I intended to write this week’s WWK blog about something else, but this takes precedence. I won’t be adding graphics because I can’t think of any that wouldn’t trivialize this situation.
There’s a disturbing trend involving Goodreads reviewers and authors, and I think it’s something we all need to look at and think about where we stand on it because it’s going to be happening more and more—until sooner or later one of us on Writers Who Kill or one of our blog-reading faithful are going be sucked into the whirlpool.
Warren and I have made joking comments a time or two on this blog about Amazon and Goodreads reviewers who trashed our books because of trivialities such as not liking the cover or the name of the protagonist and then at the end of the review mentioning that they didn’t read the book. To an author, of course, these kinds of reviews feel terrible, sitting out there forever on the internet, but as a professional, you just suck it up and shrug your shoulders. Maybe make a joke on a blog by authors with lots of authors who read it. Notice what Warren and I did not do, however. We did not post hostile or defensive comments on these reviews and get in a fight with the reviewers. We did not link to the reviews to send out our fans to comment and tell them they’re crazy and awful people. Above all, we did not search the internet to find out their real names and personal info (including children, physical location, etc.) and post it to the internet, encouraging our fans to stalk and bully them because we felt bullied by their reviews.
Common sense, right? Common decency, certainly. However, a site has sprung up to do just that. (I won’t post a link to it or any of the supposed GR bullies’ reviews and comment streams because I don’t want to send traffic to either side of this, but if you want to see for yourselves, just Google “Stop the GR Bullies,” and they’ll all pop up.) Their stated mission is to “stop the GR bullies.” What they’re actually doing, however, is bullying the Goodreads bullies. They keep their identities hidden, but of course, what goes around comes around, and soon someone will be posting their personal info on the internet to incite people to go after them. One woman identified as a GR bully on this site has received threatening phone calls at her home. Hello? Could we have a little sanity here, folks?
This is not to say that some (a tiny percentage, I think) of the reviewers on Goodreads aren’t bullies in some ways. And I’m not talking about the reviewers Warren and I mentioned. Those reviews were bad reviews but not bullying reviews. I’ve seen some nasty, mean, profane, personal-attack-on-the-author reviews on Goodreads. It’s the internet, folks. It often brings out the pathetic teenager in some of us. Responding to bad reviews is simply not good professional behavior. The Amazon and Goodreads sites are sites for readers, not really for authors. They have a right to dislike our books. They even have a right to dislike us. We don’t have a right to “punish” them for not liking us or our work.
As more and more of the review function in publishing moves to the internet, we will see these things more often. It seems to be mostly a problem with self-published authors, though I have read of a couple of experienced, traditionally published authors responding hostilely to bad reviews. One of the self-published authors these Goodread reviewers attacked grew so upset that she swore off writing in a long public post. I felt sorry for her pain as I read the post, but I believe she may have made a good choice.
Writing professionally is a career, a business. As one of my friends on the Jungle Red Writers blog put it, “Writing is not for sissies.” Most of us who’ve been traditionally published (and this includes by the many fine small presses that help keep literature alive in this country) have had our skin toughened by years of form rejections and nasty comments from potential agents and editors. Writing is one of the hardest jobs out there in terms of the emotional punishment we take. Even after we’ve been published, we run the gamut of poor (or no) reviews or lack of sales or our publisher may drop us, often for something over which we have no control, such as their decision to stop publishing the genre or sub-genre in which we write. It happens.
I know a successful male writer whose once-acclaimed, hardnosed private eye novels suddenly weren’t wanted by publishers. None of them. PIs were out, he was told, and he couldn’t sell under his own name any longer. So he took a woman’s pseudonym and started a very successful cozy mystery series. Now, that’s a professional. Every door slammed in his face. He probably drank, yelled, cussed, whatever his personal reaction to devastating news happened to be. Then, he picked himself up and reinvented himself. Check out the careers of a lot of successful writers, and you’ll find stories like that. What he didn’t do was take out a contract on the editors who dumped him or send stalkers after them or anything like that.
I think we each need to have a conversation with ourselves to ask, “If some amateur reviewers ganged up on my book or me on Goodreads or somewhere else, how would I handle it?” I think the possibility of people not liking their work or themselves or, worse, being mean to them had never occurred to these folks, so they were sideswiped and reacted foolishly on impulse, guided by their emotional pain. Let’s be ready. We’re all on the internet, and it could happen to one of us next. Perhaps, if we’re prepared, we can be the mature professionals that we really are.
What do you all think about this phenomenon? What would you do if your book was attacked by one or a group of these reviewers?