THE BLOG
10/06/2010 04:29 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Has Goodreads Jumped the Shark?

A couple of weeks ago a very nice reader of mine sent me her list of favorite books because she thought I might want to read some of the books that she loved. I was, of course, pleased to see that my own book was on the list, but I was also a little puzzled. Puzzled because the list contained two books that had not yet been published - Last Night at the Chateau Marmont by Lauren Weisberger (which has since hit bookstores) and Sarah Pekkanen's second novel, Skipping a Beat, which is not scheduled to be in stores until February, 2011.

Now I'm one of those readers who, when I discover a new author I love, go out and buy all of their other books on the premise that I'm more likely to enjoy them than something by someone I've never read. This is, of course, a fundamental premise underlying much of the publishing world, and explains why in part, say, Alex Patterson or Anne Perry are so successful. But even if I love a book by an author, does that automatically make everything they wrote one of my favorite books? Before I've even read it?

I thought, for a while, that this might just be an aberration. A little quirk of this very kind reader. But then I noticed something even stranger.

My second novel, Arranged, is being published (in Canada) in January 2011. Being the good little social media author that I am, I added Arranged to my books on Goodreads as soon as there was an ISBN number and a cover, and I then "recommended" the book to my Goodreads friends. Hey, why not create a little pre-sale buzz? I mean, I do think it's a good book, right? I kind of have to. About half my Goodreads friends have listed it as a book they would like to read. Great. But then I noticed that Arranged suddenly had three ratings. As in, three people had rated my book on a scale of 1 to 5 stars months before the book was even in the stores.

I thought, briefly that this might simply be people who worked in publishing houses - perhaps my own - who had read drafts of the book when it was circulating for sale. But no, that didn't seem to be the case. Nor were the raters unanimous in their praise. Seems some thought my book was worth five stars while others thought it was worth only four. What was going on here?

And then I was contacted via Goodreads by a someone - let's call him Karl - whose goal appeared to be to collect as many friends as possible on Goodreads and simultaneously have the biggest Goodreads group full of authors. And what carrot did Karl dangle to get you to join his group? Well ... he added your book to the group's books, see and gave it - wait for it - a five star rating! Guaranteed. Not that Karl would purchase or read your book or anything - nope. Join the group, get a five star rating. End of story.

Which begs the question - what good is a rating that has nothing to do with someone actually reading your book? And also, why were so many people/authors falling for this - I equate "falling for this" with joining the group? Well, for one thing, Karl is kind of aggressive. About a day after I left his group - I was getting annoyed with all the announcements it was making - there was suddenly an invitation for me to join again, accompanied by a message from Karl about the benefits of staying in the group. (How he knew I had left, I'll never know - clearly he has some Goodreads knowledge that I lack.)

But also: Why was Karl so aggressive? What was he trying to accomplish?

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all about recommending great books to other people. I have sent book recommendations on Goodreads. I even started a group on Facebook - "I bet we can make these books bestsellers" - where the whole point is to recommend books to other people (current selections are Jessica Z. and Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens - check them out, they are great!). But I've read these books. I can discuss their merits. I can explain to you why I gave them five stars.

So what's going on here? Isn't the whole purpose of Goodreads for readers to connect with one another - and authors - to share book recommendations, of, you know, books they've actually read? Isn't that the only way that the site has any meaning or value? Because if it's not about that, then it's just going to become another massive self-promotion site - I'm looking at you Twitter. And if that's going to happen, fine. But then I reiterate my plea that the great Facebook-Goodreads-Twitter merger happen pronto so I can get back to writing.

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