Readers have all kinds of complicated feelings about how they rate their books, and I am no exception. If you listen to my podcast What Should I Read Next or have discussed rating and reviewing with us in the MMD Book Club, you know my feelings about the common—and seemingly simple—star rating system are complex.
The nice thing about star ratings is they’re an easy-to-use shorthand to capture how much you enjoyed a book. The not-so-nice thing about star ratings is that it’s easy to conflate this rating—which is highly dependent on your taste in literature—with how well the book is written. These are not the same thing.
And yet, star ratings matter—at least public ones do. Readers use them every day to decide which books to read and which books to buy. Plenty of devoted readers say they’ll never read a book with less than a four-star rating. But these ratings are incredibly subjective. People give one-star reviews because the book cover was bent when it arrived in the mail, or they weren’t in the mood for a thriller, or there was too much profanity for their taste. (Did you catch that? For their taste.)
Not only that, there’s been a rise in review bombing, where there’s an intentional effort to negatively impact a book or author’s ranking. It’s not easy to tell when a book has been targeted so that makes it harder to know how much you can actually trust a site’s rating or the reviews left there by strangers.
All this means I’m hesitant to publicly share my own star ratings for the books I read—or put too much credence in the aggregated star ratings I see online.
But when it comes to your personal reading journal, star ratings are a whole different matter! And finding a way to elegantly capture your shorthand assessment of what you’ve read was a top priority while designing My Reading Life: A Book Journal.
The journal has 100 book log pages for readers to log what they’ve read, and to say I OBSESSED over how to design these pages is an understatement! I’m keenly aware of how what you track subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) changes what you pay attention to when you read, and I took that responsibility seriously.
I won’t go into every detail here today, but I do want to tell you how you’ll track your ratings in this journal.
I’ve seen it over and over again: readers benefit when they’re able to separate the questions of quality and enjoyment in their minds. In other words, if they can learn to ask themselves both “Was it good?” and “Did I like it?”, they’ll gain more insight about the books they’re reading and about their own personal taste. I needed the journal to simply capture their answers to both these questions. But how?
The solution was to give readers space to rate each book for three separate categories:
- Enjoyment: Was the book to their taste? How much did they enjoy it? (It’s worth noting that this is what the official Goodreads rating system captures.)
- Craft: Was the book well-written?
- Overall: What single rating do they think the book deserves? For me, this is typically the average of the previous two ratings, but sometimes I make exceptions. (Every reader can do what they want in their own reading journal!)
You’ll also notice that for rating purposes, we opted for diamonds instead of stars. I wanted this subtle difference from the stars to which many readers are accustomed to subtly signal that we’re inviting them to approach ratings in a fresh way. (We also carried the diamond motif throughout the journal. Check out its book lists and you’ll see!)
For a quick-and-easy way to remember what you thought about a book, ratings like these—in your private, personal book journal—are pretty darn great. I hope you find the rating feature we built into My Reading Life to do good things for your reading life—and I can’t wait for you to get yours so you can start using it!
I would love to hear your thoughts on star ratings and numerical ratings in general. Do you use the star rating system at all, or some other method? Tell us all about it in comments!