Unlike a lot of people in the publishing industry, I regularly review the books I read on Goodreads, and it has sometimes gotten me into trouble. I’ve been a Goodreads member since shortly after it was founded, and I have a lot of friends there whose opinions I follow. And who follow me. Some people in publishing feel no one in our industry should be on Goodreads at all; one editor noted that he won’t buy books from people who have given a negative review to one of his books. Others see it as a betrayal of our small community, that we should all be cheerleaders all the time, and to ever be otherwise is to be an Enemy of Books.
Well, I think that’s a lot of malarky, as Joe Biden might say. Goodreads can’t make or break a book—if one negative review tilts the balance, then the problem
is much bigger than a reviewer’s opinion on a social media site. There are tons of readers, and it is their opinions that create heat around a new book—not the musings of a forty-something former-editorial director.
But more than that, the ratings system on Goodreads doesn’t really allow pans. There is five stars (“It was amazing”) down through one star (“Didn’t like it”). There is no “This sucked” or “I hated this more than dental work without novocaine,” no “Black hole of antipathy,” as film critic Duncan Shepherd used to assign to movies. (Most movies; he was a difficult critic to please.)
So that single-star review? It doesn’t mean the reader thought the book was bad. It only means the reader didn’t like it, for whatever reason. I’ve given one star reviews to massively successful novels such as Twilight and Divergent, because they didn’t really hit my sweet spots as a reader. I could appreciate what they were doing, but I didn’t care for them very much. That’s all I mean by a single star. And each time, my single-star review disappeared in a sea of five-star reviews. My little review didn’t move the average at all.
And that’s how we should take Goodreads ratings of our own books. Of course, if the reader then goes on to complain bitterly about the book—well, that’s a whole ‘nother story.
What’s your experience? Do you use Goodreads? Do you let the one-star ratings get you down? Feel free to comment about it below.