The Goodreads question

Posted in writing, Miscellaneous.

I’m asked, semi-frequently, to join Goodreads. I actually started this post as part of a FAQ I’m working on, but then it got too long to be useful there. (I know this will come as a huge shock to all of you.) So! Here it is.

I haven’t joined Goodreads, yet. This is not because I don’t read – I do – or because I don’t want to interact with my readers – I do, obviously, which is why I have this website, my Facebook page, my Twitter feed and hopefully, if I can figure it out, my Tumblr. (There’s an “Ask me anything” link at both the top and the bottom of the Tumblr page, and it sends the question to my inbox, where I can answer it, and the answer will be posted. In theory.)3

I consider Goodreads to be a board for readers. And I’ve come to understand, over time, that I can’t be present as an author and interact as a reader without some difficulty. If, for instance, someone hates my book (any book; pick one) that’s a perfectly valid response: being a reader, reading itself, is entirely about the reader. I can’t respond to that as a reader; I wrote the book. So far, so good (actually, I’ll come back to this point in a minute).

But if, for example, someone hates, say, Tanya Huff’s book (any book), and I love it and disagree — I can’t actually respond as a reader, either, even though my response would be a reader response–I didn’t write her book(s); I don’t think like Tanya. I read them as a reader, and evaluate them as a reader. But I can’t talk about Tanya’s books on goodreads and not be Michelle Sagara the author to many of the people who might be discussing it. If I disagree with another reader’s take on a book, many other readers will assume that I’m doing so as part of an authorial action–because I’m her friend, not because I actually disagree (people who know me in real life, oddly enough, never assume this). I could talk only about books written by people I do not know, have never met, or have never interacted with, but even then, there are problems. So: I can’t use Goodreads as a reader.

could use it as a writer.

But now we return to the point above. Goodreads is for readers, and I do read, but I can’t be present there as a reader. Unless I’m anonymous. (For a variety of reasons, I never do anything anonymously on the internet; I never have.)

And it’s a place where readers necessarily discuss and share their reactions to books–mine among them. Given how definitively I offer my loves and hates when I’m recommending books in the bookstore at which I work, I know that this is a wonderful thing. I want to be able to throw a book across a room in disgust; I want to be able to rave about a book that I adored and press it into as many hands as possible.


I am not immune to reader responses about my work. And as many people do, I tend to place a disproportionate amount of emotional weight on unhappy reader reviews or comments. It’s not unlike having a favorite coat/dress/piece of clothing, and overhearing, while walking past a cafeteria table, that you look repugnantly immature/fat/short/tall/green in it. It’s not going to ruin your life.

It is going to ruin your day.

The readers who hate my books? They are not, in fact, trying to ruin my day. They are–quite rightly–not thinking of my day, or my feelings, at all. They are talking about their own responses among other people who are also not trying to ruin my day–or even make my day brighter. My books are not irrelevant to the discussion – but I am.

I actually try hard not to read any of my reviews, anywhere; I read them if someone sends me a link, or tweets @msagara; I don’t go to Amazon or Goodreads unless I’m in a very happy and entirely objective frame of mind (about 3 times a year). If I don’t wait? I frequently feel disappointed in myself or guilty when I’ve lost a reader who used to enjoy my books; I spin in little writerly circles and start to second-guess every word. This does not, as you imagine, make writing any easier <wry g>.

In fact, I’ll open it up and say that at the wrong stage of any book, I will also come across an elated, overjoyed review, I will puff up with pleasure – and then I will utterly deflate and become paralyzed because clearly the book I’m writing now will be so crushingly disappointing to this self-same reader that they will Never Read Me Again.

I have no reason, unless I’m uploading short stories, to be on Amazon, and it’s relatively easy to avoid myself there. I’m not sure I would be able to avoid myself on Goodreads. It’s kind of like chocolate – some people can have really good chocolate in their house and eat a piece or two a day.

Some people buy the chocolate intending to eat a piece or two a day, and then, well, no chocolate remains in the house after day one. From this example, you can probably guess which one of these is me. My adult self realizes that the best thing to do is to not buy chocolate and bring it home unless I intend to eat it all Right Now. I am perfectly capable of not buying the chocolate when I see it. I am not, sadly, capable of ignoring its compelling, siren call if it is sitting in my cupboards at 2:00 a.m. on a writing night. So…my impulse control is all front loaded.

This is why I am not on Goodreads. I’m pretty sure I would start reading all the reviews and this would be as healthy for me as eating ALL the chocolate. (I would be enormously grateful if someone who is on Goodreads would change the author’s website portion of the author page there to my new site >.>)

I would, on the other hand, be happy to listen to dissenting opinions about Goodreads, with the caveat that I am not saying that Goodreads is a bad place; I think it’s a great place. If, for instance, some of you are on goodreads, and you tend your author pages and you’ve found it helpful & fun, or if you interact with a lot of your authors there, I’d love to hear about it.

27 Responses to The Goodreads question

  1. Jen Wylie says:

    What a wonderful post, and I totally agree.
    I AM on Goodreads. I post reviews, and also my work is on there. Not only do I succumb to the emotions of reading what people think of my work (good or bad reviews), but also to those pesky ratings with NO review. They rated it ‘that’ and didn’t say why? What did they like? What didn’t they?
    Goodreads is also becoming more and more notorious for having tough reviewers (compared to other sites) where a three star there might = a five star on amazon. This is hard to wrap your head around too.
    Don’t get me started on the stalkers, and that other ‘fun stuff’.
    Needless to say, the last few months I don’t go there a lot. I’ve stopped interacting in groups. When I do go there, its pretty much to post a review. I try very hard not to look at my own. I fail miserably, but that’s why I have a house full of chocolate.

    BTW YOU are, and have been for a very long time, one of my most favorite authors. I love all your work, for different reasons . You need not ever worry about losing this reader. :)

  2. michelle says:

    I fail miserably, but that’s why I have a house full of chocolate.

    No, no – if you have a house full of chocolate, it means you aren’t eating it all Right Now!

    But thank you for this – I have to admit when I hit the line I just quoted, I inhaled coffee. And laughed. Laughter is good for the heart, if not perhaps the nasal passages.

  3. Paul Howard says:

    There have been times that I didn’t dare bring home a bag of cookies because they’d been gone within a day. [Sad Smile]

  4. Addy Rae says:

    This was insightful, and you made me think. :)

    Also, chocolate and I have the exact same relationship. In the store, I have no problem telling myself ‘no’, but at home it’s another story entirely!

  5. ambyr says:

    (I would be enor­mously grateful if someone who is on Goodreads would change the author’s website portion of the author page there to my new site >.>)

    Someone already did that, but I just went and updated the blog feed to match.

    Though I feel guilty about it, I am kind of grateful when authors aren’t on Goodreads, because it makes it so much easier to edit their profiles. Once someone becomes an official Goodreads author, many aspects of their profile get locked down so only they or superlibrarians can edit it. This is great if they actually want to put a lot of energy into maintaining their page, but occasionally frustrating if they don’t. I see wrong things, I want to update them! And then I can’t.

  6. Estara says:

    I love the fact that you give a huge explanation for something that should be your own business – whatever makes you feel more comfortable is the right choice.

    Anyway, your blog posts are mirrored to GoodReads anyway, so people can follow you that way if they want – and another reader must be a GR librarian, because when I went to change it, the address was already changed.

    By the way, do you want your picture up on the right as the author photo or would you prefer the one from the About The Author page?

  7. Susan E says:

    I have had some author friends on facebook post links to their friends’ books on goodreads, or suggest I become a member which I finally did which means I get a promotional email of featured writers occassionally. I haven’t attempted to do much of anything else. But it has seemed to me that it is not just for “readers” but a place for debate and discussion about the future of writing, and online issues such as “stalkers” and “trolls” and the role of self-publishing.

    But primarily it has seemed to me to be a promotional website, at least my writer facebook friends primarily seem to use it for an author friend of theirs that isn’t well known yet, or a book they came across. I also occassionally have gotten a message from an author who saw who I was friends with both on Goodreads and Facebook, although I have looked at their book postings so now they are somewhere in my consideration. So not sure how “effective” it is for marketing.

    I like facebook only as far as stalking my children when they have forgotten to tell me they have gone to Colorado for a National volleyball tournament and didn’t let me know. Or to find out one of my granddaughters liked my link to an article critical of the over medicalization of behavior in children enough that she shared it to her blog. My cousins use it to apprise me of a hospital visit. Otherwise I don’t sign up for apps or games that might take over my own computer or time although I get endless invitations. I definitely don’t want to hook up my phone to it. Yet I can easily spend an hour or two (or too many) getting caught up on my friend’s posts of fish or frogs or cuddling cats and dogs or swordswomen (Jessica AmandaSalmonson) or comics (George Takei). Do I want to take the time to blog like that? Talk about eating chocolates all in one day, I don’t seem to understand the meaning of moderation when I start to cruise online in general. Maybe if I plunged in to a site like goodreads I’d get the whole community thing a bit more.

    Yet, as someone who probably would fan and read any blog you signed up to, Michelle, I think your creativity would get sucked down the rabbit hole, if you participated in all these author/reader booksites.

  8. Estara says:

    Your explanation of how you use facebook and your experience of GoodReads so far is fascinating to me, because LiveJournal friends have also told me that many think or seem to use GoodReads as a Facebook with book focus – readers AND writers (giveaways and promotional messages and all).

    When I made my account I wanted to keep track of my yearly reading, to encourage myself that my eye was getting better and I was getting my reading groove back ^^. I also loved the fact that I could review the book without much hassle, ,because I could find the specific edition, so I’d remember what I liked about a book if I was discussing it on some community site (LJ or DA or the Booksmugglers, etc.).

    So I started following some authors and their mirrored blogs, and when I found people whose blogs I had previously commented on, then I followed them – and quite a few asked for friending, so now I have 20 friends – that’s as much as I can realistically follow – because I use GR as a feedreader for book reviews by people with the same taste or favourite authors.

    This means the whole Facebook aggressive promotion has passed me by. I guess I am also lucky because I don’t live in North America – a lot of the promo is aimed at USians and Canadians.

    I also love having a list of books I’m interested in buying as soon as I hear of them, so I don’t forget them if they come out next year, etc. And the completist in me finds a lot of satisfaction in correcting wrong book entries and finding the correct cover, or adding an edition that wasn’t included yet.

    Book discussion groups are not my cup of tea, the group of friends I have discuss each other’s reviews though. And use the recommendation feature occasionally ^^ – I managed to convert four for my friends to readers of Andrea Höst’s The Touchstone Trilogy ^^ and they all liked it a great deal.

    It seems as if I can’t sustain my own blog, but the built in audience at GR – where strangers like or comment on your review if they liked it even if they don’t know you – seems to keep my interest up.

    TL; DR version – it depends on how you use GR whether you’re overwhelmed with promo or people or not. The bits you don’t like are avoidable.

  9. hjbau says:

    It is strange because in one way the books are very different, but then in another way they are very much the same. The multiple viewpoint is probably the thing that is most different, but the great world building and interesting characters are very much the same.

  10. Chris says:

    As far as Goodreads goes, another reason to stay away is that readers might be negatively influenced if they see that your tastes differ significantly from theirs.

    Example: You review and rate highly a lot of, say, unicorn books. But you have more than a few readers who quite dislike unicorns. Seeing that you read and like unicorns so much, those readers gradually transfer their negative opinion of unicorns to an increasingly negative opinion of your work. Some stop buying your work outright, while other become disgruntled and post reviews that are less glowing than what they might have been. And so your book sales suffer.

    That’s not really fair or right in the grand scheme of things, but I think that it does happen with some readers. And so it’s in your best interests to limit the opinions that you give that might offend, and therefore cause your sales to potentially suffer.

  11. Chris says:

    I have to say that, selfishly, I wish that we could get a better idea of the books and authors that you enjoy, as I really am interested and think that I could refrain from such bias personally. But in the grand scheme of things I think that your decision is the wisest course.

  12. Chris says:

    “I am not immune to reader responses about my work. And as many people do, I tend to place a dispro­por­tionate amount of emotional weight on unhappy reader reviews or comments. It’s not unlike having a favorite coat/dress/piece of clothing, and over­hearing, while walking past a cafe­teria table, that you look repug­nantly immature/fat/short/tall/green in it. It’s not going to ruin your life.

    It is going to ruin your day.”

    I understand this, I think that it’s normal for most people. Ime, the best thing to do is to be confident anyway. No matter how much time you could spend on makeup or hair or selecting your clothes or ironing/pressing them, etc. then there is always the potential of running into that person(s) who just love to insult, or just happen to find *that* particular shade of color to be ugly, or whatever else along those lines. I’ve read that the single biggest aspect of attractiveness is confidence. Further, there is only so much that can realistically be done when it comes to one’s appearance (12 hours getting ready means that you’ve missed the event that you were preparing for). At a certain point I think the only thing that you can do is to accept that you’ve done what you can and let it go. And if someone else has poor manners or isn’t smart enough to get to know you then it’s their loss.

    The same goes for reader reviews, except that opinions can vary so much that I think that it’s impossible to predict what one person will like and another won’t. You’ve said that you’ve read Patrick Rothfuss, so I’ll use his character Kvothe as an example. I’ve seen people who’ve said that Kvothe is completely a Mary Sue, absolutely not one, and one in some ways but not others. There is no way that they’re all right, it just goes to show how each reader interprets the character differently.

    Maybe part of a reader review depends on what mood they’re in? If I’m in a good mood I’ll speak about your brilliant characterization and the fact that while I can find faults with your work I think that ultimately you have written some of what I consider to be the greatest Fantasy ever. But if I’m in a bad mood I guess that I might obsess on some of my quibbles, especially if, say, my dog had just died. And I think that some people/reviewers are just trained to focus on the negative, even if the negative is less than 1% and they like or love the other 99%.

    There are times where I’d guess that overall reader feedback can help. So ultimately, if I were a writer, I think that the only thing I could do was ignore it on an individual basis, but maybe look to see if there’s a common element to the criticism, or a majority in favor of a character or event that maybe I could try to work into a future book a bit more. Though even with that, feedback can be hard to gauge. People who are online more often may be inclined to root for more romance, or political maneuverings or fight scenes than other readers who don’t comment as often, or ever.

    Ultimately, the only person you can be sure of satisfying is yourself, and so far that seems to have been good enough (will all the series still going and not cancelled). So, I hope that you can be confident in that and continue to write in a way that many people clearly enjoy very much.

  13. michelle says:

    I think some reviewers concentrate on problematic elements of a book because it’s useful information to their readers. It’s also helpful when a reader is trying to gauge whether or not the reviewers tastes match their own – some readers who read my F&SF reviews can’t stand 90% of the books I love, but nonetheless find my reviews useful because there’s enough information in the reviews to evaluate previous hits/misses.

    It’s why detailed reviews – positive or negative – are often helpful for readers who otherwise don’t agree with the review.

    As for Kvothe, I’ve heard him described as a Mary Sue, and that is just so wrong I don’t know where to begin. Or, sadly, where to stop .

  14. michelle says:

    I admit this one never occurred to me.

    I do write a review column for F&SF, but it’s not linked to anything on-line, although I’m pretty sure Gordon Van Gelder puts the review columns up on the F&SF site.

  15. michelle says:

    I personally prefer the picture of me with the glasses >.>. I’m using this one now as a kind of placeholder – I was supposed to get photographs taken, but, well. When things get hectic, writing-wise, or when we’ve been sick (as a family aggregate), the things that get pushed to the side are almost always the things the require me to physically leave the house >..

  16. michelle says:

    One of the things I like best about the bookstore is when I’m there, I’m a reader. I think most of the people who come into the store have no idea I write, so they come and ask for recommendations, and I can talk about books entirely as a reader.

    Actually, even people who do know I write will ask for recommendations and the discussions about books are always discussions between readers; they really don’t appear, after the first little bit, to privilege the author identity–which is good. I wonder why on-line is different?

  17. Paul Howard says:

    IMO in person is always going to be different than on-line. In person, you can easier come across as “just a reader”. On-line it takes longer for anybody to come across the same as we would in person. It’s just the difference between conversations in-person and conversations on-line.

  18. Estara says:

    That’s handy as I added the glasses-picture (but I could just as well change it) since you had it on your official about the author page. I like them both ^^, they seem to show you in different moods.

  19. mvictorine says:

    You should use one of the ones where you’re threatening the camera. To find one, I suggest you just pick a picture of you at random. More than likely that one will do nicely.

  20. Chris says:

    That makes sense. I think that maybe I’m just a bit down on book reviews in general because I haven’t really found any sites or reviewers that I feel comfortable with. I’ve seen a lot of “it’s good” (and not much else) used to describe some very different books. I’ll keep looking around. And check out your reviews as well.

    I’m definitely in agreement with you on Kvothe. But it’s probably wise not to start that conversation.

  21. Lianne says:

    While part of me can be disappointed, I do think that this is probably a good idea. Recently there was a kerfuffle on Goodreads where someone gave a very bad review to a young adult book (somewhat well-deserved from what I understand). First the writer’s fans jumped all over the review.

    Then the author’s *agent* did.

    Considering the bad press for things like that (or author’s throwing fits over bad reviews on Amazon), it’s probably a good idea for writers to keep a certain distance from sites where readers can post reviews. The majority of writers can handle bad reviews, but the few who can’t can be a problem.

    That being said, Goodreads is a great place for newly published writers (or small press writers) to do some self promotion through things like the giveaways section. People who are working to build a following. But not, say, a Danielle Steele or a Tom Clancy or a George RR Martin. They either have their own platform already, or they don’t really need one anymore.

  22. Samantha says:

    I am glad you are so thoughtful about Goodreads. I am (just) a reader and I use it to keep track of the gazillions of books I read. It’s rather annoying to me to start a fantastic looking book and realizing 1/3 of the way in that I thought it was fantastic five years ago too but apparently my brain only wanted to remember it after rereading the beginning. (That said, I don’t mind rereading good books but I like to know I’m doing it ahead of time.) I used to write down book info on bookmarks but I gave that up when the stack was too large to sort easily. I feel like such a geek to say that Goodreads is one of the apps that I was so *happy* to find – six years later and I am still giddy about it! :) It solved a problem that I’d been working at for 20 years.

    When I do rate books on Goodreads, I rarely write a review unless I am greatly moved to do so because I do worry about hurting authors’ feelings as well as having to defend my review against those who may or may not agree. Or, well, opening up my soul to the anonymous internet. Rating a book is personal. Not so much as writing a book (I would imagine) but perhaps similar. It is so much safer to put stars and then tell people in person why I liked them. And that also means that I don’t use the forums.

    Goodreads for me is for keeping track of books and finding new ones. But I have hooked up to several of my favorite authors blogs (Yes, you included!) which keep me entertained while I wait for them to hurry up and publish already. ;)

    I feel like I need to quit rambling here but I was so excited and moved that I wanted to comment. Thanks for slogging through!

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