That’s right! No more star ratings!
I explained all of this and more in a video I posted about ratings on my BookTube in August, and then I pull a classic book-reviewer-with-a-barely-monetized-platform move and disappeared from BookTube and blogging for like two months. But what can I say? Life is tough. Sometimes reading and reviewing just don’t find their way into my day… for like 60 consecutive days.
Since not everyone prefers videos or has the time to listen to/watch me rant for fifteen minutes about an abstract concept, I wanted to explain the main points in a blog post here. Hopefully this doesn’t sound as rant-y.
My Issues with the 5-Star Ratings Scale
Let’s start with the most glaring issue: It’s so arbitrary! There is nothing uniform about it. In a way, that’s what makes it nice. We don’t have to justify our ratings beyond “It feels like a 4-star book” or “This books didn’t earn more than one star.” From a reader’s perspective, I can appreciate everything about that. Somehow it’s a lot easier to understand what a 4-star book feels like from that role.
From a reviewer’s perspective, having these five options with absolutely no universal guideline stresses me out way more than it should. The back and forth of “Is this three stars or four stars?” was getting too aggravating for me when I just wanted to write out my thoughts and hit “publish.” Deciding on a rating has always been more of a struggle for me than it should have been, and that’s the main reason I’ve stopped using them.
In the video, I also mentioned a few other reviewers I follow saying that even having that rating there at the top of their reviews on Goodreads makes them anxious. Most people I’ve seen say this point out that it feels a lot less like burning bridges with authors if you’re just putting your opinion out there. Ratings less than 5 stars can hurt at first glance. I totally understand what kind of anxiety that can cause. Am I saying everyone should ditch the 5-star rating system? Am I suggesting no one should post ratings less than five stars? Heck no! Reviews are, ultimately, for readers, not authors. But it’s another way of damage and anxiety reduction in my head.
What I Tried and Didn’t Work
For a few months in the middle of this year, I tried to make my version of the 5-star rating system more specific. However, it didn’t fit as well as I’d hoped.
Specifying what I meant with each star rating was a good idea in theory. I’m still glad that I tried it, but in practice, it wasn’t great. The problem I ran into with this was that even though my reviews on here all show the rating (full system shown on the right with spades instead of stars), it was hard to make that super visible on other platforms.
If I say on Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram, or elsewhere I talk about books that I rated a book three stars, people won’t necessarily know that it means I still recommend it for some people, just not everyone. So it became a bit of a chore to talk about ratings, and it was just too much to explain every time. I know that most people get away with no explanation. I know that none is truly required. But it just wasn’t working for me.
What I’m Doing Now Instead of Ratings
In August, I completely revamped my template for review posts. I’ve started adding a section of information about the book at the top. This includes release date, content warnings, publisher, etc. After that, I add my review of the book. (Side note: I might do a blog post about this, too, but I’m trying to be conscious about writing shorter reviews also.) Last but not least, I will be adding a “Whom I Recommend This Book To” section. It’s made up a 2-4 bullet points where I describe the kind of reader that would probably enjoy the book, even if that type of reader isn’t me.
I want to shift my focus of reviews from how much I liked it to how much others might like it. After all, that’s the main reason most people read reviews. I will still, of course, put my option in my reviews. They’re still my reviews, but I want the final thought and main focus to be on who the book is for.
Although I won’t go back and change or edit any of my previous reviews, I’ve taken all the ratings off of my Goodreads profile. The first book I reviewed with a star rating was We Set The Dark On Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia. I have now posted five reviews without a rating, and it already feels like a much better-fitting system. Perhaps in the future I’ll change it up again, but for now, this is how my reviews will look.