First-time author loses book deal for ‘review bombing’ authors on Goodreads

First-time author loses book deal for ‘review bombing’ authors on Goodreads

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A first-time author lost her book deal on Monday after readers and fellow authors accused her of creating fake Goodreads accounts and repeatedly attempting to sabotage other writers’ books through negative reviews.

Cait Corrain, the author of the sci-fi fantasy novel “Crown of Starlight” that was scheduled to be published in May 2024, has faced backlash over the last week after literary fans on X and TikTok accused her of “review bombing” fellow authors for months by using several fake accounts to post scathing reviews on Goodreads, the popular Amazon-owned review site. After some writers claimed that an unnamed author was writing one-star reviews for books by debuting authors of color, authors and readers tracked the fake Goodreads accounts back to Corrain, who gave her own book glowing reviews.

The discussion surrounding the controversy led Del Rey Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, to announce Monday that Corrain’s book would not be published next year.

“We are aware of the ongoing discussion around author Cait Corrain,” the publisher wrote on X. “CROWN OF STARLIGHT is no longer on our 2024 publishing schedule.”

The publisher’s decision to drop Corrain and “Crown of Starlight” resulted in her losing other partnerships she had in the works. Hours before the announcement, Corrain’s literary agent, Rebecca Podos, said that she had also cut ties with her client.

“Cait and I will not be continuing our partnership moving forward,” Podos wrote on X. “I deeply appreciate the patience of those directly impacted by last week’s events as I worked through a difficult situation.”

Corrain, who uses she and they pronouns, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning. Corrain acknowledged her actions in a letter published to X early Tuesday, saying her lies were driven, in part, by her struggles with depression and substance abuse.

“Let me be extremely clear: while I might not have been sober or of sound mind during this time, I accept responsibility for the pain and suffering I caused,” she wrote in a letter posted after midnight, adding that she spent the last few days “going through withdrawal as I sobered up enough to be brutally honest with you and myself.” “I know some of you won’t forgive me, and I recognize that you’re not required to.”

But the people of color targeted by Corrain noted that her letter was not a proper apology to the debuting authors who suffered as a result of the negative reviews she gave them on her fake Goodreads accounts.

“I’ll be waiting for that apology,” wrote Bethany Baptiste, the first-time author of the upcoming book, “The Poisons We Drink,” who was among the people review bombed by Corrain.

Officials with Del Rey Books and Goodreads did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Even as Goodreads has grown power and influence in publishing, “review bombing” — targeted harassment through negative reviews that has resulted in the cancellation of books and their authors, — has been a long-standing issue for the platform.

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Amazon bought Goodreads in 2013 for a reported $150 million with the hope that the online community of book lovers and the data they created about books would advance its mission of selling everything to everyone. But since Goodreads allows any user, not just those who’ve received advance copies, to leave ratings months before books are released, authors have become targets of review-bombing campaigns. Authors and critics say there’s little moderation or recourse to report the harassment on the Amazon-owned platform. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. Interim CEO Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.)

“Crown of Starlight” is described by Goodreads as a “steamy, sci-fi reimagining of the tale of Ariadne and Dionysus — the first book in a snarky, queer, lushly romantic duology set in a galaxy of monstrous mortals, bloodthirsty gods, and love fierce enough to shatter the cosmos.” The 560-page paperback, which was part of a two-book deal that Corrain had signed with Del Rey, had received good early reviews and was scheduled to be published on May 14, 2024.

Members of the literary community recently started noticing that an unnamed author had been writing one-star reviews on Goodreads for months about authors of color who were publishing their first book. The reviews for books from Baptiste and Molly X. Chang included turns of phrase such as, “It’s so bad, I’m writing a review about it,” according to Gizmodo. Writers like Xiran Jay Zhao, author of “Iron Widow,” noted last week that a debuting author had been review bombing other first-time authors through multiple Goodreads accounts while also upvoting their own book on the platform.

“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 Dec. 5 on X. Zhao later described the situation on TikTok as #reviewbombgate.

Soon, a publicly available Google doc titled “Review Bomb Receipts” outlined 31 pages worth of evidence detailing how the Goodreads accounts in question were linked. They all had a common link: The accounts listed Corrain’s “Crown of Starlight” as among their favorite upcoming releases.

Authors targeted by the bad reviews include Baptiste, Chang, Kamilah Cole, K.M. Enright and Frances White. All of them have books out between January and August of next year.

When Corrain was asked about the review-bombing accusations in a Slack channel for debuting authors, screenshots of the chat shared by Baptiste show that Corrain emphatically stated, “I did NOT review bomb anyone. I did not positively review my own book with false accounts.” Corrain also claimed that she had evidence that the review bombing was linked to her friend named “Lilly.” She provided screenshots of an alleged chat involving “Lilly,” but she did not give the other authors ways to contact the person, according to Baptiste.

Corrain admitted on Tuesday that she was in the middle of a mental breakdown when she “made up the world’s sloppiest chat with a nonexistent friend who was supposedly to blame, and sent fake apologies for the actions of said ‘friend,’ which only made things worse.”

The discussion has caused an uproar in recent days, ultimately leading to Corrain getting dropped by her publisher and her agent. Baptiste questioned the silence from Podos, Corrain’s former agent, over the last week.

“Dropping her doesn’t absolve you,” Baptiste wrote.

Podos on Tuesday acknowledged that not speaking out sooner “was shortsighted and privileged on my part.” “I sincerely apologize,” she wrote on X, adding that readers should support the authors hurt by the negative reviews.

The blowback has continued for Corrain, as Illumicrate, a subscription box for books, said it would no longer include “Crown of Starlight” as part of its May 2024 box. Daphne Press, the specialty press arm that had a partnership with Corrain, said it was investigating the allegations and “determining how best to move forward once we have all of the information.”

Corrain said in her letter that she would be reaching out to each of the authors and checking into an intensive psychiatric care and rehab facility in the aftermath of the review-bombing controversy.

“All I can do going forward is to try to live my life in a way that shows you these aren’t empty words,” she wrote.

Caroline O’Donovan contributed to this report.

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