Authors vs. Goodreads

After seeing this booklet criticized severely on Goodreads for a month, it dawned on me there was one key issue I didn't make clear enough:

Goodreads IS NOT your neighborhood Book Club.

Goodreads is a FOR-PROFIT business. It makes money by listing my books without my permission and letting Goodreads members rate them without reading them and providing that rating data to Amazon and god knows who else.

Goodreads is neither a non-profit nor a charity. I am not donating to them. It is not my local library and it is not the Library of Congress, both of which have been used to tell me why I have no right to remove my books from their commercial database. BULLSHIT! All of the ratings and reviews have commercial value to Amazon who owns Goodreads lock, stock and barrel. Otherwise, why would they have ever bought it from Otis Chandler for so many millions of dollars? Members of Goodreads are fools to provide this lucrative subsidiary of Amazon with untold thousands of hours of free labor trying to maintain the unmanageable mess their much hyped billion+ book database is in. Considering how many ghost books and ghost members are in their database, I wonder what an audit of their claims about books and membership would show.

This site is primarily intended to assist Independent authors, known as an Indie author in the publishing trade, especially new ones, navigate the dangerous shoals of Goodreads. It might provide an established author with something to think about, but I would imagine most published authors, those with both paper and / or electronic publications, have agents and legal advice to help them deal with Goodreads and Amazon. All authors should realize their relationship with Goodreads is adversarial.

Since it's so easy to publish in the modern electronic realm using freely available computer applications, Indie Authors are  proliferating at an exponential rate. Once they've finished their masterpiece and uploaded it to Amazon or Smashwords or AllRomance or whomever, they face the daunting task of marketing. There are a number of venues: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon forums, Goodreads and other reader oriented sites. Trying to figure out which to use, or which combination to use, eats up a large amount of time that most authors would rather devote to writing, so they pay little attention to signing up with these sites.

Every published author should understand their work(s) will end up in the Goodreads database whether they want them there or not. Once in the database, Goodreads members can 'review' them along with a rating, or without, or rate them without a review; there is no requirement to touch the book. Once your title is made available at an outlet like Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc., Goodreads will find it and add it to their database within two weeks. It took 12 days for their system to locate my book, Authors vs. Goodreads, at Smashwords after I released it. They have the right to catalog the title of your work and the author name. However, they will also display your cover, which they do not have the right to display, unless your title is on Amazon (it's in the Amazon TOS), and they will create a Book Description page using whatever you wrote as the book description at the outlet where they found it. They will make no attempt to contact you. It appears that your title will be on Goodreads within two days after you upload it to Amazon, longer if your book is only at other outlets.

Note to Goodreads members that are not authors, since this seems to confuse you: The reason you didn't find this booklet on Amazon is because the Amazon KDP system does not allow an author to upload a free book. There is no profit in it for Amazon. Besides, I wouldn't put my books on Amazon anyway. At least I have a choice there.

Now, here's the odd thing. If your name is the same as another author at Goodreads, they may catalog your book with the book(s) by the other author. I know this happened to new SMUT Indie author Brian Cox sometime in late 2014 when he published his first title at Amazon: The Perfect Lover. There are a number of authors with the name Brian Cox on Goodreads, some with author pages, some without. But for some unfathomable reason they chose to place Mr. Cox's erotica on the book list of Brian Cox, particle physicist and university professor who is apparently rather famous in England. He has a gargantuan following on Twitter. He is author or co-author of more than a dozen scientific books, has appeared on radio and TV in the United Kingdom and is a musician. So, out of all of the authors on Goodreads with the name Brian Cox, they chose this particular Brian Cox to add an erotica genre book onto his list? Why didn't they put it on a new author page? If I was a betting person, I'd say there's some payback going on. It's obvious Brian Cox, physicist, doesn't monitor his Goodreads page. I wonder if he even knows he has one? He has no Goodreads 'friends' and you can't contact him through Goodreads. All you can do is become a fan. My guess is his publisher put up the page without telling him and barely maintains it.

Note: The problem outlined above with two Brian Cox authors was finally fixed on or about 01/26/2015. Of course, since then I've found an author with three active profiles, two of which he didn't know he had. This is the kind of data integrity you get when a bunch of volunteers are maintaining your database of 1 billion+ books. While my critics on Goodreads point out that all of the problems I have outlined do occur, they tell me I should expect them. I would answer: I might expect them on an all volunteer book club database, but I shouldn't have to expect them on a for-profit website owned by Amazon which is making money listing my titles.

For established authors who have publishers or publicists, Goodreads can be a nightmare. Your publisher might establish an author's page for you and load your titles or claim your titles after Goodreads has already loaded them in one of their sweeps. In order to establish a buzz about a book they may make 'friends' and join groups and talk up your books or use Goodreads ad features. They will make it seem like you are an active member. In other cases they might massage your books when they are new, then let your page languish as it appears Brian Cox's publisher did, allowing other books by another author named Brian Cox to populate his book list as discussed above. In any event, it is the author who will look like a fool when things go wrong on the author page or their books get carpet bombed with 1* ratings.

The most nightmarish scenario is when a publicist goes rogue and works Goodreads' fatally flawed 'review' system to try to hype an author's book to the detriment of similar works in the genre by other authors. Here is one that went horribly awry back in 2013. In particular, please read message #4 by the author of the book that hired the sleazy publicist. Jay Daniels had no idea what Goodreads was and did not create an author's page on the website. He's so upset that all he wants is to remove his book and shut down the author page. Ironically, he doesn't know that he can't remove his book. After Goodreads manually cleans up the mess, his book will still be, and still is, on Goodreads. The part I can't fathom is that NOT ONE author or member placed blame for the debacle where it was due, on Goodreads flawed 'rating/review' system that invites this abuse. The attitude of Goodreads is truly mind boggling. Authors need to read message #10 by Librarian Christopher carefully. He outlines the affect it might have on innocent authors and places responsibility to fix the problem Goodreads created on the victim's shoulders: "I'm sorry if you didn't know anything about it, but it's time to correct it as quickly as possible." And not one of the potentially affected authors questioned why Goodreads allows such a flawed rating system to continue.

Unbelievable: On 22 January 2015, Goodreads removed the incriminating page. But it is still available here:

Nothing has changed. The same abuse can happen again today. And what if this time the abuse comes from a religious fundamentalist or political wingnut group who decides that a symbolic book burning is in order. (See the Vulnerability section.)

Understanding Goodreads Structure

Last time I checked (12/2014) Goodreads was owned by Amazon. That alone should give you pause when considering giving any information to Goodreads. You are feeding Amazon's insatiable quest for book information and domination as a book seller. Oddly, there is no reference on the Goodreads website to this business relationship that I can find.

If you are still determined to join Goodreads as an author, please do an Internet search for information about goodreads reviewer bullying and goodreads reviewer trolling. One site all of these searches will find is STGRB. As an author joining Goodreads, you should be familiar with this site. Before you sign up, or if you have just signed up, please read Thinking of joining Goodreads and Author guidelines at a minimum. Always keep in mind, you may need to know some of this information if you come under attack by the review trolls on Goodreads. They run in packs and they are as vicious as any wolf pack.

Examine your motives for joining Goodreads carefully:

Valid reasons for an author to join Goodreads:

  • I want to network with other authors who write in my genre or write in a genre I'm thinking about trying.
  • I'll meet authors who can give me their perspective on finding a publisher.
  • I'll meet authors who use publication outlets other than Amazon and learn how to use them.
  • Other authors can provide leads on editing services and beta readers.
  • Other authors can give me hints on what marketing techniques work for them.
  • Other authors can advise me about dealing with Goodreads trolls and review bullies.

Poor reasons for an author to join Goodreads:

  1. I think their 'Review' system will help market my book.
  2. I think it is a good venue to advertise my book.
  3. Goodreads Launch Packages are guaranteed to create buzz for my new book.
  4. The Goodreads Get A Copy links will make it seamless for users to find outlets that carry my books.

Perhaps this blog by a Goodreads author will give you some pause for thought. Let Duncan Ralston enlighten you on what you can expect when dealing with Goodreads. Remember, you will be paying to keep the lights on at Goodreads, not the readers. They are exploited in their own right by giving free review rating data to Amazon and providing copious hours of voluntary time being Librarians, thus saving Goodreads from needing a large staff for their unmanageable database.

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Goodreads Pecking Order

The corporate structure of Goodreads appears to be lean and mean. Probably should be since Goodreads is little more than a giant server farm. All they need is some IT personnel, a few marketing folks and a few faceless office personnel to handle the email and act as the final arbiters of disputes. I can tell you from experience they are understaffed in the IT department because there are many features on the Goodreads website that are broken and their response to reported feature problems is glacial. What's ironic is that sometimes features are fixed, then changed and broken again. Other problems never get addressed and their documentation is abominable which leads to problems for authors that I will address below. Rather odd considering Goodreads is an Amazon company and Amazon's computer infrastructure is renowned.

All members at Goodreads are equal, but some are More Equal. (Apologies to George Orwell.) Goodreads is primarily a site for readers to flock together and network with one another and talk books. Goodreads emphasizes it is a service for readers and puts their needs first. Authors should always keep this foremost in their minds, the readers come first.

So, how does Goodreads make money to pay for the server farm and why would Amazon want it? Two reasons. Obviously, Amazon wants to data mine it; find out what books are hot. Second, Goodreads needs authors to sign up and give them free information about their books that Amazon couldn't otherwise capture, and sell them on the notion that Goodreads is a great place to advertise and market their books. It's the ads they sell that pays for the electricity to feed the ever growing server farm. Funny thing is, a lot of the ads obscure other things on your member page and don't always appear where they should. All rather haphazard. If I paid for an ad that obscured other information on a user page, I wouldn't be happy. It looks so unprofessional.

In fact, here is a quote from Otis Chandler, founder of Goodreads which distills the bottom line objective: "We sell book launch packages to authors and publishers and really help accelerate, build that early buzz that a book needs to succeed when it launches and accelerate that growth through ads on the site."

Rather straight forward profit motive. What's shocking though is that it's so author centric and not the reader centric public persona of the site. Obviously, they need authors to pay for the ads and launch packages and throw free promotions for readers. Probably why they have a Director of Author Marketing, Patrick Brown. However, the truth of the matter is, authors are at the very bottom of the food chain and are treated with contempt, merely a necessary nuisance. There is even open hostility from many readers who would prefer if there were no authors on Goodreads. Some groups are openly hostile to authors, saying up front they would prefer authors not join their group because the group is for readers only. As if authors weren't readers too.

This is an example of one author's perspective of marketing gone awry at Goodreads and how authors are treated: an interesting blog. As I did research for this booklet from inside Goodreads author groups and from Internet searches, the story of marketing boomerangs was repeated time and again.

Since Goodreads has a lean corporate structure, who does all the trench work to run the forums and groups? Volunteers of course. And there is one particular volunteer above all other volunteers that wields enormous power on the website, the Librarian. As an author, you need to understand the power of the Librarian.

The hierarchy at Goodreads is as follows: above all is the Librarian, queen bees in the hive. Under no circumstances ever challenge a Librarian. Never! They maintain absolute, dictatorial control over each of your Book Description pages, once you have submitted them and a direct line to the Goodreads gestapos in the front office. I'll discuss how that affects you as an author in the next section dealing with your author information.

Next in the membership hierarchy are their readers, the worker bees in the hive. They are pampered because they are the engine that keeps Goodreads alive by writing reviews or merely rating a book. It is their review information Amazon wants to collect in order to find out what books are hot and why. They are given authority to write reviews that are not reviews and abuse authors in almost any manner they see fit. You are never to question their reviews, or non-reviews that appear to be reviews, or the laughable, useless ratings they may deign to put on your book. I will go into detail about how utterly flawed the 'Review' system is and how worthless the non-review reviews are, even though Goodreads contends their reviews are "... the best and most authentic in the world."

At the bottom of the food chain are authors, most of whom are beneath contempt. They are only to be tolerated in the hopes they will surrender copious amounts of information about themselves and their books, perhaps even a heads up about a new book, along with purchasing a launch package. They will also be urged to shower copious amounts of fundage on Goodreads for advertisements, and participate in other promotional adventures, especially ones that will give their books away free making it easier for Amazon trolls to pounce on.

As someone pointed out in a blog discussing Goodreads, "The asylum is being run by the inmates." An apt description. It should make authors very wary about joining.

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Giving Goodreads A Lot Of Author Information

Probably Not A Good Idea

As an author, it's imperative you understand what you are handing over to Goodreads when you create an Author Profile and load your book information on Goodreads. When loading your profile, give Goodreads and Goodreads' trolls the minimum amount of information possible. Remember, Goodreads allows readers to make their profile private, so you are not on an even footing from the get-go. This fact alone should raise your suspicion. If a reader is allowed to exclude their information from you, you best make as little information about yourself available to them because author profiles are always public. If you get thrown off Goodreads for standing up for yourself, your profile information will still be public and still be owned by Goodreads. In reality, the only part of your personal information that Goodreads has a legal right to know is the title of your book and your author name for that book. Think carefully about what they deserve to know about you. It is surprising how many readers only give their name and country or make their profile private. That should cause you to carefully consider what information about yourself you provide to Goodreads. Less is better.

When you load book information into the Goodreads Book Description database, you grant control over the content of that information to the Goodreads Librarians. Look carefully at the form, especially the Book Description portion. All information on that form, once filled in, belongs to Goodreads and is controlled by Goodreads' Librarians, not you. Once you enter information, it cannot be changed without Librarian approval. You may believe that information about your book is yours, but it's not. If you end up on the wrong side of a Librarian, they will make it hell for you to modify information on the Book Description page, especially if you try to minimize it.

In your exuberance to get your books live on Goodreads so you can gather reader reviews to illustrate how awesome your book is, perhaps you read the Guidelines For Authors. Not a lot of substance in there, is there? Since you are not a Librarian, and may not even know what one is when you sign up, I doubt you will have read the Librarian Manual. Perhaps you really should though. You're probably asking yourself, what is a Librarian and why should I read their manual, since I'm not a Goodreads Librarian? The simple fact is, you can't be a Librarian until you publish at least 50 reviews of your own and apply and get accepted by the Librarian guild. Most Librarians that I was aware of were not authors, so I wondered why they were given authority over author data in the Book Description pages. Would have thought that was a Goodreads staff function. Except there is almost no Goodreads staff. And this is the reasoning they give for having Librarians: "So we created a new status that we bestow on those interested in helping keep things nice and tidy, which has worked out well." Unfortunately, I would argue that it is unethical to give power to readers over what is in an authors Book Description pages, when those readers can review authors and call on their trolls to harass an author that gets uppity with them.

In any event, you should be mindful of what is in the Librarian Manual, because obscure rules in that document can be used to get you banned from Goodreads. If you do venture into it, you will learn it is a minefield of obsolete information and broken links. (At least as of 12/2014. I assume Goodreads will rectify that situation as soon as possible now that I have brought it to their attention, since they used it to ban me. Note: 01/10/2015, they fixed the links. However, they did not fix the incorrect information about the Book Description page fields.)

And if you truly want to scare the bejesus out of yourself, read the Goodreads Terms Of Use. You might want to let your legal council look at it. As near as I can tell, you essentially mortgage your soul and your firstborn to Goodreads when you agree to it.

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You're An Author Who Never Joined Goodreads

Don't Bet On It

You're a successful new author who has signed a book deal with a publisher. You've never joined Goodreads, perhaps never heard of them. Would you be surprised to learn that you are a member on Goodreads with an author's page, more than 30 Goodreads friends and your books have been loaded with covers, for which you own the copyright, and members have reviewed your books and rated them.

You might want to check your contract with your publisher very closely. I don't know how often this happens but I am aware of an author who has three books published who had no idea they were a member of Goodreads, had an author's page and friends. It appears their publisher, who they have since parted ways with, set up the author page, loaded their books, added Book Description pages and even accepted 'friend' requests in the author's name without informing them.

As an author, you should know that you cannot prevent Goodreads from cataloging your books in their database and letting their members review and rate them without your knowledge. However, they have no right to display your cover and they may only publish the title of the book and the author's name. After your new book has been published for a couple of months, you might want to check Goodreads and see if it is in their database and what their members are saying about it. I'm waiting to see how long it takes Goodreads to find the booklet I published on Smashwords when this website went live. I'll keep you posted on the length of time it takes.

Bingo: It took 12 days, December 28 to January 9. Oddly, even though I'm an excommunicated member, I was able to claim the author page without question or challenge, only to have it terminated 7 days later when a carpet bomb 1* troll attack started. Coincidence?

If you do decide to join Goodreads in order to control your Author page and control what is put on the Book Description page, I urge you to heed the advice on this website. Give Goodreads as little information as possible. It is best to just reference your own website, Facebook page or other social media that you have complete control over. At least you will control the book description in the future and you can publish the proper links to where your books are available if it is other than Amazon. Readers will probably have trouble finding your books on alternate publishers because they probably don't understand how the 'Get a copy' buttons work. They are only there to make it easy to find your book on Amazon and even that doesn't work sometimes.

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Goodreads Fatally Flawed Review System

The Goodreads review system is the most flawed book review system on the planet. It is nothing more than a beauty pageant that invites abuse. It you're joining Goodreads in the hopes that a bunch of good reviews and a high review average will help market you're works, don't join. What is truly amazing and breathtakingly hypocritical are the Goodreads Review Guidelines that begin:

"Goodreads has some of the best book reviews anywhere. Our members are passionate, knowledgeable readers, and their contributions to the site are what make it such a vibrant and fun place. These guidelines are presented to help make sure Goodreads? reviews remain the best and most authentic in the world."

Such bombast is rare anymore, especially considering it's a lie. You would think Goodreads would be embarrassed making such statements for what is so obviously a fatally flawed review system with no rigor whatsoever. There may be some great reviews on Goodreads but when there is no requirement in the Review Guidelines that the reviewer read the book, all reviews are suspect. In addition, having a rating system that allows people to 'rate' books, without a review, for instance, books that are merely put on their, "wouldnt-pee-on-it-if-it-was-on-fire," shelf with a rating of 1* and that counts as a 'review,' is idiotic.

Goodreads book review system is unlike any other I'm aware of. It isn't even as rigorous as Amazon's. Don't understand why that is, since Goodreads is owned by Amazon. It combines a completely worthless 'rating' system with a dubious review system that allows reviews that aren't reviews, because there's no requirement to read a book in order to write a review of it. I call them 'non-review reviews.' I know of no other outlet for books that allows a person to provide only a 'rating' that's counted in the book's review average. And that rating can be set for just placing a book on a shelf, especially a derisive shelf.

Lets face it, the rating only system is a beauty pageant; it certainly isn't a review because there's no requirement for the rater to read the book. What's shocking is that some members use the rating system to catalog books on their shelves, using 1* to indicate some meaning to them, usually that that book is more important on their 'to-read' shelf than a book on a shelf with no rating.

If the overall review average is to have any validity, the rating only system needs to be abolished, or at least, the ratings should not contribute to the overall average. You're probably asking yourself, why would Goodreads have a rating only system along with a review system? Because many readers don't like to express themselves in public and don't want to waste time writing reviews. But Amazon wants as much free feedback data as it can gather in order to know what books are hot. While that may be a valid reason at Netflix, where a person might put some stock in the popularity of a movie with 4*, it is meaningless in a rigorous book review system. These rating only entries look rather innocuous. They are not in the Review portion of the book page. They are at the bottom where all of the members that 'added it' or 'marked it as to-read' are clustered together like a mosh pit of fans.

The other major flaw is the non-review review. Once a member puts a rating on a book, even if they haven't touched it, they are asked to write a review. If a member writes anything, it is taken as a review and appears with all other reviews above the mosh pit of shelvers. Nowhere in the review does there need to be an indication that the member read the book. The reviewer may or may not give the review a rating. Sometimes reviewers don't make a rating, they just want to make a statement about the book, almost 100% of the time a negative or derogatory statement with a cutesy full motion .gif. There is also an ego stroking addition for the reviewer that doesn't show up on a rating only. It is the like button. All of your friends can stroke your ego by pressing the like button. The other advantage for a full fledged non-review review is the Comment section where you and your friends can gossip about your outstanding review.

Since the review has now become a work of authorship and you can now 'rate' it positively using the like button, I wonder why others can't rate it negatively. Clearly the like button is only there to stroke the ego of the reviewer. Without a matching dislike button, it should be abolished since the whole review system is a farcical beauty pageant. Strangely enough, the like button does provide one bit of embarrassing feedback for the reviewer. When there is a troll attack, most of the attackers like one or more of the critical non-review reviews. The troll attack becomes so blatantly obvious when a bunch of the 'Likers' 1* rate a book all on the same day or day after the non-review review. It's so glaringly obvious that you would think Goodreads would take some action to stop this nonsense.

New Indie authors should be aware that there are quite a number of readers on Goodreads who will not read any book by an Indie author. I was a bit surprised by this narrow minded attitude when I joined several groups. But some readers are quite adamant and vocal about it. Don't be surprised if you get some barbs thrown your way in some groups, especially those that discuss writing style or editing.

One final thought about reviews and reviewers. Writing reviews has become a professional extreme sport on Goodreads. It will begin to dawn on you that there are semi-professional reviewers and their are review contests to heap recognition on them. You might even notice on some reader profiles a tally of the number of books read and reviews given. It normally appears in a manner something like this under the avatar picture:

896 ratings (3.37 average)
721 reviews
Goodreads librarian

#4 top users
#2 top readers
#1 top librarians
#1 top reviewers
#1 best reviewers
#3 most followed

From all this puffery in tiny print below the avatar picture, the untrained eye or newbie author might believe this member is a damned important person on Goodreads. Turns out, looks are deceiving because all those statistics below the number of reviews are not for all of Goodreads. They are for a region or a country. And if it is for a very tiny country, it doesn't take much to be the #1 reviewer and best reviewer in your country. Especially a country where the majority of the population can ill afford books, computer equipment and eReaders in order to be a member of Goodreads. Moral of the story, forget the self important puffery of readers. It's much ado about nothing, except perhaps for the fact this reader is a Librarian.

However, all these battle ribbons do indicate something that might not be readily apparent to the casual observer. In order to be able to pound your chest about how important a member you are, you have to write a lot of reviews. Notice the 3.37 average. If you click on it, it will show you a bar graph of how this 'Very Important Member' performs as a reviewer. Statistically speaking, the bars probably resemble a bell curve shape. Those reviewers that have too many 5* ratings or too many 1* ratings in proportion to the 2-4* ratings are probably going to be viewed with suspicion. But, not to worry it's very easy to skew the ratings. Let's say you need a few more 1* ratings to keep the curve looking authentic. Find some insignificant Indie author nobody has ever heard of, in a niche genre few read. Select one of their free short stories and shred it with invective, including derogatory, meaningless .gifs making the review almost as long as the story itself. Your job is done and it's doubtful anyone will ever notice the review out of the more than 700 you've done, especially considering nobody reads this author and the fool hasn't sold a book in months.

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Anatomy Of A Troll Attack

Review bullying, and rating attacks by bands of trolls is a nationally famous pastime at Goodreads. There are many stories about these subjects on the Internet. Google goodreads review bullying ("About 324,000 results (0.23 seconds)") or goodreads troll attacks (About 1,850,000 results (0.32 seconds)). Goodreads structure of their review system invites the documented abuse. Here's how it works:

Pick a book, perhaps the most reviewed book of an unknown author nobody has every heard of in a niche genre nobody cares about. This will work just as well on a major author's new book that doesn't have many reviews yet, because it will have an obvious affect on their average rating and make it appear the new book is a critical dud. If it's on an already acclaimed book with thousands of reviews, the troll attack won't work well because it won't make a statistical dent in the rating average.

In this case, the book had been out less than a year. It received 11 written reviews from 3* to 5* and 12 ratings from 1* to 5* spread out fairly evenly during the year. The last review appeared on 13 October 2014 and the last rating appeared on 02 November 2014. There was not one single 'Like' in any of the 11 reviews.

On 19 December 2014 the first non-review review with no rating but with a disparaging dancing .gif appeared with 11 'Likes'. The next day, 20 December 2014, four reviews appeared, two with no ratings and no written reviews. Of the four reviews, all included demeaning dancing .gifs, and two had 1* ratings, one with a written review and one with a 1 line non-review. Altogether, the reviews shared 73 'Likes' among them. Of the six reviews on the 20th, everyone of them were in the 'Likes' of the other reviews. It was a clearly coordinated attack and they weren't subtle about it.

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A Modest Proposal To Deal With A Troll Attack

If anyone, especially authors and those readers who take reviews seriously, wants to fix the deeply flawed "review" system at Goodreads, I suggest we adopt the system used by the marauding troll packs that the website is nationally famous for.

When an author is carpet bombed with 1* ratings and reviews that aren't reviews, PM me.

I will buy your book and leave a glowing 5* review of your book. At least my review will have a semblance of being legitimate because I will have at least opened your book and read your Table Of Contents, although that isn't necessary according the the Goodreads Review Guidelines. Then we will let interested Goodreads members know that you're being trolled. Perhaps, we would start with all of your Goodreads friends. Or perhaps we could develop a list of people who would like the abuse to stop, possibly from some of the author's forums. If they're interested in fighting the troll attack, they can 'Like' my review and add your book to their "Love To Read This Obviously Excellent Book" shelf with a 5* rating.

Or, you always have the option to "review" your own book, which I always thought was kind of goofy. Until I was trolled. Give yourself a 5* rating and PM me. I will 'like' your review and add your book to my 'Love To Read This Obviously Excellent Book' shelf with a 5* rating. Saves me buying your book. If you want increased sales though, do it my way.

Maybe if this happened a few times, Goodreads would get the hint that their vaunted 'Review' system is an utter farce that invites abuse. If nothing changed, hopefully it would go viral and the media would pick it up. That's what happened the last time anyone got Goodreads' attention about this problem.

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Goodreads Vulnerability

A Thought Experiment For Goodreads' Management

While you were digesting the previous topic about one suggestion to deal with a 'troll attack', perhaps it crossed your mind that Goodreads has opened the lid to Pandora's Box for an easy type of attack that could prove very embarrassing if it received wide media publicity. Since the rating system invites abuse and the review system allows for reviews without the requirement of reading the book, here's an easy attack that would be great media fodder.

Something peculiar that I noticed soon after putting up my first book on Goodreads was the number of foreigners who put my book on their to-read shelf and others even started reading it. All of my stories are in the erotica genre and they're short, a novella at most. Strangely, these foreigners were from countries whose governments would probably frown on smut. And strangely, nobody ever finished a book, even after months of reading it. Most of the profiles were only name and country and almost all of them had at least one other classic literature book on their bookshelf or were reading it. Something like Moby Dick. After signing up at Goodreads, there was never any recent activity and they didn't join groups.

I'll bet I could pay twenty foreigners, from say Malaysia, to set up 100 bogus accounts for a very small sum of money. I would tell them to add a particular book to their "wouldn't-pee-on-it-if-it-was-on-fire" shelf and 1* it at approximately the same time. I'd also provide a few of them with canned 1* trash non-review reviews with cutesy derogatory dancing .gifs to post. Considering Goodreads' censors don't consider such an attack as suspicious when five people do it on a single day, how would they justify removing the attack. After all, not one of these people violated the Review Guidelines. Imagine what the media would do with a story like this? Especially since Goodreads touts their reviews as "... the best and most authentic in the world."

Wait a minute. Appears Goodreads embraces this type of attack already because it is good for business. Pretty damn ironic. Please iignore this section. They have no shame.

Quote from Otis Chandler in the previous link: "I agree that it's a shame some books have to suffer ratings that clearly are invalid. However I can't think of a way to prevent it, ..." It appears that I came along in the nick of time, because the next section will outline a way that Mr. Chandler can prevent ratings that, "... clearly are invalid."

One more thing. Mr. Chandler better pray (pun intended) that fundamentalists of any persuasion don't figure out how flawed the rating system on Goodreads is or there will be a whole lot of symbolic book burnings. Think about the field day members of the WBC, KKK or ANP will have troll rating books they disagree with.

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Suggestions To Fix The Flawed Review System

Since I have criticized the flawed Goodreads review system, I should probably make some suggestions that would fix it. These seem so obvious it make me wonder why Goodreads never thought of them:

  1. When a member creates an account, they are lead through a number of steps to set their new account up. The first step should present the Goodreads Review Guidelines which would include a statement that to review a book with a rating, the reader agrees that they have read the book. Include an <accept> / <decline> option like all commercial licensed software requires. If they decline, do not create the account and terminate the session. After all, Goodreads is a commercial software system to provide rating data to their parent company, Amazon.

  2. Completely abolish the rating only system. The ratings are meaningless, except as popularity statistics for Amazon data mining.

  3. For any written review, add two mutually exclusive buttons that appear with the review: Read Book, DNF (Did Not Finish) to affirm that the reviewer read the book or at least attempted to. The requirement for setting a button should be spelled out in the Review Guidelines, unequivocally. Anyone proven to have selected Read Book or DNF, when they didn't read the book should have all of their reviews removed. In many cases, especially troll attacks, it would be easy to prove from the author's sales figures, except for those books purchased at Amazon that are immediately returned, which is a good reason not to market your titles through Amazon. (This is the primary reason I no longer market my titles on Amazon.)

  4. Get rid of the mosh pit of potential readers. It is useless information. The only members showing up on the review page should be 'read' or 'is currently reading it' members.

  5. Remove the Comments section along with the like button from reviews. If Goodreads is going to treat the 'Review' as a literary work worthy of its own review, there should have been a Dislike button. Another reason the Comments section should be abolished is because it is only there for the people who 'like' the review, especially considering the author dare not say anything to a reviewer. Not sure why reviews are considered worthy of review. They should stand by themselves. The comments appear to be there for stroking the ego of the reviewer and posting gossip between the reviewer and their myriad of 'friends'.

  6. Since it is Goodreads policy to add every newly published book to their database and thus profit from them, they should attempt to contact authors and inform them their book is on Goodreads. Until an author claims their author page, Goodreads should not allow reviews or ratings. If an author informs Goodreads they don't want their book listed, remove it, or in the very least, do not allow reviews and ratings. I know of numerous authors who don't want their books on Goodreads because of the flawed rating system, and I know of numerous books that are misfiled or commingled with other authors.

If Goodreads were to implement these suggestions, the troll attacks would be minimized because the 1* rating-only would no longer affect the average. People who didn't read the book would have no impact on the rating average and their non-review reviews would be obvious for what they are, harassment. It would also behoove Goodreads to investigate more than two or three 1* ratings on a given day on a book that gets maybe one review a month as a vindictive troll attack, especially when all of the perpetrators 'like' each others' reviews. Goodreads should remove the troll reviews with a warning to the perps. If they continue doing that sort of thing, put a permanent red star on their profile, so other members know what kind of people they are. It is useless to excommunicate them because they just come back under another name. It is ridiculously easy to become a Goodreads member. Getting caught should be their 'Scarlet Letter.'

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Goodreads Documentation

Some features at Goodreads are broken, fixed and broken again, or never fixed at all. Therefore, it should surprise no-one that Goodreads documentation, such as the Guidelines For Authors, Goodreads' Terms Of Use, and the Librarian Manual might be a bit intimidating, impenetrable or could possibly contain out of date material. Well, surprise! Their documentation is all of that and more.

Guideline For Authors

A new author to Goodreads would probably start with the Guidelines For Authors if they were interested in documentation available on the website. No surprises in it except the Some things to avoid on Goodreads section, and this one is key:

  • Don?t engage with people who give you negative reviews. We cannot stress this enough. The number one mistake new authors make is to respond to negative reviews. Engaging with people who don?t like your book is not likely to win you any new readers and could lead to members deciding not to read your book. Remember Goodreads is not private; other readers will see a reaction from the author and interpret it as hostile regardless of how carefully the response was crafted. A single negative interaction is often enough to turn a reader off an author permanently.

Are you getting the picture that Goodreads is a rather adversarial environment. As an author, just bend over and take whatever abuse is heaped on you. Silently. Because you are supposed to have a thick skin. For 1* negative reviews, not simple ratings, there is a flag link provided to explain to Goodreads why you think a review is abusive, offensive or an outright lie. That link will buy you nothing, unless the reviewer threatened you and your family with great bodily harm. There is nothing in the Review Guidelines that requires a reader to read your book in order to write the most scathing review imaginable with plenty of offensive, dancing .gifs and disparaging language. Your complaint will go into the nameless, faceless Goodreads bureaucracy and you might get an answer in 5 days or more, if you're lucky. As far as I know, they will always side with the reviewer, especially if the reviewer is also a Librarian. And here's the reason, as stated in the first paragraph of the Guidelines:

"Our members are passionate, knowledgeable readers, and their contributions to the site are what make it such a vibrant and fun place."

Obviously, Goodreads wouldn't want to stifle the vibrancy or curtail any of the fun readers relish when they write useless reviews or go on a troll attack with their friends. And they always do it in a pack.

If you're going to write a review, look the Guidelines over, but don't worry about what you say, the rules are toothless. What may be objectionable to you in a review is not necessarily objectionable to a Goodreads staffer trying to decide to pull a review. They really don't want to piss off a reader.

However, I had one hilarious episode with the Goodreads censors and it's an excellent illustration of where you sit in the pecking order and where Librarians sit. Always realize that Librarians have a direct line to God, i.e. the Goodreads censors. When they complain about you putting a link into a blog to illustrate a point about review trolling, they call God and the blog is removed within 24 hours. Not only are you not allowed to criticize a review, your not allowed to link to it to make your point, never mind that you weren't criticizing the review itself. But when a reviewer, who happens to be a Librarian, has a pornographic avatar picture that you report to Goodreads through the flag button below picture, it takes two complaints over five days to get the avatar picture removed. What's truly mind boggling is you would think a Librarian would know the rules about pornographic avatar pictures. Especially when they expect you to know rules you can't even find, as the section on the Librarian Manual, below, will illustrate.

Terms Of Use

Goodreads' Terms Of Use is a lot of legalese gobbledygook. I can guarantee you that everything in there gives Goodreads an advantage over you. This section should scare the crap out of you:

3. License Grant

By posting any User Content on the Service, you expressly grant, and you represent and warrant that you have a right to grant, to Goodreads a royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, worldwide license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, list information regarding, edit, translate, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, and make derivative works of all such User Content and your name, voice, and/or likeness as contained in your User Content, in whole or in part, and in any form, media or technology, whether now known or hereafter developed, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing for any purpose at the sole discretion of Goodreads. If you submit works to the Service via the ?My Writing? or ?Ebook? features, our Terms of Use for Writers apply to those works.

Without consulting a lawyer, and I'm not one, it appears that whatever you put up on the Goodreads site is now their property to do with as they wish. Certainly, if I had it to do over, I would not put any of my books on the site. Unfortunately, it makes little difference because they will put your books on their site, including your copyrighted cover without your permission.

Librarian Manual

The Librarian Manual is probably the one manual you would overlook because, as far as you know, you're not a Librarian. Do so at your own peril. But be forewarned, it is badly out of date and full of broken links so you may not find the information you need to know. As of this day: 09 January 2015 (I include this date because Goodreads will probably clean this mess up when they notice this website), this is the best example of why Goodreads documentation is useless:

Click on the link to the Manual. You will see a very long page, but scroll down to:

Using the book edit page: part 2

Note: Replacing or removing the cover of an existing edition is in violation of Goodreads policy. Please see information on how to add an alternate cover edition if the book has been released with a new cover.

(This topic has now been broken down into subtopics for ease in using and editing.) 

upload photo 



official URL 


primary language 



Even though Goodreads uses a format that doesn't readily indicate what is a link because they have deliberately suppressed the underline that normally indicates a link, click on upload photo. This is the result:

Page Not Found

The page you requested doesn't exist. Please check the url again, or visit the home page.

Next, click on format, result:

Page Not Found

The page you requested doesn't exist. Please check the url again, or visit the home page.

Click on edition, result:

Page Not Found

The page you requested doesn't exist. Please check the url again, or visit the home page.

Click on official URL, which it should be noted is NOT on the Book edit page at all, result:

Page Not Found

The page you requested doesn't exist. Please check the url again, or visit the home page.

Click on description, result:

Page Not Found

The page you requested doesn't exist. Please check the url again, or visit the home page.

Please note: I was excommunicated from Goodreads on 23 December 2014 because of a rule on the description page which I could not see and was not informed it was on that page until after my removal.

Click on primary language, result:

Page Not Found

The page you requested doesn't exist. Please check the url again, or visit the home page.

Click on source, result:

Page Not Found

The page you requested doesn't exist. Please check the url again, or visit the home page.

Click on created, result:

Page Not Found

The page you requested doesn't exist. Please check the url again, or visit the home page.

Got the picture? The link to every page was broken. This document was useless when I was accused of breaking a rule that it contains. I must admit, I broke a rule in this manual but I didn't know where it was until the link to it was spelled out in the email that told me I had been excommunicated. It was not spelled out in any of the previous emails warning me I was in violation of some unknowable rule. Pretty clear the Goodreads office minions didn't know the rule either. But then again, they aren't Librarians. Since Librarian service is laborious and tedious, Goodreads passed it off to volunteers so they could keep their head count down.

Note: As of 10 January 2015 it appears the links have been fixed. However, a number of fields are still in error, both in the documentation and on the 'Edit book' form for the Book Description page. There is NO 'official URL' on the 'Edit book' form. There is no 'Primary language' field on the form; perhaps it is 'edition language' and there is no 'source' field on the form. The 'characters' field on the form takes you to your Home page? A field 'series' is on the form, but not in the documentation and if you click on the link, it takes you to your Home page? There is a field 'default chapters' on the form but not in the documentation. I think you get the picture. The documentation is still all screwed up.

Note: 17 January 2015 hold the presses! This just in, from a 'Goodreads Expert.' I'm not making this up. That's her title. And I quote:

Hi Zoe,

Thanks for your message! An official URL can be added to the description of the book record, or under the field "official website" in the author's page. Please let me know if your have further questions for me.

Best, Daniela -- Daniela Gómez
Goodreads Expert

It appears I was excommunicated for breaking a rule that isn't a rule if you are a 'Goodreads Expert,' yet is a rule if you're a Librarian.

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Other Broken Services On The Website

Much like the obsolete documentation with broken links, there are other services and features on the website that are broken. Two of them plagued me the entire year I was an author member on Goodreads.

One of them, few members know about and most don't know how to use. As an author you could upload your book and offer an excerpt of the book, or the whole book, for free download to other members. There was also an option to read the upload in your browser. That feature was broken, fixed, and broken numerous times, especially the part that allowed a member to read the excerpt of the book or the entire book in their browser, online. It's akin to the 'Look Inside' feature on Amazon. Never use this feature. Throughout the entire year I was a member, this service never worked right and was fixed and changed and broken several times. Theoretically, the author was supposed to be able to upload and delete their works at their will. For most of December 2014 the upload and delete button disappeared and I was unable to get my books off of their servers. I finally had to demand that Goodreads manually remove my books from this service, and they eventually did. The service no longer works the way it used to and I have no idea if it ever will again.

Never make one of your books available free to members, through Goodreads. If you want to give away a free copy of your book, email the requester a copy or issue a coupon at some of the outlets, like Smashwords that has this feature. Just one more good reason not to put your books on Amazon. They don't allow you to offer free books unless you list with them exclusively and then it's only for short periods.

Another service that's defective as of 12/2014 and poorly designed in the first place is the 'Get a copy' middle button labeled 'online stores.' This problem affects an author's sales and I don't know why authors aren't irate about it since it greatly affects their presence with first time Goodreads members. I doubt any of them understand how this button works. If your vendors don't show up or your book doesn't show up when the member selects the vendor of their choice, they usually give up. It finally became a serious problem to me when one of my books got popular on Barnes & Noble, and trying to work around it got me excommunicated from Goodreads.

To begin with, the underlying feature is poorly implemented. It obviously favors Amazon, since there is usually a separate button for Amazon and the middle button is for all other vendors ... most of the time. I've seen some books where the first button is Barnes & Noble and Amazon is in the list of vendors on the 'online stores' middle button. Makes no difference, the whole vendor linking feature is poorly implemented and counter-intuitive.

For instance, I've run across books that a Goodreads author says are on Amazon but clicking the Amazon button returns a 'book not found' page. I won't go into the complexity of indexing books on Amazon or any other book seller, but suffice it to say there are many ways to identify the search index to a book. Amazon is especially complex because they don't require an ISBN and if you don't have one, they assign their own ASIN. Later, the author may get an ISBN and not add it to the book upload at Amazon, yet put it in the Book Description on Goodreads, and Goodreads will pass it as the search index to Amazon. The result will be: 'no book found.'

I have ISBNs for all of my books. It is the only identification I've ever used, even when my books were at Amazon. My books always showed up when you used the 'Get A Copy' button for Amazon. I also publish all my stories at Smashwords and AllRomance. One advantage at Smashwords, although practically no reader has ever heard of them, is they push your book to iTunes, Barnes & Noble and other vendors. So all my books are at Barnes & Noble. Except, if you click the 'online stores' button, then click on Barnes & Noble, if it's even in the drop-down list, it appears that my books aren't carried by B&N. But if you search the title, or my author name at B&N, they are there.

There is another, more serious problem with the 'online stores' button. It has a long list of online vendors and Goodreads knows about hundreds of vendors, but only a few are listed as default. If you pick one of my books, AllRomance will not show up since it is not among the defaults. For some unfathomable reason, each member can edit the 'online stores' button, although I'd wager 99% of them don't know that. This makes no sense. How is a member to know which vendors an author uses to distribute their books? I contend the author should have the option to insert the proper link to each of their books behind the 'online stores' button.

If you want readers to find your works, do not rely on the 'Get a copy' buttons on Goodreads. I hate to say this, but if you have more than one book published, especially at multiple vendors, you need a website that presents information about your books and the proper links to each book at each of your outlets. An additional benefit of this approach is you can upload less information about yourself and your books on Goodreads for Amazon to mine, and you can provide correct working links to your books. However, be very careful where you put the link to your website. Do not put links on the Book Description page even though that's where they should be. There is actually a rule against putting an Internet link with the Book Description, though I have no idea why, and the front office gestapos don't know the rule. Only the Librarians know the rule and if they tell the gestapo you broke the rule and should be excommunicated, you're toast. I suspect it's left over from when there was an 'official URL' field on the Book Description page where you would have put your link. But, as of 12/2014, there was no 'official URL' field on the Book Description page. However, there is a 'website' field on the 'Author profile' page. Quite frankly, that's not good enough. If you have multiple books, you want a link to point directly to each book on your website book page, which the old 'official URL' field could have done.

Note (01/07/2014): Goodreads is changing the functionality of the 'online stores' button. The drop-down list no longer appears. Clicking on the button gets you the bizarre 'search by' list that used to be the default drop-down list. It can be customized by the user, although, I doubt many users know that. After all, there are only 745 different places a user could look for a book. How would they know which vendor the author used? This list should be populated by the author when they place the book on Goodreads. Uh-oh, I just 'customized' my list to the five vendors that I know a certain book is sold through, but when I go to the book page, only three of them show up, although the ad shows up. Looks like a classic case of Goodreads' crack IT team changing a feature and breaking it.

Note (01/09/2014): The drop-down list is back. However, there is still a bug with the 'customized' feature and the ads that are displayed when you hold down the 'online stores' button. Keep at it Goodreads. You'll straighten it out eventually, although it will still be useless for the following reason.

To fix the functionality of the 'Get a copy' buttons, Goodreads should reprogram the first button to be an 'Authors source' button. Let authors select from a list of vendors and then let them add the correct link to their book at that vendor. Change the name of the 'online stores' button to be 'reader preferred source' button and leave the functionality as it is now. Let the reader pick their favorite sources from the huge list which Goodreads provides which includes libraries, etc.

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The Infamous 2013 Trolling Incident

On 22 January 2015, Goodreads deleted an embarrassing page on the site that dated back to a trolling incident in 2013 that went hopelessly awry. An author who claims he didn't know he was on Goodreads was blamed for the rating fiasco. I found an archive available here at To make damn certain it doesn't disappear again it is displayed here in it's entirety with my notes.

Note: Travis Luedke is not the troll perpetrator. He is exposing the incident, but at the beginning he believes the author is the perp although that may not be the case.


Note: In message 4, below, the author has discovered the problem and asserts that he didn't know he had a presence on Goodreads. That, in an of itself, is not surprising. Goodreads loads all published books into their database and representatives of authors often claim an author's profile page without the author's knowledge. Goodreads makes no effort to contact an author and inform them they are on the site and will be exploited for Goodreads' profit. Make no mistake, Goodreads is in this for the value that the rating data represents. They are not providing a community service; this is NOT a library or a local Book Club.


Note: Now we will get to the crux of the problem and the astonishing arrogance of Goodreads. Read Message 10, below. It is entirely the authors fault and he needs "... to correct it as quickly as possible."


Yeah Andrew! Being a new Indie author that never heard of Goodreads, you should have known better, although I have no idea how you would have known that. In fact, if Warrior Forums is so notorious to Goodreads, why didn't Goodreads do something to protect their vaunted rating system from being trolled so easily?

Here are the rest of the messages in this thread for the reader's edification:




Twenty four messages an no one brought up anything about the fatally flawed Goodreads rating system that allows this to happen so easily. Truly amazing. Especially considering nothing has changed and it could all happen again today.

Note: On 26 January 2015, not only did a similar carpet bombing happen, it escalated as noted in the next section. Damn, I'm prescient.

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January 2015: Rating Nuclear Exchange

Considering the ease with which a rating carpet bomb attack can occur on Goodreads, it was inevitable that it would escalate into all out war. On or about 16 January 2015 a 1* attack started on obscure author, Raani York, who had one book on Goodreads. This is reminiscent of the 2013 Trolling incident and illustrates that Goodreads has done noting to fix their flawed "review" system.

On 23 January 2015, it went nuclear in a most unexpected way. It was 5* carpet bombed:

The 5* carpet bombing continues for 8 more pages.

Meanwhile, on the same day, many of the 5* carpet bombers start a 1* attack on Starlight Seduction by Linda Hilton:

If you search through the mosh pit of both authors you will note that some people who 1* bombed Raani York 5* bombed Linda Hilton and vice-versa.

Unfortunately, it turns out there was further collateral damage. Author Kevin Weinberg publicly supported Raani York on his author page on Goodreads:

On 23 January 2015 Mr. Weinberg became a "fan" of Raani York. On 25 January 2015, he posted a comment on Sadie Forsythe's rambling review as you can see above. As usual, when an author confronts a reader in a review, the situation deteriorates. The end result of this exchange was author Weinberg terminating his membership in Goodreads and the usual suspects showed up to 1* his books. Oddly reminiscent of what the usual suspects did to another author who 5* rated Authors vs. Goodreads.

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The Ghost Books Of Goodreads

Goodreads claims there are 1 billion+ books in their database. Of course, that figure along with the 40 million member figure is unaudited, so it may be highly inflated. It turns out though, that there are an unknown quantity of "ghost" books in the database. Some of the ghost books are pre-sale books. If they are by reputable authors, they might eventually become real books, but then again, maybe not. You should know that any member can "review" or rate these books before they are released. There are some famous troll attacks on pre-sale books. Other ghost books are by wannabe authors posing as "Goodreads Authors." What's hilarious is that when these ghost books get into the Goodreads database, they cannot be removed, even if the author put it into the database to test the waters for the title and after negative reviews decided to rewrite the book with a new title and wants the old book removed. Too bad, reality bites.

Here is a ghost book that was intended to be a ghost book. It was written in a few hours, published on Smashwords on 06 February 2015 and Goodreads scooped it up into their database within two days, whereupon it was unpublished without anyone buying it. However it will be on Goodreads forever and since there is no requirement for reading a book it can be reviewed and rated just like a real book. So far, it has more than 40 ratings, most of them 5*.


Note: For the first time I'm aware of, this book was eventually removed from Goodreads along with all of the reviews, sometime in March, 2015.  A month later, I.N. Ane was removed from Smashwords. However, author Ane is still available at Amazon. Decoding Goodreads is still listed. Go figure. Diddling Goodreads is the only published book I know of with an ISBN that is not in the Goodreads database. Apparently you can diddle Goodreads after all.

I first learned about ghost books on Goodreads when I was researching the books of authors who participated in carpet bombing other authors. Considering that Goodreads does not vet members at all, there is no requirement to read a book to review or rate it and Goodreads doesn't even bother to enforce their lax review rules, I thought it odd that an author would chance retaliation for participating in a trolling attack. When checking out one of the more notorious trollers, I noticed she claimed to be a "Goodreads Author" and claims to have written five books. If you look at her author's page it appears she has published five books; there are beautiful covers at least. However, if you examine the books, not one of the five is actually published:

Scandal appears to be a moderately popular story, published in August, 2014, except it isn't available anywhere. It was available on the author's website for a time but was never actually published. There are 90 ratings including 30 or so written reviews. And there are pages of members who have added it to their shelves, perhaps to read it, perhaps not. Three of the stories are to be published sometime in 2015 although one of them is a 400 page novel that already has a rating dated back in June, 2014. That's one of the peculiarities of the Goodreads rating system, you can rate and even review a book before it is published. The final story, The Kings of Kearny only says it is expected in 2016. In reality they are all ghost books.

The most ironic of all ghost books are a pair of books I stumbled on when I was researching the founder of Goodreads, Otis Chandler. I found an author page for Otis Chandler, but he is a relative of the founder of Goodreads:

otis chandler ghost book

What is truly bizarre is that there are two books on this author page entitled Unknown Book and they have reviews and ratings. And Otis's Fan is none other than Otis Chandler, founder of Goodreads, who lists himself as a Goodreads employee. How humble of him.

Delving into the two books turns up a number of surprises. The first one is that they aren't available anywhere and it isn't clear that they ever were:

ghost book 3ghost book 4
If you click on more details there are no more details; the books have no ISBNs or ASINs so there is no way to link them to a book outlet. The ratings / reviews are enlightening:

oc reviews
Isn't that amazing, three 5* ratings, one 4* rating and one 5* review. One rating was done soon after Goodreads was created in 2007 by Beatrice-mal who did 30 ratings on a single day, September 26, 2007, made friends with three other members, who never read any books, on September 27, 2007, and doesn't appear to have been active on Goodreads since. All of a sudden, on December 28 and 29, three more ratings appear. Suzi, on December 28 is rather interesting. She did all 53 of her ratings on October 16, December 5 or December 28, 2008 and every one of them is 5*. Doesn't appear she has been back since November 29, 2010 when she made her first, and only, friend, but read no more books. Jeremiah looks to be a fairly normal Goodreads member, but apparently became inactive in 2013. Christy has a private profile so little can be surmised. The only written review was done about a year later, when Rachel rated it 5* and left a glowing, albeit terse review, on September 7, 2009. It should be noted that all of Rachel's rating activity on Goodreads is between September 5 and September 27, 2009 and then in October, 2009, she begins reading a book, adds a book and then her account goes quiet.

It cannot be discerned when the two Unknown Books were written or when they were loaded on Goodreads. It appears that the second book Unknown Book 9831295 was added later because the four 5* ratings were all done in 2011 and none of the four reviewers appears to be active.

Note: Sometime in 2015 Unknown Book 1959097 was removed from Goodreads.

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The Ghost Members Of Goodreads

While doing research into Ghost Books on Goodreads, I stumbled across the Ghost Members of Goodreads. These are even more bizarre than Ghost Books and there are lots of them, perhaps tens of thousands of them. My curiosity was piqued when I noticed the number of ratings made all on the same day by members who rated ghost books. Most of them were members of short duration, a long time ago and have never been back. Therein lies the rub. There are no membership requirements other than an email address. There is no membership vetting whatsoever. If you have many email addresses, you can have multiple memberships. Some people do, which is one of the reasons there are so many Sock Puppets on Goodreads. If you don't ask Goodreads to delete your membership, it never goes away; Goodreads has no method to purge inactive members. Why would they? It looks mighty impressive when they claim 40 million members. Nobody ever audits any of their claims. Of course, if I were an advertiser, I would like to know the accuracy of their membership claims, i.e. how many there really are, how active they are?

My epiphany came when I was doing research on one particularly negative member: L.

When you sign up and create your membership, you choose a handle that will be linked to your member profile. Your email address, which must be unique in the Goodreads database is not your handle. In fact, you can make that completely invisible, for obvious reasons. But your public handle is not unique. Hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of other members can have the same handle you do. Makes for a lot of confusion.

I discovered L on another website, and while doing research about member L on Goodreads, I discovered the ghost memberships. It is not intuitively obvious how you find member information. Once you have logged in, enter the term you want to search for in the window with the search (magnifying glass) icon. Do your initial search. When the search results are returned, there will be a series of buttons that will narrow the search. Press the People button and it will be underlined. Now you can search for members by handle. Here are the results for searching for L:

Notice that the response reports that there were about 200 members with the identifying handle L. Notice also that of the 8 members summarized above from my screen cut and paste, in just this one listing, two of them are from Iran. As you scan through the listing on your screen, note how many members have read 0 books and how many members are from Iran.

Click on one of the member icons and you will see a result like this:

Notice that the member joined in August 2007, at the time Goodreads was founded and that the user has never read a book. As you peruse members, you will find lots of them that joined in 2007 and have never read a book, never friended anyone and never joined a group. This is an important point as we shall see later.

Before we delve further into the quagmire that is Goodreads membership, let me draw your attention to the reported about 200 results heading which indicates you are probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg. There could be 2000 or 200,000+ members with the handle L. Also note that it is implied there are 10 pages of L members you could examine. If you attempt to scroll to the next page, you always get the same page of member data even though the header indicates you are on another page. Considering how many other features are broken in Goodreads software, this doesn't come as a total surprise.

After considering the ramifications of the large number of members with the single letter L handle, I wondered if there were lots of other single letter handle members that hadn't ever read a book and were from foreign countries, particularly Iran. There are! I looked at members of the letter A:

The first members on this list borders on the absurd. Notice how many of them are from Iran. And where is Los Angeles, Iran and Palo Alto, Iran? Again we get about 200 results, and again, there are 10 pages of them but you can't access any other page. Put any single letter of the alphabet in the search field. You always get the same type of results.

So then, I put aa in the search field, exactly the same type of result. Hundreds of members, pretty much 0 books read. I put zz in the search, then aaa. Always the same type of result. I put 1 in the search field, same type of result. There is no way to tell how many bogus members there are, but the math gets large, fast. One thing that leaps out at you if you click on a member randomly is that most of them were registered in 2007 - 2009 when Goodreads was brand new and trying to look like it was growing rapidly. I think we know now how it grew so rapidly now. Keep in mind that none of these people will show up to the casual user of Goodreads because they never read a book, never rated a book or wrote a review and never joined any groups, so they are invisible. They just sit in the database, inflating the member number statistics because there is never any audit of any claims made by Goodreads.

By the way, I wonder why there are so many Iranian members of Goodreads who never read any books? Does that seem strange to anyone else considering our political relationship with Iran?

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