Let’s Chat | Rating Books Subjectively vs Objectively

Taking one look at the GoodReads page for any book will lead you straight to the conclusion that rating books is entirely subjective. For one reader, a book could be a 5 star read, but for another it could be a 2 star. Whilst this is completely understandable, given that we all have different tastes and expectations, it really got me thinking about the criteria we can use for rating books and whether this should be consistent.

I’ve noticed that a lot of books that I’ve given a high rating (3.5/4 stars) to are objectively… not that great. The writing was bad or the characters fell in love after sharing one conversation and/or their personalities were shallow – all traits that I would expect to give 2 stars to. And yet that isn’t always the case; so in today’s post I wanted to talk through why my objectively bad books have got high ratings and how I’m trying to manage this to ensure that my ratings are consistent.

* For any books mentioned as ‘bad’ – this is just my opinion of how I personally found them so please don’t be offended if you loved them. All just light-hearted <3.

When an objectively bad book gets a high rating, it’s usually for two reasons:

  • THE CHARACTERS PULLED THROUGH
    For me, books are very character driven, so a book could have a rubbish plot but if it’s got characters that I genuinely love then I’ll be able to persevere through not so great writing.
    For example, even though unfortunately this wasn’t the case for me, I’ve seen a lot of reviews citing the writing of The Foxhole Court as not so good (as I found) but they loved the characters and so enjoyed it overall. For me, I didn’t really care about the characters (although I wish I did because found family!!) and so I wasn’t able to push through the bad writing and I DNF’d. But, if I had loved them, I definitely would have loved the book.
  • I WAS HOOKED AND FLEW THROUGH IT.
    This is generally the main reason why I’ll still give a book a high rating – I’m in the mood for a fun and fast read and the book delivered.
    I generally see this with the fluffy contemporaries (especially those that are a throwback to 2013 Wattpad). I know that they’re kind of trashy, and you always know what’s going to happen (insta love → misunderstanding → make-up) but I just fly through them and always really love them. So even though objectively they’re not great (9 times out of 10 due to insta-love), it ends up with a high rating anyway.
    A recent book that this happened with was The Princess and the Fangirl which was a 4.5 star read for me (0.5 was taken away for insta-love). When I finished it I was left with such a happy and feel good feeling; but looking back at it, the insta-love was honestly crazy. I also really liked the characters too, which explains why with book 3 in the series (where I didn’t love Vance, our main guy) I gave it a much lower rating (3.5 stars).

My biggest problem with this is that my ratings are SO inconsistent.

For example taking The Princess and the Fangirl again, I gave that a 4.5 star read (and the 0.5 was only me being harsh about the insta-love – I initially gave it 5). But was it as good (objectively) as Six of Crows? Or Red, White and Royal Blue? Or Simon VS The Homo Sapiens Agenda? Probably not.

My overall rating and opinion on the book came entirely from my initial thoughts and feelings which is both a good and a bad thing:

  • Good because the response is my initial reaction – it’s fresh, it’s up to date and it’s given straight after I’ve finished the book so is my initial gut reaction.
  • Alternatively, it’s bad because it is my initial reaction that doesn’t necessarily consider the book in it’s entirety? Often the ending really brings the book up, for example with King of Fools by Amanda Foody, the ending was so intense and meant it got 5 stars straight away. But when I looked at this later I ended up giving it just 4 (although don’t get me wrong, it was still incredible). The ending for most books should be the climax and the best part so it can leave you feeling more excited about it than the rest of the book actually did. So when do you rate? Later on when you can look at the book in it’s entirety or your initial reaction?

    For blog readers therefore, it means that there isn’t consistency in my ratings. How are you meant to know if my 5 star rating is Six of Crows good or if it’s just insta-love cosy Wattpad good? They may both be 5 stars but they’re both on completely different spectrums.
  • Revisiting ratings: I’ve started to do this a lot more recently and I think it’s really beneficial. After I’ve added my initial rating to GoodReads when I’ve marked the book as finished, I’m then going to revisit it maybe a day or a couple of days later and then see how I’m feeling. For a lot of books this tends to change.
    For example Where Dreams Descend I loved it the whole way through and would have given it 5 stars up until the ending. And so my initial rating was 5 stars because the ending was just so quick and didn’t really stick with me. But given that the ending didn’t totally wrap (anything in) the book up, when I looked back and thought about this later I ended up removing a star.
  • Writing more reviews and updating my GoodReads progress: Lastly, I want to start using GoodReads more to record my thoughts on a book throughout, rather than simply using it to track how many books I’ve read. I think that that is such a useful feature of GoodReads, and so I 100% want to utilise it more so that I can remember more of how I felt when reading the whole book (rather than just focusing on how I felt after the ending). I definitely think that this will give me a more rounded view of the book as a whole, so hopefully my ratings can be a little more subjective there!

Rating books for me is 100% subjective. I don’t tend to look at the quality of the writing, or the metaphors used, or the foreshadowing in the third chapter. My focus is entirely on how the book made me feel and I think for the majority of people that’s perhaps the same? So is having my ratings less about the critical quality and more about my emotions a bad thing? Maybe not.

Sorry if this post was a little bit of a ramble; I hope it made sense? I just wanted to jot down some thoughts I had about book ratings (and there’s another post on its way also about ratings) and how I want to try and make them a little more thought-out and consistent?

Would you say you rate books based on your emotions/feelings or the objective quality? Do your ratings tend to be fairly consistent? Does the ending of a book influence your rating more than the rest of the book?

Published by A Literary Latte

www.aliterarylatte.com Blogger & Bookworm

48 thoughts on “Let’s Chat | Rating Books Subjectively vs Objectively

  1. Omg yesss!! I am so subjective in my ratings and it’s an issue that I’ve been thinking about lately, so this post came at the perfect time! I tend to give ratings in the spur of the moment, and then I look at them a week or even a day later and I’m like ?? Why did I rate this 5 stars?? I’ve never had someone who had the same problem so I’m really excited right now haha 😅 Anyways, this is such a great discussion Emme!! Hope your January is off to a good start ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Abby – I’m glad this post was helpful!
      & 100% that’s exactly it!! I definitely need to think more in depth with my ratings and I’m glad I’m not the only one who tends to be quite generous initially!
      Hope 2021 is treating you kindly so far! :).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. emme!! this is such an amazing, thought-provoking discussion post!! i feel like before blogging, i was much stricter with my ratings, and gave some of my favourite books of all time only 4.3 stars, but after blogging, and seeing others ratings, i started to give higher ratings, and even give books i wouldn’t put in my favourites list 5 stars. however, after re-reading it for a second time, i would usually reduce their rating!! this post was so helpful, because i think this is one thing almost all readers and book bloggers can relate to!! my ratings are definitely not consistent, but i’m hoping for them to start being consistent soon!! i loved this post so much!! 💖💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh thanks Ahaana – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!!
      That’s so interesting! For me I’d actually say I’m the opposite?! I think before blogging I was even more generous than I am now and gave everything 4/5 stars haha, but I do think that was because I was younger in the days of The Hunger Games and all of the YA dystopian haha. I think seeing others being a lot more critical definitely changed my generosity a little more and I find that even now reading reviews from other bloggers can lead to me changing my own mind after agreeing with them.
      And yes!! The curse of the reread haha – 8/10 times I reduce my rating after a reread and it’s so disappointing when that happens!
      Thanks for reading and commenting! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this post so much !! It is such an important topic and one that I think about too. Star ratings are so subjective and no rating is really the same as I have different reasons behind them all.
    Like you mentioning The Foxhole Court is a perfect example as it is trash in a lot of ways but I really enjoyed it at the time. I definitely rate based on my feelings instead of technical things and my feelings change over time. I tend to think on my rating for a couple of days before I give it as it can change but even pass that I can change my mind at times.
    I don’t think all my ratings are the same at all, I can be inconsistent so reviews are really important as I can explain my rating because honestly it always means something different.
    I’m so glad you did this discussion, I could definitely relate and I loved how you wrote it 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yay thanks Sophie! I think that’s such a good idea leaving it to sit for a while because rating straight away means that mine are always so generous. I always end up going back to GoodReads and removing a star or two anyway so I might as well just wait and think on it for a little while first. & I agree reviews are so important definitely. I don’t tend to write many thoughts down during reading the book which is why I always tend to go on the ending because I just don’t always remember how I felt throughout. But writing down my thoughts as I go, even in the Goodreads progress tracker, will be so useful! x

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ahh emme i love this blog post so much & i actually think about this topic a lot myself!! ive always felt like a bad rater bc i a hundred percent rate subjectively, & i often wonder if that makes me credible as a reviewer bc people won’t actually know if they should pick up the book or not bc everything i say is about how i felt & not am objective evaluation of the book. but i think the beauty of reviewing is that every reviewer examines a book with their own biases. & i think that there’s no such thing as an objective review bc your own world views & prejudices will skew your view of the book no matter how fair you try to be. still, i feel bad when i give a book 2 stars even tho there’s nothing truly wrong with it & i just didn’t feel any enjoyment while reading it lmao

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you liked it!! I’m 100% the same – I feel like my star ratings are so subjective and also tend to be so optimistic compared to others. I’ve seen reviews that have had the same problems I’ve had with books but gave 1/2 stars whereas I gave 3. I feel like I’m too generous so how is anyone meant to trust my ratings?! Definitely need to work on trying to make them a little more focused and considered rather than just rating on a whim but I totally agree that it’s impossible to be completely objective. Everyone has their own opinions and biases even if we don’t notice them ourselves. Thanks for reading and commenting Caitlin & I hope the start of 2021 is treating you well xx

      Like

  5. That’s a really interesting topic, I was just wondering about this for a few days now. One of my bookish resolutions for 2021 was to rate a little more thoughtfully and wait a little before actually rating books, becaude I tend to regret giving too high ratings, but I never once wanted to give something more stars after. I also reevaluated the meanings of the stars: I used to give 3 stars to okay books, but from now on I’m going to follow Goodreads’s rating system, so 2 stars is to okay books and 3 stars to books I liked (but not really liked). I tend to give too many 4 and 5 stars but I want to be more selective of handing out them!
    Loved reading your thoughts on this!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think I’ll be joining you with that resolution – I always end up removing a star for most reads because I’m always just so optimistic straight after when I haven’t had the time to properly consider it. I always seem to give so many 4 and 5 stars before realising actually, they weren’t *that* good oops. I’ve been giving a lot more 2 stars this year as well but for me 3 stars is okay. It’s interesting though how all ratings look totally different so it’s so difficult to gather someone’s opinion from a rating alone. Thanks so much for reading and commenting – I’m really glad that you enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is such a good post Emme! All the points you brought up were super coherent and made sense- not at all a ramble! I really like your example of Princess and the Fangirl because I have the same opinions- I rated it 4.5 stars but brought it down to 4 stars in hindsight because, like you said, it’s objectively not as good Six of Crows or RW&RB or other 5-star books. I love the nuance that you brought into this discussion, and I might steal some of your ideas for how to fix my wildly inconsistent ratings!
    Amazing post!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thanks Aditi – I’m so glad it wasn’t a ramble haha. I always worry that these discussion posts have too much waffle.
      I’m glad I’m not the only one then! I felt so bad pushing it down a star but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment – can definitely see myself rereading it and I’d love to see more books in the series too! Have you read book 3?
      & Go for it!! I’ve totally forgotten to update GoodReads as I go but I think I might start doing more mini reviews on my blog to remind me to write my thoughts down and properly think about it before rating.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  7. I know exactly what you mean! I constantly struggle with this, too, because there are always books I absolutely adore and fly through even though they might be terribly written and totally unoriginal, and others I end up hating even though I couldn’t actually point to anything that was wrong with them… So I’ve tried to go for a bit of a balance in my rating system. Even if I absolutely loved a book, it will only get five stars if I can’t find any flaws regarding writing, character development, or world building, either. Similarly, I will only give a book a one star rating if I absolutely detested it and also can’t find anything of possible literary merit in it. It isn’t perfect by any means, but it works pretty well for me!

    I also totally get your conundrum about updating your GoodReads ratings. I’ve changed my mind about so many books since I’ve read them and been itching to make my ratings reflect that, but I ultimately decided against it. I want GoodReads to be a kind of time capsule of what I thought when I first read a book! It’s so interesting to go back sometimes!

    Anyway, great post! You really got me thinking!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes!! That’s exactly it, so it’s so hard to know how to rate? That sounds like such a good way to balance it though and I think I could definitely follow that way of rating! I always find myself too lenient but knowing that there are faults I definitely shouldn’t be handing out 4/5s so often!
      Ooh yeah I’ve never thought about it like that! I’ve changed so many ratings that I don’t really remember how I initially felt but I think that would be really interesting to look back on. It would be amazing if you could rate a book each time you read it rather than changing the overall rating?
      Thanks for reading and I’m glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, being able to rate a book multiple times would be such a useful feature! Though I guess it would also mess with a book’s overall rating if people just gave their favorites five stars over and over again 😅 But I’m sure they could also take that into account somehow and just factor in a person’s average rating of a book as their contribution to its overall rating? 🤔 Because I definitely need this feature now!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I am the same, there have been times where I have given a very low rating to a beloved author because the book just didn’t do it for me! I do tend to be a bit more generous with first time authors, however overall a 5 star rating is very very rare regardless. So if I have rated a book 5 star, it is definitely really good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s ratings are a little inconsistent then! I agree that I’m more generous to debut books because I just feel bad?! Even with all books I appreciate that writing is such a skill and takes so much hardwork! Books can be such a vulnerable thing for an author to put out into the world, especially if own voices, so I feel bad giving a low rating.
      That’s good that you’re selective with 5 stars though! I feel like I can be too generous but I’m working on it. It’s good to know that a 5 star genuinely really deserves it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Books can be such a vulnerable thing for an author to put out into the world, especially if own voices, so I feel bad giving a low rating. — this is so true, and that is why I get so tempted to be generous myself, it has been hard work to do ratings like I do now, but I had to tell myself that I couldn’t give 4/5 stars to like EVERY book I read haha!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Emme! This was an incredible discussion and something I could resonate very much with as the struggle is very real! I really liked the point especially you made about how “bad” books could have high ratings for those reasons and it makes me wonder whether we should just give a book a high rating for an element we loved a lot. But truly, inconsistent ratings are a problem I face as well, thank you so much for sharing for this thought provoking discussion! 💖💖

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Cherelle!! I’m glad you liked the post & could relate. Absolutely – it’s so difficult, especially as with a blog, I don’t want to mislead someone? Just because it was something I was in the mood for or has nostalgia, doesn’t mean others will enjoy it and so I’m always hesitant to recommend those objectively ‘bad’ books. Definitely a hard one to balance but I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way! Thanks for reading and commenting xx

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This is such an interesting topic! I definitely go through phases where I worry about this (“How are you meant to know if my 5 star rating is Six of Crows good or if it’s just insta-love cosy Wattpad good?“ is so relatable, lol), but I try to remind myself that ratings are inherently subjective, and there are so many different sorts of books that I read that I couldn’t possibly rate them all on the same scale anyway – they’re just not all comparable! I tend to rate more on my emotional connection to a book than it’s objective quality, though sometimes the latter will bump up the rating of a book I didn’t totally love. Admittedly, I do leave some books unrated because of this as well – especially nonfiction :’) I guess I just don’t have a complete answer yet!
    Ooh and I do often have my rating significantly impacted by the ending of a book – I’ve been combatting this by considering my rating during the entire reading experience, that way when I get to the end I can adjust my rating proportionately.
    What a fantastic post, Emme!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha I’m glad you related to and enjoyed this post! So lovely to hear all the positive feedback.
      Definitely – as much as I think this topic is interesting to consider there isn’t really any concrete answer because like you said, there are just so many books that it’s impossible to have a set rating formula.
      I love how you phrased that – emotional connection to a book definitely bumps up the rating and at the end of the day that is what reading is all about!
      Non-fiction is super hard to rate, especially when it’s biographical. There doesn’t tend to be that much of a feeling when reading even if it is interesting so it’s a weird one to rate – especially when it feels like you’re rating somebody’s life story!?
      I think that’s such a good way to do it and I 100% want to consider my rating at different points of the book rather than solely at the end – that way it’s just a lot more thought out! I can find that that’s a little disheartening though when you finish a book with an incredible ending and then have to lower the rating because of the rest of it though haha.
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, & I’m so sorry for the incredibly late reply x

      Like

  11. ooh this is such an interesting post emme!! I’m so subjective with my ratings for sure, endings definitely tend to lift things up (and because I have a pea brain sometimes by the time I finish a book I’ve forgotten how it started haha) and any books I fly through generally get a high rating too. for 2021 I’m trying to be more objective with my ratings (ironically thinking about the goodreads hints has helped me with ratings as well as judging other things in my life out of five; now I get that 3-star is still a good read, and 2-star is probably quite average) and strangely it’s working! I think ultimately we have to realise that ratings are only a number and it’s more about what a reviewer says about a book that matters 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed!
      Yes!! The ending definitely contributes a higher proportion to my rating because it’s the freshest in my memory and I agree that I tend to forget what went on in the beginning and how I felt throughout oops. 100% I didn’t consider that! If I read a book slowly, even if it was one I enjoyed but didn’t have time to get to, then it generally does have a lower rating than if I was able to binge-read it! That’s so interesting.
      Yes that’s definitely true – you can’t get the whole picture from just a number of stars so that’s why I want to start writing more (mini) reviews so it’s more comprehensive!
      Thanks for reading and commenting Cas – I’m so sorry for the slow reply!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. this is such a great post and discussion, Emme!! i definitely relate to A LOT of the points you mentioned, haha. i honestly feel like my rating system is all over the place and because i’m such a mood reader, sometimes the rating really depends on my mood, especially if it’s on the edge of a 4-star or 5-star rating lol. i also rate my books based on my own personal enjoyment and emotions (aka how much the book reminded me that i have emotions HAHA), so even if the book isn’t objectively well-written, i may still give it a high rating bc it made me really happy, emotional, etc. the ending of the book definitely plays a huge role on my rating as well, and it’s also a psychological concept i think – the peak-end rule in which we rate our experience of something based on the most intense moments of the situation, as well as the ending haha. i’ve definitely bumped up ratings bc the ending was great, or vice versa – if the ending was bad, i would feel that the book was worse than it actually was.

    sorry for my really long comment haha, i really enjoyed reading this post and it definitely brought up a lot of feelings and thoughts for me :))

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so glad you feel that way – has been so nice to hear everyone’s thoughts on this topic! :).
      Omg 100%! I’m a mood reader as well so my ratings vary so much (which is probably why they’re so inconsistent). So often I know that if I’d have read the book at another time, its rating would have been totally different.
      Haha yeah emotions is such a good way to review because I guess reading at the end of the day is about how a book makes you feel!
      Oh interesting I’ve never heard of that before! Didn’t really think about the psychology behind those decisions – I’d love to look into that more!
      Thanks so much for your comment and I’m so sorry for the ridiculously slow reply!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I really enjoyed this post Emme! As a writer, I actually tend to read books more objectively, so I do a lot of subconscious analysis while I read 😂 But unless the book is a classic or hard science fiction, I allow myself to relax a little more, because more brainpower is needed to understand the prose and science concepts, respectively. Hm…I used to give 5 stars out a lot more freely, but now I reserve it for books I truly loved, objectively AND subjectively…sorry if that didn’t make sense! 😅 Anyways, thank you so much for this post, I loved reading your thoughts on all this! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it!!
      That’s so interesting! I think ratings definitely vary when you do consider a book more objectively. I find for me that if I do analyse a book more (e.g. as I have in English Lit) I’ve given slightly lower ratings just because I wasn’t able to enjoy it as more? Pacing definitely plays a part for me so if I’m slower reading a book my rating tends to not be as high. But that’s just me, definitely not a writer (although I wish I was!).
      No it makes sense! They definitely don’t have to be in isolation – so many books I’ve given 5 stars have been for both the technical quality and personal feelings so they 100% interconnect.
      Thanks for leaving a comment – has been amazing hearing everyone’s thoughts! & I’m so sorry for the late reply! x

      Like

  14. Hello!! I’m a bit late to this post, but this post is so necessary! I absolutely loved it, I agree with so many of the things you mentioned- I think, for any book review- the initial thoughts and judgements and opinions really play out into the overall review of the book. And yes, 5-star ratings on 2 different books are so subjective, so I think it’s best to just go with the flow without overthinking it lol- I always tend to do that, especially when I’m reading a trilogy or series.

    I absolutely love re-visiting ratings, it feels like a trip down the memory lane when I re-visit ratings. For the most part, I’d be shocked that I felt that way, because more than 90% of the time, my reviews and thoughts on the book change lolol.

    Ratings are 100% subjective- I agree with this soo much. This was such a great, informative, show-stopping post- It really helped me sort my thoughts out and I’m so happy I found your blog:)<3

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No worries – I’m so sorry for the late reply but I’m really glad you enjoyed the post and my blog!! Means a lot ❤
      Definitely, it's all about the initial and last impressions for sure. And yeah I think just going with your gut feeling is generally a pretty good way because there isn't really a concrete way to rate consistently anyway!
      100%. My thoughts on books change all the time so it's so interesting to see how it varies. Would love to be able to rate each time you read on GoodReads so I could better track it!
      Thanks so much for your comment!:)

      Liked by 1 person

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