Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for May: (5/4) Linda Norlander, (5/11) Connie Berry, (5/18) Mary Keliikoa, (5/22) Annette Dashofy, and (5/25) Rosalie Spielman.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bullying the Bullies—Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

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?


Bryan Thomas said...

My response was posted on Goodreads a few days ago and has gotten a lot of reads:

Dear Stop GR Bullies People...
Please stop.


1) People are allowed to have opinions. We believe in free speech. It's what allows us as authors to have a voice. I don't want to lose it, do you?

2) Free speech is allowed to be exercised with discretion and consideration or as total asses. I choose the former, some choose the latter. Doesn't change my belief in free speech.

3) How did you ever come to think bullying people you feel are bullies makes you right and them wrong? It doesn't.

4) I don't like negative reviews anymore than you do. Especially mean, juvenile ones with nothing positive to add. My favorite are the idiots who don't even have an opinion but just link to someone else's review and say: "I agree with him/her." It just proves they are not intelligent enough to engage with your writing themselves. But that doesn't make them bullies. And it doesn't mean they don't deserve free speech.

5) By behaving as overemotional, insecure people, you make all authors look bad. You scare all readers into thinking they can't say what they really think or be honest in reviews. You encourage compliance and assimilation into a world where authors will have no opportunity for constructive feedback that helps them grow. Please stop using your free speech to try and keep my writing as mediocre as you'd like yours to continue to be.

6) Just stop. See 1-5.



Linda Rodriguez said...

Excellent, Bryan! Thanks for stopping by.

FL Wylie said...

Interesting post. I don't have to worry about bad reviews of my to-be novel, because it's still in the rejection phase. But we do get negative feedback as community newspaper publishers.

We try very hard to suck it up and take it without comment. (We will note mistakes of fact.)

Our only rule is that the critic has to sign his or her name if it is printed as a letter to the editor.

On our website, we see comments before they go up. We confirm a poster's identity, but allow them to use their internet ID.

Sometimes it stings, but I'm sure our news stories and editorials sometimes sting a few readers.

It's just part of being in the public eye.

Maureen Harrington said...

Linda, and Bryan, I had no idea this was going on. I'm glad you wrote about it. The phenomenon seems tacky but so much worse, as you both point out.

Jim Jackson said...


I do not participate in Goodreads and had no idea. Thanks for making me aware of this disturbing trend.

Blatantly hostile reviews say everything about the reviewer and nothing about the book or author.

An author's public response, other than ignoring the !@#$%^& says everything about the author and nothing about their book.

In a perfect world everyone would have to sign opinions/reviews with a real name or barring that an independent human could delete comments that are either personal attacks or without merit.

In a perfect world, my crime novels would perforce be considered fantasy rather than more or less realistic.

Ignore bullies and eventually they will go away.

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

I did not know the site existed and I have no desire to visit it. I have, thus far, been spared bullying reviews but I've had poorly-thought-out reviews and one sexist review. If as a writer you've never had a review that looked like the reviewer bled all over your work, it's coming. If you catch me when I tired, It might be coming from me. I've had many and often, when I put my feelings aside, harsh reviews have been truly helpful.

I believe a reviewer should have the guts to put his or her name with a review or with a response to a review. To leave it off shows a lack of confidence and encourages bullying just like children wearing masks at Halloween are more likely to pull nasty pranks than children without masks.

Thanks for this post.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Faith, it sounds like you're getting experience with this before your novel is even published. I suppose anyone in the public eye does, though.

Thanks for stopping by!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Reine, yes, it's moved to the stage of much more than tacky. I didn't mention it in the post, but in one case, they took one reviewers joking tweets to her friends and posted them with the suggestion that she was a drunk and an unfit mother and someone should go to the authorities.

Scary stuff!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, I think you've nailed the root of the problem right there. The "bullying" reviews say everything about the reviewer and nothing really about the book. The bullying-the-bully responses say everything about the authors and their fans and nothing about the book.

The review process is supposed to be all about the book. Somehow the reason for the site, the review, the response--all of it--gets lost in all this garbage.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Warren, you're so right in saying, if you've never had a harsh review, it's coming sooner or later.

I think perhaps some of these authors have not gone through a good, strong critique process, either, so they're really not accustomed to have the problems of their books pointed out. Of course, as I said, some of those reviews were like a clique ganging up on the unpopular kid in high school, full of profanity and personal insult, but that would automatically tell me to ignore that/those reviewers because they were just trying to stir something up.

Linda Todd said...

I worked in a public library for 28 years and it's been my experience that everyone has different tastes. One reader will return a book and praise it to the rafters and the next person returning it will say he/she doesn't see how it ever got published. They're both entitled to their opinions. Therefore, I never read reviews. I prefer to make up my own mind. I agree with Linda on this one. We don't need to get down on the bullies' level.

Alyx Morgan said...

Very powerful & thought-provoking, Linda.

I've only read one author's descent into bad behavior at receiving a negative review a couple years back. And it was quite an eye-opening experience. It's unfortunate that attacking reviewers has apparently become a "sport" on Goodreads.

I absolutely LOVE Bryan's response, & agree wholeheartedly with it! Free speech isn't always used in constructive or pleasant ways, but it should still be allowed. Like Jim said, you can tell a lot about the person by looking at his/her review, just as you know about the author by their subsequent response.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Linda T., exactly. If everyone wanted the same book over and over, we writers would be in a lot of trouble. I have friends who write light and frothy books (not as easy as people seem to think) while no one would ever call mine light and frothy. Some readers will like their books, some will like mine, and if we're lucky, some will like both.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Alyx, yes, I thought Bryan had a very good take on it, coming at it from the free-speech aspect, which is so important. I know that won't make a difference with some people, unfortunately, but it should.

Aside from anything else, though, I think it just boils down to the questions of ordinary human decency and maturity.

E. B. Davis said...

One of the wrong things about the Internet is the perception that we are invisible and anonymous. I've had this problem before. Not with rancid book reviewers, but with my HOA listserv.

Homeowners wrote scathing things about an HOA decision. We asked everyone involved to come to a meeting to discuss the issue. The worst critic didn't show. I was dumbfounded. People with the biggest mouths it seems are often the biggest weenies. I would have thought the opposite. Why embarrass yourself like that? In this case, we knew who the homeowners were--so even though they were on the Internet, they weren't really anonomous.

Now I know when Linda characterized the harsh critics as bullies--she was right. Bullies are all show and no go. Ask them to write a book. They will flee knowing they couldn't do as well and would be afraid of someone like themselves.

Anonymity in a hidden environment like the Internet makes inadequate people feel powerful, as if nothing can touch them no matter how awful they are.

Flaming the bullies feeds their feelings of power and satisfies them.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KB, I think you're right. That's why I didn't want to put links. Didn't want to drive lots of traffic to them.

Maureen Harrington said...

Linda, I am glad you blogged about this. I spent a good part of the day trying to catch up on the Goodreads bully phenomenon. I admit to being stunned and feel very naive.

I recently joined Goodreads but have yet to post any reviews. I've read just a few reader reviews and was very unhappy with most of them, because they weren't helpful and were, I felt, overly critical of things that would not affect my enjoyment of a book.

I find this bully-the-bully revenge phenomenon very troubling and hope that Goodreads will take action to enforce their standards. I am now reluctant to post any reviews there, at least until I see if Goodreads is willing to end this dangerous situation.

I am really stunned.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Reine, I think each of us who've learned about this has been stunned--to read the nasty, mean reviews that started it and even more to read the stop the GR bullies site.

And I agree with you about it's becoming dangerous. When people start posting others' personal information on the internet so their fans can "teach them a lesson," when GR reviewers receive threatening phone calls on their home phones, there's always the chance that one person more unbalanced than the rest (who aren't hinged too well if they're doing this stuff anyway) will decide to go further over the line into physical harm. They're all dancing around in a super-dry forest with torches.