March 15th, 2010


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.

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.