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Why I quit rating books

I rated something like 250 books in Goodreads.

The other day I took all the ratings down.


First of all, a five-star scale is the absolute worst fucking way to rate a book–except for maybe a three-star scale. Even “liked it/didn’t like” it is better, since you’re not left with trying to figure out what two, three, or four stars mean.

Second, I’ve seen too many writers on Twitter go crazy over ratings their books have received, either on Goodreads or Amazon. Much of the anxiety is over one-star reviews, but most folks seem unhappy if they receive anything less than five.

For the life of me, I can’t see why you would ever want to draw attention to poor reviews you’ve received, but a lot of writers just can’t resist. Maybe I have some perspective because I taught college for ten years. I was constantly evaluated, and I learned to look at the overall average rather than the invariable poor evaluation you’d get each class from a malcontent or two. When your overall evaluations are high, when most everyone thinks you’re doing a good job, then it makes no sense to agonize over a couple of outliers.

On Goodreads, my personal interpretation of the star system went like this: 5, the very best; 4, very good; 3, good; 2, fair; 1, poor. War and Peace gets five stars from me. Absalom, Absalom! Catch-22. All the King’s Men. And I’m absolutely certain that someone reading this will quibble with one or another of those books deserving five stars. You know what? Shut up.

Chances are, your book isn’t as good as War and Peace, even if it’s quite good. Four stars from me would mean that I thought your book was maybe not quite the very best fiction humankind has yet produced, but still pretty damn good. But if I gave it four stars, maybe you wouldn’t get all bent out of shape, maybe you’d understand intellectually, but somewhere down in your gut it would bug you, because that’s the system we have, it would bring your average down, etc., etc.

I get it.

So I’m not rating books anymore.

That doesn’t mean I won’t review your book, on Goodreads or elsewhere. But I’m going to use these things called “words.” That way I can say all the positive things I want, and if necessary the negative things too, without the burden of having to make all those thoughts fit into a five-star scale.

But seriously, people, don’t sweat your one-star reviews. For god’s sake, don’t tweet about them.

War and Peace has a few one-star reviews on Amazon.

1 Comment

  1. I agree totally.

    I used to do reviews for a popular comic book site, novels and comics, and always felt a little off about giving "the star" rating to a title. My taste in stories was completly off from what the target audiences was, but I was told I had to give some sort of rating because it was what people wanted.

    Me, I just want to know if you liked it or not and why.

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