[Women In Horror Month] – Mother Horror's Star Rating System

I’m a non-fiction writer writing horror fiction reviews for several different social media platforms; most notably, Scream Magazine and Cemetery Dance. Part of the reviewing process is the star rating or in the case of Scream Magazine, a skull rating. If it were up to me, I would write reviews without ratings, letting the tone of the piece speak for itself.

Goodreads and Amazon demand stars, so readers and reviewers must decide how they want to use them. I have a lot of problems with the 1-5 scale Goodreads suggests we use:

1 star- did not like it

2 stars- it was ok

3 stars- liked it

4 stars- really liked it

5 stars- it was amazing

There’s just not enough distinction between “really liked it” and “amazing” or “liked it” and “it was ok”. So over the last four or five years, I’ve developed my own 1-5 scale. I’ve added more distinction to the ratings. It’s my hope that by sharing this scale with others, it will help readers and reviewers more clearly define their own, personal scale and develop functional criteria they can apply to their reviews. Also, there are a few caveats to this discussion:

  1. Some people don’t see the value in reviewing books, period. That’s fine. Reviews aren’t going anywhere. Some people love writing and reading reviews and where there is love there are those who will hate it because that’s the way the world works. It’s more fun to hate on the things people love than to just wallow alone in your hatred. It’s my opinion that book reviews are very valuable. They’re basically word-of-mouth, free advertising which is the best form of advertising a book can get. I can’t begin to tell you how many people tell me they bought a book because of my glowing recommendation. Reviews equal sales. Period. I can’t be convinced otherwise. But what about negative reviews, Sadie? Next caveat!
  2. Negative reviews equal sales too! A well written, provocative review can pique interest. I see this happen all the time. On Goodreads, people will comment that my review was so scandalizing or intriguing, they want to buy the book and see what all the fuss is about. Or if I mention something was too graphic or violent for me, it’s catnip for extreme horror fans. Reviews are for readers. I feel a responsibility to share honestly my reading experience with the intention to give readers information. There are a lot of books out there to spend time and money on so the more information a consumer/reader has, the better.

On to the rating system!!

1 Star- This book was not for me at all. I wouldn’t recommend it.

2 Stars- This book had potential but was overwhelmed with issues. I wouldn’t recommend it.

3 Stars- A pretty good book with a few problems. I would recommend it to the right reader.

4 Stars- An excellent book with minor issues. Definitely recommend.

5 Stars- A perfect read for me and I bet others would love it. Recommend for the rest of my natural-born life.

5 Stars- A perfect read for me and I bet others would love it. Recommend for the rest of my natural-born life.

I know that some reviewers are intentionally stingy with their 5 star reviews. I can’t speak to the reason behind that because it’s a foreign concept to me. I give mostly 4 and 5 stars because I’m an emotional reader and books already possess all the potential in the world to move me to feel my feelings which is what I’m after; that’s the end game. Reading is my happy place. It has been since I was a little girl. I’m already starting off at 5 stars while I’m reading–it’s the experience a book gives me that maintains that 5 stars or causes it to slide down the scale. 5 star books give me that blissed-out, prime-time, warm-fuzzy-reading-high that I long for. These are the books that feel flawless to me. Nothing took me out of my enjoyment–everything was just as it should be.

4 Stars- An excellent book with minor issues. Definitely recommend. These books are basically 5 star reads but there was some kind of issue that took me out of the reading high. Character development, above all else, is really important to me in order to become invested in the lives of fictional people. This is especially important in horror because if I don’t care about the characters, what happens to them is a tough sell. Often times, books slide down the scale for character development issues. Usually, apart from just a few problems, 4 star books are nearly perfect.

3 Stars- A pretty good book with a few problems. I would recommend it to the right reader.

People generally assume that a 3 star rating is just a “middle of the road” book but for me, 3 stars are still on the positive side of the scale. It doesn’t have one foot in both camps, it’s not middle of the road or just “OK”. For me, it’s usually well written and I enjoyed it but it had several issues that hindered the enjoyment. I’ve also noticed that 3 star books for me are subject to change depending on who I’m talking to. Does this ever happen to you? If you talk to someone who loved it, you start seeing its merits and you could easily be convinced it’s better than a 3. But f you talk to someone who hated it, you feel like maybe you were too generous. I feel like in my mind, a 3 star book might have been a tough book for me to have passionate feelings about. I recommend 3 star books all the time, it might just carry a few disclaimers.

2 Stars, 1 Star and DNFs2 Stars- This book had potential but was overwhelmed with issues. I wouldn’t recommend it.

1 Star- This book was not for me at all. I wouldn’t recommend it.

When I review a book I didn’t enjoy, I still look for the positives and highlight anything that worked for me or I enjoyed. I rarely leave reviews without anything constructive to say. If I didn’t finish the book (DNF), I don’t think it’s right to leave a rating but I will explain my reasons for quitting. If I quit halfway through, sometimes I feel that the time I have invested earned me enough knowledge to leave a rating but those instances are pretty rare. I try to be sensitive to the author in these reviews, keeping in my mind the intensity of putting a book out into the world and all the time and energy that was invested into it. However, I don’t write reviews for authors or industry people-my audience is comprised of readers who want to know what soured my reading experience so I try to be as detailed as possible.

Sadie Hartmann, “Mother Horror” reviews horror fiction for Scream Magazine and Cemetery Dance. You can follow all her reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. She is also the co-owner of a curated, monthly horror fiction subscription service called Night Worms. The Night Worms website hosts book reviews from a diverse group of horror fiction lovers on the blog.

Published by Dead Head Reviews

Dead Head Reviews is a platform that promotes authors, publishers, film makers, and just about anyone you can think of in the horror community. They mainly focus on the book industry, but if something is horror-related, they want to get their hands on it.

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