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The Amazon-owned social cataloguing site, Goodreads, is widely used by authors, both those just starting out and those well-established, to engage with readers and promote their works. However, a previously less noticed aspect of the platform, known as review-bombing, has recently come to the fore. This activity involves a large number of negative ratings and comments, and can markedly affect a book’s public perception. This emerging trend is presenting new challenges for authors and their works. Debut author Cecilia Rabess experienced the impact of review-bombing first-hand with her book, “Everything’s Fine”, on Goodreads.

The Goodreads Phenomenon

Goodreads, a site that unites book enthusiasts, enables users to engage in discussions and share their views about books. This community-led model is an integral part of the platform’s appeal, fostering a vibrant and engaged network of readers. Yet, it’s this very interactivity that’s being exploited through the phenomenon of review-bombing.

everythings fine cecilia rabess
Everything’s Fine’ by Cecilia Rabess

The Consequences of Pre-Publication Criticism

Following the viral spread of a plot summary posted by a user with an advance copy, her book was inundated with one-star reviews and negative comments. This occurred six months before the book’s publication.

Even though Goodreads’ model of user-generated content is a key factor in its appeal, the platform’s lack of control over premature reviews and ratings is impacting authors’ works, sometimes before they even reach the public. While Rabess’ book featured on several anticipated book lists, its launch was slower than expected, demonstrating the possible influence of pre-publication reviews on sales and perception.

The Issue Spares No One

It’s not only new authors who are affected by this practice. Established authors, such as Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love”, have also found themselves on the receiving end of mass criticism on Goodreads. Gilbert’s forthcoming novel, “The Snow Forest,” received negative ratings due to objections about its Russian setting amidst the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Gilbert took the unexpected step of postponing her novel’s publication in response to the criticism. She’s not the first to do so. Other authors, including Keira Drake, Amélie Wen Zhao, and Kosoko Jackson, have deferred or cancelled their novels following criticism on Goodreads and Twitter.

Maintaining the Authenticity of Reviews

Goodreads asserts that they are committed to preserving the authenticity of their ratings and take their community responsibilities seriously. They claim to have improved their ability to identify and remove content that contravenes community guidelines. However, with review-bombing persisting, some authors feel that the platform should do more to protect them.

As it stands, Goodreads remains a significant platform for both authors and readers. Yet, the ongoing issue of review-bombing and the perceived need for improved regulation highlights the potential risks of user-generated content. While the advantages of community interaction are numerous, there is a growing consensus that safeguards should be put in place to prevent misuse.

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