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.