[LET’S CHAT] The Debacle of Rating Books Before You Read Them

Obviously, there’s a debate surrounding the idea of rating books if you haven’t read them.

Should you do it? Is it a form of protest? Is it completely wrong or right? Are there certain instances where it’s fine, but others where it isn’t? What’s the whole point of doing it in the first place? I decided that today would be the day I put my two cents into the discussion, so let’s do it!

 There’s been lots of discussions lately about rating books before you read them amid all these recent controversies, and a large majority of bookworms out there think it’s wrong to rate a book you haven’t even read. But is it maybe justified to do so?
Rating books before you read them has sort of adopted a new meaning in the bookish world (basically like saying that you don’t approve of a book or consider it problematic), but some people still don’t agree. I decided I really wanted to examine both sides of the argument just to see what’s up.
I feel like there’s two certain areas when it comes to people rating books before they read them: the rising popularity of protest ratings and just general excitement for a book.
When it comes to the idea of protest ratings, it can get a bit complicated. If you’ve been around here for even a couple of weeks, you’ve probably stumbled upon a book on Goodreads that has a super low overall star rating despite it not being released yet. There’s been a rise in this over the last year and half, I’d say, and I can tell people have gotten tired of it.
I can definitely see why people will make their frustrations known by rating a book one star without having read it yet. If someone manages to come upon the book on Goodreads, said person can be more informed about what’s going on, what the issue is, and maybe even get involved in the discussion in the book community. Sometimes, people need to be drawn to something to actually start to become informed on what’s going on.
At the same time, I can see why it can be frustrating. No matter what, reading one person’s account of a book is not universal – reading is an entirely subjective experience and we all don’t garner the same things from it, nor does a minority group think in a monolith (what’s good representation for one person might not reflect good representation for another, but said representation is not immediately discounted because of the second person, if that makes sense?). So, really, a large number of one-star reviews from people who haven’t read the book isn’t a true reflection of what people ACTUALLY think. There’s also this idea of people rating books based off of the synopsis, much like what happened with Maggie Stiefvater’s All The Crooked Saints or Jennifer Niven’s Holding Up The Universe – people were saying it was problematic BEFORE both books even had ARCs based off of their two paragraph synopsis’, which is EVEN MORE not a true reflection of what people actually think or of the book, yet, there were low ratings there as well.
And then what about protest rates that might be for the “good of the people?” Last summer, Laura Silverman, author of Girl Out of Water, Tweeted about something that made racist trolls and neo-Nazis not too happy, and her book was soon spammed with negative reviews and one-stars by said trolls and neo-Nazis. In retaliation, many authors and fellow book nerds went and mass-rated her book with five stars to combat them…but at the same time, was it okay for those authors and readers to rate a book positively they never read? They could have easily just reported the troll reviews (which were eventually taken down by Goodreads) and left it at that, but instead rated a book they hadn’t read. Does it make it right if someone protest rates to protect someone?
And then there are books that just get five-starred for no reason. This doesn’t tie into protest rates, and really just has to do with general excitement, if that makes sense. I’ve seen a lot of people say this happens with Cassandra Clare and Sarah J. Maas books, which is true, but this happens with EVERY book out there. I’ve seen books that I’ve never heard of that aren’t coming out until 2019 with five stars. I’ve seen several debut authors get five stars from random accounts with no profile picture. I think it’s unfair to say it only applies to popular authors, because I’ve seen it everywhere (this is what happens when you go to the Goodreads accounts of new books often. I can’t help myself).

Do you think rating before reading is something that should be allowed? What’s your opinion on it? 

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47 thoughts on “[LET’S CHAT] The Debacle of Rating Books Before You Read Them

  1. Enjoyed reading this so much! I’ve been reading a lot about reviewing before reading lately, and I really don’t think people should rate books they haven’t read. If you have an issue with the book, there’s always the option of commenting on it on Goodreads without actually giving it a star rating so people will know why you’re choosing not to read the book.

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  2. Ok, wow. I was totally oblivious to this whole debacle. Thanks for making this post, Mikaela!
    Right off the bat, I’m going to say that I don’t think it’s right for people to rate books they haven’t read yet. I totally agree with what you said about reading being a subjective experience. One person’s account of a book isn’t representative of a whole population. Also, even if a book SEEMS problematic from its synopsis, there has been countless of occasions where a book’s synopsis didn’t do it justice. Instead of rating books before reading them, I think people need to go into books with an open mind and without biases so that we can create our own opinions of them and garner honest discussions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, really? I assumed everyone knew since it’s such a big deal! πŸ˜‚

      So true! One person really doesn’t speak for the entire bookish community whatsoever, not to mention I might not even know who the person is, so why should I trust their opinion?

      And I agree! Some synopsis’ are terribly written, and the book ends up being great! Not to mention that they change all the time, especially when it’s in the early stages. 😝

      I also agree! Discussion is good! πŸ˜„

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  3. A very sad and murky place all this has stooped to.

    I don’t think readers should rate a book before reading, but I don’t know how it can be policed.

    I work with a lot of indie and self published authors and for an added take on this issue, I can add the following:

    I know some authors get friends and family to rate their books especially if they are debut, they believe that it is a way to gain visibility in a saturated marketplace. But it doesn’t help if they post glowing reviews and ratings for a book that actually isn’t all that good.

    But this line of thinking is also heading into the realms of authors reviewing authors, where no one wants to give a bad rating unless it reflects badly on themselves. Again it gives a false appearance about book, which seems unfair.

    Certainly the trolling low ratings and the revenge high ratings are all very frustrating, and not something that I would like to be involved in.

    Thanks for the discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good point – there’s really no way to stop it, unless Goodreads disables ratings before a book is released (and even then, it’s a tricky subject).

      I feel like authors mainly rate other authors’ books well, which makes sense, because you don’t want to be that person, especially when trying to get into the industry. πŸ˜…

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  4. I don’t agree with rating a book before reading it, Why would you do that?? even if you dislike the genre, author or the concept of the book…if you want to state your opinion, read it and then discuss what you dislike about it or just ignore it all together…. This goes as well with the 5 stars rating …I know you love the series or what ever but you don’t actually know if the book will be as good as the rest so just wait a bit before rating it it’s misleading…

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  5. Great discussion!

    I think that Amazon’s got the right idea, to be honest: don’t let people review until the book has been released. They are able to one-up that by having verified purchases, but that’s obviously not something that Goodreads can easily do. It won’t stop it completely, but it’s a start.

    The whole rating books before their out is dumb, because all it does is lead to inaccurate ratings for the book, which isn’t fair to anyone involved. And ratings are already based on opinion, so there’s only so much accuracy you can have in the first place. But people are going to do things regardless, so I suppose it’s something we just have to live with.

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    • Yeah, I agree! It’s definitely something to work out since there are ARC reviewers out there, but besides that, I’ve seen way too many random books have ratings even though there are zero ARCs out yet. And by faceless profile pictures. Like, what?

      That’s true, book reviews are pretty much all opinion, so it is hard to say one person is right and someone else wrong. Yeah, there’s not much we can do about that, so I guess we’ll have to adjust? 😝

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  6. I wrote a post about this a while back. It’s a controversial topic. It isn’t something that I do personally and I don’t agree with it. It’s dishonest. There are other ways to voice opinions about books that haven’t been read without rating them.

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  7. I’m not a fan of rating before reading either. I think it’s ok to leave a comment, but even then, I agree with you on reading being subjective. I’ve seen some books get attacked for misrepresenting something like lgbtq while some people reading said that they felt that it represented them correctly. Everyone is different. And some people read a sentence and see racism and others see it a character which is realistic and not how an author feels. I never want anyone to feel hurt by reading something, but it’s getting to the point where I see so many arguments and hatred all over social media right now. Trigger warnings are good for those who need them. But rating a book you haven’t read because of what someone else took from it isn’t right either. If you don’t want to read it based on that, it’s totally fine. But what if you read it and don’t see what the other reviewer saw? We all take things differently.

    Now if an author says something very obviously racist/homophobic/etc in public, I would make people aware. But also not by rating the books.

    I’m rambling a bit, but I hope that makes sense. I would prefer to see comments or things on twitter (without people getting a super crazy mob mentality) than seeing someone rate a book they never read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree! I’ve seen differing opinions when it comes to representation a lot, especially when it comes to books dealing with mental illness (such as 13 Reasons Why or All The Bright Places). I honestly don’t think there’s such thing as perfect representation, and it’d be silly to try. It’s true, reading is very subjective, so it’s all a very confusing conversation.

      I agree! It’s usually the same people as well who do it, so I’m not really surprised. 😝

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m not a fan of rating books, either positively or negatively, if you haven’t read them. I know some people use Goodreads for primarily cataloging their own thoughts on books, and they don’t care that other people can see the ratings and that it could sway people’s opinions, so there’s that. (Like, maybe they’re rating it 5 stars to remind them they want to read it or 1 star to remind them they don’t want to read it.) But overall I think you should really read the book before rating. I don’t even pay attention to ratings of unpublished books at this point, and I make sure to read reviews in addition the ratings, because the reviews are far more useful in telling me *why* people have picked the ratings they did.

    And, honestly, part of my discomfort with rating a book you haven’t read because you’ve read *someone else’s* opinion of the book probably comes from my academic side. School (in the US, at least) is all about teaching people to gather evidence from credible sources, read it critically, consolidate it, and make your own informed opinion. For books, this means I would NEVER read, say, 6 journal articles *about* Hamlet and then write an essay about Hamlet…without ever actually reading Hamlet. You need to read the secondary articles in conjunction with the primary text to get a full picture of what’s going on.

    Just for an example, I took a class on Milton in undergrad where the professor would not let us consult secondary sources for our essays. Why? There’s been a lot of scholarly articles published on Milton, and apparently a lot of it is junk. She pointed out that one scholar wrote an entire article based on the premise that Eve is not present in a particular scene in Paradise Lost. The problem? She IS present; she just doesn’t talk in the scene, so the scholar forgot she was there, and wrote this whole BS article about what her supposed absence meant. *headdesk* So, if this kind of stuff can happen in published articles by people with PhDs, you never know what you’re getting when you read the opinion/interpretation of a book offered by some random person online. They may totally be making a valid point about the book–but I would personally ascertain that by reading the book myself instead of taking their word at face value and rating a book based completely on the opinions of other people.

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    • I agree, I think reading a book before rating is just the best way to go! Yeah, I mean, you’d think with being able to name your shelves and write reviews without rating, people would use it more, but I guess not. 😝 I mean, people literally have shelves that are reserved for books they think are problematic and don’t want to read, so why rate them?

      That’s so interesting! I’ve never thought of it in an academic way, but I do agree that I think my main problem with it is that your opinion is based off of someone else’s. If a person got an ARC and reviewed it and said it was problematic, that’s fine, but I think it’s when people start acting outraged over it and then telling people who’ve read it loved it or those who want to read it that they’re part of the problem really doesn’t help. Not to mention I honestly don’t trust most of the people who say a book is problematic. Twice I’ve seen controversy die down and someone says that a claim someone said was wrong, so…πŸ€·πŸΎβ€β™€οΈ

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      • Yeah, I think there’s some disjunction between worries, on one hand, about “fake news” and whether we can trust what we read online…and this whole discourse in the book community that suggests you should read one person’s review of a book and trust it implicitly. Worse, that reading the book to confirm that the review is correct is somehow wrong and something you should be ashamed of. I just can’t get behind that. I’m a huge proponent of being open-minded about believing the opinions of other people but still doing your own research. Quotes can be taken out of context. Even experts can be wrong. I cannot shame people who want to read the primary text in addition to a review that’s commenting on that text. That just seems like the obvious thing to do.

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  9. I’m really happy you discussed this. It seems like one of those issues I’m far too nervous to bring up myself, but I admit, it frustrates me when books are rated before people even read them. Are some books problematic? ABSOLUTELY. But how can someone review in an informed way without actually reading it? If I read a review of a book that simply tells me ‘This is racist’ and nothing else, I don’t know how inclined I am to believe that reviewer-for all I know it just a troll review. But if someone can give me one or two concrete examples from the book, I’m bound to put more faith in what they’re saying.

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    • Yeah, it’s definitely true that books are and can be problematic, but the way it can be handled sometimes doesn’t really help the case, if that makes sense? And, yeah! I understand ARC reviewers who have legitimate backing and have actually read it, but then random people who are like, “Here, read this person’s review,” make no sense to me. 😝

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  10. I really enjoyed this post!!
    I don’t think that people should really rate a book before they’ve read it, not matter whether that rating is positive or negative. I think that it’s not a true reflection of the book.
    BUT to be honest, I think that reviews are much more helpful about funding out whether the book was good or not because (I know that even for myself) 3/5 stars can mean one thing to someone, but something TOTALLY different for someone else! Even I change up what a 4/5 star book is from book to book!
    I see both sides of the discussion, but I personally don’t really see the point of rating the book before you’ve (in general) read it.

    Great discussion topic!

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  11. Well for me it’s a no brainer: don’t give ratings if you have not read it! It’s not fair. I always try to give my honest opinion whan I read a book. I would never give 5 stars if I did not love it even if I got the ARC and would never bash an author either. So it’s a big no!

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  12. Oh my gosh, I thought it was just me who was annoyed by this! I didn’t even realize there was a debate, so thanks for this discussion!! I’ve never completely understood why people rate books before reading them. It never fails to confuse me for a few seconds when I look up a book that I KNOW hasn’t been released yet and there’s already a bunch of ratings. Did I miss something? Is it out already??

    It bothers me less when it’s done out of excitement. If people are excited and positive in their early reviews it can get me excited about reading the book too. But when people do it to warn others or make a statement I start getting annoyed. At least TRY to read the book first before forming opinions about it. Reading a two paragraph synopsis is not enough reason to give it a hateful early review. Most authors leave out a lot of information in their synopsis so they won’t give anything away. Plus, they can be purposely misleading in order to shock the reader later. Definitely not my cup of tea and I normally stay far away from early reviews.

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    • Yeah, that makes sense! I mean, I’m completely okay with people who receive ARCs who say that a book is problematic and write a review about it – that’s perfectly fine and an informed opinion based off of what you read. I think that people who just read that review and then say it’s fact aren’t really helping whatsoever. I agree that excitement bothers me much less than pure hate. 😬

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  13. I don’t think you can/should rate a book if you haven’t read it. You can say I don’t think it’ll be good or I don’t want to read it or I think it’ll be awesome – but you really can’t/shouldn’t rate a book if you haven’t bothered to read it!

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  14. I absolutely hate it when people rate books without reading them. I hate it even more when it’s a popular booktuber who uses their fame to hurt a book they haven’t read. It is incredibly frustrating and annoying when you’re trying to find a book to read, turn to the reviews and find reviews on the very top from people who haven’t read the damn book.

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  15. I personally don’t rate books before I’ve read them and I honestly don’t understand why people do. I even get rubbed the wrong way whenever people make shelves on Goodreads with names like “never-going-to-read-ever” because I feel like it’s unnecessary to do that. But even the people who do that don’t actually rate or review the book unless they’ve actually read it.

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  16. i think one should definitely read a book before judging it. i wouldn’t ever choose to not read a book just because someone didn’t like it. i would read it and form my own opinion on the book. there are books i don’t think i will like so i just don’t read them (like twilight); but i wouldn’t tell someone else not to read it because i think it’s horrible when i haven’t ever even read it!

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  17. I feel it shouldn’t be allowed, as a person wanting to read the boom might decide against it due the rating it’s been given, and when the rating is based on no judgement, then it’s the author that suffers!

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  18. In my opinion, things are being taken waaaay too far these days. I am all for pointing out problematic stereotypes and stuff in books, but how could you judge something you haven’t even read?
    Another huge problem seems to be people slamming problematic characters even when they’re supposed to be problematic; its just part of the story and who their character is. For example, I saw a ton of people saying ‘Highly Illogical Behavior’ was a problematic book because one of the characters is trying to get close to an autistic character so that she can use him for a project because she wants to work in psychology. Is this problematic Behavior? Absolutely, but that’s what the book is about. Her learning that what she did was wrong and having to deal with the consequences of it. I still hated her character, but having a shitty character does not make it a terrible book.
    That is why I take note of what people have to say about these types of things, but I still want to read it for myself to see what the deal is. Sometimes it’s overexaggerated and sometimes it’s not. It all depends on who’s review I’m reading and whether I trust their judgement or not. I would still never review a book before I’ve read even a little bit of it, though. It’s ridiculous.

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    • Yes, I have a huge issue with this, just as much as I have an issue with a character saying something problematic, and now all of a sudden, I can never read this book ever. I saw it happen with Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner. I heard it was great in the grief front, but someone said that a character made a joke about suicide, therefore making it problematic. But, I mean, high schoolers make jokes about suicide? People make jokes about suicide? It’s not right, but to portray accuracy is not problematic, nor does it discredit everything before and after it.

      Yeah, I agree! There are certain reviewers where if they say a book is problematic, I know it’s probably a bit overdramatic, and I’m less likely to believe them. 😝

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  19. First of all, I think it’s the person’s choice if they rate a book before reading it.

    Though, in my opinion, I don’t think it’s a good idea to judge it before even reading it. Because how would they even know if it’s bad or not if they themselves haven’t read it? Yeah, some may say that a certain friend didn’t like this book or that book. But, the things is, we have different tastes in reading, so we have different opinions on books. (And I actually relate to this one…)

    So I really think that we should read the book first before rating it. Just the thought of it doesn’t make it look fair to the other readers who read a certain book and gave a real, personal opinion about it. And isn’t the content much more important than the book cover (if this was the case). So I think we should give every book a chance to be read before rating them.

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    • That’s true, we all had different opinions on books! I mean, I sometimes feel that I read a totally different book than another person did, but that’s the beauty of reading! πŸ˜„

      I agree! Content and context is important, and I feel like if you’re going to claim a book has something, KNOW that it has something yourself.

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  20. Ugh, rating books before you read them is such a tricky topic?? Because really, it isn’t fair that positive ratings are viewed as “okay” when they’re protesting something. Like it’s great that they’re trying to bring the rating up, but it’s almost hypocrisy. But — if people didn’t negatively rate books, the protest ratings wouldn’t be a problem. Which is why PEOPLE NEED TO STOP RATING BOOKS BEFORE THEY READ THEM IN GENERAL UGH.

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  21. I’m all for people sharing their opinions on books, but I don’t understand the point of rating a book you haven’t even read. It doesn’t sound like it would give a very informed opinion. Synopses can be so vague and misleading sometimes, so it’s hard to know how a book will be until you actually give it a fair chance.

    I don’t even think it matters whether the review in advance is positive or negative. I like reviews that can comment on specifics about the book (without spoilers), and that’s just not possible when you haven’t read it yet. A 5 star review that says “So and so is my favourite author and I love everything they write” is just as unhelpful to me as a 1 star review about how someone hates the author or genre.

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  22. honestly? I think it’s wrong to rate something that you haven’t read before.

    Although it can signify excitement for a book, why not just leave a review mentioning how excited you are??

    I also think that it was wrong for people for rate maggie’s book one-star JUST BECAUSE she is white and because it’s about a marginalized group. If you haven’t read it before, you don’t know if the representation is good or bad.

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  23. I’m glad you pointed out about minorities not being monolith, because I’ve seen people protest a book or even a movie on behalf of the entire group.

    Generally, I don’t think it’s right to rate a book before it has been read. I mean, in relation to bloggers, as a book blogger you rate and/or review books based on your opinions of it. So how can you form a proper opinion without having read the book? It’s not enough to rate books based on the authors and synopsis alone. Even so, it’s unfair to rate books, whether negatively or positively, before having read them. It’s misleading.

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  24. I don’t think you should rate a book before you’ve read it. I find the issue problematic because if you are giving it a positive rating, you’re promoting a book you haven’t read even if it is by an author you love. If it’s a negative rating, isn’t that just bullying in a way? Because yes, the book may be problematic but shouldn’t someone who has read the book be the judge of that, not you, someone who hasn’t?

    As for a minority group not being monolith, I agree with you so much on this. Just because one person from that group thinks this doesn’t mean a second person thinking that is any less valid, people are going to have different opinions.

    This is a really thoughtful discussion, thanks!

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