The star rating system is the most widely used of the rating systems applied to evaluating books. The ratings typically range from one star (this book sucked) to five (I want to marry this book and have its babies). In such a system the prospective readers’ eyes are drawn immediately to the stars, and some rough equivalency is likely made between this system and the letter-grade system in public schools of A – B – C – D – F.
Authors care deeply about these little stars, and with some good reason. It is not only a matter of validation (they like me—they really, really like me), but the ratings of your book will very likely influence decisions about whether a reader will buy that book. After all, as the reader scans pages of books in a genre they love and see two titles with cover blurbs that pique interest, but one has merely a handful of three-star ratings while the other boasts a galaxy of five-star ratings, which do you think they might be inclined to purchase? If the books are comparably priced and equally interesting, the star rating could be the determining factor in a buyer’s book purchase decision.
This system of evaluation is deeply flawed for many reasons. Anybody can post a rating. The literary critic for the New York Times carries no more weight in this system than the author’s mommy. On some sites, a rating and review can be posted by someone who did not even purchase the book. In some cases it is evident the reviewer did not even read the book. Ostensibly, the author could post numerous five-star ratings (and reviews) under cyber-pseudonyms. Sadly, this has actually occurred. This flaw also makes it possible for enemies or competitors of the author to tank the ratings of a book out of malice. This has also happened.
Inter-rater reliability is huge problem because all the raters use their own criteria to determine how good or bad the book is. Those criteria often vary widely. No standard metric is applied.
There is also an inconsistent application of the rating system, and this goes to both ends of the spectrum: some raters have a policy of not rating a book at all unless they feel they can give it at least three stars; and some raters have a policy of never-ever assigning five stars. Tough luck, Hemingway, et al.
You may say to yourself, “So what? Even if it is nothing more than a popularity contest, it’s no worse than the People’s Choice Awards, right?”
The problem with this system is that it encourages bad behavior. I know that I can bump my ratings and therefore my sales by doing or encouraging others to do things that are clearly unethical. I can post a bunch of fake five-star ratings for my own book, and if that doesn’t send it up the list far enough, I can post a bunch of fake one-star ratings of my competitors’ books.
I have not and never will do such a thing. That’s not the way I roll. On the other hand, that may be the reason I am still poor. That may be the reason my book languishes on the shelves (or the server). This is ultimately business after all, and business is war. Right? Well, screw that. The system is horribly perverted but we seem to be stuck with it.
My book has great ratings on Goodreads. I find it amusing that on Goodreads, an author is welcome to post a review of his/her own book. As far as I know, everyone has rated their own book five stars, and why not? I haven’t rated my own book there, but I am toying with the idea of giving it one star and posting a review that admonishes people not to buy it—that it is so horrible, it may destroy their will to ever read again. Why? I don’t know. I’m a five-star rebel.
* * * * *