Thursday, March 11, 2010

How Do You Use Ratings? Pt. 2

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post in which I broke down the rating system I use on my blog. It started as a way for me to collect my thoughts, but I really enjoyed the comments that people left on that post for me. It was fascinating to see all the different points of view; it just goes to show that, while we all love YA and reading, there are still a ton of differences among us, and no easy answer as to how to go about reviewing!

Today I want to talk about how I use ratings when looking for recommendations, surfing book networking sites, reading blogs, etc. I'm not sure how I'm to unify this post, so I think I'll do it in interview format, ask myself questions and answer myself. Let's see how this goes!

Audience: When you rate books, who do you rate them for?

(The picture on the right makes me giggle, btw.)

Well, that's the ultimate question, isn't it? Obviously we're all blogging with the small hope that someone out there will read our words. But it's perhaps also true that different review publications have different purposes when reviewing, and that understanding the publication's purpose goes a long way in the way in which we take its reviews. Or, in Lauren of I Was a Teenage Book Geek's comment in my first post, it's all about the CONTEXT.

Notable review publications such as Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, and School Library Journal cater to professional buyers of books. That means they're nice and concise, with only a few sentences of synopsis and review. These publications usually give the "starred" reviews that most authors and publishing companies consider really good, because this will bring the book to the attention of professional booksellers. These reviews generally mean less for the everyday consumer, and are generally not self-reflective: these publications don't have a "type" of book they give starred reviews to over others. Their reviews are written by a bunch of people, and so if one of them thinks the book is worthy of being placed in libraries, schools, book fairs, and more, the star will most likely be given.

This is opposed to many bloggers' reviews. We have the same goal of promoting good books to others, sure, but reviewing is also a reflective process for most of us: writing our reviews helps us understand what we like or dislike in books. At least that's what I've found to be the case with me. My blog is self-reflective: I know that some books I give 3-star ratings to are others' all-time favorites and/or extremely popular and/or generally raved about by consumers and professionals alike. But part of my rating process is figuring out how I enjoyed that book in relation to others I've read. My reviews can be influenced by what I read before and after. That's because I am an individual: I do not profess to hide behind a professional reviewer or site name (note my eponymous blog). Knowing that my reviews should be taken in the context of MY reading tastes will help you a lot when deciding whether or not reading my reviews is worth your time.

Do you look at star/number/grade ratings, or do you read the review and glean from it what you will?

I confess: I usually look at the star/number/grade rating first, then go back and read the review if I think I'll get something out of it. I know there are those of you who completely disregard the rating. But for me, ratings help ground me somewhere: I have a starting point for myself when I read the review. And once again, it's all about the context. Lenore doesn't use ratings on her reviews, but her Zombie Chickens for Dystopian February worked wonderfully because it was a unified theme: all dystopian books! Along the same lines, if it's someone who gives everything 5 stars, I usually don't even bother to read their reviews. They usually don't tell me anything about the quality of the book, only that they really really really really liked it. Really.

Where do you go to read reviews?

If I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to read a particular book, I usually go to Goodreads. Check out the book's overall rating, read several differently starred reviews, some from my friends, some from people I don't know. It's dangerous for me to get my expectations too high about a book (damn you, you bloggers who only write gushy-gushy 5-star rave reviews!), and so I like to read about both its strengths and weaknesses beforehand.

When I'm looking for new book recommendations, I tend to troll the blogs. (Hehe, "troll" the blogs. I didn't have to say that, but I just wanted to say it. Hehe.) Bloggers pretty much find sooner or later that there are a certain number of blogs they really connect with, whose reviews they truly take to heart. Just like a book is not for everyone, so a blogger can't be a perfect fit for everyone. I have a handful of blogs whose reviews I love reading for the fact that A) they are well-written, AND B) they have similar reading tastes to me. The "AND" is in important because a blog can be A and not B, or B and not A, and while I'll still read their reviews, they don't have as much of an influence on me as the A AND B blogs do. Troll the blogosphere (hehe, "troll"!!! I'm stopping now) long enough, and you'll find which blogs you enjoy and which ones you don't. Blog-reading is a personal affair, and you have the right to love a blog that others don't, or hate one that everyone gushes about. Just don't go aggressively public with your likes and dislikes.

I find that I don't read Amazon reviews often. I'm irritated by the way they set it up so that Vine readers or reviewers who post their reviews up as soon as the book is released have the best chance of appearing on the main page. I've found no good way of browsing the reviews, and I barely look at the ratings. I guess, for me, Amazon is really more a place I go for technical information--synopsis, release date, publisher--than for recommendations, although I'm thinking some authors might disagree with me.

Question from Ari: Are there ever books you regret giving them the ratings you did?

Ohh, this is a difficult question. Like I mentioned earlier, my reviews are invariably influenced by what I read before or after. I think this is hard to help: like, you think you like a book, and give it 5 stars, but then you read another book that so blows the first one away that you should you could give it 6 stars, or change the first book's rating to a 4. Also, reading tastes change over time: I realize that a lot of my 5-star ratings on Goodreads are carryover ratings from books I read over and over when I was younger. Most of them I probably wouldn't read again, and if I did, I'm not sure if I'd feel the same way about them. But will I change my rating? Usually not--and if I do, then not by much, perhaps a half star in either direction. (Except for Twilight. But that's a different story.)

As for whether or not I regret giving the ratings I did... Well, oftentimes I feel really bad about the reviews I've written for books I reviewed for blog tours that I didn't end up enjoying. Reading disappointing books is not a pleasant experience for anyone. Why should we have to read a book if we don't like it? (And also, why was it published in the first place? Grrr.) So I feel sad and rather masochistic when I have to put up a critical review of a book that was given me for review, and which I had to review for a tour. I wish I had known earlier that the book wouldn't be for me, so that I wouldn't have had to spend my time and my blog readers' time on that critical review. But do I regret the ratings I've given? No.

If you could start over with a new rating system, what would you do?

I'd very much like to play with the idea of using no ratings, and instead only giving, like, a big fat star or something for the books that I found exceptional. In that sense my reviews would be more like a Kirkus review, I suppose, which I'm not sure is the point of blogs. Eh. But that would allow me to point out the stellar books in the genres that I don't usually read. I just read this one book that my middle school self would have absolutely adored and probably reread about seven times. But my now-self couldn't justify giving it more than 3 stars...even though it's such a good book for middle school girls. With a "starred review" system, I could just write that--that it's something fantastic for tweens--in my review, and give it a star for being the top of its genre, and everyone would be happy and no one would go, "Oh, 3? Well, Steph gave it a mediocre rating. I'd better stay away from it then..."

But the problem is I like looking at ratings, as I stated earlier. Ah dear. The endless dilemma.


Now that you've heard from me (again), I have a few questions for YOU! Feel free to answer them in the comments below if you're interested, thanks! Reviews and ratings are an everchanging topic, and I have a feeling this won't be the last post in this series on ratings, as I completely didn't touch upon how authors/publishers may use reviews and ratings... :)

How do you use Amazon reviews?
Where do you go to read reviews and ratings?
Do you ever go back and change your ratings?
Who do you rate your books for?


  1. Steph, great post again.

    What I like the most is about the blogosphere, there are definite blogs I love and participate in often but do we have similar reading taste, no. And there are others I love because the reviews are amazing and I often add to my TBR list from them.

    I use Amazon to see what other books they recommend if you buy the one you are looking at.

    I love looking at ratings specifically on LibraryThing.

    I will not go back and change ratings because I am a mood reader and I rate how I feel immediately after finishing. I am considering a new rating for books I know I will reread though because 5 stars just isn't good enough.

  2. Really thoughtful post, Steph (and shiny new theme! Nice!). Unless a blogger/website spells out their star-rating system with great care, as you do, I'm often uncertain how to interpret the really positive ratings. Often, I find really bad reviews more telling: does the reviewer have an axe to grind? Does she contradict herself? What is the basis for her dislike? I sometimes buy and enjoy books that were given negative reviews by people whose opinions I totally disrespect. *grin*

  3. Oops - should clarify: that's how I use Amazon reviews, in particular, and not just for books.

  4. I used to read Amazon reviews, then I become a librarian. Now I hate them. I really feel like most of the time they are written by people who want to complain, censor and didn't even read the book, just saw the keywords. I read the negative reviews sometimes, but they don't really say why they didn't like something. I always try to explain why I liked or didn't like something, so I get annoyed when others can't.

    I do like rating systems though. It helps me when I want to do a quick scan of the review-I can get an idea of the rating and come back for the meat of the review later. I put ratings on mine-and I've started doing half ratings because it's hard to stay on those whole numbers! I think it makes it easier to find my favorite books too-I can look at my five star, four star books and see what I really enjoyed that year.

    Blogging is a way for me to reflect on what I did or didn't like about something and I'm ok when other people love a book I didn't like or when hate something I loved. I think the important thing is that you explain why you gave the book the rating you did-explain what you liked, disliked, why others should read it, etc.

    BTW-I love the new layout-what anime is your picture from? So cute!

  5. I use amazon and I always look at the 1 and 2 star ratings because I'm considering the book because I think it sounds interesting and I want to see if people have picked up on flaws that would dissuade me from reading it. As GreenBeanTeenQueen said, many of them suck but sometimes there are good 1, 2, or 3 star reviews that are helpful.

    I also think you could say that while you think a book is worth x stars for you at that time, someone younger or more into the genre or whatever would love it. For example I reviewed a book I had to read for school which I would never have read otherwise (and didn't exactly enjoy) but it's totally perfect for people interested in that topic and it's basically the definitive history of that time.

  6. How do you use Amazon reviews?
    I really don't read Amazon review that often. If I see a rating with a review, I generally just look at the rating. It's a habit, but it's one of the reasons I prefer not to have ratings. :/

    Where do you go to read reviews and ratings?
    Ratings - When it comes to reviews, I usually just look at my blogroll, and I see multiple people like the same book, I'll typically add it to my wishlist. I don't really read reviews for books I want more info about. :/

    Do you ever go back and change your ratings?
    Yeah, but very rarely.

    Who do you rate your books for?

  7. Wonderful post. So thoughtful.

    How do you use Amazon reviews?
    I really don't. I don't find them reliable.
    Where do you go to read reviews and ratings?
    Bloggers that I look up to/have similar reviewing styles.
    Do you ever go back and change your ratings?
    Never. If I did that, it would be an unending process. Based on what I'm reading, my feelings for other books are always changing.
    Who do you rate your books for?
    I try to rate them for everyone. Myself, readers, and authors. Most of all though, I tryo to review for my reading audience. They're the ones benifitting from my reviews.

  8. Like you said, I go to blogs I enjoy reading with good writing and tastes to get my reviews. I tend to avoid reviews on blogs that, again like you said, give nothing but 5 stars to books I found nothing more than average.

    Yup, guilty- I change my ratings. But, I write [Edit: Date] to show when, and say why I changed it (like if I reread it, or it just grew on me, or I put it into persepctive...)

    Lastly, I rate my books in a mixture of book quality and enjoyability (both my opinion, who am I to judge 'book quality' anyways?) If I find the writing impeccable but the plot lacking, I still might bump up the rating a bit. I dont give 10's, but I do give decimals. And anything higher than 9.4 is amazing for me...not really sure how it works for me tbh. I have this whole "subtract 5 thing" going on too since i dont like to give ratings below 5..
    Anyways, it works for me :)

    Also, I like reading reviews that give ratings. It saves me time, and that way I can only read reviews that say, the blogger hated (hey, im pessimistic! lol, jk)

    Interesting, well written post! time to troll another blog!

  9. You do such wonderful and reflective posts, Steph Su!

    When it comes to Amazon reviews I recently discovered a negative side to it. I guess it has always been there I just haven't noticed it before. I was asked to review a book and I looked it up on Amazon. The book had few but high ratings. I decided to dig a little deeper and all the reviewers were "fake". Almost all the reviewers had only rated this book, well except for one who had rated many books but all of them had the highest rating. That smelled fishy to me.

    I feel a bit like Goodreads reviews might be more trustworthy and in addition to that I can see what all of my friends who have read that book felt about it.

    Where do you go to read reviews and ratings?
    Do you ever go back and change your ratings? No, I don't. The rating I gave was they way I felt about the book at the time. I can take Twilight as an example, when I read it I loved it. I read it before I started my book blog but I'm pretty sure I would have given it close up to a five star rating. When I think about Twilight now I see all kinds of things about the writing which really annoys me. Perhaps because I've read other books in the same genre with better quality. Still if I had reviewed it I wouldn't have changed my rating.

    Who do you rate your books for?
    Partly for myself, it makes it possible for me to go back and take a quick look at how I felt about that particular book at the time. Also I rate it for other potential readers. If I give a book a five star rating it means that I really loved it and I hope that other readers will be tempted to read the book based on my review.

    Wow, this must be one of my longest comments ever. Have a great weekend, Steph Su!

  10. Oh, I also agree with GBTQ that there are also many reviewers on Amazon that it seems are just out to "damage" a book. All in all I like Goodreads reviews much, much better.


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