[Re-Blog] What Do Those Star Ratings Really Mean? #WritingTip #MondayBlogs

Let’s Talk About Star Ratings

Star ratings on books can be controversial, so I asked Terry Tyler to give us her thoughts on the matter.

The star rating of a book is so important, as it can make the difference between a ‘buy’ or a ‘pass’ for a potential reader. The star average is important for authors, too, if they are approaching book promotion sites.

But what does each star rating mean? Just to make it nice and confusing, on Amazon and Goodreads the stars actually mean slightly different things, and although most book bloggers have their own system (often stated on their blog), it’s as well to be aware of what the ratings mean on these sites.

Amazon Rating


Goodreads Rating


Many reviewers feel the bands between the stars are too wide and introduce their own breakdowns within these, awarding a 3.5 stars or a 4.5 stars etc. Then they might round up or down, depending on how they feel about the book. This is common practice these days and quite useful, if you feel a book is, for instance, better than a 3* but not quite up to a 4*. You can state the variation at the top of the review on Amazon and Goodreads.

If you have a blog and want to use your own system of star ratings, it’s best to display it clearly on your blog, so that readers know what you mean by those four stars for instance. Then, you can translate this to Amazon and Goodreads as you see fit. It’s important to be consistent, if you can, so that readers know what you mean by each rating.

Here’s a dilemma reviewers often face: what if a book is good, well written and researched, perfectly presented, with excellent characterisation, but just didn’t ‘float your boat’, maybe because it’s outside your favourite genre range, or was a much more gently paced book than you prefer? You have two options here, and it’s really up to you:

  • Award the stars according to your own reading experience only.
  • Bear in mind that readers who love this genre might adore it, and rate it according to its merit in that area of the market.

You can always qualify the rating with the wording in the review itself; for instance, ‘this book was a little slow for me and too romance orientated, but I think lovers of the genre will adore it.’

Reviewing advice

The most important thing is to be honest; you only have to browse Amazon to see reviews saying ‘I bought this book because of all its 5* reviews, but it’s full of grammatical errors and typos’. But don’t get in too much of a sweat over it; one man’s meat is another man’s poison. A book you consider a 5* unputdownable gem might be quite mediocre to someone else. Also, because the 5* system is so limiting, a 3* rating can mean anything from a fairly good book (‘I liked it’ on Goodreads) to something with much potential for improvement.

Ultimately, many reviewers award stars by ‘feel’. Does this book say 5* to you? It’s very important, too, not to feel pressured. If you’re a blogger who takes in review requests, your blog should make writers aware that you review honestly. It’s not unheard of for writers to hassle book bloggers to change their star rating, but please don’t succumb to this, if it happens to you. The way to make your book blog worth reading is to make it authentic.

Above all, it’s your choice, and don’t forget that every single reader will read a book differently!

One important point to make: don’t forget that on Amazon you are reviewing THE PRODUCT. Not the delivery time, or Amazon customer service, or indeed the writer. I’ve seen books given 1* simply because the customer had trouble downloading the book! This can reflect badly on the author.

Writing tips

Want to read more advice posts? Find them here, on our Wednesday Wing Page.

Which star ratings do you trust or look for, when checking out a book?


25 thoughts on “[Re-Blog] What Do Those Star Ratings Really Mean? #WritingTip #MondayBlogs

  1. Good points here. I’ve noticed a few book bloggers write up their reviews without adding the star rating on their blog (only adding that bit on Amazon and Goodreads) and I think this is a great idea. People can jump to certain conclusions when they spot the number of stars. To read a review without any expectations is refreshing. Lovely post, ladies x

    Liked by 2 people

      • Ah – that actually gets on my nerves. I want to know what they would give it! Although, yes, I can see what you mean – on my own books, I have some 3* that some people would consider more like 4/4.5*, and others more like a 2*. I have one 3.5* for The Devil You Know that is so nice that some of the comments say, ‘this sounds as if you liked it. So why only 3.5*?’

        I think too many people give 5* to everything they like. It makes it not mean anything.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great stuff, as usual. I don’t add the stars on my blog because I write fairly detailed reviews and I think each person will (hopefully) from them whatever they need to make up their minds. I don’t post reviews that are below 3 stars as a matter of personal policy (although I imagine if I came across content that I felt was misleading, offensive, or dangerous, I might). But true, reviews are subjective after all. And I’ve also read reviews that didn’t match the number of stars for me, but each person has different criteria.


  3. I’ve been considering not adding stars to my blog reviews, just adding them on Amazon and Goodreads. It’s such a minefield and, as Terry says, the rating can mean different things….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, I’ve just emailed Rosie about this. Please don’t stop putting the star rating on! It’s the first thing I look at, so I expect it’s the same for many others. If it’s 5*, I think, oh, I must see this! If it’s 3*, I want to know what the blogger didn’t like. I am less likely to read reviews without a rating at the top or bottom. And you use half stars so it does give a bit more leeway!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I actually didn’t use stars on my blog for a very long time because of these issues. People tend to interpret stars differently, even if you put an explanation of what YOU mean by your ratings somewhere on your blog. I also struggle with the question of “What if the book objectively has good points, but I hated it?” That’s kind of where I end up giving it maybe three stars, but I don’t know if that’s “fair” or “clear.” Personally I focus more on what people’s reviews say than on how many stars they gave the book.


    • Hi Briana, if I personally struggle with a book, but can see that others may like it, sometimes I say ‘the book wasn’t for me’ or I do a line saying who I could recommend it to, for instance… those who enjoy a slow paced cosy mystery might like this.


    • Briana, I don’t think there’s any easy answer – I try to go by a cross between objective and personal. If a book is well written and a good example of its genre, well presented, etc, but didn’t do much for me (If it’s very slow and emotional with not many events, for instance, or a well thought out police procedural), I will give it 3.5* and round up to 4* on Amazon. I think it depends WHY you didn’t like it. If it’s because it’s badly written, then I’ll probably mark lower.

      I buy a lot of Kindle books and (as soon as I’ve established interest, via genre and blurb!), the next thing I look at is the price, then the star rating block thingy. Then I start to read the 1, 2 & 3*, to find out what people didn’t like about it.

      Currently putting together a perhaps deeper look at this, in an ‘authors reviewing authors’ post 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, Terry, for this excellent analysis of the meaning of star ratings. I always struggle with this and wish they would do away with stars.It is good to know the ratings aren’t equal across the board. ❤❤❤


  6. Thanks, Terry. I tend to be led by whether I’m gripped by a story first, then I go back and find what really floated my boat, then I decide which parts were well written (or not), then I break my reviews down. I’m a slow reader but I do try to analyse my responses – and then be honest. And, lastly, give the book a star rating . I’m always aware though, that, most of the time, it’s subjective, especially my first read of a book purely as a reader..


    • Thanks for all comments, Michelle, Judith, Kerry, etc!

      I think star ratings are massively important. If we didn’t have them, we’d have to wade through loads of long reviews, not knowing if a book was any good or not. I find it really helpful to be able to look straight away at the block that shows them on Amazon. A few low ones complaining about grammar/proofreading – forget it!

      Judith, I always spend a long time deliberating over it! And frequently change my mind half way through. Someone told me recently that she starts at 5* and deducts only if she doesn’t like something. Which, in effect, means she is starting off assuming that she will love every book – very optimistic!!!! I am more likely to start at 2* and think, right, impress me…. but actually I just allocate them by feel. If it’s not great literature and has a few errors but totally gripped me, it may well get a higher rating than one that is technically perfect and artistically admirable but forgettable.


  7. Star ratings are tricky. I don’t put them on my blog and I reserve 5 stars for the very best of the best so that a four star for me will be a very enjoyable read. I gave three stars to Big Little Lies because it was just not my cup of tea but I did qualify the rating with remarks about the excellent writing. I always feel so sorry for an author when I come across a one star review that says something like, ‘Wouldn’t download’. What a shame for the author and all the hard work put in.


  8. As a writer and as an occasional and reluctant reviewer on Amazon and Goodreads (only when someone I know publishes a book, and most especially if they ask me), I hate the star rating system. For me, it dumbs down the whole process of writing about a book. It’s one step up from pass/fail, but only one step. If what matters is the grade we give a book, why are we bothering to actually say something nuanced?

    Sorry–I’ll stop there.


  9. Great post! I quit using half stars on my blog because it always became confusing when I went to move things over to Goodreads or Amazon. Do you mark it four or five if it’s a 4.5, for example? My decision making process seemed way too subjective, so I simplified it. I equate the stars to letter grades. A=5, B=4, and so on. That’s probably because I used to teach college classes.
    Anyway, I wanted to add that I have a huge pet peeve about book reviews: I can’t stand it when a review is all flowers and sunshine (this book is so wonderful!) but then the reviewer knocks off stars. If it was so wonderful, why did they rate it less than 5 stars? It drives me crazy!


    • Thank you, yes the half stars don’t equate on GR and Amazon, but like your ABC system it is a way of communicating a reviewer’s feeling for a book.
      I suspect the review behind your ‘pet peeve’ (and we all have them) may also tell a story of its own, maybe the reviewer isn’t confident enough to point out book errors? Or they’ve been on the receiving end of a nasty attack from an author, in the past for finding fault, and this is their way of dealing with it. (I know from personal experience and it leaves you raw).
      It may also be that they know something about the background of the author and how the book came to fruition, so they are showing their thoughts about the book in the kindest format possible.
      With genuine reviews so subjective to the individual reader, it is never going to be an exact science, but I do understand your thoughts.
      Thanks for adding to the discussion.


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