My post on the general uselessness of 5 star reviews generated a lot of interesting discussion, not least because of how passionately some people – both authors and reviewers – defended their 5 star reviews, and how violently other people – including me – dismissed them.
But it does raise an extremely interesting point: what does a 5 star review mean to you, anyway? Or 4 stars, 3 or 2? I think everyone could agree that a 1 star review is never good. But my 4 star review of your book might mean that I absolutely loved it. For someone else, it is the opining equivalent of “meh”.
Amazon and GoodReads don’t give any clear or immediately visible guidance on what their star ratings are supposed to mean. This is a problem, because interpretations are wildly different.
This reviewer, for example, makes it clear on his site, at least, that 4 stars means “I loved it” whereas 5 stars means “I couldn’t put it down”. There is a difference.
My scale would be roughly the same. For me, 4 stars means that I think you wrote a very excellent book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading, and if you were standing beside me right now, I would shake your hand, pat your back, and buy you a cup of tea. Unless you didn’t like tea, in which case, I might buy you an ice-cream, or a bus ticket. Or perhaps… I might even buy myself another one of your books.
5 stars, however, means that you brought me to another country entirely, depositing every single one of my brain cells and all synaptic derring-do into your story, and making me forget all my troubles and most of everybody else’s. You eventually made me feel very sad indeed that I had to come out of it at all, let alone at the end, when I felt utterly devastated and bereft, because I was never going to be able to read your story for the first time ever again.
There are too many authors who think that anything less than a 5 star review is a failure, and too many reviewers who think that if they finished a book and enjoyed it for the most part, they’ll chuck 5 stars at it before moving on to the next thing and never ever thinking about it again.
But whilst I’m not suggesting we can standardise an emotional response to a book, shouldn’t there be clearer meanings attached to the lazy assignment of stars?
What about you? What do star ratings mean to you? How would you define your scale?