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To Rate or Not to Rate

By / July 8, 2009 / no comments

There are many kinds of reviews and ratings which act as guides to help people to choose the right book for them. There is nothing more frustrating than getting a book recommended for you and for it to turn out to be a steaming pile of goo. My aim is to hopefully give you some more information about rating systems and how you can use them to help find yourself a good book. Whether it be a movie or a book the process is pretty much the same. Some rating systems have stars, usually 4 or 5 for maximum rating; Some are out of 5 (essentially the same as the star rating but more flexible because you can go into decimals); and the most common one the out of 10 rating.

I’m going to summarize my feelings about 4 rating systems (these are just a few of many): Amazon (5 star), Internet Movie Database (imdb, 10 star), Ben‘s out of 10 rating and lastly the ‘no rating system’.

Amazon has a 5 star rating system where it allows registered users to rate a particular book. You cannot go in between stars e.g. 3 1/2 stars. This means you are locked into either a 1,2,3,4 or 5 rating. Simplicity is great but perhaps there just isn’t enough variance with this rating system.

Imdb has a 10 star rating system. Like Amazon it doesn’t allow you to vote between stars. However there is greater variance than the Amazon rating system because there are simply more stars. The easy access of voting on this website is also an advantage over the amazon rating system.

The problem with the above two rating systems is that it allows any registered user to vote. Many problems arise from this, notwithstanding are a) one person has multiple accounts b) people are paid to write fake reviews and put up fake ratings c) there is rarely explanation of why users have given their rating d) your views are not reflected in the masses (in a vacuum yes but on the whole? probably not)

Unlike the above two which don’t explain themselves (reason mainly because the rating is from users), Ben’s out of 10 rating system is very well thought out and explained. Here is a brief outline of his rating (for a detailed description click here).

10 “Best of the Best”
The Kings of the genre. When you read a book rated 10, you know you’re reading something that stands out as the best. You can’t put the book down even if someone pays you to. The book is gold in written form. These books usually do something completely new for the genre. I would put books like George Martin’s Storm of Swords, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Dan Simmon’s Hyperion here.

9–9.9 “Absolutely Superb”
A book that you find yourself reading late into the wee hours of the morning. I would put something like “The Name of the Wind” here.

8–8.9 “Fantastic Reads”
One of those rare finds at a bookstore. A book you just can’t put down. There may be a few small complaints you have about the plot, characters, or story, but on a whole, it’s a fantastic, must-have, must-read book. A good many of the books on my “Great” fantasy books list would fall in the category.

7-7.9 “Good Reads”
Books that are definitely above average and well worth reading — better then 75% of the fantasy books out there.

6–6.9 “Decent Reads”
Easy to get into, the sort of “popcorn” thrillers of fantasy. I would throw David Eddings, Terry Brooks (his Shannara books), R.A. Salvatore here.

5–5.9 “Average Fantasy”
I would throw in Terry Goodkind’s later Sword of Truth books here. The majority of off-the-shelf fantasy books would probably fall into this category.

< 5 “Avoid At All Costs”
Two authors that stand out are Robert Stanek and Robert Newcomb’s The Fifth Sorceress. I have never read books as bad as those two – they are a disgrace to the written word.

Now Ben’s rating system is great, he explains himself, gives examples and doesn’t limit his rating to 5 or 10 variables. However benefits of his rating system is also his downfall. What if his perfect 10 book (A Game of Thrones) is not liked by people? Yes…shock horror, this phenomenon does exist. People have also not loved ‘The Name of the Wind’ a 9-9.9 book. Then again there are also people who absolute love R.A. Salvatores Drizzt books and put them right up the top of their best books list and here he has it at the “decent reads”. Lastly…are their too many variables? Is there any difference between a 7.4 book and a 7.7 book?

The problem with all these rating systems is that they are subjective. What one likes about a book, someone else will disagree on. What you should take into account when you look at a rating system is. Does it explain itself well? What use is a mountain guide if he doesn’t speak the same language as you? The same applies to rating guides, know how the system rating works. Do you want to be lumped with the masses? If they say a book is good you’ll also find it good (e.g. amazon, imdb) or would you rather have a guide explained to you and if you have similar tastes then perhaps you should only follow that rating system and people who use that rating system.

Lastly the no rating system. The problem with the no rating system is that there is no rating, and therefore there has to be a written review for you to know about the book/movie. However, when you give no rating you are not bound by the ratings limitation. You can explain a book in a vacuum. Was it written well and how? Can you see it being a good book for children? Where are the books flaws? These question are just a few that rating systems cannot pretend to even answer. Viewers can get more detailed information about the book and make a better decision. Again a review can be subjective, but what how the author writes the review and ask yourself is he being objective? Does he state flaws as well as the good points?

There are some of you now thinking…what if there is a review AND a rating!

Well this is great, but then you have to ask yourself, when this person does a review AND a rating, is s/he consistent? Does s/he use the same analysis with each book and therefore can rate the book consistently? There is nothing more frustrating than inconsistency because that would probably be worse than just a rating or just a review. E.g. The book was fantastic, The plot was great, the characters were vivid and well written. 7.2/10
In this example, the written words are perhaps not consistent with the rating. Where did the 2.8 marks go? Wasn’t it fantastic 2 sentences ago?

Again I stress that overall, rating systems are just guides. Different kinds of guides to helping you find a good book that suits your taste. Knowing more about a certain rating system or reviewer can help you better successfully choose the right book for YOU. Remember it is all about YOU!

Happy Book Hunting!

Review written for Best Fantasy Books by Enchanté (a.k.a) Jon Snow from Sleeping With Books

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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