Maybe this has happened to you. Let's say you're on Amazon. You're looking at two books, and you CANNOT DECIDE which one to buy. You are miserable; you're losing sleep. You can't eat. All your fingernails are gone. I might be exaggerating slightly for comedic effect. But the upshot is, you've got to make this choice, and you've read good reviews for both. Finally, you turn to the star rating. One book has 4.25 stars. The other has 3.9. DONE. You buy the one that is better.
If you're a writer, maybe this has happened to you. You watch your book go up on Amazon, Goodreads, and every other site with a rating and review system. You cross all your crossables and hope it'll be okay. The reviews start to come in. They're sometimes ecstatic and sometimes NOT ecstatic, and that's okay too. A very small number are completely impossible, like the ratings that come before the ARCs are released, when you know for a fact who has read it and who hasn't.
Slowly, your rating starts to drop. When you think about it, you realize it's only to be expected. Your early readers were handpicked by you or by your publisher. They might even know you. They will be, for a variety of reasons, disposed to like this book. And their enthusiasm attracts people. Yay enthusiasm! But then you throw in a couple of one star reviews from people before the ARCs even come out, and then another two starrer from someone who gets most of the facts wrong and might have read a completely different book with your book jacket on it by mistake. The book's rating tanks.
Now you're panicked. People might not buy your book because of this rating! AUGH!
My advice? Chill out.
I think it's pretty obvious that I am a huge fan of book blogging. I do more interviews and things than are probably good for me, but that's because I can't fathom saying no to someone who's interested in spreading the word about my book. That's not a dig against people who don't do interviews and guest posts--I just happen to enjoy talking about myself and not everyone is crazy like that. And I'm down with star ratings on those book blogs. It's obvious when a heckload of work goes into determining how to fairly rate a book, and I find that crazy impressive.
I don't usually comment on the blogs themselves, because that seems very suck-uppery, but THANK YOU, BOOK BLOGGERS. I DON'T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT, BUT I'M GLAD YOU DO.
So my rating complaints aren't a dig at book bloggers, because quite frankly, I think I'm more of a fan of you than you are of me! My issue is with sites in which these ratings are compiled. The two that I have the most experience with are Amazon and Goodreads, so I'm going to mention them specifically, but that doesn't mean they're the only places that have these issues.
Here's my problem--A good average needs a lot of things. First, you've got to have a clear understanding of what each rating means, and everyone has to rate things the same way. But the unfortunate reality is that to me, a 5 might mean I liked it and would read it again. But another blogger might give out 5s only to life-changing books, maybe once or twice a year. So if you average our scores together, what does that tell you about how much we liked the book? Not a whole lot. If it's a book that we both enjoyed, I might give it a 5, and the other blogger might give it a 3, but we're trying to communicate the same information--I enjoyed this. It wasn't necessarily one of my favorite books ever, but I liked it. You can see how this could get really complicated when you factor in thousands of reviewers, even if you assume that they're all following the rules by reading the book. And a small percentage aren't.
So ultimately, there's no way to say what that average rating really MEANS. What happens if my book is rated by a lot of people who give out 5s, and one of my friends' books is rated by a bunch of reviewers who don't give them out very often? Now mine looks better, but if we traded reviewers, would the picture change? There's no way to know.
For me, that's the most difficult part of sites like Goodreads. I think there are a lot of great reviewers on there. I've discovered a lot of great books based on recommendations from reviewers I trust. But when you take a bunch of numbers based on different criteria and create an average, it doesn't tell you much that's useful. And that's not even going into issues like sampling--where the people most likely to comment are the ones who REALLY LOVED or REALLY HATED something, and not everyone who read the book. Or maybe there's a book about yeti goatherders, and a society of yeti goatherders read it, and they loved it. Yes, it gets 5 stars among the yeti goatherder population, but does that mean non-yeti goatherders will get all the inside jokes? Not necessarily.
Does this mean that I think places like Goodreads are useless? Heck no! I'm all for places where people can talk about books. But I think a lot of people get hung up on those stars--Why did she give me three stars but only said good things about my book? or Why is my rating taking a long, slow nosedive? I'LL NEVER SELL ANOTHER BOOK AGAIN! And what I say is that you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and realize that those numbers mean different things to different people. And the next time you're interested in learning more about the book, look past that average, because ultimately, it's influenced by so much more than the quality of the writing.
That's what I think, anyway. What's your take on it?