Should we be able to give books a bad review?

The debate surrounding whether we should be able to give books a bad review came under fire when Cait Corrain, a debut fantasy author, admitted to creating fake Goodreads profiles in order to post bad reviews to rivalling books. She also used these profiles to artificially boost her own fiction by rating her book with five-star ratings. Her book, ‘Crown of Starlight’ currently has a 2.4 star rating on Goodreads and the reviews are purely condemning her behaviour. In fact, her actions were treated so seriously that Corrain was dropped by her literary agent, Rebecca Podos, and her book that was set to debut in 2024 will no longer be released.

This scandal took the book media by storm and the circulating question is: should we be able to give books a bad review?

There is no doubt that readers are influenced by reviews and ratings surrounding books, I personally would not read a book with a lower than three-stars rating on Goodreads. The power surrounding those stars is paramount in whether an author is successful or plummets. In regards to this scandal, one of the most damaging effects of it was that all of the books falsely reviewed by Cait were negatively reviewed before the books officially came into publication for the public, meaning sales are likely to be muted because who would be itching to buy a book that immediately has exclusively bad reviews?

K.M. Enright was one of the fantasy authors affected by the Corrain scandal, and they took to X with the statement: “This time, we were able to find out who the culprit was, but so often, these incidents of review bombing come and go without a fuss.” Currently there are no guidelines to prevent someone from tanking an authors’ work online, which does beg the question as to whether there should be some measures in place. Perhaps a rating cannot be approved without an accompaniment of a review so that readers can make an informed decision as to whether that is something that would put them off a book? For example, some people are put-off by male authors who cannot depict female characters in any way other than passive, *cough* Murakami *cough*. Yet this is something that does not detract from the quality of the fiction for others. By justifying the rating, it could lead to a more balanced debate in whether it is disliked for personal interest or for being an objectively bad book.

Yet, this is not a perfect solution either, as there is still nothing preventing someone from making up a negative review to accompany their one-star rating. Corrain did in fact leave reviews to go along with her ratings, as her apology statement confesses “[I] left reviews that ranged from kind of mean to downright abusive.”

Ultimately, preventing someone from giving a bad review is a form of censorship that ought not to be encouraged. Bad reviews could provide authors with feedback that allows them to enhance in their craft. The most notable upshot of bad reviews is that it does provide readers with greater insight as to whether they will enjoy a certain book, saving time and money in our busy lives. Bad reviews are valuable in the same way that a bad review on a restaurant claiming “this place gave me food poisoning” is helpful guidance in deciding where to eat for dinner.

However, Cait Corrain’s scandal does highlight the need for something to change. My ideal solution would be that books cannot be publicly reviewed before they are available on the market. By creating this guideline, it prevents an authors’ career plummeting before it has been given a fair chance at thriving. Once it has been publicised, hopefully the book is able to receive balanced criticism as some readers’ praise it effusively with five-stars and others justly critique it with a review stating their specific gripes with it.

Featured image: by Teslariu Mihai via Unsplash.

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