Why My Book Ratings Should Come with Error Bars

If you’re my Goodreads friend, you might have noticed that sometimes I rate a book a few times before I decide on a rating. (If you’re not my Goodreads friend yet, let’s be friends and you can watch my ratings fluctuate too!) I would be so sure that this book was definitely 4 stars (I really liked it!), but then I would think about it for a while and decide,Β nah, this book wasn’t really that good – 3 stars (I liked it!). Basically, my rating for one book looks like this over time:


Maybe you do the same thing I do, or maybe you never ever change your rating for a book, but I feel bad because really, shouldn’t I know how I feel about a book? But no, it looks like I really don’t, haha. So here are some of my excuses hypotheses about why I do this.

HYPOTHESIS #1: I’m easily influenced by external factors. I accidentally-or-not-so-accidentally read a really bad review about a book post-read, and that makes me doubt my initial rating, so I lower my rating. After a few days, I regain my own opinions and change my rating back. I then read a really good review, and guess what happens next. Yeah.

HYPOTHESIS #2: I worry about upsetting people. I rate a book poorly because it really sucked. Then I remember what I’ve been hearing about “badly behaving authors” (although I haven’t encountered any to date) or I remember that authors have feelings too OR I remember that one of my friends really really liked this book… so in fear of my life, I rate up a little bit. But then I decide that I should be honest about how I feel because I really don’t care what other people think, and I change my rating again. The inner turmoil never ends.

HYPOTHESIS #3: My feelings for the book changed. It’s kind of like putting on makeup. At first glance, I’m all “OMG I LOOK AMAZING” and I feel proud. But as I get closer to the mirror, I realized that I missed some spots, or my bronzer’s too dark, or oh god I have lipstick on my teeth. (Or this situation, reversed.) Depending on the book, my ratings would either steadily fall or climb, usually after I’ve thought more about what I’ve read.

HYPOTHESIS #4: I’m just playing, y’all. I want to see if you’ve noticed that I change my book ratings multiple times. If you have, I take great joy in your confusion. πŸ™‚

I’m partial to #4 3. Aaaand in an effort to be less biased or random, I have a better idea for capturing my true ratings. Error bars! #geekalert


Isn’t that ridiculously amazing? So I’m going to start including standard errors in all my book ratings, okay? OKAY NOT REALLY but this post is really just me apologizing for changing my ratings all the time. I think that my reviews are a better representation of how I feel about a book, and that’s why my ratings on this blog aren’t included with each review.

I want to know: do you change your book ratings? And do you pay more attention to ratings or reviews?


20 thoughts on “Why My Book Ratings Should Come with Error Bars

  1. Interesting! I don’t really do formal book reviews, but I do use the stars on Goodreads. Sometimes I’ll change my mind about how much I liked a book when I compare it’s “LIKEABILITY” to books I read in the few weeks or months following. I may think that I love a particular book, but then I’ll read some other things that I like even more, so, in comparison, my initial feelings shift down. I think it’s totally OK to have your feelings about books change and evolve over time!

    • Phew, I’m glad you think so too! The more I think about a book, the more undecided I become about whether I liked it or not (unless it was a definite love-it or hate-it kind of book).

      Maybe the rating scale should just extend out in both directions to infinity, so that if one book is 4 stars and a better book comes along, that one can be 5 stars, and the next one 6, et cetera. CHAOS, but it would make me feel better!

  2. I have reviewed books for about four years and writing the review is far easier than choosing the rating. My biggest problem is when I compare one book to another. I loved The One Plus One but can’t realistically compare to a creepy psychological thriller but both books got 5 stars! I have to admit I pick and then leave it alone πŸ˜‰

    • So true! Books are so different, and sometimes it’s hard to compare them using the same standards. I should try to leave my ratings alone after I pick them, haha…

  3. Haha, this is great!

    I think it’s actually a good think, because it means you’re thinking about the book (unless you’re guilty of number four!). I totally understand too, I’ll feel all kinds of pressure if I didn’t love a book everyone else did or I know the author will be reading the review.

    I have to agree with number three the most. I found before blogging when I would talk about books, I would unintentionally glide over a lot of aspects and focus on the good. But when I write out my review I’m forced to look at the whole picture and that’s when my rating would change.

    Really great post, I’m going to have to add you on Goodreads just to be entertained! πŸ˜‰

    • I totally agree, Lindsey! Writing out your thoughts makes you think past that first reaction to the book, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad – most readers don’t overthink like reviewers do, so isn’t the initial reaction the more accurate one? Who knows…

      And yay! I hope I don’t overwhelm your feed with ratings. πŸ˜›

  4. I love this idea! I don’t usually go back and change my ratings, but there are definitely some I’m more sure of than others and it would be nice to have error bars to reflect that πŸ™‚

    • Haha, what’s a good sample size for this experiment? I have half a mind to go back and check my ratings every month. (No, that would be kind of insane…)

  5. My Goodreads account and shelves are kind of a dump, since I don’t use it to track books as much as I use it to just ramble with other readers. So book ratings on Goodreads have never changed for me because of that, but if I did use it to seriously track books and all that, I would probably be like you, changing to rating from three stars to fours stars to three stars again. And like you, this is why I don’t use star ratings on the blog– I just really suck at finding a star rating I am satisfied with.

    Oh, and don’t even get me started if half-stars are an option…

    The error bars are so cute! I wouldn’t mind if you started using them πŸ˜‰

    • Oh goodness, half stars would add a whole new level of chaos!

      And I’m pretty sure those error bars will drive me crazy after a while if I start using them, and you’d run away from seeing too many numbers, haha. πŸ˜›

  6. Hahaha this post is funny. I do change my ratings kind of often. It doesn’t happen TOO much, but occasionally, I’ll rate a book, write my review, hit post…and then after thinking about it for 5 more minutes, decide that I want to alter it slightly.

    Usually it’s in the case of if I rated a book a 3.5/2.5/4.5, etc. When I do that on Goodreads, since they don’t let you do half-stars, I choose whichever number on either side of the .5 rating that I think is closer to my feelings (like if, technically, I might consider it more like a 3.3 or a 3.8) and then round up or down accordingly (and then I specify at the beginning of the review what my “actual” rating is). But sometimes I’ll reconsider a couple minutes after posting the review and realize that maybe it was actually closer to a 4 or a 3, and decide to change it.

    But in every case I can think of in which I’ve done that, it was always almost immediately after posting the review. Once it’s been a day or so, my rating is basically set in stone at that point. How long does it usually take you to come up with your “final” rating after changing your mind and ratings back and forth?

    • Oooh, I kind of do the same thing with rounding to the nearest integer – I would think of a sliding scale from 0 to 5 and see what the nearest star is. My “final” rating is basically whenever I stop thinking about the book, haha. Sometimes I start doubting myself after 5 minutes, sometimes after a week. So the best way for me to stick with a rating is to never think about the book again, lol. πŸ˜›

  7. So geeky. I don’t even understand that diagram. Haha!

    I sometimes change my ratings, but I don’t really do it often. I only do so when I have fully thought out my thoughts and feelings on a book. I don’t do it for anyone else though. I know there are external factors, but I don’t usually let those affect me. I rate and review a book the way I want to.

    I personally pay a lot of attention to book ratings. I know people rate books differently, but it gives me a sense of whether the review will be positive or negative. I usually hold out on reading negative reviews until I have read a book. I like reading reviews with high ratings because I like seeing what people like and I like being convinced to read a certain book with all the millions of books out there. πŸ˜›

    • Ahahah, let out your inner nerd, Francine! πŸ˜› I’m impressed with how straightforward your rating process is, and I wish I could do more of the same! And same here, I like reading those types of reviews too! I also like to read the one-star rating reviews too though, since the reasons for loving and hating a book are more concrete, in a sense.

  8. I’m just as bad about this! For literally all the same reasons too haha (well ok maybe not #4 so much (-;) And it doesn’t help that Goodreads doesn’t do half stars, not that I’m good at sticking to those ratings either haha. But I might not change them quite as much that way. Or at least I can tell myself that.

    • Ahhh, if Goodreads had half stars I would be so stressed out over having wayyy too many options! I’m glad you have the self-control to not change your ratings too often, Elizabeth! I gotta do better, haha. (I think I’m more mindful of it after writing this post, and now most of the indecisiveness stays in my head.)

  9. I change my ratings! Before I read this I sometimes feel guilty about doing it but I’m so glad I’m not the only one. I think it has to do with ‘digesting’ the book slowly, days after I read the book. I might find it wonderful immediately after finishing it and then I would change my mind afterwards. Being your Goodreads friend, I haven’t noticed πŸ˜‰ BUT! – I do add some of the books you read from the update feed so in a way I’m still noticing you πŸ˜‰ Sorry I’ve been MIA lately. Glad to be back and catching up with you all.

    • Yay, let’s bond over our indecisiveness, haha! But yes, I agree that “digestion” may be part of the issue. And in terms of Goodreads, you might not have noticed because I immediately add more books to my to-read list after I change a rating so that the notification gets buried under other notifications lol. Although I’m definitely getting better at keeping the indecisiveness in my head instead of out in the open!

      I’m glad you’re back! :))

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