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Author Advice: Goodreads

A fellow new-author friend emailed to ask how she should deal with various social media and, though I assured her my wisdom is both scant and questionable, I typed out what I knew about Goodreads. It's really long, though, and I thought it might be useful to others. I will probably eventually type out thoughts on what I've figured out about Twitter and Facebook and maybe I will share those too. But for now, here's what I had to say about Goodreads, a site I had nothing to do with until I became an author so I really had to figure this out from the ground up - and am still figuring it out, honestly.


Everyone knows it can be a toxic swamp, but everyone also knows it's the home of a billion book-fiends so you probably shouldn't completely ignore it. Go ahead and claim your author profile, but from there it's all a bunch of choices of exactly how to engage, and when, and where, and why.

You can interact with GR as a reader and as a writer, but never forget that you're An Author now, so you're never really allowed to be Just A Reader ever again, in the eyes of non-authors. It's just how it is, and I don't know why even though when I was Just A Reader, I had the same attitude. You cross over some line when you publish, and that line has much meaning to readers even though it becomes virtually meaningless to us readers-turned-authors. So on GR you are both reading and being read and you gotta be mindful like alllll the time.

As an author: There are rules. Sure you can break them because they're understood and not, like, enforceable law - but you're not an idiot, so here's what you need to know: Do not respond to reviews. Do not. Ever. DON'T. There a jillion stories of authors who out themselves as complete assholes this way. Don't become one of them. Even if you're polite and well-intentioned and you think it's the most innocuous comment ever? Don't do it. And look, don't even ask why, or wonder what if you did, or ponder how best to state your case - none of that. Stop even thinking of it. Take away the possibility of response in your mind, completely. Convince yourself of this inviolable truth: when you became an author you inadvertently activated some crazy-ass magic that prevents you from ever commenting on your own work at the Goodreads platform. Don't even bother clicking that "comment" button because it doesn't work for you. Don't even bother being tempted. (I don't care that you've seen a very successful author do it, and do it well, and still have a kajillion followers. You're asking me the smart way to navigate and I'm telling you to stay the hell out of shark-infested waters.)

I just recommend not reading the reviews there, even the good ones. It's a reader space, and it's a really...unique atmosphere over there and they're going to talk differently about your book - and because it's a public discussion (and the internet) it's performative, and the truth is there are a lot of frankly mean and unintelligent people who read books and they are often also vocal and even if they account for like 1 in every 50 comments? You don't want to hear what they have to say. You just don't. If you don't believe me, think of the best book you ever read, that piece of shining perfection that is embedded in your soul because it is so utterly amazing. Then pull up the low-rating reviews of it on GR and read them through. It's mind-boggling and it will kill your faith in humanity, and it's not even YOUR book.

So spare yourself, and avoid avoid avoid. Every time I've succumbed to temptation and looked in on What Readers Are Saying, I've regretted it. Every time - even when the reviews are positive! (but I am weird, so) I check in on my dashboard there every once in a while to look at the general trend, I post announcements as blog entries there, and I look for any reader questions sent to me. That's about it.

As a reader: Personally I keep track of what I've read there, but I don't rate or review anything, even if I love it. Many authors do rate and review, and you just have to feel out what's right for you. However if you DO rate and review (and this goes for everywhere you're posting as your author self), you should assume that the author will see it, or hear about it somehow. That means that if the author is someone you're friends with - or are just friendly with, or would like to be friendly with - don't say a goddamn thing you wouldn't say to their face in response to them asking "Did you like my book?" (Would you seriously ever respond with, "Meh, three stars, not bad" or "It was okay but the plot was weak"? To their face? No. Because you're not an asshole.) Lord knows I don't expect everyone to like my writing but if I hear a fellow author publicly state anything about my books? I remember it. And here's the hard truth: if they say something non-positive about my book, I am not likely to ever say a nice thing about their work and I damn sure amn't ever gonna be any kind of real friends with them. I'm petty like that, but here's why I'm telling you: I can GUARANTEE I'm not alone.

So if you can't be positive, just keep your trap shut, that's my policy. I mean, unless they write something truly heinous that makes the world a worse place and you'd never want them to succeed, or you don't care if they hated you - if that's the case, let er rip. And I guess if they are super-famous and established and A Legend, maybe they see new and struggling nobody-authors like us as though we're the equivalent of gnats and our comments not worth caring about. Maybe. (Man, it'd be nice to genuinely not care. But in my experience, even the Very Established And Famous writers do care, at least a little.) It's not that you can't have an opinion, but if you can't say "I liked it and here's why" then maybe keep that opinion private. If asked - and ONLY if asked (by someone who's not a friend), the most you can safely say is like "Yeah, I read it but it's really not my kind of book" or something similar.

I guess my point is that (unless it's racist or rapey or equally horrifying, obvs) be supportive. This is a very hard career and these are your colleagues. If you want to go back to giving unsolicited and unvarnished negative opinions of your colleagues' pride and joy (and source of income), then maybe go back to being Just A Reader. Because when you make those comments as a Fellow Author it feels very personal. (I mean, it can get personal when Just-A-Readers say unkind things, no doubt. But that's different. It just is.)

BTW, by the same token, when a fellow author loves and gushes about my stuff? It means the world and can truly help in a tangible (sales) way, so factor that into your choice on if you're going to rate and review anywhere.

Other stuff:

  • You can join discussion groups on GR and participate however you like. Just read each group's rules and abide by them. Don't join just to promote yourself and don't promo all over their discussion boards.

  • Most of your activity gets posted to your profiel and timeline feed, so anyone who "follows" you on GR will see that you, like, voted on a poll or liked someone's review or whatever. Just be aware.

  • There are various schools of thought on whether to "like" a review of your own book or not. I did this for my first 2 or 3 reviews there because I was so freaking excited that anyone even read it much less said something about it. But I stopped because, again: it's a reader's space. And as a reader, I recognize that any reminder that the author even exists as a human (with fingers that can click on things!) changes how I talk about the book. So my personal policy is to allow reader spaces to be free of my presence in all possible ways. But that's me.

  • Friending and Following: Go on and follow your favorite authors and authors who are friends if you want, see what they're doing. No harm, if you want to do that. I don't know about friending people - and I don't mean that I'm doubtful, I mean I sincerely don't know. I've gotten a couple of friend requests and I said yes because it seemed rude not to. Their stuff shows up in my GR home page feed, which I almost never look at, and that's about it. So I don't see any harm in it and maybe you'll find some use in it if you use the site a lot, I dunno.

  • The general (current) wisdom on GR giveaways is that they're actually pretty useless in terms of sales and reviews. Like, sure it'll get more people to put you on their "to-read" shelf, but that's it. And who knows if that actually means any damn thing. Do one if you want, but just don't expect anything much from it except that a random person gets a free-to-them book.

  • The general (current) wisdom on GR ads is that they are even more useless than giveaways, so save your money.

That's all I know & think about Goodreads. Mostly I avoided it like the plague when I was a reader because of my naturally occurring dislike of online communities, and now I avoid it like the plague as an author because it's too damn dangerous for both your mental health and your career. Your mileage, as ever, may vary, so now that you have an idea of the pitfalls - at least the ones I've encountered - go on and figure out how you're going to deal (or not deal) with it.

But seriously: don't comment on your reviews. Don't.

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