Writer Wednesday: The Issue of Rating Systems
Hello authors and welcome to the middle of the week. Now, if you are a writer on twitter, you are by now well aware of how masochistic following the day to day happenings in the industry can be. It's exhausting and there is always something going on because we can't have nice things. There is currently a large discussion happening right now how the supply chain breakdown further affects debuts & marginalized authors, how publishing houses might exploit those numbers to those books don't sell in order to avoid shaking up the status quo, and that is a daunting pile of issues to poke at. However there was another blink and you'll miss it moment that happened yesterday with the blow up of YABookratings.com which I am not linking because as of this morning, the site no longer appears to exist.
Where It Went Sideways
Many, MANY, websites, blogs, review magazines and more have their own rating system. There is nothing wrong with a reader or a group of readers developing their own scale to rate books on. That is a reader's prerogative as reading is subjective and readers can seek out other readers to gauge if they may or may not like a book. A site like Goodreads exists for readers, not authors, which is why we constantly tell our author friends NOT to read their reviews. A book could land a 1 star or a 5 star review for entirely arbitrary reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the story. That is where rating systems for readers can personally be helpful, as it adds a caveat that weighs their review under their own standards. Rating systems are and should remain personal or in a set context like the steam rating a review site might use for romance, while having a secondary rating about the overall quality of the story. So where did YA Book Ratings go wrong? Well, for one, they aimed to monetize and standardize their proposed rating system. The trio behind YA Book Ratings did a send out to agents, asking them to rate their clients current & upcoming releases on their provided scale and offering to sell stickers to bookstores to put on the covers. This alone was an incredibly dodgy practice, especially trying to charge bookstores for a product that did not yet exist but the issue is further compounded when you look at the YA rating scale itself.
Why It Doesn't Work
There are immediate red flags that come up to this scale, especially in regards to stories that deal with discussions of varied sexualities. Would LGBTQ+ topics be roped into In-depth sexual topics? What constitutes justified violence? The profanity scale is questionable at best. Not to mention when some stories could contain a great deal of profanity and little else. The rating scale could easily be misconstrued to hurt marginalized stories that deal with important but difficult experiences. A tick box rating system misses the nuances present in a lot of YA novels.
An admittedly bad example to use but one to create a base comparison is that a scale like this would rate a story that glamorizes gang violence on the same scale as refugees fleeing a war torn country, because it would tick off the descriptions of violence/ language etc without taking the context of each story into consideration. What purpose does such a ratings scale serve at the buyer level other than dissuading a buyer from "risque" content? Young Adult fiction can masterfully explore incredibly heavy topics and provide a rippling culture effect. Forcing a rating scale into the genre beyond what the industry already does creates further boundaries for marginalized stories. Reading is not always a comfortable experience. It can be eye opening. It can push you beyond your known experience into a culture and mindset far different from your own. Reading the experiences of others outside of own gives us empathy and understanding. The rating scale here would force many stellar works into a higher rating, which has evident negative connotations, without looking at the piece contextually. There is nothing wrong with having a personal scale, but trying to force a subjective scale creates an exclusion dynamic that would only hinder the industry.