Reading Rage Tuesday: Goodreads “bullies” and why authors need to stop the crusade.

17 July 2012 by 72 Comments

bullying

Update #2: One of the targets of the GR Bullies site pointed out, rightfully I think, on Twitter that the backlash from this particular site isn’t focused so much on bad reviews but on the reviewers pointing out bad author behaviors. Per @_Ridley_, “This is not about reviews. The four of us are being punished for publicizing bad author behavior.” Although I did focus on authors responding to reviews, it must be pointed out that other behaviors–like gaming the system by having friends review and like positive reviews to promote your books, spamming and promoting in inappropriate places, and other things that interfere with an honest review community–reflect just as badly on authors; for someone to point out this behavior is a natural consequence of engaging in said behavior.

For someone to tell others not to support an author’s products as a result of the author’s behavior may not sit well with an author, but it’s what we naturally do as consumers. We as consumers don’t like to support products that don’t align with what we think is right, and we have the right to make the incidents known to other consumers so that they can make informed decisions. Thanks to Ridley for clarifying for me what the issues are surrounding the site.

———-

Bullying. It’s a subject that’s been coming up often in the review community lately. Some claim that reviewers who write mean book reviews are bullies. I don’t follow any of this Goodreads drama closely, but I sometimes hear tales of authors who just wanted to make “one little comment” (whether this was a reasonable comment or not surely differs from case to case) and are set upon by bands of marauding reviewers, having abuse spewed at them left and right for “daring” to reply to a bad or nasty review. Then, in the other camp, the reviewers claim that authors shouldn’t be responding at all to their negative reviews, that it hurts the review community and makes people afraid to post honest reviews. Some reviewers say that this practice silences reviewers, thus making the authors bullies. (I agree more or less with the latter assessment–more later.)

The situation has come to a head recently on a site that someone created called Stop the GR [Goodreads] Bullies. On this site, people who swear that they aren’t authors (yeah right) took up the mantle of trying to stamp out “review bullying.” Their methods are weak but unsettling for reviewers everywhere: the person or persons behind the site dug into the social media of reviewers that they consider the worst “bullies,” posting tidbits like real names and spouse’s names, cities where the reviewers live, and even going so far as to track them down on Yelp! to find the real-life places where the reviewers hang out–possibly to incite harassment against the reviewers? I can’t think of any other reason why anybody would need to know where the reviewer likes to get a pizza in order to “stop the bullying.”

Update: In regards to their “weak methods,” which I thought were a bit silly on the part of the site owner (not that the Goodreads users targeted were silly), I was mistaken and I apologize to the people who were targeted for underestimating the situation. One of the reviewers targeted spoke out about her experience, which included a nasty phone call. Apparently, the information-mining and threatening behavior went further than indicated on the website.

Here’s a sample screenshot (click to embiggen) in which I’ve blurred out the identifying information–I know that you can go to the site and see it easily, but I blurred it in case the site gets taken down in the future:

I, and reviewers everywhere, have found this upsetting. The “detective work” done by the operators of the site isn’t exactly stellar: some last names, none of which were particularly hidden; no home addresses (thank stars); and, in the case of the screencap above, a couple of places where the reviewer checked in to eat dinner. These aren’t staggering revelations that are going to cause massive problems for most of these reviewers . . . unless, of course, you throw in a big ol’ dose of crazy, which is why this site goes from laughable to queasy-making. I, myself, am an active Yelper; I keep my personal and private social media somewhat separate, but it wouldn’t take Einstein to find my Yelp! account. Could I, in the future, anger an author so much that they would take a page from the Stop GR Bullies playbook and come after me at my neighborhood coffee shop or the produce aisle of my preferred grocery store? When you get crazy involved, there’s no telling what someone will do. I think it takes a pretty hefty dose of not-being-aware-of-your-own-crazy to make the unironic statement that someone else is a stalker after you’ve just cyberstalked the entirety of their social media.

Authors: if you do, or have in the past, come out in support against Goodreads “bullies,” you need to come full stop and throw that shit in reverse right now, especially in light of this “action” against reviewers. If you don’t believe me, read on.

Authors shouldn’t, under most circumstances, give in to the desire to respond directly to what they feel are “attacks,” even if they go after the author personally. I know, I know–it’s not fair, why should they get to say whatever they want and authors can’t say anything. Authors should be able to defend themselves, right? Freedom of speech and all that. What if the bad review hurts their sales, etc. Authors, just for a moment, I want you to take off your author hat and put on your consumer hat.

Got it on? All snug? Okay, let’s explore this for a minute.

I’m going to use an example from Yelp!, from a business in my hometown. I blurred out the identifying information, once again because the owner or reviewer might decide to change their response in the future. The review:

Click to embiggen.

So, this review isn’t terrible. It doesn’t compare to some of the nasty book reviews I’ve seen. It could, however, definitely dissuade a few people from trying their products, even though the business has otherwise great reviews. Here’s his response to the above review:

Click to embiggen.

While his response isn’t terribly nasty, despite being a bit passive-aggressive, do you see how condescending it sounds to answer a negative review of your work–even if you think you’re in the right? And do you notice where he made a mistake, assuming she waited four months to eat a brownie at all because she mentions a four-month timeline twice? (She clearly ate some of the brownies when she got them, then stuck them in the fridge and didn’t touch them again for four months–the earlier four months reference meant four months after she learned the product existed.)  He basically says that her opinion of his business is wrong, chides her for doing it wrong and then for writing her honest review even after they gave her a refund (which, he shouldn’t hang the refund over her head as a tool to keep her from writing a review), and turns the reply into a pro-his-business advertisement at the bottom . . . which gives no credit to the average consumer for having even a modicum of intelligence.

In my opinion, he comes off like a giant douche; in his mind, he probably thinks that he sounds extremely professional and that this reply was a good damage control move. His reply to the review shows that he doesn’t respect the right of consumers to voice their negative opinions about his product, even if the opinions are erroneous; by “correcting” her, he makes it clear that he thinks her opinion is invalid, which is a no-no if you run a business. He also proves that he doesn’t respect the basic intelligence of consumers to figure out that all products, even great ones that have dozens of 5-star reviews, will get bad reviews by people who don’t understand the product or don’t find it to their personal taste, and that we can generally figure it out. Like I said, he comes off like a douche, which really makes me want to shop there. (Not.)

What does this have to do with Goodreads reviews?

Readers. Are. Consumers.

As an author, you’re not just an artist. Your book is not just an expressive work. The minute you decide you sell your book to the public, you’re also a business person; that book is now a productDespite talk of “fairness” between reviewer and author, the fact that authors are selling a product they want people to buy puts reviewers and authors immediately on unequal ground. Authors, even if they don’t do it primarily for the money, have a profit motive and reviewers don’t. Of course authors want only positive reviews out there. Authors want to sell books. So, authors, when you try to argue against a review–even if you feel it is “abusive”–the potential consumers of your books see this in a wholly different light than you sticking up for yourself. They see it as authors trying to artificially inflate the reputation of their book by silencing, persuading, or discrediting reviewers who give them bad reviews. Nobody likes to feel like they’re being tricked.

As an author, you don’t want to be seen as the kind of person who would silence reviewers for your own gain; yet, by insisting that reviews should be “fair” or that reviewers are “bullying,” you are expressing a desire to exert some sort of control over what reviewers say about your books. It doesn’t work that way. We want all of the reviews to stand because we want to be able to make our own choices. We want to be able to decide if we think a reviewer is full of shit. Defending your book against bad reviews makes readers suspicious about what you’re trying to hide from us.

Another reason not to organize against “bullying” reviewers? Goodreads has an abuse policy! Here’s their abuse policy:

If you notice abusive content on the site, you can usually click a small “flag abuse” link to alert the Goodreads community managers. Here are the guidelines we use to decide whether or not to delete content that’s been flagged as abusive:

We do not delete:

  • Content for bad language alone.
  • A review because it has a negative opinion of the book.
  • Spoilers (we may flag reviews as spoilers if we can tell, though)

We do delete:

  • Extremely offensive content, such as pro-Nazi, pornography, child abuse, etc.
  • Reviews or posts that are extremely off-topic and irrelevant.
  • Reviews or posts that contain a slanderous personal attack on another member. Content that is argumentative is fine, so the post must be extreme in its malicious attack on another member.
  • The account of any member who is a scammer or an outright spammer. We make sure to check if they use the site first.

Note that these are only guidelines, not rules. If you accidentally flag something as abuse and it clearly wasn’t abusive, don’t worry, we can tell!

–accessed on Goodreads.com on 7/17/12

So, you don’t even have to take it up with reviewers personally if someone writes an “abusive” review. If a review is truly abusive? Flag it. Goodreads will handle it like a boss. If they don’t handle it? It means that they don’t consider it abusive, and at that point, drop it. Bitch about it privately to friends, write about it in your diary, but for the love of Pete, drop it. Goodreads is not your site. You don’t get to control what is considered abusive or not there; further, I imagine that Goodreads has hired professionals to ensure that they have an abuse policy that fits with what should be done in a review community, if only to avoid lawsuits. If the reviews were going to cause actionable harm against you, you can bet that Goodreads would remove it because they don’t want to get sued.

Notice that the policy says that reviewers who use “bad language” won’t get automatically deleted. Reviewers are free to curse and swear and be (almost) as foul as they want when reviewing. It’s just the way of things. You can’t control it. For more information on why these reviews really aren’t abusive bullying, see the awesome post over at Dead White Guys.

In summation: Because authors have a profit motive, any attempt to fight against negative reviews–even if they “know” they’re in the right–is likely to backfire. Consumers want to decide on their own what reviews are valid and will probably look at any interference with suspicion. Your customers–aka, readers–are smart enough to figure out if any review, good or bad, has merit or not. Goodreads doesn’t consider reviews that contain bad language or that are argumentative to be “abusive;” the reviews are on their site, so authors would do well to abide by their rules. Also, authors look like a bunch of whinypants when they complain about bullies on Goodreads–not to mention, being even tangentially in agreement with the Stop GR Bullies site is creepy. Learn how to take it on the chin, authors. You’re really, really, really not doing yourselves any favors.

Am I right? Am I wrong? Does the Stop GR Bullies website give you the heebie-jeebies? Do you think that reviews need decorum police (beyond extreme cases)? If you could only take one book with you on a trip to a distant planet, which one would you take? Drop it all in the comments below!

Susie

Susie is the Bitch-in-Chief at IB and is also a contributor at Food Riot. She's an ice cream connoisseur, an art fanatic, a cat-mommy of three, and a wife. She runs the @thebooksluts Twitter account and may be slightly addicted.

72 thoughts on “Reading Rage Tuesday: Goodreads “bullies” and why authors need to stop the crusade.

  1. That site seems like they are going to combat bullying by bullying the bullies themselves. I am so shocked by this and can hardly believe it exists! Then again, I think some people write snarky reviews on purpose, just to cause a stir. I’m not saying they deserve to be bullied in the least, but I think negativity attracts more negativity. But I hope something is done to stop people from being harassed. Apparently one woman had someone call her at home. That is scary! And there’s no reason for it, no matter how she reviewed a book.

    • Yep. I mean, some people are gonna be jerks. In any subset of people, there are jerks. But we CAN tell the difference–especially if they have a really extreme review that doesn’t lay out the reasons in an adult manner.

    • GR actually seems to support it. A reviewer can be as insulting as they want to be to readers, and there is nothing you can do about it. I understand, authors are one thing, but attacking readers? I disagreed with someone on a thread, and got blasted. Completely. Then I flagged one of the particularly insulting posts and got banned from posting, while the other person was allowed to continue insulting me in the thread. The entire review was very insulting to the readers themselves, and while I don’t have a problem with bad reviews on a book I like – I think it’s great for people to have opinions – when they start out by insulting me for liking a book, I’m going to get in there. Taking away my right to defend myself from other’s insults is just wrong.

      • Pick your battles, dude. These people are insulting you over a book you like… Do they really have that much credibility to begin with? You can choose to engage or not to engage, that choice is on you.

    • I’m sorry, but if a reviewer insults me – a reader – in a review, then when I enter the thread to talk about it they and their friends attack me, it’s pretty upsetting.

  2. I completely agree. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the GR Bullies site. The people who run it are quite happy to throw out all information they can find about the reviewers, yet they aren’t courageous enough to give out their own info, calling themselves “Peter Pan” and “Athena.”

    At this point, looking at this website, exactly who is the bully? I’d give the answer, except I don’t know who “Peter Pan” is.

    • I want to believe that it’s a joke commentary site, but I’m pretty sure the person/people running it lacks all sense of irony.

  3. This is all kinds of disturbing and embarrassing, the sort of artist-stunting, superfan defensiveness that’s been rotting holes in sites like Deviantart for years.

    The whole thing is reflective of a deep immaturity, and a frustrating misunderstanding that critique and review aren’t meant to give out gold stars by the fistful, but are an opportunity for improvement. Arguing with a reviewer isn’t going to help if the clever twist they’re savaging really objectively wasn’t as clever as you thought it was. Editors and people you trust not to spare your feelings are vitally useful for this before you publish as well, to avoid the worst of reviews.

    And yes, sometimes a reviewer will carry a grudge, or get lost on a perfectly linear plot progression, and give a poor review. Other reviewers won’t, and they’ll drown the bad review out. When I go to a site like Amazon, I’m immediately suspicious when I see nothing but 5 star reviews. Someone is bound not to like what I’m looking at, or at least not think it’s perfect, and I like to see why not. If there aren’t any less-than-stellar reviews, then I suspect astroturfing and pass it by.

    • I also get suspicious if there aren’t a healthy range of reviews. I don’t think indie authors “get” this . . . I’ve seen quite a few who get copies only into the hands of people who will give it 4 or 5 stars, and all of the reviews read like infomercials. I avoid those books like they’re zombies after my massive brains ;)

      • We sane writers do get this, actually, because we look for it too when we buy books. A wide range of reviews means a broad spectrum of people reviewed the book and gave it a shot.

        For instance, I know not everyone will like my book. That’s cool. I have some low ratings and I’m fine with that because I know I put my best foot out there. I expect honesty from people who review my book, and that’s all.

        However, this site here is an extreme example of (what we can only assume to be) a couple of authors getting carried away to a scary and dangerous level. I agree wholeheartedly that they should NOT be doing what they’re doing. They really are bullies for having a site like this.

        Point is, I agree that reviews are the respective opinion of the reader. The author doesn’t have to agree with what’s said, but I do think we must always respect the reviewer’s opinion and not respond.

        Not all of us are crazy. Promise.

        • Thank you for your comment (and the link!). I do know that not all, or even more than a small handful of authors are sympathetic to this person–and it means a lot more coming from you, an author, than it does from me. I’m glad you wrote about it ^_^

          I do think there’s a decent amount of authors who don’t understand that they shouldn’t respond to reviews at all, but they’re DEFINITELY not in the same camp as the ones who are flinging hate at these reviewers.

  4. Beautifully and effectively put, as usual.

    The first thing I think of when I hear about a kerfuffle like this is, “A-HA! More material for Reading Rage Tuesday!” So there’s that, at least?

    I sometimes worry that my blogger voice, which occasionally wanders into Snarky Town, will be deemed offensive by someone. In fact, I already lost ONE reader that I know of because I mentioned porn in an offhand manner (as you do). But I have people in my readership (namely, my extremely conservative dad) who will call me out if I ever cross the line between humor and abuse. And I’ll listen to THOSE people. Who I will NOT listen to are people like those who run or condone the incredibly counter-intuitive Stop GR Bullies site. THOSE people can stick it right up their asses. (Whoops…I crossed the line just then didn’t I?)

    • Hee! I wasn’t going to write about this this week, but it had to be addressed, I think.

      I try not to be negatively/attacky snarky in reviews just because that’s how I’d want to be treated, but I don’t look down on reviewers who do*. Otherwise, I don’t much mind what I talk about . . . if someone’s so much of a delicate flower to get upset at a mention of porn, they should probably look for another blog :D

      *Edit: Unless they are being total douches, in which case I think they are total douches.

  5. So much to say about this!

    First, a PSA: I’m in the USAF, so we get counseled on use of social media all the time. The military realizes that social media is a powerful communication tool, and–especially for people stationed overseas–we’re actually encouraged to have accounts for keeping in touch with family and friends back home. On the other hand, we are also highly encouraged to use the privacy features and be wary of posting things that could be used against us. When “checking in” features first became available, someone in our chain of command recognized it as a potential vulnerability, and we received mass e-mailings with instructions on how to disable features on our phones and devices that published our locations. To me, this is just common sense, but if you’re going to post something, be aware of who will see it, and protect yourself as necessary.
    That being said, that site has to go. It’s obvious that it is a not-so-subtle threat against reviewers, and it is just plain f*cked up that anyone thought it was a good idea.

    Okay, next point: What internet users often forget is that there are people on the other ends of all these screen names–people who have feelings and get worked up over hurtful words. The easiest way to avoid bullies or being a bully is to be polite. That’s not to say you shouldn’t give out bad reviews if you’re a reviewer. Give honest reviews, but approach them politely and give honest feedback. Likewise, if you’re an author and you got a bad review, be polite about it. See what there is in it that can help you write a better book next time. It may just be that the book was not that particular reader’s cup of tea, but it may be that your book was awful and you need to work on your story/writing/etc. in the next one. As an author, I probably wouldn’t respond to a bad review, but if I did respond, it would be to ask for honest constructive feedback. “What exactly did you not like?” or “What was it about that character that you hated?”
    Finally, keep in mind that if someone writes an unnecessarily nasty or abusive review that readers will recognize it for what it is. The Rebecca Black story is a great example: We, as a society, hate cruelty and injustice, so when a horde of assholes hated on her YouTube video for “Friday”, a bunch of people in high places helped make her song viral, get it air play, and even got her song on Glee. I’m sure the money for all that isn’t bad.

    • I definitely would like to take this moment to say that, in a perfect world, I would be thrilled if all reviews were constructive because that helps us the most as consumers. It always probably seems like I’m coming down on authors and letting reviewers skate by because I *am* one, but that’s not the case at all; shitty reviews don’t help me decide what to buy any more than they help authors market books. I just don’t think that authors have the leverage to change things because they’re the ones who have everything at stake; people who write shitty reviews have nothing at stake, so convincing them to change their ways seems unlikely.

  6. I think it’s in bad form for an author to respond to any reviews, but whenever I say authors should “never” respond to a bad review, someone always points out an author who did exactly that with wit and charm and won over a bunch of readers. So I guess I would say, unless you happen to have lots of wit and charm, maybe you should leave bad reviews alone. :)

    Grow thick skin and accept that you can’t win them all. If there’s something to be learned from a negative review of your work, learn that lesson and improve your writing. If you think a reviewer has some kind of agenda with a negative review, you only make things worse by responding. Save your words for something constructive… like that new novel you’re way behind on writing. ;)

    • I wish more authors would really enlist friends or family, or both, to help “filter” reviews. If there’s a negative review, they could couch it in softer language so that the author could still hear the problems without getting their feelings hurt… then again, some of these extreme, post-where-the-reviewer-goes-to-dinner authors would probably snatch up the computer and look anyway. Some people are addicted to dramz.

  7. I had NO idea that this was happening. It’s kind of insane. If you write a book, no matter if it’s a Pulitzer winner or a self-published book that you never edited, you’re going to get someone who doesn’t have a taste for that book. If that someone happens to be an honest book reviewer then they’re going to say why. Authors need to be confident in their stories and their writing and not let a few bad reviews wreck them. I understand if reviewers have posters and are spitting on the book and ranting and raving over the terrible quality – then there may be cause for alarm, but a bad review doesn’t mean someone is bullying a book. I don’t mind if authors respond to reviews that I write, or to any as long as they do it in a respectful manner because I write the review respectfully so I demand respect in return. I don’t think reviewers should just rant about how terrible a book is, there’s always something golden in every book, but they certainly shouldn’t get a response from an author for an honest review.

    You’re so right when you say readers. are. consumers. DUH. Sometimes, even a bad review gets you publicity – look at 50 Shades of Gray. I mean, holy shit, it sounds like it was written by a third grader but people are eating that up. (I have only actually read one chapter so I can’t even really judge at this point).

    This whole thing is insane to me. Everyone needs to just calm down, go home and get a foot rub, buy a tub of ice cream (unless their lactose intolerant) and zone into something that has nothing to do with any of this. Books are for entertainment and enjoyment, not for petty BS.

  8. [sigh]

    As you know, I can be more than a little snarky when it comes to Trashy Tuesdays, but this SPECIFICALLY is one of the reasons I don’t write about self-published/indie authors for that feature. This right here.

    HOWEVER, I don’t see how that will help me if I should happen to be targeted by this site or any of the other poorly-behaved authors I see out there. It is almost to the point where I’m ready to just put my gr profile to private and remove my reviews – even though I’m sure that’s what these people would like to see, more reviewers doing just that.

    I was talking to my dad about this earlier during the commercials on Hell’s Kitchen (shush) and he got the MOST RANTY about it. I was kind of surprised, honestly. He said that the kind of people that would “pull this shit are the people whose parents insisted on a trophy for everyone just for showing up. NOT EVERYONE IS AWESOME AT EVERYTHING SO WHY CAN’T WE JUST ACKNOWLEDGE THAT?!”

    I <3 my dad. Also, because even though he's getting on in years, he said he'd take down anyone who tried to pull this kind of crap on me.

    • I would, too! You just point me at bullies who are bullying you and I will wrestle them to the ground and kick ‘em in the ovaries. RAWR.

        • I guess that they’ve never heard of the Wayback Machine or Internet archiving or screen shots or any of those things? What a bunch of nutjobs.

          • Yup, that was exactly what I was thinking. It’s killing me seeing them claim that the people who said their information was posted were being dishonest and “freaking out but trying to hide that by acting like victims.”

  9. So, kind of new to this discussion (just learned about the issue yesterday), but it seems like everybody has a pretty good idea of who this author/authors is/are, and so a strategy that leaps to mind to combat this behavior is BOYCOTTING these authors. No more reviews for them of any kind. If you’ve written one, take it down. Encourage friends to do the same. If someone asks you if said author’s book is any good, say no comment. Encourage others to do the same. Let the jerks be drowned in obscurity and ignore future attention-seeking behavior.

    An author whose books have NO reviews or just really lame ones like “this book has 230 pages, 226 of which contain fiction” (heh), is not going to sell a lot of books, amirite?

    • Fortunately, none of the authors that has come up has been an author I would read anyway, ha! I think ignoring/boycotting is a good idea . . . like I said up there, some people are just addicted to dramz. I like to comment on drama but I hate being embroiled in it.

  10. I didn’t read everyone’s comments here (yet) so I might be repeating some things that have already been said. I am more than creeped out by that website–I’m pissed. Angry. Who are the bullies?? Not the reviewers. I mean, the labels they give the reviewers are bad enough, and if I remember correctly, they compare the reviewers to terrorists. WHAT THE FUCK. If there is one thing I cannot and will not tolerate, it’s bullying, and that is exactly what that website is doing.

    Now, before I start fighting the air and throwing things, I would think the answer to your last question is obvious: 42.

    • I’m really glad that, since this keeps popping up in the YA world, I’m not a YA reader. These particular authors ARE being bullies; I read the (perhaps related?) story of blogger Wendy Darling, we talked about it a bit on Twitter just awhile ago–and I was shocked and sad for her. She’s still dealing with the fallout of things that happened MONTHS ago because authors got nasty with her over a review on Goodreads.

      I mean, FFS–IT IS A REVIEW ON GOODREADS. Even if it’s bitchy, calm the fuck down! They’re not Inigo Montoya and the reviewers didn’t kill their fathers!

  11. I find it downright frightening, not to mention plainly idiotic: “Oh, these people are being meeeeean to me, so I’m gonna get reveeeeenge by posting their personal information and encouraging everyone to –” what? Not bring ‘em flowers, surely, so the implication is HARASS THEM, amirite? As in, you know…BULLYING?

    In addition to being nasty, spiteful, and deeply unprofessional, it simply furthers the point that the authors being “bullied” are absolutely clueless about what genuine threat feels like. If you’ve ever actually been bullied, personally attacked, or had someone publicize your personal information for malicious purposes, you know just how frightening it really is. None of the people I know who have been subjected to that would ever knowingly subject someone else to it, especially not vengefully. And that’s why this bothers me the most: because it’s cruel, and because it’s deeply false in the way it conflates consumer feedback with the genuine act of bullying.

    Should reviewers do their best to be constructive? Sure! But they don’t HAVE to be. As long as they’re not telling lies or belittling the authors themselves, fair is fair. Yup, sometimes people don’t like your books. Sometimes people say meeeeeean things. But I’ve been loudly trashing The Sound and the Fury with all the snide I can muster for nearly ten years now, and somehow? it hasn’t disappeared from reading lists. If your book is good, negative reviews won’t hurt it, unless they are full of BLATANT LIES like “The author is a Scientologist” when they’re really a nice Buddhist or “it stops in the middle of a chapter” when it doesn’t. In cases like that, I don’t think a polite correction of factual mistakes is totally out of order. (That’s not the same as “well you just treated the brownies wrong!” It’s more like, “For the record, we have never put satin bows on our packaging.”) But really, every bestseller in the world was and/or will be trashed by SOMEbody. Grow the fuck up, ya speshul snowflakes. Shit in the public sphere gets judged. Politicians, art, restaurants. And yes, your book. Can’t handle the heat, go write in the snowbanks in Anarctica where nobody will ever see it except penguins. I’m sure they won’t say mean things.

    • I d’know, those penguins, they can be pretty snarky. But at least you won’t know they’re snarking on your book, since they’ll be snarking in Penguin, unless of course you speak Penguin and that would be kind of awesome. Or unless your book is somehow anti-penguin and they come after you, in which case you probably shouldn’t have marketed your book to penguins in the first place.

      This random moment of randomness was brought to you by HEY LOOK A SQUIRREL!!!

    • I don’t think reviewers are under any obligation to give constructive criticism, which would only benefit the author; as has been pointed out above, the review is for readers — so the only criticism that matters is whatever will help them to decide whether to read the book.

      • I didn’t mean they HAVE to be. I meant “I don’t see any reason not to be constructive unless, um, you don’t feel like it.” And constructive in the sense that I ATHE IT SUXXX!11 YOR MOM EATS POO doesn’t tell me what’s wrong with it and whether I might like it as a reader even if the reviewer didn’t like it. Constructive criticism helps readers too. I loooove me some reviewersnark, but even that could be construed as constructive – especially when done well.

  12. I’ve never been to this site you mention. I wouldn’t know anything about it if I hadn’t read your post.

    I can’t condone what they’re doing there. In a past creative existence I was the subject of a cyber-stalker. I know what it’s like. (I was also better at better at tracking them down via IP addresses than they were at hiding their tracks, but having to constantly look over your shoulder for two years is no fun.) I have to say that after today’s post I felt kind of obligated to come out and say I think they’re a bunch of idiots. I’ve never said anything on Goodreads or elsewhere about “bullies,” but I have the sort of personality which generalises blame to include me. I didn’t comment on your rant last week because, while I’ve never once asked a blogger to review anything, I had this terrible sense of guilt over being a self-published author.

    Ultimately, if there’s a form of “bullying” in reviews, then it’s the kind this site is sorely equipped to do anything about. The kind of review I hate and wish would not happen is the blank one. If someone rates one of my stories as 1 or 2 stars, and leaves no comment at all… That’s depressing, disheartening. Of course, such reviewers aren’t being mean, and one should not take it personally, as with any other kind of review. The blank ones sting a bit more, however, because they don’t even give one the opportunity to understand what went wrong.

    I digress. The site you mention is stupid. I would never have heard of it without you.

    • “The site you mention is stupid. I would never have heard of it without you.”

      So . . . you connected me twice for mentioning the site–sorry that I pointed out something stupid in a weekly column where I regularly point out stupid things? lol :)

      (Although if you talk to some of the reviewers in the comments here, you’ll see they don’t think it’s merely stupid.. they also find it a little creepy and perhaps a bit threatening or scary.)

      • Point was, all the fuss over the site is just giving it publicity. In case you hadn’t got the point, which I’m sure you did. It’s an old forum adage, which almost everyone on a forum appears unable to follow, “Do not feed the troll.”

        I probably have a different threshold on creepy. From what you said, the information these people are revealing has been obtained by a bit of data mining in Twitter and Facebook. It’s information available in the public domain… as is the home address of the site owner of stopthegrbullies.com. So is their telephone number. People are putting information out on the Internet they probably really don’t want known. I worry about it sometimes, and there are some things I won’t use because of it. Did you know that a US university developed some software which could identify empty houses by trawling Facebook for geolocation data on pictures? People post while on holiday, with data attached to prove they aren’t home. Now that is creepy. Post your holiday snaps when you get home.

        • It is creepy. As for her, like I said in the post . . . her techniques are weak, but the intent behind them is what is troubling.

  13. Oh my god, that site you linked is like my worst nightmare. I twitched for days when I realized I had to be “present” in my real-world form (not using a pseudonym) online in order to represent my press. Now I’m staring at my personal Goodreads account and whimpering, even though I don’t post reviews that I think anyone would stalk me over.

    meep

    I’m 100% with you on the “response to reviews” thing, though. I always tell my authors that it’s fine for them to go read reviews, but to never EVER respond to them, particularly if they’re negative. It’s just best to stay out of that fray entirely. Talk to readers and reviewers, sure, but never regarding YOUR review…

  14. if you want to see bullying, get involved with the amazon breakthrough novel award. i made it to the quarterfinals, but i was amazed at what the participants were doing to each other on their forums. the negative reviews, the accusations of fluff reviews, the attacks. of course, i wanted to win, but i did feel relief when i was eliminated.

  15. I’m on board with not bullying bullies and not tossing people’s private information online as a form of economic vengeance. But using one example of a creator responding to a negative review seems questionable if your argument really is never to respond to reviews. If you believe there are exceptions, I’d want to see those exceptions. If you believe there aren’t exceptions, I’d want to see responses to reviews that most readers deemed good or appropriate and read good reasons why it actually wasn’t. As it was, I didn’t even mind his response, and it wouldn’t rank among the worst hundred I’ve seen.

    • I would have used more examples, but honestly, it’s a blog and I have to keep my word limit down. Plus, the example doesn’t form the foundation of my argument, which is based on profit motive primarily. All authors who sell their work are subject to profit motive. The example merely served to get people out of the “I am an author making a work of art” mindset and into the “I am a businessperson putting out a product” mindset. It was never intended to be the ultimate argument or proof.

      And I said in my post that it was *not* a nasty response from the business person. I wasn’t using it as an extreme example . . . which was my intention, as I imagine many authors do think, like he surely does, that their responses are professional and good damage control, but their perception of a good response may not go over so well. If you didn’t mind his response, that’s cool . . . but I’d never want the owner of a company that just gave me a refund because I didn’t like their product to write that note to me in a public forum, to imply that I should NOT have reviewed their product because they refunded my money or that my review is irrelevant because I did it wrong. Just like I’d never want someone to tell me that I read a book wrong in public, even if I did. Customer relations 101: Don’t publicly humiliate your customers.

  16. Here’s one trite metaphor I’d like to see demolished, for various reasons: authors or writers talking about their books as if they’re their “babies” — hence the rush to defend them from negative reviews or “attacks.”
    Here’s the thing: that book better be a lot more than your “baby” if you expect it to make its way in the world. It has to be fully-formed, well-rounded, developed until it can’t be improved anymore, grown up and ready to face the world. Like any child, you’re gonna have to let it go. It may get beaten up a bit in the big schoolyard out there (and let’s face it, even a venue like GoodReads or Amazon reviews isn’t the vast world out there, just a small section of it); but it’s going to have to do well on its own merits. It’s going to have to win friends and influence people on its own, especially after whatever PR push you can give it is done.
    And good books transcend bad reviews. What convinces people aren’t just random (if numerous) reviews; what convinces them are reviews from people whose judgement they trust.
    More important than whether a book gets a “good” review, IMHO, is whether it reaches its audience. That can take writing and publishing a few books before people stumble across your backlist, or look that up because they liked your new book.
    In any case, you are not sending your baby out to be knocked around by the big, bad reviewers out there; are you nuts? You should be giving your book everything it needs to succeed — Writing, research, rewriting, editing, revising, beta reading, copy editing, proofreading, finding the right publisher, and much much more.
    Even after that, not everyone will like it. If your book is grown up enough, it can take it. As its proud parent, so should you.

  17. The only time I think it’s worth the author responding is when a reviewer makes a statement about the book (or about the author) that is factually incorrect and the author thinks it’s misleading in a way that could compromise their sales. It’s best to do this by contacting the reviewer directly, if they can. This gives the reviewer an opportunity to amend their review, and most will do this graciously. If they don’t amend it, then posting a corrective comment is fine. The author isn’t challenging their opinion. They’re correcting the facts, and even then only after giving the reviewer a chance to do it. Nothing petty about that.

    Also, I think it’s worth noting that bad reviews – even abusive ones – aren’t necessarily bad for business. Whenever I see a self-published title on Amazon or Goodreads with a slew of short, vacuous 5-star reviews, and no negative ones at all, I immediately suspect the family and friends network has been deployed and ignore everything they have to say. Seeing a few hostile reviews certainly piques my interest, as it makes me think I might be reading some real coverage.

    Some very successful books have been polarising.

    • I agree about contacting the reviewer privately over actual factual errors, although I probably would make the personal choice not to comment on the review publicly if the reviewer lets it stand. As a reader/consumer, I never buy books on the strength of one person’s stranger’s review, and I’d likely see that the review was inaccurate by comparing it to other reviews; I’d have to weigh that against how I might look if I made a corrective comment. If it’s someone with a blog or a following, like you said, they will probably graciously correct if contacted privately and politely.

      Edit: Unless it’s someone whose reviews I trust, that is . . . and the kind of reviewers I trust are the same ones that would make the necessary corrections if they were in error.

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  19. I just read the Goodreads reviewer (Lucy)’s commentary. Are there seriously authors who are threatening reviewers’ CHILDREN because of an effing un-praising review??? That. Is. Just. SICK. At the very, very least, how can they possibly think threatening children will help their reputations?

    These insane authors are the ones acting like terrorists, not the reviewers!

    Sorry, ranty comment is ranty, but this is really sickening.

  20. Wow – the whole thing is a bit terrifying, really. And after reading about Lucy’s experience, I have to say that this “author” seems to have gone way beyond mining publicly available info since she was able to obtain Lucy’s cell phone number – which was not publicly available, in order to harass her.

    Even worse than the actions of one, obviously unbalanced, person though is the other authors who support her – tacitly or otherwise. There is no place for that type of behavior – or for authors who respond in a bullying manner to reviews on GR, period. I’ve read other reviews where the author completely goes off in the comments section after being called out on grammar and editing issues in the reviews and mobilizes her (why is it always a her?) fanbase to post crazy rants as well.

    To tell the truth – you aren’t doing yourself any favors. I’ll overlook a few poor reviews (although usually not ones dealing with grammar) and read a book anyway, but I’ll never overlook that type of behavior. Frankly, I don’t want to give any of my money to a person like that.

    It doesn’t sound like I’d buy this particular author’s works anyway, but I sure wish that someone would call her out by name so I could be sure that I never accidentally gave her one red cent.

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  22. I don’t agree with what the STGRB site is doing, but at least one author who has removed her profile from the site was subject to abuse and harassment via various sites (not just GR) after someone posted a “quote”- which did not appear in any of her work and which she had never written – from one of her books which led people to believe she had plagiarised The Legend of Xelda – Ocarina of Time. She could not get any help or response from GoodReads for some time and as the threats and messages she received only contained a link (which she did not click on as she was concerned it might be a virus) it took a while to find out why these people, who had clearly never read the book they said was plagiarised, were convinced she had stolen content.
    This was not one person but a group of people, and their “criticism” included the phrase “cut the bitch”.
    As I said, I don’t agree with responding to bullying with more bullying, but any site should be prepared to enforce their TOS with respect to groups of people acting together to abuse and harass others.

    • I agree that actual abuse on the internet should be stopped, especially when it’s centralized on one site. I do, though, think that authors taking it public is the wrong move 9 times out of 10, just because it doesn’t reflect well on them professionally. Better to go through the site first, and then if they do nothing, see what legal options are available–and if nothing else, make judicious use of the block feature on social media (if they continue to harass through sock puppet accounts, you can take up the harassment with that site and see if they will discipline or help you block by IP address).

  23. I love David’s comment!

    But about Author’s responding to reviews; A reviewer had posted a somewhat juvenile, but generally favorable review of an author’s first published book (several years after publishing). Somewhat rhetorically she asked the heavens (and other reviewers) why the main character hadn’t gone to the funeral of the girl he was in madly in love with. Some readers went back and forth, discussing the general quality of this work with his more recent work, about the similarity of his female characters across his books, but still not entirely sure why the boy hadn’t gone to the funeral. Cue author’s entrance. His response: he doesn’t know why the character did it either, and he heavily insinuated that he would write things very differently today, if he would even still write the book at all. He addressed some other questions at the same time, and then finished with, ‘your guess is as good as mine, I didn’t mean anything by having him skip the funeral’. Readers quickly gushed their praise, and went to protect him from their critical words only a scroll away, and he replied to say that they shouldn’t apologize for any of it, that’s what reviews are for, finishing with: if an author bristles, it’s usually because what was said is true.

    That must have been a year ago, and he hasn’t returned to GR to comment since. The point of all this… he’s not the best writer but still recognizes the process of reviewing books and criticism of his work. Of course, the various awards he and his books have won must sooth the balm as well. Hah.

    I recently met an author and read her book for authors, in which she blatantly tells the reader to only give a book a 5-star rating, saying if she can’t rate it 5 stars, she won’t rate it at all… I wonder what the point of that would be? I’d be lost in the woods if not for some of the (sometimes ruthless) reviews on GR. I heavily rely on the people who give reasons for rating books 1- and 2-stars. Often it’s those that convince me to read a book. I like to know it’s weaknesses.

    Then there is THAT writer, the one who wrote all the furry/fantasy books? Complete with self-illustrated covers. All the reviews are horrid, and attack him (well, many do) but… he’s probably still writing today. I haven’t checked since like 2007. I have to admire spirit like that.

    /rambling

    (duplicate is because I want to know if someone replies :3 )

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  25. I have no problem with bad reviews, but the attack on me by these “reviewers” or “bullies” had absolutely nothing to do with my books or reviews. It was a personal attack on my personal life – organized by one girl who spread some lies and misleading information about our “friendship”. It was also an attack on my “free speech” rights where my blog was concerned. I was reviewing ‘reviewers’ and they didn’t like that very much. After all their ranting about ‘free speech’ in their reviews, I guess it’s only for them to use against authors and not authors to use against them. Can we say hypocrisy?

    • Okay, first thing–this was no attack on your “free speech rights.” A private citizen can’t attack your free speech rights because the whole point of “free speech” is that the GOVERNMENT can’t curtail your right to express an opinion or idea openly. “Free speech” doesn’t mean that you’re free to say whatever you want without consequences. An attack on your right to free speech would be the government silencing or imprisoning you so that you cannot express your opinion.

      If you express thoughts and opinions, or say things openly, and you receive consequences from someone else who doesn’t like what you said, those are just consequences. You still have the right to keep speaking–if you don’t like the consequences, it may be prudent NOT to keep expressing those opinions, but nobody is forcibly stopping you.

      FWIW, if they’re ranting about having “free speech” on Goodreads, it’s just as asinine as saying that some bloggers or reviewers took YOUR “free speech.” Goodreads is a private company and they can moderate content how they please, and if people want to express opinions that GR doesn’t allow on their site, they’re free to express those opinions in another venue–of course, GR also has to deal with consequences (ie, everyone leaves their site because they don’t want to be censored).

      If you don’t want to be embroiled in drama, you don’t have to be. Remember that. You always have the option to walk away. That’s part of free speech, too–exercising your right NOT to speak.

      • I understand this. I was using the term “Free speech” because that was what “they” said/say when somebody disagrees with them. I was merely countering with “their” own words.

        The point being, the people who attacked me did not attack me because of my books, or bad reviews, or any comment I made about “their” bad reviews because at that time, there were no bad reviews on my books. Yet the people who attacked me claimed (and spread the word) that I was acting out because of bad reviews. And that was simply not the case.

        Still, even if an author does call into question the integrity of a reviewer’s review, be it good or bad, it does not mean that particular author is “acting out”. Maybe the author is just trying to understand what that particular reader did or didn’t like about the book and could use that info when writing their next book. (To try and make it better)

        The GR bullies seem quick to be “offended” when this occurs. (Take things out of context) then they turn around and call onto their friends to attack said author.

        Still again, if a reader has a right to their opinion on a book, an author has even more rights to an opinion towards that reader because, after all, it is their work. But when reviews are used as nothing more than a platform to attack authors because of their so-called “behavior” AND people post ratings and reviews of books they don’t even read, then yes, I would consider that a form of bullying to intimidate that author to “shut up” and other authors to take heed of the consequences awaiting them if they decide to follow suit.

        According to the definition of bullying, yeah, that would be a form of bullying.

        • So, here’s the thing: You can’t control what reviewers do. You just can’t. If GR decided to enforce policies that don’t let reviewers “bully,” they could just go do it on another site, or create their own site. Reviewers have no stake in the book, there’s nothing to leverage them with.

          Authors, on the other hand, have a lot at stake: their career. The important thing to remember is that we know when other reviewers are being drama queens, or bullies, or what have you. You’re talking about a very small number of reviewers–but all non-author readers will sympathize with a reviewer over an author, so acting out/fighting back/arguing usually makes you look bad regardless of whether those reviewers are “bullies” or not.

          • Oh, I understand that when an author argues about a bad review, it does look bad for them. Which is why i do not practice that. However, I don’t even consider bad reviews as bullying. What constitutes bullying to me is when an author and a reviewer clash then the reviewer goes and gets their friends to join in with the argument and then you have dozens of people ganging up on the author and their book. Then comes the fake ratings and reviews and adolescent book shelves, all for the sake of publically humiliating the author. That is bullying.

            Conflicts between two people need to stay between those two people. You don’t see a gang of authors going around and ganging up on reviewers. Reviewers shouldn’t be doing it, either. And it makes reviewers look even more wrong when they have a GR group called “Authors Behaving Badly”. It makes each and every attack look pre-meditated.

          • I actually beg to differ–I have seen groups of authors ganging up on reviewers. They just don’t last very long because they have more at stake than reviewers, and they realize it when the backlash starts.

            I don’t really see a problem with an “Authors Behaving Badly” group. It’s not that much different than if you have a website that lists bad behaviors of various companies. Consumers like to know not just what they’re buying, but to whom the money is going. I wouldn’t approve if the reviewers went around social-media-stalking the authors, posting where they live and whatnot, but documenting online behavior toward reviewers and customers isn’t problematic to me. If anything, it should be a reminder to authors that they need to maintain a public image that will help their sales.

            Do some reviewers act like shitheads? Again, yes. They do, yes. But there’s not much to be done about it. So I don’t know why you keep going on that these reviewers are bullies–even the few (and it’s a very small percentage of the reviewer population) who are, there’s really nothing anybody can do about it as long as they’re not breaking libel/slander laws.

            ETA: I think my point overall is, it’s better to just ignore these “bullies”. You have no leverage with which to win against them.

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