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Thursday, 9 January 2014

Starring the Reviews

Reader or writer (and hopefully, the latter makes you both, since a writer who doesn’t read is, frankly,not doing the job properly), we consume books and often want to share our opinions on them. So, we review. Many sites where reviews appear use a star system to grade them. I’m not going to list them all, but I’ll use three of the most popular as examples and try to gain a feeling for what reviewers might understand by these gradings.

We all know that 5 star reviews are considered the pinnacle from the point of view of the writer assessing success or otherwise, and thought of as a damn good guide to readability by readers. So, the grading is quite important to all of us. But what does it mean?

If you hover over the stars on Goodreads, you’ll get the following results: 
1* Did not like it, 
2* It was OK, 
3* Liked it, 
4* Really liked it, 
5* It was amazing.

Do the same for Amazon and you get these results: 
1* I hate it, 
2* I don’t like it, 
3* It’s okay, 
4* I like it, 
5* I love it.

With Smashwords, hovering over the stars produces no response and I can find no definitions at all on the site (that’s not to say they don’t exist, of course, just that I can’t discover them!).

So, there’s no consistency in the systems. 4 stars can mean ‘I like it’ or ‘I really like it’ or whatever the reviewer considers is the hidden meaning of the Smashwords stars. Similarly, if a book is ‘okay’, then it could be awarded 2, 3 or 1-5 stars depending which system in use. And, I don’t know about you, but I can ‘love’ a book without necessarily considering it to be ‘amazing’.

My point? This system is used by readers to gauge the potential readability of a book. I’m certain that many readers won’t get beyond that * award, making their decisions whether or not to read/buy, based entirely on this rather arbitrary symbol.

The tool isn’t up to the purpose for which it was introduced. Perhaps, as readers, and writers, we should get together and demand that the different sites conform to a uniform system so that everybody knows exactly what is actually meant by these symbols. Or perhaps you like the variations. Either way, I’d love to know what you think.
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