A new writer named Lauren Howard wrote a novel called Learning To Love that she planned to release this month. She has since changed her mind, and explains that she will not be releasing the book–at all–in this blog post.
Why? Because of GoodReads.
Evidently she added the book prior to the release (something that GoodReads encourages authors to do.) Someone who had not read the book rated it at two stars. Ms. Howard took to a GoodReads forum to ask why someone would give a book a rating prior to reading it. The answer she received is that people evidently use book ratings to show if they would be interested in reading a particular book.
Now, that’s news to me, and it sounds kind of odd. I mean, I could go through and rate whole genres with one star. I don’t read westerns, for example, does that mean that I should go and rate everything by Louis L’amour one star? What purpose does it serve to tell people what books I am planning not to read?
But, okay, GoodReads allows preemptive ratings. Fair enough, it’s their site, they can do what they want. What happened next is less understandable.
Evidently some took offense that an author would question the validity of a review, and a campaign was started to give Learning To Love–remember this book has not been released–one star reviews, to teach Ms. Howard a lesson. (I am not making that up–that’s in the actual text of one of the reviews.)
UPDATE: I have been challenged to find the review in which the phrase “teach her a lesson” was used and I cannot. Upon reflection, I believe that phrase appeared in a comment thread, not a review, but I cannot find the thread, I believe that thread may have been deleted.
Ms. Howard says that she then contacted GoodReads and was told that the GoodReads policy was not to remove reader ratings or replies to author posts.
Ms. Howard then decided to cancel the launch. She states that she has contacted GoodReads to get the book removed, as of this writing it’s still there.
Now, I have heard similar things about GoodReads before. I haven’t passed them along because I don’t want to spread rumors without proof. In this case, I have the proof. I have seen the links, I have seen the comments. Seeing these things makes other stories that I had heard–stories that I rejected as exaggerations–much more credible.
I am not going to delete my GoodReads account. I may still keep posting my reviews of indie books there (assuming that I ever have time to read for pleasure again). However, I am not putting my own work up there. If someone else does, it seems that there isn’t anything I can do about it, so I’m not going to worry about it.
As far as I am concerned, this incident destroys any last vestiges of credibility that the GoodReads review system once had. When people post ratings on an author’s work as a punishment for that author’s comments in a forum thread, and publicly proclaim that is what they are doing, and the management does nothing, then it’s pretty clear that the site as a whole is useless for book ratings.
Other people have posted five star reviews of Learning To Love as a response to the one star campaign. While that is heartening from a human interest standpoint, I have to admit that it’s every bit as dishonest. The book is not yet released (and now, may never be). The only people who should be rating or reviewing it are those people to whom the author has sent review copies.
I have no idea what impact Amazon’s acquisition of GoodReads had (if any) on this. For what it is worth, I have heard similar rumors from long before the merger. It may be that Amazon will change the review policies. It may be that they will not. But until I have seen some evidence that the site will be holding reviewers accountable for using the star rating as a tool for punishing authors, I won’t be using the site to promote my own work.