Goodreads Bombing

As an author, do you need to worry about an influx of reviewers leaving one-star reviews on your book, tanking your average rating, and potentially pushing away potential readers?

No, you don’t. And here’s why.

It doesn’t happen often.

Goodreads bombing is a phenomenon in which online communities take issue with a book’s content, author, or marketing strategy to the point of flooding the platform and issuing one-star ratings to the book—usually without reading the book first. Sometimes these movements are led by one reviewer, but other times a community or group of people will take it upon themselves to storm to the platform with bad reviews.

As much as a slough of bad reviews seems like a terrifying prospect, organized movements where reviewers leave bad reviews really don’t happen that often. But when they do, it’s a huge deal.

If you look at case studies where this has actually happened, you’ll notice that books are only subjected to a Goodreads bombing when problems were not addressed with care or not addressed at all. A poor, delayed, or nonexistent response from the people involved—usually the author, publishing team, social media team, or other public faces of the book—is the determining factor in whether a book will be bombed with one-star reviews from an organized online community.

The best example of this is a book that came under fire because of a misinformed and tonally inaccurate marketing strategy which branded the book’s sensitive topics as fun and light, rather than invoking the seriousness that the topic demanded. Reviewers took this harshly, but the issue only developed further because those who brought up these issues received no response from the author, publisher, or marketing team. Weeks later, when a weak, placating response came, it was too late and the book had already tanked to a 1.71 average rating on Goodreads.

So, how can a situation like this be avoided? Getting a low score on Goodreads, especially during the book’s launch, can impact a book’s chances at making the Goodreads Choice Awards. It can also force the book to end up on the end-of-the-year reviews put out by Goodreads and popular book bloggers. Sure, Goodreads bombing doesn’t happen often, but it’s still serious and often indicates a greater structural issue with the book or the marketing team itself.

You can prevent it from happening.

No matter how great your book is or how proud you are of it, you can’t avoid negative reviews. Some people just won’t enjoy your book regardless of the content, age range, or style. That’s okay! Having your average Goodreads score plummet isn’t something you should be particularly worried about if you take special care in treating your target audience with respect.

Don’t engage with bad reviews.

It’s tempting to defend yourself and your work, but reacting in a defensive manner is a great way to put yourself in the hot seat. Remember, you may not feel like you are in a position of power, especially as an up-and-coming author, but you are.

In a notable incident of Goodreads bombing, an author sparked a flood of one-star reviews by responding critically to a popular book blogger who had marked the book “dnf” or “did not finish” and left a critical, but respectful review. While the blogger in no way encouraged their fans to take to Goodreads to leave bad reviews, it happened anyway, in part because the author made several public derogatory comments towards the reviewer during the process.

Address problems as they come up.

It might seem obvious, but addressing issues with books, both in content and in online presence, is a great way to avoid problems before they come up. But this isn’t the same as interacting with negative reviews; this is looking at an online consensus, especially regarding sensitive material, and responding appropriately.

Consider sensitivity readers.

Sensitivity readers aren’t just for early-stage development. They can be utilized for social media promotion, marketing, blurbs, and other related content. No matter how much work you put into your book, a second pair of eyes—especially ones trained in the areas which your book deals with—can never hurt.

So, what can you learn from Goodreads bombing? Responding respectfully and with care to your book’s potential audience is a thousand times more important than your Goodreads score. Taking responsibility for your book and its content, as well as listening to other voices on sensitive topics, is a great way to avoid an influx of negative reviews. You can’t control bad reviews, but you can control your response, and that’s key in avoiding incidents like these.

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