The question of whether star ratings are effective when it comes to book reviews is a frequent and often contentious one.
Whilst star ratings are incredibly useful, they also don’t tell the full story of someone’s actual thoughts on a book and can be quite confusing.
Today, I’m going to break down what star ratings are, as well as the positives and negatives to using this rating system for reviewing books.
What are star ratings?
Star ratings are used in all sorts of sectors (films, hotels, restaurants, etc), but in the bookish community, they are used as a universal method of rating books.
Generally, a rating of 1-5 stars is used (occasionally 1-10 and sometimes including 0 in extreme circumstances), with a rating of 1 meaning you hated a book and a rating of 5 meaning you loved it.
Star ratings are used across reviewing apps, such as Goodreads (where an average is given for each book) and are generally understood as the main rating system in the book community.
Why use star ratings?
There are a lot of positives to using star ratings, either by themselves or along with a full/mini review. These are just a few of them.
A quick sign that you’ll enjoy a book
One friend telling me they liked a book might not sway me, but an average rating of 4/5 stars on Goodreads could really tip me towards buying it.
We value the opinions of others, but sometimes we don’t have time to read several full reviews to gauge whether we’ll like a book.
Looking at the average star rating, on Goodreads for example, can be really helpful to see how many people enjoy a book generally and whether it might be worth picking up in the first instance.
Useful at the extremes
If you find a book on Goodreads that has an average rating of 1 star, that’s a pretty good indication that it is universally disliked or problematic (and there’s a pretty good chance you won’t enjoy it either).
Same goes for 5 star books– chances are, for a book to score so highly, it’s worth a read.
However, I’d always say to check the genre and read the blurb before picking up a book. After all, it doesn’t matter how many people have rated it 5 stars if it’s just not your taste.
Reviews can take a long time to write
It’s really hard to keep up with writing full reviews for every book we read (especially for particularly avid readers).
The star rating system is a quick and easy way to share your basic thoughts on a book (i.e. whether you hated it, liked it or loved it).
Star ratings are popular
One of the main reasons I continue to use this system is because it’s so widely known (and therefore most of my followers can understand it and find it helpful).
It’s really easy to share a quick number after finishing a book, especially when I don’t have chance to write out my thoughts.
Having a numerical system is universal and goes past any language barriers; the reading community extends across the world after all.
What are the issues with star ratings?
Like anything, there are also drawbacks to star ratings, and they’re definitely not for everyone.
They don’t tell the full story
Books are so different– how can we rate them with the same scale?
How can the same 5 star rating compare a thriller with a historical literary fiction? Or a rom-com with a hard-hitting biography/ non-fiction?
It’s so difficult to use the same rating even for books in the same genre, so how can we be expected to rate the same way across genres (and age ranges!)?
Another point to this is that everyone has a different reason for rating a book high or low. Whilst one reader might rate a book lowly because they genuinely didn’t enjoy it, another might give it one star because something in particular annoyed them, or the style just didn’t work for them personally.
Everyone ranks differently
Even within the same rating system, everyone is going to rank slightly differently.
Whilst one person might give 4 stars for pretty average books, another might need a book to completely grab them for it to be a 4 star read.
Without some kind of guide to how each reader personally uses the rating system, it’s difficult to know whether someone hated a book or just found it boring (and the same goes for the higher end).
People sometimes rate books without reading them
This is quite rare, but annoyingly, it does happen.
People will sometimes rate books on Goodreads for example, just because they’ve seen a friend rate it, or read a review they felt summed up the book (even if they haven’t actually read it).
Or, they’ll rate a book lowly because they didn’t enjoy the author’s other work.
Star ratings can be extrememly helpful, especially if you’ve been considering a book for a while and just need that last push to get it.
But, it’s certainly important to take into account the differing rating systems that readers use, and to understand that a book having a high average rating wont necessarily mean you’ll enjoy it.
Whenever you can, read full or mini reviews so you can understand why reader did or didn’t enjoy a certain book (and can work out if you’ll feel the same way).
Do you use star ratings? Have you ever come across any of these issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments below or in my Instagram dms.