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!