How do you decide how many stars to give a book in a review?

Amazon review system


In recent weeks I have posted several blogs about book reviews, the review system as it now exists on Amazon and related matters. Many of you have chimed in with comments about reviews, so I wanted to continue the discussion and take it down a slightly different path.

Suppose you have read a book, any book on any subject, and decided to review it.

You pull up the “write a review” template on Amazon.  Immediately you are presented with a choice.

How many stars do you give the book ?

Under Amazon’s model you have  a range of from one to five stars.  Those stars have no explanatory notes defining them.  The template doesn’t say: “One star means a book sucks, two stars means it only sucks a little…” and so forth.  Neither does the template define five stars as a book that rates among the best ever written.  The rating system is just a series of numbers with one on the low end and five on the top.

This raises a whole raft of questions, which I would love for you to discuss with me.


What factors do you think about when you consider the star count?

For instance, do you compare the book you just read to the best book in its genre? Let’s say you just read a police thriller. If you are a James Lee Burke fan, do you set the book up against Burke’s most recent Dave Robicheaux novel and judge it accordingly?  If so, how do you judge James Lee Burke’s books?  Do you compare his most recent book to the one before it?

If you don’t compare the present book to the best book you have read in the genre, do you judge it by the formatting, what it looks like on the print or digital page?  How much do technical flaws such as misspelled words, comma errors, messy indenting, etc., come into play in your analysis?

If that sort of technical stuff doesn’t much interest you, are you most likely to judge a book by the power of its story, how it  made you feel? If so, what makes one story grab you while another in the same genre doesn’t?

Do you rate a book high if it has a main character you really like, even if there are other aspects of the book about which you are lukewarm?

What if you are a real fan of the author?  Does that make you tend to give all her works five star reviews? Or if you don’t like her latest work do you judge her more harshly than you might judge the work of an author you read for the first time?

Do other reviews of the book already posted influence you in your rating?

Do you take notes while you read a book so that you can refer to them while you write your review?

I only go this exercise to point out how many ways there are to approach the one to five star rating system.  I am sure many people who review books professionally develop their own evaluation tool for reviews.  I would love to hear about those, too.

When you come right down to it, in book reviews beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

That’s why I would love to hear about how you approach the review process.

(Stephen Woodfin is an attorney and the author of six novels.)



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