Here’s Why You Should Be Rating Books Less Than Five Stars

I rarely rate books five stars.


Oh no! That must mean you hate books!

“You don’t support the author, you heartless monster!”

Think about the Almighty Algorithm™

“Think about the writers!”

Apparently, there’s been (ongoing) discourse on Book Twitter about whether readers should be allowed to rate books less than five stars.

Perhaps I’m surprised there are still people on Twitter after the Musk takeover, but I stumbled across the blog post Reviewing and rating books: A deeply personal act by Krystal Gagen, and forgot just how passionate terminal Twitter users get about their interests. Gagen’s post was great reading. You should check it out.

I’ve never really thought much how I review books on this blog, other than a vague system of:

⭐ – This book was complete dogshit. I’m surprised I even finished it. Perhaps I didn’t finish it.

Examples: Bypass: The Story of a Road by Michael McGirr. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Fanfiction Authors Commissioned by the Internet’s Favourite Author. Bypass: The Story of a Road by Michael McGirr. Deadly Unna by Phillip Gwynne.

⭐⭐ – This book was near-on awful, but had some redeeming qualities.

Examples: Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford. Devils Attic by Vicki Adrian. I Catch Killers by Gary “Crooks” Jubelin.

⭐⭐⭐ – Middle of the road. Decent. Readable. I’ll probably have forgotten the premise by the end of the year.

Examples: All those The Girl on the Train knockoffs. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (purely for its last chapter—the rest was five stars). Books talking about very specific political issues that date it six seconds after the issue has faded from the public consciousness. The Phryne Fisher series.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ – I really enjoyed this book. Very minor criticisms.

Examples: The respective Hannibal Lecter and Hangman series’. The Heights by Louise Candlish. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Pages & Co by Anna James. I’m Glad my Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – The greatest book of all time. This book is fucking amazing. I will wave off any perceived “criticisms” by shaking my head and acting as if they are nonexistent.

Examples: Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Dangerous Girls by R.L. Stine. Obsessed by Allison Britz. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Permanent Record by Edward Snowden. Matilda by Roald Dahl.

So, there’s your proof. I do rate books five stars, if rarely.

Authors and Algorithms

But that’s the problematic view, according to those who fall to the Almighty Algorithm™ and those who believe that if a book is less than five stars, you probably hate it and want the book graffitied with vulgar tags, torn to shreds, and lit up in a Nazi book burning.

Of course, authors matter. Without authors, we wouldn’t have books. Writing a novel is difficult, arduous, challenging, rewarding, all the synonyms that go with that. I understand. I’ve written a bunch of full-length manuscripts overs the years, and the latest is one of the first times I’ve reread my work and not cringed like I did when I reread that 110,000 word vampire novel I wrote when I was seventeen (see below)…

Impostor syndrome is a thing. A writer will see a four-star review, or less, and will consider why they got into writing in the first place. They will have all sorts of thoughts, some good, so many bad, and we all know one bad review will hit ten times harder than ten good reviews.

There’s also the Almighty Algorithm. That to give less than five stars means the book is average, forgettable, unsellable, unmemorable, ranked lower in the recommendations. It’s why authors will title their books with SEO buzzwords on the Kindle Store.

But the blame shouldn’t be on the individual reviewer, who shouldn’t be forced to give a book a top ranking it didn’t deserve, out of fear of upsetting the Lords of Bezostopia (Amazon, Goodreads, and Book Depository). The blames falls to a system that chooses to shaft a book into inexistence purely because it didn’t meet some arbitrary standards. Many books gain popularity due to how shit they are: authors like E.L. James and Colleen Hoover have made serious bank from hate-readers (jokes on you, Erika, I borrowed that god-awful book off a family friend). Five-star reviews can be faked on a mass scale, by bots, friends and family of the reviewers, and off hype alone. Just look at that Prime drink Logan Paul is shilling, and is selling like hotcakes: it’s allegedly a two-star drink masquerading around in a Moet & Chandon vintage mask.

The fact is: The SEO system is so fucked that, if Google can’t even function as a search engine, what hope do you have of the slumlords of Amazon LLC listening to a bunch of five-star reviews to actually help an author be supported by the behemoth? If book reviewers are reviewing a three-and-a-half star book five-stars out of fear of inciting the author’s wrath, then how honest do you think the Amazon recommendations are anyway? Can you trust a book recommended as “The Greatest Ever”? All this talk of libertarian hustle-culture bros trying to take advantage of ChatGPT to sidle in and make millions on their Kindle books—they won’t even be able to beat the Almighty Algorithm and sell more than a handful of copies.

Back in the day, I used to read K-Zone magazine. Near the back were the coveted game reviews by G@me Guru. Yet every game had a rating of over 90 per cent. How can that be possible? Can Tomb Raider and Banjo-Kazooie be on par with shitty shovelware like Peter Pan on the Game Boy Advance? According to K-Zone: Ab-so-lutely! You came to realise these reviewers were being paid off by the game companies, or at least afraid to lose their advertising and marketing deals with these game studios if they didn’t review generously and optimistically (also, it was a kids’ magazine). By encouraging book reviewers to twist the truth with their reviews, we essentially revert back to this logic of appeasing algorithms and pretending we loved the work of an author we found merely average.

It goes something like this:

Reviewer: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ This book was better than a Lindt Easter bunny. Fucking amazing.

Author: Awesome! Thanks, kind stranger.

Author: Releases next novel

Author: Why is my second book selling less copies? Do people hate me? Ohmygod, people hate me!

Most books are not five-star reads. And that’s okay.

I understand: feedback is terrifying. Every rejection letter I get edges that knife in a little deeper. But three-star reviews are not a rejection. One-star reviews are a rejection. Forcing me to read that piece of Hume Highway side of the road rubbish Bypass: The Story of a Road by Michael McGirr in high school and forcing me to write essays pretending I loved the themes of Michael McGirr accidentally sending his journal through the conveyor belt at his local supermarket and instead of (the obvious solution) telling the cashier the book has his writing in it and can’t possibly belong to the store, McGirr goes on a self-proselyting lecture on how good of a person he is and how much it means for his journey down the Hume Highway and what the cashier scanning the book means in terms of McGirr’s life as a saintly godly Christian man. Lord help me.

Reading and reviewing are deeply personal and subjective.

For the love of the Almighty Algorithm, please stop forcing kids to read terrible books in high school. If there’s one thing we can unite on, books like Bypass: The Story of a Road can turn kids off reading for life, and that’s the last thing any of us want. We all want to read. We love reading and books and reading books.

If I rate your book over one-star, there’s something in it for someone, somewhere. It doesn’t mean I hate you personally—this is purely about your book and what I got out of it at that specific point in my life.

Take pleasure in the fact your book is not Bypass: The Story of a Road*. Everything else is a bonus.

*If this is your book, insert your least favourite book here. Perhaps Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard?


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