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How this Debut Book Author used Goodreads as a Weapon Against Fellow Writers?

A scandal that rocked the book world


How this Debut Book Author used Goodreads as a Weapon Against Fellow Writers?
Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

Online reviews drive the market.


They can help you win a fanbase and customers. But what if those reviews are being used against you?


This is exactly what happened on Goodreads, a place where book lovers come to hang out. And we are here with all the details.



Who set off the bomb of fake reviews?


The interesting thing about Goodreads is that reviews can be posted even before a book is published. Many publishers and writers send advanced copies of books to readers in return for reviews.


The aim is to create hype.


When a number of suspicious reviews popped up on Goodreads trashing many books but one, people noticed.


Here is what went down.


The evidence of fake accounts posting reviews was compiled in a Google document. Canadian author Xiran Jay Zhao tweeted its link.


The perpetrator of this crime? A writer named Cait Corrain.


Corrain used a bunch of fake accounts. Through them, she posted a slew of negative reviews on various books. Meanwhile, she gave 5 stars to her own book.


Corrain’s debut novel, ‘Crown of Starlight’ was scheduled to be published in 2024.


Initially, these actions were denied by the up-and-coming author. She blamed it all on a fictitious person named Lilly. Later, she accepted that she herself was the one doing the review bombing. As you might have guessed, this led to quite an uproar.


Many felt that Corrain’s actions were racist as she predominantly targeted people of color.


An apology was posted by Corrain on X (formerly Twitter). She blamed her actions on depression, alcoholism, and substance abuse.


Her apology, in part, reads:


“Let me be extremely clear: while I might not have been sober or of sound mind during this time, I accept responsibility for the pain and suffering I caused…”

Corrain’s publisher dropped her book. Her literary agent also distanced herself.


Seems like the only thing Corrain bombed was her own career.


The review bombing scandal not only was bad for Corrain but also for the platform itself. Many questioned if there were enough checks and balances to save writers from fake reviews.


This is not the first time Goodreads was in the headlines. In 2023, Elizabeth Gilbert, the popular author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ canceled the publication of her novel set in Russia.


Without reading her book, users review bombed her on Goodreads urging her to not go ahead with it. They wrongfully assumed the novel to be pro-Russian.


A place for marketing books


‘Meet your next favorite book.’


This is the tagline of Goodreads.


Founded by two Stanford graduates in 2007, Goodreads was bought out by Amazon in 2013. As of 2022, the membership of the website has grown to more than 140 million.


With a huge number of audience who are clearly into books, Goodreads is important not only for readers but for publishers and writers as well.


Many publishers deem it important for writers to score solid reviews on Goodreads.

Literary agent, Michael Larsen says:


“Goodreads and other social media can make any book a bestseller.”

A quick internet search online turns up many guides to help writers use Goodreads as a tool for success.


Such a platform can make or break a career. Imagine a writer’s career being burned to the ground even before it started.


Is creating an online safe space possible?


Is Goodreads doing enough to protect the authors from trolls?


As with any social media platform, Goodreads has Community Guidelines. It also has Review Guidelines.


The review guidelines state, ‘If we detect unusual reviewing behavior on a book, we might temporarily limit the ability to submit ratings and reviews.’


How much can a platform do to stop malicious behavior?

In light of the scandal, Goodreads deleted the fake profiles created by Corrain.


Before the #Reviewbombgate became known, Goodreads had already posted about review bombing on 31st Oct.


It says:


“This kind of activity is not tolerated on Goodreads…”

The statement also urges the members to report any suspicious activity.


Some authors still feel that guidelines are not enough to stop the malicious activity.


As one writer commented to The Guardian, “I know that my other writer friends all actively try to stay away (from Goodreads) because no one wants to see some of the ugly stuff that people are putting up there.”


Can Agents and Editors Do Better?


The solution might not be with Goodreads.


How much can a platform do to stop malicious behavior? I am guessing not much.


Due to the sheer volume of content posted to websites every day, it is virtually impossible to process each piece through human eyes. Well, there should be ways to report and ban suspicious accounts for sure.


What else?


Courtney Maum, author of ‘Before and After the Book Deal’ has an interesting suggestion.


She says that whenever you get a new job, there is an onboarding process where you learn the ropes. How to behave in the company, what is the organization’s culture, what to wear, etc.


But when it comes to book publishing, the authors get no guidance. There are no instructions.


Maum writes:


“First-time author ignorance is also the fault of the publishing industry because no instruction manual exists.”

She thinks part of Cat Corrain’s behavior stemmed from jealousy and pre-publishing stress, which might have been handled if she had better guidance. Maum even shares her own positive experience with her gent who taught her a lot.



For better or worse…


Here is what I think.


Social media has its uses and its downsides.


All online platforms are susceptible to abuse by people who want to bring others down. It can be a jealous ex, a frenemy, or a straight-out lunatic.


The Internet shrinks distances.

Just like in real life, there are all sorts of people online. But there is one difference. The Internet shrinks distances. It allows people to cause issues for a person who is on the other side of the globe without physically reaching them.


Through regulations and transparency, we might be able to limit such instances. But thinking that they can be completely stopped is like living in a fool’s paradise.


However, the effects of ‘cancel culture’ and ‘review bombing’ are far-reaching. They can destroy lives and careers.


Let’s all promise to do our best in being kind to our fellow humans and in teaching the next generations to do the same, be it online or offline.


 

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