It’s been a while. I decided to take a break from my book blog as I wasn’t getting any joy from writing reviews anymore. But, I had a revelation recently that I can still keep up my book blog by writing discussion posts, recommended reading, diverse reading lists etc. They give me joy. So, here it is, my first discussion post on my book blog, and it has been a LONG time coming.
Before we get into it, it’s personal time.
I started my Goodreads account in 2015, I think. It was originally just a reader’s Goodreads account, but as a indie poet and author, I realised that I could become a Goodreads author and control my books’ information. As a non-binary queer, this was a blessing. I could make sure that my pronouns were correct and my bio was accurate. Not only this, I could also add information about my books, for example, content warnings for my readers. As a new indie author, I thought I won the lottery, and I did in a way.
But here’s the thing: I still continued to read and rate books on Goodreads and adding friends on there just the same as I had done as a reader. I even added authors and other indie authors/poets on there too. So, here I was, continuing to use this account as I had before, but when your account becomes an “Author Profile”, anyone can access your profile, which is great! But as a reader/author/book blogger, I began to see problems with the whole Goodreads Author Program, and the main issue was a power imbalance.
I can’t quite remember if I did this, but I remember considering the following: rating my own book. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? An author rating their own book on a reviewing site. Would you see an actor nominating themselves for an Oscar or rating their film on a reviewing site? Probably not. But on Goodreads, Goodreads Authors are rating their books left, right, and centre.
When I saw this, following lots of authors, I noticed that I as a reader felt incredibly uncomfortable. It took some time for me to identify why, but here it is: I felt like my reviews were being overseen by the authors of the books I was reading/rating/reviewing/commenting on etc. As a newbie to the Twitter book community in 2017, I soon learned of readers who felt the same. Readers shouldn’t be uncomfortable on a site made specifically for them. It’s not on, not at all.
I began to think of why it made me uncomfortable as a fellow author also. When I considered rating my own books, I felt like I was being self-important and arrogant. My anxiety intensified this train of thought. Thoughts like: “your book isn’t worthy of 5 stars“, “you won’t be successful as an author” etc. I’ve never been one to toot my own horn, but when I saw other authors mark their books as 5 stars, I thought, is this what I’m supposed to do? Is this the norm? But why do I feel weird about it, if I remove my anxiety thinking traps? Because I wouldn’t have wrote my book if it didn’t matter to me. Forget about ratings, awards, success. 5 stars don’t mean shit if you don’t care about your books. There are authors like that, who just write for success and money.
But anyway, I saw other authors rating their books 5 stars, and I combined my concerns as an author and a reader and tweeted about it in late 2017, calling out authors who had rated their books 5 stars on Goodreads. And guess what, folks? I received some passive-aggressive BS from some authors (authors that I used to admire by the way). At the time, I backtracked because I didn’t want to upset folks. These authors in question proceeded to soft-block me on all social media accounts. At the time, I was stunned. I thought, really? Over this? I was sad about it, but not anymore, folks. Anyway, enough personal. Let’s get into it.
I mentioned this briefly in my introduction. There is a significant power dynamic in play between readers/bloggers and authors. Even between readers and indie authors.
In simple terms, authors have power over their readers. How? Books. Why? Books are created by authors first and foremost, and then given to the world aka readers. There are numerous theories on what is an author and what is a reader and how they relate to each other, but I’ll leave that to university professors. However, the fact that there is actual literary theory behind the author-reader relationship goes to show that there is something powerful going on here and shouldn’t be ignored.
When an author rates their book on Goodreads or any other reviewing site, the author is essentially communicating the following:
- Their insecurity about the success of their books
- Their self-importance over readers
- Their watchfulness over their books’ reviews and ratings etc
- Their awareness of the power dynamic between authors and readers – that they are powerful
Authors shouldn’t rely on ratings and reviews as a measure of success. To do so, it harms authors and readers. Insecurity causes an author to check up on their books on Goodreads. I’ve done it myself many times, and does it comfort me? No. Never does.
Authors should be writing books that matter to them, because they want to tell the stories. Storytellers are culturally important, we’ve had them since the beginning of humanity. We also need people to listen to these stories – readers. Nowadays, we have bookstores, library, online book retailers. Accessibility to books has generally improved since the beginning of last century. The higher the accessibility, the higher the readership. More readers, therefore more thoughts on a book which can make their way to Goodreads.
Readers read for many reasons – for pleasure, academic reasons, reference. Sites like Goodreads allow readers to share their joy or aha! moment with other readers. But if we have authors rating their books 5 stars on there, front and centre, why do we need readers? What’s the point of the reader if the author doesn’t need someone to listen or read their books? I know this is getting a bit intense, but small actions like this lead to bigger disruptions to our storytelling culture.
Insecurity about one’s worth is a natural thing to experience, but in a position of power, such an author, you have a duty to fulfil – to have a balanced relationship with a reader. To respect boundaries and spaces.
This leads into my next point. Everyone needs space, room, boundaries, privacy. A room of one’s own, as Virginia Woolf once said.
When I raised this point in 2017 on Twitter, one of the authors who displayed their insecurity found my word choice, self-important, self-absorbed, arrogant (whatever I said at the time), to be awful. I mean, doesn’t that say it all?
From this tweet, a couple of other authors responded, a bit more politely with the following thoughts (these are paraphrases):
- “I am proud of my work therefore I want to rate it 5 stars”
- “Authors who do this aren’t self-absorbed, they are just doing this for self-love reasons”
To address both, there is a difference between being proud and being self-important. The first thought was from a popular author with a larger following on Twitter than any of the others, so believe me when I say that I was startled and a tad anxious about it all. It is perfectly normal to feel proud of your creations, but why do it on a reviewing site? If you’re proud of your work, talk about it on social media and/or your book events, i.e. in places and spaces that belong to you as an author.
Do you see singers, bands nominating themselves for awards and/or voting for themselves? No. Do you see restaurants, cafes, museums giving themselves 5 stars on Trip Advisor? No.
Authors are creators and readers are consumers. That’s it. (Of course, you will have author-readers like myself, but I’ll go into that later.) Authors can’t consume their work like a reader does, and Goodreads is where reader digest their thoughts (weird analogy going on here – sorry!)
Regarding the second thought from a second author, self-love is important, but there is a thin line between self-love and self-importance. You can love yourself but you can still be harmful to other people. Self-love is accepting yourself with flaws and all. Self-importance is having an exaggerated view of yourself aka arrogance.
Self-love isn’t 5 stars. Self-love is accepting that not everyone will like your work, not understand your work, or even appreciate your work. However, if an author goes and “self-loves” by rating 5 stars, they not only expose their insecurities as an author but they show readers that their thoughts matter the least.
By rating books 5 stars, authors place themselves EVEN HIGHER than before over readers and reviewers. As I mentioned before, what’s the point of a reviewing site if a reader and/or reviewer’s thoughts aren’t prioritised? I’m not saying that a reader can’t be bigoted. I’ve seen some reviews that have made me want to send myself into the sun. As much as a reader is important, they do not own the work of an author at all and they are equally responsible for the balanced relationship between author and reader.
I can hear the “Not All Authors” comment coming. But here’s the thing, the omnipresent author position has a psychological and emotional impact on readers, particulars reviewers and book bloggers.
On a side note, you may have seen me differ between “reader”, “reviewer”, and “book blogger”. To me, a reader and a reviewer can be different things. A reader is someone who reads books (in the simplest sense) and a reviewer is someone who reads a book and expresses their thoughts of the book on a platform somewhere. You also have the book blogger which is kinda used interchangeably with reviewer, but for me, a book blogger is someone who talks about books, varying from topic to topic.
Anyway, the watchful author. I’ve seen authors not only rate their books 5 stars, but also do the following harmful things:
- Liking reviews
- Commenting on reviews – thanking the reviewer
- Commenting on reviews – attacking the reviewer and other readers in the comments
- Screenshot Goodreads reviews and email them to the relevant reviewer to “correct” them of their apparently wrong thoughts.
- Publicly call out a reviewer on social media
The first two things aren’t the worst, but they are a rung on the ladder to truly harmful behaviour. When an author begins to like reviews (either on Goodreads or elsewhere), they psychologically inform the reader that they watch the reviews of their works.
Before I became a Goodreads author or just an author altogether, this happened to me a few times, and it really surprised me. I thought to myself, which was probably harmful to think: why should this author care about my thoughts? Soon this became: shouldn’t the author be doing other things rather than watching the success of their books on a reviewing site?
The other three behaviours are atrocious and are just as bad as each other, but folks, I’ve seen it happen countless times to book bloggers and reviewers. I’ve seen book bloggers been harassed by big time authors (who I won’t name) on social media, through the book bloggers sharing screenshots of the emails they’ve received from authors and internet trolls about their reviews, and so much more. All three of these behaviours CAN start, and I emphasise “can” because the majority of authors are decent people, by authors rating their books on reviewing sites. It is indeed a slippery slope.
All of these behaviours, especially the last three I mentioned, can cause an immense impact on a reviewer’s wellbeing. Book bloggers have left the blogging community because of the impact on their mental health. I’ve seen book bloggers publicly insulted, harassed, doxxed by big time authors as well as indie authors. All because the book blogger expressed their own view of an author’s book. Wait, what’s a reader again?!? I am confusion. (Again, I’m not excusing book bloggers who hate books purely for their own bigoted reasons, that’s different)
In essence, Goodreads is for reviewers, NOT AUTHORS, in case I didn’t make that clear. If I had realised this, I would have never joined the Author Program myself. What I have done, as an author-book blogger, is created a separate account for my book blogging activities. This stops me from seeing my books on my profile and stops the urge to check on them. I now only ever use my author account to update information or add a new book.
The Goodreads Author Program has far more cons than pros as I’ve said. Personally, it has allowed me to write my own bio with my own pronouns and write information for my books. But that’s it. That’s really all you get with the Program, which is kinda the same status as a Goodreads Librarian.
ANYWAY. I wish Goodreads never introduced the Program/would do away with it. It should be a matter of an email to a librarian to add a new book, update information, add content warnings etc.
When an author rates their book aka announces their presence on their book’s profile, they know that they’re in power here. They have access to their books reviews and ratings. They have access to the names of reviewer/book bloggers and their information. Information that they shouldn’t have.
When an author decides to become an author, they become a public figure. Some reviewers become public figures, but much less so. When a public figure exerts their presence, it is KNOWN. It is felt. It is seen. It affects the body and mind. That’s how psychology works. We aren’t immune to another’s presence, especially the presence of a public figure. It doesn’t matter how “big” a public figure is, when an author (traditionally published, indie, self-published) makes their presence known on a reviewing site, it affects reviewers whether they’re aware of it or not. It can cause reviewers to delete reviews, rigorously edit reviews, up the rating of books, remove social media links etc.
The dynamic between author and reader is incredibly powerful because stories are powerful. Things that we create are powerful because they manifest from time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears etc. But authors and readers, especially authors, need to treat that power carefully.
What are your thoughts on Authors on Goodreads? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know your thoughts below.
Until next time, be brave & bookish!