The Stars Lie

Jan 12, 2014 by


Yep, those Amazon and Goodreads review stars don’t tell the whole truth!

I hate to say it, but several of the books I read last year were awful. This gets me upset. If I invest my most precious commodity—a.k.a. time—in reading a book, I want need it to be good—or possibly GREAT! Unreasonable?

No! It’s like going to the movies. If you pay $10 for a ticket, you’d be outraged if in the first 20 minutes they have the characters getting up, taking a shower, getting dressed, cooking breakfast, eating said breakfast, washing their plate, on and on, before getting to the real plot, right? And what if on top of that the $15 popcorn was stale and the Coke flat? Wouldn’t you wish you’d picked the bloody thriller that was playing next door and had bought the nachos instead? I know I would.

So, yeah. I want the books I read to have a certain level of quality. I want them to be well edited, for one. But past the elemental details, I want a storyline, characters that grow/learn something, dialogue that isn’t stilted, maybe a twist or a surprise. I want the author to do her homework, to tie the loose ends, to clearly describe the setting, and, if all of that is taken care of, maybe wow me with words by pushing her imagination beyond clichés.

The question is: how do I find these authors and their awesome books? I sometimes feel at a loss with this. Even when I think I’ve picked a winner, sometimes the book turns out to be a dud that evolves into melodrama, and I end up skimming it to a very unsatisfying ending.

I’ve thought about all this A LOT! And one day—while perusing the web—I realized one crucial thing. Maybe I’m slow and should have known this, but alas I didn’t. THE STARS LIE. Yep, those Amazon and Goodreads 1.0 to 5.0 stars, they’re not very reliable, and sadly I’ve been putting too much emphasis on them. I used to think that if a book had 4.0+ stars, it had to be pretty good. WRONG! This isn’t necessarily true. After a closer look, I realized it isn’t the starts I should be looking at, but at the percentage of people who actually liked the book. For clarity, let me give an example:

Take for instance Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi:

As I write this, the book has 4.07 stars in Goodreads. Now, if you click on “rating details” (right next to the stars,) a small box will pop up which looks like the image below. I’ve circled the number I’m interested in. For Under the Never Sky, the percentage of people who liked the book was 94%. Pretty good, huh?

Under The Never Sky

Now let’s look at Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick:

The Goodreads star rating for this book is 4.01 stars—not much different than 4.07 in Rossi’s book. However, by taking a look at the rating details, you discover that the percentage of people who liked this book is lower: 89%.

Hush, Hush

In my opinion—please Hush, Hush fans don’t get mad at me :)—Under the Never Sky is a much better book as the rating details show me (I’ve read both.)

Based on this, I’ve gone through all the books I’ve read and looked at the percentages. What I found was that the ones I’ve enjoyed the most have percentages between 91% and 96%. Books with percentages lower than 91% were definitely not my cup of tea, but what’s more interesting is that books with percentages higher than 96% weren’t either! Not sure why, but I proved it again and again by going over all the books I’ve read and seeing their percentages. So it seems I need to read books that fall within the 91% to 96% range!

I do realize I can’t use this factor in isolation. But I can combine it with others and sometimes even make exceptions, lest I miss reading a good book due to a flawed system. Still, I feel it is a strong marker and I’ve already started using it with success. I guess there really aren’t formulas for what books we’d like, but when I can’t decided whether I should read a book or not, this certainly helps tip the balance. Do beware that sometimes the Goodreads percentages are off (maybe some issue with their algorithm) but it is easy to calculate. Here is an example with my book “The Guys Are Props Club”:

★★★★★ = It was amazing
★★★★    = Really liked it
★★★        = I liked it
★★           = It was OK
★              = Didn’t like it

Based on the chart above, a review from 3 to 5 stars means the reader liked the book. So all you have to do to figure out the percentage of people who liked GAP#1, you add the 3 to 5 star reviews. That means 65 reviews out of 68 as of this post. Then you simply divide the two numbers 65/68=0.955. That means 95% of the people who’ve read “The Guys Are Props Club” enjoyed it. Yay! There you have it. Now you can forget those lying stars!


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