I don’t even know where to start with this because I have so much to say, so I’m going to hop right into it: authors, Goodreads isn’t about you. Of course, there are all these “cool” ways for authors to be involved on GR, ways for them to interact with their readers, and ways for them to promote their books. But at the end of the day, GR is a social media site catered to readers. It’s about readers. End of.
Maybe Goodreads has been a really great way for you to promote your book and maybe you’ve found that it’s an awesome sales tool. But as someone who has been active – very, very active – on Goodreads for years now, let me tell you that that’s not what it’s about. It’s awesome that you get the side benefits of boosting your readership but the heart of Goodreads is about readers sharing their opinions on the books they read. There are many, many GR members who use the site as a cataloging tool, as well. In short, if we readers want to buy a book, GR is not the place we’re going to do it. And it’s kind of a buzzkill to feel like authors are looking over your shoulder as you read their book. Just saying.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about ratings. It has to be discouraging to be alerted when someone doesn’t like your book – and I’m not saying that the mechanics of that nonsense on the authors’ side of the site doesn’t need to change, because it really does. I mean, no one likes hearing negative feedback on things they work hard at. I get that. But there are millions of readers on GR, and they all use the rating system differently – and the GR policy backs them up.
One person’s one star rating can mean they hated your book. Another person’s one star rating means they’re not even interested in reading it at all. Another still can mean it’s on their first shelf. No one knows what’s going on in the mind of another when they’re rating things on Goodreads – and trust me, I’ve seen with my own eyes each of these examples. I’m not making it up. The rating system is arbitrary at best.
The biggest complaint I’ve seen from authors, even authors I love dearly, is that people are rating their books poorly before they’ve even come out yet – and in some cases, before they’re even done being written! I know that has to be frustrating, and trust me, I empathize. But the Goodreads policy states that members can use the rating system however they please. (Also: calling for the limiting of ratings until release date is just not possible for a variety of reasons, including territory pub dates being different and early/ARC reviews. Let’s not get into that.)
Interestingly, I never see anyone calling out those super-early ratings when they’re five stars. Everyone is just fine with early praise, even before the book is written. And I don’t see anyone doing something to stop authors from rating their own books without the ‘Author Review’ banner. But these things happen, and they skew the rating in the author’s favor all the time.
Look, I know it’s hard to get a negative review or rating. I haven’t felt it personally, but it’s gotta suck. I can’t tell you how to react to it, and this post isn’t necessarily about that. But maybe if you see that Goodreads is not a sales tool, and instead it’s made up of millions of people using the site in millions of different ways, you can learn to not take the ratings there very seriously.
For Goodreads users reading this and thinking, “wow, I can’t trust the average rating on GR anymore” I suggest finding a group of friends on the website whose reviews you tend to agree with, and then using the Friends’ Average Rating feature. It’s much more reliable that way than to gauge your opinions against thousands of random strangers.
How do you use the Goodreads rating system?