Home » blogging » What It Means When I Give a Book 5 Stars

Not so long ago, someone questioned how many stars I gave a book on Amazon.

“You said you enjoyed it. Why did you give it anything besides 5 stars?”

I’ve been noodling that for quite a while, and, to be honest, I had trouble with ranking books when I first joined Goodreads. I thought I was giving too many books 4 and 5 star rankings, but then I realized something: I didn’t have time to read anything except the really good stuff.

I never used to put books down unfinished. I will now. I live in a glut of books (it’s paradise, I assure you), and if a book is beneath my standards, I’ll abandon it. There are times I won’t (hope springs eternal and all of that), but those times are rare.

That said, I do think I have a better idea now of what a 5 star book is than I used to.

I like how Goodreads explains the stars:

  • 1 star = didn’t like it
  • 2 stars = it was ok
  • 3 stars = liked it
  • 4 stars = really liked it (to me, this also means “this has a place in my home library”)
  • 5 stars = it was amazing (to me, this translates as “my best friend gets first dibs on borrowing it”)

I’ve used that, especially in the last two or three years, to help me gauge my ratings of books, both on Goodreads and on Amazon. Lately, I’ve found that I’ll give a book 4 stars on Amazon where it will get only 3 on Goodreads.

Generally, I won’t post reviews on Amazon for anything less than 3 stars unless I have to (i.e., it’s an Amazon Vine product that I have to review). (I realize there is a place for constructive criticism: I just don’t feel that an Amazon review is typically the best way to give it, especially for small-press works and independent authors.)

I have also found, since I’ve been reading more titles in the last 18 months than I have in the years previously, that I’m reading more of the “not 4 and 5 star” stuff. I’m reading stuff I like (3 stars), but that I won’t necessarily pass along to my best friend (5 stars).

Much of what determines how I rate a book has to do with “liking.” And that’s opinion. That said, I also consider editing and writing, because I don’t think a shoddily written book–however good and important the topic–is worth 5 stars. Period.

I have read books I hate in topic but deserve 5 stars: I read 1984 a few years ago, and I consider that a 5 star book, indeed, though I didn’t like the topic. I have also read books I love that don’t deserve 5 stars (this is one of the reasons I find it so important for independent authors especially to spend time with more than one editor).

So that’s what the stars mean to me. What do they mean to you? How do you use them, either as a reader or as a reviewer? I have to admit, I’m curious!


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  • Kathryn

    For me the stars are connected to the rater……Because I enjoy reading your postings and think a lot like you, I am more apt to check your list than a total stranger who is a supposed expert. But it is often the quick reviews as much as the star system that influences me since I read a wide range of writing.

    • Yes, me too, Kathryn. And sometimes quick reviews do more to whet my appetite (as the reader of reviews) or even inspire me to write more/read more (as the writer of reviews) than long reviews.

  • Ginny Kubitz Moyer

    I love this post as I have often wondered myself about what the best reviewing/rating system is.

    I tend to give five-star reviews mostly because I am only really motivated to review a book if I loved it. It’s not that I don’t read any two-star books, rather that I have the luxury to choose which ones to review and which ones not to review. As an author myself, I like to share my enthusiasm for other authors’ works by writing a good review when I enjoyed their stuff… I know firsthand how much that means. 🙂

    Giving a really low review just feels cruel, somehow — I know how much sweat and work goes into writing a book. That said, as a reader I do find well-written and constructive low reviews to be helpful in figuring out whether or not to buy a book. So maybe I should be writing reviews for the books I didn’t like, too? Hmmm.

    There are also a lot of five-star books that I read but don’t ever get around to reviewing due to lack of time. (Sigh.)

    In fact, this whole conversation is reminding me that there is a certain wonderful Catholic guide to pregnancy that I have been meaning to review … 🙂

  • LizEst

    Good to know your system Sarah. Thanks for sharing.

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  • Like you, I tend to give more stars on Amazon than on Goodreads, just because of how the forums describe them (and because I got tired of seeing my three star reviews shown as “negative” on Amazon). I rarely give five stars either place; I guess I think that if I give good books five stars, I have nothing better to give great books. I rarely give less than three stars because like you I don’t usually finish, much less review books I don’t like. I have trouble deciding what to do with many self-published books. I read a bunch of self-published junk on Amazon, and I know it is junk. It is obviously not as well-written as professionally published stuff. I see the typos etc. Still, I keep reading it; some I really like. How do you rate something like that? In some ways it is like comparing McD’s to a white tablecloth restaurant. Do you give the white tablecloth place five stars (assuming it is really good)? If so, what about McD’s?

    • Ruth, I think sometimes you have to meet books where they are. (Oh my word. I am rolling my eyes at myself.)

      Yeah…I don’t read much junk (time constraints–my day is coming), so I haven’t had as much experience with that. I think you have to decide…I mean, if it’s truly terrible, then maybe your low-star reviews (explained well, not just tossing trash and slamming it) can help others be aware of that.

      But if you LIKE it…that’s tricky. I think it’s the sort of thing you have to decide for yourself. (yeah, I’m a BIIIIIG help here, I realize that!) 🙂 If I enjoy a book, despite its bad editing/grammar/typos, I’m MUCH more likely to write about it.

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