My thoughts on star book ratings 

Ever since I started reviewing books in 2013, I’ve always used a 1-5 star rating of some description (although I did change my stars to cupcakes because I thought it was cuter but it follows the same system). Whether it be on my blog, Goodreads or Amazon I was always rating the books I had read between 1 and 5 stars. I thought everybody did that, I thought that was the “norm”. But since blogging more and more, I’ve seen various opinions from people who say the star rating isn’t for them, they don’t like it or they rate books in a different way. Some, not at all. 

Before I go into the post, I wanna say that I use the star rating system, I always have and I probably always will. It helps me keep a more solid track of the books I’ve read and how I think about them – especially on Goodreads. But I can see people’s issues with this system. For one and probably the main issue that I see and I do have to contend with from time to time (organising blog tours for authors and having reviewers constantly reviewing and rating books) is that not all people view a certain rating in the same way.

Personally, I rate a lot of books 5 stars. Even if there’s a couple of little bits I don’t like about it, if I loved it and if I couldn’t put it down, it’s getting rated 5 stars. IMO, those types of books are rare, so they should be celebrated to the highest level. Does that mean I’m not as critical of the books I read? Not as good and thorough of a book blogger? No, absolutely not. You should see some of my lower star reviews – I definitely critique them to the highest of my ability to explain why I didn’t like them in a professional and constructive way.

Other people I know, rarely rate a book 5 stars unless they feel it’s a masterpiece of the future. I get the reasoning although this approach isn’t for me, I get that they’re saving their 5 stars for the truly special books that come into their lives. That’s fine and we’re all entitled to different ways to rate a book but that’s where it can cause a bit of drama for the author in question.

Like book bloggers, authors also have a unique way of acknowledging star ratings. And some authors are delighted with 3 star reviews; they don’t mind the criticism (if any) and they feel like 3 stars is a solid rating to receive. Some authors on the other hand, feel like a 3 star review is awful. I’m not going to name names of course or get personal but I’m not exaggerating either when I say I’ve worked with authors who are devastated at a 3 star review. If we’re gonna talk about something, we might as well be truthful. 

And I think that’s our main problem with star ratings. A blogger may have read a book, enjoyed it, reviewed it fairly and constructively, gave both good and bad points then spent the time promoting it on social media, uploading it to Goodreads and Amazon and doing all the positive things a book blogger does when they’ve got a new book review up on their blog, for the author to bitch and whine and ask them to take the review down because it was 3 stars and they expect no less than 5. And unfortunately, I’ve heard of this happening. 

Although incidents like this will not stop the majority of us rating a book how we wish, it is a shame that it happens and it’s a shame something as innocent as rating a book can cause so much drama. I sure won’t be changing the way I review books or changing how I rate them. Nor would I ever remove a review or rate a book higher than what I believed it deserved because the author isn’t happy with it. Book bloggers need to stand their ground in that respect. But that’s a whole other topic for another time.

DISCUSS: Do you use the 1-5 star rating system? Or do you rate books a different way? Do you rate books at all? And have you had any negative experiences regarding book ratings? Let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! 

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74 thoughts on “My thoughts on star book ratings 

  1. I love this blogpost! Honestly, it often happens that I just wrote my review and then I’m staring at my screen for over five minutes thinking of how many stars I should give a book.
    It’s hard not comparing books to each other at that point as well, so I try not to do that.

    I’ll probably stick with star ratings though. It just makes it that more easier when friends ask me what books I liked most and I just have to head over to Goodreads and check my ratings of the books I read.
    [I do wish Goodreads would add the half-stars as well because I get itchy every time I gave a book 3,5 or 4,5 and then I have to pick between 3, 4 and 5 on Goodreads.. Ugh.]

    • I really wish Goodreads would add half stars too! Ugh! I do half stars (cupcakes) on my blog occasionally because I think it can give you so much more Lee way into rating a book but when I have to rate on Goodreads I tend to round down. Which sometimes isn’t 100% accurate!

      • I’m going to switch to cupcakes too [I didn’t even know you did that already until now, haha] because I love baking them and it’s become part of my Instagram-theme. Just need to take the time to create five different frostings for the same batch so I can use my own pictures, haha.

        True! It’s such a pity if you say 3,5 and then it shows 3. You’d think they would’ve added that by now, but nope..

  2. I do use the 1-5 star rating but I am like you if I loved a book I will give it 5 stars. I think some book bloggers are just toooooo critical of a book and just cause they didn’t agree with one aspect of it, they give it 1 star or something. If I truly disliked a book I will give it one star but I will explain why but it won’t be because of a fluffy reason. I hope

  3. I 100% agree with this entire post! I do use the star rating, and I usually rate a book after having done my review except for when I just know it’s gonna be a 5-star one (which is when I consider a book a favourite). Sometimes I have a rating in mind and then go over my review again and see that it doesn’t make sense. Like when I think something is 4 stars but I actually had a lot of negative things to say, I’ll change it to 3. I barely ever rate 1 or 2 stars except for when I really struggled with a book. I don’t think I ever rated anything 1 star! I haven’t really had bad experiences with low ratings but once got an ARC through Netgalley that I rated two stars and I felt so bad! Nowadays I realise it’s just my opinion and that’s okay. but I struggled with it for a while.

    • Yes I totally get that! Sometimes I rate a book on Goodreads so I can mark it as “finished” then write my review a day later and realise actually, that’s probably the wrong rating. But they can easily be changed when you update your review on GR anyway!

  4. I use a 5 star rating (with a .5 addition for books that are close to the next star up). I agree that a 5 star book isn’t always a future masterpiece or epic original work. I award my stars based on my own experience of the book (like most people). A 5 star book for me is usually something that hooks me, connects with me or explores a concept or idea really well. I also don’t give that many low ratings, I am rather generous with praise 😀 I have never given a one star review. I gave a 2.5/5 review once and that was the lowest I have been since.

    • I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said! I don’t think 5 stars should be rewarded to “future masterpieces”. It’s YOUR experience with a book, not the entire worlds, you know? I don’t really rate books that low but this year has been a REALLY good year for books and I haven’t really needed to! Although I will do if I think it’s right.

  5. I use the 1-5 star rating system even if I wish I could give 0 star sometimes. I rate books according my liking so I can give a classic 1 star and a novel with some mistake 5 stars. I used to not rate books (just tried to write down some short impressions) but joining Goodreads forced me to adopt the rating system. No negative experiences since I only review on GR and not long ones, even if it’s harder for me to be as critical as usual when reviewing a won book sent by the author.

    • Of course, you have no choice when reviewing on Goodreads! I just copy my rating from my review to Goodreads or vice versa. That’s so true though, if YOU didn’t enjoy like say… a Charles Dicken, you’re well within your right to rate that 1 star based on your own experience.

  6. I also wish there could be a ‘standard’ with a few more shades of grey. Out of 10 or with half marks. I review books on my blog sometimes but stopped putting stars up, which feels like giving marks to school homework, only making them public 🙂 Also it seems that hardly any regular book bloggers give 3 stars or less to books they review on a routine basis. Maybe if more did then it wouldn’t be quite so awful to get 3s?

  7. Jenny, I too tend to be quite generous with my 5 star reviews. My belief is this: if a book hooks you, keeps you enthralled, makes you want to read on and answer the questions the author poses, AND delivers a strong, satisfying end, I will give 5 stars. If all those things above are present, but the end does not satisfy, I will downgrade a star rating. I think you can in some way define an author’s theme, worldview, mindset (at the time of writing, anyway) from the way they choose to end a novel. I am saddened to hear that some authors have asked you to take 3 star reviews down. I think that is childish, unacceptable behaviour. I value all reviews where the reader has clearly read the book thoughtfully, and has genuine opinions to offer about plot, characterisation, theme. On Amazon the healthiest star-rating profile is a triangle with its broad side at the top. I am afraid I feel suspicious of books that have only five stars. Also I am often attracted to the one star reviews. I want to know, “What is the worst that can be said about this novel?” And, quixotically, some of the things said by the one star reviewers make me want to read the book. Human opinions are incredibly diverse, especially about books, and we must all respect that.

    • Thankfully, it’s no me that’s ever been asked to take a review down. I run and organise book tours and I’ve had a blogger who was reviewing a book for a tour tell me the author had asked her to change her rating. I was furious! Thankfully this blogger said no and didn’t. Although a blog tour is about getting positive reviews and promotion, this bloggers review wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t 5 stars. It’s ridiculous. I also get wary of books which only have 5 star reviews also. Makes me wonder if the author is asking people to rate it that way. You have a very healthy approach to book reviews!

  8. I am a huge fan of the star rating system but wish that you could use half stars as well since sometimes I’m in between of what I think of a book. For me 5 star reviews are very rare and has to be a book that’s consumed me and my thoughts. But I also think that anything from 3 stars upwards is a really good and positive for a book. If I give anything less than 3 stars its typically cause I haven’t loved it, not that its a bad book.

  9. Loved the post and I definitely agree with some people in the comments who think half stars should be introduced. Ultimately, I think we’re all different. Some people very rarely give five stars unless the book totally blew them away whilst others, such as myself, give them to books I just thoroughly enjoyed. The three star debate is one that will never stop, I don’t think. For me, three stars is average and you could have enjoyed the book, just not certain aspects but others see it as a ‘bad’ rating. It all just depends on the person. I use the star rating on my Goodreads account but rarely use it when I review a book on my blog!

    • Yeah I’m very much like you and am generous with my 5 stars! I agree too in that half stars should be introduced to websites like Amazon and Goodreads. 3 stars is such a tricky one isn’t it. If I see a blogger has rated a book 3 stars, that could literally mean ANYTHING until you read the review. Like you said, it very much depends on the type of person.

  10. I stopped showing star ratings alongside my reviews on my blog a while back and found it liberating. I just let the review do the talking. However, I have a page on my blog for my reading list for the year and I do show star ratings there (but allow myself half star points). When I review on Goodreads or Amazon, I round up if I’ve used half stars but state my actual rating in the write-up. For me, I kind of know by instinct if a book is 5*. It’s the ratings below that I find troublesome! A 3* for me is OK, probably entertaining but nothing special. I wish Amazon wouldn’t categorize 3* reviews as ‘critical’.

    • I like the ratings for that reason really; sometimes if I’m looking for a book that I loved and I see someone has rated it 1 or 2 stars, I’ll instantly be drawn to that because I’m curious about why they didn’t like it!

  11. I’ve only just started book blogging so this is something I’ve been debating with myself this week. For now I’ve chosen to not bother with the star system and let the reviews speak for themselves. Personally I’m quite stingy with my 5-star ratings on GR, but I tend to feel a bit guilty about only giving 1 or 2, so about 90% of my ratings end up as 3 or 4, which doesn’t seem all that helpful to readers!

    If I decide to include ratings on my blog I’ll probably rate out of 10, or at least use half-stars – your post and the comments are giving me lots to think about!

    • I think out if 10 gives a much clearer picture of what you thought of the book but then when you put your review on Amazon or Goodreads, you’ll have to translate the rating into their 5 star system. Which could be complicated! Good luck on your book blogging venture!

  12. Wow, I had no idea that some authors could actually get so arsey over a three star rating! I use the 1-5 star rating.But if I rate a book 3 stars or more, it means it was pretty damn good. Anything below 3 stars means I didn’t really enjoy it. And 1 is reserved for the books that deserve a special place in hell – hah – and I very rarely dish that out, thankfully. I’m a little stingy with my 5 stars. A book has to really leave me feeling shook after finishing it to make it to 5 stars. Really enjoyed this post – very thought provoking!

  13. It’s annoying that seeing a three star rating makes me think that the book is not good at all. It’s very strange because I’m so use to just seeing four star and two star reviews. I don’t like giving rating because for some reason I think there’s too much pressure to choose how many stars it gets 😛

  14. I do use the star ratings on Goodreads. I have used the 5 stars, but it’s not too often. I think I’d be one of the people who use it only for books that really impact me or that I really have a connection with.
    I’ve never had any experience with reviewing books for authors, but I would never change my rating just because an author didn’t like it! That’s the point of the review, to have feedback! I’d say look more to the feedback in the written words, if it’s there, than in the number of stars. Like you said, some people rate it a three and some a five. They both may have really loved it, just different opinions on the star process

  15. My rating style has definitely changed since I began reviewing. I used to be very generous with my ratings, and I lot of books would get 4 or 5 stars even if it wasn’t really my favorite. But I feel like (especially recently) I have been “harsher” (more honest?) with my ratings, and I feel like they more accurately reflect my feelings of the books I read. I also use the 5 star system, btw…

  16. I use 5 star system, with half stars, but I’ve only written a review below 4 stars a handful of times in the almost 3 months I’ve had my blog. I often don’t bother reviewing books I didn’t enjoy; I far prefer sharing the ones I did enjoy than ones I didn’t. Amy xx

    • That makes sense. Although if you’re sent books from a publisher, it’s your job to review them whether you like them or not otherwise you’re not fulfilling the job. That’s where it can get tricky! But for just books you want to read, I totally get why you wouldn’t bother reviewing ones you don’t like.

  17. I only give star ratings where I have to, e.g. Amazon, Goodreads. I don’t like them as they are so subjective. I give loads of 5 stars. Like you, Jenny, a book just has to grab me and be enjoyable for me to give it 5. I do wish 10 star ratings were the norm. I feel bad if I rate a book a 3 as on Amazon 3 stars means it was ok and to me that means it was a bit ‘meh’ and it’s only one above “I didn’t like it” on there. But I know that many people consider 3 to be quite respectable – I wish there was a standard book rating system.

  18. Hiya Jenny,

    I like this post and it came at the perfect time for me. I’ve just started doing book reviews on my blog and on Goodreads, and the “Do I or don’t I?” and “How do I decide on how many?” questions have been on my mind. I am doing the 1-5 star ratings because I want to use Goodreads in tandem with my reviews on my blog. I’ve kind of settled on the following criteria:

    5 STARS – Loved it. I’ll be thinking about it later, recommending it at every opportunity. There may be a few little flaws here and there, but nothing glaring.
    4 STARS – Loved it, but there are some issues. I try to be a critical reader, so things like lack of representation and diversity are things I can’t let go.
    3 STARS – Liked it/it was good, but it isn’t one that I’ll be thinking about later.
    2 STARS – Didn’t really like it, but I finished it. There were probably some big issues (sexist behavior from a main character passed off as “charming possessiveness”, infallible protagonists, etc.). Not a book I’d recommend.
    1 STAR – Did not like it, did not finish, would not recommend.

    There are books that I’ve really enjoyed/couldn’t put down/have raved about… but I won’t give them 5 stars just because I got sucked in because I think it’s important to be critical, even of the things we love. I’ve changed 5-star ratings to 4-star ratings, too, once issues are brought to light that I’d missed during my first reading.

  19. I love this post! I use a star rating system too and it is tough sometimes. No two books are alike and rating them with the same scale sometimes feels unfair but I had to get myself to stop thinking like that and only think of the book I’m rating. But I do give a lot of 5 star ratings to books that I absolutely loved. Also love the half star idea for Goodreads and Amazon! Would make life so much easier!

  20. I do the 5 star rating system as well and haven’t found too much of a problem with it? I’m the same as you, if I absolutely loved a book, I’ll give it 5 stars, I’m not going to be digging down to the last nail to find something wrong with it! 3 star ratings for me are on the whole pretty positive, so I’ve never understood why people see them as a bad thing.

  21. I used to use star ratings, but only recently stopped. I felt like they became more important than my review itself, and could give off the wrong impression about my feelings for the book. I also always felt like I had to use them to rate the quality, not my overall enjoyment, which I didn’t like either.

    • Although could that be a good thing? If you say “I rate this book 3 stars”, it’s kinda like people aren’t gonna know what you thought cos 3 stars is so in the middle and people will want to click on your review (:

  22. Since I’m a teacher by trade, I have no problem giving star ratings – it’s like giving a book a grade! I think the problem with the 5 star system is that it’s an odd number, so the 3 star rating is a bit of a cop out. It’s not good, and it’s not bad. Which might be why there are authors who are devastated by a 3 star review – it feels like a 60%. And for some people, a 60% is as good as a fail, and for others it’s great because at least they didn’t fail. I still use the 5 star system because people are familiar with it, and it’s a simple way to quickly get my general emotions across. But I feel like this is where the review is essential – you can dive in deep and get down and dirty about what you liked and what you hated and what worked and what didn’t – and it’s a lot more meaningful.

  23. Great Blog, Jenny! On my own blog I rate out of 10 as I feel the 5-star system is a bit limiting, although I obviously have to round up or down for the commercial sites that only use that system.
    I don’t know. To me there is a huge difference between a book that’s 3 stars (60%) and a book that’s 4 stars (80%) or even 5 stars (100%).

  24. Very thoughtful article. I also have problems with the star system, a very blunt instrument. I think at the very least it should be bigger i.e. 1-10. and as you say there is a lot of difference in the approach. I rarely give 5 stars, because that would put new books instantly on a level with classics – is that right? So my range is probably more like 2-4 (if it were 1 star I would probably not post). Not much to work with!

  25. I agree with what you say. If a book grabs me and I can’t put it down, then it will get 5 stars from me. If a book is a fantastic read but grammar mistakes stop the flow then I will put that in my review. I am not into arguing over star ratings I get: if a reader has a critique that will help the story I love it and am thankful for positive critique. Trolls, however, get the thumbs down. A great post, thank you.

  26. Great post! I’m FAR too generous w/ my 5 star ratings–I think I actually need to go back through my goodreads and change a few. Immediately after finishing a book, I’m all caught up in the story/world/characters and I think I rate higher then the book actually is, if that makes any sense. I really like using the 1-5 star rating system, but I might start rating books a couple of weeks after I finish the book–so the rating is more accurate!

    • That’s such a good point! I would probably feel similar if I went through my Goodreads and properly thought about the book and the rating I gave it at the time. But when a book is 5 stars- you KNOW!

  27. On Goodreads:

    I choose which books to start reading quite carefully, so I rarely end up with a 1 star, 2 star, or a I-didn’t-finish-it (not necessarily the same thing). I give a 5 if it’s a book I’m likely to want to reread. For example, if it’s got great ideas worth coming back to (exceptional novels), great language (exceptional poetry/plays), if it’s crammed full of high-quality research (exceptional non-fiction) … The 2-3-4’s are harder to define with a neat criteria, other than it’s a scale. I generally don’t like to pin a book’s quality on a number system, but shorthands are needed occasionally so there we are …

      • I suspect we’re making similar statements when it comes to novels … I was breaking down the types of enjoyment in general 🙂 (Cause, for example, non-fiction is rarely a compulsive read, and poetry can’t be digested in an hour.)

  28. Pingback: AWARD: The Miranda Sings Award – Three Cats and a Girl

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