The Downside of Goodreads Ratings by Mae Clair

No, I’m not talking about one-star reviews. Thankfully, I’ve been spared that particular blemish, but I’m sure my day is coming. The greater audience you manage to reach, the more opinions in the fold. It goes with the territory.  As writers, I think most of us learned early on you have to have a thick skin.

But I recently discovered a side of Goodreads I didn’t know about.

Close up of woman reading bookAs a reader, I enjoy GR. It helps me track what I’ve read, and what I want to read. It sorts, categorizes, allows me to set challenges for myself, and hang out with like-minded bibliophiles. I’ve gotten great book recommendations through the GR newsletter and other members.  So far, GR is looking pretty golden, right?


As an author, I appreciate the platform it gives me. I know I don’t use it as effectively as I should, but I do use numerous features available to authors consistently. I’m thrilled by the exposure it allows. As for those features I’m still trying to determine how best to utilize, I need to squirrel away the time to study them in detail.

My bad, which means we’re still golden.

Now we come to ratings. And flexibility. Yeah, notice the last word.

As I reader, I look for those snazzy GR stars (along with reviews) to help me determine what to read next. As an author, I’m able to see how readers view my work. Whether we choose to admit it or not, stars count. So what do you do when a reader ranks a book they haven’t read—that hasn’t even been released?

Did you know about this?

Open book on spine with middle pages curved to form a heartApparently, some GR readers use the star rankings to determine how eager they are to read an upcoming release. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if that particular ranking system was kept separate from standard review rankings, but Goodreads lumps them all together. Am I the only one who was clueless?

In the past, when I looked at ratings on GR, I assumed the person ranking one of my books had actually read the novel and rated it without giving it a review. Now I wonder if that was even the case.

Worse, I presently have a 3-star ranking on a book that hasn’t been released yet. ARCs aren’t even available. True, three-stars isn’t the end of the world but it can be when other GR members (like me) assume that person must have gotten an ARC and wasn’t all that impressed.

Would I be as bummed if the book had been given 4 or 5-stars?  Probably not.

But seriously–wouldn’t it be easier (not to mention less confusing) to have two rating systems for readers who want to use GR’s stars that way? Goodreads has already given us a “to read” shelf. Why not add a rating system within that shelf instead of muddying the review status?

What’s your opinion? Good or bad?

Do you use GR’s stars to determine what to read, or do you use them solely for review rankings?

18 thoughts on “The Downside of Goodreads Ratings by Mae Clair

  1. I didn’t know this! Seems a bit silly not to have separate rankings to track this, otherwise it could be really confusing!

    I do use Goodreads, as an author I’m not good at using it 😀 But as a reader I also enjoy being able to track what I’ve read and see what other people are saying about books.


    • I was pretty bummed when I found out about it. I don’t use GR as much as I should on the author side (it takes time) but this discovery was kind of mind-blowing for me. And just when I thought I was getting a handle on things!


  2. You get the haven’t read reviews on Amazon too. I blame those emails they send. People don’t want to be rude and not respond, so they give the book an okay rating or worse and note in the review, not read yet.

    My rule? Haven’t read, I don’t review. But I’m simple like that. 🙂


    • Hi, Lynn. I had no clue it was happening on Amazon too. 😦 At least there, they’re noting they haven’t read it yet. I’m with you….if you haven’t read it, don’t rate, GR or Amazon. I guess part of the problem is, we’re thinking like authors/writers and the people who are doing it are thinking like readers!


  3. I don’t use Goodreads much as a reader, but I did know that people use it in different ways. Some people use it to review and rank the books they’ve read, but others use it more to catalogue their libraries and keep track of what they’ve read. It’s those latter people who tend to assign their own meanings to the stars. So the 3-star rating on your not-yet-released book could mean a lot of different things.

    It would be nice if Goodreads were to survey users to find out what additional features they could add to the site to accommodate more of the ways readers use it but until then, I just figure my GR ratings will always be lower than my Amazon ratings.


    • It’s true that Goodreads users assign different meanings to the stars. Surprisingly, I just never realized that before. I always associate stars with reviews. I guess this is just another way in which social media adapts and changes as its users create new functions within the program! Thanks for reading and commenting, Julia. Wonderful to have you drop by!


  4. I saw the heading to your blog post and immediately clicked on it. As I’m determined to do a better job marketing, one of my unasked questions to other authors is, “How do you feel about Goodreads? Do you find it helpful?” I had no idea what those review-less ratings were. Thanks, Mae. I don’t think you should be allowed to rate a book without saying something about it. Also, I just had a “duh” moment. Goodreads is the perfect way to keep track of the books I read and want to read. Duh.


    • LOL! That’s exactly what I use GR for as a reader, Mary (although I also have a separate list I keep on my iPad). As a reader, I wouldn’t rate a book unless I’d read it. It just doesn’t feel right to me, but that might be because I’m looking at it from an author’s perspective. At least now I have a better understanding of those reviewless stars!


  5. Your post comes as no surprise to me. I’m sorry you have to pass through this unpleasant experience. Even for the most successful writers, criticism can hurt. I don’t think anyone ever gets used to negative criticism. The very first thing that comes to my mind regarding a bad review is the Latin maxim : De gustibus non est disputandum, “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes.” When faced with negative criticism, I first try to keep things in perspective. It sucks, but it’s not a national tragedy.

    On the other hand. your problem is not getting a negative review for a published book, but getting a rating for a still unreleased one. I remember reading, last year I think, a post on such topic. And there were dozens of angry comments from authors that had similar experience. It seems there is a group of people on Goodreads, those authors called them “a pack of hyenas” who rate books 1 or 2 star, without any reason clearly stated, that is no review. (And they are the same people in most cases.) Or, the same as in your case, they rate a still not published book, 1 or 2 stars. Although there were complaints, the Goodreads staff either ignored them or gave ridiculous answers.

    I generally don’t guide myself from the ratings a book gets. But others do.

    Big sigh! I have no idea what can be done.


    • Well, sadly, I don’t think anything can be done. It would be nice if GR would change the system up a bit, but I don’t really see that happening. I think it’s more important just to be aware of how ratings are used (which I wasn’t aware of in the past). As for that other post you mentioned and the comments, I have heard a lot of horror stories about GR, which is why I generally avoid it, except to add books to my profile (my own or those I want to read), make book recommendations and review novels I have read.

      I’m a member of several groups, but I haven’t engaged in any conversation, mostly for lack of time.


  6. Same here. I have a book not out yet with. 2 star rating. My last book had a 1 star before it was out too. I’ve seen a lot of attacks on reviewers and authors in Goodreads so I really don’t use it anymore. I still have my books up on it but I don’t use it personally for reviews and that. I rarely look on it anymore. Sad. Is those few that ruin a good thing.


    • Oh, wow, L.J., that is so unfair! I’m just now finding out about this side of Goodreads. I think it’s horrible that readers would give 1 and 2 star ratings for books that haven’t been released. I personally haven’t experienced the negative side of GR but I’ve several people tell me they want nothing to do with it because of bad experiences they’ve had with other users. So sad!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I didn’t know this happened on Goodreads, but it doesn’t surprise me, as it happens on Amazon, with readers rating books they haven’t read. As for selecting stars for books a person wants to read, why not just choose the “Want to Read” button? If readers would do that it would be simpler for authors, but good luck to authors in that regard! I’m glad we have readers and appreciate them, as you do. Somehow we have to make the best of all these technologies. We really don’t seem to have much input in their structures. You are a wonderful writer with exciting books, and I’m glad you are going to keep on trucking, Mae! Thanks for an enlightening post.


    • I never realized it happened on Amazon, too, and just learned about that after making this post. I totally agree with you about the “Want to Read” button. It’s what I do with books I plan to read…such a simple concept.

      But yes, we have to make the best of the technologies, even if we don’t agree with all of them (I could get on a soapbox about Facebook, LOL). Thanks for your lovely words about my writing and books, Flossie. I will most definitely keep trucking! 😀


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