Ratings and Reviews Part 1 - The Reality of Ratings
Last month at the SOKY Book Fest I talked with Jackson Pearce about her novel Purity. After learning I had read and reviewed the book for the Southern Book Bloggers ARC Tour, she asked me what rating I had given the book. I told her, and she said, "Not bad." It may not have been a bad rating or a great rating, but I wanted her to understand what exactly that rating meant, so we further discussed the novel (if you want to know what I thought, click here). I would rather her (or any author) understand my thoughts than just walk away with a number.
Being asked flat out by an author what rating I gave her book got me thinking about the pros and cons of ratings and reviews. While it was easy to tell Pearce a number, that number hardly encompassed all of what I felt about the book, which was why I wrote a full review of the novel. Rating systems, whether it be so many stars, something out of ten, or what have you, appear regimented and streamlined. However, as all book reviewers know, rating systems are subjective and used differently by different people. As such, the true meaning of the rating can get lost in translation, especially if there is no explanation provided or full review to accompany it.
This issue can be seen in the reactions some in the book world have to rating novels. Kristi of The Story Siren does not give ratings for books either on her blog or on Goodreads. She only reviews books and explained why in one of Dear Story Siren posts last year. I also saw on Twitter sometime during the last couple months that no matter what three stars is supposed to mean on Goodreads, getting only three out of five stars is not the best thing that could happen for a book or its author. (I can't remember who said it, an author I believe. I tried searching for the tweet but had no luck finding it.)
Personally, I like to give ratings for novels. I prefer the out of ten scale because it gives me more of a spectrum to work with than the out of five on Goodreads. If you look at my Writer Quirk Rating System post, located on the Quirk Reviews page, you will see how I break down and explain my numbered ratings. Goodreads does something similar. When you hover over a star on the rating bar, a little box pops up to tell you what assigning that star rating means.
Unfortunately, because ratings are supposed to be a quick look at what a person thought of a book, getting the actual meaning behind the ratings may be not happen. Even if you do know that three stars on Goodreads means you liked a book, that is neither always taken into account nor does it tell the whole story. I'm guilty of looking at ratings and misreading them all the time. On Goodreads, I often don't spare much of a glance for a book with less than an average of a four star rating. But in doing so, I'm ignoring books with an average of a three star rating, which means that most people who read those books liked them. I'm not only cheating the author and the book of proper notice based on my subjective view of the ratings, but I may also be cheating myself out of a good read (please excuse the pun).
So the reality of book ratings is that they are decent for a short-cut reference but cannot fully express a reader's feelings and are thus lacking. This is why I believe actual ratings should be used alongside reviews instead of just on their own. But why not just remove ratings altogether? Personally, I think they are useful to some extent. If you familiarize yourself with a rating system or the person giving the ratings, they can serve the purpose they are meant to fulfill.
What do you think? Do you use ratings? Do you think they are misleading, necessary, or some combination of the two? Ever had an author ask what rating you gave his or her book? Let me know in the comments!
And don't forget to check back for Part 2 of Tell Me What You REALLY Think: Ratings and Reviews for a look at the pros and cons of full book reviews.