The Ratings Dilemma

So maybe y’all can help me with a dilemma. I really, really, really like the concept of Goodreads, the social networking site for readers. When it comes right down to it, some of the most meaningful conversations start over books. So this concept appeals to me, both as a reader and also as a writer. I mean, how awesome to connect with people who have read your books--and enjoyed them!

So in case you aren’t familiar with the site, here’s a huge simplification. You have a couple of different virtual bookshelves. Books you’ve read and books you want to read. For the books you’ve read, you are supposed to rate them, 1-5 stars. 

I get the reasoning. This way you find people whose reading tastes are like yours and you can judge beforehand whether or not you’d like to a read a title based on their rating. But here’s where things get dicey for me. Rating the books I’ve read. If ratings meant the same to everyone, there wouldn’t be a problem. But they don’t. Some rate a book 5 stars if it holds their attention and elicits an emotion. Some rate a book 5 stars based on the amount of romance between the main characters (even if it isn’t a romance!) Some rate a book 5 stars if it is a book struck a deep enough chord that they intend to keep on their shelves instead of give away or sell to a used bookstore. Some rate a book 5 stars if it is, well, brilliant. As in, a classic, a work of literature that has (or will) stand the test of time. 

Ok, maybe I’m the only one that falls into that last category. Do you see my issue? To me, a 5 star book is along the lines of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, Bleak House, LIttle Dorritt, War and Peace--and even titles like Anne of Green Gables, Secret Garden, and Little Women. And yet, I know that many authors and readers would be appalled if I rated the books I often read in comparison to these. Giving a book 3 stars is almost the equivalent of hating it, or so many authors and readers think. If I want to find people who enjoy what I enjoy, my ratings have to have some correlation with theirs. 

So where do I set 5 stars? How do I rearrange my thinking so as to connect with readers, not alienate my writer friends, and yet still give my honest opinion? It becomes an especially weighty question when I know others are asking these same questions in regards to putting a rating on my books. (This is why I don’t do bookseller site ratings, either.)

For example: one reader gave me 1 star, saying that after only a couple of pages the reader realized the book wasn’t for them. Ok. So that 1 star didn’t mean the book was bad (because it never got read more than a page or two to find out), it just wasn’t what that reader wanted to read. Should they have rated it at all? Or does the 1 star simply serve to show others who have similar reading tastes that my book doesn’t fall into their category? 

Thus is my dilemma. Do I dive into Goodreads, figure out my own rating system (whatever that might be, even if others don’t always understand it) and become a part of a huge reading community? Or do I try to navigate Goodreads without actually rating any of the books I read? Yet I want others to know when there are books I enjoy. And I do enjoy books that aren’t necessarily genius. 

Please help! I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Vera said...

Anne - my interpretation of the rating system is that it is based upon the actual type of book it is and if it is a 5 star book of that particular type. In reality, today you won't find many classics comparable to Wuthering Heights or Silas Marner. But you will find a 5 star "Amish" novel because it is a good read. You will also find a 1 star "Amish" novel because it simply was not that engaging, characters were lacking, etc. But most likely none of the "Amish" novels printed today will ever be 5 star classics.

Now I like the book (I think I've only read one of yours) of yours that I read. I think I most likely gave it a 5 star rating because it was good in my estimation for the type and style of book it is.

Keep writing, girl. :)

Anne Mateer said...

That makes so much sense, Vera! I've been trying to compare apples and oranges. You've taken a load off my mind. Seriously. I'm so relieved! I can do that--especially now that I know what I'm doing! ;)

Thank you for that explanation. I feel like I have a new lease on life! (And thank you for your kind words about my book, too!)

Anonymous said...

I like Vera's explanation too. I've often wondered the same thing. It makes so much sense now. :) And it will be much easier to rate books.

Recently, I was asked to rate a book on Amazon, but I disliked the book immensely. What is the best way to politely decline?

Anne Mateer said...

I wish I had an answer for you, VV, but I would squirm in that dilemma as well. I'd rather err on the side of saying nothing about a book than giving it a bad rating. Praying you find the wisdom to navigate that situation!