[Discussion | Bloggers in the Attic] Book Rating Systems

Bloggers in the Attic is back for round two!

This month we’re bringing you different takes on book-rating systems: whether they’re important and why/why not, how we do them, how well we think they work, things that should be improved, et cetera.

The Bloggers in the Attic is a discussion chain. And what is a discussion chain? Well, it’s pretty simple.
Me and [SEVERAL] other bloggers united together to discuss a common topic, covering the whole arc of February, and sharing our unique perspective. Camilla @ Reader in the Attic created the initiative with the wish to create a discussion space that could explore a normal topic for different parts of the world.
The rules to participate are pretty simple. So, if you ever wish to take part in future discussions, just comment under the introduction post. Topics will be discussed bi-monthly, so the next round will be up in June. There’s plenty of time to join in, but the best option is always to enter early.

There have been some changes to the discussion chain schedule, so the full updated version is included below!

This Month’s Discussion Chain (click to show)

April 1 – Camilla @ Reader Attic [announcement/intro only]
April 3 – Clo @ Book Dragons
April 5 – The Unseen Librarian
April 8 – Lauren @ Northern Plunder
April 12 – Isabelle @ BookwyrmBites
April 15 – Ben @ Books With Ben
April 18 – Nora Eliana @ Papertea and Bookflowers
April 20 – Kerys @ The Everlasting Library
April 22 – Anthony @ Keep Reading Forward
April 25 – Kal @ Reader Voracious
April 27 – Dany @ Ambivert Words
April 29 – Rain @ Bookdragonism

How did we (I) get here?

When I first started writing “reviews,” they consisted of a few lines in a wide-ruled notebook recording my reaction to the book and a rating out of 10. (I’m pretty sure this Reading Journal is still in my room at home somewhere; my past and present selves are both notebook hoarders.) After I switched to Goodreads, for a while I stuck to whole-star ratings, still accompanied by a paragraph or so detailing my opinions about the book’s components; at some point, I started giving out half- and quarter-star ratings as well.

At present I mostly go off of my instinctive impression, for lack of a better term, and give an initial rating without thinking too hard about it. While I’m writing up my review, it may change by up to half a star (or, rarely, a whole star) as I reflect on each element of the book — including diversity/representation, worldbuilding, character & plot development, writing style — but I base my rating almost purely on how much I enjoyed the reading experience

If my rating isn’t a whole number, I ignore everything I learned in math/science classes and round up or down based on how I feel. So if I loved the story but subtracted half a star for an unsatisfying ending or a single problematic scene/remark, I’m likely to round up; if the book has objectively great elements but I just didn’t connect with the characters, I may round down.

My current rating system has carried me through periods of high and low reading volume, and I still refer back to years-old ratings to see which books might or might not be worth revisiting. However, for a while now I’ve been considering changing my system.


Advantages of the 5-Star System

  • Simple to use, understand, analyze
    • Somewhat standardized, in more stars = better
    • Overview of general consensus about a book (i.e., Goodreads average rating)
  • Quick way to view & sort books
    • Compare whether you share reading tastes with a new Goodreads friend
    • Sort your shelves to easily find favorites and recommendations for others
  • Commonly used across sites: Goodreads & Netgalley; can be easily converted to Edelweiss’s 10-point rating scale


Disadvantages of the 5-Star System

  • Not completely standardized
    • Some regard it as an objective rating of the book’s literary merit or appeal to a broader audience; others use it as a completely personal, subjective rating 
    • Some people consider 3 stars to be “good but not great”; others may consider it to be “meh” or “boring” or even the lowest rating they’ll give
    • Distinction between ratings (particularly 4 & 5) differs between readers; for some 5 is “great” or “almost perfect” while others reserve it for those rare “blew me away” reads
  • Lack of nuance
    • Some people only look at numbers, but as noted above, different numbers mean different things to different reviewers
    • The content of reviews is in most cases more important than the numerical rating
    • Extremely high/low ratings may lead to reactionary comments on a review
  • May be inconsistent since it is so highly subjective
    • Even the same reviewer may change their mind as they evaluate the book’s parts and their sum, or looking back after some time has passed


Some Alternative Systems

  • Edelweiss system
    • Overall out of 10; 5 = Average, 10 = Great/High
    • Optional individual ratings for Writing Quality, Image / Illustration Quality, Character Development, “Couldn’t Put It Down”-ness, Intellectual Depth, Originality — can include none, one, two, …, or all of the above
    • Flexible and adaptable, since categories can be included / excluded on book-by-book basis
    • Ex: Cat @ Pages & Plots
    •  Individual scores out of 10 for Characters, Atmosphere, Writing Style, Plot, Intrigue, Logic, Enjoyment
    • Breaks down certain key elements of each book with relatively straightforward system
    • Can be averaged for final rating
  • Recommendation-Only
    • Ex: CW @ The Quiet Pond
    • May contain levels: (Very) Highly Recommended, Recommended, Not Recommended
    • May specify audiences: “(Not) Recommended for readers who (don’t) like _____”
    • Almost always accompanied by review, sometimes also by breakdown of representation, themes, etc.
    • Focuses on specific strengths & flaws of each book
    • Specifically guides other readers; aligned with the reviewer’s role as an influencer


Where do we (I) go from here?

As I mentioned, I’ve been considering changing my rating system for a while since I’ve noticed inconsistencies in my own ratings over time. Personally I really like having concrete numbers to refer to, and I have always written reviews first and foremost for myself: as a reminder of what I’ve read, what I currently like and don’t like reading, how it affected me, et cetera. (I do think these reviews can help others decide whether or not to read the book, but mine is just one opinion from a very specific perspective.)

I’m leaning towards a system that combines different aspects of the systems I’ve seen: something like a 5-point rating system with multiple categories, some consistent and some optional based on what’s important to me as a reader, ending with a weighted average rating. Of course it won’t be compatible with Goodreads’ system and it’ll be a bit more work for me to assign and keep track of ratings, but I do think it better aligns with my needs and values — and since I’m still writing reviews anyway, the rating is just another piece of data. 

Thank you for sticking with me all the way to the end! I’d love to hear about whether you use the 5-star system (with or without partial stars), and why or why not, as well as any alternatives that you’ve considered.


26 thoughts on “[Discussion | Bloggers in the Attic] Book Rating Systems

  1. This post resounded with me. I feel like my ratings now are very different from when I started, and I can agree with what you mean about there being inconsistencies. I think I am going to keep my rating system with 5 stars. And I know that it has a lot of problems – all the ones you mentioned I agree with, but I care less about the rating and more about the review in the end 😛 I know not everyone thinks like that but I know I do! But if you do change how you do your ratings I hope you can find one that works better for you x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks Olivia! I think your reasoning absolutely makes sense, and I definitely think the actual review is ultimately the most important part, especially when they’re as detailed and thoughtful as yours always are! 😉 though ngl, part of the reason I want to change it is just that I’m a pretty analytical person who likes data and numbers, so it makes sense for me to break it down a little more.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Up until last year I was using a 10 star rating system. Admittedly that was mostly because I hadn’t done a graphic to give out half stars as yet, which is fixed now! Half stars do give me the advantage of additional rating points, but I do often wonder what my reviews would be if they were solely based on 5 whole stars. I’d probably be more comfortable with giving 3-star ratings as “good/ok” reads. It’s an interesting concept!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I LOVE this! It opened my eyes to other rating systems that I had no idea existed. I use a 5 star system with half and quarter stars. After this post, I think I am going to keep that system, but combine it with the CAWPILE one. So that way, people can still see how I would usually review something, but break some topics down. Thank you so much! 💕

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Edelweiss’s 10 point system always throws me off. I think mostly because of the way they break it down. They have one for “Overall” which to me feels like it should be the average of what’s below, but it never ends up in alignment with the other numbers.

    They really need to add a line for “Entertainment Value”. Like you, I rate books mostly by how entertained I was. Characters, writing style, originality, they are only small pieces of it.

    And even though ratings, as you said, are completely subjective, I really, really need those subjective ratings because it acts as a sort of summary for how the reader felt overall about the book. I’ve seen critical reviews with high star ratings (and written some myself) and seen non-critical reviews with low star ratings (I have not written many of these). It’s like a baseline reading for me I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve definitely seen that too! I’ve given books high overall ratings but lower category ratings (or vice versa) so many times, and I think entertainment value is definitely a huge part of that 🤔

      and I definitely agree, part of where ratings leave me conflicted is when they don’t seem to agree with the content of my review … and yet both feel true and accurate. so both are useful data to have!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I use the 5 star system. I give half stars but then round up or down on goodreads depending on how much I liked it and what star it fits better. A lot of the points you touched upon I agree with. Star ratings have different meanings for people. I like the recommendation rating because then someone can say why they didn’t like it but why others would. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you! there’s definitely a lot of different ways to do ratings, and I think a lot of readers don’t realize it (or consider it because the 5-star system is so prevalent) – recommendations are really helpful for sure!


  6. I find it really difficult to rate books out of 5, I’m the same however in rating entertainment value instinctively before breaking it down into what I thought about it.I would put 3 stars for a book I liked but didn’t love but I know that everyone is different with it. That was a fantastic discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks Lisa! I’m the same, 3 stars is “liked but didn’t love” – but I know lots of people who use it for “boring” or “problematic”; it would definitely be helpful to have a more standardized scale, though the inherent subjectivity of ratings makes that difficult too, I think.


  7. Ah rating systems…like you I round up or down purely based on how the book made me feel. However when I browse through my goodreads shelves and see the ratings I’m like well…which ones are the half stars which is partially why I made shelves (or tags as GR seems to be calling them) for all my ratings to better organise my books on there, since when I finally figure out my new system I’ll just use the star system I’ve used for ages on goodreads and that’s it.

    I try not to breakdown the book too much, it’s something I’m very aware of that whilst yes I want to be able to convey the content inside the pages. If it’s gonna resonate with a certain audience, any trigger warnings I need to put, if this was executed well I also don’t want to just drain the fun out of reading. Reviews drain me. They can put me in a reading slump too which is annoying. Loved your take on this topic Izzy! (never trust someone who doesn’t have a stationary problem xD I have a ton of notebooks hehe)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. heck yes, to paraphrase Lemony Snicket (I think? too lazy to check the citation rn) – “Never trust anyone who has not brought a notebook with them.”

      I’ve seen a lot of people shelving their books by rating, and it’s definitely helpful for those of us who do in-between ratings! and I can definitely relate in regard to reviews being draining, sometimes I find myself not wanting to finish a book just because then I’ll have to write a review – honestly, I’m considering going back to just writing a few lines to sum up my thoughts, as kind of prevention to avoid burning out/slumping.

      thanks for sharing, Clo! 💕


  8. This is a really great post especially because I’ve been thinking about rating systems a lot recently. I use the 5 star system based off my own enjoyment and only whole numbers for the sake of consistency across platforms and time (been keeping track of books in a spreadsheet for 5 years lol), but it can be really constraining. I consider 3 stars to be a good rating, 4 to be great, and 5 to be practically perfect, and on the flip side 2 is okay while 1 is awful. So I rate most things 3-4 stars, generally. But I feel like there’s a lot more nuance to my enjoyment of books than a 1-5 scale? And I know I’ve gotten a lot more critical with my ratings over the years, and now that I’m blogging I feel bad giving 3 stars to a book I liked yet can’t justify making a 4.

    The CAWPILE system is really cool, though, especially when there are times I’d rate one aspect of a book a 4 but another a 2 – if anything, it gives more data to know what you like in books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you, Jess! I can relate to that, there are books that I really want to like more than I did for some reason or other (good rep, friends loved it and it’s not bad but not great, etc) and feel bad only giving 3 stars; and it’s definitely a balancing act between the simplicity of the 5-star rating and the complexity of my feelings/opinions about a book. and yup, I love data – and I’m guessing you do too, if 5 years of book spreadsheets is anything to go by 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oooh I like the idea of combining systems. I personally always struggle with deciding whether to make ratings out of my own personal preference or the quality of the book objectively. Luckily with books I can generally get away with it not being too much of an issue as I only really read books that will appeal to me, so I don’t read many things which are objectively good, but I disliked. I really run into this struggle when reviewing albums though (because I review music as well as books) because, for example I’m not a massive fan of EDM or beat drops, so songs with those on an album might get rated lower because I dislike it, but it doesn’t make it a bad song…. I might have to look into creating my own rating system. Insightful post, thanks for all the examples you included as well!

    Liked by 1 person

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