Is 3 Stars a Bad Rating These Days?

Rating books is always a bit subjective. Not everyone interprets the 5 star rating system the same (and there are plenty of people who don’t use it). The 5 stars is pretty easy as those are books you loved. You’d say the 1 star is the same but there is discussion on rating books you did not finish (which I personally think is up to everyone’s own judgement really).

This year I had a few 3 star ratings and had a few reactions along the line of ‘I am sorry you disliked this‘ or ‘I am sorry you did not enjoy this‘.  It sparked with me the feeling of wonder because I did not recall rating the book that low and then when I checked it was 3 stars. And I started wondering when we started seeing 3 stars rating as something negative for a book.


When I hold the 5 star rating to how I got my grades back in college (from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest, 10 the highest and 5,5 being a passing grade) a 3 star rating might not be stellar but it certainly gets a passing grade.

1 star = 2 / 2 stars = 4 / 3 stars = 6 / 4 stars = 8 / 5 stars = 10


Getting a 6 (and I got a lot of those at some point in my life) is certainly not a bad thing. I know we all would like the books that we read or for authors the books that they worked so hard on, be 4 or 5 star ratings. But not every book can be outstanding to us. Sometimes books are just average. And that is okay. It doesn’t make it a negative rating in the sense that the book sucked.

Average means that it didn’t stand out but that it wasn’t a bad book either. It doesn’t mean dislike the book or that there was no enjoyment.

How Does That Work For Me?

Honestly I fall into the trap of perceiving 3 stars as a negative thing as well when I see others rating books 3 stars. Seeing a lot of 3 star ratings for a book I am anticipating makes me apprehensive to pick it up. Yet when I look closely at my own rating system I see 3 stars as an average rating the way that I mentioned above.

Often to me 3 star reads are either:

  1. Books that I had high expectations of that were not met
  2. Books that were not for me character or plot wise but still well written that I can other see really liking.
  3. I enjoyed reading it but it did not stand out.

I realize that when I see other people’s 3 star ratings I automatically assume that it is the first. That people are dissapointed or didn’t enjoy a book. This is a perception I’d like to change for myself.

When it comes down to it I still often recommend books that are 3 star reads for me because I realize very well that what doesn’t nessecarily work for me can easily work for someone else. So why should I be held back from picking up a book because I see it getting a lot of 3 star reads?

18 thoughts on “Is 3 Stars a Bad Rating These Days?

  1. I don’t even know what ratings mean anymore. I hate how much weight everyone puts on ratings because they ARE completely subjective, and everyone has different meanings for them. For me, 3 stars often means what your second definition was. I didn’t really like, but other people might. But those books I enjoyed that didn’t stand out, I give those 3.5 stars. But honestly, all my ratings mean all different things. So one 3 star book might be one I really disliked, another might be one I enjoyed enough to continue the series. *shrugs*

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  2. One of the ones that doesn’t use ratings here. I give a book a try to see if it’s for me or not. Ratings are subjective to taste and people might miss out on something they might like if they don’t give it a try themselves.

    That said, I do rate them for future reference but that’s only for myself.

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  3. That’s such a cool discussion idea! ❤ I’m not really sure how I feel about 3 stars – it can mean a lot of things for me, it was either not meh enough for two stars, but not good enough for four stars, or I really loved the pace of the story, but not the characters (or the other way around), there were some issues that were somewhat redeemed, but not in a way that pleased me enough. Yeah, it’s a something in the middle rating.
    I think it is quite subjective and a three stars rating can be bad for someone and quite good for someone else. It all comes up to the reviewer.
    Lovely post! ❤

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  4. I have been thinking about ratings a lot recently. I stopped using them but now I am toying with them again. I feel bad giving someone a three star rating but it isn’t a bad score. A lot of times it’s because the book hasn’t worked for me. The guilt comes from how it might be perceived by others.

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  5. Two stars is not a good read for me. Three stars meant it was an enjoyable, perfectly good read but not one I would want to reread (as opposed to 4 stars) and that had a few elements that I had remarks on but same as you, it’s not a really negative rating would make me say you shouldn’t read it. I think most people want those books that really stand out so probably that’s why they comment like this.

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  6. I use a 7-star rating system on my blog. The range of five was just not quite enough for me. For me, a 3-star book (4ish stars in my system) means it is a good book and I enjoyed it, but I did not love it. Nothing wrong with that! I always marvel at people absolutely slating a book and then giving it 3 stars. Why not give it 1 or 2 stars if you don’t like it that much? It’s a mystery to me!

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  7. It really is subjective. I do think 3 stars is actually not a negative rating at all. To me, it’s when the book is a mixed bag. In my head, I see it as a book that has an equal number of pros and cons. Sometimes, the book doesn’t resonate with me but I still understand its importance to the book community. Queens of Geek is an example of this as well as The Sun is Also a Star. It also happens with books like the Grisha trilogy that had some awesome characters but then it had a romance that made me angry.

    I do think that people are expecting extremes: either you go with a 5-star rating or a 1-star rating. We could use a little nuance and complexity toward the rating process. Plus, I can’t even explain the stress of rating something “wrong.” It keeps me nervous always.

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  8. I agree with you that it is average. I mean, technically, it is above average, right? Since right in the middle would be 2.5? So for me, it means I liked more than I didn’t like, but I also wasn’t exactly blown away by it. I think the reason people have started seeing 3s as negative is mostly because we don’t SEE a ton of 1 and 2 star reviews, so 3 maybe sounds bad by comparison to the 5s? That’s really the only explanation I can think of! Because yeah, I’d definitely recommend a 3 star book (and have!), so I am with you!

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  9. So…3 stars on my scale means I liked it, lol. If I regularly follow/read a blogger, I feel like I get a sense of how s/he rates and can determine more from a star rating. Otherwise, I have to read the review to figure out the reader’s actual feelings (or visit an explanatory rating system page if s/he has one).

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  10. Yeah, I think most of the time for me 3 stars just means that the book didn’t stand out. It wasn’t BAD, but it wasn’t great either. When there are SO many books to read, though, a not-great book can seem not worth my time. So if I see a lot of 3-star reviews I might give a book a pass.

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  11. You’re so right and I also fall in the trap of seeing 3 star ratings and thinking of them as negative. Like it’ll make me hesitate to pick up a book I want to read if I see quite some 3 star reviews. But it’s true that it is still a good score, it’s still above average and there could be so many reasons why it didn’t score higher that are completely personal to the reviewer. Definitely gonna try to be more perceptive about this 🙂

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  12. To me 3 stars can mean a lot of things. For me it usually means meh, but it can also mean a good story but the author used too many crutches, or it was a good story, but the ending was crap. Ha ha, which isn’t really bad. I read a meh review about a book and the description sounded great to me and I ended up giving it five stars. The way Amazon describes their stars even two stars is still “good”. 😏

    I will say one thing. I cringe every time I see someone commenting that star ratings are completely subjective. They shouldn’t be. If a story is well written and functions well within its genre it shouldn’t be given a bad rating just because the reader doesn’t like space station settings, or Fantasies without fairies, or any other personal taste type thing. I’m not saying reviews can’t be colored by personal likes or dislikes, but it shouldn’t be the difference between five and two stars, or even four and two stars. That’s ridiculous. Ugh. 😒

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  13. If you see a 3-star rating from me, you can be sure that I don’t recommend it. 😂 While I do agree with you that there’s nothing wrong with an average book, my time is so limited that I often regret not DNF’ing books that are only 3-star reads. Maybe that’s ridiculous, and maybe I’d get bored if I only had 4- and 5-star reads, but I don’t know. In April I only had one novella that I rated under 4 stars!

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  14. For me, a 3 star book is a book that didn’t have anything I really disliked, it’s just a book that wasn’t able to excited me in any way. Often those are books that have a story that I have read a thousand times already and don’t add anything new. I liked them, but would I recommend them if someone asked me to recommend me a book? Probably not.

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  15. I’m right with you. 3 stars means I liked it but it was missing a spark to make me love it or I had a few issues. I kind of went right with what Goodreads stated for that one but it sucks because Amazon is a little different and their 3 stars is more like ‘okay’ and in line with my 2 stars.

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  16. Ik blijf die sterren-beoordelingen moeilijk vinden. Ze zeggen op zich gewoon veel te weinig. Boeken die ik drie sterren geef heb ik doorgaans immers graag gelezen alleen sprongen ze er niet echt tussenuit ten op zichte van andere verhalen. Het zijn doorgaans ook boeken die ik niet meer zal herlezen. Maar dat betekent uiteraard niet dat ik er die ene keer dat ik ze las niet van genoten heb.

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