On Wearing Two Hats, or why I cleared my ratings on Goodreads

I love reading. I love thinking about why we tell stories and how the construction of narratives affects how we experience them. What works? What doesn’t work? Why do I like what I like?

I am also an author. I love telling stories and trying to apply what I’ve learned to make them better.

A while back, probably well over a year ago now (two years?), I rebranded this blog as The Writerly Reader. I wanted it to mostly be a book blog–a place to think  out-loud about the books I’ve read–but I also wanted room to talk about my writing and my career as an author. I wanted to have a place to wear both my hats. My “reviews” have a tendency to pick apart what I’ve read, so I’m often grumpy, even about books I like. Regardless, I try to be fair in my comments. I’m never snarky; I try to look for the good in every book.

As a reader: I’ve never had a star rating system on my blog. I feel that star ratings are inadequate and a bit of a fool’s game. Ratings are an effort to put a quantitative measurement on something subjective. Even when I try to be objective about storytelling and style, likes and dislikes always creep in.

As an author: I have become keenly aware of how ratings, especially on Goodreads and Amazon, affect authors and their books.

I’ve never rated or reviewed books on Amazon because, since it is a consumer site, I’ve never felt comfortable as a fellow author rating “competing products.” I didn’t want to engage in the possible (or even perceived) conflict of interest.

Goodreads has been a different story. I started using Goodreads as a way to catalog my library, even before I started book blogging. My star ratings were really for myself, I’ve never been a social user of Goodreads. I’ve also never posted reviews there because I want to discuss books in my own environment. But recently, I’ve become a Goodreads Author. Despite my personal philosophy about ratings, I am courting attention as someone who would like her product to be rated. And that’s the conflict of interest.

So, I cleared all my Goodreads ratings. All 600+ of them.

I kept all my shelves and added one called Favorites. The only other shelf that has any kind of “rating” implication is Did-Not-Finish.

The last big question: Is my blog itself, and the reviewing of books, a conflict of interest as an author? Yes, it probably is. It’s also one of the things I enjoy most about the process of reading and writing. Sharing these thought in this venue is part of that. The Writerly Reader isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

SmallAce

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9 thoughts on “On Wearing Two Hats, or why I cleared my ratings on Goodreads

  1. An interesting discussion post. I’m not an author but I have reviewed books and given ratings for some years. I totally agree that the ratings are a little meaningless even from a personal point of view as one books five stars is not loved for the same reason as another’s. I was once accused as giving a low rating because I was another author and trying to sell my books rather than this one. That seemed illogical as what appeals to one reader won’t to another, because readers are looking for different things so it is interesting to hear that you do see it this way too. Good for thought indeed.

    1. As a self-pub author, I’ve started to take into account why a reviewer might rate a book a certain way. And it’s depressing that many ratings aren’t even based on the quality of the book, however subjective that may be in the first place!

  2. I don’t review books that I disliked or didn’t finish, in large part because I can’t help thinking about all the work the author put into it (usually) and how they would feel if they read my review. I now have a technical book out, so I have some sense of what it’s like to be on the receiving end, but before that, the fact that I wasn’t an author (and still don’t write fiction) made me even more reluctant to criticize the output of a process I don’t know that much about. That’s just a personal attitude, though.

    I sometimes wonder if that makes people take my reviews less seriously (“Recommended! — Just like everything else she writes about.”), but then I just think about it as sharing something I like with other people who might like it, too. And I do try to give a fair critique of shortcomings or things about the story or writing that I didn’t like.

    I don’t rate, either.

    1. I think I truly have two hats. As a reader, I generally start with the assumption that I should like the book I’m reading. When I don’t I really, really want to figure out *why*. And I sort of set aside the author on the other end of that book. Truly, I’d rather enjoy and recommend everything I read, and maybe I need to take a step back and be less grumpy when I’m sharing here. 😉

  3. I like the ratings system, though your points about it here are valid. It’s kind of amusing to read ridiculous one-star reviews, most of them are. I don’t do Good Reads which is probably one reason why my blog gets so little traffic. I simply refuse to generate free content for Jeff Bezos. If he wants to pay me for my work, I’ll consider it.

    But I don’t understand why so many writers have a problem with reviewing and rating the work of others. That’s never been an issue before the internet. You can find lots of reviews written by writers in old periodicals. Some are lots of fun to read. Dorothy Parkers bad reviews of James Barrie and A.A. Milne are wonderful, for example. None of her bad reviews hurt their bottom line either.

    1. Well, most of us internet writer/reviewers aren’t Dorothy Parker. It’s cowardly of me, but many of my decisions are based on avoiding possible mob scenes.

      Of course, all this leads to an inner war:
      “I’m not important enough to have an opinion.”
      “I might be important enough to piss off someone who will set their torch-and-pitchfork mob after me.”

      In reality, I am neither and will keep on like I usually do.

  4. Interesting. I’ve had an internal debate about star ratings on Goodreads for a while because like you I don’t use them anywhere else. I recently heard about some academic research that was done by mining data from Goodreads and it made me very aware that what I put on there is public, not just for me.

    1. Previous to last week, I hadn’t thought about Goodreads and privacy at all, but there are really no privacy setting. It seems to me quite a few of Goodreads’ problems would probably be solved by them.

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