HOW I RATE BOOKS: A Rubric for Star Ratings


On a scale of one to five . . .

Some of you have asked me how I rate the books I review. You know, those little stars at the top. How do I decide how many?

That’s a very good—and very important—question, since stars have a big impact on a book’s life and pathway out there in the wild world.

In the old days, I rarely gave a book five stars. A true ratings miser, I only lit all five of those pointy little celestial bodies when everything about the book was blow-me-off-my-feet, stick-with-me-forever marvelous beyond description. After all, how could I put any book in the same category as To Kill A Mockingbird? Back then, if you suggested I pin that coveted five-star rating on a lesser novel, I just couldn’t do it.

If I’m honest, I also have to admit that I liked feeling that little surge of power as I sat on my desk chair throne, my index finger hovering like a scepter over that star bar. It was way, way too easy for me to slap two or three stars on a book—an evaluation often based on arbitrary judgments not about the book’s quality, but about whether or not the book served my tastes or needs or interests or opinions. I gave little consideration to whether or not I was harming a solidly written book’s trajectory, or if I was being unneccessarily harsh with an author who didn’t see things like I did or who didn’t write in a style or genre I preferred.

I blush just thinking about it.

And I remember a kid I knew in high school, who used to say to anyone getting a little too big for their britches, “Who died and made you God?”

Later, I went to writing conferences and joined writing groups, where I connected with fellow writers at all stages in their publishing journeys. I saw firsthand their devotion to craft, and the diligent, often solitary and gut-wrenching efforts they put into their books. They dug deep and worked hard—often for years on a single project. As my awe and respect for them grew, I ditched that scepter and instead yearned to give them ALL five stars . . . A+ for effort, every single one.

One problem swapped for another—obviously. Not a bit helpful to readers, or advertisers, or influencers who count on star ratings to guide their choices and recommendations. And it sure didn’t help those hard-working writers of good books when I hurt their ratings with star stinginess, or when I instead coddled the authors whose books weren’t yet ready for market.

So, after researching protocols and advice from a variety of seasoned reviewers and book bloggers, here’s what I do now:

I neither skimp on stars nor slather them, and I try to assign stars according to consistent standards. A grading scale I found on helped me a lot. It made sense to me (a former teacher), and agreed with what I found on other respected sites. Here’s what that top book blogger wrote:



5 STARS is an A, A-, or even a B+. This means you enjoyed the book. It fulfilled the measure of its creation. The 5-star novel was enjoyable, didn’t have any major plot holes, and the writing was good enough that you’d recommend it as a nice read. Five stars doesn’t mean the book has to be the best you’ve ever read, or even better than the last one you reviewed. It just has to be a good novel.

 4 STARS is a B, B-, or even a C+ novel. The 4-star rating is for novels that you liked but had at least one issue with. A plot hole that disturbed your reading enough that you didn’t enjoy the overall story. Maybe a few too many typos. Too much repetition. But you still found the story compelling enough to read in a short time and you enjoyed it. The novel doesn’t have to be the best one you’ve read in the genre, it just has to hold your attention. 

3 STARS is a C or a C-. So only average or NEUTRAL. You neither liked it or disliked it. This really is the kiss of death rating. The “okay” novel. If you give a novel this rating, there should be SERIOUS issues because, remember, many advertisers won’t accept novels with this overall rating. So the 3-star novel should be one you didn’t feel compelled to finish, or one whose overall plot didn’t quite make sense (and you feel wouldn’t make sense to others). This is a novel that you wouldn’t recommend unless it was the only thing someone had to read and they were stuck in an airport for two hours. 

2 STARS is a D or a D-. This is a novel that has at least three major negative issues and you feel these issues will prevent others from enjoying it at all. 

1 STAR means F. The author completely and utterly failed. You hated it totally and absolutely. That means there was no plot, it was riddled with grammar errors, and everything about it was boring, boring, boring. The author should throw the book away. Never give an author a one-star review unless you feel they really should give up writing and get a job at the local grocery instead.


I like this rubric, and though it’s tailored for Amazon, and for fiction, for consistency’s sake I use it on every site to which I post a star-rated review. It’s as objective as an assessment of “enjoyable” can be 😆, speaks to a book’s overall quality, and keeps my opinions about a single element in a book from swaying my star-rating.

Also, if my rating falls between stars, I always round UP, never down.

My written review then elaborates on whatever elements of the story I’d like to focus on, as well as my feelings about the book’s content or style. If the book really wowed me, here’s where I can distinguish it from less wonderful 5 star books. If I give it 4 stars instead of 5, I say why.

Often, I won’t review a book. If you’ve tracked my reviews, you’ll notice that most have 4 or 5 star ratings, and I usually say pretty nice things about them. That’s because these days I don’t review books I can’t give 4 or 5 stars—and there are a lot of them. Some have so many issues that I simply choose not to finish them; others absolutely aren’t for me, for a variety of reasons; and others I quietly lay aside, sad that the author or her publisher delivered her potentially beautiful baby to the market before the book was ready for birth.

Sometimes, if an author still wants my thoughts about her work, I may review her 1-3 star book privately with her, in a manner that can help her improve her craft, or develop her ideas, or tap new information. I do it congenially, instead of waving a nasty scepter of rejection.

‘Nuff said. My TBR (To Be Read) pile could easily hide small dogs right now, and I’d better get to it.

Hope this helps your own review process.


Now a few pics I posted earlier this week:


Bit player, stage right. (See her? …the tiny bug on the petal?).”

I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.”

—Psalm 57:2


three-possums, nature-writer, new-book, sugar-birds-book

When mama possum leaves her kids by our gate for a sunbath.

baby-possum-feet-and-tail, nature-writing, new-book


Our dogs were heading their way, so I moved these little guys outside the fence . . .

where they trailed back to Mama.


Girl Holding Kitties, Nature Writer, New Book, Summer Reads, Book Club Books

When just-turned seven means all this.. . .

All this. 🧡


And in THREE DAYS, this Tuesday, August 3, Sugar Birds will arrive in paper, ebook, and audiobook!


If you’re local, please drop by Village Books in Lynden at noon on launch day! I’ll be signing books there, and would LOVE to see you IN PERSON!

Then, from 5 -6 pm PDT, will you come to Sugar Birds’s virtual launch party? You can watch it on Zoom or simply listen on your phone as author Maggie Wallem Rowe and I chat about the book. Click here to get your (free) ticket—and a copy of the book, if you haven’t already preordered one (or if you want another for a gift)!


Thanks for coming alongside me through all this book marketing stuff, friends. Your patience as the book consumes so much of my blog and SM space has been heartwarming, and I’m grateful for your kindness and support.


Watching Nature, Seeing Life: Through His Creation, God Speaks

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Love the outdoors? I can take you there. Rural & wild PNW posts and photos from a naturalist, faith writer, and author of three books, including the award-winning novel Sugar Birds. Member of Redbud Writers Guild.

6 thoughts on “HOW I RATE BOOKS: A Rubric for Star Ratings

  1. Is your just-turned-seven photo of your granddaughter Gwynie? She is adorable – what a great capture!

    And thanks for this very helpful rubric on reviews. I have felt guilty giving so many 4 and 5 star reviews, so this really validated that I don’t need to reserve 5 stars only for the very very best (like Sugar Birds!).


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that’s our sweet Gwynie. She sure lights up around those kittens! Interesting, after this post, to hear how many others also wrestle with review rankings. I’d sure rather veer to grace on the star ratings, then be specific in my written review. Would rather make the evaluation more of a discussion and not just a star brand of judgment.


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