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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

Navigating the Minefield: The Truth Behind Review Bombing

Nadia Freeman, Nadia Shah, Michelle Ye and Yumna Iqbal

In a landscape where social media platforms like Goodreads serve as crucial hubs for literary enthusiasts, the issue of review bombing emerges as a critical concern. In the past, authors like Cait Corrain have admitted to manipulating Goodreads ratings to sabotage fellow authors. These actions underscore broader flaws within such platforms, where the ease of leaving reviews, often by individuals who haven't even read the book, can lead to damaging consequences. While public critique is essential, the unchecked power of online reviews necessitates an urgent discussion on safeguarding against misuse and ensuring integrity within literary communities.

Image taken from Authour Cait Corrain's post on X

Review bombing, a term coined to describe the coordinated efforts of individuals or groups to manipulate the ratings and reviews of a product or work, extends beyond the world of literature to various industries such as gaming, film and even restaurants. It often manifests as a surge of negative reviews aimed at tarnishing the reputation of a particular entity, sometimes driven by personal vendettas or ideological disputes. Corrain's case exemplifies the damaging impact of review bombing within the literary sphere. By admitting to manipulating Goodreads ratings to undermine fellow authors, Corrain not only jeopardised her own literary career but also exposed the vulnerabilities of online review systems. Her actions underscore the broader challenges faced by platforms like Goodreads in maintaining the authenticity and integrity of user-generated content. This instance serves as a reminder of the potential consequences of unchecked review manipulation and the imperative for platforms and communities alike to implement effective safeguards against such abuse.

Who is Cait Corrain? A would-be debut author, set to release a novel called Crown of Starlight, a mysterious fantasy. In December of 2023, she admitted to leaving negative reviews on Goodreads about other debut authors, most of whom were POC. Taking to the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), Corrain explained in her apology that she had been suffering from mental health issues and had a “psychological breakdown,” which led her to commit these actions. Originally, Corrain denied doing this, instead blaming a made-up friend for the review bombing. As a result, Corrain was dropped by her literary agent, and the Penguin Random House imprint Del Ray Books, which originally had a two-book deal with her, confirmed they are no longer publishing her novel. Many authors were affected, such as Bethany Baptiste, with her upcoming novel The Poisons We Drink, Kamilah Cole’s So Let Them Burn, Thea Guanzon’s The Hurricane Wars, Molly X Chang’s To Gaze Upon Wicked Gods and many more. Corrain’s actions sparked major controversy within the publishing world, as well as the impact of review sites such as Goodreads on authors.

This incident has placed a spotlight on the flaws plaguing sites like Goodreads. Social media platforms are enjoyed by millions of readers, and their openness is a strength. However, the freedom for any user, including those who may or may not have read the book in question, to leave ratings and reviews on such platforms has facilitated the rise of review bombing campaigns. A quick internet search reveals a multitude of review bombing cases impacting BIPOC authors, leading to delays in publication dates or cancellations. Amélie Wen Zhao’s debut novel, Blood Heir, faced mountains of criticism when some readers claimed it was racially insensitive. Kosoko Jackson, a sensitivity reader himself, cancelled his debut novel, A Place for Wolves, when it was inundated with criticism about its handling of genocide as a narrative backdrop. It must be made clear that flaws in literary works are open to public critique, which itself is valuable. But the increasing power of social media and its ability to exponentially proliferate reviews disproportionately necessitates greater conversation and scrutiny around the opportunities of misuse and weaponisation that online reviews present. 

So, what is the answer? Amidst the noise and anonymity of social media, ensuring reviews are dependable is no small task. Even A-lister actor Milly Bobby Brown recently revealed she leaves negative reviews under a fake name when she is unhappy with customer service, sparking conversation. In response to the Corrain controversy, Goodreads assured users that Corrain’s reviews had been removed and encouraged them to all play their part in combating review bombing. But a more tangible outcome seems unlikely. After all, Goodreads had already issued a statement outlining their commitment to authenticating book reviews very shortly before Corrain’s actions became known. Platforms seem unsure of how to ensure such instances do not arise, and for now, a solution to review bombing feels far away.



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