In the past, before ebooks and the rise of self-publishing as a viable option for serious authors, we could assume that although we didn’t necessarily like every book we read, we could assume that the writing was of a reasonable quality. If we wrote a review, all we had to do was say whether or not we liked the book. That’s easy. Now, however, especially if you’re reading ebooks, you can’t assume that quality, even from mainstream publishing houses. On the other hand, even at the cheap end of the market, you can’t assume poor quality, because there are plenty of books from self and Indie publishers that are every bit as good or better than anything published by the mainstream.
This gives reviews the vital function of being an arbiter of quality, not just an indication of how many people liked the book. However, we can’t assume that a review indicates the degree of quality of the writing because people use the star rating systems in different ways.
The personal opinion rating
- star – it was terrible
- stars – I didn’t like it
- stars – it was okay
- stars – I really liked it
- stars – it was awesome/ exceptional
This tells us what the reviewer liked and what they didn’t. On this criteria you may hate what someone give 5 stars to and love what they give 1 star too. The quality of the book is not evaluated. This is how the Goodreads star system is explained.
The book quality rating.
- star – unacceptable standard/ a high degree of poor quality craftsmanship eg poor writing, bad or non-existent editing, one dimensional characters, poor plot, etc
- stars – has enough technical errors or poor crafting to be substandard.
- stars – crafted at an acceptable standard
- stars – crafted at a high standard
- stars – has that extra something.
This system is more likely to be used by other writers and will have some affect on most ‘professional’ reviewers.
The to-buy or not-to-buy rating
- star – Don’t buy it
- stars – I don’t recommend it
- stars – It’s worth buying if you like that kind of thing
- stars – It’s a really good read. I recommend it.
- stars – you really should read this one.
This message is inherent in any rating system.
The combined rating
- star – unacceptable craftsmanship. It will include some, but not necessarily all, of the following; unacceptable number of copy- editing errors, poor plot, shallow characters, info dumps, structural defects, clumsy expression, grammatical errors etc. It should never have been published in this state. Don’t buy it.
- stars – substandard craftsmanship. The faults may be simply less in number than those in the first category, or they may be more subtle in nature. They will have more than one of the following: all expositional or passive writing (eg over-use of variations of the ‘to be’ verb), major point of view (P.O.V) confusion (eg poorly executed head-hopping), major plot holes, limited character development or is a rip-off of another book. They may have clean copy or too many copy-editing mistakes.
- stars – worth buying. A three star book will have no major structural defects. Either I didn’t enjoy it enough to give it 4 stars, or the writing needs some minor improvement but the story has sufficient good qualities for them not to be a major issue. For example it may, or may not, have P.O.V problems, mild plot holes or passive writing. Others may well enjoy it. Buy it if you like the sound of it and the things I didn’t like aren’t an issue for you.
- stars – a well-crafted book that I liked, or an exceptionally well crafted book that didn’t inspire me enough to add one more star.
- stars – an exceptionally well crafted book that I liked, or a well crafted book that had that extra spark that really excites me.
The combined rating is the criteria I use. In this system, personal taste only comes into play from 3 stars and upwards. I feel that this is the fairest way to use the star rating, so that a book that is well enough written doesn’t drop in ratings just because I personally didn’t like it.
The poll on whether authors should publish reviews of less than 3 stars was overwhelmingly in favour of publishing such reviews (when I last checked). The reason being that without such informed reviews, the reading public isn’t getting the information they need to make the decision of whether to purchase or not. Luckily, I am seeing less books in the 1 and 2 star criteria these days, because from now on, in fairness to readers, I will be leaving reviews for them on Amazon and Goodreads. I won’t put them here though, because I figure you really don’t want to hear about them.
What criteria do you use to rate books in 5 stars?