Thursday, 13 July 2017

[article] How To Rate Books?

A rainbow of excellent (and not so excellent) books

How To Rate Books?

Or, Uh I Dunno It Was Kinda Good So 3 Stars I Guess

You might notice that this article is a question rather than a statement. That's because I don't really know, exactly, how to rate books and in my almost six months of book blogging, I think I've uncovered a little secret: no one does. You, like me, might have been fooled by those reviewers that put on their  blogs or Goodreads profiles those little "ratings guides" that look a little like this:

* * *             ALRIGHT

These appear to be confident little proclaimers that a reviewer has some sort of organised, methodical rating system. That their numbers, unlike mine, have some sort of objective standard and meaning. Don't get me wrong, I can spend a lot of time debating a rating, thinking about what I liked and what I didn't, how my enjoyment compared to books with similar plots. But there's no golden standard; sometimes a book is one star because it's terribly written and should have seen eight proofreaders, sometimes because it's horrendously offensive, or sometimes just because I hadn't realised that it was a novella and the disappointment seriously killed my enjoyment.

I'm going to take you guys through a little wandering tour of how I rate my books, hopefully you find it interesting and possibly useful!

The preliminary rating

When I finish a book I go and update my Goodreads status or fill out the reviewer opinions section on Netgalley. This is when I give a book what I refer to as a preliminary rating, my immediate snap reaction to how I feel when I finish the book. This can be influenced a lot by circumstance: I had a headache when I finished the book so gave it a star lower than I might have done otherwise, I've just had a string of one and two star books so maybe this one gets a star more than if I'd previously finished a five star book. 

Most of the time I don't even put this rating anywhere online, I just jot it down somewhere alongside a few notes about what I liked and didn't like. When I return to the book in a few days or a week I find that my feelings towards the book often change; maybe a find a certain scene or theme really stuck with me, I still find myself emotionally attached to the book and might think it deserves a higher rating. Conversely, I sit down to write the review and can't remember the name of the main character - down a star we go, it can't possibly be a four star book if I've forgotten the name of the main character after three days, can it?

The five star system

Like a lot of others I'm sometimes guilty of using the, gasp, half-star. It's always very tempting to use - I loved a book but it isn't as great as some of my all-time favourites so 4.5 stars you are. But then you have to decide whether to mark it down as 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads, Amazon, or wherever else. So then the question becomes is it more like 4.25 or 4.75? Ew. How ugly. It's also really sort of horrible to look at: * * * .5, I can't draw half a star! 

I try very hard not to use half star ratings, which is obviously a personal decision. No shame on you if you liberally use half stars, I just prefer to not to if I can avoid it. I find restricting myself to a five star rating system forces me to think carefully about why a book is a 3 rather than a 4, and having a quick look at my Goodreads rating statistics has yielded some interesting results. A breakdown:

  • Rated 220 books
  • An average rating of 3.45
  • Average rating for 2016 of 3.5
  • Average rating for 2017, as of July, of 3.2
  • I have rated the most books 4 stars (71) and the least 1 star (9)

The comparison

Say I finish a contemporary that heavily features a romance and a cracking high fantasy novel in the same week. I don't like romances anywhere near as much as I like fantasy so in an entirely subjective system, the romance would probably just automatically get a lower rating. But this doesn't really seem fair, does it? What I find works better is to flick back through my reviews for books of a similar genre and see how it compares. For example, recently I rated Fallen Flame by J Miller. I thought about how I felt after reading it and compared it to:

  • An average book of that genre, like The Hundredth Queen which I'd just read before
  • An amazing book, all time favourite sort of book, like Assassin's Apprentice
  • A rubbish book, an example of all the things I found annoying with YA special magical girl books

If it was a book in a series or a book by an author I had read before I might consider:

  • Other books in the series, how did it place in the hierarchy I've created and how did I rate those other books?
  • Do I consider this book to be an improvement on the author's writing or not?

Generally, when I've considered all of these sorts of aspects I come up with a rating that I find acceptable. I save things like writing pro/con lists about books for the review writing stage, because although obviously the review reflects the rating (or the rating reflects the review!), I mostly guide my ratings by how I feel. Was it enjoyable? Would I reread it? Did I savour it or was I counting how many pages I had left? These are the sorts of questions that I try to use to rate the books I read.

How do you rate the books you read? Tell me below!

No comments:

Post a Comment