Tuesday, August 23, 2011

40 Goodreads Allows Ratings Before the ARC is Out -- Let's Change That

Update 3: 87 wonderful folks have signed the petition so far. PLEASE help us spread the word. And if you know of anyone who has been reluctant to sign because they require the name and address, just let them know to UNCHECK the "Make This Public" box. I've looked at the signature file, and the address doesn't show up when the box is unchecked. Hope that helps!

UPDATE 2: I received the answer (posted below) from Goodreads in response to my additional explanation. In response, I posted a petition on Change.org that should explain WHY this is so important. Please take a look or send your own response. Their answer doesn't make sense. The pre-read interest level and the post-read rating should be two different things!

To see the petition, go here: http://www.change.org/petitions/goodreadscom-protect-books-from-being-rated-before-copies-are-available-to-be-read?share_id=rnHVzWAqaR&utm

And here's the note I got back from Goodreads:

Hi there,

Thanks for contacting us. Goodreads policy allows users to rate a book as soon as it is listed on the site. While most users use the star-ratings to review a book, some like to use the rating system to indicate interest or excitement in an upcoming title. There is not one set way to use the rating system.

Additionally, it’s not a simple matter to prevent ratings of a book based upon publication date. The publication date is frequently inaccurate. Thousands of our users receive advanced copies of books; we have no way of knowing when ARCs for individual books are sent out. There is no universal standard in the industry for that. In the end, we have no way of knowing that any person on the site has read any of the books they claim to have read. Verifying this would be impractical.

Please keep in mind that when users rate a book that has not yet come out, other users tend to take the rating with a grain of salt.

If you feel a user is being abusive in other ways, please let us know and we'll look into the matter further.

Best, Kara

UPDATE: Evidently, Goodreads is responding that this early rating is a "valid use" of the rating system.

Please see the bottom of this post for the letter I recommend sending in response to their response!



So I was on Twitter the other night--I wish I had more time to spend there--and I happened to see a tweet from a writer about getting a two-star review on Goodreads for a book that no one has read yet. Now, to clarify, by no one, I do mean NO ONE. The book is still in manuscript form. There are no ARCs, no copies, no nada. Needless to say, it's a little unnerving, not to mention unfair, to find that someone doesn't like the book when they clearly haven't read it yet.

How can this happen, you wonder? I wondered too, so I asked her to explain.

It turns out that there is no mechanism in Goodreads to distinguish between an author's advance post about an upcoming book, and a book that is out there and ready for reviews. Many authors have evidently had their books rated before people have read them.

Now I may be naive, but it strikes me that this is something we could, and should, change. It should be a relatively easy fix, too. All it needs is a date field: available for rating after XX/XX/XXXX. And so long as that date hasn't passed yet, the author should be able to change it, in case ARCs are late going out. But once the date has passed, the book is fair game.

What do you think? Does that make sense as an approach toward Goodreads? Do you have any alternate suggestions?

Let's work together to fix this hole in Goodreads and make it more fair to authors. Hopefully, several voices raised together will be heard.

Since everyone's time is at a premium and I haven't personally experienced this situation, I wanted to post my draft letter for critique in case anyone has suggestions. Once we have the facts/approach right, if anyone wants to use that same letter, I'd be happy to share. This letter, or one of your own devising, can be posted to the Goodread's contact page (http://www.goodreads.com/about/contact_us)
in support of a requested fix to the problem.

Please make suggestions to improve the letter below, or otherwise let me know where I've screwed up. I just wanted to start the conversation going.

Draft Email:

Dear Goodreads Staff,

It has come to my attention that once an author creates a Goodreads page and adds their "in the pipeline" book, there is no way to keep people from rating/reviewing the book before copies are actually available for reading. This seems to be a hole in the system, and I wondered if it might be possible to add a date available for rating field for each book to eliminate this loophole. Such a field could contain the date ARCs will be released, and would, ideally, be changeable by the author prior to that date in case ARCs are delayed.

An additional service to authors might allow for a field to help build pre-publicity buzz or let fans build pre-release support, a way to show that someone is looking forward to reading a book once it becomes available. This could be as simple as allowing a book to be added to a TBR pile, and then showing the number of times it appears in a TBR pile for any book that hasn't yet passed the ARC release date.

I hope you will consider these suggestions.

Thank you and best regards,
Blah, blah, moi

So what do you think? Anything worthwhile in this? Changes? Gripes? Grudges? Grumbles?

Response I am sending (and recommending) to the stock, "this is a valid use" answer that Goodreads is sending back:

Dear Goodreads Staff,

That cannot be a valid use of ratings so long as the ratings factor into total ratings for the book, nor can it be a valid use when such ratings can actually deter someone from buying the book or reading it once an actual copy becomes available. Pre-release ratings can be highly prejudician to a book's success, not to mention demoralizing for an author and the editorial team.

Furthermore, it has been brought to our attention that anyone can add a book and attribute it to an author, even if the book does not exist.

The Goodreads site performs such a service to readers and authors alike. It is truly a shame to allow an easily-fixed loophole to become a policy that makes no sense and damages the very industry you serve.

Best regards,


Thanks for the help, everyone!


  1. I totally agree! It gets me mad when I see that. Not only because people haven't read the book, but because the overall book rating and other stats get messed up because of it. So when it is out, other people may not read it because of all the two/one star reviews (which no one actually read at that point!)

  2. I agree this is very unfair to authors, but I have also seen reviewers give a book one star because they haven't read it yet. Sometimes I wonder if the goodreads user doesn't realize that you can leave the star field blank when you add the book to your "to read" list. It frustrates me when I see this happen, and I am just a reader. I can't imagine how frustrated the authors are about this. Thank you for the post. I am so sorry this keeps happening.

  3. Britta, Exactly!

    Melissa, it never occurred to me that someone would think they needed to rate it to add it to their TBR pile! I can't imagine it's that prevalent though. At least I hope it isn't. Anyone? Thoughts?

  4. I love your letter! And yes, it is a little frustrating. So far my book has received two reviews from people who couldn't possibly have read it (because, as you mentioned, ARCs are not yet available). Luckily for me, they both gave it five stars, but I do live in fear of someone not looking on it so kindly.

    It does seem like an easy fix. We should definitely speak up about it! :)

  5. Emily, thanks! And you are so right. Reviews/ratings are scary enough for authors who pour their hearts into a book and can only hope readers like it. The thought of having someone rate it arbitrarily, often as those all important first ratings, without having read it, has to be paralyzing.

  6. I received a two star review before my arcs came out also. I messaged the person and asked how in the world he could give me a rating when no one had my book yet. He said it was an accident (don't know if I believed that) and took it down. But I agree. It's aggravating, especially when they're low marks.

  7. I also received Goodreads ratings before I'd even sent the final manuscript to my editor, so I think this is a great idea. I have no problem with people rating a book once it's available to read, but those other "unfounded" ratings are just so arbitrary and aren't actually doing anyone (readers or authors) any good. Thanks for doing this! I'll certainly send this letter along, too.

  8. Great letter! I do agree books shouldn't be rated before they even come out. I don't even know why someone would rate an unread book in the first place.

  9. Thanks, ladies! Megan, at least he took it down!

    Spread the word so we get as much volume to them as possible. Evidently, individual authors have contacted Goodreads before, but gotten nowhere.

  10. I completely agree, and I'll be sending along that letter as well. Thanks for bringing this to attention!

  11. I have a review on my book that's not even undergone revisions yet, but that was a dear friend who read the manuscript and said so in the review. :)

  12. I agree! I had people rating my book based on the industry manuscript before the ARCs were out - which terrified me, as I had no idea WHICH version of the manuscript they had! We went through at least four or five! And when I contacted Goodreads to let them know about this situation, they ignored me - thank goodness the reviewer was understanding and accommodating when I asked him to consider that he hadn't gotten the full reading experience.

  13. I just had someone contact me about doing a Change.org petition around this issue, so please stay tuned folks. Go ahead and send the letters, but check back and I'll post updates as I get them.


  14. I'd hazard a guess that these people are rating based on the premise of the book alone. To allow ratings for a book that doesn't even have a form yet is just silly.

  15. Did anybody else get this reply from Goodreads?

    Hi there,

    Thanks for contacting us. Goodreads policy allows users to rate a book as soon as it is listed on the site. While most users use the star-ratings to review a book, some like to use the rating system to indicate interest or excitement in an upcoming title. We view this as a valid use of the site. Generally, when users rate a book that has not yet come out, other users take the rating with a grain of salt. If you feel this user is being abusive in other ways, please let us know and we'll look into the matter further.


  16. The GR response is infuriating. We need a form response to their response.

  17. Wow. That is just wrong, on so many levels. Good for you, Martina, for taking up the cause!

  18. Yes, Ashelynn, evidently several people got that response. SOOOOO -- see above to see what I am sending back to them.

    This can't end here!

  19. I've recently joined Goodreads & am just learning the ins and outs of the site ... this is definitely an out. Hopefully with all these letters they'll be getting, they will decide to fix this loophole! That's crazy.

  20. Thanks for making us all aware! I just sent goodreads a letter concerning this problem. Hope it helps!

  21. I will also send a letter! I don't have ARCs available yet, and have had at least two people, that I know didn't read the book, give it a rating. I don't mind if they rate it after it's available, but before, when there are not many other ratings to balance out, it just hurts. Thanks so much for this!

  22. Good to know. As always, I take book and film stars reviews with a grain of salt -- to each his own. This is as bad (if not worse?) than to see one-star reviews on Amazon because the reader didn't like how the book was shipped, or the texture of the cover, or some other completely irrelevant comment on something other than the content of the book. What an insult to the author by pretentious or otherwise bitter people to do such things.

  23. Thank you so much for doing this. I've actually received a two-star review from someone--and I haven't even finished doing revisions with my editor! It's unbelievably frustrating--and discouraging--to see negative reviews for a work you haven't even finished yet.

    This is especially important for debut authors, for whom this is their first introduction to readers!

  24. So glad this is resonating! It isn't about any one author or one book, or about censorship in any form. Goodreads performs a service to readers and authors alike by helping connect readers with books they might enjoy. But if the current rating system is "designed" to serve two wholly separate functions that make no sense together, it impedes the ability of a book to connect, thus defeating the whole purpose of the system. And you are all completely right, this does hurt debut authors more than anyone else. But we can change this. Yes, we can! :D

  25. I think your idea for a date is valid, but I've found that authors don't always KNOW when their ARCS are available. I've actually had one author contact me about a review I posted, asking why I was rating before the ARC was out. It was out--I read it!! So I think we should ask, why even post the book before the ARC comes out? It seems to me like mentioning the book on one's author page should be sufficient until the book prints. Isn't the main reason for Goodreads posting the book for reviewers to give it a rating?? And who wants to wait x amount of days or weeks to post a review or rating? Readers want to share when they've read great books--immediately.

  26. Anonymous,

    This is a great point, but if there is a reason for authors to really become aware of ARC release dates, that could change. And as it currently stands, it isn't necessarily the author of the book who is posting the book on Goodreads. Fans can do it. Perhaps if the author could then provide a release date, the damage could be reduced?

    This may not be a perfect solution, but splitting out the pre-release interest from the rating system seems to me to be important. They are two different functions. Authors and fans *are* using Goodreads to build buzz for upcoming releases. That's great. I love Goodreads. I think it is a huge service to authors and readers. Allowing readers to connect to books they will like is a wonderful thing.

    That said, if people are using the rating system for different purposes, according to different scales, then it diminishes the entire rating system and the reason for having one.

    Hopefully Goodreads will listen and find a way to accomplish the separation between the two functions in a way that will work. I don't think anyone is wedded to any particular fix. We just see a problem that creates inequity, and want them to address it.

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. You make a very valid point. Since I'm all for fairness... *signs petition*

  29. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. ((HUGS))...totally think this is the only fair way to go about it. How can people know how good a book is unless they've read it?

  30. Thanks, everyone! Keep those signatures coming. 56 signatures already, but it's not going to get much traction unless we show them there are numbers behind it. Please, please help us spread the word. As Meagan pointed out, the current system is especially hard on debut authors, who don't have much voice on Goodreads, or really anywhere, and are often reluctant to speak out for fear that it will sound as if they're whining. They aren't. This is unfair!

    If you know any established Goodreads authors, get them to help! Maybe Goodreads will listen to them more carefully. Also, then debut authors won't be in this alone.

  31. She also got two five star ratings she's not bitching about. This is nothing but a pig-headed tirade and I lose respect for authors who think marginal literary talent gives them the golden sceptor to make censorship okiedokie.

  32. Anonymous,

    This isn't about any one author or review. Seriously! While it was one comment on Twitter that brought this up, so many people have chimed in about this--and it is a glaring hole in the system. It isn't fair to authors or readers, if you think about it.

    Put the shoe on the other foot. There are two debut authors. Both list their books on Goodreads to create buzz. One has someone that puts in a two-star rating before the book is out. One has no ratings until the book is out. Both books get a 4-star rating from the first 100 readers. The first book ends up with a three star rating, and the second book ends up with a four star rating. After 100 readers. After 500 readers. The numbers will never be equal.

    Now I know that readers take ratings with a grain of salt, and Goodreads ratings are shown as decimals, so the numbers will close up as more people rate the books.

    Still, the fact remains that for those first ratings, the ones that often serve as the first introduction to a debut authors work for many readers, this isn't a fair system. Someone who meant well, who may even have wanted to indicate INTEREST in an upcoming release, may end up doing the book a disservice.

    Yes, a good book will ultimately find its audience. I beleive that. I believe Goodreads is a big part of that. But why make it any harder than it needs to be?

    The Goodreads system has a flaw. Now that we know it is there, and there is an easy fix, asking them to fix it seems to be no-brainer.

  33. Seriously, this is wacko. No one should be able to review a book until it's actually available. The stars and ratings shouldn't be available for TBR books, either! Bad site design. And well, I would HOPE a writer would take reviews with a grain of salt. Or just not read them if your book is not finished? Still. Discouraging, the way the site is set up--and for people to review before a book is finished (or are they just rating it via the stars?)

  34. "Put the shoe on the other foot. There are two debut authors. Both list their books on Goodreads to create buzz. One has someone that puts in a two-star rating before the book is out. One has no ratings until the book is out. Both books get a 4-star rating from the first 100 readers. The first book ends up with a three star rating, and the second book ends up with a four star rating. After 100 readers. After 500 readers. The numbers will never be equal."

    What? My poor head.
    No. Book A gets 1 2 star rating and then 100 4 star ratings. At the end of that it has (2+400)/101 stars that is 3.98 to GR round up.
    Book B gets an average of 4 stars after 100 ratings, indeed but a 0.02 rating difference (if even GR care about that) seems like a very little deal to me. If both books get 500 4-star ratings, then book A average would be ta-da 4.00 with GR usage. Single ratings are really not going to be noticeable when statistic increases.

  35. This is such a sad sight over here. It is amazing that so many of you, aspiring writers, are so stuck on this insignificant issue. You should all be happy readers are adding your books to their TBRs, rating them (erroneously or not). Isn't it better than a complete oblivion?

    And for those of you who actually E-MAILED readers who rated your books early. Do you think these people will give your book a chance now? Most likely they will not and will also let their friends know all about your "inquiries."

    Take advice from an avid reader, there are readers out their who are looking at this pettiness right now and scratching you off their to-read lists. Be thankful you are noticed, that your books get early buzz. Don't try to kill the thing that benefits you.

  36. Of course if it wonderful that people are taking an interest in a book. No one is saying otherwise. Authors write in the hope that their work will be read, which makes it unsettling to receive a rating before the book is out.

    Yes, ultimately the numbers will close up. But initially, if as the result of confusion in a the appropriate use of the rating system, one book has a two-star rating because the reader wanted to show *support* for the book, doesn't that seem counter-productive? Especially when it's a simple fix?

    None of these authors are whining or saying that they don't appreciate each and every single one of their readers and potential readers. On their behalf, I am noting that there is a hole in the Goodreads system.

    I like plugging holes. :D

  37. I think it is a great idea to put a date on each book, before which no one can review the book.


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