Oh my stars! Reconsidering a ratings system.

Twinkle, twinkle little star. How I wonder whether I should include you when I write book reviews…

Sorry, is that not how the nursery rhyme goes?

About five years ago, I wrote a piece about star ratings and why I don’t use one (here). Looking back, I can see I did some serious overthinking of the issue. But hey, that’s not so unusual for me!

I’ve been blogging and reviewing books for over seven (!!!) years now, and from the beginning, I opted not to include a rating with my reviews. I’ve often felt boxed-in by the Goodreads 5-star system (oh, for those half stars they deny us!), and felt that the approach that works best for me is to put my reactions and feelings about a book into the review, and not try to attach a number to what is essentially a qualitative experience.

So why am I bringing this up again now?

Because I realize that my approach may be a little contrary to how I read other people’s reviews. Okay, I’ll admit the stark truth here: While I don’t use stars (or any other numeric ratings system), I do find myself scanning other people’s reviews to see their ratings before I go ahead and read the reviews themselves. There could be lots of reasons for this:

  • It’s a book I’ve never heard of, so I want to know at a glance if it’s worth considering.
  • It’s a book I’m reading or planning to read, and while I don’t want to know anything about it just yet (the dreaded spoiler phobia at work), I do want to know the reviewer’s overall opinion of the book.
  • I’m in a rush. I do follow quite a few bloggers and some days, there just isn’t time to read everything in my feed. But, if I see that a blogger whose reading tastes usually align with mine gives a book 5 stars, I’ll slow down and read that review to see if the book is for me.

Give that I value other bloggers’ ratings, how do I continue posting reviews without including ratings as well?

I’m cautiously dipping my toes into the idea of adding ratings to my reviews going forward. (Sorry, mixed metaphor, but whatever.) It feels like a big change for me, but also like not quite as big a deal as I once made it out to be.

What do you think? For anyone who’s read any of my reviews… well, first of all, thank you! But secondly — would you prefer to see me include ratings with my reviews? Overall, do you prefer to see ratings when you visit book blogs?

Please share your thoughts!

23 thoughts on “Oh my stars! Reconsidering a ratings system.

  1. Its definitely a double edged sword. I use stars (and half stars!) but sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to rate a book, and I find myself wishing I didn’t use stars. But I agree, I do like glancing at reviews to see the rating before reading a review, and sometimes I read non starred reviews that were sort of open ended and made me think “I have no idea if they liked this book or not!”

    • Right, and sometimes that’s why I prefer not using ratings — when I finish a book, and I just don’t have a clear reaction to it. I’ve had books where I can appreciate the skillful plotting or the great writing, and they still just don’t really work for me — or books that I’m sure I would have liked more if I’d picked a different month to read them!

  2. I’ve been reading your blog regularly for years now, and I find that in your writing you tend to lead with a few words that indicate your overall impression or β€œrating.” So, I don’t miss a star system. I enjoy your writing style and only rarely do I skip a review for a book I know I’m going to read. Keep doing what you do, it’s awesome 😎

    • Thanks so much for the kind words of encouragement! I’m thinking about adding a ratings system because I’m feeling a little frustrated by the lack. We’ll see.

  3. I tend to not like ratings for my own reviews, because I think they’re too restrictive.

    For instance, I could both put Chieftains and Marine Force One (to use two cheap military thrillers) as “3 stars”. However, Chieftains is a wildly erratic book that zig-zags between “good” and “bad”, while Marine Force One just starts as a middling page-turner and stays that way.

    • Right, it can feel very restrictive when one scale is applied to widely different types of books. I’ve had issues with trying to rate books by a favorite author, because I know I love this author more than most others, but within their books, some are much better than others. It’s a challenge to find the right balance for sure.

  4. I must admit, I’ve never really noticed your lack of a star rating! I think it’s clear from your review what you think of the books you read, and even if I only have time to skim read I can tell whether it’s a book I might be interested in picking up. I enjoy using star ratings for the reason you mentioned above – I like to let people know straight away whether it’s going to be a more positive or negative review, and then they can decide if they want to keep on reading or not. πŸ™‚

    • Really good reasons for using stars! πŸ™‚ I’ve been leaning more in that direction lately, just trying to decide if I really want to make a change (but I’m thinking yes.)

  5. So I don’t include my star ratings when I post a full review on my blog, but I DO use them for literally everything else (including my wrap up posts, my personal book journal, and Goodreads)? I don’t know why I chose not to do that, but I’m thinking it’s time to add them in, especially since your observations about reading other blog reviews are spot on!

    If it helps at all, I actually did a whole “How I Rate My Reads” post, if you’re interested:

    • Your post is really helpful! I’ll have to put something together if I do switch over to ratings. I mean, I know what I intend when I give a book 4 stars, but I should make sure it’s clear to others too.

  6. hehe I like your take on the nursery rhyme πŸ˜‰ To be honest, I like to look and see the rating as well, for all the same reasons you’ve given! Especially if there’s a combination of the above reasons (for instance I could be in a rush and haven’t heard of the book before, so I want to know if it’s going to be worth my time)

  7. Hey Lisa – I’m a believer in the star system, although it does get sticky at times. I’m very stingy with 5 stars and give a lot of 3s and 4s. I think you give excellent reasons to include them. They help the reader identify (quickly, when necessary) what books might be good ones to read. I have always felt that my own ratings should reflect my tastes, so that the blog has a sort of brand to it. I hope you consider using them. Looking forward to seeing!

    • Thanks so much, Barbara! I agree, a blogger’s ratings should reflect their own tastes and approaches. I know what I mean by a 4-star rating or a 5-star rating, so I think it’s mostly a question of explaining my take on it and then sticking to my standards.

  8. I decide if I do a star rating on a per-book basis haha. Usually I will give a star rating but sometimes I have no idea what to rate it and then I just won’t. When reading other reviews, I like either a rating or a general, Yes/No/Meh consensus. Have you thought of using a more abstract rating than stars? Even if its just a Yes/No/Meh or something more in depth like liked it/loved it/hated it/couldn’t care less/it is what it is type thing?

    • Ha, I like your per-book approach! I’ve thought about a more general approach. I’ve seen some bloggers leave it as a recommend – yes/no or something similar. I think that would feel too vague for me, to be honest. I might recommend a lot of books, but in different ways or different degrees of enthusiasm. Hmmm. Will give this idea more thought!

  9. Hi Lisa! If feels like a lifetime since last I visited you. Well… maybe because it is a lifetime (shame on me!).

    I remember that post, maybe because I agreed with you that the star rating is limiting. I still think so. But also I appreciate that readers have become so accustomed to it that they expect it, and since you are a book blogger, it makes sense that you use the readers’ language.

    Personally, I don’t much bother about stars. If I come upon the review of a book I’d like to read, I’ll read the review no matter the rating, mostly because I like to read a variety of review before I make up my mind.

    REgardless, I think your decision makes a lot of sense.

    • Nice to see you again! It is hard to keep up with other bloggers, no worries. πŸ™‚ I appreciate hearing your thoughts. I’ve decided to give it a go and see if it changes my approach in any real way — now that I’m moving forward, it doesn’t actually feel like that big a deal.

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