By Iola Goulton
What is Goodreads?
I have a secret. Well, I'm about to share it, which means it won't be a secret for much longer. And anyone who knows me in real life already knows this about me.
One of the first things I do when I visit someone's house for the first time is look at their bookshelf. I try not to be obvious about it, and sometimes I even succeed.
But why?(As an aside, I think it's always a good sign when I welcome a guest into my home and they check out my bookshelf.)
You can tell a lot about someone by their bookshelf: do they own books? Do the books look like they were bought to read, or bought to show off (or inherited and displayed? Are they fiction or non-fiction? Have they been read? Are they all bestsellers and movie tie-in editions, or do they display evidence of personal taste? Do you like any of the same genres or authors? Do their books show any particular hobbies or interests you might have in common?
Based on their bookshelf, is this going to be one-off visit or a lasting friendship?
That's the basis of Goodreads: checking out virtual bookshelves and finding people who like the same books as you do.
Goodreads (www.goodreads.com) was founded in January 2007 by Otis Chandler and his now-wife, Elizabeth. Otis says (with my interjections):
One afternoon while I was scanning a friend's bookshelf for ideas,
(Hey! I'm not the only one!)
it struck me: when I want to know what books to read, I'd rather turn to a friend than any random person or bestseller list.
(Yes! I have a latent distrust of anyone who never reads, or only reads bestsellers. Wait. That's my husband. Getting back on track . . .)
So I decided to build a website - a place where I could see my friends' bookshelves and learn about what they thought of all their books.
And that place was Goodreads.
I joined Goodreads in August 2010, and it was the first place I "met" people like me--people who others say read too much. And people who read more than I do.
At the most basic level, Goodreads is an online catalogue, a site where I can keep track of what books I want to read, books I've read and whether I liked them or not (and why). It also allows me to rate and review books, to add them to personalised virtual shelves (e.g. by author or genre or year read or any other way I'd like to classify them), to track how many books I read each year (and how many pages), and to connect with real-life and online friends.
Goodreads is similar to other social networks such as Facebook, in that it enables readers to connect with others:
- Friend other readers, or Follow their reviews
- Follow authors (and ask to Friend them)
- Join genre or interest-based Groups and discussions
- Create and vote on Lists
- Enter or run book Giveaways
- Vote in the annual Goodreads Choice Awards
I get a monthly email from Goodreads with all the reviews my friends have written, and all the books they've rated. I get another which tells me the new books from authors on my shelves.
Goodreads doesn't appear on any of the lists of top social networks (at least, not on any of the lists I've found). But that's because it's a niche site: people who love books. Goodreads currently has 50 million members, compared to over 1 billion who use Facebook on a regular basis. But those 50 million people have who have added 1.5 billion books to shelves and written 50 million reviews.
That’s a lot.
I'm a Top 1% reviewer on Goodreads
. . . which sounds impressive until you remember that 50 million number and realise I'm actually only one of the top 500,000 reviewers on the site. As of today, I've written just under 750 reviews and rated close to 2,000 books which puts me in the top 20 New Zealand reviewers, but not even close to the top 100 worldwide.
Other Social Networks for Bookworms
Goodreads isn't the only social network devoted to books and reading, although it is the biggest. Other sites include BookLikes, LibraryThing, Riffle, and Shelfari (which merged with Goodreads in early 2016, as both are owned by Amazon). There are also some smaller book review sites which have some discussion and other features, such as SoulInspirationz and MoreThanAReview.
I will admit that Goodreads doesn’t have the best reputation on the internet. There are accusations from authors that the site is full of mean bully reviewers. There are accusations from reviewers that the site is full of self-promoting bully authors. My observation is that most of the authors who’ve been “attacked” on Goodreads have either reacted badly to a critical review or rating, or taken offense when they’ve been told off for inappropriate self-promotion.
Some of the information is true. Most of it is misinformation quoted as fact—I've read many stories about authors being bullied on Goodreads, and most of them seem to stem from an author responding defensively to a critical review about their book, then getting upset when the reviewer sticks to his or her view that the book is not the next great American novel. Or British novel. Or whatever.
I didn't like Wuthering Heights.
Or The Da Vinci Code, and it saddens me that trees had to die in order for people to read this. It's not bullying to say so in a review. It’s also not bullying to illustrate that review with amusing gifs of people casting up their accounts. Funny, yes. Crass, maybe. Bullying, no. If it's going to bother you to read a review that unfavourably compares your book with the worst book ever written, then it's probably best you stay away from Goodreads.
The result of author-reviewer stand-offs have been that a lot of authors never visit Goodreads (and some reviewers see this as a good thing), and a lot of reviewers left Goodreads after Goodreads deleted some or all of their reviews without warning because the reviews were said to be about the author, not the book.
But most Goodreaders know little or nothing about these shenanigans, because they are focusing on what’s important: books. And that, in my view, is the secret to enjoying Goodreads:
Make Goodreads about the books you read.
I’ll be back next week with five tips on using Goodreads. In the meantime, are you on Goodreads? What is your favourite feature of the site?