As a retired teacher, I suppose I am biased in my view of “ratings”. I came from the old school—literally. I never believed in scoring something unless there was a set of criteria laid out from the beginning. When I gave an assignment, I also gave the evaluation scheme with it. If the student wanted an A, I would describe what they had to do.
The most objective appraisals, of course, involve right or wrong answers such as 2 + 2 = 4. No debate. As for all other evaluations, some subjectivity is involved. However, when the assessor has knowledge of and experience with the task or skill being evaluated, the subjectivity is dependable.
That brings me to book reviews. On most sites, I am asked, as a reader/reviewer, to give the book I’ve just read a star rating. This score is extremely important to the author of the novel. Amazon, for instance, uses the ratings to promote the books. Readers most often only look at novels with a 4 or 5 star rating. But what are the criteria? What does the rating mean?
Well, to put it bluntly, there are no criteria. Unless you are a professional reviewer and have studied the various genres, the rules a writer is supposed to follow, the techniques or skills to be admired, and so on, you will be completely subjective in your evaluation. You’ll have no template to go by.
In fact, Amazon assumes that this is the case. Clearly the scoring guideline wants you to be totally subjective. Five stars means “I love it”. How much more biased can you be?? 4 stars = “I like it”. 3 stars = “It’s okay”. 2 stars = “I don’t like it”. 1 star = “I hate it”. You HATE a book? Oh my.
When I peruse the ratings on my books, I often cringe. The Bridgeman has a 4 star rating. I would expect that its score would be somewhat lower because the subject matter is dark. Despite the hopeful ending filled with love and community, it nevertheless describes the underbelly of society.
Victim, on the other hand, is a pretty tame read. There’s lots of native philosophy, hope and love. It has a four and a half star rating. My current author rank is 140,000 out of several million. Could be better, but still an achievement.
However , all of this ranking, promoting, highlighting and selling is largely the result of the number of stars a novel has. And the number of stars is so subjective that I don’t see how my books can possibly be compared to anyone else’s. What my readers love or hate may be polar opposite to what you love or hate.
In fact, I often look at a favorite author’s one-star rating and wonder what planet that reader must be on in order to despise that particular work, which I loved.
So—what to do? One of my colleagues refuses to give stars at all. That might be a good strategy, except for the fact that Amazon bases its promotions and highlights on stars. My policy is that I never post a review that’s only 1 or 2-star worthy. In other words, I didn’t like the book at all. Maybe that skews the ratings for my reviews, but so what? Nobody is going to look around for those lower rated novels. They’re going to go for the 4 & 5 star books. If there are one or two stars among the other 5-star scores, the lower ones are going to be dismissed anyway.
I will write a 3-star review if the reasons I didn’t like it are technical. Such as, the editing could be improved, but the plot and character descriptions, etc., are essentially good.
The only way to really get the low-down on the book is to read the review. Ignore or take the star rating lightly. (And I did have that previous rant on “how to write a review”, so go read that, too.) To me, it goes hand-in-hand with not bothering to post a 1 or 2 star reaction.
Unless Amazon creates objective criteria for loving or hating a book, perhaps based on an expert reviewer’s point system, I am keeping with my policy.
Cathy Astolfo’s latest book, Sweet Karoline, is currently rated at 5 Stars, and available at a low introductory price for Kindle!