Discussion: The Downfall of Ratings

Posted 21 December, 2012 by Amanda / 32 Comments

Please keep in mind that this post is not anti-rating. I have always rated books and will likely always continue to do so. Even more than that, I often rely on ratings from other bloggers. What I want this post to be about, instead, is talk about the potential pitfalls of ratings and why they are not always very accurate.

First and foremost: rating, like reviewing, is subjective. The five star rating (or 10 on my enjoyment scale) is rare for me. It’s rare because I want a book to get all up in my brain, shake it a bit, and not let go. Some people choose to rate differently. There is nothing wrong with this. So, a downfall of ratings is that ratings cannot be universally applied. What I mean here is more that the threshold for what constitutes a five star book is different from person to person. Some of my favorite books only have a four star rating. Some people may rate a favorite book as a five star book because for them, a favorite book deserves five stars. Neither of those approaches is wrong.

Secondly, you have the influence of other books on your rating. It’s a matter of perspective: if you read two really bad books, then read a good one, you’re more likely to give that good book a higher rating. It may appear better because it followed a couple duds. (This also works in reverse, and I know–I know–that I have rated books lower for no other reason than they followed A REALLY GOOD BOOK and it just couldn’t compete because my expectations were so high.)

Keeping this in mind, this is how I approaching ratings:

1. I depend on the rater, not the rating.

I try to learn how a blogger approaches ratings when I follow them for recommendations. There is always an “acceptable zone” within the their ratings, where I know to pay attention to books within that zone. I also like to learn about what kind of book characteristics (tropes, traits of characters, plot lines) I have in common with bloggers. Knowing what we have in common helps to me “translate” the rating into my own scale. In essence, it gives the rating context. Ratings, in and of themselves, are meaningless. It’s the rater that gives them meaning.

2. I balance the rating with the review.

When I write reviews, I can sometimes get caught up in one aspect of the book. That aspect may not match up with my rating. I might rate something a 6 (which means I enjoyed the book), but spend most of the review detailing what bothered me. Or perhaps we feel obligated to say something nice because we know the author and don’t want to be negative. It goes both ways. So when I read reviews, I generally like to see the rating and the review because I feel like the mean of the two is where the actual opinion lies.

3. I take everything with a grain of salt.

As with all things in life, yes?

What are your thoughts on ratings?

Filed under: Discussion,

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32 Responses to “Discussion: The Downfall of Ratings”

  1. I am not really here cause on technical world vacation!

    I totally agree! I rate books and have never given many 5s. The ones I do seem to give have more to do with my mood or when I read them. Plus, what might be outstanding to me might have others shaking their head. Rating is sooooooooo hard but I try to be accurate on where the book fit into my scale. Often times I do this because I can’t really “talk” about the things that really made me feel that way (spoiler stuff). Ratings are a good way to show how you felt about the book in case you can’t really discuss it :)

    That being said, exactly what you said on getting to know the reviewer. That helps a ton because then you know what they are saying with the rating (when their words necessarily can’t in some cases). :)

    • Yes! I often end up giving books a 10 (or five stars) that other people might not like.

      I do like having a rating that can balance out a review. I feel lost without it. I think I would struggle a lot more to adequately write my feelings in a review if I didn’t have a rating.

  2. I started out rating books but then stopped doing it after a while because I liked just talking about the books. There are very few where I love absolutely everything and there was nothing wrong (in my mind, at least). Plus, I wasn’t a very consistent rater mostly because of the reason you pointed out — after a couple of mehs, a good book looks even better!

    • Sometimes deciding on a rating can help me solidify my feelings about a book. Did I *really* like it and how much did I like it (and why)? I also chose to use my enjoyment scale so that rating was better process. (Did I like the book? Yes, go to enjoyed side. No? Go to did not enjoy side. How MUCH did I like the book? And so on.)

      • Definitely like your enjoyment scale. That can vary widely, depending on if you’re on a roll or in a slump…doesn’t necessarily rate how “good” the book is. Maybe when blogiesta comes around I’ll reevaluate whether or not I’ll go back to ratings.

        • Yes. And that’s why I always try to frame my rating by saying why I started the book and general things like that. If I gave it a lower rating, but said that I was in a reading slump, I assume my readers will factor that into their perception of my review.

          I don’t like to rate on how good a book is, because for me, it really is about how much I enjoyed (or didn’t) a book–and that’s what my rating system reflects. I think if you’re happy without ratings, that’s great. Nothing wrong with that. :)

  3. Love these discussion posts Amanda! I personally like having a rating when I’m writing a review because it keeps me focused. Like you said, sometimes you give a rating and then spend a lot of time talking about something that seems at odds with the rating you’ve provided, and having that in the back of my mind always helps bring me back around if I’ve gone off on a tangent.

    I know too, that all my ratings within a single numerical category are not necessarily the same. I like some 4 star books more than other 4 star books yet they all have that same rating, so I usually keep that in mind when I see other ratings as well. All in all, like you, I read the review and look at the rating, as that gives me the complete story in terms of opinion and I’m familiar enough with my favorite blogs to know whether a book they’ve recommended will be a book for me or not!

    • I always peek at your rating before I read your review. It gives me a good framework for when I read your review.

      I completely get that! I often enjoy books for different reasons than other books I’ve given the same rating.

  4. I don’t have ratings on my blog (although I do rate on GR) because I’m a REBEL! That’s right! Don’t you forget it!

    Actually, the reason I never started was part laziness (I couldn’t find a rater that I liked and gave up looking after a while). Also, like you mentioned, I’ve given 5 stars to books that I liked but don’t go all OMG!FANGIRL FLAIL! over and that confuses me. So I just review the shit out of books now. Not literally.

  5. This is such an apt post for me! About a week ago I read a review of a favorite author’s new book over on Gone With the Words. I haven’t done the book yet. But for me the author has accrued 4-5 stars for every book I’ve read.

    So when Jess gave the new book a 3 star, but a review devoid of issues…I was all like “what’s up with the 3 star?! What was WRONG with it?” And as Jess replied. Nothing was wrong with it. It was a great book. And for her a 3 star implied that she LIKED it.

    Hmm…Got me thinking that at times I enjoy a 3 star book even more than even a 4. Often times I’m more disappointed in a book I expected to be a 5 and ended up falling short at a 4 and I really enjoy a book I just “liked” reading. I think far less about the 3 stars than the 4 and 5 and that’s quite nice sometimes ;)

    • Usually a three star rating for me means that I liked the book, but it didn’t blow me away or I don’t feel like I have to run out and get the next book in the series. It’s still good, just not great.

      (Usually when my expectations are dashed, it moves my rating from a 4 to a 3. I’ve never gone into a book expecting it to be a 5 because I AM MS. PICKY PANTS when it comes to rating things 5 stars.)

      But, yes. Ratings are subjective. The person who rates gives the rating meaning.

  6. Ah, what a timely post! I’ve been turning this over in my head for a while. I rate on a 5-star scale, but the majority of my ratings are 2 or 3. Anyone who’s followed me for a while knows that I recommend a lot of books that I give lower ratings, but I know a lot of new people who stumble across my site are kind of confused. Why on earth would I recommend a book I gave two stars? I guess, outwardly, I look a little mean: I have more 1 star ratings than 5 star. Oh well!

    I’m also really bad about only picking out things I didn’t like so much, so when I write a review, I usually have a lot of bad things to say but not much good. So then I feel like it’s nice to tack on an “I liked this!” rating at the end to show everyone that I’m not some snarky book-ripper-upper after all. Or that’s how I think about my ratings.

    • A lot of people don’t use stars and instead use phrases. The phrases usually translate to stars, but “I liked it!” is easier to figure out than “3 stars” (which is a very disagreed upon rating; some think it’s not good, others think it’s fine). That gets around some of the confusion regarding rating. (I’m not suggesting this is what you should do, btw. Just something I’ve seen people do to go around the stars system.)

  7. I do not rate on my blog. If I am forced to rate on Goodreads or Amazon – if I really loved a book, it will get the highest rating. It is subjective and it really depends on your mood, the author and the book. I f I haven’t finished a book, it is because I can’t find it in my house, not that I did not like it.

  8. I take everything with a grain of salt, too. If I rate a book high, I can definitely spend a lot of time nitpicking certain things that bothered me. For example, The Space Between Us by Jessica Martinez. I actually really liked the book, but my review spends a lot of time complaining about some of the “Canadian-isms” that are in the book. BUT, I still liked the book and would read it and recommend it. I find reviewers I trust, who have similar taste to me and go from there. Of course, sometimes its nice to just NOT look at a rating or a review and just read the darn book!

  9. I quit rating on the blog, partly because I got sick of people making comments like “sorry you didn’t like it” on 3 start ratings. It makes you wonder if they even read what was said, because I very clearly said “I LIKED THIS BOOK.” If they don’t want to actually read my review – fine. But don’t say I didn’t like something when I did.

    • Yes! 3 star ratings could be their own blog post since it’s probably the most varied rating in the blogosphere. It could mean anything from a “I liked it” to “Meh.” That was part of the reason why I moved to my enjoyment scale. It’s *very clear* whether I liked a book or not, so there’s none of that confusion.

  10. I have toyed with the idea of adding ratings to my blog SO MANY TIMES because I like to use them on others’ blogs all the time (I don’t read reviews, but sometimes if I’m REALLY curious I’ll read a rating). Honestly, most of the reason I don’t is because I’m lazy and I’ve never gotten my butt in gear to figure out a rating system that I actually LIKE. But at the same time, I’m constantly thinking about comparing the books to each other – “If I give this one a 5, but then read another one that I like even better then what do I rate it?” It all goes back to my neuroses and inability to do anything without worrying I’m doing it wrong lol. Soooooooo… yeah. Every time Bloggiesta comes around I think about it, and every time I say “Well it’s a good idea… Maybe next time!” Way to procrastinate, me!

    Great discussion! :D

    • There are a lot of way to do ratings besides stars. Sharon from the Book Barbies has an imperative factor (stay up until 2am? read on lunch break? etc). Many people have phrases rather than stars. I think it’s more that you have to decide what the threshold is for what constitutes a 5 star book and realize that there’s always going to be a little variance. There are too many outside factors when it comes to ratings to expect it to be the same every time.

      (In other words, less worry. More fun. =P)

  11. Melissa @ Harley Bear Book Blog

    I started using the rating system from Making The Grade because it breaks down each part of a review. I individually rate the plot, characters, setting, pacing, and style from 1-10 add those numbers up add 50 and that gives a score which I then translate to stars (ex. 95 = five stars). I love this method and it gives readers a better idea of what parts of the book I liked better and backs up my explanations of each section. Take a look at a review here: My Review

  12. Interesting post!

    I personally really like ratings because they give me a quick way of determining how the reviewer felt about the book. I always look at the rating before the review so that I know the “tone” and direction of the review ahead of time.

    I know ratings aren’t always universal, but they do help to give you a general idea of how the person felt about the book!