As you may remember from my first ever post on this site, I have a complex relationship with giving star-based ratings to books.

(And after re-reading that post, I realized I never came back to the subject of people who sh*t on a thing before they have even seen / read / consumed it — I’m putting that on the list of posts to write soon.)

Today, I’m expanding a bit on the subject of one-star ratings. If you’re on Goodreads, you’ve seen those excoriating reviews where a person trashes a book point-by-point, usually peppered throughout with scathing-but-funny gifs. I get the appeal of them — in fact, I’ve read a few of those reviews and laughed. But I always feel bad after.

I mentioned in the original post that some people skew their ratings positive. That ‘people’ is me.

You will rarely see me rate a book below three stars, and there are a few reasons for this:

  1. Even though I wish people were more open-minded, many aren’t. Thus, it can genuinely damage an author to get too many low ratings, because many people will just look at the cumulative star number and not bother to read if it seems too low. I feel bad for authors whose work gets trashed, even if the review is funny, because most of the people doing the trashing have no idea how hard the publishing industry can be. If the book is riddled with errors, doesn’t make sense, etc., then yes — trash away. But if it’s written with enthusiasm (if not skill), and the person is learning their voice, why trip them at the starting line?
  2. Writing a book is HARD. Maybe not for everyone, but having personally taken a number of years to almost finish two full manuscripts myself, one of which is in the heavy editing phase, I can say from experience that writing a book is not something to be dashed off over a weekend. Could there be a person out there who can write passably good books really fast? Sure. Is that most people? I’d say probably not. Therefore, I bump all ratings up to two stars just for the fact that someone managed to get the book finished and published.
  3. There are enough people on the internet willing to trash someone else’s work that I figure we don’t need me adding to that negativity.

This quote from restaurant critic Anton Ego, a character in the Pixar movie Ratatouille, sums up my feelings pretty well:

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.”

It’s so easy to rate a book five stars when lots of other people are also rating it that way. Harder when you’re the only one.

I would never suggest that all people should use the same rating system. Do you believe that if you genuinely didn’t like a book it should get one star? That’s fine. You do you.

But for me, part of the rating is for effort. Another part is for writing skill (i.e. Was I transported by the story? Did I love the characters so much that I want to get back into that world? Did the magic system and plot twists make sense?). And the final part is how much I enjoyed it, based on my personal preferences. Therefore, if I’ve rated two stars, then I really didn’t like it. If I’ve rated three, then it was fine / good. Four is a book I would definitely recommend to anyone who has similar reading tastes. And five is a book I just loved, even if other people didn’t.

Hope you enjoyed this deeper dive into my feelings on star rating systems, and impromptu guide on how to interpret my Goodreads ratings. Maybe it says more about my need to please people than it says about the rating system, but discovering that is just part of my character arc. 😉

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the number of stars should / does mean, and why you rate the way you do, in the comments below!

Photo of stars in a jar by Suzy Hazelwood on Stocksnap


  • I basically never leave a bad review. Ever. If I can’t rate it about 3 stars, I won’t rate it at all …typically. with the very limited exception of hating a super duper popular book that everyone else loves. Then I may give a one star to show that others who dislike that popular book are NOT alone. It doesn’t hurt the popular author but it does tell others “hey your sensibilities are like mine!” Because I always look for bad reviews when I dislike something other people love, to see if someone else maybe saw what I saw.

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