Why Star Ratings Really Mean Nothing in the End

Here’s Jackson figuring out how to walk on the treadmill. Such a smart kitty. This was last week and today he was jumping on and walking beside me as I typed this.

This cat invented monkey-see, monkey-do.

I’ve been thinking about reviews lately. Now that the release date for Platinum is drawing nigh, the number of reviews and Goodreads rankings is going up. I’ve really had to stop reading all of them, because I’ve found that I’m aware of all these readers’ eyes as I’m writing, and not in a good way. I write more slowly than I want to and find myself second-guessing whether someone will pick on this or that. Or if this thing will be a dealbreaker for that reader who hated this other thing. It’s kind of like trying to write in a coffee shop full of people talking loudly about your other books. Even the good chatter is distracting.

Occasionally I’ll read one, so I can retweet it or send it to my website people to post. But I only do that if I know the person gave it 4 or 5 stars.

I know. I’m the pansy my stepfather always exhorted me to not be.

The thing is, the 3-star and and lower reviews stick with you, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. The meanness that can be behind those sentiments (not always, sometimes it’s just a fair “not for me”) works like a poison. Here’s an example of how that works.

I get a lot of spam comments on this blog – like upwards of 30/day. It’s not too bad, because they all go to the spam filter, which is amazingly efficient. I just have to empty it every once in a while. Kind of like purging the septic tank. I used to read through, in case real comments went to spam, but that’s only happened once. (I’m looking at you La Tessa – what HAVE you been up to, girl??) Mostly it’s not worth it. Sometimes I look through a few, just for grins.

There’s one brand that’s really nasty. The intent is clearly to garner attention by standing out. Now that I want to find one, there weren’t any. But they go along the lines of “Clearly you have no idea what you’re talking about. Maybe if you were less sloppy, lazy and stupid, I would have come back to this blog.” What will be funny is that it will be on a post saying, oh, that I signed with my agent or something. I *know* that it has nothing to do with what I wrote, or with anything at all, and it WILL STILL BOTHER ME ANYWAY.

Never ceases to amaze me. So works the human psyche, I suppose.

At any rate, this is the other thing I’m trying to remember – a lower star rating doesn’t mean someone didn’t like the book.

No, really. Because I did this recently. I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. (Actually I listened to it on Audible, for what it’s worth.) There were some things that bothered me here and there – I thought some of the plot was over-contrived, some of the prose struck me as trying too hard. And I really hated the ending. If you’ve read it, I’ll discuss privately, but I won’t spoiler it. When I went to rank it on Goodreads, I nearly gave it 3 stars, but the ending bothered me so much. (For the record, it was not because I wanted a Happy-Ever-After.) But then I thought about how the story had captured me and how truly original and interesting the premise is, so I reluctantly bumped it up to 4 stars.

I’ll tell you what: I’ve recommended that book to more people in the last several months than any book in recent years.

See? My star rating, 3 or 4 or whatever, seems to have nothing to do with my personal word of mouth. Because, even if I think you might not like how it ends, I think you’ll still love reading it.

Chalk one up to experience.

10 Replies to “Why Star Ratings Really Mean Nothing in the End”

  1. I couldn’t agree more! It took me years of fretting to finally reach a point where I decided not to read my reviews. Good or bad. I just don’t read them. The bad ones stick with me for weeks, and I often don’t write a word because I’m so busy dwelling on what one person disliked (often something I really liked and believed in, and wouldn’t have changed anyway). While the good reviews are lovely and wonderful, they also make me question what I’m writing. Am I doing enough of that thing readers liked? Not enough? Too much? Ugh. It’s crazy making.

    BTW, I read GONE GIRL in January and absolutely friggin’ adored it. It’s my favorite read of the past 5 years, no question. And like you, I absolutely detested the ending. Hated it more than I’ve hated an ending in… well, the past 5 years. But because I loved the book so much, and because it stuck with me and I’ve recommended it again and again, I gave it a very enthusiastic 5-stars. Yeah, even though I despised the ending. It wasn’t enough to detract from the awesomeness of the book for me.

    1. It’s so true, Lacey – all that chatter is just distracting. And not really for us to listen to anyway. We’ll have to discuss the ending and share how WE would have written it!

  2. If I could, I would rather NOT have to choose a specific star rating. I would prefer to just write my review and be done with it, but it seems most review sites like stars. I sometimes will rate a book and then re read it and decide on something else. I rarely give anything below 4 stars because if a book is good enough to hold my interest the whole way through it deserves a 4 star rating. If I didn’t like it and didn’t finish it or skipped over parts because I was bored it would be a 3. Well, I have plenty of books/authors that I like to read so I rarely pick up books I am not sure about and thus, not many 3 star books. Now people add in 1/2 stars 4.5 stars, etc), too. I guess I like that but would still rather not give a book stars. Would rather just write and talk about it. Which is why I have my own blog now. I will only review books I would recommend. I have that “let’s all just get along” type personality. If I didn’t finish a book because it wasn’t for me I just never mention it online anywhere.

    1. You know, Amy, I think the star-rating thing is fairly recent. It used to be for movies or other consumer ratings, but book reviews were always descriptive, with no particular valuation. In many ways I (also) think that’s better. Just like how Lacey and I feel about Gone Girl – it can’t really be boiled down to a ranking. The experience of a book is frequently more complex than that.

  3. And that is another reason why I do not have a rating system on my blog. The other being that i want people to read what i thought instead of focusing on a couple of stars.

    And am I the only one who seems to think a 3 star rating is pretty good? I mean: it says ‘I liked it’ as explanation on goodreads. I use it a lot for books I liked. 4 is for books I really liked and 5 is reserved for those books I want to hug and pet and name George. Well, you get the picture.

    1. Maybe it’s just me? I’m probably this overachiever academic drone who will forever see the five stars matching the US five-grade system. To me a 3-star is a C, which is a passing grade, yes, but nothing to brag about. A B is acceptable, especially with a hard teacher or subject and an A is always most desired. A C is, well, mediocre. I need to get over myself. 😀

  4. My stars only mean something TO ME, the READER (in fact, I don’t even pay attention to others). I use them to rank the books I’ve READ. It helps me judge which authors I like. Period.

    Isn’t that what the star ranking is all about anyway? It should be!

    1. I think that makes perfect sense, Stacy. I’ve been hearing all day about everyone’s different opinions on number of stars. You’re right – it is only meaningful to the person assigning the ranking in the first place!

  5. Is the book same as the movie Gone Girl, I only watched it and have not read it yet but yes the ending was like what was that all about? I agree that star ratings are somehow not really relevant all the time, you will have to read more recommendations and suggestions than just purely basing on star rating. Word of mouth and personal suggestions are way more important as what you have mentioned here.

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