Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Star System on Goodreads…And Why I Sometimes Catch Flak

Have you joined Goodreads? Love keeping track of all the books you’ve read and posting reviews? Learn about what to read next based on what your friends are reading?

I’ve been on Goodreads a while and love it as a means of keeping track of all I’ve read. However, I catch some flak sometimes because of the way I apply the star rating system. I understand lots of people like to give books 4 to 5 stars to books they’ve read, but for myself, I rate the “average” book with 3 stars and I only apply 4 to 5 stars for extraordinary books, like the Iliad or LOTR or the Bible. I see it as a matter of personal taste, but I’ve had some authors get angry with me for not giving their book 5 stars, even though I literally only have a dozen books I’ve ever given 5 stars and a few dozen more I’ve ever given four stars.

How do you use the star rating system on Goodreads? Have you ever had an author get displeased with your review of one of their books? How do you balance politeness with honesty?  


  1. I don't think anyone should get mad at you. Three stars is good in my book. I get over excited so I rate four and five stars quite a bit :)

  2. I don't belong to goodreads. I do check people's reviews but I am often disappointed because what appears outrageous to some is ordinary to me. And I know why that is the case, so I am not putting anyone down. Personally I prefer to read the beginning and peruse the book before I buy...really. Also, when someone says that a book is the best ever my expectations are raised too high. Have a great Tuesday Mark!

  3. I'm rather inconsistant with leaving review comments to explain my star choices. But 4/5 stars I really do save for the books that had me laughing out loud or itching to keep reading after I put it down. 3 stars to me fits the caption when you highlight it on Goodreads, enjoyed but average.

  4. Hello Mark:
    Well, we have no idea where we have been all our lives, but we have never heard of Goodreads. However, we shall rectify that without delay.

    Your star ratings seem perfectly reasonable to us, it is surely consistency that is important after all.

  5. Well, I'm kind of like you. Three stars means I liked it but I wasn't blown away. Four stars means it was pretty good overall. Five stars is reserved for the stories that took my breath away.

    I think there are some politics involved with the Goodreads ratings. I notice a lot of bloggers automatically give fellow bloggers five stars no matter what in order to boost the book's rating out of a sense of loyalty perhaps. I guess I can understand the reasoning behind it, but I also don't think anyone should get too upset over another person's lower rating of a book. Even the ratings system is subjective. My four stars may be different from your four stars.

    1. Yes, politics! That is the perfect way to describe Goodreads. On one hand, it makes sense to give people you like good reviews just for the sake of their sales or reputation, but then there's the honesty factor and the risk of burning a bridge. I'm not a member of Goodreads because it just seems to complicated to me.

  6. I agree with your way of thinking. I don't rate books on Goodreads, but I do on Amazon. I've given very few books 5 stars. If it's really good, I give 4. Otherwise, it's 3 or less.

    I understand that authors want good reviews left for their books, but when you're judging all of literature on a whole, one cannot grade on a curve.

  7. Great post, Mark! I'm pretty much with everyone here...I can think of only a handful of books I've given a 5...I do give 4's though for almost anything I've really enjoyed...if I give a 3, it's because I was let down if it didn;t meet expectations of blurbs or other hype...I can think of only a couple of books I've given a 1 or 2. Even my favorite authors like Matthew Pearl, David Liss, or Louis Bayard get 4's, except perhaps for their very best work.

    On another note, if you are a published author, you really should set up an author page on GR and participate in th egiveaways, etc. It's great for marketing.

    I have a blast on there myself.

  8. I wish it was a ten star rating, like how the IMDB rates movies. With four stars, I look at it like grades, with five being an A and one an F. And like with movies, I'm not overly critical - if I enjoyed it and it entertainment, it will probably get four stars.
    I will admit though, as an author, three stars is a bummer.

  9. I look at it as grades too, like Alex. Very rarely does a book get an 'A' (five start rating). There are many B's but I have given a few Cs (three star).

  10. I use Shelfari, but it's similar to Goodreads with five possible stars. I give few books five stars, and only the ones that stayed with me after I finished them; most of the books I rate get four, some three, and very rarely I'll give something a two or one star.

  11. Mostly I only give 4's. Fives are rare. Threes are for average books. Anything below that would mean I never finished the book, so I don't give those out because, technically, I can't rate the book since I never finished it.

  12. Hi there!

    I just wanted to let you know that I left you awards over at my blog!!

    Pop on over and get em' :)

  13. Oh man, I haven't had anyone get mad at me, but if I don't like it, I usually won't post anything about it. Silence is my bad review - unless I REALLY think it deserves to have the bad review mention. I'm torn because I know I should share but I hate to give a bad review. I try to be more frugal with my 5 star reviews, but I will give 4 stars to a book I think is good.

  14. I'm not on Goodreads, but I agree: 5-star-worthy books are few and far between!

  15. I am not on Goodreads, so cannot say much. But I feel 3 stars is a reasonably good rating, so writers should stop getting upset with you or mad at you.

    Btw..now I am wondering if my collection of stories was a book, how many stars rating would you give it, Mark ;)

  16. I started on Goodreads a while ago, but didn't do much with it. One of my New Year's goals was to start keeping better track of what I've read using Goodreads, so just last night I rated a bunch of books. It was hard! I finally decided I'll do three stars for a book that truly didn't appeal to me, four stars for a good book (most of them), and five for a really outstanding book, maybe a 2-3 a year. If I know the author, I won't rate it unless I can give it at least four stars. If it's a famous author, I'll go lower because they aren't going to read or care how I rated their book.

  17. I started Goodreads with the intention of being honest with my reviews, but realised because I'm a writer I can't stop the inner editor from shouting at me when I read. Consequently I'm a harsher critic than the average reader. So, keeping that in mind, that's how I now rate those books. I have been known to read a book and not include it on GR because I simply didn't like it. I do try to keep 5 stars for the very best, though.

  18. J.A. – I agree, I’m pretty much the same.

    MrsLittlejeans – I think you’d like Goodreads, it’s pretty neat for avid book readers.

    Steph – Same here, I don’t always leave explanations to my reviews (it’d take way too long), but if someone asks I’m always willing to clarify.

    Jane/Lance – Check it out, I think you’ll dig it!

    L.G. – Yeah, I try not to play the politics, but I acknowledge that it’s there. I just don’t want to compromise my honesty in a review.

    McKenize- I think you might like Goodreads anyway, but I totally understand your reasoning:)

    Jim – Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve only had one short-story published, so I don’t know how much I count as a published author, but I’ll look into it, thanks:)

    Alex – A ten star system would work better, but I think the human element would be the same. I’d probably give one of my own books a three star review. I of course love my own stories, but it’s not Hamlet;)

    Kelley – I suppose, but then again I never really agreed with the grading system in schools:) Thanks for giving me a shout-out on your blog! Much appreciated!

    Eagle – Shelfari…I’ll have to check it out, thanks!

    Stina – Sounds sensible to me:)

    Leigh – Well, it’s only happened to me twice, so out of over 750 books read so far I guess that’s good odds? (shrug)

    Milo – Thanks for the support:)

    Rachna – I agree. I’d probably give my own work three stars (see my comment to Alex above). Yours I would take on a case by case basis of course…plus I’m biased because I know you;)

    Susan – It is a great resource for keeping track of books you’ve read, especially if you’re like me and you use the library a lot and want to recall all the titles you’ve enjoyed and perused:)

  19. I've heard that the starring on Goodreads is a touchy subject so it's made me shy away from it. Your philosophy sounds solid. And anyone who lists LOTR is tops in my book. BTW - Going to download the Les Mis audiobook. Trying to weave more classics into my reading. Diggin' your blog. Thanks for stopping by mine.

  20. I've noticed writers (in general) cringe at the idea of giving each other anything less than five stars. But, honestly, some work does not warrant five--or even four--stars sometimes. It does not mean we as readers hate them and their work, but they often take the whole rating system very personally. I think some of them need to develop thicker skin. Just my two cents. I think you're totally in the right in your post.

  21. A good read is 3 stars, it needs to be special to get anymore....

  22. Hey Mark! I gave your blog an award ;)

  23. Lynda - That's a good attitude. And honesty is always good too:)

    Susan - Thanks for your support!

    Lurker - I couldn't agree more:)

    J.A. - Thanks so much!

  24. A five star, for me, has to be a book that I can't wait for my friends to read. Four is usually for the books that I enjoyed, but the writing could have been tighter. 3 I skipped passages, skimmed to see what would happen but that's it. Interesting idea. New follower :)