To star or not to star?



One of the things I struggled with when starting this blog was whether or not to star my reviews. This is something I’m sure every book blogger thinks about at some point or another. Back in March, Renay pondered review styles over at Ladybusiness. Less recently, I recall Shaheen of Speculating on Spec Fic mention at Conflux last year that she had initially started out not including stars but had subsequently changed her mind.

Indeed, the book blogs I read are fairly evenly split on this issue. Along with Speculating on Spec Fic, a few starred blogs I read include Book Gannet, The Book Smugglers and Tsana’s Reads and Reviews. A sample of the non-starred blogs include Estella’s Revenge, Lady Business, Stephanie Gunn and In the Forest of Stories (though I note the latter still has ratings included in the tags at the bottom of posts).

As a reader, I tend to be less interested in the rating than in the details of the review: why did the reviewer like or dislike the book? That’s what determines whether or not I will track down the book. It also establishes or confirms for me where the reviewer is in relation to my tastes. Do we match up or do our tastes lie elsewhere? Where is the overlap?

Having said that, once I have a feel for the reviewer, starred reviews can occasionally be a bit more useful. If I’m looking for a decent romance and can’t find any on Mt TBR, I might hop over to Book Gannet and take a look at the five-star reviews. However, given the state of Mt TBR, this doesn’t happen to me too often.

As a reviewer, I don’t like writing starred reviews. How does one quantify something that’s so subjective? Sometimes I know immediately how I am going to rate a book, while at other times I agonise over it. I should note that even though I don’t like writing starred reviews, I still do it–over at Goodreads. Then once I decide on a rating, it feels like it’s set in stone. What if I change my mind? That’s easier to do on Goodreads or in my personal spreadsheets than it is here on the blog. However, if I’m already doing it on Goodreads, why not here as well?

Another thing I struggle with is a ratings system. Five stars is fairly standard. However, I hardly ever use the full spectrum. A book has to be pretty terrible for me to consider rating it two stars or near perfect for me to give it five. That doesn’t give a lot of range. It’s something I’ve been working on. I actually find it easier to rate something out of ten and then halve it for a five-star system.

I’d be really interested in hearing some thoughts on this issue. Reviewers, do you use a rating system? Readers, do you find rating systems useful? Would you like to see one here?


4 thoughts on “To star or not to star?”

  1. I think of my reviews as being starred, even though the ratings appear in the tags instead of in the body of the post. Ratings are very important to me as a personal gauge, but I try to keep them low-key because I’ve had so many misunderstandings over them in the past. A lot of the readers I interact with are strict adherents to the Goodreads ratings system, and I’m really, really not.

    I need more degrees of love than Goodreads allows, and I need half-stars in the mix. Four stars is my “I loved this” rating, but at my old blog I got a lot of serious comments along the lines of, “Oh, I’m sorry you didn’t like this very much” on my four-star reviews, even though the entire post involved me gushing my arse off about the book. For a while, I tacked a little explanation onto each rating (ex. “3.5 stars – really liked it”), but eventually migrated to the tags instead. I keep meaning to put a ratings legend in my sidebar.

    So far as other people’s ratings go, I use them to get a rough metric of where a person stands on a book, with the understanding that their star ratings might not match up with my own. They’re not the most important part of the review, by any means, but if I’m strapped for time for any reason they give me an at-a-glance idea of whether the reviewer thinks the book is worth exploring.

    1. Interesting that there would be such misunderstandings between you and your readers. After all, I tend to find that you’re not exactly ambiguous about whether or not you loved a book. Do you think those people only looked at the rating and disregarded the meat of the review? Or is there something else going on?

  2. I use the Goodreads version of ratings, because it serves me quite well. I like the ‘it was okay’ of the two stars and I seem to average around 3 stars, which sounds pretty accurate to me. I do feel the need to specify on my profile that I use those definitions, because so many authors hate receiving a three star rating and I don’t understand WHY when ‘I liked it’ is a good thing!

    I love ratings because I tend only to be interested in reading negative reviews of books, and that helps me find them. Five star reviews are so gushy generally, and they tend to be pushed towards the top on Goodreads, because of the kind of culture at the site. I don’t want gushy reviews with gifs – I generally want to hear what people’s criticisms of a book are. Then again, I only read reviews of books I’ve read, so that might influence me a lot.

    I think ratings are problematic for people who get books from publishers and authors and who want to maintain a good relationship with those venues. I know I felt really pressured to rate highly when I was doing that, and I think my reviews and ratings are far more authentic now that I’m not. I don’t think (most) people do it knowingly. But realising that someone related to the book will be reading tends to make you look more for positives than for negatives.

    1. I’m not a fan of gifs in reviews either. I tend to skip over the Goodreads reviews that contain them and look for more balanced perspectives.

      You make an excellent point about maintaining relationships within the publishing industry and it is something I’m mindful of negotiating carefully. On one hand, I feel it is important to support those venues by talking about what they do–on Goodreads and on my blog. On the other hand, this has to be done in a way that’s fair to readers as well. I’m not entirely sure I’ve perfected this balance or whether it is wise to throw star rating into the mix here.

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