Unpopular Opinion: I Don’t Really Care about Star Ratings

Star ratings are the subject of intense debate and agony in the book blogopshere. Reviewers struggle over the decision to rate a book four stars or five. Goodreads users lament the lack of a half star rating. A reflection about someone’s personal journey through the anguish of selecting stars–and based on what kind of criteria–seems to pop up every view weeks. However, even though Briana and I moved to providing star ratings here at Pages Unbound a few years ago, I admit that do not attach much importance to them. For me, the review of a book reveals far more information about a book and is significantly more useful feedback than stars.

Here’s the thing: star ratings are intensely personal and highly subjective. Some people consider three-star ratings to be a good book. Some people think it is average. Some people think if it’s below four stars at all, it’s bad. And no one agrees on what the stars should even account for. Are the stars supposed to measure “objective” things like prose style, plot pacing, and character development? What if a book seems objectively bad–flat characters, tortured prose, silly premise–but is somehow still so exciting the reader can’t put it down? Can you account for its weird appeal despite its flaws? And what if you pick a middle grade book and decide it’s not for you, someone older than 12? Can you give it a bad rating even though the target audience might like it more? Even if a reviewer has a detailed breakdown of their star system somewhere on their blog–which readers who follow along in their feed may or may not see–a breakdown will never account for all the factors that could go into selecting the number of stars.

To me, star ratings are more important on a site like Goodreads, where they are aggregated into a total star rating casual viewers may use to pick or pass on a book. However, when I read individual reviews, I may not even look at the star rating. If I do, it’s generally just to see at a glance if the review will be positive or negative. (I consider three stars and up positive.) I don’t sit there and try to dissect why the reviewer chose one number of stars over another. I just read the review to find out what parts they thought worked and which parts they didn’t. I think reviewers may be comforted to know that the average reader probably isn’t as worried about their star system as they are.

I think reviewers stress over stars because they want to be fair to books. They do not want to deprive a stellar read of a star it “deserves” or mislead readers into thinking a book is better than it is. However, in my opinion, that’s what the review is for. Because star systems are personal and apparently unknowable, the review is there to explain. As long as the stars accurately indicate the review is either positive or negative, I don’t think there’s much need to agonize over them. I know I don’t agonize over my own.

What do you think? Do you stress about stars? What’s your rating system?

45 thoughts on “Unpopular Opinion: I Don’t Really Care about Star Ratings

  1. Ben Ace says:

    I totally agree with you! I don’t give star ratings in the reviews I post on my blog anymore and I rarely give anything other than five stars on Goodreads if I rate at all. Deciding on the “appropriate” rating became too much of a hassle for me

    Liked by 1 person

  2. salonimore1702 says:

    I do agree that star ratings are incredibly subjective. I don’t have set criteria for my star system, I just go with my gut feeling (which just goes to show how subjective I am!) but I do like using it because when it comes to rereading books, it’s always interesting to see how my general opinion of the book has changed and star ratings help me with that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I think that’s a great point! Sometimes when I am rereading, my own star ratings confuse me. Sometimes I think, “Huh, I really gave it five stars two years ago?” And then, other times, I want to add more stars!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    I don’t place much importance on star ratings either, so my Goodreads rating tends to be rather impulsive. When I’m looking at book reviews, I tend to look for those that are either in the middle, or negative because I find that those tend to go into the make-or-break issues of the book.

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    • Krysta says:

      I feel like my ratings can be a little impulsive, too, or maybe based somewhat on my mood. Like, “Ah, I’m feeling generous today. Why not four stars instead of three?” Sometimes people ask, “Why did you give it four stars instead of three?” and I’m there thinking, “I don’t know. The sun was shining. I had just finished lunch. All was right with the world?” Haha.

      I like that strategy! I think when I do write a three-star review, for instance, I have to think a little harder. When I write a two-star review, it’s easier to go, “Ugh, this book was a mess! The structure was the worst! The characterization was the worst! The prose was the worst!” And the same with five stars: “Everything was AWESOME!” But with three stars you have to talk more about the good and the not-so-good.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. the crazy reader says:

    Yes! I agree with you so much. I stopped giving star ratings for a while and tried to focus on giving a rounded review for a while and I felt so much more relaxed. Now, I just use the star rating system as a personal reminder of how much I like the book at the time I read it, and I usually focus on others’ reviews rather than the ratings.

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    • Krysta says:

      I think that can be a good system! Gerry @ The Book Nook UK also mentioned using star ratings as more of a personal system, and I think that makes a lot of sense! It can be useful to have a shorthand to look back on when you want to remember what books you read over the year, which were your favorites, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Gerry@TheBookNookUK says:

    I do star ratings on my reviews but only because it’s a way to categorise the books I’ve read for me more than anyone else. If people didn’t pay attention to the stars I’ve given I wouldn’t mind.

    I’ve given an overview of what *I* mean by my way of star ratings so what I consider a 4* etc. but it’s a completely subjective process and my overall frustration (if you could call it that) is when I give a 3 star rating and someone says ‘sorry you didn’t like the book’ when actually the review I’ve written says I liked it just fine! For me a 3 star is ‘good but didn’t rock my world’ but that’s where the subjectivity comes in.

    If it wasn’t a way to categorise it for me because my brain likes categories and systems I would do away with them completely!

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    • Krysta says:

      Ah, yes, same! Sometimes I give three stars and people say, “Sorry you didn’t like the book” and I think, “Well…did you read my review….because I did like the book…” So strange!

      Briana is convinced our review stats went up after we added star ratings. So maybe other people’s brains like the stars, too! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gerry@TheBookNookUK says:

        I wonder if star ratings give a bit of organisation that some people’s brains need (like mine!) Or its a glance to see what the 5 stars or 1 stars are. I must admit – if someone gives a 1 star rating I’m always more inclined to read the review because I think I like to know *what* people didn’t like more so than they need. No idea why though! Curiosity probably!

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  6. Carolina @fictionologyst says:

    I agree! Star rating is totally subjective. But I do still use it for my review tho. For me 3 star mean I still enjoy it, it’s not necessary bad but I don’t rave about it either.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I see 3 stars as either neutral or, “It was good, but I’m not raving about it.” Some people think three stars is BAD, however–and I think that can be confusing!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Books Teacup and Reviews says:

    Fantastic post! Many times it makes me think if I’m rating it right or not but I make sure I mention if the book is right for particular audience and what exactly I didn’t like in book or if it was just for me and it might work for others. Like you said I wish to be fair with the book and because of that it is difficult to give the book particular rating. I agree with you, review are far more important that stars.

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  8. ofmariaantonia says:

    Yeah, I find stars are definitely subjective. Especially those 3-star reviews! I do like that Goodreads has “meanings” to their stars, like 3-stars means “I liked it.”

    On Goodreads, I pretty much NEVER bother with the 5-star reviews because I find them too gushy. I tend to start with the 3 or 4-star reviews first. That can sell me on a book!

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes! Same! I kind of use the Goodreads star rating for my own rating system since I figured most bloggers will be familiar with it.

      That’s a good point! Sometimes a one-star or five-star review can be really over-the-top!

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  9. Never Not Reading says:

    I agree that people over-stress about star ratings. I give a star rating based on my personal enjoyment of the book, but then in my review try to write about both my own and experience and what I think other people might like or dislike. My review may not reflect the star rating at all! I certainly find myself rolling my eyes anytime I see someone giving 3.75 star ratings. What does that even mean? *shrug*

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  10. Jennifer says:

    Samesies. Sounds like this isn’t a TOTALLY unpoular opinion! Just a complicated one for sure haha. I give a star rating mostly to indicate positive/not as you say, but always start reviews with if they’re recommended or not and for whom. Even if *I* don’t enjoy a book, I can often recognize that someone else might if they’re more into the topic, style, author, etc. I consider 2 stars “it was ok” which isn’t really that bad but typically people see 2 stars and freak out… especially authors who might have sent me their book to review. It can be so hard to level set in those situations!

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    • Krysta says:

      I definitely didn’t expect so many people to agree with me! More commonly I see people really agonizing over the star ratings, arguing over what they do or “should” mean, and so forth! And I agree that, “It’s okay” is not comparable to, “It is TERRIBLE!!”

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Samantha D. says:

    I completely agree with you. I have been struggling with star ratings since I started blogging, trying to figure out the most fair and consistent rating system. However, I now realize this is an impossible feat. I agree though that unfortunately they have a significance to them on places like Goodreads, which makes this even harder on some. Personally, I think I am going to stop giving out star ratings in places like my personal reading logs, reviews on my blog and on Story Graph.

    Reading through the comments it seems we are all in the same boat! I really liked Jennifer’s process on starting her reviews off with if and who would be recommended for that specific book.

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  12. mistysbookspace says:

    Sometimes I stress over what star rating I’m going to give just because I’m an indecisive person. I also rate books based on my enjoyment of it. 1 star ratings are reserved for books I DNF.

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  13. miri the fairytale gnome says:

    Ah I just wrote a post like this about this maybe a week or two ago – I said that I decided to dump star ratings on my blog (maybe an opposite trajectory compared to you and Briana haha) because they were not worth the stress (I was always frustrated with how my ratings kept changing based on my mood). You said all my thoughts so much better than I could articulate and I agree 100%!! Lovely post ❤

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  14. Sam@WLABB says:

    I am numbers person – I need the stars. I have read a lot of reviews without ratings, and unless they LOVED it or HATED it, it was hard to gauge how much they loved or hated it. The combination of stars and review give me a more complete picture.

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  15. grace / book blogger says:

    I definitely agree that star ratings are subjective, but I’ve found them to be really helpful in understanding whether or not a flaw the reviewer mentions about the book was small enough to be overlooked or too big to ignore. I suppose it does ultimately come down to how similar your tastes are, though.

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  16. Carol says:

    I like to see star rating plus review when I’m reading blogs, so I guess that’s why I incorporate the star system in my blog reviews. When reviewers don’t use stars it requires me to Work hard in reading between the lines of the review to get the real picture. My two challenges are to remain consistent with myself and rating different genres (e.g. I really don’t enjoy chick lit but occasionally I’ll find one I quite enjoy and I give it 4 stars because it was a standout in the genre….but does it compare to my histfic 4 star reads? No.) Great conversation!

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    • Krysta says:

      That’s a good point. It can feel hard to stay consistent with the star ratings! I’m not sure I do, but I’m also pretty sure no one’s really comparing my star ratings to each other, so I guess I’m okay! 😀

      Like

  17. Michael J. Miller says:

    I’m with you. I don’t ever do star ratings on my site and when I’m reading pieces that have them, I generally skip over them or casually glance at them. Like you said, I’m far more interested in what is actually written about the book than the stars chosen to go along with it. Maybe I’d be more invested in them if I did them myself? I dunno. But I’d much rather agonize over whether or not a paragraph adequately captures my thoughts and feelings on a particular part of a story than the stars I’d give it. Also, I WAY overthink everything so, even if I was a “star person,” I don’t think they’d be a good fit for me XD.

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    • Krysta says:

      I see some people doing quarter stars and half stars and it seems so confusing to me! It’s kind of like when my teachers would hand back papers with a “96” on it and no rubric and you’re just left wondering, “Why is it a 96 and not a 97? Or a 95?” It seemed so random. I think letter grades make more sense if there is no rubric because they already represent a range. But I digress. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael J. Miller says:

        Grading can be so stressful sometimes! My gut and/or my rubric are normally very trustworthy. But sometimes you don’t know! I love, love, love so many things about my two team taught classes (the science and religion one with Theresa and the Star Wars one with Hannah) but the fact that I can look to Theresa or Hannah to help corroborate a grade is SUCH a relief.

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  18. Milliebot says:

    Totally agree. I don’t use stars on my blog and I only glance at those who do, like you said to just get an idea of positive vs negative (cuz sometimes I just want to read a negative review of a book lol!). I might rate a book 5 stars for a variety of reasons. Plus when I reread a book, over time, I might feel differently and my rating could go up and down. I also agree the aggregate on review sites is helpful, but it’s also not the end-all be all. It’s not like people can’t skew those.

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    • Krysta says:

      I feel like the aggregate on Goodreads usually seems to skew high? Maybe I’m just a pickier reader, but I will read a book I think is generally badly written in every conceivable way and it will probably still at least have a 3.5 rating.

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  19. DoingDewey says:

    This is interesting! I definitely pay attention to aggregate star reviews on goodreads, but your post has made me realize how little I pay attention to them in reviews from other people. I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m agonizing over a star rating myself 😀

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Sometimes I just look at the aggregate star rating on Goodreads to see how it compared to my rating, and I feel like the majority of the time I am very confused. Goodreads and I do not agree very much!

      Like

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