Are the Stars Killing Our Ratings?

Writerly Rant #27

Seeing Stars

by Mikael Carlson, Author.

kill rating starsWe live in a world obsessed with ratings. Politicians watch their approvals, ice skaters their judges’ scores, high school students their class standings, and authors their Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads star ratings. Unfortunately, while the metrics to rate leaders, athletes and students are somewhat defined, authors are faced with readers who use their own arbitrary measures when applying a star review to a book.
Amazon gets around this by forcing a review to include at least some text to justify any rating, good or bad. Goodreads, however, the popular social cataloging site with millions of dedicated members, applies no such qualification. Readers can just apply any such rating and move on to their next book. It is the Siskel and Ebert of the literary world – a thumbs up or thumbs down without any explanation as to why.

I am an avid fan of Goodreads, and as an author, value the ability to bring millions of readers together to share their experiences with the plethora of options available. Unfortunately, as an author, I cringe to see ratings left with no insight into reasons for it. I wish even the four and five star ones for my book included why readers liked it. Unfortunately, out of my ratings, a review is included only about a quarter of the time. The only explanations provided are a guide buried on the Goodreads site that I would wager very few people have ever seen along with the ability to hover your cursor over the star you’re interested in choosing and wait for a prompt to tell you what it means (I never hover. I’m decisive, as many readers are, and was not aware of this feature until recently):

* * * * * 1 star – didn’t like it
* * * * * 2 stars – it was OK
* * * * * 3 stars – liked it
* * * * * 4 stars – really liked it
* * * * * 5 stars – it was amazing

In what world is two stars “OK?” Ask a hundred people how they would think of two stars, and I promise you, OK would only end up as a response for about twelve of them. Three stars is okay, and two somewhat less so. In the spirit of ranting, I devised my own Goodreads rating system, and it should pop up as a dialog box whenever a member wants to rate a book. It goes something like this:

* * * * * 1 star – I was in physical agony. Now I know how William Wallace felt at the end of Braveheart. This author is so bad Dante needs to add a circle of hell for him in Inferno. The government should ensure he/she does not procreate. I couldn’t bear to finish the book.

* * * * * 2 stars – Minstrels sing songs about this author’s inadequacies. I should sue him/her for wasting my time with this drivel. I weep for the education system the author was reared in, and his/her teachers should be flogged. I finished the book, but now regret I will never get that time back.

* * * * * 3 stars – If average had a picture under the definition in the dictionary, it would be this author’s publicity shot. It wasn’t horrible, and at times it may have been good, but nothing stands out about this work. I will have forgotten about this book ten seconds after I finish this rating.

* * * * * 4 stars – Now we’re talking. This book was unique and had flashes of brilliance. There were some flaws, but otherwise a very enjoyable read. I would buy his/her other books and recommend them to my friends, give them as gifts, and maybe even join the fan club.

* * * * * 5 stars – This book was so captivating, I thought it was glued to my hand because I couldn’t put it down. Engaging, entertaining, and brilliant, I read slower just because I wanted the feeling of joy to last longer. I would sleep with the author if I ever met him/her in a bar. I now consider myself a groupie.

Read, Not Rated – I bought this book, but don’t know why. I don’t like the genre, so it isn’t fair to hamper the author with a bad rating because I am an idiot and make bad choices.

Maybe you could even throw in half stars if you are stuck between two, but that’s nitpicking. Personally, I would like to see Goodreads use the Amazon model and have reviews included with the rating. So many purchases are based on customer feedback and ratings, and in a hyper competitive arena like books, a star rating can make or break an author. At a minimum, we should at least try to standardize the system, educate the raters, and reduce the arbitrary nature of what readers assign. With so much riding on customer perception, it is the only fair thing to do for authors who rely on this feedback and the other readers who want to make informed decisions. Until then, I will be seeing stars with the rest of you and just make up my own system.

*     *     *

Mikael CarlsonMikael Carlson is the author of the political fiction novels The iCandidate and The iCongressman. He is an eighteen-year veteran of the armed forces, served as a U.S. Army Paratrooper, and earned a Master of Arts in American History. Mikael currently lives in Connecticut.

Categories: Rants, Writerly Rants

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2 replies

  1. Reblogged this on Lisa M. Green ~ Author and commented:
    Book reviews are always subjective, but a better system needs to be in place. I love this idea, and I also think that perhaps adding subcategories would be helpful, even if they’re optional.


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