Being an indie author is tough. You don't (usually) make much money. You do a lot of the marketing yourself, not to mention editing, design work, etc. And, on top of that, you are stuck with a stigma as someone whose work wasn't "good enough" to be taken up by a traditional publisher. These are the little annoyances you must get past as an indie, and they are relatively little if, like me, you write because you can't help it, because you love it, because you have stories that want to get out and that are impatient to be read.
Yes, all of those things are hard, frustrating, even, but they are the things we live with so we can create. So what, you may ask, is the hardest thing about being an indie writer? Reviews and ratings (i.e. getting your book read and, even harder, reviewed). Let's face it, when you don't have money to promote your book, you just have to be obnoxious and over eager about giving it to people. It's hard to be the creator and the marketer of your product, though, so that's where building reviews comes in handy. When an author starts to build reviews on the big sites (namely Amazon, Goodreads, LibaryThing, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc.), they start to reach a larger reading audience. The more people who read and review a book, and "like" or "love" it, the more likely you are to sell that book to another person who is on the fence about one of those rogue "indies" and their, seemingly unpublishable books.
This is all pretty obvious, so why I am bringing up the minutia of book ratings? Mostly, to discuss the usefulness of, specifically, a social/rating/reviewing site like Goodreads in considering a purchase. Amazon is actually pretty exacting, on their sales site, about accepting reviews and ratings. That is, a reader must explain, in depth, the reason for their rating in a fairly cogent review. On other sites, all reviews are mostly accepted. On my own Barnes and Noble rating page for Monochrome, I've read reviews that were chapters of other people's work, and a review that simply said it was like Twilight (it's not, dear readers, so no worries there). These are not only inaccurate reviews, they are simply superfluous and unhelpful.
On Amazon, if a reader fails to give some depth the review is not posted.That doesn't mean all of the reviews are perfect. Some of them are long winded and without content, but the reader tried to give a review, which is more helpful to an author and other readers. I might be the only person who prefers this must review feature to the Goodreads rating free-for-all, since the Amazon feature often keeps good reviews out because they are not well written or long enough. But, here's the thing, I want to actually know why my book is "liked," "disliked," "loved," or "loathed," and Goodreads ratings/reviews is not a good way to get that information, for a few reasons, including the one word review reason I listed above with Barnes and Noble, which I've also seen on Goodreads.
Firstly, anyone can rate/review your book. When I say anyone I am thinking: people who don't like your cover, people who did not read your book but don't like your taste in books, people who do not like that you did not like their book, people who do not like indie authors, etc. And I'm not being harsh. I have twice (the only two 1 star ratings I've ever received for my book, by the way) been rated poorly because of one of the above reasons. I understand that any site is prone to this, as a very vindictive person can pretend to have read a book and review it, but at least said person has to be a little creative and put forth some effort in their dislike of you.
The first person rated my book a 1 star not because she read it and hated it (which I would be alright with), but because she didn't like my 2 star review of her book. I read her book through a Goodreads Giveaway, thought it needed another few rounds of edits and development, but gave it a fair review based on the content and direction the book was taking. I was polite and thanked the author for her efforts. She promptly rated my book (the next day) with a 1 star. Lame, right? Yes, but also avoidable. That is, if she were forced to write a cogent review of my book in order to rate it 1 star, she would not be able to do so, and, so, would not be able to leave a false rating.
But she was hurt. I get that. What I don't get are the nutty ones. Much like the second 1 star rating I got from a man who stalked and harassed an fellow indie author friend of mine for a month because he didn't like his zombie series. I actually really enjoyed the books from this author friend, which is why we became friends. He read my book, after the fact, and liked my book, as well, which happens in the indie world. These little friendships are a lot of fun, and I love making them with authors that I admire. I rated and reviewed his books, even though they were a genre I don't usually read because I stumbled across them and truly liked their content, their pacing, their originality and their plot. The aforementioned literary stalker, however, did not like that I liked the books he was so vehemently opposed to. He started bashing my review, my intellect and, then, left a 1 star rating on my book, a book he never read, because he did not like my taste in books. Nuts, right? And, again, avoidable.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. I have had many stories of authors getting ratings from ex- boyfriends, people who didn't like them in high school, etc. Indie authors have a hard enough time getting their books read, so these ratings actually matter. Unlike Veronica Roth or Suzanne Collins, these authors do not have people promoting their books or thousands of devout followers, so those ratings are all they have. Which is why I have a problem with the rating only system; it seems more like a popularity contest than a true way to evaluate a book. Goodreads is not the only system to partake in the rating game, they are simply the biggest. And there are often a lot of bullies and crazy people who get away with it on Goodreads, so it is an easy example. Of course, you can flag these things, but, having done so when said friend of mine had his wife harassed over his writing, I can vouch for the ineffective manner of "flagging" abuse.
I'm writing this because I want the reading world to know that there are books out there that do not get as big of a following, but not always because they aren't worth the effort. Sure, not all of these books are good, well written, well edited or even worth your time. But many of them are. There are books that took years to write, that were edited and re-edited more than an hundred times. They are tales that will take you to all new worlds, introduce you to new people, make you laugh or mourn. These books may only have 20 ratings, and will probably only have 7 to 15 reviews. Read those reviews, of course, but also study them. Are the reviews based on merit of writing or preference or a deep seated hatred for books written by indie authors? If you love reading for the sake of reading, consider the authors who love writing for the sake of writing. And don't give to much weight to a rating, when a review is a much better indicator of the quality of the book you are considering.
This author also suggests that readers try sites like IndieBrag or my own site, Elite Indie Reads. These sites are reader based sites that only list and review books they like and love (which means authors cannot pay to be advertised on the site). In that way, readers receive a professional screening before the book gets to them. That does not guarantee that readers will love every book on the site. I mean, when does that ever happen with traditionally published books? Never. Tastes matter and are hard to cater to, so readers still may not like a chosen book on a review site. But sites like these only rate books they like, no strings attached. My own site, www.eliteindiereads.weebly.com, lists reviews and interviews with every read, and I do not accept author solicitations. I only read books based on a nomination by fan system, or books I stumble upon in my research. I only review them if they are books that are fairly well edited, well written and have characters that stay with me. It's a good idea, readers of the world, to do just a little research when finding a new read. This small effort will save you a few bucks and a little less drama that tend to revolve around social reading sites.
Peace and happy reading!