Why are Goodreads reviews of my debut novel (before it's out) so mean?
July 15, 2021 5:54 AM   Subscribe

I thought I'd ask Metafilter this, as I don't have much experience with Goodreads and I'm a little shocked at what's happening there. My debut novel is coming out in a few weeks' time, which I'm delighted about. People having been requesting ARCs and reviewing it (I guess mostly book bloggers), and the reviews are truly bad – mostly 1 and 2 stars so far. I'm finding it incredibly depressing and it's really getting to me. Advice wanted about how to deal with it – thank you!

Looking at these reviews coming in has made me cry several times now – I know I'd say this, as I wrote it, but it doesn't feel to me as though they're actually reading the the same book. When I look at their comments I wonder how they could have so misinterpreted things that me, my agent, editor and beta readers knew worked well; and also why they would bother to ruin a debut novelist's happiness by being so mean. A few of them are actively hostile – I wondered if the person knew me in real life and just hated me, or something.

I'm not in YA, so it's not that sort of thing – it's more just 'this was bad, the characters were bad, I didn't like it, 2 stars'. I have a lot of faith in my book, I really do, and these sort of reviews are destroying me. I know it's an odd novel, and not everyone's cup of tea, but still. I don't understand why these people take pleasure in requesting ARCs and then writing nasty reviews which will stay on the internet forever, for everyone to see. I've spent years trying to get to this point and worked so hard for so, so long on this – and it feels like these strangers are now trying to make sure I never get the chance to publish again. Maybe I'm overreacting; I don't know how important Goodreads is, but it seems pretty important.

If anyone has any thoughts or advice, I'd really appreciate it. I feel pretty desperate at this point. My editor told me to just ignore Goodreads, but it's not that easy. Thanks!
posted by Ella_Bella to Writing & Language (56 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I sometimes see reviews on GoodReads that come out as soon as a book is announced, let alone avaialble (even as a pre-print). I know some people write reviews from ARCs but I get the impression a lot of the early reviewing that goes on on GoodReads is just a kind of trolling.
posted by tiamat at 6:07 AM on July 15, 2021 [22 favorites]

I'm so sorry this is happening to you.

It's not just you. Putting something (anything!) you created out there is a brave act. But there's a large, vocal, tranche of people who don't write or review to be helpful or constructive - they do it as performance. Even on this site the first few comments on any given article are just a race to the wittiest crowd-pleasing one-liner.

They really don't actually care about you or your book at all. They're not interested in engaging with it in good faith - it's just a chance for them to rehearse the stand-up routine that they will never be brave enough to take on stage..

It sucks. People suck. You don't deserve it.
posted by Lorc at 6:08 AM on July 15, 2021 [49 favorites]

Others will probably have thoughts on why the rating system works how it does or how to cope emotionally, but I'll just say I use Goodreads to keep track of my reading (without rating any books), and one thing I've noticed is that "odd" novels, ones toeing the edges of a genre, or making use of unusual structures or distinctive voices, or that are ambitious or quirky, often end up having really low ratings. This doesn't seem to correspond to their critical success, or, frankly, my perception of their quality.

Add to that that the early reviews are in sort of a different class from general readers, and, I know this is easier said than done, but try not to take it to heart. Do not under any circumstances respond publicly. Congratulations on your book!
posted by eponym at 6:10 AM on July 15, 2021 [24 favorites]

I am so sorry this is happening to you, but let me reiterate: do not respond publicly. Train yourself to stop going to Goodreads. I can list several authors whose careers were adversely impacted by responding to Goodreads reviewers. Kathleen Hale will probably never publish YA again. Stop going there, and do not respond to the reviewers. Your book will find its audience, just have faith.
posted by mareliz at 6:20 AM on July 15, 2021 [71 favorites]

What you are feeling is very, very typical for a debut author looking at Goodreads. Do you know other authors who have been through it? It is best to talk this through with them, because - as above -getting into it with readers never goes down well. If you don't know anyone who has been in the same situation, feel free to message me, I'm also an author and can commiserate.
posted by Ballad of Peckham Rye at 6:25 AM on July 15, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: My work in publishing is now a decade behind me, but my experience then, and what I’ve seen as a reader since, is that Goodreads alone can’t hurt a book. I agree with eponym: things that are on the edges or unusual don’t get rated as highly as things that are more conventional, regardless of merit. Sure, it can help if there’s really good ratings—but negative ratings on Goodreads aren’t going to really swing the needle. High ratings on sites like Goodreads might bring your book before the eyes of some who otherwise wouldn’t have seen it because people search for “top rated novels in X genre” (and this is why publishers find it useful to engage with), but they don’t generally do the reverse.

So. It’s not actually that important. Can help; unlikely to hurt.


Have someone you trust (friend, agent, editor) look at them if you don’t want to miss the positive ones, and let them bring the ones really worth reading to you. Otherwise, ignore with prejudice. These readers are not worth your time or brainspace. Focus on the good reviews, on finding your audience—the people who get you and the world you’re putting out there.

Remember Lady Gaga’s aphorism about 100 people in a room: you only need a small, dedicated audience. Focus on them, not on the ones who don’t get it.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:27 AM on July 15, 2021 [32 favorites]

Best answer: I happened to see the Goodreads entry for The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald the other day. This is a book that won the National Book Critics Circle award, from an author who also won the Booker prize (one of the biggest prizes in the UK), and I was appalled at the tone of most of the reviews. It's a genuinely outstanding, beautifully-written book and most of the recent reviews are either criticising it for being boring (it's not!) or implying that the young 18th-century protagonist's romantic relationship with a somewhat-younger adolescent girl is paedophilia, in total ignorance of the cultural context of the culture and era in which the book is set.

Which is to say, the people leaving these reviews do not strike me as the finest critics in the world and I would suggest not letting anything they say on that website detract from your self esteem as an author as much as you're able to. They're not your friends, they're not your fans, they're people who (as Lorc says) just want their voices heard loudly on the internet and don't care if the creator gets caught in that crossfire. This is most likely not useful criticism of your work; don't let it hurt you in a way that's disproportionate to its actual value as criticism.
posted by terretu at 6:32 AM on July 15, 2021 [35 favorites]

Seconding everything everyone else here is saying. Definitely don't engage because then these people will harass you on every other platform too, and I don't think bad GR reviews will hurt you. I've been buying for libraries for more than a decade and I have never once looked at Goodreads to decide whether or not to purchase a book for a collection -- we have professional reviews for that.

As someone who uses Goodreads to track my reading but no longer engages in the social parts of the site at all, let me also say: many Goodreads people are wild, and not in a fun way. A lot of the top GR reviewers (so the people who are more likely to get your ARCs) are truly just there for the likes, and a nasty snarky review gets more likes than a useful or kind one. Lorc's comment is dead on. Because of this and the proliferation of reviews that are 80% gifs, the review part of Goodreads has been nigh on useless for a long time now.

Congrats on your book -- that's a huge accomplishment! Don't let the haters get you down.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:35 AM on July 15, 2021 [21 favorites]

Have you ever heard of The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory? It's from a webcomic several years back, where they came up with a joke "formula" that went something like: "Normal person + anonymity + an audience = A Total Fuckwad."

Some people are just...jerks, but they only unleash their jerk-ness when they have an audience and they know that no one is REALLY going to know who they are so they can get away with it. They may try to dress their "jerkness" up by saying that they are offering "intelligent critique" of stuff, but really they are just offering knee-jerk reactions to things - many of which they are actually a little too dim to really understand - and their audience thinks it's funny so they double down.

It sounds like you have run into some Internet Fuckwads and that this is just kind of what they do. It may hurt to hear what they have to say, but...I'm going to suggest ignoring them, which I usually don't give as advice for bullies. The reason I'm suggesting ignoring them in that case is that these are just jerks, and....why would you care about the opinions of a jerk anyway? Especially when they're too dim to understand what you wrote and are blaming you for their own ignorance?

(Important note - please DO NOT try to respond to them by saying this. This is something you should be telling yourself, and keeping to yourself; it will let you walk away from any of the reviews you may happen to accidentally read with a laugh instead of with tears. I mean, think about it - you and your editors worked on making your book understandable, and they're STILL not getting it? How dumb are they, right? So why listen to them or even give them the time of day?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:38 AM on July 15, 2021 [14 favorites]

Big congratulations on your book!

The teachers in my current fiction writing program are all successful, nominated for and/or winning awards. They have discussed negative reviews a few times, and Goodreads in particular. Some of them look at their Amazon reviews but NONE of them look at their Goodreads reviews.

Every time I visit Goodreads I see something horrible and inappropriate. No idea what is motivating it, but it is really something. I'm sorry this is happening to you and I agree with everyone who advises ignoring it.
posted by BibiRose at 6:39 AM on July 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

There's a reason that DON'T LOOK AT GOODREADS is a trope among writers. It's so hard not to peek, particularly in those anxious pre-pub days where you're eager for some response, but the only solution I've found to this problem is to just not ever, ever, ever look. Don't do it! There is nothing there for you!

There is something about a rating system that seems to bring out the worst in people -- not everyone, of course, but enough to ruin your day. Sometimes it helps me to picture them as, like, an incredibly rude person in a restaurant who is insulting the chef and refusing to tip the server and then writing a terrible Yelp review. Do I care about those people's opinion? I do not.

I remember that sting well. But once I no longer sought it out anymore (DON'T LOOK AT GOODREADS!!), it faded, and now the thoughtful responses from engaged readers are what I remember much more than rude people on a website.
posted by attentionplease at 6:42 AM on July 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

As a book author who has worked through my own stages of Goodreads grief, I feel for you. I also love and agree with Lorc's answer.

Performance is right. People out there think they are performing hilarious comedy bits on their MST3K spaceship.
Lately I'll read a book I really enjoy and am touched by, then look it up on Goodreads, and leading the reviews is some guy doing his '90s Denis Leary act, ranting about how he didn't like the book with some R-rated metaphor that tickles the user base.

I can't imagine the publishing industry takes these things very seriously. If it's not comedy bits, it's users taking cheap shots the way I did as a 23-year-old Internet jerk, posting a thin external layer of book critic-sounding lingo, wrapped around an internal heap of not a lot of book critic's perspective or good judgment.

I also agree about the gulf between general readers and the kind of people who request ARCs and post on Goodreads, I think GR provides a picture with not a lot of connection to reality. Last month we discovered a children's picture book for our 3-year old that we all fell in love with. Within a couple days our family was basing our jokes on the rabbit family in it. I had no inkling anyone would think it was anything other than a wonderful and hilarious book about a shy rabbit, until I read reviews of it on Goodreads. They were dominated by 1-star reviews by people who were very strangely leading the charge against the book as hurtful and evil just because there were off-beat rabbit characters in it.

I think there are a fair bunch of "Goodreads is Broken" takes out there that are probably correct. Creating a story out of nothing is massively difficult in a way that few Internet posters understand -- congratulations.
posted by johngoren at 6:44 AM on July 15, 2021 [7 favorites]

The people piling up reviews on GR just to collect points and to build their tallies probably didn't write a book -- but you did. A whole damn book!

They've spent the same amount of time pounding a keyboard as you, but where you created something new, they've only drawn lines in the sand, over and over.

Don't pay them a moment's mind.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:44 AM on July 15, 2021 [12 favorites]

Please create a reward system and give yourself a reward today for every hour that you do not check goodreads. Tomorrow it can be for every day that you do not check goodreads. Or use something like self control and block that website so the temptation to respond is eliminated and so is the opportunity to be further hurt.

I used to be a journalist and I once wrote an article about a new hobby thing that was completely trashed by many folks in the know. Partly it was trashed because it was not perfect but mostly because it had been written for a general audience rather than the people inside the industry. And this was years ago, before trolling was actually a thing.

I am so sorry you have found yourself in this place. I so admire your accomplishment. I too hoped to write a book one day but have utterly failed. I am so glad that you succeeded! Please hang in there.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:45 AM on July 15, 2021 [13 favorites]

Goodreads is insane. I am always interested when Roxanne Gay jumps in to review a book because she gives fair reviews and any criticism is constructive. But the average GR reviewer, at least to my eyes, doesn't... know how to read?

For example, tons of reviews of Cheryl Strayed's Wild were wilderness dudebros who were mad that it was not a nature writing book about the PCT. Why didn't they read the synopsis beforehand - it's very clear that it's a memoir about healing, by way of nature. Same dudebros also went on and on about what a slut she was - not just for the regrettable period she went through (that she openly regrets in the text of her book, and is struggling to forgive herself for) when actively grieving her mom who died young and cheated on her husband and fell into a (mild) drug habit, but ALSO because she had the temerity to find some of the men she met on her PCT hike attractive. This somehow made the whole book Bad to them. It's bizarre.

I can think of more examples but that's just the first that comes to my head.

To reiterate: don't read GR reviews.
posted by nayantara at 6:55 AM on July 15, 2021 [7 favorites]

Congratulations on your book. It's a huge accomplishment and something to definitely be proud of! As a reader, I find a lot of value in Goodreads reviews. If you follow good people and not the showboaters, it really is a good place to find book suggestions. But like on Twitter, or Instagram, or even MetaFilter, you have to ignore those who are simply in it for likes/favorites/creating their own Cult of Personality.

You said you're not familiar with Goodreads, but a rating of 2 means it's ok. It doesn't mean it's terrible. I've given plenty of books a 2, books that are well-written, have fans, but it wasn't my personal jam.

Everything I said above is from a reader's perspective. If I were an author, a published author like you? I'd only deal with Goodreads once I was successful enough to hire someone to do it for me.

PS: Many people request ARCs because they're free and an ego boost.
posted by kimberussell at 6:57 AM on July 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I went through the print-to-web transition in magazine publishing, me being on the web end, and I have seen so many writers go through the curve that you are going through.

Writers that wrote for newspapers and magazines for decades and won awards and accolades suddenly had their work online with Joe43 leaving insightful comments like: "meh." -- and those seasoned writers in their 50s would suddenly be trying to figure out what that means WHAT DOES IT MEAN???

So I would tell them what I'll tell you: It doesn't mean anything except where that person was that day. In the past, that reader might have had the same reaction but most likely would not have bothered putting paper in the old typewriter and putting a stamp on their letter (although certainly a few did...I have stories. Always good when they came with Interesting Enclosures...)

But now if someone's had a bad day, had a drink, sat down at the laptop...the world is their commenting field. These aren't readers who are giving you feedback with any care for your work (or for you, although that's not really The Deal with most readers.) They are off building their own thing, often commenting on the Internet as a distraction from something else in their lives.

Anyways in the good old bad old days writers had more insulation between them and the readers. Even physical mail generally went to the agent or publisher. It was also a little bit harder to source books (and almost impossible to source ARCs), so people who read the book had actually invested in paying for it or at least going to the library and choosing it. As for ARCs, I think the idea of advanced copies originally worked well in a professional environment of pro or semi-pro critics and editors, and the translation to a broader readership isn't always aligned with the concept of good or thoughtful critique.

So really just echoing the above - DON'T GO TO GOODREADS.

Hang in there. Congratulations!!!!
posted by warriorqueen at 6:58 AM on July 15, 2021 [12 favorites]

I don't use Good Reads to track my personal reading, but I do use it as one resource (amongst many) for collection development at work. I do want to reassure you (maybe, not sure if this will actually be helpful), as someone who uses Good Reads for work when deciding what to purchase for the library collections I've been responsible for, that seeing a "low" rating isn't something that straight away would prevent me from a) recommending a book to a patron or b) purchasing a book for the collection. Usually I skim the reviews to see WHY it's getting a low rating, if it's because people just didn't like the book... well, there's no accounting for taste!
posted by VirginiaPlain at 6:58 AM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

I know what this is like, Lord do I. Agree with all the general advice above and just want to say, also, that if you want to try and pull something useful out of this morass, which may not be possible, I’d say that *unusually* low pre-publication reviews may have something to do with a mismatch between the way a book is being marketed and what it actually offers: people are requesting a book, based on the cover, expecting it to be a romance, say, and then at the end the main characters die horribly, or whatever. This isn’t really your business—it’s the job of the marketing team—and it’s only something that’s useful to think about in terms of overall ratings; there’s absolutely no reason to dive into the weeds of every individual snarky two star review. My guess is that the reviews will even out as more come in, but if they don’t, it’s possibly something you can talk to your agent about.

In terms of psychology, also: before I was a writer, I was just some idiot on the Internet, and though I don’t think I was ever an actively nasty reviewer, I did write some reviews and comments that were much snarkier than anything I’d put out into the world now. And if I try to think back to what was in my head at that time, there was absolutely no malice towards authors as individuals. I think I just genuinely believed that if you were lucky enough to have written and published a book—something I would have chopped off my right arm to do—your life was so good and full of meaning and accomplishment that nothing I could do or say would actually hurt you. Now I’m an author AND an idiot on the Internet, and it turns out that publishing a book does not magically transform you into some kind of transcendent criticism-proof higher being…but I try to remember the person I was before, and how grateful she would be for the life I’m living now, and it does take out some of the sting.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 7:03 AM on July 15, 2021 [14 favorites]

Nthing all of the above but also keep in mind that the reviews you're reading are quite possibly... not really for the book you wrote. People read with HIGHLY varying levels of attention and care. I'm guilty of doing this myself--I'm tired and my eyes jump over a paragraph and I'm like, "Eh. I should go back and read that but I'm sure it's fine..." And then I miss critical character or plot information that makes me go, "Wtf, why did that happen?" when the author signposted it for me clearly and intentionally, I'm just dumb. Sometimes I don't even notice when I do this, and I think there's holes in the book and then I go back and realize that no, I totally created those holes myself.

I'm in an online book club right now and people are reading a book I really enjoyed. There have been a LOT of questions that start with "maybe I just zoned out and missed this but why...." and then I have to answer them with yes, you missed this, because the explanation was stated clearly a chapter or two ago. People who request ARCs often read a lot, and not always very carefully, so is very possible that everything you did to make your "odd" novel work went straight by them because they just weren't paying attention. I know it sounds pretentious to be like "they just didn't get it!" but truly sometimes people don't and it's not even because they're stupid, they're just not giving reading their 100% full attention and so they miss things. There's really no controlling that, unfortunately.

On preview: What warriorqueen said as well. "It doesn't mean anything except where that person was that day." You can't control the space people are in when they approach a book. I definitely respond to books differently if I'm having a bad day or if a character reminds me of someone I hate for no good reason or if there's construction out my window distracting me or if I wasn't in the mood for a sad book or... and on and on. Some people are good at noticing when stuff like that is affecting how they're reading a book and put it aside (or at least mention it in the review), others just blame the book. There's so much about how people respond to a book that's outside your carefully crafted writing and you can't blame yourself for that.
posted by brook horse at 7:05 AM on July 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Hi, book marketer here.

First off, congratulations on finishing and PUBLISHING a book! You've done it. That's never going to be taken away from you, regardless of what happens next. Years will go by, decades will go by, and you will still be able to say "That's the book I published" and that wellspring of happy feelings and accomplishment will still be there.

Second, while publishers and marketers take into account all responses to your book--especially pre-publication--we definitely rank these by quality and Goodreads is...not high up there. Actually, I'm having a hard time thinking of what might be below Goodreads. Those reviews that come up when you accidentally click on the wrong tab in Google Maps? Letters to the editor on Patch.com? Yahoo! Answers?

This wasn't always the case. Goodreads was able to organically foster interesting book review communities in the 2000s (closer to the site's inception and mostly before its acquisition by Amazon) but the lack of curation on Goodreads combined with shifts in popular platforms have left it behind. Nowadays it mostly comes off as a weird training ground for people (probably mostly kids) who are figuring out what kind of tone gets them attention on the internet.

What you want to spend your energy focusing on right now is working with your agent, editor, and the publisher to generate reactions to your book that are of genuine quality. Like other authors here have expressed: a small audience (and I'm talking, like, 5 people) that takes your book seriously is of MUCH greater use than a wide audience that's mostly just in it for the lulz. A booktuber who will spend 20 minutes on it three weeks after pub...a fellow author who tweet-chains about their feelings on the plot and characters...a well-written and actually-edited review on a blog somewhere...these carry forward in surprising and really fun ways.
posted by greenland at 7:06 AM on July 15, 2021 [39 favorites]

In other words, if you ever find a particularly nasty commenter getting under your skin, a gentle prayer you can direct that person’s way might be: “I pray that someday your book is published, and you get to find out what it’s like here on the other side.”
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 7:07 AM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

a. congratulations

b. Goodreads has a reputation as a site for extremely, unnecessarily bitchy reviews

c. don't respond to them!!!
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:09 AM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

oh, and if you don't have friendly social support for your author experience yet, this group was really good when I was in it. It is for self-published authors, ie the ones who publish straight to platforms like Amazon Books, not publishing houses -- but you may find it useful.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:13 AM on July 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

I don't know how to answer your question, but I'm hoping that this might at least make you feel a little better. It's a collection of one-star reviews of classic works. You seem to be in good company: DFW, Toni Morrison, Faulkner, and so on.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:21 AM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Datapoint: The only reason I sometimes click on a low-rating-goodreads review is to feel smugly superior to the reviewer who clearly missed the whole point of the book.
posted by sohalt at 7:29 AM on July 15, 2021 [15 favorites]

Please add your book to the MeFi Mall and the wiki. I always forget to look for books for MeFites, will try harder.
posted by theora55 at 7:44 AM on July 15, 2021 [14 favorites]

The other side of this is that certain books on goodreads have a suspciously large number of 5 star reviews full of animated gifs and stuff that seem designed to drown out the more reasonable reviews. This is especially the case for mediocre books in my experience. Probably the whole review system is being gamed on multiple levels.
posted by joeyh at 7:46 AM on July 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: So after reading this question, I looked at Goodreads for reviews of a few of my favorite books (Wolf Hall and Go, Went, Gone), and my god, people are just idiots. It's not like these are careful, thoughtful reviews finding fault. It's just a bunch of weird hot takes that really could be about any book.

You have written and published a book. Congratulations! That is amazing. That is more than almost anybody does. I know it's hard not to look at these reviews, but that's really what you have to do. Because these people do not matter to you. It's like if you were walking down the street and strangers started yelling that your shoes are ugly or your hair's a mess. They're just showing off for their friends. You have something to really be proud of. Please don't let these random people spoil that.
posted by FencingGal at 7:53 AM on July 15, 2021 [10 favorites]

I have never been able to deduce how good a book is from the goodreads reviews. I tried. I really did. But reviews would be like "these characters make no sense" when they obviously do, or "characters are soooo relatable" for wooden cookie cutter personalities, or even both for the same book.

I think most commenters are bad at both writing (feedback) AND reading.

Anyway, I can't imagine any seasoned readers taking those reviews seriously (except for the ones who write them).
posted by Omnomnom at 7:54 AM on July 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Datapoint: The only reason I sometimes click on a low-rating-goodreads review is to feel smugly superior to the reviewer who clearly missed the whole point of the book.

I read a one star review of Solaris trashing it for its long data dumps, mysterious and unresolved plot, characters stuck in stasis, and summed it up by noting what a completely pointless and useless scientific endeavor the mission was. And I realized wow, they summed up everything I loved about it!

So I followed that reviewer and checked out other of their one star reviews, only to find other books that I also enjoyed quite a bit. I could form a whole reading list out of this person just fundamentally not enjoying hard sci fi.

tl;dr Reasonable people don't go into the reviews for the Very Hungry Caterpillar and drag it for its simplistic plot and lack of complex literary syntax. But there's a whole other contingent of people who feel They Must Be Heard On This Thing, independent of context, and gosh those folks sure do seem to have an awful lot of time to spend in the review sections of the internet.
posted by phunniemee at 7:57 AM on July 15, 2021 [13 favorites]

Nolite te bastardes carborundorun.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:15 AM on July 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

Snarky, mean, 'hot-take' reviews I guess get more likes than thoughtful reviews that actually, you know, review the book.

I just checked the reviews of one of the best books I read recently, and even though it is highly rated on Goodreads, 90% of the reviews are just... I don't know how to say this without being mean, but they sort of miss the point.

The book I chose, Leave the World Behind, is apocalyptic literary fiction. People are allowed not to like a book, but in this particular case they were criticising everything that made that book good. It is a slow, ominous, cerebral read which leaves you with a sense of nameless dread. It is not a quick, zippy little read that ties everything up into a neat little bow. Essentially I felt like they were criticising an apple for not being an orange.

I think that quirky, genre-straddling books (like it sounds your novel is, OP) will have a tough time on Goodreads because you will get a host of reviewers coming in with very specific expectations and they will be annoyed when those expectations aren't being met exactly to their specifications.

I use Goodreads to catalogue my reading but never pay a blind bit of notice to the reviews. Congratulations on your book, and please try not to worry about the reviews.
posted by unicorn chaser at 8:16 AM on July 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

GoodReads is owned by Amazon, I wonder if they are copying reviews from other books in the same way that Amazon shuffles their reviews around between products?

thestorygraph.com is a GoodReads alternative not owned by Amazon.
posted by Lanark at 8:23 AM on July 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, to continue on the "lots of bad reviews for good books," as a Goodreads reviewer, I NEVER read other reviews before posting my own review of a book I liked because they invariably make me feel bad for liking the book! There's almost always a bunch of reviews about how poorly done the book was and I sit there like, did I miss something? Because I thought it was really good!

My partner, who is more confident in their opinions, loves to look at the Goodreads reviews for books they loved and snarkily share the bad reviews, pointing out how much they missed the point or how utterly bizarre they are. My favorite is one that trashes Jim Butcher's The Aeronaut's Windlass constantly for being about cats. The person hates cats and so he thought it was a terrible book because cats feature prominently in the book. Like... what? I also think Goodreads encourages this to some extent because the rating scale is labeled as "did not like it," "it was ok," "liked it," "really liked it," and "it was amazing." There's some books I'm never going to like no matter how well they're written. I use Goodreads as a reading log and I rate based on whether I liked the book, but I try to make it clear in the review where it was a question of quality or "just not for me." A lot of people... don't, and take "I didn't like this" to mean "the book was bad."

So yeah. Goodreads reviews trend negative and are rarely representative of the book.
posted by brook horse at 8:29 AM on July 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

I will say that the reviews on LibraryThing -- where publishers giveaway copies of books in order to drum up some talk -- are not all themselves well-written, but are generally better than Goodreads. There are fewer of them, but they are not just "people typing to see their name onscreen."

Here's how the Early Reviewer program works: https://wiki.librarything.com/index.php/HelpThing:Er/List

LT is also partially owned by Amazon, but is geared to people with libraries, and doesn't seems to be as thoroughly "games" as GR has become.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:34 AM on July 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've always loved Tolkien's response to his critics: "Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer."

Which is a fancy way of saying, "Ya basic."
posted by toastedcheese at 8:48 AM on July 15, 2021 [11 favorites]

Goodreads is a totally toxic space. I don't bother to go there for reviews, and haven't in years; it seems to mostly be people performing for others in their weird little echo chamber.

I would just pretend that it doesn't exist, and I certainly wouldn't send out ARCs to people whose claim to fame is that they're a Goodreads reviewer! You'd probably be better off sending them to random Twitter followers or whatever, if you're trying to build buzz in advance of the book's release. But the last thing I'd want to do is feed the GR trolls.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:04 AM on July 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

Are you absolutely sure that the people who got the ARCs are the writers of most of the reviews? How did you distribute the ARCs? Do you trust the judgement of the known reviewers? Unless you are certain that the reviewers got the ARCs and you are confident in their literary judgement, you don't have any proof that these reviews are anything but trolling.

Is your book about anything that has a...fandom of some kind? Like, people have strong feelings about cozy mysteries and can be really mean! People have strong feelings about any kind of genre-ish fiction - does your book touch on any kind of genre stuff?

The people who are motivated to review a book before it comes out are going to be either really, really enthusiastic or motivated by spite (or else paid professionals, but that's something else). If you are not confident that you have really, really enthusiastic readers, assume spite.

There may be something weird behind the scenes - do the people who requested the ARCs know each other via blogging or something? All that would have to happen would be a popular person doesn't like the book, they all chat about how "awful" it is and then there's a consensus that hardens and is impossible to change.

Also, honestly, one of my favorite science fiction writers, L. Timmel DuChamp, is technically kind of...hit and miss. She's a weird writer, the first two books in her big series are uneven, the series itself is, well, either you'll like it or you won't; her short stories are really strange and sometimes kind of boring in a way that none the less sort of tickles the brain. And the press she runs, Aqueduct, publishes a lot of stuff that's boring and weird in that same ticklish way - like something sour and sharp that you none the less can't stop eating.

Like, a lot of people would probably say that she's a bad writer, and they'd be wrong.

I have other favorite writers who have Large Obvious Things Wrong with their writing. There are a number of first books that I really like that are flawed, too - if this is your first book, hey, maybe it's not your ultimate best-ever, but that doesn't mean it's bad! Most people never write novels at all, much less get them published and have an actual editor and agent. If you have an actual editor and agent who think it's good enough to publish, it is at least a good-enough novel. The worst possibility here is that you wrote a good-enough first novel with some interesting/difficult features. If you did that, some people are going to love this book.

I know I'm writing a wall here, but I have feelings. There are a ton of "good" on-trend novels that get published every week and forgotten within a year. Odd books that speak strongly to a small number of people tend to have longer lives because they have a small number of passionate advocates and they tend to be a bit different from everything else that comes out.
posted by Frowner at 9:06 AM on July 15, 2021 [7 favorites]

I think it's an important step of putting things out into public to be able to 'deal' with negative reactions, and I actually think mean critiques on Goodreads is a relatively decent way to prepare for much harsher reviews that you may not be able to close on your own time and at your own volition.

Doesn't mean you have to agree or change your ideas, and you should never respond, but just do a bit of work to prepare.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:07 AM on July 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've always liked this famous quote from Teddy Roosevelt:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. ... "

it goes on, and may be inspiring to you. Congrats on your first novel!
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:12 AM on July 15, 2021 [6 favorites]

Congratulations on the book! Also: sorry that you are dealing with the insanity.

A bit of a derail and I swear that I am not wearing a thin tinfoil hat as I write this. My theory of the case, as far as anonymous internet commenting goes: I ask why? Who has the time? What is there to be gained? I believe that there are several, nefarious actors whose actions are low-current and site specific. The intent is to stir the pot of democracy to see what they can bring up. Foment confusion, anger, dissent, division and hatred. This is a long game and the moves are small but impactful. Websites like twitter, facebook and reddit are full of ingenuine commentary that further division. Of course, there are genuine assholes with plenty of time to just act out but, I do believe that there are tactical engagements happening all the time. Is this the case? Well, I do think some of it is at least possible. The damage caused is not readily visible and compounding. In terms of the tactics used in an asymmetrical cyber war this seems to fit the bill.

Goodreads is a big enough platform to warrant any bad-actor into spending time sowing discord at a market aimed at people who like to read (people who are educated).

Regardless: don't read the comments. As recommended above: don't reply to the comments.

You don't deserve this to be happening and I'm sorry that it is.
posted by zerobyproxy at 9:30 AM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

You already have a bunch of good feedback here, but I'm adding my anecdotal data that everyone that I know who uses GoodReads does it to log which books they've read for their own reference, not to discover new titles. And when I've looked up GoodReads reviews in the past for books I've loved, the reviews have been so dumb, frequently sexist, and out of whack that I immediately ignored them and looked for "real" reviews by actual thoughtful reviewers. So there may be a subculture that uses it to experiment with being assholes, but that's not what this anecdotal reader takes away from the site!

Also as a former professional writer myself, I just peeked at your writing style on MetaFilter comments and posts, and I am pleased to inform you that this internet stranger has deemed you a Very Good Writer and I wish you the very best with your new novel, congrats!!
posted by rogerroger at 9:37 AM on July 15, 2021 [7 favorites]

I personally don't bother with Goodreads, except when I can't find the entry on Amazon.

Some people are just mean and they think getting a mean opinion out there makes them appear to be "serious" reviewers. IMHO, of course.
posted by kschang at 9:54 AM on July 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, 44 answers! I'm at my day job but just first of all wanted to say thank you, and secondly that I will be diving in and reading them with gratitude as soon as I get a chance. I also suspect I'll be coming back to this page time and again when I'm about to click on Goodreads to have a look there – coming here will be *far* healthier.

And thirdly that @Terretu, I agree, The Blue Flower IS a masterpiece. A beautiful, perfectly written novel!
posted by Ella_Bella at 10:14 AM on July 15, 2021 [10 favorites]

One thing that I have noticed in the last few months on Goodreads is that there seems to have been an influx of bots or something. Every time I mark a book as read, random accounts are liking the review (even though it's not a review or even a rating). Consider that some of those reviews may not even be real!
posted by zoetrope at 10:49 AM on July 15, 2021 [10 favorites]

I would not look at GoodReads if it's causing you distress- don't let other's input take away the pride you should feel at such an accomplishment! And honestly there's very little gain you can get from interacting with the folks on there, anyway.

I use the site as my own personal rating a d tracking system. There's a ton of books I've rated on there that reflect how I enjoyed the book, not necessarily how some objective sense of the goodness of the book would be interpreted. It helps me to make sure I don't read similar books in the future if I didn't like that one. While I understand the site is some kind of social media, I enjoy that I don't really have to interact with others on it. As others have said, just because something has a community it doesn't mean it's a good one or you're obligated to be part of it.
posted by shesaysgo at 10:56 AM on July 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

I spend a lot of time on Goodreads, mostly to find and keep track of my reads, and also to find eloquent words supporting why I loved a certain book. Equally satisfying as a reader is to find the right words for why I did not enjoy a certain book. Often I don't have words for why something just didn't sit well with me, and it helps to seek out community around that shared experience of reading it. Parody book summaries are sometimes really entertaining and it's easy for people to forget the author may be reading them too. For ARC books, posting mean spirited stuff is just awful, and reflects more about the reader than you!

I also wanted to +1 shesaysgo's comment about most people writing about why they liked or did not like a book not being the same as an objectively written book review. Most people, myself included, are not professional writers and don't have the context, experience, or diligence to write a fair book review. All most of us can do is say why we liked or didn't like it, and much of that is based on our biases and expectations either being met or not. How those expectations get there in the first place is hardly ever explored.
posted by oxisos at 12:36 PM on July 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm over 50 so I tend toward reviews from traditional media and legitimate paid critics so I would say - if you can - try and get actual book critics to review your book. And hopefully they are positive. I don't know if that helps but maybe discerning readers look at the Goodreads ratings with some skepticism. Good luck.
posted by Rashomon at 1:34 PM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Reviewers have a primary obligation to be thoughtful and truthful, not to be kind, and the ones who think too much about the author's feelings are violating an ethical code that I think they should hold, even though not all of them do.

now: truthful, in subjective matters, does not mean correct! they can all mean every word they said and have no personal malice towards you whatsoever, and be wrong, especially if they are not terribly bright. They can believe whatever they said, and your book can be great, without any dishonesty or meanness involved. Biases show: they show in reviews, same as they show in published work, and readers of reviews can see obvious problems and leaps of logic just as well as reviewers can see those things in books. but deeply negative reviews are not personal attacks (unless they do actually include personal attacks) and do not always indicate bias, even as they are also not always right.

I wonder how they could have so misinterpreted things that me, my agent, editor and beta readers knew worked well

but none of you can know that. that things in your book "work" is a subjective opinion held in common by a group of people with intense personal investment in your success. also a group of people (the editor and agent in particular) with specialized expertise in knowing what's publishable and salable, so it's not like you shouldn't trust them. it's just that this is an area where knowledge per se doesn't apply very well.

If I were you I would be devastated; I care a lot about people's opinion of my work. but I think if you can privately designate a few people whose opinion you value, both private readers and professional critics, and commit to paying attention to their responses and only theirs, you will be better off. And any niche book with intense appeal to a select few will be disliked by a lot of others, no matter how good it is. I would worry more about bland reviews than vicious ones, honestly.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:17 PM on July 15, 2021 [2 favorites]


Second: I'm a journalist, not (yet) an author, but the first thing editors told me was NEVER READ THE COMMENTS. I have, or course. Also a relative yelled at me once and I told him "You're free to get your own damned piece published (in a top ten outlet)."

Third: I use Goodreads to track my own reading. If I love something, I'll give it four or five stars with the briefest possible "I liked this because X" review. I read A LOT of stuff I don't finish/care for, but don't trash it with the VERY rare exception of when something is egregiously racist/sexist/etc. The people who have time to snark are the people who've never had their own writing published. As my mother said, "Consider the source."

Big writerly hugs to you.
posted by cyndigo at 4:33 PM on July 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

I just want to say I have been using Goodreads to find books recently and have noted to myself that a lot of the negative reviews are really off base! Some are negative takes on qualities about the work that are true (reviewer complains the book is pointless and meandering, I like meandering books) but some of them make me feel like I read a whole other book. Most recently someone was criticizing the author's weird fixation with putting vomit in every short story in the collection, except... that literally turned out not to be the case??
posted by dusty potato at 4:48 PM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, also want to add to the above saying that over the years I have read soooo many lovely books that delighted me but I have never in my life left a review. It might be kind of a bummer to have to just imagine that there are a ton of people out there quietly cherishing your book but it's almost definitely true.
posted by dusty potato at 4:53 PM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

First, many congratulations on your book! That is truly an accomplishment, and you should be very proud.

Second, I've been meaning to ditch Goodreads for Storygraph, and this thread is reminding me that I should really get on that.

I've used Goodreads consistently since 2007 and reviewed over 700 books. Like others have mentioned, for me it's about keeping track of what I read, putting down a few words so I remember how I felt about a particular book or author, etc.

One thing I DO like about Goodreads is following IRL friends, seeing what they read, and adding books to my shelves as appropriate. I swear, probably a third of the books on my to-read shelf (currently at 325) are there because a friend of mine from grad school wrote a positive GR review, and I've found that our taste overlaps beautifully.

When I look at reviews, I scroll RIGHT PAST anything that's full of gifs, special characters, and ranting. I DO focus on the reviews written by people I actually know, or by accounts I've decided to follow because I liked some of their reviews. Which is to say, thoughtful readers are probably scrolling right past all those negative reviews that are clearly about being snarky or getting attention. I certainly do.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 5:04 PM on July 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

If the bad reviews are really depressing you, it may indeed be best to just not read them. No need to torture yourself! But I've published a few books and I've found that even the mean reviews can sometimes be useful.

You have to learn to ignore the irrelevant, dumb and/or bizarre stuff and focus on any criticism that may have merit. If the mean reviews say you're using too many commas, maybe take a closer look at your commas. If they say the book's ending doesn't make sense, take another look at your ending. If you decide your critics are wrong, you don't need to make any changes. But if there's something to what they say, then that's something for you to work on in the next book.

If I got a scathing review from a professional critic, somebody who knew what they were doing and tore me apart with wit and insight, that could really mess me up. But some rando in Ohio who clearly just did not get my book, accuses me of being a feminazi, and can't spell? Well, his bad review stings too, but unless he's got something useful to say I'll just shrug it off and get back to work.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:22 AM on July 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh, one more thing.

You need to separate the rant / put-down from the genuine criticisms. The former is just mean. The latter helps you improve.

If they just say "characters are shallow and plot cliche", that's not helpful. That's just an opinion, and they are like noses and ****holes. Everyone's got one.

If they say "MMC is cookie-cutter 'strong-silent type' the flipped into emotional wreck after sexual encounter with FMC", that's a more detailed criticism and you *should* read that. It has details on what they perceive to be problematic.
posted by kschang at 5:54 AM on July 16, 2021

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