Learning to Love the One Star Review (An Author’s Relationship with Goodreads)

I realized, while I was poking about cleaning up my blog recently, that I’ve never really talked about Goodreads, Gentle Reader. So shall I?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an author in want of good ratings does not look on Goodreads.

Did you know that the very first rating that my very first book, Soulless, ever got was on Goodreads?

* It was one star.

The dude had written the following review:

Got this book free at BEA. Not the kind of book I read. So I didn’t. One star.

At the time I was sad and crushed. But now? Now I am so so so GRATEFUL.

Gail Carriger Silly Pink tilt excited smile

That one star review on Goodreads did so many good things for me:

  • It taught me not to take one star reviews seriously.
  • It taught me out the gate that reviews are entirely subjective and that my book wasn’t for everyone, and it was never going to be.
  • It taught me that a book review, most of the time, says more about the reviewer than the book.
  • It taught me that giving a book away for free indiscriminately was a dumb idea.
  • It taught me that Goodreads wasn’t for authors, it was for readers.

I’m going to say that again, louder.

Goodreads Logo

Goodreads is NOT for authors

Later I was to learn that Goodreads ratings are generally lower than on any other platform. Often this is because the end users are using the platform to organize their books, so they apply their own rating system. But also it’s because the stars themselves are labeled as follows:

* did not like it

** it was ok

*** liked it

**** really liked it

***** it was amazing

I had a fascinating discussion with some heavy users after hours once. I was part of a focus group at Goodreads Actual. One of them explained that she only marked books with 4 or 5 stars if she reread them. Even if she really loved a book, if she couldn’t see herself rereading it, it didn’t get over 3 stars. She gave 2 stars to books she couldn’t remember.

She’d made the rating system her own. And that’s the way it should be. Because…

Goodreads is for readers

It was started by readers, and it’s still mainly staffed by readers. Yes, it’s been sold to Amazon, but so far as I can tell, it’s not changed much under the Umbrella of Doom. Seems to be tottering along as per normal. Yes, the UI is quirky and rather sloppy, but it is still basically functional if rather old-fashioned.

Quote Reading Gail Carriger reader alcoholic drinker

The fact that Goodreads is designed entirely with readers in mind can hurt authors, because readers can mark a book one star as a place holder before it comes out. Many users started doing this early on until Goodreads introduced the “Want to read” shelf, and they still do so because it makes it easy for them to sort their lists.

Goodreads is one of the few platforms that allows readers to rate a book before the book has ever gone out.

That one star review Soulless got?

That was months before it released into the world.

Incidentally BookBub also allows users to review early. If you follow an author there, you will get new release notifications as well as notifications when that author reviews a book.

Why allow early reviews?

This is for those readers who get ARCs (early review copies) or bloggers etc…

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How should authors cope?

Use Goodreads as a reader.

No, seriously.

I hope if you’re a writer that you’re also a reader. You should use Goodreads to keep track of the books you’re reading, want to read, and the reviews you write. Consider following some of your favorite authors. You should also post reviews to BookBub and to your blog (you can use the same review, if you like).


Because it gives you a basic understanding of Goodreads from a reader perspective which in turn helps you to understand why the platform is the way it is and how readers approach it differently.

Goodreads forced me to change my author behavior

As an author, Goodreads has had a profound effect on me. But not because of the reviews I get.

For my self published books, I stopped suggesting tentative release dates before I had it ironed down. I found that the moment I named a date, someone would list the book on Goodreads and then it was absolute HELL to get it corrected. Now I don’t officially announce a book release date until it is available for preorder, ISBN linked, and my Presskit updated. All because I need to keep Goodreads under control.

But Goodreads has some wonderful aspects too.

Flowers at teslacon Boot Gail Carriger pink purple white

Things for Authors to Love About Goodreads

I use Goodreads as both a reader and an author, and while I love it as a reader, I’ve learned to like it as an author too.


I adore Goodreads lists. As online book vendors turn more towards advertising to generate revenue, their recommendations to readers are getting worse. Even before pay-to-play, I never trusted the algorithms that suggested books to me, because they only see what authors I’ve bought, not whether I liked that author. Enter Lists.

I use Goodreads Lists to find a new book or author to try. I look for the “books that are also like” lists. I also use it as an author to see what people who like my stuff also vote for.


Back in the day when it was regularly pushed out to end users, the AMAs were really fun too. Readers always have the best questions for us authors, and if you do an AMA on Goodreads it’s all readers. So the questions are great.

My Goodreads questions (down the bottom of an Author’s page) have generated blog posts, story ideas, and new ways of thinking about character and plot.


I love seeing what quotes people pull from my books, and I collect many of them. I wait to see which ones get voted up. They I make fun graphic images out of them to share on social media.

Quote Changeless Fish Tunstell


Goodreads allows me to feed over my blog posts. And while the framing and settings are a bit naff, I occasionally still get comments on my blog posts on Goodreads which lets me know that I still have followers there who are reading this, possibly right now.



I like to write reviews of other people’s books, because I read a lot, and if I enjoy a book I want to crow about it. Other platforms frown on authors writing reviews (outside of sanctioned blurbs or professional capacities) because we might be friends with each other (GASP!) and therefore lie about the books we like. Goodreads actually really likes it when authors post reviews. It humanizes us. Shows that we are readers too, with thoughts and opinions.

I only ever review books I genuinely LOVE (well, except non-fiction). But I do try to review pretty regularly, because I would want to know what an author I enjoy reading, reads. So I figure others might as well.

To Marry an English Lord Teacups Flowers lilac mauce green white cream office

Anyway, there it is.

Goodreads, still my friend. If perhaps one of those friends who can be a bit too brutally honest at times.

Yours (destined to be killed by a tumbling TBR pile),

Miss Gail


As of writing this blog post (Spring 2020) Gail Carriger on Goodreads has given:

464 ratings | 174 reviews | avg rating: 3.92

I have 13,955 followers and 3,973 friends (you too can follow/friend me)

This is a large enough base to have been invited to visit Goodreads headquarters and participate in a focus group with a select number of other authors, readers, librarians, and group mods. It was actually A LOT of fun and I am really glad I did it. I would do it again in a heartbeat for pretty much any tech or social media platform I’m active on. I think seeing the culture of a company up close and personal (even if it is mostly for show) gives great insight. I did this with a huge corporate meet-and-great for Kobo (AKA Rakutan) and it was fascinating.


Defy or Defend, a new Delightfully Deadly book featuring Dimity!

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Direct from me?

Dimity, London’s cheerfullest spy, must fix a broken vampire hive while a gentle soldier tries to keep her safe. A charming makeover story set in the popular Parasolverse.

It’s a battle for survival… and wallpaper!

Karen McCoy Interviews Gail Carriger about Defy or Defend

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Rally the Readers says:

Defy or Defend was perfect from beginning to end: the romance, the mission to save the hive, the friends from other Parasolverse stories, and as always with Gail Carriger’s books, the humor!”

Quote to Sip 

quote defy She hated it when men got complicated. They were so very bad at it. Dimity

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9 Responses

  1. Amy said:

    I guess I don’t really rate things quite the way Goodreads suggests for their stars system either, tbh. Even as just a reader, I’ve always felt like the stars rating system on Goodreads leaves a lot to be desired. I wish I had the option of half-stars, which I feel would be more accurate for how I tend to rate things in my head. I frequently fret over feeling whether I feel like I am in a “round up” or a “round down” situation when I have half-stars in mind.

    I try to use the tag system as well for things, but I also worry that some might see those and misinterpret what they mean to me. For example, my “overrated” tag I tend to use when I round up my mental half-star. I should find a better word and rename that tag.

    I don’t tend to post many reviews, though. A few times, I’ve tried to start writing a review only to abandon it because I felt like I couldn’t find the words I wanted to find. And I know how powerful words can be—both for bad and for good.

    But reading this and getting your perspective definitely helps me with this insecurity a bit. I’ll try a bit harder to write some reviews, now. <3

    1. Gail Carriger said:

      I don’t think you should feel like you have to craft a beautifully written. I know major whale readers who don’t really review, they just kind post notes of tropes, or a few bullet points to remind themselves what the book was about. If you’re an author, just a few sentences is usually sufficient, think about it as writing a cover pitch line or blurb. In fact, a few of mine have been scouted and pulled for exactly that purpose.

  2. Ana said:

    Well, I’m one of the readers that started following you in Goodreads (I already liked your books, though, when I decided to follow you). Then because your blog posts with a lot of pictures get borked when read on Goodreads (the text is misplaced so you don’t know if the comments refer to picture you are seeing or to the picture 5 pages up/down), I finally decided on adding your blog to my rss reader.
    As you say, Goodreads is for readers, in fact, when I’m deciding if a book that has claimed my attention is worth adding to my TBR pile I look for the reviewers comments, not the stars, I use the stars to look for variety on reviews, a 1 star review might be more informative than a 5 star, because what irks a reader, is something that other readers might find charming.
    Good reviewers of books with some compatibie tastes with yourself are worth following, so authors who review other people’s books are welcome for me, I don’t always like the same books as you, but you and other authors commenting on Goodreads have discovered me other authors, this year I’m reading what I can get of Georgette Heyer thanks to your recommendation and Lois McMaster Bujold’s of her work, and that is just an example.
    I don’t follow a lot of people on Goodreads, I don’t NEED book recommendations because my TBR pile of books is already out of control, but authors with interesting blogs, even if they don’t update much, are my exception and I can’t resist them. Your blog posts have an unique style that I like a lot, I can’t expend time looking at styles and costumes of the past, so your posts with selected pictures illustrating the period or cosplays are very interesting to me.

    1. Gail Carriger said:

      OMG thank you for this and for weighing in. I love love love knowing what people find interesting in my blog and why readers act the way they do on Goodreads.

  3. Laura Benton said:

    I think that I found you via Goodreads – probably due to a google search for “If you like Kerry Greenwood” of “If you like Lois McMaster Bujold”. I find the format of Goodreads to be a bit challenging and never trust the stars system in any review site. I will usually scan the reviews for ones that are short and succinct that do not have great swaths of synopsis because I would rather read the book than someones boiled down reinterpretation of it.
    I do love that somehow it brought me to your site and now I receive these fabulous newsletters. They are so fun and tasty and lead me to hop on your newest releases. I love your recommendations and pictures and fashion fun, so please keep up the good work!

  4. Gail Denow said:

    Thanks for the insight, Gail. I leave a number of reviews on Goodreads and the reality is that my reading preferences can be a bit left of what may be considered ‘normal’. I do rely on the reviews of other’s sometimes, simply because they can winnow out what I’m NOT looking for.
    I love your stuff, especially SAS.

  5. Nicqui said:

    I leave star ratings for every book I read but I don’t always write a review. I use their star rating (when I realised there was annotation for what each star meant) pretty much as listed – like, really liked, loved etc – but as Amy said, they really need to include the half-star rating system. I appreciate that I can connect directly with the authors about books but my favourite part is the groups where I can chat with other readers about the books, because sometimes the books I love aren’t loved by my friends.

  6. Lizzie said:

    Thank you for sharing this! It’s very interesting and I did wonder what authors thought of Goodreads and reviews. I don’t look at Goodreads reviews as much anymore because often, I’ve enjoyed books that got bad reviews and also didn’t enjoy books that got good reviews. Everyone is different! Now I trust authors and what you share on Instagram, or review, or are reading, and I trust bookstores and librarians as well when they say “if you liked this book, you may also like this one.”

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