Author Apologizes After Review Bombing Books

An author who left negative Goodreads reviews on the debut works of other authors has been dropped by her publisher and agent following uproar online. 

On Monday, U.S. publisher Del Rey Books announced it was dropping Crown of Starlight by first-time author Cait Corrain from its 2024 slate after several writers and readers said that she “review bombed” other authors by leaving negative reviews on their books. Corrain’s agent also said she would no longer work with the author.

In a TikTok, the author Xiran Jay Zhao detailed Corrain’s monthslong pattern of leaving one-star reviews through fake Goodreads accounts, mostly on the debut works of first-time writers of color, while leaving positive reviews on her own forthcoming book. 

Corrain, who at first repeatedly denied the allegations, later admitted to them in a lengthy apology posted on X early Tuesday. In the statement, Corrain wrote that her actions on Goodreads were caused in part by a psychological breakdown she went through in early December, after making a medication change in November.

“During this time, 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 wrote.

“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, and my delay in posting this is due to spending the last few days offline while going through withdrawal as I sobered up enough to be brutally honest with you and myself,” Corrain wrote. “I know some of you won’t forgive me, and I recognize that you’re not required to. No one ever wants to be judged by their worst actions, but that’s not always up to us.”

The “review bombing” controversy

“Review bombing,” at least on Goodreads, is the practice of giving low reviews to a book (typically one star on a five-star scale) in order to sink its overall rating. Over several months, Corrain created a half dozen fake Goodreads accounts to “review bomb” other new authors, often those who wrote in a similar science fiction-fantasy genre. Those authors included R.M. Virtues, K.M. Enright, Frances White, Kamilah Cole, Molly X. Chang, Thea Guanzon, and Bethany Baptiste.

Author Apologizes After Review Bombing Books

When Zhao tweeted about the controversy on Dec. 5, they didn’t mention Corrain by name—but the online book community took it upon themselves to figure out who it was. On Dec. 6, Zhao posted a link to a Google Doc “of receipts of the review bombing,” showing screenshots of low ratings allegedly made by Corrain through fake Goodreads accounts—as well as positive reviews and high ratings made to boost Corrain’s forthcoming book.

The practice of “review bombing” has previously led publishers to make changes to their plans for books. In June, Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, canceled the release of her new book after it, too, was heavily review bombed. Goodreads users objected to the setting of the book in 1930s Russia, given the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

In October, Goodreads issued an announcement about “working together to protect the authenticity of ratings and reviews,” stating that the platform prohibits attempts to “artificially deflate or inflate the overall rating of the book.” The site has been criticized for its limited manual content moderation and the fact that a user does not have to have read a book to review it.

The backlash and apology

As claims against Corrain spread, outrage grew among a fervent online community of writers and readers, who pressured Corrain’s agent and publisher to take action. At first, the debut authors who had initially traced the accounts to Corrain wanted to resolve the matter privately. 

On Dec. 6, according to screenshots from a Slack conversation between Baptiste and Corrain, Corrain doubled down on the denial and crafted fake screenshots to create the impression that a friend had been the one behind the review bombing. 

“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 in the apology. “I betrayed the confidence of my agent, my pub team, my readers, and my friends, and betrayed my own deeply held values.” 

On Tuesday, Del Rey Books said it would no longer publish any of the works in Corrain’s contract going forward. U.K. publisher Daphne Press also announced that it had dropped Crown of Starlight from its 2024 schedule. 

The response to the apology

The response to Corrain’s apology has been mixed, with emotions running the gamut from empathy to anger—although most fell toward the latter side.  

Corrain’s former agent, Becca Podos, tweeted that she woke up to the apology and was still processing it. “What I do know is that mental illness neither explains nor excuses racism,” she said, “and that the debut authors, primarily BIPOC authors, deserve every ounce of support available right now in the publishing community.”

Bethany Baptiste, one of the targeted authors, said: “Wrong time, wrong list. No, we were exactly where we were supposed to be. I have PTSD, depression, & anxiety. I understand the wrong meds or dose can make your mind feel like it’s snapping in half. Meds don’t make you racist. Racism is in you. You hid it by lurking and plotting.”

And R.M. Virtues, another targeted author, wrote: “I’m gonna be so completely honest rn. Personally. For me… the apology was worse than the reviews.”

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