Is the book community becoming disenchanted with Goodreads?
For Bethany Baptiste, Molly X Chang, KM Enright, Thea Guanzon, Danielle L Jensen, Akure Phénix, RM Virtues and Frances White, it must have been brutal reading. All received scathing reviews on Goodreads, an online platform that reputedly has the power to make or break new authors.
However, the judgments were not given by a reputable literature reviewer. They were crafted by Cait Corrain, a new author who utilized fraudulent profiles to negatively impact her perceived competitors’ reviews. As a result of this literary controversy, Corrain issued an apology, was released by her agent, and had her book contract terminated.
The findings also brought to light significant concerns surrounding Goodreads, which is considered by many to be the top platform for readers to share book reviews. The site has a significant influence on the publishing industry, with its users having written 26 million reviews and given 300 million ratings in the last year, according to their October report. However, some writers have experienced a negative and harmful work environment on the site, which can negatively impact their book’s success even before it is released.
Bethanne Patrick, a critic, author, and podcaster, explains that Goodreads holds significant sway due to its wide reach beyond the New York publishing scene. Publishers, agents, authors, and readers all turn to the site to gauge popular trends and interests. Its impact on the book and reading community in the United States is substantial, perhaps even more so than some may desire.
Users on Goodreads have the ability to review books that have not yet been published. Publishers often give early copies to readers in exchange for online reviews, with the intention of creating buzz. However, in October, Goodreads recognized the importance of safeguarding the credibility of ratings and reviews. They encouraged users to report any content or actions that violate their guidelines.
Earlier this year, Goodreads introduced a feature that allows users to temporarily restrict the submission of ratings and reviews for a book in response to unusual activity that goes against their guidelines. This includes instances of “review bombing”, which is not acceptable on Goodreads and damages the community’s confidence in participating individuals.
The platform has faced criticism in the past for its handling of online comments. In the summer of last year, author Elizabeth Gilbert delayed the release of her historical novel set in Siberia due to backlash from numerous users. The book had not yet been published and was deemed insensitive as it coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sarah Stusek, the writer, seemed displeased when a Goodreads member, Karleigh Kebartas, rated her first book Three Rivers with four stars instead of five and mentioned that the conclusion was somewhat foreseeable, but overall it was exceptional. Stusek scolded Kebartas on TikTok, receiving backlash and ultimately leading to her publisher dropping her.
Corrain confessed to using various fake names to negatively review books on Goodreads. She publicly apologized on Instagram, citing her struggles with mental illness and substance abuse as contributing factors to her behavior.
Corrain’s own novel Crown of Starlight had been scheduled to come out next year through Del Rey, a science fiction and fantasy imprint of Penguin Random House. Both Del Rey and Corrain’s agent, Becca Podos, announced last week that they would no longer work with Corrain, who had a two-book deal.
Patrick, who is located in McLean, Virginia, expresses his opinion by stating that the person was not telling the truth and was intentionally being unkind. He believes that this action goes beyond ethical norms and into the realm of unhealthy behavior.
According to Patrick, reputable publications like the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have strict standards for their journalists and reviewers. However, Goodreads does not have similar oversight. This issue highlights the ongoing problems that have given Goodreads a poor reputation among critics and why individuals like myself tend to avoid it.
I am not acquainted with anyone who devotes significant time on Goodreads. My fellow writer acquaintances actively avoid the platform due to the presence of unpleasant content. It appears to be thoughtless and malicious. While there are also negative comments on Amazon, Goodreads has seen a noticeable increase in such behavior in recent years.
Patrick avoided Goodreads when she released her memoir, Life B: Overcoming Double Depression, because it focuses on mental illness and mental health. She wanted to maintain her stability and well-being during the book launch, so she purposely stayed away from the platform.
I am aware of individuals who experience six months of intense anxiety, depression, or loss of control while obsessively trying to perfect everything. Goodreads, in its current form and usage, can be used in a harmful manner as everything becomes a tool. Therefore, I believe it would be beneficial to have more supervision of the platform.
The creators of Goodreads did not have a background in literary critique. In 2007, Otis Chandler, a computer programmer, and Elizabeth Khuri, an assistant style editor for the Los Angeles Times’s Sunday magazine (the two were married in 2008), launched the site. Amazon acquired Goodreads in 2013 and it is now touted as the largest website for readers and book suggestions.
However, just like in other areas of the internet, the absence of gatekeepers brings both freedom and fear. While it offers the potential for collective knowledge, it also creates an unregulated environment. There are growing concerns about Goodreads being manipulated and its potential to ruin careers before they even begin.
Shelly Romero, a self-employed editor and writer residing in New York, highlights that the majority of the new authors whose books were criticized by Corrain on Goodreads were individuals of non-white ethnicity, who already face challenges in getting their work published.
According to Romero, who is 29 years old, the absence of moderation creates an opportunity for review bombing. This means that any review can be posted, which can be beneficial as it allows a variety of opinions and perspectives to be seen. However, without proper moderation, this can be abused and negatively affect authors from marginalized communities, specifically those who are Bipoc and queer.
She adds, “When the author identifies as queer, critiques often label the book as unsuitable due to its inclusion of topics such as homosexuality and sex. This is despite it being categorized as a middle grade book, which some believe is not suitable for 12-year-olds. Similarly, works by Black authors are frequently singled out and branded as political, woke, or too mature simply because the author and main characters are Black. These stories may just be a typical fantasy tale.”
“These particular focused promotions on Goodreads do not instill much confidence in the majority of industry professionals, nor does it hold much significance. It has been referred to as a necessary evil, and I tend to agree, although we could potentially reduce our reliance on it.”
Goodreads refutes any accusations of ignoring the difficulties. In a statement, they state: “We are committed to upholding the credibility and honesty of ratings and safeguarding our community of readers and writers. We have established review and community guidelines, and we take action against reviews or accounts that violate these guidelines.”
However, the constant flow of conflicts and scandals may be having an impact. Certain individuals in the publishing industry believe that Goodreads’ significance is diminishing.
According to Courtney Maum, the writer of Before and After the Book Deal, she has traditionally released five books. When she first began, her publisher placed a strong emphasis on receiving positive reviews on Goodreads and encouraging readers to engage by giving away many advance review copies and galleys on the platform.
“I initially believed that this was just another aspect of the publishing industry that I was not familiar with. I became a part of it when my first book was released in 2013-14, but I did not enjoy being in it. Additionally, I find the platform to be unappealing in terms of aesthetics, giving off a Dell computer vibe in a world dominated by Apple.”
Maum, 45, who is currently in Litchfield, Connecticut, states that she does not read Goodreads reviews of her books. She believes that the atmosphere on the site is negative and unproductive. She doubts that publishers in the future will continue to rely heavily on Goodreads, as there is a lot of useless content on the platform.
“Over the past few years, due to the numerous controversies on Goodreads, it has become clear to publishers that this platform cannot be fully relied upon. I personally know many individuals who have experienced serious harassment on Goodreads. From persistent stalkers who would intentionally give negative reviews to their enemies, such as ex-partners, it was all too easy for trolls to target and criticize people on Goodreads.”
In recent years, agents and publishers have placed a lot of importance on this, but for a long time, authors have been expressing their concerns about its lack of safety and protection. It remains a chaotic environment.