Stars! Huh! What are they good for?

Until about a year ago, I didn’t use Goodreads at all.

Honestly, I’m still not sure I really use it, but it’s been kinda nice to track what I’ve been reading and to have the easy opportunity to leave reviews. I know how big a deal every review is to an indie author, so I’ve been trying to make a habit of reviewing all the indie books I read (and most of the non-indies, but not as fussed about those).

I see some discussion around what each star rating actually means, and I think it’s probably different for each reader/rater. As in other spheres (games and movie reviews, I’m mainly thinking of) I’m not sure it’s that useful to attach such a definite quantitative rating to such a subjective experience as a book, and the qualitative feedback you can give by writing an actual review rather than just leaving a star rating is certainly much more helpful both to the author and to others who might be considering reading.

That said, I figured it might be mildly interesting to think about what the star ratings I give mean. I don’t necessarily interpret others’ stars as meaning the same as the ones I give, but I think this is roughly what I tend to mean by a rating:

ONE STAR

If someone said to me ‘should I read this book?’, I would actively encourage them to avoid it.

TWO STARS

I wouldn’t recommend it and would probably categorise my experience as ‘not enjoyable’, but I’m not particularly passionate about disliking it.

(Incidentally, if I read an indie book that I would give one or two stars, I won’t give it a star rating at all. Part of me feels disingenuous about that, but I feel like I’d rather not put off people who maybe would enjoy it, because every review and every sale has more weight for indies. Unless it’s offensive or harmful, in which case I probably would rate and review, but I haven’t come across that situation yet. (Oh, and there are some other books I haven’t rated, but not because they’d be one or two stars. They’re usually ones about which I don’t know how I feel, or are on a topic I don’t know enough about to feel I can give an informed rating.))

THREE STARS

Now here’s where it gets a bit interesting. A lot of people give half-star ratings – technically you can’t, but they’ll start the review with, like, ‘2.5 stars rounded up’ or something. I could use a 2.5 rating, because while I just said I don’t really enjoy a two-star book, I probably do enjoy a three-star one, so it’s hard to tell what might be in the middle of those things.

Anyway, my three-star reads are often ones I will recommend to people I know are fans of the genre. Heck, I’ve actively sought out and read sequels to some of my three-star books, because I liked reading them and wanted to read more. Three stars is more than 50% of five stars, so I see a three-star rating as meaning the book is better than the middling average, y’know?

I suspect a lot of people will see a three-star rating and assume the rater must not have thought it was very good, but actually I really like some books I’ve given three stars. I just didn’t think they were… well, four stars.

FOUR STARS

So this is a book I can’t really find anything to complain about. Or, if it does have a few flaws, that’s not enough to detract from the fact that overall I thought it was great. (Again, five possible scores doesn’t leave a lot of nuance for the space between ‘good’ and ‘great’, which certainly does exist!)

I’d recommend a four-star book to pretty much anyone, and I care enough about it that I’ll most likely seek out other stuff by the same author. It doesn’t have to be totally perfect, but it is firmly in the category of ‘really good’.

FIVE STARS

This might be controversial, but a five-star book doesn’t have to be perfect either. (Or maybe it’s not that controversial, actually: I think generally there is an expected weighting towards higher ratings, and a lot of books have a lot of five-star ratings but I imagine not all of those are from people who thought it was literally flawless.)

A five-star book for me is one that changed something for me, in some small way. It might’ve changed the way I see the world, or the way I think about some small aspect of it. Perhaps it opened my eyes to the possibilities of some kind of writing I hadn’t thought about before, or perhaps it just made me question something I wouldn’t otherwise have questioned.

I wouldn’t even necessarily recommend a five-star book to anyone, because sometimes the things I end up adoring for whatever reason are things that not everyone might get or enjoy.

So that’s kinda weird, I guess: I might be conscious that something I would give five stars is likely not to seem as good to as many people as something I’d give four. But as I said, books are so subjective that I just don’t know what could be a better basis for the top possible rating than something having given me a unique subjective experience.


So there ya go. That’s kind of how I tend to think of the ratings I give. I’m not suggesting that everyone ought to think of the ratings they give in the same way – again, it’s super subjective, so everyone should just award things however many stars feels like the right number of stars based on their own experience.

If anyone out there has a thought process behind their own star ratings, let me know, ‘cos I’ll be intrigued to see the spectrum of approaches to this very individual thing.

And if you’ve read Each Little Universe, please do review it on Goodreads and Amazon! (And if you haven’t read it, please do!)

Published by Chris Durston

Writer of stuff. Y'know. Words and that.

One thought on “Stars! Huh! What are they good for?

  1. I would say your ratings are how I do mine. Sometimes my rating will waver between 2 numbers until I get to the end of the book and make up my mind and sometimes I know straightaway what it will get.

    Liked by 1 person

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