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GoodReads or BadFeelings?

I’m a little slow, so it took me some time to come to this conclusion:

It’s GoodREADS, not GoodWRITES.

For readers, the site is a playground, where you can review your favorite books, bash the ones you hated, and connect with other readers.

For writers, it’s a pit of giddy/sad/giggly/nauseous feelings.

As an author, I honestly do comprehend that my book is NOT everyone’s cup of tea. But as a new author, it was hard not to check reviews as they started trickling in to GoodReads. I mean, come on! It was THRILLING to see people – strangers! – out in the world reading MY BOOK. A collection of words that came out of my head, got put in order on the page, rearranged for months and years, got judged and rejected, and eventually received the ultimate reward: praise and publication!

I would see a four- or five-star rating or review and get that giddy feeling of validation: “I’m a great writer!” Then I would see the three-star reviews, and feel a little deflated: “Okay, I’m just, you know, okay.” Then I would see the one- and two-star reviews and, depending on my mood, want to cry, throw up, or crack heads.

I joined GoodReads during my bright-eyed newbie author phase … forgetting that I’m no longer just a reader. I cannot blithely rate the work of my colleagues. I know exactly how hard it is to write a book. I will not reduce authors’ months and years of hard work to a number of stars.

It seems like more experienced authors – Sara Zarr, Mary Pearson, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and John Green, for example – already had this figured out. They do not rate or review books on GoodReads. Their profiles exist on the site, but they are not active users. They do plenty to promote authors on their own blogs.

I took an informal poll of author friends about how they feel about GoodReads. Here are their responses – we'll start with a funny one:

Cyn Balog
Goodreads continues to make me miserable almost daily. I can't go a week without checking to see how far my rating has slipped. Then I go and check out the one and two star reviews to see what nasty things people have to say about me. Then I go and try to determine why a person who is supposedly my friend gave me four stars when they should obviously give me five. Are they just pretending to like me? Then I try to hunt down people who gave my book 5 stars and see whether they just do it for everyone. Then I curse people who gave my book a bad rating and yet say they didn't finish it. Then I compare readers' ratings for other books to mine to see what books they liked more than mine. Then I perform scientific experiments to see how long I can remain on Goodreads before the vein on the side of my head starts to turn blue.

Stacey Jay (excerpted from a recent blog post)
There are days when I open up my email to an endless stream of blechk, when I doubt I'll have the energy to meet my many deadlines after taking care of sick kids for five weeks straight, or when some hateful comment on GoodReads makes me start my morning with a good, snotty cry.

Sydney Salter
I never look at my own books' ratings or reviews, and I'm not even tempted to peek--I guess because I know I have so little control over who reads my book, and no control over whether they like it or not.

I do feed my blog to Goodreads and I enjoy getting comments and talking books with fellow readers. I guess I'm one of the few pro-GoodReads authors.

Nova Ren Suma
I've been hovering over the delete button on GoodReads for months—and yesterday I finally did it. I deleted my account. Why? I do care what readers think about my book, but seeing the numeral judgment every time I logged in made me cringe. It made me reluctant to see the ratings on books I've read and love. It made me never want to rate another book I've read ever again. My decision to delete my account came as I stand here in this in-between, admittedly insecure, moment: I've just finished writing a new book. I love this book; I've never been more excited about anything I've written in my life so far. The idea of one faraway day in 2011 seeing its value reduced to a 3.925, or whatever rating I'll find myself having this time, is not something I'm looking forward to. We are judged enough as writers—by submissions, by reviews, by friends and family, and, in my case, mostly by myself. To stay creative, and to keep up the confidence needed to push myself in my writing, it helps me NOT to see these judgments every day. I had to face the fact that, for me, being on GoodReads was hurting my writing more than helping. So I deleted my account yesterday. And I have to say: It feels good.

Anonymous
I deleted my account ages ago. I hatehatehatehatehate it!!! I got in trouble with not one, but TWO friends for pushing buttons I didn't know I pushed, I got countless emails I didn't want, people there are MEAN. I cannot speak badly enough about Goodreads!!

Malinda Lo (excerpted from a blog post)
The problem isn’t that my book is getting reviewed. Reviews are good and useful things — for readers. I used to write reviews, in fact, when I worked at AfterEllen. But after writing Ash, I realized that there is so much work that goes into writing a book. Sometimes I get a little annoyed by reviews that seem to flippantly dismiss the characterization in a novel, or declare that the pacing was slow, or whatever. Because yes, these things may be true, but now I know just how many hours of labor went into creating a character, or in attempting to rectify a pacing problem, and, you know, I can’t help but wonder if the reviewer understands that.

Jennifer R. Hubbard (from her GoodReads profile)
I find it difficult to rate books with stars, or to review friends' books. Therefore, I don't list reviews or ratings here. Rather, if I like an author's work, I will become a GoodReads fan and list him/her as a "favorite author" here.

Lisa Schroeder
I’ve found it a great way to connect with readers, and I can actually see people adding books to their To-Read lists after I’ve reviewed them.

Michelle Zink
If I give one author's book four stars and another five, will the one with the four hate me forever and agonize over why it was four instead of five (I never give less than a four or I just don't put it up). Will the authors of books I've loved but haven't posted reviews for because of time constraints read something more insidious into my lack of review?


-----


My finger has hovered over the “Delete” button for weeks. But instead of getting rid of my account entirely, I’m going to go mostly inactive.

I used to post a list of Top Ten Books at the end of each year before I was published; I only mentioned books by people I had never met (online or in person). That way there was no question of bias. Maybe I will employ that policy on GoodReads. I really do love to gush about great books – you want as many people as possible to experience that swoony feeling you get with a beautiful book … even though, sometime, you discover it's not really their cup of tea.

Comments

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latteya
Mar. 15th, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
I stopped reading my Goodreads reviews about a week after my first novel came out. Someone not only trashed my book, but insinuated I was also a bad teacher, mother, and wife. In the same week, my book also got a star from PW, but guess which one I thought about more?
lkmadigan
Mar. 15th, 2010 07:36 pm (UTC)
It's so true, Stephanie!

I had a bunch of positive reviews a couple of months ago, but the one that stayed foremost in my mind was from a librarian who said she didn't think many teens would enjoy my book.

Ow.

At least she didn't criticize my marriage and motherhood!
cynleitichsmith
Mar. 15th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
An Open Love Note to Debut Authors About Hurtful Online Reviews
Great post! In case it helps, last year in particular, I heard from several new voices (and a couple of more seasoned ones) who were very upset about online reviews on various outlets, and wrote this in response: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2009/10/open-love-note-to-debut-authors-about.html
lkmadigan
Mar. 15th, 2010 07:37 pm (UTC)
Re: An Open Love Note to Debut Authors About Hurtful Online Reviews
I love that post so, so much. And now I have the link here - yay! - I can return to it whenever I need.

Thank you, Wonderwoman.

xo
(Deleted comment)
lkmadigan
Mar. 15th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
I think every six months seems like the perfect schedule!
ex_kmessner
Mar. 15th, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
I'm in the minority here, but I really like GoodReads - maybe because I guess I use it more as a teacher/reader than I do as an author. I love talking about books - I only recommend ones I really like and give them all five stars, and I make no apologies for that, even though some people think it's cheating. As a writer, I do look at the reviews that my books get, but I tend to take those in stride somehow.

But mostly I use it as a reader, and I love getting book suggestions.
kimberleylittle
Mar. 15th, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC)
I, for one, love your reviews, Kate, because they are very thoughtful and well-written - and let me know about books I may otherwise miss. Please keep it up! :-)
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(no subject) - lkmadigan - Mar. 15th, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
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kimberleylittle
Mar. 15th, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC)
I am a fairly new Goodreads subscriber, but am finding some of that angst on there as my book approaches publication date. Everyone makes valid points about how Goodreads works and the reasons to write reviews of other's books or *not* to write reviews at all or give everyone 5 stars. It's enough to make a girl crazy!

My upcoming book doesn't have many people signed up to read it, and I've only received two reviews so far because ARCs are only just now going out, but I was very puzzled by the first review (only 3 stars) because the reviewer gave a brief synopsis of the storyline, but no opinion whatsoever. I have no idea what her thoughts were about the book or why she rated it 3 stars. And WHY do we all think 3 stars is so terrible? It actually means "I liked it." And yet, 3 out of 5 *sounds* so bad. Hair-pulling, isn't it?!?!
mindiscott
Mar. 15th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
And WHY do we all think 3 stars is so terrible? It actually means "I liked it." And yet, 3 out of 5 *sounds* so bad.

That's part of why I've stopped giving ratings. Three is my most honest opinion in many cases. It truly is a compliment according to the system Goodreads has set up. But I know that some writers don't always take it as such so I kept second guessing myself.
(no subject) - lkmadigan - Mar. 15th, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
brainbliss
Mar. 15th, 2010 03:30 pm (UTC)
I, honestly, have been to GoodReads once or twice. And both times it was to trash a book anonymously, of course... (kidding) However, this post brings up something I haven't had to struggle with... reviews. I know I'm going to be pulled to them like a tractor beam on the Death Star (yeah, I just went there.) And I know some will make me want to go all ninja (bad). Others will make me want to write parenthetical sentences (humor).

The beauty of the internet is also the problem - most people would never walk up to an author and be like, "Your book made me want to off myself." On the internet? Well, maybe it's a little easier to spit out some poison.

Point of this comment? I have no idea. So, I'll just say: "Good post!"

Bryan
lkmadigan
Mar. 15th, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks for commenting, Bryan! One day you, too, will be faced with the dilemma: To GoodReads or not to GoodReads?

barbaradee2
Mar. 15th, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
GoodReads drives me crazy when readers write that they totally loved one of my books, it was the best, funniest, truest thing they ever read...and then give it four stars. Or three. Somehow you never get readers who bestow five heartwarming stars and then write a weirdly inconsistent comment like "Eh. It was okay."
lkmadigan
Mar. 15th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
I think there are some people who use the "only 3 stars no matter what" strategy the same way others use "only 5 stars."
mindiscott
Mar. 15th, 2010 04:04 pm (UTC)
I recently spent over an hour removing the ratings on my GoodReads list. For now, I've decided that I will continue to add books as I read them just to keep a record, but I won't rate them and I won't review them.

It was a hard decision, but I am a part of our community of YA writers and it just wasn't making sense for me to keep using Goodreads to rate books written by people who are now my friends.
lkmadigan
Mar. 15th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
I agree ... so far I've just been too lazy to do that!
ophelialaughs
Mar. 15th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
I don't have a novel published (at least not yet), but I only use Goodreads to track the books I'm reading. I hope no author ever feels a moment's despair because I didn't give the right number of stars. Three stars is good, and five is a rare thing indeed. I hate that so many mini-press authors have added me there to try to sell me their un- or under-edited books. I only pay attention to recommendations from people I know.

I don't believe in book bashing, and when people say they threw a book against the wall, I see red. If I don't like a book, I send it on. Maybe the next person will love it, and that author will have a new fan. This is what I hope people will do with my books if they don't like them.

I really and truly wish more people would grasp that their taste in books reveals nothing about their value as people, or the value of the tale.
lisa_schroeder
Mar. 15th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
I LOVE this: "I really and truly wish more people would grasp that their taste in books reveals nothing about their value as people, or the value of the tale."

There are LOTS of different kinds of books on the shelves because there are LOTS of different kinds of readers. It's impossible to write something everyone will like. I wish some people didn't feel the need to be so mean about it, but honestly, when I see a mean review, I think badly of the reviewer, not of the book!
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lisa_schroeder
Mar. 15th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
But see, for those of us like Kate, Jo and I who are rating only books we like, I think we ARE supporting the authors. I don't seek any followers out on goodreads anymore - they find me, and a lot of them are teens. So if I can bring attention to a great book like BLUE PLATE SPECIAL that many teens don't know about by giving it 5 stars and giving a rave review, so my followers see that, isn't that a good thing? And Kate is a teacher and an amazing author, and has many followers, so if she reads a book and writes a thoughtful review, people notice!

I get what you're saying though, Mary. My policy is be nice or shut up. So if I can't say something nice, I won't. And I do believe strongly that all authors should have a similar policy, because we DO know how hard it is, and we also know how awful it feels to be on the other side of a negative review.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - lkmadigan - Mar. 15th, 2010 07:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
aprilhenry
Mar. 15th, 2010 05:02 pm (UTC)
I'm on GoodReads because one of my publishers strongly encourages it, but I do nothing but post a blog now and then and sometimes list what I'm reading. I don't review anyone and I don't give anyone any stars. It's too easy for people to find you and be unhappy if you say anything the slightest bit bad. I once blogged about an author and within 30 minutes I had heard from her and she was unhappy to say the least. And maybe she was right to be unhappy. i took down the post.

I never look at my Goodreads reviews.

I will admit to obsessively looking at my Amazon ones.
lkmadigan
Mar. 15th, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
I'm curious that a publisher 'strongly encourages it.' Do we not have a sufficient amount of social networking?????!!!!
(no subject) - aprilhenry - Mar. 15th, 2010 08:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
robinellen
Mar. 15th, 2010 05:37 pm (UTC)
I started to add book to my Good Reads account and then got caught up in life and stopped...but I also refuse to list books that I can't either give 4 or 5 stars to, and that causes problems. I prefer my own little blog world, I think :)
lkmadigan
Mar. 15th, 2010 07:52 pm (UTC)
Yes, and I keep track of what I've read on my own unseen-by-others spreadsheet. :-)
trkravtin
Mar. 15th, 2010 05:51 pm (UTC)
Goodreads
I see Goodreads more for readers, as some others have suggested. It has to be excruciating to expose yourself as a creative person to wanton criticism. DON'T. No artist of any type could survive in that kind of environment. Your job is to create, and insure the proper atmosphere for your talent. The other side of the coin is, think of how many new readers might have your books brought to their attention by enthusiastic reviews on these kinds of sites. Critics are everywhere, and trust your true readers to be able to tell the difference between the thoughtful reviews and the careless ones.
lkmadigan
Mar. 15th, 2010 07:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Goodreads
Good point, Teresa!!! It's not like we have GoodPaintings: "This watercolor was well-executed, but too blue - I give it 3 stars." LOL!
angie_frazier
Mar. 15th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
Yup, I can identify with the GoodReads love-hate relationship! I like rating classics, or books by people I don't know, and I don't tend to rate books below four stars. Not long ago I decided to stop checking the GoodReads page for Everlasting. But like you said, I love gushing about the books I love :-)) It's a good place to do that.
lkmadigan
Mar. 15th, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
I'm sure you're going to get tons of wonderful reviews, Angie! And yes ... the occasional mean drive-by h8er.
soniag
Mar. 15th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
Oh dear. This is making my head spin! I already deleted my Goodreads account once after becoming uncomfortable with the idea of reducing books to numbers. But then I had to sign back on to take control of my profile page after someone else put my book/website/blog info up there for me. ACK!

I really like to keep track of my reading, and I love to see thoughtful reviews (esp from my favorite authros), but if this is going to cause a great deal of angst, I might just have to close it down again. Or make it a profile without reviews. We'll see.
lkmadigan
Mar. 15th, 2010 08:03 pm (UTC)
Well, it's angsty for me ... but as you can see, some authors manage it well - Lisa, Kate, Sydney.
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