This past week, I had the pleasure of handing out two five star ratings on Goodreads. That doesn’t happen very often. I try to reserve my five star ratings for books that are the whole package deal: great plot, setting, and character development, engaging prose, plus that extra something that just blows me away. For me, Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green both met those criteria. I know, I know. I’m pretty much running behind the bandwagon on that second one, but I held off on reading it because I knew it would hit a little too close to home. Despite the amount of Kleenex I used, I ended up loving it. I can practically hear all the John Green fans snorting “I told you so” from here.
Star ratings and reviews are tricky for me. As an aspiring author, I feel the need to be careful how I respond to what others have written. Agents warn against giving negative reviews if you hope to be published one day, and to me that makes a lot of sense. I wouldn’t want to spoil my chances of representation or publication because of something I said in a review. I know some other writers feel differently on this issue, and that’s okay with me. I also think there are plenty of people out there giving honest and fair reviews. Lately, I’ve found myself on a number of blogs dedicated to book reviews, and I’ve enjoyed hearing what others have to say about books I’ve read or would like to read. Based on some of these reviews, my TBR list has had another huge growth spurt. Reviewing is one of those to-each-his-own issues for me, as long as people are being respectful.
On my blog, you’ll only ever see reviews for books I enjoyed. That’s partly due to the reason stated above and partly because of the time factor. As far as star ratings on Goodreads, if I don’t like a book, I just don’t rate it. And I’m not gonna lie. I’ve read a few duds this year. There are also other reasons I might not rate a book. If a novel has certain things in common with my manuscript, I steer clear. Obviously, I’m biased toward my own book and feel it’s best not to venture into that territory. While I occasionally read middle grade, I try to bear in mind that as an adult, I’m not the intended audience, so unless it’s particularly noteworthy, I usually don’t rate it.
Then there are books that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t boil down to a handful of stars. It’s like attempting to fit the proverbial square peg in a round hole. Maybe the character development was amazing, but the plot was lacking. Or perhaps the prose was awkward, even though the story was entertaining enough. Maybe it was technically well-written, but not my cup of tea and so I can’t justify giving it a crummy rating. Many times I’ve wished you could give out half stars on Goodreads, or that books were measured on a scale of one to ten instead. There are many factors that make a book good, or bad, or even mediocre, and often times five stars doesn’t seem precise enough to take everything into account.
Something my sister and I have discussed is that book ratings almost need to be more like figure skating. Not that I watch a lot of figure skating, but aside from the gaudy spandex, I think the comparison works. In skating, judges pass out marks based on technical merit, required elements, and presentation. With books, it could be a two-pronged approach that considers both creativity and the technical aspects of the writing. We could call it, the Chazz Michael Michaels Approach. Just Kidding. Couldn’t resist some Blades of Glory humour.
So tell me, do you have any policies for reviewing or rating books? What’s your process for determining a rating? Are you stingy with your stars? I’d love to hear what you think!