The Thing About Goodreads Ratings

Posted December 7, 2015 by Bekka in discuss / 8 Comments

goodreads ratings

I don’t even know where to start with this because I have so much to say, so I’m going to hop right into it: authors, Goodreads isn’t about you. Of course, there are all these “cool” ways for authors to be involved on GR, ways for them to interact with their readers, and ways for them to promote their books. But at the end of the day, GR is a social media site catered to readers. It’s about readers. End of.

Maybe Goodreads has been a really great way for you to promote your book and maybe you’ve found that it’s an awesome sales tool. But as someone who has been active – very, very active – on Goodreads for years now, let me tell you that that’s not what it’s about. It’s awesome that you get the side benefits of boosting your readership but the heart of Goodreads is about readers sharing their opinions on the books they read. There are many, many GR members who use the site as a cataloging tool, as well. In short, if we readers want to buy a book, GR is not the place we’re going to do it. And it’s kind of a buzzkill to feel like authors are looking over your shoulder as you read their book. Just saying.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about ratings. It has to be discouraging to be alerted when someone doesn’t like your book – and I’m not saying that the mechanics of that nonsense on the authors’ side of the site doesn’t need to change, because it really does. I mean, no one likes hearing negative feedback on things they work hard at. I get that. But there are millions of readers on GR, and they all use the rating system differently – and the GR policy backs them up.

One person’s one star rating can mean they hated your book. Another person’s one star rating means they’re not even interested in reading it at all. Another still can mean it’s on their first shelf. No one knows what’s going on in the mind of another when they’re rating things on Goodreads – and trust me, I’ve seen with my own eyes each of these examples. I’m not making it up. The rating system is arbitrary at best.

The biggest complaint I’ve seen from authors, even authors I love dearly, is that people are rating their books poorly before they’ve even come out yet – and in some cases, before they’re even done being written! I know that has to be frustrating, and trust me, I empathize. But the Goodreads policy states that members can use the rating system however they please. (Also: calling for the limiting of ratings until release date is just not possible for a variety of reasons, including territory pub dates being different and early/ARC reviews. Let’s not get into that.)

Interestingly, I never see anyone calling out those super-early ratings when they’re five stars. Everyone is just fine with early praise, even before the book is written. And I don’t see anyone doing something to stop authors from rating their own books without the ‘Author Review’ banner. But these things happen, and they skew the rating in the author’s favor all the time.

Look, I know it’s hard to get a negative review or rating. I haven’t felt it personally, but it’s gotta suck. I can’t tell you how to react to it, and this post isn’t necessarily about that. But maybe if you see that Goodreads is not a sales tool, and instead it’s made up of millions of people using the site in millions of different ways, you can learn to not take the ratings there very seriously.


For Goodreads users reading this and thinking, “wow, I can’t trust the average rating on GR anymore” I suggest finding a group of friends on the website whose reviews you tend to agree with, and then using the Friends’ Average Rating feature. It’s much more reliable that way than to gauge your opinions against thousands of random strangers.


How do you use the Goodreads rating system?

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8 responses to “The Thing About Goodreads Ratings

  1. TBH, the ratings thing also drives me up the wall. I mean, I totally agree that advance ratings are ridiculous whether positive or negative and that authors should not complain about how people use the site.

    At the same time, I will always be bothered in my literal little heart that people don’t follow Goodreads descriptions of what each star means. I get why they don’t, but, wired the way I am, it makes me twitchy. I want one star to mean “didn’t like” and two to mean “okay,” but I’ll read reviews that rip a book apart and even say they hated it and gets two stars and I weep inside. Intellectually, I know that people have a right to use it however they want, but every fiber of my being will never actually understand why people don’t follow the rules so that the overall ratings on GR could actually MEAN something.

    *shakes frustrated, literal fists*
    Christina (A Reader of Fictions) recently posted…The Joys of Reading Aloud, or, I Love the Sound of My Own VoiceMy Profile

    • Haha I totally should have mentioned it frustrates me too. That’s why I never look at site-wide averages or side-wide reviews. I REALLY can’t with reviews that have this MAJOR complaint in them, and then rate things four stars (it happens a lot on Booktube, too.) Like what are you doing? Why are you doing it? *shakes fist with you* But I have to let it go.

  2. The issue with Goodreads rating has been going for what seems like forever. I know a lot of author’s take advantage of GR’s laid back rating system to boost ratings. I personally like when I talk to an author even if I’m not enjoying their book as long as they are polite and take feedback well. One of my GR friends is a self-pub author who handles herself very professionally, but is also a reviewer. The one thing I wish GR did was have half ratings. It would make life much easier when rating.
    Sarah J. recently posted…What We Left Behind by Robin TalleyMy Profile

  3. The weird thing is that I’ve heard authors talk about how they hate Goodreads, and the reviews that “bully authors”…yet they still have an account. Why don’t they delete?

    I asked on Twitter, but only got a response from one author: and she said she only has an account so people can stop nagging her to get an account.

    I kind of blame the pubishers for pressuring their authors to be on the site, even when it’s clear they really don’t want to be.
    Tez Miller recently posted…8th December 2015 ReleasesMy Profile

  4. Excellent post is excellent. Your first paragraph is perfection and I wish it was the message that showed up with Alice in the rocking chair when GR is down.

    I can tell you that I went from using GR as a genuine social media outlet — to mostly an online catalog to check friends ratings (and if I already owned a book and couldn’t remember.) And that has changed because of authors and how GR has changed to cater to BBAs.

    LOOOOVE that you call out the nonissue over 5-star preratings. You often find that those that complain the most about the early 1-stars say nothing about the 5s.

    I’d be lost without the average of my friends’ — or access to see their thoughts if they’ve written them down. For that reason I will likely never leave GR. Though I will rail about half stars til the day I stop reading.
    Jessie recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten New-To-Me Favorite Authors I Read For The First Time In 2015My Profile

  5. I have had a Goodreads for a while but I’ve just recently been becoming more active on it. I was so confused when I first started because the ratings didn’t make any sense to me. *flashback to 2012 me screaming at my computer because a book with a five star rating was set to release in 2014* Now that I have a little more experience, I can get a good feel of what the heck is going on, but I still don’t like it. I’m also a part of the “Why can’t we give half stars?!” rage. Since I can’t give them, I tend to rate high which isn’t really fair either. A book might only be a 4.5 but I rate it a 5 because otherwise I feel like I’m lowballing. Either way, I’m definitely going to check out your Friend’s Average Rating suggestion!

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