Taking the Guesswork Out of My Book Ratings

Posted February 18, 2016 / Discussions, Features / 29 Comments

You finished the book! WOOO. Now what? You liked most of it, but there were some things that bugged you. Do you think it’s in the 3-star range or would you give it a nice 4-star? Was it as good as that OTHER book you rated 4 stars or was it worse? 3.5 feels like not enough, but 4 feels like too much. THIS IS THE WORST FEELING, especially if you then have to change your whole decision because Goodreads doesn’t even let you use half-stars. If you decide on 3.5 stars, will you round up on Goodreads because you liked it overall, or will you round down because it really doesn’t feel worthy? I deal with this all the time. I’ve previously talked about rating with your head or your heart, rating books critically, and changing ratings… so clearly this is something that plagues me.

To mitigate some of the issues I have with determining a rating, I’ve developed a really easy plan when rating my books. It helps me out the vast majority of the time.

rating books headerI like to follow a couple of different steps if the first one doesn’t work out. There are plenty of books that I read where I just know the rating in my gut, right off the bat. When that isn’t the case, I move to step two. If that doesn’t finalize things for me, I move to step three. It’s a really easy system but it’s made my life a LOT easier.step 1As I said, sometimes you just finish a book and KNOW what the rating is. It’s obvious and clear to you. If that works, then go for it! No problem at all. There are plenty of instances where I can’t decide right away what rating works for me and I feel stuck between two. Usually half-stars are my best friend and my biggest enemy; it can help you find great middle ground or plague you with rounding. Regardless, I try to think about which general rating I think the book deserves, or which rating range I’m suck on. Once I know this number, I kind of keep it in my mind throughout the rest of the process.
step 2I developed a rating report like many people use in their reviews. It’s not foolproof, because there are so many other factors that go into my enjoyment of a book. I did select six categories specifically because they would come together to create my overall impression. I look at the following aspects of a book and rate them on a scale of 0 to 5:

  • Plot and premise: what happens during the book, the actual idea behind the book, if the concept or premise was interesting or unique, etc.
  • Characters: if I liked the characters, related to them, and/or felt like they were fleshed out (note: likeable characters doesn’t usually mean a high rating; unlikeable characters that feel like REAL humans can definitely get a higher rating)
  • Writing style: if it felt choppy or needed more editing, if I followed along easily because of the accessible style, if it was particularly lyrical or enjoyable to read
  • Pacing and flow: if the main plot points feel evenly paced, how the whole book flows together and creates a whole story
  • Feels or swoons: most books have some kind of romance or family vibe, so this involves how believable or swoony the romance is, how the family feels hit me, etc. (some books may not even get this category factored in if it doesn’t apply at all)
  • Addiction level: if I wanted to keep reading regardless of having to leave for work, how quickly I finished the book because I couldn’t put it down

Everyone knows I’m a sucker for covers, and that could be included if I wanted to share my thoughts about the book’s cover… but it doesn’t feel like something that will factor into my actual enjoyment of the book or the rating. Some great books have bad covers and some bad books have great covers, so I didn’t want that element to muddy up the rating. All of those categories get averaged together to give me some kind of rating. This can be a clear-cut answer (it comes out to 3.5 exactly) or it can confuse me more (it comes out to 3.7 when I’m not sure of 3.5 and 4). So, I usually move on to the next step…

step 3If my rating report looks something like the one below, I have to decide if the book needs to be rounded up or down. I decide this based on a couple of factors.

Plot & Premise
Writing Style
Pacing & Flow
Feels or Swoons
Addiction Level
Overall: 3.7

Again half-stars become a killer. I have to go for what my final feelings are. If I get a 3.7 on the rating report, was I left with an overall positive feeling about the book, or a more negative one? Depending on my answer, I can decide how to round. There are some books that feel good while I’m reading and then the ending leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If I’m left with a stronger UGH feeling about the book, it makes more sense for me to round down. If I finish the book and feel like I had some issues with the book, but my overall lingering feeling is positive, I’ll round up. It’s not a perfect system but it just kind of makes sense for me. I remember the gut feeling I had at the beginning of the process too. My gut was telling me it was a 3.5 star book and then the rating report shows me 3.7, I’m more likely to round down to match my instincts!

final ratingLots of other bloggers have covered ratings recently, too! Check out other thoughts:

29 responses to “Taking the Guesswork Out of My Book Ratings

  1. I need the half stars on Goodreads!!! So bummed they basically told me it would never happen. They said that people are less likely to rate a book because they have more options with half stars and it’s too overwhelming. I find that silly, but okay, that’s a talk for another day haha!
    Between 3 and 4 stars and 4 and 5 stars is THE WORST. I think my hardest is between 4 and 5, actually. Usually if I’m rating something 3.5 stars, I will round down to 3 because if I’m taking off points from a 4, it means that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped. But then there are the books that I enjoyed quite a bit but they’re better than four and I can’t rate them five. (Okay, really both zones are the absolute worst.) I do the same thing you do — I try to go with my feelings on how the book left me. If I feel more disappointed than happy, I round down. If I had things that were more technical issues but I had a happy feeling, I round up. It’s not foolproof but it seems to be working. Love your techniques!

    • I completely agree about half-stars on Goodreads! I can’t believe they won’t entertain it. I wish they could let you opt in on the kind of stars you want to use, so people can choose half-stars or not.
      I’m with you about rounding between those ones. It’s hardest between 4 and 5 for me to. I try to reserve 5 for all time favorites, and I sneak in a 4.25 or 4.75 if I really have to. But, even then, I have to make up my mind for the actual rating in my UBB! haha
      Rounding definitely can help in the end, especially for Goodreads!

  2. I really wish Goodreads had half stars!

    I love your analytical look at rating books. More often than not, I just go with my gut feeling (did I like it, really like it, or loooove it/will push it on every reader to ever walk the earth), which makes the 3 and 4 stars difficult. (5 I try to reserve.) Averaging out the stars per category seems so perfectly obvious, but I like that you drew it out so clearly. May start doing this, too!

    • Same here! It’s so hard to look back and compare books. I have a lot of books rated 3-3.5 stars that I’ve actually enjoyed, as well as some that left me still with less positive reactions. It’s really hard to differentiate.

  3. Thanks for the link to my post! Rating is SO hard. I reviewed The Siren yesterday and struggled with that rating. I’m going to finish Saint Anything tonight, and I am still undecided about the rating. Usually I know from the beginning of the book and my rating stays the same in my head throughout the whole book, but I am struggling lately. I think I’m reading too many YA contemporaries, and I’m getting bored with them. I love your report card system. I may need to do something like that. Great post!

    Kate @ Mom's Radius recently posted: Reading Habits Survey
    • That happens to me sometimes too! Usually within the first few chapters I have a REALLY good idea of the final rating. The ending can change it for me though.

      I have been getting bored with the same books too.

  4. LOVE this post today Lauren! i’m sitting at work reading it and i’m like THIS IS FABULOUS. you’ve described the process of deciding what to rate a book to the T! i always go through the same thing after i finish a book when deciding what to rate it. i use half stars in my personal reviews but then there’s the dilemna of what to rate it on Goodreads as a result (rounding up or down)

    I think your rating system is spectacular! although it sounds like a lot of work to me admittedly, (i am super lazy though) but i think your review ratings have to be more consistent as a result! mine are all over the board. i think the worst for is that i’ll rate something, and then a few days later realize i didn’t like it as much as another book that i rated lower and then have this crazy meltdown about what to do.

    although, at the end of the day if rating books is one of the hardest problems i have to deal with that day, i’m not going to complain!

    Emily @ Rabbit Hole Reviews recently posted: Review: Fangirl
    • I do have similar issues with wanting to change ratings! Sometimes my feelings change over time, the more the book sticks with me (or doesn’t!). It may look like a perfect system but it definitely has its flaws like that 🙂 The whole process really only takes a few minutes. I have a rating report that I can fill in using the UBB plug-in, so it only takes a couple seconds.

  5. I love all your rating discussions! They’re always written so well. I always struggle with rating books either 3 or 4 stars and then later thinking “Oh no, I rated that one too much” or “Oh no, I didn’t rate that one high enough”, let’s not even talk about the actual WRITING part of reviews for me, ha. I love all three of the steps you use. Lasting impressions and feels are the majority of what I think of a book in the end. The rating report is seriously fascinating, I should try that sometime.

    I figure out my ratings based on how I connected to the story, if it was written well and if I could understand/empathize with/like/relate to the characters. If any of these things was a bit “eh” then they’d most likely get three stars.

    • Thank you <33 That's a good way of doing it too! My ratings used to be based only on gut reaction but I started to second guess them later. It's easier for me to just get my silly analysis done right away so I don't go changing them later!

  6. This was an interesting post! I have definitely struggled with book rating, but I just recently changed up my system, inevitably making it more strict. 1 star is hated/couldn’t go on/DNF. 2 stars is it was OK – wasn’t bad enough for me to quit, but I struggled a bit. 3 stars is it was good! I enjoyed it, but I have some criticisms. 4 stars is great! Wow! Fantastic! I will definitely be re-reading this. 5 stars is ABSOLUTELY BLEW MY MIND! Must own/must shake the authors hand/etc. Since changing to this strict system, I’ve only five starred one book and I’ve had this in place for three months. It’s hard to get five from me now, but it works out so much better when I look back on star ratings – I have a better understanding of how I felt about the book.

  7. I mean, obviously I feel your pain here! 😀 Seriously, it is such a struggle for me. I went through it tonight, actually! I posted a review- and I kept going back and forth between 3.5 and 4 stars. What ultimately made me choose 4 was because I simply didn’t have enough negatives- it was just a “feeling”, and also, I round up on Goodreads and Amazon anyway, so might as well stick with 4! I find that I spend as much time debating the rating as I do actually writing the review! And I think about it from the moment I finish. I usually try to jot down a starting point- like, “3-3.5” just so I know what my thoughts are at the time. And I don’t usually end up straying too far from that- but it isn’t foolproof by any means. I like your ratings report system! I feel like that would REALLY help with the books that I am having a lot of trouble with rating. I am definitely going to try that next time! Love this post!

    • I know what you mean! I try to keep my rating in mind as I’m reading because the gut reaction/feeling can be the best jumping off point. I like breaking it out for my rating report when I need to because it just makes it feel more analytical?? But then I factor in my OVERALL feels with rounding. So it all works out for me in the end 🙂

  8. Oh wow you go to so much detail and effort, Lauren! I know that for me, I have pretty much only 4 categories – writing style, character, plot and entertainment. I love how you round your ratings when they encroach into decimal points – it’s actually a really effective method, imo, because it adds a nice touch of subjectivity! 🙂
    Great post, Lauren!

    Geraldine @ Corralling Books recently posted: Love-A-Thon | Questionnaire About Me!
  9. I try not to overthink my ratings too much, so I usually just go with my gut feeling. Although, I did read a book recently that was a solid three star read through two-thirds of the book, and the last third of the book was worthy of four stars. I’ve never used half stars before, so I’m really reluctant to start using them. I have a feeling I’ll probably round up on this one because the last third of the book elevated the entire book somehow…

    Jackie recently posted: These Fandoms are Just My Cup of Tea
  10. I think it was so interesting to read about how you decide on your book ratings, Lauren! I feel like we have similar approaches to it, especially with your step one. I really try to go with my gut instinct if I have a strong preference for ratings. However, when it doesn’t come easily to me, I mull it over for a few days and then decide whenever I’m ready! I actually tend to compare it to how I feel about other books, which I know sounds odd. But it helps me “place” the book, if that makes sense.

    • Thank you! I definitely think it makes sense to place the book. Sometimes it adds more confusion with me because I used to inflate my ratings and be afraid to go lower than like 3 stars haha. Otherwise, it’s a great technique!

  11. “Usually half-stars are my best friend and my biggest enemy” – I completely agree! The worst is that goodreads doesn’t allow half ratings. Ugh. Get with the times goodreads!

    I love getting this look into how you rate books. 🙂 You have inspired me to read those other posts and to share my own thoughts.

    • Thank you 😀

      I think Goodreads should just allow us to opt-in to half stars if we want to use them. They say it would be “too complicated” for everyone to have them and change ratings, etc… but if we WANT to go through and alter ratings ourselves, we should get the option!

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