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Controversy: Cait Corrain and People of Colour

Cait Corrain: a Writer’s View

Is she really a racist wordslinger?

Vigilante writer (Image by NightCafé AI)

Time magazine, Forbes, NBC, Wikipedia, The Guardian, The Age in Melbourne: they are all covering this Goodreads review-bombing controversy.

TL;DR

On 5 December 2023 bestselling Canadian author Xiran Jay Zhao broke a story on the platform formerly known as Twitter, giving details of how Cait Corrain, a fantasy author whose debut novel Crown of Starlight was scheduled to be published in 2024, had used at least eight fake accounts on Goodreads to give her book five-star reviews as well as review-bombing the works of others in the genre.

There’s even a document giving full details of the detective work used to uncover the scandal. The “receipts” as they say.

Cait, after some waffling, admitted the truth of the accusation and claimed she had suffered a breakdown and was now being treated. Her book deal fell through, her agent ceased representing her, her book was itself review-bombed.

Is this uncommon?

No. It’s scarcely ethical or a good example of how to promote your book to give five-star reviews of your own work — as I myself have done with a recent story in an anthology here — but if a writer is given the chance to rate their own content, are they going to mark themselves down?

Using fake accounts to add to the five-star ratings goes a step further down. I guess this is kind of like asking friends and family to rate you.

Nevertheless, it’s commonplace to see a few top-notch ratings on Goodreads and other platforms that may not be entirely objective.

In the world of writing and publishing, gaining just a tiny edge right at the start can snowball into high visibility and the pleasing prospects of bestsellerdom.

Doing it yourself, asking your siblings, putting out a call on Facebook, pushing your beta-readers: these are routine, at least for a handful of early reviews. Anything really good will generate its own fame and attract hundreds and thousands of sparkly good numbers.

The nasty bit

Cait also used her fake accounts to review-bomb — leave 1-star reviews — on the books of other writers, specifically unreleased books of the same genre slated to be released at the same time as her own.

Yes, that’s right. None of these books had been published. Presumably, all this review activity was being conducted by beta-readers or readers selected to receive ARCs (Advance Reading Copies).

Her strategy, it seems, was to load up her own book with five-star reviews, while at the same time review-bomb the books of competitors. Not only did she leave bad reviews but she used her fake accounts to “like” the other bad reviews so that the reviews with most activity would be pushed to the top and therefore have more visibility.

I wonder at the effectiveness of this obviously well-planned strategy. In theory, out of a batch of new releases in the same genre, Cait’s book would stand out with a slew of great reviews while her competitors would appear to be panned.

Instant sales advantage!

Yeees, but how many space fantasy books get published per month? My gut feeling is that it’s probably dozens. And that’s just those released by mainstream publishers. Minor imprints and self-published works would likely account for hundreds.

But wait, it gets worse!

Cait’s fake accounts included some with names intended to evoke Persons of Colour.

Her targets included actual PoC.

Oh great! Add racism into the mix.

Not surprisingly, someone with the name of Xiran Jay Zhao — see above — uncovered the scam and felt outraged enough to post the evidence.

Cait’s reaction was to blame a made-up friend with whom she had a supposedly emotional discussion, all handily captured via screenshot, and when that didn’t work she blamed it all on depression, alcoholism, and substance abuse, causing a complete breakdown.

A complete breakdown involving a clever, long-planned, and detailed scheme to boost her own ratings at the expense of competitors, including PoC.

Yeah, right.

In my view, it’s all lies.

Apart from the breakdown. I’m sure she’s feeling pretty bloody rocky right now. Lost her book deal, lost her agent, and people all over the world are pointing fingers at her.

The lesson being learnt is, I guess, tell lies all you want as a fiction writer — it’s part of the job description, after all; liar for hire — but be very careful about what you do in your business dealings.

Throwing away a reputation for some short-term advantage makes no sense at all. There are a lot of smart cookies amongst the book readers of the world.

I should know, I’m one of them. As an ILLUMINATION editor I spent a lot of time hunting down plagiarists who thought that they could copy and paste their way to riches.

Solving this review-bombing puzzle would have been like a Wordle or a Sudoku game.

Tip of the iceberg

Review-bombing on Goodreads and other sites is almost an industry. Even best-selling authors such as J K Rowling and Elizabeth Gilbert are victims of fake one-star reviews by people who haven’t read the book but take exception to some political or cultural point. A few thousand bottom-feeder reviews and that hurts.

Cait Corrain isn’t the first and won’t be the last. But it’s a far wider and deeper problem, impacting the sort of honest, crowd-sourced reviews that readers depend on to choose their next book from the millions published annually.

If a book generates some positive or negative buzz before publication that can make or break a novice author. If it’s all fraudulent that impacts all of us, readers and writers alike. Good writers fade away, bad ones get sales, and readers are short-changed at both ends.

And, as we see in this case, if there are some racist or sexist or cultural factors at work, then there are darker overtones. Suppressing the genuine voices of People of Colour is one step away from burning their books.

That’s not the sort of environment I’m comfortable with. Not at all.

Britni

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