Any reader or writer is familiar with the review system for books based on five stars. This system is used by online bookstores and social networks dedicated to reading and is associated with the real reviews, in which the reader goes into detail in evaluating a book.
Typically in the stores, like Amazon, where the star-based review system is hugely popular and is an immediate way to get an idea of the product (not just books), to assign this numerical judgment you must add a written review, while in social networks like Goodreads (owned by Amazon) this obligation doesn’t exist.
The importance of such reviews is often discussed, in particular the fact that they are or aren’t honest, because the average star rating of a book (or any product or service) can have a major impact on sales. This is especially true for self-publishers, who use the word of mouth to promote their books and the reviews are one of the most immediate expression of the readers’ opinions that trigger this word of mouth.
Another important aspect of book reviews, in addition to being real (which unfortunately isn’t always true, both positively and mostly negatively, which has a higher impact on the average star rating), is their usefulness. This is because, beyond the average and the number of reviews, who reads them generally does it to see if the concerned book is within their tastes and, in this sense, finding someone who just says that it’s beautiful, or that they didn’t like it, does not serve the purpose. What is needed is a brief analysis of what the book has left to the reader. Then the fact that these aspects make the book good or bad in the eyes of the reviewer isn’t so important. Certain aspects that a reader considers defects can be advantages for another, but if they aren’t discussed in the review, the latter loses any usefulness.
The problem is that often those who land on a product page might not go beyond the average star rating, displayed under the title, along with the number of reviews (the average is more significant with a higher number of reviews) and of course the price. If the way in which the reviewers use the stars were the same for everyone, this evaluation system would be very useful. But unfortunately it isn’t so.
I’ve often read beautiful reviews of a book which, however, the reviewer had given only three stars (which, in fact, don’t raise the average of the book and are considered a non-positive voting) and, in other cases, four or even five-star reviews where the reviewer listed many defects.
So what do the stars mean?
There is no single answer. Each of us who writes book reviews has an own system, which is more or less consistent, to use them.
Do you want to know mine?
Well, my numerical ratings are primarily based on my liking of the book itself. Although here and there I can also give technical evaluations (sparingly, because in writing the technique doesn’t matter if everything else is missing), the choice of the number of stars relies solely on how I liked the book in the particular period when I read it, regardless to the fact that it has small or big defects.
A strongly discriminating element is the desire to go back to read the book.
Do you know that feeling that, when you’re reading a book that you like so much, you wait anxiously all day to resume reading? For me this is a crucial fact, and more often than not, it means that I am holding a five-star book.
But it cannot be enough. To this I add a second, even more important element: the satisfaction felt at the end of the reading, in other words my liking of the ending. And I don’t mean a happy or sad ending, but rather that the ending works, good or bad it must make sense within the story, in short, I must like it.
It goes without saying that, if I didn’t like a book, this concerns the whole book, including the ending.
In other words, the liking of the ending is what makes me opt for a positive review (four or five stars) rather than a negative one (from three stars down), while the simultaneous presence of these two elements (desire to read book and have liked the ending) determines a five-star book.
Then there are other flaws or strengths that I describe in the text of the review, which, except in rare cases (if there are many), don’t affect my final evaluation.
But, to make you understand better what I mean, I’m reporting my evaluation scale below.
5 stars: I liked it so much that during the day I couldn’t wait to get back to reading it and I liked the ending.
4 stars: I liked it, but not enough that I couldn’t wait to get back to reading it, and I liked the ending.
3 stars: the book is good enough in itself (well written or with an interesting storyline) but I didn’t like it for some reason or I liked it (maybe so much that I was always looking forward to reading it again) but I didn’t like the ending.
2 stars: I didn’t like it and don’t consider it good enough in itself, but there is still something to be saved it.
1 star: there is nothing to be saved in this book.
As you see, for me three stars are a bad review, because it means that I didn’t like the book or that I didn’t like the ending. And if the ending of a book doesn’t work, then it’s the book that doesn’t work, even if up to a certain point I liked it, so my evaluation cannot be positive.
From a numerical point of view, moreover, assigning three stars to a book means you aren’t helping to improve its average rating, unless it’s already awful. For this reason, if I liked a book and so I want to make a positive contribution to its average star rating, I must give at least four stars. It’s pure maths.
Clearly this is my evaluation scale, everyone creates their own, but this is the one to which I try to stick in the reviews you see in this blog.
And what about you? How do you choose how many stars you should give to the books you read?