How much drama could possibly erupt on Goodreads, an online platform where people make reading lists and talk about books they’ve read?
As it turns out, a whole lot.
The Amazon-owned book ratings website has been making headlines this month thanks to a controversy surrounding one author, Cait Corrain.
Corrain, a science fiction and fantasy writer, has come under fire for “review-bombing” other authors on the site, in an attempt to tank their books’ ratings and boost her own.
The controversy went viral after accusations against Corrain made the rounds on social media in December. Not only did the scandal have major implications for Corrain’s book, it also highlighted the influence Goodreads reviews can have on authors’ careers.
In a statement to TODAY.com, Goodreads said, “Goodreads takes the responsibility of maintaining the authenticity and integrity of ratings and protecting our community of readers and authors very seriously. We have clear reviews and community guidelines, and we remove reviews and/or accounts that violate these guidelines.” The reviews in question have been removed.
Here’s what to know about the Goodreads review-bombing controversy involving Cait Corrain.
Who is Cait Corrain, and what is she being accused of?
Cait Corrain is the author of “Crown of Starlight,” a fantasy retelling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Dionysus. The novel, Corrain’s debut, was set to be released in May 2024.
Earlier this month, allegations surfaced on social media that Corrain was sabotaging other authors on the Goodreads website, which allows users to rate books on a scale of one to five stars, as well as leave written reviews.
Corrain was accused of, and later admitted to, creating multiple fake Goodreads accounts with different names to leave one-star reviews to lower the authors’ overall ratings on the site. Meanwhile, she used these multiple fake accounts to give her own book five-star ratings, artificially inflating her ranking.
The accusations against Corrain went viral thanks to a series of recent posts on the X platform by Canadian author Xiran Jay Zhao.
Zhao suspected something was up when they noticed several Goodreads accounts leaving negative one-star reviews for other fantasy authors with upcoming book releases. They also noticed that these same accounts were all leaving Corrain’s novel five-star reviews.
“If you as a debut author are going to make a bunch of fake Goodreads accounts one-star-bombing fellow debuts you’re threatened by can you at least not make it so obvious by upvoting your own book on a bajillion different lists with those same accounts,” Zhao wrote in a Dec. 6 post.
Zhao later shared a 41-page document of evidence that allegedly proved Corrain was behind the fake accounts leaving bad reviews.
The publicly shared a Google Doc includes screenshots showing various Goodreads users — with names including CC, Oh Se-Young, Sarah Dudley and KJ Horrowitz — rating Corrain’s book highly and upvoting it to multiple reading lists, all while bashing other upcoming fantasy debuts.
Zhao and many others online also noted that the majority of the books she wrote one-star reviews for were written by people of color.
Bethany Baptiste, author of the forthcoming young adult fantasy, “The Poisons We Drink,” and one of the authors included in the review-bombing incident, called Corrain “racist” on X.
Another writer whose books received a one-star review, K.M. Enright, also appeared to address the controversy in anX thread on Dec. 11.
“While I have been reluctant to comment on what happened directly I do want to use this moment to point out that campaigns like this are something BIPOC and queer authors have to deal with on the regular,” Enright wrote.
“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,” Enright added. “So, my request for you is to continue to support not just me, not just the authors affected in this latest scandal, but BIPOC and queer authors across the board.”
How has Corrain responded to the accusations?
In a TikTok video about the controversy, Zhao said that after Corrain’s review-bombing controversy went viral, "an associate of Cait's" reached out to her directly.
The "associated" suggested a friend of Corrain's had been responsible for the fake reviews. Zhao received a series of screen-shotted text conversations between Corrain and "Lilly," in which Lilly appears to confess to the review-bombing. (Corrain later admitted she made up the entire exchange).
“The other night when you were worrying that your book would get overshown by bigger books at your publisher I wanted to help … so I made a couple accounts to rate your book high,” a text from Lilly reads in the screenshot.
In the supposed text exchange, Corrain reacts with angry disbelief and accuses Lilly of jeopardizing her career.
However, as these screenshots made the rounds, Zhao and others online questioned their veracity. Zhao noted that the timestamps on the various texts did not align.
Then, on Dec. 12, Corrain posted a lengthy statement on X, admitting to the review-bombing.
She began her post by describing her ongoing struggles with depression, alcoholism and substance abuse, and said that on Dec. 2, she had suffered a “complete psychological breakdown.”
“During this time,” she continued, “I created roughly 6 profiles on Goodreads and, along with 2 profiles I made during a similar but shorter breakdown in 2022, I boosted the rating of my book, bombed the ratings of several fellow debut authors, and left reviews that ranged from kind of mean to downright abusive.”
Corrain also confessed that her friend, Lilly, on whom she had initially blamed the review-bombing, does not exist.
“I panicked that my secret was about to get out and rather than taking responsibility for my actions, I tried to cover my tracks,” she wrote. “Still in the middle of this breakdown, I made up the world’s sloppiest chat with a non-existent friend who was supposedly to blame, and sent fake apologies for the actions of said ‘friend,’ which only made things worse.”
Corrain wrote later in her statement that while “I might not have been sober or of sound mind during this time, I accept responsibility for the pain and suffering I caused.”
Corrain’s statement drew criticism on social media, including from author Bethany Baptiste.
“You targeted mostly BIPOC and marginalized authors. Claimed Black authors were at the wrong place at the wrong time. And then your memory got fuzzy about everything else,” Baptiste wrote as part of a lengthy X thread.
Why does “review-bombing” matter?
It may seem like a some bad reviews on one website aren’t a big deal, but Goodreads reviews can have a major impact on writers' careers.
With 125 million members worldwide, according to Goodreads’ website, the platform has major reach and in fact, advance reviews on Goodreads can make or break a book before it’s even published.
In June, “Eat Pray Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert announced she was indefinitely delaying the publication of her novel, “The Snow Forest,” which had been set to come out in 2024, after it drew criticism for being set in Russia.
According to The New York Times, Gilbert’s book had received a flood of one-star reviews on Goodreads from users condemning the novel’s setting, calling it insensitive in light of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. Because of the way the Goodreads platform works, users were able to review the book despite not having read it.
Another author, Cecilia Rabess, received numerous one-star reviews on Goodreads after some users objected to the premise of her then-unpublished novel. Her book was still released, but sales were muted, according to The New York Times.
In October, Goodreads acknowledged that review-bombing is an issue on the platform.
The company said in a statement that “this kind of activity is not tolerated on Goodreads and it diminishes the community’s trust in people who participate."
Goodreads also said in their statement that they are clamping down on the practice by adding the ability to “temporarily limit submission of ratings and reviews on a book during times of unusual activity that violate our guidelines, including instances of ‘review bombing.’”
“Goodreads welcomes a wide variety of reviews—whether positive or negative—but prohibits reviews that are not relevant to the book, harass readers or authors, or attempt to artificially deflate or inflate the overall rating of the book,” the company’s statement also said.
What is the fallout? Is Corrain’s book still being published?
Following the scandal, Corrain’s book is no longer being published, Del Rey Books confirmed to TODAY.com.
Corrain has also been dropped by her literary agent, Rebecca Podos.
“Cait and I will not be continuing our partnership moving forward,” Podos wrote in a Dec. 11 X post. “ I deeply appreciate the patience of those directly impacted by last week’s events as I worked through a difficult situation.”