Breaking Up With Goodreads

Well, I did it. I deleted my Goodreads account.

You may have seen me considering it on Twitter, when I asked if anyone else had thought about saying “Goodbye” to Goodreads. I was surprised at the number of people who responded with a hearty YES!

Seems I’m not the only one with Goodreads-related issues.

There were also a few people who asked why I wasn’t happy with the site. And I get why they were confused. On the surface, Goodreads is a cool social network for booklovers. It’s easy to use, it looks pretty, and it has all kinds of cute little widgets you can install in various places.

However, those pros did not make up for the cons I kept having to deal with. And so, Grasshoppers, allow me to explain why I chose to vacate Goodreadsville before I completely and totally lost my mind.

The first two reasons are simple: childish behavior on the parts of both authors and reviewers (I’m sure you’ve all seen the Goodreads drama that has unfolded on two separate occasions within the past month, so I’ll refrain from posting links) and ineffectiveness as a marketing tool for myself as a writer.

But this is what really sealed the deal for me: Goodreads always made me feel pressured to leave favorable reviews–no matter how I actually felt about the book.

Allow me to elaborate.

I’m often asked to review books, and nine times out of ten, the author is someone I know–either in real life or online. So what do I do if I don’t like the book? Do I give honest feedback in such a public forum? Do I try to express my opinion in a sugarcoated way?

Unless I want to permanently damage my relationship with that author, I have to leave a good review. Regardless of my actual opinion. Regardless of what will happen when a friend of mine sees that good review and reads the book for themselves, then wonders why I raved about something they didn’t like at all.

Yeah, that has actually happened.

Just the other day, a friend mentioned that she’d read a book after seeing my review of it on Goodreads. She had this funny look on her face, and said, “I didn’t really like it as much as I expected to. What did you love so much about it?” At which point I had to confess that I’d only given such a favorable review because the author is an online friend of mine, and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I also knew they would notice if I didn’t leave a review at all, so to maintain the friendship, I gave the author what I knew they wanted. I raved.

I raved about a book I didn’t like that much. (Spoiler alert: That book wasn’t the only one.)

Because of those dishonest reviews, I’ve had to follow up with blurbs, giveaways, and favorable comments to the authors themselves. Basically, Goodreads led to a web of lies, and I HATE that.

The worst part is this: I bet there are several people who left favorable reviews of The Clearing simply because they know me, and they felt pressured to.

*vomit*

I want any reviews I do to come from a place of true love for the book, not a place of obligation or pressure. Knowing that someone read a book because of my glowing recommendation–knowing they might not trust me any more when I say I loved something–makes me feel icky inside.

So I’m not reviewing anymore. At all.

Now, if I find myself particularly in love with a certain book, I’ll mention it here on the blog. But those mentions will be few and far between. I’m going to become very sparing with my blurbs, and if I’m asked to review or blurb something I don’t love, I probably just won’t respond.

Ugh. I hate having to be like this. But alas, it seems to be the only solution.

I don’t know if my reviews are still active on Goodreads or not. I hope they’re all gone. I haven’t checked. Goodreads certainly has its place and I’m not telling you all to delete your accounts too. But for me, it was creating too much stress.

How do you handle a situation in which you’re asked to review a friend’s book–and then you end up not loving it? What in the world do you do?

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34 thoughts on “Breaking Up With Goodreads

  1. Connie Keller says:

    Yeah, reviewing is a friend’s books is a really hard situation. I frequently don’t tell my friends that I’ve bought their book until after I’ve read and enjoyed it. (Especially since just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean that the book isn’t good–it just means it’s not my cup of tea.) So I do pretty much what you’ve decided to do. I mention only books I love and think my blog readers might enjoy.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      That’s a great idea. I always tell my friends I bought their book and THEN read, so they’re expecting feedback in some form. It’s a lot of pressure!

  2. Bethany says:

    Well, I sort of hate to tell you this but….. I am another one of those people who read a book you raved about on Goodreads and then wondered “what the heck???” I even told someone that I was afraid you had given a good review because you possibly knew the author. I can see why this is a problem. So I think if you feel pressured then you made the right decision. I only tell you that to reaffirm your decision.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      Oh man! I am so sorry! Yeah… this is exactly why I deleted the account. Thanks for the reaffirmation!

  3. J.P.Sloan says:

    Very astute observation, and I think you did the right thing. In the nascent self-publishing paradigm, a body of understood wisdom has been advanced which, I feel, is largely bogus. There are rules… we’ve all seen them: you MUST start a blog, you MUST review indie authors, you must MUST manipulate social media to self-promote.

    Here’s the issue I find… the group of indie authors has managed to find one another, and the Twitterverse and other social media circles (Goodreads being a prime example) has become a debutante’s ball of self-published authors. Someone once compared it to a dentist’s convention filled with dentists offering to replace each other’s crowns. One tends to find a few hundred authors reading each other’s books, reviewing each other’s books, and pretending they have reached the hoi polloi, when in reality everyone is attempting to accomplish “marketing”.

    The actual Jane Q. Reader out there is facing an Amazon Dot Com full of independent e-books, and has to figure out why in the hell she should purchase Book X instead of Book Y. She then reads reviews. They are all glowing. She buys the e-book. She hates it. She tries again. She sees a trend. Christ, she says… these independent book reviews are all bogus.

    Many more months of this, and the independent book paradigm will become a joke.

    The best recourse for any author, in my very humble opinion, is to eschew review-giving in general, and focus on the craft of writing. Sure, self-promotion is a necessary component of independent publishing. But Jane Q. Reader? She’s a pretty smart person. She knows bunk when she smells it.

  4. Tess says:

    Ugh. So hard, what a bummer. I have to admit, I use GoodReads in a 100% leisurely way. What books are friends reading? What books can they recommend to me? What books can I recommend to them? What’s new in the book world these days? And since my writing WILL NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY (at least until I whip my highly undisciplined self into shape), I guess I never considered what it would be like for an author and how much more complicated it would become. Kudos to you for eliminating a source of stress. I’m sure you’ll be better off without it! Happy writing!

  5. Jamey Stegmaier says:

    Similar to Tess, I use Goodreads (and rarely at that) in a 100% leisurely way. That’s why I was really looking forward to your post, Anne, and of course you didn’t disappoint. That makes a ton of sense.

    Do you think there are some authors out there who are truly able to accept a sub-par review if you didn’t like their work? That is certainly a conundrum. I’m sure you have writer friends send you new stories and chapters all the time–how do you encourage them when you truly don’t like what you just read?

    1. Anne Riley says:

      I’m honestly not sure about your first question. My gut instinct is “no” but I could be wrong. I’m trying to think how I would handle a bad review from someone I considered a friend, and it would definitely hurt. A lot. And I think it would affect our friendship, for sure.

      People do send me chapters or whole manuscripts, and sometimes I simply don’t like them. If I’m critiquing something I don’t like, it’s hard to do it in a positive way, and I normally end up letting my true feelings show in my comments. At that point, the only encouragement I can offer is that books are subjective and just because it didn’t click with me doesn’t mean it won’t click with other people. In that respect, I sound like an agent’s rejection!

      1. Jamey Stegmaier says:

        Very interesting. I’ve found that when I review friends’ works, I definitely seek out the positives, but at the same time I try to show that I’m not completely biased by mentioning at least one shortcoming (I did this with The Clearing on Goodreads, actually, and I hope it was okay! If not, I apologize). But I do think that’s different than if I really didn’t like something. Then I just wouldn’t review it at all. So I can see how you’ve been put in that uncomfortable position many times when authors ask you to review something that you’re not fond of.

        I like the way you offer your subjective feedback in your second answer. Different people like different types of writing and genres, so no one should hinge their satisfaction on one person’s impression, even if they’re a friend. I’ve definitely had friends say that particular stories of mine were terrible, and although it hurt at the time, they were right.

        1. Anne Riley says:

          I thought your review was perfect. I don’t mind people pointing out shortcomings at all–nobody is going to think any book is absolutely perfect! In fact, the reviews that give constructive criticism are the most valuable because I know they’re the most sincere. But if someone were to rip into me the way some people do on Goodreads? OUCH.

        2. Jamey Stegmaier says:

          Ah, I see. I truly don’t understand how some people can be so harsh online (although I say that and I openly lambaste the third Hunger Games book…perhaps it’s because I just as opening express my love for the first two). Thanks for your replies!

  6. Alissa Grosso says:

    I mostly don’t post reviews on Goodreads, simply add the book to my list of books. Sometimes, though I do feel obligated to post a review. I try to distance myself from the book in these cases. I don’t always succeed, but my goal is to review the book by pointing out the sort of reader it would appeal to especially when it’s not something that totally grabbed me because it wasn’t my sort of book.

    Goodreads can be a real minefield for authors and sometimes I am envious of those authors who wrote in times past when they didn’t have instant access to the opinions of everyone in the world that was reading their book.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      I feel the same way. This would all be easier if we didn’t have the internet. But also harder.

      *sigh*

  7. Alexandra Shostak says:

    I have my Goodreads account but I rarely get on it. I like it as a place to connect with authors (and I go to them via their page or their own review of one of their boos, I don’t lurk around hoping they’ll comment on my review or something.) I don’t have even close to all the books I’ve read listed. Not even all the books I’ve LIKED are listed.

    As for reviews, I like writing reviews because my degree is in English and analyzing books is fun (I know, I know.) But I only review books I liked, and EVEN THEN, only when I feel I have something specific to say about the book. If all I’m going to say is “Wow! It was so great! Everything was great! Omg!” then I don’t bother.

    Nobody’s ever asked me to do a review (well there was this one spammish comment I got on my blog once…) but if they did, I’d just be honest. I’d say I only review when I feel compelled, and even if I love your book I still might not feel that I have anything to add.

    So yeah, I totally get why you left Goodreads. I don’t blame you. It’s awkward. And then there’s that whole thing like, if you want to be published don’t write bad reviews because you don’t know who you might offend. Lots of pressure.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      Yes. That last part. You never know who you might offend.

      I also love analyzing books, but I don’t feel the freedom to do it honestly 99% of the time. And if I am honest, someone ALWAYS makes me feel bad about it. (Unless I honestly loved it, and then I feel good.)

      It’s a catch 22 of the worst kind: the personal kind.

  8. Jessica Love says:

    YES. This is my struggle exactly. I started my Goodreads before I even started writing, but now it just weirds me out so much. I don’t want to leave lackluster reviews for my friends, I don’t want to lie, I want to keep track of all the books I read…it’s just too sticky.

    I want to delete, but I have put so much effort into my account in the past few years, so that would hurt. We’ll see.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      Yeah. I’m actually having to reclaim my author page that I made, because I don’t want anyone else to claim it, pretending to be me. But I don’t plan to add ANY books or ANY friends, and I’m certainly not going to review anymore!

  9. Tara says:

    I use goodreads simply to share what I’m reading. I never did reviews, just rated the book. I only do reviews on my blog if I think its worthwhile.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      Yeah, I think my mistake was feeling like I had to review every book I read. Talk about exhausting!

  10. Anna Creech says:

    I use to write music reviews quite often, and sometimes I was approached by people I know to review their album or their friend’s band. I did it a few times, but I found it hard to be objective, particularly if it wasn’t very good or up to a standard I would hold for someone I didn’t know. Eventually, I decided the best policy is to not review the album myself, but instead to suggest other reviewers I knew who might be interested.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      That’s a great policy! And yeah, I would think music reviews would be very similar to book reviews in that it’s hard to be objective with friends!

  11. Sue Taliaferro (@BrightEyedDyer) says:

    When I read or listen to something I truly love and think is worth everyone’s time and money, I rave about it. I am honest in my love for the work, and I am upfront about my relationship to the author/artist. Most of my friends are writers/artists so the odds are that I know the author.

    If I am less than thrilled with a work, I will not review it publicly. I know how much work goes into this, and like you, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So, unless I love it unconditionally, I stay quiet. As a result, I don’t write many reviews.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      I do think this is the best route. It’s just not possible to write a completely honest review if you didn’t totally love it, and maintain the same relationship with that person that you had before. So tricky!

    1. Anne Riley says:

      I am not going to say either way because I don’t want people to try and narrow down which books I wrote false reviews for. So, I plead the 5th. 🙂

  12. Callie Kingston says:

    I blogged about this issue a while back and described the pressure I’d received.
    Five Stars All The Time

    It’s such a frustrating situation for a writer. We need the publicity, or no one will find our books, and yet we also need to keep those reviews honest or they are utterly meaningless. The whole popularity contest aspect is dismaying. I love the debutante ball comparison. Spot on.

    Good luck, now that you’ve parted ways with Goodreads.

  13. Melissa says:

    I started my goodreads a long time ago, before I ever considered writing professionally (not that my WIP is anywhere near finished). In the beginning I would review books all the time, but now I see what you mean. Lucky for me, I haven’t had a TON of time to read in the past year, so I’ve been way pickier about the ones I pick up. They are usually only reccs from friends or blogs I trust, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to like it before I start reading. I can totally see how it would be hard to not give a good review to a friend. I guess that’s why they say writers need thick skins.

  14. Reena Jacobs says:

    I followed your post through Chazz Writes.

    I have a problem with honesty sometimes… I tend to be too honest. When individuals ask me for an opinion, I automatically assume they want the truth. It usually doesn’t occur to me until after the fact they want me to stroke their ego.

    Personally, I love Goodreads. It’s one of the few places I’ve found which focuses mainly on readers. Yes, there a plenty of authors there, but I get the impression the readers outnumber the writers significantly.

    How do I respond to review requests? These days I’m too busy to accept most review requests. Before I became swamped with reads, my routine was to read a sample of the book. If I liked the sample, I’d say sure. I’ll review the work. If the sample didn’t draw me in, I’d pass on the read. “Thanks for the offer, but I’m going to pass this time around.”

    Of course, there’s no guarantee I’ll like the entire book just because the sample piques my interest. I’ve gotten to the end of books and though… bummer… this didn’t quite do it for me. How do I handle the situation? I admit to being less snarky with books I’ve received directly from the author. I feel like they’re lurking. However, I still give honest reviews. I’ll point out what I liked and didn’t like. I might even make a note of how others might enjoy the book for the same reason I wasn’t into it. Tastes are subjective after all.

    Most importantly, if an author gives me a book which didn’t hit a 4 or 5 star in my mind, I don’t leave a rating on Goodreads. I just leave the review. Why pull down their 5 star ratings with my mediocre 3 stars.

    I’ve had authors turn down review requests from me. I’ve had individuals read my works and say they rather not write a review. “There are things I really liked about your book and parts I really hated about your book.” I’ve had reviewers say thanks but no thanks. What I’ve learned is it’s not personal. In fact, if they say no, they’re doing me a favor, because chances are they’re turning it down because they don’t anticipate writing a great review. I’m thankful some individuals are willing to come to me in private and express their grievances rather than spread them on the weboverse.

    When I place myself in the reviewer’s shoe (such as when I accept a review request), it’s the same thing. Nothing personal, or maybe it is personal. I turn down many review requests because I care about the author. I want the author to succeed, and I don’t want to add a black mark to their works. When readers look at my writer buddies’ works, I want readers to only see good, not my wishy-washy review.

    I stand by every review I’ve written on Goodreads. I think my honesty makes me an advocate for other authors. Because I am honest, when I write a great review on a book, readers can trust I mean what I say. They can purchase books I rave about and not worry about being disappointed because I’m just trying to boost a friend. That means when I do accept that rare review request and write up the post, there’s a chance a reader will come out of lurking and say, “We’ve liked similar books in the past… I’m going to try this one.”

    It’s a win/win situation for the reader, the author, and the reviewer.

    Keep in mind, if you didn’t like the work after accepting the review request, you can also fall back on a personal review which isn’t posted for the world to see. “Hey, writer buddy! I read your book XYZ. This is what I thought about it… Let me know if you prefer I not post the review. XOXOX.”

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