that they’d read Ready Player One.  When I commented that I’d read it too they said they’d given it 3.5 stars, which to me is a not-fantastic rating.

(If I’d rated the book I would’ve probably given it a 4 or 4.5.)

They had a valid point for the rating, though.  As a gamer they thought that it was too easy for the character in the book to complete all of the tasks.

Me, I was so out of my depth on 80’s video games that I focused more on the treasure hunt/mystery aspect of the story.

(Although I do recall thinking the ending was a bit naive.  It’s a good thing I’m not a bad person, because I would kill it if I were a bad guy.)

Anyway.  That had me thinking about book ratings and what is considered a good rating.

And then I saw someone on one of the forums talking about maybe responding to a “negative” three-star review. (Don’t.)

Which made me think about it enough to write this blog post.

If someone likes your writing, do they have to give you at least four stars?  Or even five?

Does nothing less count as a positive review?

I think a five-star rating system is actually the wrong way to look at things.  Because what you really want to know from a rating system is whether (a) this book is worth reading and (b) whether this author is worth reading.

My three star may be someone else’s four star and yet another person’s two star, so what value does that really give.  Except ratings creep?

What I’d love to see is a system that asks readers yes/no on whether they’d ever read anything else by the author.

As a writer, that’s what matters to me.  Will you buy my next book?

A five-star rating system doesn’t do this.

I suspect that someone who liked a story but had big issues with editing/grammar so gave a book two stars would still be willing to give the author’s next book a chance.

But that someone could give a five-star rating to a book and never want to read anything else by that author.

I know I’ve occasionally found myself passionately talking about something someone wrote while at the same time swearing I would never waste another three hours of my life on anything else by them.

I have an author whose books I love on an individual basis.  But as an oeuvre, they kinda suck.  It’s the same themes/story over and over again.  These days I see a new book by that author, my hand drifts out to grab it, and I slap myself because I know I’ve already heard everything that author has to say.

(Caution: The following analogy may offend someone or other.)

(When you feel that you need to write a disclaimer like that you really shouldn’t write what you’re about to write.)

(Ah well.  I’m an idiot at heart.)

When I was at Rice, there was a binary scale of rating members of the opposite sex.  (Nerd dating, I guess.)

Basically, the point was that it didn’t matter whether someone was a ten or a two on a one-to-ten looks scale.  What mattered at the end of the day was whether you would or would not hook up with them if given the opportunity.

One or zero.  Yes or no.

It really was that simple.

And it makes sense in a lot of ways.

Someone might be a nine to me looks-wise, but a zero in all other respects so I’d give them a zero on the binary scale.  That person shouldn’t focus on moving from a nine to a ten on the looks scale, they should focus on being a better human being.

(So, tying that back to books.  Maybe it doesn’t matter if you’re a 4.2 average rating vs. a 4.5 average rating.  Maybe what matters is if you tell an engaging, interesting story that keeps readers wanting more.  Yes, there’s some correlation between the two.  But not 100%.)

On the flip side, someone might be a six on the looks scale and I’d give them a one on the binary scale because they are a fun and fantastic person who I truly enjoy spending time with.

(Tying it back to books: A book could get a two-star rating for the overuse of the words “just” and “like” but a reader might still buy the next book by that author because the story in the first one was so damned good.)

So, just a thought.  Maybe ratings aren’t the be all-end all of existence.

(I’ve actually seen in multiple places where people bought a book because of what was said in the one- and two-star ratings.)

My advice: Worry about connecting with your readers and telling a good story.  Forget about shiny little stars.

(Now if only I could figure out how to tell a good story…)

(Or get any rating of any sort…)


(Don’t worry.  Oversized ego is still firmly in place and healthy as hell.)



About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
This entry was posted in General Musings, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Thoughts on Book Ratings

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    I agree that describing a book to others is best done by writing about what you thought and why, so I do not assign a star rating to the reviews on my blog.

    I have given ratings on some of the sites I republish them on (e.g. Goodreads, Amazon), but I do that purely to power the recommendations engine.

Comments are closed.