What Does a Book Rating Mean to You?

Posted June 14, 2010 by Jen in Tags: ,

Recently I read a post by Parajunkee in her Blogger 101 series that talked about writing a bad review. It brought up some great points. But it was this comment by author JA Saare that inspired my post:

I can say that one of the worst things as an author is when you get a low rating but a glowing review. It’s baffling and leaves you questioning what the reviewer disliked so much that they didn’t rate it as well as they ‘fluffed’ it (stealing from Mar for a second). 

That got me wondering what does one consider a low rating. I put a lot of thought into my rating scale found HERE. Every time I write a review, I re-read my rating scale and carefully make my decision about the book. 
Let’s look at how I review a book. First, I read the book. While I read the book I take notes about key scenes, significant events, but mostly – how I feel when I read certain passages-what I liked and what I didn’t like. After I finish the book, I write down my initial thoughts as quickly as possible. Then I let the story soak in a bit. After a day or two, I come back to the book and my notes. I go to the author’s website and pull down the synopsis of the story, and from there I write my review. I look at my rating scale and determine how many stars the book gets. Finally, I re-read the whole review and edit. I treat each book and author’s work with respect, and I am honest with my opinion. I do try to find at least one good thing in each book (especially when it’s a “bad review”) and I will point out some thing that I felt was a weakness or annoyed me.  I try to make spoiler-free, which can get really hard in books I love.
Back to ratings… For me anything rated at a 3 or higher (out of 5) is a GOOD RATING… If you look at my scale I write: 3 STARS: Liked it, there were a few issues – recommend. RECOMMEND – So according to my scale a good rating is 3 and above, and when I rate below 3 stars it’s more “take it or leave it.” So I feel that 3 stars is a good rating. Even a 2.5 isn’t bad – it’s more just “okay in my book.” For me, a “bad rating” is a 2 or lower.  Plus, I’m very, very skimpy with the 5 star rating. A book must be so ideal and perfect to receive 5 stars. 

I also try to put the ratings in context of a “stand alone” book… For example, I recently read and
reviewed Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews. I actually gave this book 2 ratings. This is the 4th book in a wonderful series. As a fan of the entire series, this book blew me away and was definitely a 5 star book. But for people that haven’t enjoyed the entire series, they won’t get the same impact, so I gave the book a 4.5 star rating. I may need to do that again with my reviews; I think it worked well giving 2 ratings.
So my question to you is what do you consider a bad rating? As a reader, where do you draw the line between a “must read,” “maybe I’ll pick it up” and “I won’t bother?” Authors: what number makes you cringe and what number makes you think “not a bad review?” Everyone: How strongly does the rating impact your decision to read/like a book? Or do you look at the review more closely that then number? If you see a low number, will you skip the review? Do you ever look at the reviewers explanation of their individual rating scale?

16 responses to “What Does a Book Rating Mean to You?

  1. Interesting question. Personally, as a reader who does scope out reviews, I would say anything under a 3 is a bad review, but I think there does need to be clarification as to the reasoning behind it as to why it’s rated the way it is. In my own defense, I’ve rated books I’ve mostly loved a 3/12 or a 4 because there may be one strong element that drags down my opinion of it, but overall, the story may be exceptional. (Anyone who’s read my reviews may note I tend to grade emotionally, so if it’s an element that I object to, I’m going to give a harsher grade, however that doesn’t mean I didn’t love the book).

    I know this rationale probably doesn’t make much sense, but one huge key factor can impact what otherwise might be a fantastic story to the reader. I can be a matter of personal taste, or it might strike a nerve due to personal experience. For example, I found the movie “It’s Complicated” to be very funny, but my girlfriend didn’t enjoy it as much as I did because of the issue of infidelity. Having been cheated on in her marriage, that element of the movie kept her from enjoying the whole storyline. So she liked it, however felt it was tainted by that plot.

    Hopefully I made myself somewhat clear! LOL.

  2. Great question Jen! And I will quote from Stacy here: (Anyone who’s read my reviews may note I tend to grade emotionally

    But then I ask myself, who doesn’t grade from emotion, personal preferences and so on? If I leave my personality and experiences out the door I can clinically read a book, other than that, I grade from my emotion too!

    A 5 star read is a perfect read for me, I think I have awarded 4 perhaps 5 books this grade last year. I don’t easily give it because it is a sign that this is a true exceptional treasure on my shelves, one I can re-read a dozen times and still can’t get enough of it. Everything from 3-5 stars is good on different intensity levels IMO, you can enjoy a book but still have (some) issues with it. The one and two stars is a bad review IMO, at least, when the rating is elaborated with thoughts where the rating is coming from.

    It is also the words I use, for example: there is difference in calling a book enjoyable or finding it an awesome, stellar read. The complete review usually showcases me level of enthusiasm for a book 🙂 Even with four star books I can have small issues but still find the overall book incredible to read.

    Grading is very personal, that’s why I love to read the thoughts of a reader too, so I can get a complete picture. Just like you Jen I put lots of care in my reviews, probably like the most of us do and while there may be nothing wrong with the story I still can give it a 3-3,5 rating because of perhaps a simple storyline or lack of struggles between H/H. I don’t know if I make any sense with my ramblings but too me grading will always reflect my emotions too.

    I will check out Parajunkee’s blogpost 😀

  3. Great post! As being a newbie on the blog block, this question is always at the back of my mind because I am still trying to find my own niche in ratings. I have a rating scale and stick to it, but sometimes I find myself questioning what to really rate a book I have just finished.

    You point out a great way of keeping your thoughts clear by taking notes along the way. I, too, do this, but sometimes get so wrapped up in reading that I miss important factors to take note of for future reference. This is an area that I need to really work on.

    As far as do I just pay attention to the rating scale and not read the readers review, I always do both! First, I skip down to the rating, then go back and read their thoughts on the book. I do this both because I’m curious and because I’m trying to see how different reviewers review.

    But, a readers thoughts are always important. I want to see why they rated something the way they did. I’ve bought MANY books before with mixed reviews — I find these to be the most intriguing reads because I want to see why there was so much discord between reviewers! I also tend to find blogs that I know often have similar views on books that I’ve also read, and go from there! But, that doesn’t mean I won’t search out different blogs and books that rated the same books differently. Like I said, I like to see the WHY behind the reviews!

    Great topic!!

  4. Hey Jen ~

    I should start this by stating I review as well as write, so I remain on both sides of the spectrum. I’m positive that being an author makes me bias on my reviews (what I mean by that I’ll mention below) but I always try to be as fair as possible.

    You mentioned your rating and what you consider a “bad” review, with a 3 score being “good.” I know that when an author gets a 3 (which stands directly in the middle of the holy grail — a 5 — and the pits of hell — a 1) they will most certainly question what it was that made it more than a 2 but less than a 4. After all, 5 is perfection, 4 is something you really liked, and a 3 is “okay” (just going by the talk I’ve had with other authors, although I can see the logic). So the question becomes, why just “okay” and not “great.”

    With that said, as I stated, I also review. In the beginning I always reviewed stories according to what I felt at the time (if it stuck with me for a long time after, it was a guaranteed 5), but as I read more and more, it became harder to rate because there were so many stories, some of them didn’t appeal to me like the “last” story I’d read, and it messed with the head.

    Due to this, I started rating according to factors:

    The Story
    The Characters
    Plot Development

    For editing, I’m more lax, as I’ve been unfortunate in that department myself. But for the others I give one point each, so say that I read something and I didn’t buy a plot twist or a character really annoyed me, it might drop to a 4. If the editing was poor, I might drop it to a 3 1/2 and so forth.

    The one thing to keep in mind is this — reading is subjective so ratings will be as well. I try not to look at my own stuff too much (ratings on Goodreads, etc) as you begin to question things too deeply instead of approaching it optimisticly. I think that authors have to remember what it’s like to read when they get a low rating (for me, a low rating is a 2 or under) and think of a book that people raved about that didn’t do anything for them. In fact, I’ve commented on only ONE of the reviews for Dead on Amazon.com and it was a 3 rating with an exceptional review that noted all of the things she liked — and didn’t — and thanked her for being so concise and for taking the time to write something so well thought out and presented. It was a 3 sure, but with her review I totally understood what worked and didn’t for her, so it was gravy.

    As for my bias in reviews: I openly state here and now that unless the story just really isn’t my thing, I never rate under a 3. Once upon a time (before I became published) I did, but no longer. I suppose, for me, I know what it’s like to get that sickening feeling in your gut when someone considers your work heinous and deserving of the garbage can. However, even with that, when I review under my alias I will always mention exactly what it was that didn’t work for me, while finding positive things to state as well to maintain a balance.

    The truth is, a review is ultimately an opinion. And…well…you know what opinions are like. *grins* Everybody has one!

    Thanks for choosing me as inspiration for a topic! It’s very exciting! 😀


    P.S. For those who don’t know me, the assholes and opinions comment is totally tongue in cheek. These girls know me via Twitter, so I’m sure they’ll vouch for my yap.

  5. Great post chick. And thanks for the props. I went to twitter…and was like huh? Got a lot of @s.

    I think we are on the same opinion when it comes to raters. 3s and highers are always good reviews. I think I maybe had 2 or 3 5s last year, most average to a 3.5 or 4 and now I can’t even finish a book lately that is bad…so they get a big DNF if they are under what would be a 3 – and usually those aren’t even posted.

    I think JA’s break down of how she rates is a good idea, I might have to give it a try. It actually might rate books higher than I usually do.

    Thanks again for the post.

  6. Great topic, Jen!
    This rating thing isn’t easy. I’m still struggling with it every now and then. I’m rather generous with my rates, I think. I try to give the ratings right after I finished the book, writing a review will take a little longer than that.
    I agree with you: 2 stars and lower are bad, the rest means it was a good read.
    The thing for me is, the more I read the harder the rating gets, because of the comparison I make with the other books I’ve read. For example, looking back at some books from a subgenre I read for the first time, makes me realise that it wasn’t all that good compared to all the other books of that genre that are out there (but didn’t know about back then).
    I also started to think a lot ‘if I gave this or that book 4 stars, I definitely need to give this book 4.5 stars cos I liked it better than that other one’. Of course that doesn’t work well.
    So, I’m trying to rate more according JA’s system now. That works better.

  7. Una

    Good question! For me, a 3 rating is a good read…not worth purchasing, get from the library after checking out the synopsis to see if it interests you. 4, I recommend, buy if you like but definitely check out from library and 5, of course, is a buy and reread book, a simple must have. 2 is okay, I finished it but I don’t recommend it as I feel there is something better. 1 means that I couldn’t finish it and it’s not worth looking up the synopsis.

  8. I consider anything under a 3 a bad rating. A 3 I have some problems but still ok. 3.5 Def recommend just a few reservations. I consider a 4 a pretty darn good book.

    I always look at the reviewers rating first. And now that I am submersed in the blogosphere..I can’t imagine buying a book without first checking out some reviews. That is why I love Goodreads so much..I can quickly glance at everyone’s opinion.

    Nice post!

  9. As an author, just to pipe in, I agree with JA Saare, how odd things can be with ratings. I remember kinda chuckling one time, because two of my ratings offset each other.

    One review scored a 3, with a totally GLOWING write up. The reader loved everything about the book, without a single negative comment. Another reviewer scored the same book a 5, with an absolutely drab writeup. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the book, but her verb choice made people who read the review thing “ehh, I’ll wait”, I’m sure.

    I wanted to kinda switch things around, put the glowing writeup with the 5, and the drab writeup with the three. Then I could think to myself: Not every book is for every reader. Ahhhh, such is life. 😀

    The most important thing is a fair review, and one that is well written. And, in my opinion, one that doesn’t tell the entire book and how it ends. 🙂 Overall, most of the reviews I see are very fair. In the past I saw alot of fluff type reviews, but that seems to have faded from view lately. or at least, in my experience is. 🙂

  10. Thanks Jen for this informative explanation. I’ll be sitting on pins and needles, now, lol. At least, I will understand where your scores come from and know you really do put a lot of consideration into your reviews. I really appreciate that!

    As an author, I believe that is a completely fair rating scale. As a reader, I would find your reviews helpful in showing me new authors and stories to pick up for my own reading.

    I’m with J.A. Saare with the whole “sickening feeling in your gut” moment that comes when an email alert indicates a new review. I want readers to enjoy my work. For me, I would like reviewers to see that a ton of heart went into the writing and creating. If the story didn’t work for them, I can understand that. Hopefully, there was something positive in the reading despite the negative aspects.

    However, I am still learning this craft, aiming for new heights and the best way to do this is to get feedback from readers. Even if sometimes it is bittersweet.

    I know it is completely impossible for everyone to love my stories, though.

    Thanks for this post today.

  11. I’m exactly like you. I tend to give a lot of 3-4 stars, and to me, 3 stars is still a great rating. Anything lower than a 3 means I had major problems with the book and can’t recommend it.

  12. WOW! Thanks for all of the great feedback and input. I was joking earlier that it would be nice to get some ratings on my reviews LOL.

    I realized that I use a 2.5 as my “middle.” Why? Because about 95% of the books I read I like – so I needed more wiggle room above my “middle” and less below it.

    I too have an emotional component in my ratings. I think that JA’s system is a great idea, but I’m definitely not ready to use it. I try to make my reviews fair and balanced, but the rating has a “gut instinct” piece to it. “How did I ‘feel’ about the book?” Things like bad editing or gaps in storyline will bring down a story. I may love half the book and not so much a different part. The ending leaves a big impression on me, as well. That is why a 5 is so rare – a book has to have the extra emotional component that puts it above a 4.5.

    Unlike what some of you said… I tend to grade “harsher” at first – especially those that start a series. I don’t want to set the bar too high for an author or series. I bet if I re-read some of the earlier series books I reviewed and gave 3’s to they would now be a 3.5 b/c I am more familiar with that author’s work.

    Thanks again for the feedback! Great conversation!

  13. I think I’m fairly generous with ratings most of the time. I don’t give half meows, though I think I should start doing so.

    I give ratings based on how much I enjoyed the book. If I’m raving about it when I’m done, it gets a 5 meow rating. If I recommend it to a few people but I’m not blowing up people’s Twitter feed over it, it’ll likely get a 4 or a 3. I’ve only given a few 2s, and I don’t think I’ll ever give out a 1. If it’s bad enough that it warrants a 1 meow rating, I more than likely DNF’d it.

    I don’t like giving bad reviews/ratings. For one, I’m super sensitive, and if someone rated something I wrote poorly, I’d probably go sit in the corner with my blanky and cry. For two, I try to look at the positive side of things. Even if I didn’t particularly care for a book, I’ll try to point out it’s good qualities while still telling what I didn’t care for about the book.

    I firmly believe in constructive criticism – how is the author supposed to improve if you don’t point out what you didn’t like? Still, I don’t want to completely crush them and say “Holy crap, your book sucked!” because… well, that’s just rude.

    Great post, hun!

  14. Great post! There are very few books that I’ve read that I’ve given lower than a 3. I don’t like doing it but when I do rate a book lower than a 3, I make sure to be very clear about my reasons why in my review. Normally it has to do with plot, character development, the way the book flows, sometimes grammatical issues. I did recently give a book a 2.5 rating only because I disliked the MC so damn much that I couldn’t enjoy the book. And I made it clear in my review that it was MY issue with the character, not necessarily that it was a terrible book. Like everyone else, I consider a 3 a good rating. I’d rate books a 3 if I enjoyed but had problems with plot or character. I have rated books 4 and 5 and it is based solely on emotion. For me a 4 or 5 book is a book that I can not put down and I do not want to end. A book that I totally rave about and want to share with others. Hence my Knocked My Socks Off Giveaway. The books featured in that giveaway are 4 or 5 star books for me.

    You have to be honest in your ratings and I think readers appreciate that. And it’s YOUR opinion. People can take it or leave it.

  15. When I read a book review, if the book gets a 3 or above, I’ll look for it either at the library or to add to my collection. I don’t actually rate the books I review/talk about on my blog, but I do keep a “grade” on my spreadsheet of books read.