The Goodreads Author Nightmare

by | Aug 15, 2021

If you ever doubted the saying, life is sometimes or often stranger than fiction, dear reader, book lover, or author, one visit to a site called Goodreads should quickly dispel that doubt. How so? Before I answer that question, for those not in the know, I should perhaps first provide some background about what Goodreads is.

By their own definition, Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. According to a recent TIME Magazine article, “With over 120 million members worldwide, Goodreads is far and away the most popular—and influential—digital book database.” The site was launched in January 2007. In 2013, Amazon purchased it for $150 million.

Sounds good so far, right? Nightmare, what nightmare? It makes sense that the world’s largest book store would have an interest in acquiring the largest and most influential digital book database whose mission statement is “to help people find and share books they love.”

Given that fact that Amazon has such a large share of the market, they account for near 70% of ebook sales, many authors, especially self-published ones hoping to make some kind of income, invariably have to rely on Amazon’s website to a large degree to try and build up their name. These authors are of course aware it’s never good to have all, or, I’d say, most of your eggs in one basket, but what can one do?

Amazon has risen to be the great king and lord of the book publishing industry. Trying to, forget make a living, but sell just a few books without using their services, is daunting to say the least.

Enter Goodreads whose mission statement you may recall is, “to help people find and share books they love.” The thing is, although that may still be their intention, over time the website has morphed into a breeding ground for trolls of many an author’s worst nightmare.

By trolls, I mean those who take full advantage of this platform that is perfect not merely for leaving “reviews,” (note the quotation marks) but also for tarnishing an author’s reputation, which by extension has a negative effect in readers’ potential interest in their work.

If this breeding ground for challenging an author’s ability to make a living was not difficult enough, the trolls, having realized Goodreads presents an ideal platform for this, also use it to seek to extort money from them.

Don’t merely take my word for it though. I invite you to check out that TIME Magazine article I mentioned earlier entitled, “How Extortion Scams and Review Bombing Trolls Turned Goodreads Into Many Authors’ Worst Nightmare.”

Don’t miss the irony. Here we have a situation in which the largest book seller in the world, which you would think would be interested in services that facilitate as many books sales as is possible, owns a website, Goodreads, that is perfect for being counter active to this prospect.

As of this writing, anybody or any group can get onto Goodreads at any time, set up as many accounts as they’d like, then for whatever malicious reason begin tarnishing an author’s reputation by leaving lots of one, or if they care to not make it look so obvious, two star reviews on an author’s books. This practice is called review bombing.

No Checks And Balances
The checks and balances at Goodreads are virtually nil. I’m not saying this based on what I’ve read, mind you. I’m an author too, one among many who has had unfortunate experiences dealing with Goodreads. In short, I’m speaking from experience.

But here again, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can pop over at goodreads.com right now and see for yourself how easy it is to set up an account and leave a book review there compared to over at their parent site, Amazon.

At Amazon, you need to have a registered account after having verified your phone number, plus you need to have also spent at least $50.00 on their website before you can leave a review. Not so for Goodreads.

For that matter, provided you want to damage an author’s reputation or do your best to kill off their aspirations, what the trolls are well aware of and use to their advantage is, you don’t even have to leave a review on Goodreads.

You can simply leave a one star bomb rating against authors’ books and not have to say a word why you did so. So much for being a place to help people find and share books they love.

Love? That sounds more like a malicious and hateful breeding ground, if you ask me, but good luck in getting Goodreads to take action if you’ve been the victim of this. Again, I am speaking from experience. On November 13th of last year, I contacted them about a situation I faced in which someone did not read my book yet the individual promptly left a one star review of it.

Basically, Goodreads responded by stating it was not against their review guideline policy to take action against this. Here, in case you’re interested in reading what it is, are their review guidelines.

Extortion Scams
Arguably what is just as disturbing, if not more so, are trolls using Goodreads to attempt to extort money from authors. This has been going on for some time now although you may not be aware of it.

Author Beth Black after trying to promote an upcoming book on a Goodreads community group is a case in point. Her case is the one that TIME magazine choose to begin their story about this disturbing practice.  Black, according to the article, received an email from an anonymous server stating the following:


You can read the full story entitled “Distortion Extortion” in the author’s own words from her website.

Again, this is not an isolated incident, and the trolls, thanks again to how easy it is to accomplish this based on the way Goodreads is set up, can target an author for anything from not liking her book, to having a different point of view to her, to “insert whatever you wish here.”

Yesterday, I happened to visit Goodreads—yes, I confess that I did—and there was this message:

My eyebrows arched and raised. At least, I said, they acknowledged the problem.

The thing is, however, what’s being done about it? According to a July 29th statement to TIME, a spokesperson for Goodreads said that the company is actively working to resolve many of these review bombing problems.

At the time of this writing, TIME Magazine published they also reached out to Amazon but were yet to receive a reply. Meanwhile, the trolling on Goodreads continues, and despite whatever Goodreads may say, in my unscientific review of this site, it is NOT a small community of individuals that routinely post spammy and disparaging reviews.

It is not accurate to describe a lot of what’s posted there as reviews. Many of them, as I mentioned earlier, are ratings, often one star, or a one line often bitter or derogatory comment to which the “reviewer” affixed a star.

Despite their stated mission of helping people find and share books they love, it has been a while now since Goodreads has become a place where not merely trolls but readers flock to to profess their bitterness and hate.

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