Assessing Book Review Ratings

One thing to always remember, whether a reader, an author or, hopefully, both, reading is primarily a subjective experience (excluding instruction, text and similar books of course). Each person is unique, special and different something that must always be allowed for. After all, everyone wants their ideas and thoughts taken seriously and consequently should grant the same consideration to others.

stars-5-3In this post the existing ‘star’ based rating systems, propounded by companies and organisations such as Amazon and Goodreads, will be under consideration. The intent is twofold: 1) To provide some guidance for those unfamiliar with, or nervous of, the topic; most, subconsciously perhaps, tend to be concerned about other people’s opinions. 2) To make clear the principles applied to the assessment of books in this website.

It is inherent upon authors, or at least should be, they publish reviews of books read. Undoubtedly they want readers of their books, especially fellow authors, to do this for them and therefore it is only right they reciprocate. Naturally, they would appreciate ‘general public’ readers taking the time to also write and publish a review.

As stated, this post will concentrate on the star rating systems, which can sometimes be unclear. The definitions given by Amazon and Goodreads will be utilized as examples though of course other organisations may have variations.

1*  ‘I hate it.’ (Amazon) – ‘Did Not Like It.’ (Goodreads)

2*  ‘I Don’t Like it.’ (Amazon) – ‘It Was OK.’ (Goodreads)

3*  ‘It’s Okay.’ (Amazon) – ‘Liked It.’ (Goodreads)

4*  ‘I Like It.’ (Amazon) – ‘Really Liked It.’ (Goodreads)

5*  ‘I Love It.’ (Amazon) – ‘It Was Amazing.’ (Goodreads)

It will be noted, even though some of the terminology is not drastically different, the conceived meaning between some may be inconsistent.

Most books should realistically fall within the three stars rating. Four and five being reserved for the particularly good or excellent publications. While one and two should be used to reflect the not so good books. However, it is possible, probable, the definitions may be causing reviewers confusion and uncertainty. When Amazon acquired Goodreads it was an opportunity for them to standardise the definitions. But it appears this is not to be.

This issue is not helped by the fact many self-published authors, often unrealistically, expect five or four star ratings as a matter of course and tend to get very upset if they don’t get them. This scenario in particular, has undermined the value of higher ratings. It appears, from several social media discussions read over the years, many have concluded it best to ignore most of the higher ratings when considering a book to read. It seems there are primarily two reasons for them coming to this decision: Partly because it is very apparent friends and relatives of the author have given them. Partly because it is obvious many readers are misinterpreting the values.

Overall, the Goodreads definitions appear to provide a clearer understanding. Nevertheless, it would be odd and unfair to allocate different values between the two sites. General observation tends to imply most people work to Amazon’s definitions. Therefore, if reviewers are to be equitable (fair and just) it behoves them to follow the general trend. For example: if a 3* rating is given on Amazon they should do likewise on Goodreads. Nevertheless, they should avoid further distortion of the system by giving a higher rating than a book merits even if has been authored by someone they have contact with. Distorting the system helps no one, though many have concluded it has already been undermined.

This is an important subject because generally, surveys and author observations infer reviews and ratings play an important part in the saleability of books. There are however, differing opinions and it may never really be known how influential, or not, these are. It should be born in mind surveys only take in a relatively small cross section of people. Some readers openly state they never consider reviews and ratings when choosing a book whereas others will state they frequently look at them before making a decision.

Naturally, bearing in mind reading is a subjective experience and each individual is unique and different, the ultimate decision must be the reader’s own. Nevertheless, they are strongly encouraged to think carefully before allocating a rating in any review they write. Unwarranted higher ratings damage authors, especially self-publishing ones, because readers will feel let down if they select a book by this means and then find it to be poor. Of course the subjective nature of reading needs to be constantly born in mind; what one reader likes another may hate. But overall there is usually a general trend.

It is regretted if the above observations and conclusions sound harsh and have upset anyone. Nonetheless, life is difficult enough for indie self-publishing authors without adding to the problem by hiding heads in the sand. The realities need to be faced, then, hopefully, with patience and perseverance, a way through will be found. Naturally, people want to help and support those they know or like but ultimately it does no one any favour not to be honest. So, whatever the circumstance, reviewers should aim to allocate realistic and relevant ratings. In the end it will help everyone one, author and reader alike.

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