Lone Star Book Killer or Five Star Praise, An Easy Way To Honestly Rate Books

gold-4-star-rating_100x100Most people shoot from the hip when rating things. Being a computer scientist by day I see that as too random, arbitrary and error prone. So sometime back I thought out an easy way to provide consistent ratings when I rate a book. Before we go futher let me assure you this is NOT about you using my scales, instead this is all about discovering your personal measures for rating. This has nothing to do with anyone else but you. Once you are aware of your own measuring scale you can fairly rate other books against that measure and thus feel good about being consistent with your handing out of those most cherished golden stars.

First define a list of your all-time favorite classics for a given genre, you only need a handful to start, your list will expand with time. Next rate those books on your list of classics using this same system and scales (you can go back and adjust if you change your mind). Once you have this list, which you can add to or take away from at any point you want, you have a stable measuring scale.

The rating system scale is based on four things: plot and theme, characters, language/voice, and writing. Each element gets zero to five stars on the scale of zero being horrible, three stars is good, and five stars it is as good or better than anything else you have seen.

Plot and theme assessment is about how the story develops is there a world that exists beyond the book and does the book interact with that world in an interesting way? It is easy to spot random events tossed in to add action and excitement. You can define what is important to you here. For example I like to see that setbacks are believable, things develop and interactions twist the fates of the characters.

Character assessment is all about if the beings we are introduced to are unique within the constraints of the world. Each character no matter how trivial should be a distinct individual. Any characters the book follows should grow, learn, and change based on events, actions, and interpretations within that character’s own world view.

Language and voice assessment is basically can you tell who is speaking or thinking as you read the dialog. Are the voices so distinct that just reading what is said is enough to clearly define which character said it? This is a very difficult skill to develop and it takes a great deal of effort to keep all the characters from talking in the author’s own voice. I suggest being a little forgiving with this value.

Writing assessment is completely about grammar, word usage, and originality. Many authors (myself included) easily fall prey to standard colloquialisms and repetitive standard descriptions. Again this is a skill that requires constant care and maintenance. This is the easiest of all the elements to fix through good editing. Indie authors and publishing house authors have little excuse for not having at least two editorial passes.

Now there are four elements of the book rated between zero and five stars. The final rating isn’t really an average of those. Instead look carefully at the ratings. If anything is below three stars you might consider giving that author a private note with suggestions for improvements.

If none of the four elements is below three stars and two or more are five stars (superb performance) that earns five stars.

If none of the four elements is below two stars and two or more are four stars (better than ‘good’ performance) that earns four stars.

If none of the four elements is below two stars and two or more are three stars (‘good’ performance) that earns three stars.

If none of the four elements is below one star and two or more are two stars (average performance) that earns two stars.

If two or more elements are two stars (average performance) that earns two stars.

All others earn one star.

Now if I cannot give at least a four star rating I will not post my review to Amazon because Amazon’s rating system is horribly skewed and low ratings are book killers. I will post my review to Goodreads or other sites if it is at least three stars. If I am not pleased with the book I will try to send the author a private email with my ratings and constructive feedback.

Thanks for reading this! I hope it helps you. I’d love to hear your feedback on this system so email me or comment here!


Huh? I’m a bestselling author! You can find all my books on Amazon (http://author.to/LArtra)!


  • Michelle Weidenbenner

    Hi Leeland-
    I find the whole book-rating thing difficult. I think, for me, it’s because I’m an author and I know what goes into writing a novel. It’s easier to give a low rating in my book club because no author is going to see or hear my objections to their story. My book group thinks I rate things easy, often giving books a five, but often times they rate it on whether they liked the story–not on how well it was written, edited, researched, or plotted.

    I respect so many different genres and have respect for authors who’ve worked hard–even if the story didn’t trip my trigger.

    But I have a question for you–if you’ve read someone’s book and think it deserves a 3 or below because of typos, spelling errors, poor grammar, in and out of tenses and popping heads, what do you say to them? When you tell them the truth do they slam the door in your face? Some authors have a noble cause but haven’t spent the money on editing. Their story and their message is truly amazing. If you give them a low score or not at all do they quit communicating with you? Some of my most avid supporters want me to endorse their work, but their writing isn’t to my standards. I find this so difficult, because I want to encourage them and keep our “friendships,” but there’s a fine line.

    I’m open to suggestions. Please let me know what happens to those you “can’t” review because of a low score.


  • Leeland Artra

    Michelle your right about some authors being extremely unkind to negative feedback.

    I rarely write reviews where the books came out below 4 stars. This is mostly because unless I really liked the book I feel that I wasn’t the actual target audience, and therefore a low point review would be unfair.

    If I feel I’m in the target audience for a 3 star review book I’ll post it. As the article says I usually try to send the author the review if it is below 3 stars. In one cause I have bumped a review up to 5 stars because I noticed it was updated on my kindle and in rereading it (cause I did like the story) I saw the author had corrected many of the problems as well as added some interesting content that really enhanced the story.

    However, there have been times when I read a book as a favor, specifically to give a review. Generally, in these cases the 4 or 5 star reviews are accepted nicely. The 3 star reviews (which I post) have been met with mixed feelings. I have been flamed by authors for posting what they saw as an unfavorable review. In one case I was seriously surprised because I went out of my way to ensure the review was actually very favorable in spite of being 3 stars.

    If an author flames me I simply don’t read any more of their work. I find the personal attacks really out of line, especially if they flame me after asking me to give them an “honest review.”

    I can say I read all the reviews on my books. Some of the reviews hurt and I have to wonder why they bothered reading the book if they “don’t like fantasy” or “knew it was going to be bad after slugging through the first three chapters.” I think the “I only read the free excerpt” low star reviews are really out of line. But, you get what you get.

    So to answer your question: I always tell the author the truth. When there are serious problems in my opinion I try to give very clear examples of what is wrong and explain why I don’t like it. I do not expect any author to take my opinion as the absolute end review. There are billions of readers out there, and you can never please all of them. Every book has an audience (some larger than others). Also, by telling the truth I never have to remember what I said to different people. That can get you in even more trouble.

    So long as you are not attacking the author, but clearly critiquing the work there should be no issues. Do watch your language when sending email critiques because people can read a lot of emotion into simple text and take things personally. I usually try to start off with the positives I saw and then follow that up with “In chapter 2 the dialog was flipping between present and past tense, and I also I wasn’t able to figure out who was speaking sometimes. Perhaps, acting it out, out loud might help correct the dialog.” Essentially, here is what I didn’t like, and how it affected my reading, and a simple suggestion on how to improve it. This way it is obvious you are trying to help.

  • jg collins

    The Goodreads and Amazon star equivalents are different. You can’t just simply post your ★★★ Amazon review on Goodreads. Here’s the Rosetta Stone for reviews:
    Goodreads Amazon
    1 star – didn’t like it I hate it
    2 stars – it was OK I don’t like it
    3 stars – liked it It’s okay
    4 stars – really liked it I like it
    5 stars – it was amazing I love it.