Daily Press (Sunday)

She ‘review bombed’ writers. Then her book got pulled.

Corrain scandal returns attention to Goodreads flaws

- By Alexandra Alter

A fantasy debut author who had a two-book deal with Penguin Random House has admitted to creating fake accounts on the website Goodreads to sabotage other novelists by leaving negative reviews.

The scandal was cited by authors and publishing profession­als as the latest example of how Goodreads, a popular site for reader-generated book reviews, can be easily weaponized and abused.

The novelist, Cait Corrain, posted an admission and an apology on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, on Dec. 12, citing a struggle with depression and substance abuse. In the note, Corrain said that this month, she had suffered a “psychologi­cal breakdown” and created around a half-dozen fake accounts that left positive ratings on her upcoming novel and “bombed the ratings of several fellow debut authors.”

Before publicly confessing to creating the accounts, Corrain, who had been accused by other debut novelists of review bombing, had denied the accusation­s and blamed the accounts on a made-up friend, she acknowledg­ed in the apology.

On Dec. 11, Corrain’s agent, Rebecca Podos, wrote on X that she was no longer representi­ng the author. The next day, Corrain’s publisher, Del Rey Books, a sci-fi and fantasy imprint at Penguin Random House, confirmed it would no longer publish Corrain’s debut novel, “Crown of Starlight,” which she sold in a two-book deal, or

“any other works on that contract.”

Goodreads can become a minefield for authors because anyone with an account can leave a review of a book, including titles that have not been published yet. Organized “review bombing” campaigns can lead to a pileup of negative ratings, which can harm an author’s reputation and damage sales.

On Amazon, which owns Goodreads, book reviews indicate whether someone has purchased a title, and the site generally does not allow reviews for books that haven’t been released. But Goodreads has resisted calls from authors to change its policy of allowing users to review unpublishe­d titles. Publishers and authors also depend on the site as a way to build buzz and attract readers before publicatio­n, and publishers often distribute advance copies to readers in exchange for online reviews.

The dust-up over Corrain’s campaign has renewed scrutiny of how Goodreads can be manipulate­d. Goodreads has taken steps to curb the abuse of its platform. Earlier this year, the platform announced that it had made changes to limit or suspend ratings and reviews “during times of unusual activity” in order to prevent review bombing. The company also said it has improved its account verificati­on to block spammers, added to its customer service team, and increased the ways that users can report problems and suspicious content.

In a statement Dec. 12, a Goodreads representa­tive said the company has clearly establishe­d community guidelines and removes reviews and accounts that violate those rules. The reviews by Corrain have been removed, the company confirmed.

Still, while a blizzard of bad reviews of a single title would likely arouse suspicion immediatel­y, a campaign like Corrain’s — creating several fake accounts to leave single bad reviews on multiple titles — might be harder to detect.

Bethany Baptiste, whose forthcomin­g debut novel, “The Poisons We Drink,” was one book that Corrain disparaged, said she first learned of the plot on Goodreads on Dec. 5, when author Xiran Jay Zhao wrote on X about the suspicious one-star reviews, without naming Corrain. In her apology, Corrain confirmed she had targeted Baptiste, along with Kamilah Cole, Molly X. Chang and Danielle L. Jensen. Corrain also said that in addition to the roughly six fake accounts she created recently, she used two fake accounts she establishe­d in 2022.

Baptiste said she was unsettled to find that the other debut novels for which Corrain left negative reviews included books written by LGBTQ authors and writers of color.

She and other authors were upset also because Corrain was part of a Slack channel for 2024 debut authors; on it, writers shared advice and support. After learning of her activities, some members disabled their accounts.

“It’s very sad that it came to this and that this one person caused this very supportive community to implode, because we weren’t sure who we could trust anymore,” Baptiste said. “The sense of community has been shattered by this.”

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