No More Stars

I’ve decided I’m going to change the way I do my reviews.  From this point forward, there will be no more star ratings.  I’m not going to change the reviews that are out there now. That would be a massive undertaking.  Instead, I’m simply drawing a line in the sand here.

Why change it?

I’ve given this a great deal of thought over the course of months now, and I’ve decided it’s just time.  People are obsessed with star ratings these days.  I see ads for book reviews come all the time claiming “over x number of 5 star ratings on Goodreads” or whatever.  Yeah?  And?  A star rating doesn’t say what the book is about, and it certainly doesn’t say whether or not I’d like it.

It doesn’t tell me if that rating was earned by how well it was technically written, or if it’s an emotional rating based on “all the feels.”  It’s subjective in the moment.  There are acknowledged classics out there that I don’t care for.  There are truly badly written pulp novels that I love to pieces.  Ideally, a star review should balance all of these points.  But they don’t.  People have it coded in their minds what it means to them, and it’s not the same across the board.  It can’t be by virtue of the fact that we’re all different.

I’ve had encounters with authors or musicians where they feel like they’ve personally failed if something doesn’t get a 5-star rating.  Or if my opinion doesn’t match that of the masses, it’s somehow wrong.  I’ve had authors actually petition me several times over the years to change my rating because I clearly didn’t understand their work or what they were trying to do with it.  No… I understood just fine.  I simply don’t feel the same way about it you do, or I got something completely different out of it than the masses did.  It’s like when people think a movie is good because it made x amount at the box office.  That just means a lot of people saw it.  It doesn’t mean people liked it.  And on those points when they did, sometimes I just don’t feel the same way.  Likewise, if something does deserve a 5-star rating, does it matter why I think that, or is the fact that it earned that enough?

No more.

When I do a review, I want to discuss the work.  I want my opinion to mean something more than the stars I give it.  I want to feel like my engagement (or lack thereof) with the work in question actually matters.  You want to know what I think about something?  Forget the rating.  Read the review.  I think both the work and my reivew are better served this way.

Thanks for understanding.

20 thoughts on “No More Stars

  1. I feel the same way! I’ve never been into stared ratings because that doesn’t say anything about the book except for that it’s good. Like, you can’t point out the bad parts of the book even though it’s a good book. I’m more on how the book feels, and how it makes me feel about the story and the plot of the book. Great post!

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  2. I struggle to select star ratings. As an author, I know that everyone wants 5-stars. As a reader, I want to save 5-star ratings for only the best of the best. What seems to have happened over the last couple of years is that I end up giving out a ton of 4-star ratings to what is truly a wide variety of 3-star books that I feel bad rating that low to excellent 4-star books that just don’t quite hit the all-star list for me. I love the idea of going starless….unless I’m talking about my own books, of course. ;-)

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    • That’s a lot of the problem I have. Eventually it comes to the point where you pass out ratings like candy, and do they mean anything at that point? Does this 4 star book rate the same as that 4 star book? If not, how do you quantify that with just a star? The uniqueness of books defies this system. The more I review, the less sense this system makes.

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  3. I completely understand, Troy. I sometimes have a great deal of trouble deciding how many stars to give. If I have a problem with the stars, I usually explain why in my review, such as, I can’t give 5 stars because of this or I give 3 stars for plot but 5 stars for characterization so middle it out at 4 stars. Like you said, the stars don’t really tell what you think. I tend to give 5 stars only to really outstanding books that I’ll never forget but sometimes that’s on the line. Stars or no stars, your reviews are always well thought out and helpful.

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    • I appreciate it, thanks. I tried this kind of rationale, but I think I just started arguing in circles. I’d rather review the book instead of explaining my rating. The book is usually more interesting.

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  4. That’s a great idea! The commentary is more important than all the ratings. As a teacher I always struggle with marks and grades and it’s much easier for me to say whether something is good or not, without pointing out how many points it earned my students.

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  5. May I add that although I agree with your premise on principle, Troy, many readers do expect a rating; a benchmark by which to assess the potential of a book against others in the same genre. Not everyone will take the trouble to read a review in full, particularly if it’s long and detailed. The rating will give a quick initial assessment that would encourage further reading. This is what I do as a reader of reviews. When it comes to writing my own reviews, my system is different. I gauge how I’ve perceived the book as a whole first and give my rating. I then follow it up with the book’s strengths and weaknesses regardless of my rating. Sometimes a book deserves a 5-star overall but will still have some weaknesses that need to be pointed out for the sake of fairness. On the other hand, I’ve read 3-star works with strengths that by far surpassed some 5-star reads. So, really, the rating is only an indicator of overall achievement in my view.

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    • Everyone has what works for them, and that’s fine. You pretty much prove own point about snap judgment and the unhelpful nature of a star rating, however. I write for me, because I feel compelled to do so. The experience of a book is what matters to me. I’ve started seeing authors debate on whether a 4 star rating is some kind of punishment and if 3 stars is abject failure. That’s crazy to me. What’s crazier is I’ve had a handful of authors in the past try to negotiate that rating for all kinds of reasons because that marketing credit means more than honest evaluation. And this usually happens without having been approached to read in the first place. But they make it clear my review is wrong. That is why I don’t like star ratings. A review is my assessment. There’s no right or wrong. If a reader has a problem with how I do things, there are literally thousands of other reviewers doing what people expect. I’m done playing that game. Marketing is not my job. Talking about books and why I enjoy them, or sometimes don’t, is my hobby. I’m inviting a conversation about a book, and if no one bites, so be it. It’s not like I’m flooding social media with negative reviews and trying to pretend I’m making or breaking careers. I’m one voice in one dark corner of the internet. My readership is small enough that I get to know some people and cultivate friendships. That’s why I do this, to meet people I don’t meet in my own walk of life without the need to play to an audience.

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