I READ AN article the other day about an author and online book reviewer who ran amuck of each other on Goodreads.
Evidently, the professional reviewer left a scathing review of the author’s work even though this reviewer had only read one chapter of the book. (Not what I’d call fair, but the author’s response was over the top—you can read the full article here.) The whole thing left me wondering about the use of social media in general and Goodreads in particular.
For those of you unfamiliar with Goodreads, it’s a social media site for booklovers of all kinds and genres. Authors, readers, and reviewers can congregate on Goodreads to discuss reading, books, and writing. It lets authors meet with and develop fans, receive reviews, run contests, or even hold Q&A sessions. Reviewers get to voice their opinions on any and all writings, including books and blogs, all the while building their own following, much like an author. And (supposedly) readers reap the benefits of this site by being able to interact with authors, find out about new books, get a potential reading list from other readers, or join a book reading/discussion group.
While I applaud and commend these aspects of Goodreads, it does have its dark side. For instance, no one needs to sign up to use Goodreads as themselves. In fact, from what I can tell, personas are rampant and anonymity reigns. Why go anonymous you ask? Because when you’re anonymous you can say and do things that you wouldn’t be comfortable doing or saying as yourself.
The other aspect I don’t care for is that no one is required to purchase or even read a book before leaving a review of it. Now, while I doubt most readers would even think of doing this, evidently some authors and reviewers have no issue with it. Authors have been known to push their friends and family members to leave positive reviews whether they’ve read the book or not. Why? Because the reviews on Goodreads carry over to Amazon (the owners of this social media site) and this pushes said book to the top of the heap. Once at the top (or at least near the top), Amazon will use its algorithms to recommend the book to people visiting the Amazon store.
As for reviewers, some of them leave reviews of books they haven’t read. Why? I’m only guessing, but I believe it’s either because they take on too many reading assignments or because they want to make a name for themselves. Making a name for yourself as a reviewer gives you power, and some people just adore power. Therefore, they will do anything and everything to achieve that level of influence…including leaving reviews for books that are gaining in popularity but they haven’t read. And if the review is controversial, all the better. After all, the more people that talk about and remember your review, the more influence and power you obtain. Best of all, you can do it anonymously. If you use a persona, then no one (except perhaps your closest friends) will know that you’re the person who writes those scathing reviews on Goodreads.
All this just to influence the readers. But without the readers the authors and the reviewers are no one. Just some crazy people who type words on a keyboard with the hope that someone will read them. (Just like I’m hoping someone will read this post of mine.)
So as a reader using Goodreads, you have to be careful what you believe. After all, people add book reviews without reading the book, and it seems a great number of people aren’t always who they say they are.
Then how do you know which books are worth reading? I’d say any book that catches your attention is at least worth trying despite what any (so-called) critic or fan says. Most authors provide a free chapter or two (on Amazon, on their personal websites, or through the publisher’s website), so make up your own mind instead of relying on what some anonymous stranger has said.
So, I say again…is Goodreads good?
I’m not sure; however, I tend to keep my online presence restricted to Twitter and Facebook. While you will find a page for me on Goodreads, I’m rarely “there.” And as for reviews, I love any reviews I get…including the negative ones. Why? Because I appreciate the time you are taking to say something about one of my books (“The Past Rekindled” is available). So, please…leave me a review. But try to read the book first.