Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Value of the Five Star Review ~ A Peek at a Writer's Life

You see them almost everywhere these days. Five little stars, some of them colored yellow or red, indicating what other people think of the particular item. How much weight do you give them? Do you even consider them?

I haven't thought much about them until recently. The only place I ever filled them in was Netflix and that was so I could get better suggestions from them. Generally speaking, I don't do Amazon reviews or go around to other sites and tell people what I think.

A few weeks ago I signed up for GoodReads. If you've never heard of this site, it's where you can keep track of books you've read, books you want to read, and interact with other fans of said books and their authors. It's really a neat site, though I'm still learning it.

If you're on there and want to connect with me, you can find my profile here.

The first thing you do when you sign up for GoodReads is rate a bunch of books so that it can offer you suggestions and hook you up with similar readers. I started using their scale, happily rating more than fifty books before stumbling to a halt.

They were asking me to rate a book I didn't like. A book I really didn't like. One I didn't like so much that I didn't finish reading it - I just skimmed through to the end to see if it got any better. Instead of giving it the one star rating I felt it deserved, I skipped it. I just clicked "not interested" and moved on. I've felt like a chicken ever since.

Do you review and rate books? Do those little colored stars factor into your buying decision?

Authors talk a lot about ratings and book reviews. It's rather important to us that people like our book, after all.  Ratings and reviews give us a glimpse into what people think about books... sometimes. I tried to be honest in rating my books. The scale according to GoodReads is this:

    - 1 star - I didn't like it
    - 2 stars - it was ok
    - 3 stars - I liked it
    - 4 stars - I really like it
    - 5 stars - it was amazing

I followed it. Which means I ended up with several books at two and three stars. I started to feel bad. How would I feel seeing a fellow author give my book two stars? Should I even rate books? Only rate them if I was going to give them a high rating? I refuse to inflate my ratings just because I happen to like the author as a person or because I want people to think Christian fiction is so stellar it's above putting out a mediocre book.

But I know this happens. I know people who've done this. They read a fellow author's new book and want to help them sell their book, so they give it a glowing five star review, when all it really deserved was a respectable four stars, or maybe it was just okay and should have a three.

The converse also happens. I've seen MANY one star reviews, particularly after a book has been on free promotion, that trash a book just because it's Christian. The story may be excellent, the writing superb, but the content is Christian and they were trying to fool everybody into reading it by making their book free for a couple of days. At least according to the reviewer.

I removed the identifying information on this review, because I'm not trying to bash someone for leaving their opinion. I just wanted to give an example. 
All of this means that ratings and reviews have gotten to the point of being nearly worthless, or worse, detrimental.

What do you think about those little colored stars? Do they factor in to your purchasing decisions? Do you rate books?

If you're an author, what do you think when you see a fellow author give you something besides a five star rating? Does it hurt your relationship with them?


  1. Just sent you a friend request over there. :)

    To answer your question: I give very, very few five star reviews, and LOTS of four star reviews. If a book succeeded on its own terms, I'll give it a four. Doesn't mean it was perfectly to my taste. Fives I save for the very best of the best ("Till We Have Faces", "Gaudy Night", "The Curse of Chalion", etc.).

    Would I have lower ratings on some books if my profile wasn't public? Absolutely. Hence the "succeeds on its own terms" style of rating. But on books I truly hated? I often just don't rate them. I'm an aspiring writer, and, honestly, low ratings on my part are going to look like sour grapes. In this case, I pay attention both to what I'm actually saying, and what it *appears* I'm saying, if that makes sense. I think that's just wise in these days of online personas.

  2. Oh - and as I see by your Goodreads profile that you're a Robin McKinley fan (me too!), I wanted to ask: did you know she has a blog? It's wordy and fun and full of her rants about change-ringing and gardening and such.

  3. When I was doing my goodreads ratings, in my head I was saying their ranking system instead of the number of stars. To me "It's Ok." is WAY above "I didn't like it." I think a better ratings system might be:

    5 - I loved it. It's awesome. I'll buy it for my friends and shove it down their throats because it's just that good.
    4 - It was good. If someone asked if they should buy it I would say yes.
    3 - It was OK. Not my cup of tea, but someone else probably loves it.
    2 - I didn't like it. Read it if you want, but I wouldn't recommend it.
    1 - I plead the 5th. Anything I say may incriminate me in the court of public opinion.

    Hehe. I like it. I think I'll go change my ratings to follow this scale instead. ;)

  4. Yes, I've been to her blog. You can definitely see where her books are a more refined style of her ramblings. I tried reading her blog for a while but the posts were just SO LONG. I couldn't afford the time to keep up with it.

    I was reading on her FAQ that she complains about how long the blog takes her to write. I wouldn't doubt it. Each entry is well over 1,000 words. I just couldn't keep up.

    Her FAQ is funny though, if you've never been to her website to read it.