An Author's Guide to Surviving Goodreads

A few years ago, authors and publicists alike were singing the praises of Goodreads as a tool to bring authors and readers together. And it does... sometimes. It is quite easy to import your blog to Goodreads, such that every new post on your blog populates automatically onto your author page at Goodreads.

Also, Goodreads members can "friend" authors or become "fans." An author's fans will be notified of new blog post updates. And, if you're really special, your publisher might buy you a splashy Goodreads ad during your book's launch week, or organize a live author chat via Goodreads.


Reader reviews on Goodreads can be stressful for you, the author. Reviews are always stressful, but in this case other readers can comment on reader reviews, which means that you may open Goodreads one day to find a long and intricate multiparty discussion of your failings appended to your book's listing.

Sometimes, authors leap into the fray, adding their own comments to these discussions. Lately I've seen several blog headlines mentioning Goodreads dust-ups between authors and reviewers. It seems that a few YA authors used the "comment" space on GoodReads to argue with poor reviews they'd received there. And those comments did not go unnoticed by the reviewer, as the discussion spun out of control.

I discovered quite by accident that Goodreads has even built a little tap on the author's shoulder into its system. I clicked on "comment" under a reader review on my own book. The reader's "review" in this case was to post a very funny (and positive) comment that a blogger had written about my book. I hadn't seen this quote before, and so the comment I'd meant to add was "thanks for posting this!"

But Goodreads had a cow. The screen went yellow, and some warning text appeared. I wish I'd thought to save the language so that I could repeat it here. So I'm paraphrasing. It said that Goodreads wished to strongly caution me against commenting on reviews of my own work. There might have been mention of garlic and silver spikes, or DANGER in a big red font. Or maybe not. But that was the message.

Fear not, Goodreads. I already understand that 99.99% of the time, authors have nothing to gain from responding to a review. I suppose I'm reserving that 0.01% option for instances when there is blatant misinformation, or the review also wrongs or slanders someone other than the author. But... usually not even then.

If you do not have leather-thick skin, think twice about reading your Goodreads reviews. You might get a two star rating, as I did recently, attached to a review which basically admitted that the reader enjoyed the book. So why not four stars? You might ask your computer screen. Or at least three? You might waste a few hours of your life feeling grumpy about this.

I have two solutions, take your pick.

#1: Find a novel you admire, one which also sells a lot of copies, and read the Goodreads reviews. See? There are some stinkers in there. When I did this little exercise, I noted with amusement that one reviewer disliked the book in question because the romantic elements "quickly fizzled," and another because she disapproved of the pre-marital sex in it. In other words, the novel had too much sex for one reviewer and not enough for the other. If this excellent author can weather the storm, then so can I.

#2: Find a Goodreads buddy, and monitor each other's review action--you read her reviews, she reads yours. And share with each other only the useful stuff. Not only will this keep you from unnecessary and unproductive heartbreak, but it's a bonding experience.

Or--delete your account.


  1. Thank you, thank you for this post! Here I've been feeling guilty that I HATE going over to Goodreads, but that I should because I probably should be answering reviews. I feel the same way about Amazon. I practically have to take to my bed with a stiff drink after a visit over there. I think it must have been so nice back in the old days when authors didn't have to know every single person's opinion!! Thank you again and again.

    1. Don't feel guilty! You need not look. In fact, reviews on sites like that shouldn't be answered, even the good ones. If a book blogger writes about your book, on the other hand, or tweets about enjoying it, feel free to answer those!

      When I mentioned Goodreads to an audience the other day, another novelist raised her hand and said "those reviews make me cry." See, it's not just you!

  2. Fabulous post!!!! Thanks for writing it. (((hugs)))

    1. Thanks Kimberly. Hugs are what we all need after a Goodreads soul searching.

  3. Food for thought! I've been wondering what to do with Goodreads, and I'm glad to have a warning before I jump in too deep.

    1. I don't mean to imply that the site has no use at all, just that authors can't really affect what happens there. And they probably shouldn't try. So after making your profile there look as spiffy as you can, let it go. Engage on Facebook instead!

    2. And here's another way that Goodreads makes me feel bad--it seems like everyone is reading more books than I am. Or more literary books than I am. Or saying cleverer things than I am. Or has more friends than I have.

      Oh wait--I think that's four ways. . .

  4. I don't even have a published book yet but folks say you "have to be on Goodreads." Some of my Goodreads friends read five or six books a week. I'm lucky if I finish one in that time. I feel like a shlub.

    About the reviews: is it helpful to know that the reviewers are not pros, just folks? Your book has a target audience but perhaps the target audience doesn't know that, and someone outside the limits might pick it up and hate it. I recently tried to read a certain bestseller for my book group and couldn't get past the first 30 pages. It was so dismal I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to read it! Others in my group loved it.

  5. Very helpful post--retweeting. I had no idea I could connect my blog to Goodreads...I'm a bit behind the times.