The Ratings Game

February 12, 2017

What Do Those Stars Really Mean?

You read a book. You love it. Or maybe you don’t. Now you’re asked to rate the book.

You’re shown a nice little graphic, and you’re supposed to use it to convey your thoughts and feelings for the book. For most people (including me), this is not an easy task. I mean, how are you supposed to put hundreds of pages of plot, dialogue, characterization, and emotions into a couple of symbols? And why should you even bother?

Not all star ratings are created equal.

Let’s tackle the “how” first. Each site that asks for or accepts ratings generally has a 5-star system. In simplest forms, more stars = better book. However, not all stars are created equal. They don’t even mean the same thing. Here’s what I’m talking about:

  • Amazon: 1=hate, 2=don’t like, 3=ok, 4=like, 5=love
  • Goodreads: 1=did not like, 2=ok, 3=like, 4=really like, 5=love
  • B&N: 1=poor, 2=below average, 3=good, 4=very good, 5=excellent

If you like (not lurve) a book, you’d be expected to give it a ‘4’ on Amazon, and a ‘3’ on Goodreads. And if you look at the customer reviews of a book on Amazon, you’ll notice that ‘3’ is considered a “critical” (unflattering) review, but not on Goodreads. And I don’t know about you, but ‘hate’ seems a whole lot stronger to me than ‘didn’t like’.

But here’s what they have in common: each one is based on how the book make you feel. They’re not asking you to get out your red pen and do a critique or an in-depth, thought-provoking analysis. They just want to know: How much did you like it?. And that’s a question anyone can answer.

So what’s stopping you?

Goodreads makes it really easy. You don’t have to justify anything. Click a star rating and boom, you’re done (though you can leave a review if you want to).

Amazon wants a little more. They want to know why you gave it the rating you did, and this is where a lot of readers suddenly panic and change their minds about leaving a rating/review. Here are some of the most common reasons to just fuhget about it.

I don’t know what to say. Getting your thoughts and feelings into words and on paper isn’t easy. Believe me, every author understands this really, really well. Start with asking yourself what you did (and did not) like about the book and go from there (e.g., ‘I love snarky humor’ or ‘It didn’t have enough sexy scenes for me’.) Not everyone will share your opinion, but pointing out likes and dislikes will help others determine if the book is something they might enjoy. It doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to be in-depth or worthy of a submission to Harvard.

I don’t want my name out there. This is a big one. Privacy is extremely important, especially in this digital age. Here’s the good news: Amazon will let you set a “public name” on your account, so that when you leave a review, you’re real name is kept private and protected. That’s why you often see reviews appearing under names like “MomOf3” or “IrishGirlsRock”. If you want your real name out there, more power to you, but know that there are options if the thought of using your real identity freaks you out.

I don’t like giving bad reviews. Most people don’t. And in all honesty, authors don’t like getting them, either. But here’s the thing: if you are kind with your words and explain why you didn’t like it, it’s okay. What you don’t like may be exactly what someone else does like. Plus, believe it or not, having a few “bad” reviews can actually legitimize a book, because let’s face it, not everyone likes the same thing (which is why the “why” is so important).

The bottom line is, ratings can have a big impact, especially for indie (sub-published) authors, and we all hope for lots of stars upon ours. So next time you’re prompted to share your thoughts, just think about it.

Until next time,