Is It Time for the Goodreads Choice Awards Nomination Process to Change?

Goodreads Choice Nominations Process Needs to Change

Each year the Goodreads Choice nominees are announced and each year I am baffled that, despite being a prolific reader, I generally have not read or sometimes have not even heard of a majority of the nominated titles. I want to vote in the awards, but feel conflicted about the fairness of voting for a title simply because it is one of the few titles–sometimes the only title– I have read in a particularly category. The Awards advertise their uniqueness in being chosen by readers, rather than by a committee. But the fact is, a good many of us readers have not actually read the books we are voting on.

I would love to see a new Goodreads Choice Awards in which a list of curated nominated titles is released earlier in the year, giving users the opportunity to read the titles before they vote. Of course, this strategy might upset some users as it would mean staff would have to guess at which later releases might or might not be worthy of inclusion. To address this issue, staff could possibly add more titles to the list in later rounds, either through the write-in vote option, or through staff curation.

This system may not be perfect, but it strikes me as a viable alternative to the current system, in which initial nominees are selected through a secret process known only to staff. This year, the site explained their selection process in the following manner: “We analyze statistics from the millions of books added, rated, and reviewed on Goodreads to nominate 15 books in each category. Opening round official nominees must have an average rating of 3.50 or higher at the time of launch. Write-in votes may be cast for eligible books with any average rating, and write-in votes will be weighted by the book’s Goodreads statistics to determine the top five books to be added as official nominees in the Semifinal Round.” That is, number of ratings and average ratings seem to matter, as does staff intervention, seeing as Neal Shusterman’s The Toll was listed as an initial nominee this year, even though it was only released on November 5, and most users could not have been expected to have read it before voting.

This current system, secret as it is, seems to favor titles that are bestsellers or that have big name authors attached, regardless of how well written these books really are. And, in a way, this system makes sense. Voters are not expected to have read all of the nominees. But choosing the titles with the most ratings and the most name recognition gives more users a statistically higher chance of having read at least some of the nominees. The problem, of course, is that favoring books with high ratings means worthy, but overlooked titles, are overlooked again by the Awards.

Shealea at Shut Up Shealea made me think about this issue recently with her post expressing her dissatisfaction with the whiteness of the initial Goodreads Choice Award nominees. She argues that the Goodreads staff are “actively overlooking marginalized authors and diverse books.” I suspect, however, that staff are not actively overlooking diverse books, but rather simply not actively looking for diverse books to nominate. It seems to me that they are leaning heavily on ratings and the bestseller list to choose nominees, and so the nominee list reflects issues that are embedded in publishing and the market. If readers want more diverse nominations, increased staff intervention might actually be what is needed. Staff would need to purposefully curate nominee lists that highlight worthy diverse books.

Having staff curate a longer, more diverse list earlier in the year would not only give voters the opportunity to read books before they vote, but would also potentially increase the sales of diverse books by giving them more visibility. Readers would be aware that these books are now considered award-worthy and may be prompted to buy them as a result. Readers may also buy them in order to vote more conscientiously, having read more (or all) of the year’s initial nominees.

The Goodreads Choice Awards are always a slightly frustrating experience for me as I read a large number of books a year, but still find myself unfamiliar with a majority of the nominees. I imagine that most users must feel the same way as I do, disappointed in being forced to vote for the only book they know, or being forced to do a write-in vote, which always seems like a bit of a waste of a vote. I think it is about time for change, time for Goodreads to give voters a chance to actually read the books.

33 thoughts on “Is It Time for the Goodreads Choice Awards Nomination Process to Change?

  1. devouringbooks2017 says:

    Interesting thoughts. I didnt realize that the books nominated were by staff initially. Granted in the topics I read I have read or have heard of a lot of the titles, but at the same time as a book blogger and a bookseller I feel like I know the market pretty well… from what I see I think some titles shouldn’t be included and some should. I think letting us vote is great bc it’s one of the awards that I actually pay attention to since its readers who vote. If it was nominated or won for sci fi/fantasy I am going to look into it! Its introduced me to many titles and I love being able to vote

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      It’s actually unclear how much influence staff have. Goodreads implies it’s some, but also that the awards are based on the rating of the book and how many people have read it. In that sense, I think that the awards are more a reflection of “These are the most popular books read on Goodreads this year” like Spotify might list “most played songs this year” or something, and the awards are not necessarily an indication of literary merit or diversity or anything else like that.

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      • devouringbooks2017 says:

        Well I think they are an indication of a good book actually. Sure, goodreads staff might nominate some books but it’s the readers who vote. I trust that opinion way more than I trust some group of people who decide other literary awards. For example if I see that a book won the Hugo award I might wanna check it out. But if it won sci fi fantasy or ya sci fi fantasy on goodreads I definitely want to read it. I think the goodreads choice awards are the best awards out there. I trust readers’ opinions.

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        • Krysta says:

          I think that, even if staff offered a longer, perhaps more curated list, the same books would likely win, anyway, just because more people will still have read the most popular titles. It’s not like Goodreads users are members of a committee required to read every book, so many wouldn’t, anyway, especially if some didn’t seem like choices they would enjoy. Rick Riordan, for instance, has won the middle grade category for the past eight years because he’s wildly popular. I don’t personally think he’s been the best author for eight years in a row, but he has the most fans able to vote, so of course he’s going to win. I’m not sure allowing fans time to read all the nominees would change the fact that he has all those fans ready to vote.

          I agree. I like that the Goodreads Awards are determined by readers. I just want to actually be able to read the books before I vote. I don’t feel now like my vote is meaningful if I’ve only read one book on the list.

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        • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

          I like the idea of reader-led awards, too, but I do think there’s something to the idea that the nominations are swayed by things like marketing and whether the author is established. The “best” book this year might never cross my radar if I haven’t heard of it. I do like that there is specifically a debut author category because (absent big marketing money hyping your debut as THE book of the year), it can be difficult to compete with established authors. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, for instance, that the YA fantasy category has established authors like Sarah J. Maas, Leigh Bardugo, and Holly Black in the finals. It’s also notable that many of the books are part of existing series/universes that already have strong audiences. I loved The Wicked King, for instance, and do think it’s a “good book” (whatever that means), but I also think Holly Black has an advantage over a debut or lesser-known author in making it into the awards and then to the finals.

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  2. Jennifer says:

    I definitely have the same issue. Often in a category I’ve only read one book; how can I say it’s the best book of its kind when I haven’t read any of the others? I’ve usually heard of a few of the other titles in the listings, and just haven’t read them yet. I like your idea of a pre-release list where readers get a heads up of what might be coming in the initial round in order to do some reading to fill those gaps, if they want. Instead I usually just find myself reading the winners of last year – which so far has not gone well as I’ve disliked most of them. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I look at the winners of past years and it seems to me that the GR Choice Awards are really a popularity contest. Rick Riordan’s won the middle grade category eight years in a row and, before that, Wimpy Kid won twice. I don’t think either of those authors is actually the best middle grade author out there, especially not eight years in a row, but they are both wildly successful authors and so they have the fan base to make sure they win. Riordan will probably win again this year, even though I would prefer to see New Kid or Guts win.

      Sarah J. Maas has won YA Sci Fi and Fantasy four years in a row, though, again, one wonders if she’s really had no viable competition for four years.

      Releasing a longer list and allowing readers to read more titles might not actually matter. Maybe authors with a larger fan base are always going to win. But at least I’d feel like I was really casting a meaningful vote, not just the only vote I can cast.

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  3. shanayatales says:

    You said it!!

    It’s kinda unfair when people (me included) vote for a book in a category not necessarily because it’s the best among the rest, but because it’s the only nominated one they (or I) have read.

    Your suggestion makes a lot of sense. If they release a list of nominees early in the year – it will be possible to get to all of the books and the votes will then actually mean something.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kim @ Traveling in Books says:

    Goodreads has a lot of problems in general, whether it’s how the site functions, its search engine, rating system, or the annual awards. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, but every year I feel like I have only heard of a few of the books nominated in my favorite genre. You would think that, being owned by Amazon as they are, that they could afford to make some of these much-needed improvements to the site.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Amanja says:

    It’s really bad in the comic book/ graphic novel section since the winner is usually a comedic comic strip collection that happened to sell well that year instead of an actually well composed story. It’s really which book has everyone heard of not which one is best.

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  6. Literary Lion says:

    I agree, I think they should definitely release the nominations early enough that people have a chance to at least try and read the ones they’re interested in. They could “announce” winners in February or March after voting has started and concluded later than it currently does.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, there’s no particular reason the voting has to happen so fast, unless they’re worried people will be onto reading new releases and won’t care anymore if they wait until the next year to announce winners.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. danielle says:

    I’m kind of indifferent when it comes to the GCAs because 9 times out of 10, I don’t know who to vote for. I either vote for my favorite author just cause they’re my fave (even when I haven’t read their book) or I vote for the only book in a category of 5 that I have read. Even if that particular book isn’t good in my opinion. Goodreads needs a whole revamp in general or else they’re going to lose a lot of their core readership.

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  8. Carol says:

    Great discussion! I am disappointed with this year’s awards….. very few of my favs were nominated (despite being widely read and discussed across instagram and in blog reviews) and I had to write them in but only one made it to the next round. I read over 100 books this year…most new releases and as many diverse reads as I could, yet none of my favs received an award. I also noticed the lack of diverse reads.

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  9. Sammie @ The Writerly Way says:

    I definitely agree on so many points here! I felt like I did a fairly decent job at keeping up with new popular books this year, but as soon as that list came out, I was a little disappointed at how few I had read. Also, some of my favorites, who were big enough that I figured would get attention, weren’t there, so that was also disappointing.

    I feel like having some sort of a preliminary list should be doable. I mean, heck, I’ve already got the first half-ish of next year scheduled as far as ARCs. I refuse to believe they couldn’t have done the same. Even if it’s a “live” document where it’s like come here to see potential nominees if you want to read through the year as they’re released. Because it’s easy enough to get ARCs far enough in advance to be able to read them and know, in my opinion, if you’re curating a list like that.

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    • Krysta says:

      I always think I’ve read a lot–and then I see I’ve barely read any of the nominees! Also, is it too much to wish that someone who is not Rick Riordan would win the MG category? It’s time for a change! But it’s hard to beat his popularity.

      And, yes, there were some big releases I thought I’d see nominated and they weren’t. So weird!

      I think a live document would work! Just keep updating it and people can try to read along! I’m sure staff could use ARCs or even use review sites where reviewers have access to ARCs.

      Liked by 1 person

          • Sammie @ The Writerly Way says:

            I’ve noticed that, which is a shame, because it takes the basic formula from his books but just uses non-Western mythology. Which should be exciting. So much more possibilities! I agree that Aru is mostly what I see, and I ended up DNFing that, so it’s a bit disappointing to me.

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            • Krysta says:

              Well, I did have someone say to me that they were disappointed by Aru Shah because they thought it would be different from Rick Riordan and they thought it was basically the same. Maybe people want something that isn’t Rick Riordan all over again? I don’t know.

              I read Aru Shah and wasn’t particularly impressed. I haven’t read the sequel. But I feel like I’m not supposed to admit that publicly because everyone is so excited about it.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Sammie @ The Writerly Way says:

              I feel you. I always feel like a downer when I see someone about to read Aru Shah and I’m like … well, I DNF’d that. xD I know some people loved it, which is great, but I just wasn’t a fan of the characters/story (which was disappointing because I LOVE the author’s YA books).

              I feel like all the Rick Riordan books intend to follow the same basic formula, but I can see that being disappointing if you don’t know that going in.

              Liked by 1 person

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