How I Came to Embrace Goodreads

I can barely keep up with Twitter and Facebook, so when I accepted a friend’s invitation to join Goodreads–a social media network dedicated to books–I did so with reluctance. For months I allowed my account to remain idle. Then I searched Audible for a good audiobook to download for the long drive to Montpelier, Vermont, for my final MFA residency. I almost clicked “purchase” on a particular book when I decided to do a web search for reviews. When I clicked on a Goodreads result, lo and behold my browser knew to open my account.

The reviews I saw were not only from strangers, like on Audible or Amazon, but people I knew and admired, including a lot of Vermont College of Fine Arts alums. Some of the reviews of the book I intended to purchase gently warned me away from it. I began perusing the reviews of other books in that genre, selected two I hadn’t been considering based on my peers’ reviews, and they were fantastic reads (well, “listens,” if that’s an appropriate use of the word).

Goodreads profile Patrick RossI live my life like the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny jar. I had taken a couple of pennies and I knew I needed to give some back. So after the dust settled from my graduation residency I set about writing short reviews of some of the books I had read during my MFA program. Now I’m all in, continuing to post reviews as I read. Most recently I posted a review of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes (spoiler alert: I loved it).

I will confess, however, to not having fully explored Goodreads. It’s a bit overwhelming, frankly. All of these recommendations, people to follow, people following me. What I do know is that I won’t be using that feature where you tell your friends what page you are on in a certain book. I can’t imagine why anyone would care, but I don’t hold it against my friends who do provide such updates.

I still don’t know what I will make use of in Goodreads.

Do you use Goodreads? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, and any advice you have on how I can make the most of this social media service.

UPDATE 4 PM EDT, AUGUST 29, 2013: Thank you to the commenters who mentioned Goodreads giveaways. It appears there is an expectation that we review books we win, so I selected a handful of memoirs I’d be open to reading and reviewing and entered the contests. I did not choose to have the book be added to my to-read list; I wonder if that is a way the publishers/authors pare down the list of potential winners.

41 thoughts on “How I Came to Embrace Goodreads

  1. I love the whole idea of Goodreads. And I do have an account. However, from a technological standpoint (guess I’m kind of a luddite), I have enormous trouble figuring out how it works. If someone could explain how to navigate the website, then I know I’d like it a lot more! Your post has prompted me to take another stab at it…to try, again, to figure it out. I guess I just wish it were more user friendly for those of us who are technologically challenged!


    1. Hi Sue,

      Perhaps we will both get some tips from this post! I’d start by recommending you send me a friend request on it and we can connect and help each other that way. FYI my recollection is that I gave Love Sick five stars, which I don’t do for every book. Joan Didion’s Blue Nights and Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius only got four stars from me (which I still consider an excellent rating). 🙂



      1. Patrick, that is SO sweet of you to give “Love Sick” 5 stars! Wow. I’m truly flattered and honored! Thank you! And, yes, I will try to figure out how to send you a friend request! Great idea. It might take a day, tho, since I’m in the middle of packets. Remember those? But I will do it and then, yes, let’s try to figure it out together! That would make it a lot more fun!! Thank you!


    1. Hi Lisa! I think Goodreads actually has some feature that is designed to help book groups. Again, like Sue above, I’ve been kind of overwhelmed at the plethora of options and still get tripped up navigating it.


  2. Like you, I enjoy Goodreads for its ability to show me the books being read and recommended by people whose opinions I trust. I rarely read the posted reviews before I read a book, however. Afterwards I will, but more often than not, these book reviews serve reinforce why we should truly appreciate professional book reviewers.


      1. Good point. It’s also true that some reviewers like to try to impress or dazzle with style, when really all you want is the answer to that same question: is it good? Still, I’ll take that over “I just couldn’t get into it” or “I hated every single character!!!!”


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  4. Hi Patrick,

    Thanks so much for writing this! Post-graduation, I’m trying to step up my social media presence and have heard from lots of folks that Goodreads is one of the places writers “must” be. Like you, I’ve got an account and have been commenting on some of the books I read. One thing I’m wondering and would love to hear people’s thoughts: Let’s say you’ve read Successful Contemporary Author A’s book and didn’t like it. Do you give it a low rating on Goodreads? If part of the goal of these social media sites is building a network of people you admire and who admire you (along with the pleasure of reading and connecting) is it a good idea to say anything negative about any author you might run into or connect with one day?


    1. Hi Laura! Good question, and I’ll be curious to see what people say.

      You know, I read a blog post the other day (wish I can remember where) in which an author said she won’t write bad reviews because it’s inappropriate for an author to do that to another author. She said if she didn’t like a book she wouldn’t review it. In the comments, some people said that was a disservice, because if people respect her opinion they would value her input. I could see both sides of the argument.

      I will be writing a review for Goodreads soon that is not glowing. I just finished the book this morning and it underwhelmed me. My concern is not so much the possibility of meeting the author someday and having him know of my review; it’s more that the book is really highly rated, and it’s never fun to be the one out of step. I’m just going to be as honest as I can, identifying what I liked and what I didn’t. My biggest frustration with it is that it fell short of what it promised to be.


      1. You make a great point about the value of less-than-glowing reviews for fellow readers. I, too, appreciate an fair though critical review. Because I don’t like to write “bad” reviews, what I’ll do if I do not care for the book is read some of the critical reviews and when I find one or two that reflect my views, I “like” them. That way the people who follow my updates will see my opinion on a particular book without me having to post a harsh review. It’s a whimpy way out, but it works for me!


  5. Welcome to Goodreads! It’s one of my favorites sites, though I don’t spend as much time there as I do on Twitter. What I enjoy most is that I learn about a lot of books I otherwise would have not have learned about. By seeing what my friends are currently reading, I have really expanded my range of genres and I think I’m a better writer for it. For example, I learned about The Night Circus through Goodreads — fantasy, magic, love story, not something I would typically have stumbled upon or picked up. And I loved it.

    I haven’t participated much in the discussions groups, simply because I don’t have time to peruse them and some of the groups are pretty intense. But I do scan the give-aways on a regular basis and have won a handful of books in the past few years. My mom, who I turned on to Goodreads a couple years ago, has won literally dozens of books through the site, which is pretty cool since she’s a voracious reader with a limited budget.

    Regarding reviews, as an author who doesn’t like to receive bad reviews (thankfully, I’ve only gotten a few!), I tend not to post critical reviews myself. If I enjoyed a book, I post a positive review. If the book was just OK, then I simply mark it as “read.” And if I hated the book, for whatever reason, I simply don’t list it at all.

    I do occasionally peruse the reviews of books I have read (good or bad) and when I come across someone who has similar interests and well-written reviews, I reach out with a friend invite. But I don’t necessarily accept every invitation I receive. For me, it’s not about racking up a huge number of friends, but about connecting with new people who share my reading interests. There are some folks who send out tons of invites (especially new authors promoting their books), and I tend to ignore those invites. When I receive an invite from someone I do not know, the first thing I do is click the “compare books” link and see what reading we might have in common. That’s a pretty handy tool.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment! Just got excited and a little carried away, but wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned about the site. It does take a little awhile to uncover it’s many benefits.


    1. OK, here’s how little I know about Goodreads; I didn’t know there were giveaways! I’ll have to look into that for sure.

      That’s good advice on a way to determine whose invites to accept. I figure if I’m connecting with someone it’s because I’ll find value in what they’re posting, and why would I want my feed cluttered by a bunch of people whose opinion isn’t directly relevant to me or my reading habits?

      I also like the notion of uncovering surprises. I still love the printed newspaper because I see stories I would never see if I had a news feed dedicated to my stated interests (I have a lot of those at my day job). So in saying yes to invites I’ll also look for people who seem to read a bit outside of my normal wheelhouse as well. I must confess I’m not looking for titles right now because my I’ll-read-that-as-soon-as-I’m-done-with-my-MFA-program list is still so long!


  6. Glad to see your post on Twitter Patrick. I’m new to GoodReads and recently saw that Amazon is acquiring it. Perhaps this will produce a consolidation of sites, I hope so. It is a lot to use Twitter and FB and various other sites. I’m seeking reviews now for my first in a three-book series “Examine Your Faith! Finding Truth in a World of Lies” It’s endorsed by Josh McDowell among others. If anyone would like to exchange book reviews I’ll partner up with you. My book trailer can be seen at


    1. Wow, I didn’t know about the Amazon connection. I have mixed feelings on that. I kind of like the idea of a site dedicated to books and reviews whose primary business isn’t the selling of books, but Amazon has the resources to really make the site robust.

      Good luck finding some book review exchanges!


    1. That makes sense, Emma. I like the “want to read” idea. I tend to either forget someone’s recommendation or I write it down and can’t find it. I’ve got a Goodreads app on my smartphone now, the next time someone suggests a book I can just hop on there and put it my want-to-read list!


  7. I use it a lot; and it’s wonderful. It’s great to discover and support new writers, and I am a voracious reader. I mostly put down my fiction and nonfiction thoughts; there’s a whole t’other library on Baha’i Writings and Scholarly and Memoir type books; Those I haven’t really put up.
    I love the authors’ blogs, tho I don’t have time to put one up for myself; I feel inundated by email, social media, and yet, I post and recommend on Goodreads – it is a community. high regards.


  8. I LOVE Goodreads, Patrick (I’m even more overwhelm-able than you, because all I can handle is Twitter and Goodreads… not even Facebook!). Why I love Goodreads? It’s the prime source I use for finding good books; rarely do I read a “bad” book these days, because I know whose opinions I can trust on Goodreads, and those folks rarely steer me wrong. It’s also a great way to win ‘free’ books – by debut authors and established authors.

    For the same reasons as you, I enjoy posting reviews. But like others, I only post reviews about the books I truly loved.

    I confess I have not taken advantage of the site’s many functions, as I mainly use it to see what new books are in the pipeline and what folks are saying about those books. I tend to view the reviews on GR as more “authentic” than the ones on Amazon.

    The one feature I do use is the yearly “reading challenge” that keeps track of how many books I’ve read each year. This seems to keep me on track for reading a good number of books and seeing a snapshot of my favorites at a glance.

    See you at Goodreads! Going to send a friend request right away :-).


    1. OK, so there’s a reading challenge as well! I didn’t know about giveaways, or author blogs, or reading challenges. All I figured out how to do was read others’ reviews and post reviews.

      Did you see the comment above about Goodreads being bought by Amazon? I just looked it up and she’s right. I found a blog post by the Goodreads founder where he says this, and I hope he’s right: “Amazon supports us continuing to grow our vision as an independent entity, under the Goodreads brand and with our unique culture.”

      I’ll watch for your friend request, Melissa!


    2. I love the the yearly reader challenge, too. The first year I tried 100 books thinking, oh that will be easy, only two a week. I didn’t make it. The next year I tried 75 and I hit it right on the nose, but waited until Jan 1 to enter the book and Goodreads had erased my challenge!


      1. While on vacation this summer after completing my MFA, I decided I would read at least one personal essay per day, and would do this for 365 straight days. I told my wife I was going to make that commitment on this blog, even creating an “Essay a Day” page where I would keep adding the ones I read, and highlight the ones I recommended. She advised caution, telling me to see if I could stick with that routine before publicly committing myself. And it turned out she was wise. Since returning from vacation I have committed myself to continuing to read, but my choice is not always essays. It would have been embarrassing to fall short of a public proclamation!


  9. As a writer and independent book reviewer, I use Goodreads quite a bit, especially for the books I review. I post reviews to my book blog, Found Between the Covers, then to Goodreads and Amazon and any other sites the author or publisher request. To locate good books before buying, I always read the reviews at Amazon, Goodreads, and check with my book blogging friends’ blogs. It is not known to many in the writing community that there are a large number of bloggers who do nothing but review books on their blogs and they usually do it in exchange for a copy of the book and nothing more. Try searching for book bloggers and you’ll be amazed, and most of them are, like me, members of Goodreads. Or visit and check out the blogs I follow.


  10. I’ve been on Goodreads for a while and have no idea what to do with it. I hate having to give books a rating and would much rather just give a quick few lines about what I thought. (I also hate reviews that tell the whole plot.) I keep track of the books I read on my blog. So why do I maintain an account there at all? I have no idea.


    1. Nina, I have a Google + account and haven’t opened it since I created it at the invitation of a friend back when it was in Beta. WHy do I have that? I have no idea! 🙂

      On the plot issue, I see they have a button you could click if there are spoilers. I’ve tried to keep my reviews general enough to not “give everything away,” but it’s hard to completely avoid that. Of course I’m editing mostly CNF where plot isn’t as much of a factor. I hadn’t thought about the fact that you have to give it stars if you want to write anything. That’s what you’re saying, right? I always have picked stars, but I could see the merit in not having to. I wish they allowed half-stars. I look at my 4- and 5-star rated books and I see still further differentiation I could give there if permitted.

      Bottom line is that if your system is working for you, stick with it!


  11. I do like goodreads (and it’s great as a self published author to have a place for giveaways, reviews, etc.), but I have not taken the time to really know my way around. And at times — as you’ve said — it feels a bit overwhelming to have one more social networking site. I do like the reviews, though, and it’s a good place to get ideas for books to read, based on what friends think.


    1. Hi Julia! Yes, I can see the benefit for promoting self-published works. I realized this morning I need to take advantage of the I-want-to-read feature. I thought of a book last night I’ve been meaning to read for some time and told myself, “I’ll put that in Goodreads tomorrow.” Of course I’ve now forgotten what that book was! 🙂


  12. I love Goodreads. Good to see you there, Patrick!
    I’m sorry that Amazon bought Goodreads. I hope it doesn’t change the ‘flavor’ of the site, which so far has been pure readers paradise; no money involved in the reviews; none of the messiness of Amazon’s politics.
    The giveaways are great.


    1. Yes, Cynthia, glad to be connected with you on a service so suited for writers and readers. It turns out Amazon bought it a few months ago and I gather it hasn’t changed in that time, so we’ll see. I entered in a few giveaways of books I’d truly want to read and would be open to reviewing; I plan to continue doing that. What a great way to crowdsource the review process in a more logical way than just some tweet to the universe (or the many emails I get for reviews here from authors I’ve never heard of [or their PR agents] who clearly aren’t familiar with my blog). Of course you do reviews on your site, and they’re valuable. I’ll enjoy having access to your Goodreads review as well.


  13. Yvette Carol

    I’ve been a member for a year or so. Lots of people say it’s well worth it but as far as I’m concerned, the jury’s still out. Although, as folks here have said, there are giveaways, etc. I’m looking forward to the day that I publish my first book and can start up my own author page there though – as apparently that is a way readers find you these days. Every little bit helps! 🙂


        1. Ah, with Joanna Penn! I found this of great value. I liked that he admitted that it was so “feature-rich” it could be hard to comprehend. I liked what he said about encouraging a distinction between “followers” and “friends.” For now I am generally accepting friend requests, but I could see that it could get unwieldy if that remains my default. I was particularly interested in his intent for now to keep the giveaway feature only for print books; I understood his position, but I suspect ebook authors will be pushing Goodreads to expand the program. I shared this with Sue William Silverman (in the comments above), an author and VCFA MFA instructor who is eager to better understand Goodreads.


  14. Hi Patrick, Saw your topic on Twitter and had to come over. I LOVE Goodreads, the main reason being one that no one has mentioned here so far->My brain doesn’t seem to work as well as it did, and I sure love being able to look up books I’ve read when I can’t remember them! Very helpful. I’ve been a member for a number of years and love recording all the books I’ve read. It’s the joy of being a hoarder without worrying about finding a path through the piles! I usually don’t read reviews until after I’ve read a book. I want to find out if others agree with me. 🙂
    I will sound mean compared to most on here when I say that I get frustrated that so many of the reviews are so positive! I don’t want to be snarky or give out negative put downs, I’m an author myself and would rather not get negative reviews. But, so much gushing, gushing, gushing isn’t really a service to any of us. I mostly read YA lit, so maybe it’s a special case.
    My policy is to give honest reviews, unless I know the author personally and I can’t give them 4 or 5 stars. Then I don’t rate them. Though I think a 3 is still a “good” book. Though sometimes I get behind and I don’t have time to write reviews. I figure if I ever meet an author who I gave one star, well, they probably have so many fans they don’t need me anyway.


    1. Mary, so glad to see you here, and I find your contribution to the discussion quite valuable. I like what you’re saying about building your “virtual” bookshelf. Have you gone back and added books you read prior to joining Goodreads? I’ve been doing that a bit, and it’s fun to flip through the books again and refresh myself before writing the review. I’ll admit as well it’s hard to review an author I know and consider a friend.

      I too wish there was a bit less grade inflation with the reviews. Because most seem to fall in the 4 to 5 star range, I think they need to give us a 4.5 option. There are a number of books I would have liked to give that rating to, as I’d like to reserve 5 for over the top but I’d feel they were better than some 4’s I had given. I haven’t given many 2’s or 3’s (no 1’s) because it does seem on the Goodreads scale that such a review is harsh. What I try to do with my reviews is go beyond the star system and let folks know what I thought worked and what didn’t and hope that shapes their opinion as to whether to read it. Of course for folks like you that doesn’t matter, because you don’t read the reviews beforehand! 🙂


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