Goodreads and the Author/Blogger Divide

Okay, so yesterday I made a comment on Twitter about Goodreads.  I didn’t spend too much time dwelling on it, it was something that popped into my head during  a conversation, and I tweeted it.  Happens on occasion.

The comment in question: Goodreads is kind of like the Fox News of book reviews. You’re not really going to get ‘Fair and Balanced’ coverage out of it.

The conversation was in regards to things being said that cross the line – reviews that attack an author’s weight, or comment on his/her looks, or generally move something from “thoughtful criticism of a work” to something more like an attack.

Someone called me out about my tweet, and needless to say it led to a discussion.  I totally appreciate this – I’d much rather someone come up and say “wow, that was inappropriate, here’s why” then not to say anything at all.  I explained my opinion a little more in depth, and realized that I probably hadn’t chosen the best way to express myself initially.  My main criticism with Goodreads is not an ‘across the board’ criticism – it’s not something that everyone does.  Is Goodreads really like Fox News?  No, obviously not.  But the situation was a little more in depth than that.

One example: I don’t think it’s every okay to authorbash.  You can say whatever you like about my book, but making fun of my double chin crosses a line.  Ahem. For a totally hypothetical situation. 😉  I think if you’re going to review a book, review the book.  Don’t lower yourself by attacking the author’s appearance, or personal life or whatever.

Does everyone on Goodreads do this?  Of course not.  But my tweet was more geared towards the writer end of the community (i.e. if you’re going to go on Goodreads, do not expect that everyone will love and adore you).  I honestly hadn’t thought about how the blogging half of the equation would take it.  And that’s something to take heed with – it’s not always just about blogging or talking to other writers.  You have to keep in mind what all of your audience is going to think.

As a writer, the sentiment behind it is something I stand behind.  For other writers.  If you can’t handle the criticism, you shouldn’t be reading your reviews anyway.  In fact, it’s probably better not to read them.  But you should especially not read your reviews on Goodreads, because while there may be (and are) well written positive and critical reviews, there are also the other reviews.  Ones where the author is bashed, or many people jump on board to agree with just how awful a book is, or the reviewer mistakes ‘vengeful’ for ‘critical.’  One star reviews where people jump on board, gleeful to agree

Where I’m coming from is if you’re looking for a source of reviews that, across the board, are going to adhere to your sensibilities and even your detractors are going to do so kindly, Goodreads is not for you.  Because some people on there can be mean, and vicious.  Does that mean everyone on there is?  Of course not.  But there are some – it’s one of those truths about the internet – anonymity makes it easier to give into the cruel, vicious parts of ourselves.

I think it’s part of the reason why some reviewers get gleeful at the latest bad review to someone’s book.  Do I think that some people write reviews on Goodreads specifically so they can trash certain writers?  Yes.  But again, NOT the majority.  Not even really the minority.  Just a handful of people.  The problem is that that handful of people tends to get REALLY LOUD.  And they stand out.  And it gives other, sane book bloggers a bad name.

Did I mean to imply that there was nothing fair and balanced about Goodreads?  Absolutely not.  But ‘Fair and balanced’ are the buzzwords of the Fox News Network, and what they so often defend themselves with. Essentially, my tweet was sarcasm (I know, shocking, right?), allusions and a metaphor wrapped up in a clunky dialogue.  It happens.  If this were a book, I probably would have caught it in the second draft.  Mea culpa.

Blogs aren’t the only source for reviews, obviously, and a lot of people only use Goodreads.  And just like with blogs, there are good and bad seeds.  The difference is that on a site like Goodreads, everyone is clustered together, instead of all on different sites.  There are a LOT of reviewers who put a lot of time and effort into their reviews.  Goodreads is not a bridge where all the trolls hide under.  But one or two or ten bad reviewers doesn’t mean that the whole website needs some sort of pest control.

It’s like when you go to a restaurant.  They say it takes 10 good visits to make someone forget about their one bad visit.  And most people will only tell one or two people about a good visit, while after a bad visit they’ll tell almost anyone.  It’s those bad, harsh, over the top reviews that stick out.  And if, as an author, you can’t handle that?  Then you shouldn’t read your reviews.

Now, for clarifications sake: I read all my reviews, because I don’t take it personally.  My book is not my child.  I’m proud of my book, but I respect that you might not.  And I respect your right to express that, however you like. Or wherever you like.  Or if you don’t want to read my book, that’s fine too.  Again, no big deal.  You have the right to feel however you want about it, and I don’t have the right to judge you for it.

Book bloggers are never the enemy, and implying that, even in a roundabout way, is never really okay.  So on that end, I was a little out of line in the way this whole thing started.  Because I actually like bloggers, and it’s always fascinating to get to talk to them about how they work.  But there also needs to be some sort of channel, or communication process to say ‘stuff like this is not okay’ between the two sides of the industry.  And as it stands, there isn’t.  If a writer is perceived to be criticizing bloggers, the bloggers get up in arms.  And if bloggers criticize an author, vice versa.  We’ve seen it happen, on both sides of the fence.

One of the things pointed out during my conversation yesterday, was that Goodreads is and should be more for the readers and consumers, and I definitely see the truth in that line of thinking.  It would certainly make things easier if everyone subscribed to that belief.

I’ve heard about authors commenting on their bad reviews as well as other kinds of bloggerbashing, and I think that’s just as out of line.  Being an author never means you’re the smartest person in the room, or that no one else’s opinions matter.  And making bloggers feel like that (however it happens) isn’t okay, either.

I think part of the problem is that both sides are so different.  Differences it would make sense for all of us to remember more often.  For authors, you’re taught right from the start to keep your criticisms private, if you need to vent or bash, you don’t do it out in the open where anyone can Google you.  And for bloggers, you’re used to having discussions in public, where anyone CAN Google you, because you’re not taught to hide it.  And the only way to really make any progress, is for dialogues to open up when something becomes an issue.

Okay, so long winded post.  Basically, I put my foot in my mouth and described something poorly, but I still think there’s some truth to where I was coming from.  But I definitely don’t bash book bloggers on a regular basis – as an author, that would just be silly. We’re both here because we like books.  And really, that’s all that matters at the end of the day.



24 thoughts on “Goodreads and the Author/Blogger Divide

  1. Honestly, I think every single site where readers can post their own opinions about books is going to be the Fox News of book reviews. On Goodreads, (some, but definitely not all) people post 1-star reviews that bash the author. On Amazon, people post 1-star reviews complaining, “10 DOLLARS FOR A BOOK? THIS IS A SCAM. SHAME ON THE AUTHOR FOR CHARGING THAT MUCH!!!!!” I don’t think it’s just Goodreads.

    I actually like Goodreads the best. I don’t use it to read reviews; I use it to keep track of the books I read.

    • Right, and on Goodreads, some, but not all people post 5-star reviews gushing, “THIS IS THE BEST THING I’VE EVER READ! I LOVE IT SO MUCH!” But of course, we rarely hear writers complain about those reviews. 😉 Not that I expect to, but I think it’s relevant

      I’m not entirely sure where the expectation that consumer-level reviews should be objective came from. Not even all professional reviews can rightfully be called objective. Anyway, this is nothing new. Reviewers (and here, I mean professional reviewers) have long dealt with getting flak from writers. “Critics are just failed writers” and whatnot. My favorite example has long been this exchange between one of my poetry professors (widely reviled for his reviews) and a pullitzer prize-winning poet. Deets here (this is made better by the fact that the poet in question trolls anyone who talks about it on the internet, as you can see from the comments). I mean, death threats! Really pretty ridiculous.

      Thing is, I think that a lot of reviewers on Goodreads write reviews with kind of the naive belief that they’re talking only to their friends, not doing something truly public. Ditto, probably, author tweets about these kind of things–what we’re really seeing is private honesty gone public. Both of these expectations of privacy are clearly out of whack, and the #YAMafia dust-up really cemented all of that in my mind. These days, I never talk shit in public (even generalized shit) without the expectation that the person I’m talking about will read it.

      • I think there are authors (I was originally going to say a lot of authors, but I think that might be pushing it) who would much prefer a critical, well-thought review (where the reviewer points out the things that didn’t work for them, and why) over a gushing, 5-star “BEST EVER!” review. At least I would. Because one of the benefits of reviews is that you can see what your audience is thinking, and even when they’re being critical, you can decide whether or not you’re going to take something from that.

      • ❤ snarky everything.

        But mostly I agree with everything you wrote, I just think these kinds of conflicts are sort of inevitable so long as there's, like, an internet.

    • But I think the important thing is that you’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There are snarky reviewers out there. There are also snarky authors. (Hi.) There are snarky readers who may never post on the internet (and thus, remain blissfully ignorant of all these woes).

  2. This is a great blog post! I come here to applaud and also offer up penance myself: I too was out of line. I said ‘goodreads is where evil never sleeps’ lo this many a moon ago, and someone recalled it! And I was mostly kidding around (I never reference Mordor when I’m being serious, it cheapens the whole thing…) but well, you know, yes, there is the fact that I’ve seen the most personal author-attacks on GoodReads. (Not that I haven’t seen them elsewhere, too. Nowhere is safe, dun dun dun.)

    There is a conversation worth having here, I think, because I too love book bloggers and yet sometimes feel as if I spend too much time in terror of them. Seeing authors’ looks mocked has made me feel pretty uncomfortable about getting photographed. Seeing authors hated on for their friends/just having friends who are other writers has made me think ‘If I talk about my friends, do they get hated on – do I?’ and then I don’t blog about funtimes the way I used to. Slinking around in fear and trembling on the internet is no way to live!

    And yet Catherine Haines told me on twitter about how a girl got eviscerated online for saying she didn’t like Twilight (not by Stephenie Meyer, obviously) and whoa, that is much worse than anything I’ve been through. At least I’m a grownup, or I pass as one most days…

    And then there’s the other side of the coin: if book bloggers and writers become too cosy with each other, will bloggers feel bad about giving authors bad reviews? They absolutely shouldn’t: honesty is paramount! I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader: I get half my books from recommendations off the internet. I’m also someone who’s interested in social justice and the like – I want books to be less sexist, racist, homophobic, and so on, and I hope that honest analysis will help make books better and authors more thoughtful.

    Anyway! I have no conclusions, in conclusion. Other than people are all most welcome to talk to me on these issues or any others, even if they think my books suck past the telling of it, and I will talk happily back. For hours and hours and– I talk a lot. But now it is time to me to get back to reading this book with like a gay Romeo and Juliet love story and a sassy reporter girl, i.e. two of my favourite things, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but I’d like to finish. 😉

  3. I’ve been a member of Goodreads for almost three years and I’ve never come across a review that bashes the author. Of course, there are the occasional “This book SUCKED”s but I’ve never seen anyone attacking the author. But then again, I only read the reviews my friends write. Maybe I just have awesome friends.

    • Like I was saying to someone yesterday, I really think it’s one of those author/blogger divides. Just like I’m sure that most bloggers know more instances of authors behaving badly on reviews than I do. As an author, we hear more about the opposite end.

      But associating with people who are awesome does tend to lessen the chance of that happening. 🙂

  4. Reviewing is so touchy, no matter what the venue. But it’s more controlled on a book blog than it is on a site like GoodReads, where *anyone* can post *whatever* they think. I tend not to pay attention to ratings and reviews on GoodReads except those of my “friends”, which pop up at the top of the page.

    This is a good, balanced post. And I find that the authors (like you) who state they would rather see a well-thought-out review rather than a gushing 5-star review, or the other extreme, without any real reasoning as to why the reader feels that way… these are the authors that I, as a reviewer, am more likely to even spend time writing a review for (it’s work, like any other type of writing). Because I know they’ll read it and appreciate it, whether I *loved* their book or not.

    But personally, if I don’t like a book enough to finish reading it, then I don’t bother with a review. (How can you write a review of something you don’t finish? Other than to simply say, I didn’t finish it.) Better to be silent in that situation, because anything I *can* say will be negative. I put the book down somewhere in the middle, or sometimes after just a few pages–nothing good about that. So when I write a review, even if it isn’t completely gushing, I still liked the book enough to finish it. And that’s saying something positive in itself.

    As a writer, I like to know what readers think of my work. And you’re right, the gushing reviews aren’t all that helpful. Neither are the ridiculous author-bashing reviews (if you can even call it a review). I’m not sure if there is any cure to this rash, though.

    Sorry, I rambled a bit there. But my point is– I agree with what you’re saying in this post. And I thought your tweet yesterday was spot-on.

    • It’s one of those things to think about. Just as there are many different kinds of authors (those who can handle reviews, those who can’t or don’t want to), there are many different kinds of reviewers. Some are like you, and won’t review something they put down. I can see both sides of that argument – explaining why you put something down and didn’t finish can be in some ways constructive.

      It’s like when agents do readings or something, and they’ll tell you that they stopped reading on page 4, and here’s why. Same principal (I think).

      • Yes, I see what you’re saying. It kind of goes against my personal approach to reviewing, which includes “not giving away spoilers.” I don’t think you can explain why you stopped reading a book without either being too vague or too spoilery, and that does no good for potential readers.

        I’m also influenced by the fact that the book blog I collaborate on has a “you must finish the book to review it” policy, and that’s kind of ingrained in me now, since I’ve been doing that for nearly two years.

        And like you said, there are many different types of reviewers just as there are many different types of authors, and that’s why there are so many different book blogs. For example, the Bookanistas have a distinct “only positive reviews” approach 😉 and I think a lot of people like that because they know that anything reviewed is also a recommendation. Some people don’t want to spend their time reading a review just to find out they shouldn’t bother reading the book. But then there are others who want to engage in an actual discussion, so they look for reviewers who are specific in their likes and dislikes of a particular book.

        Each has their own following, and those followers look to those particular reviewers because they’ve come to respect their opinion. But it is still only going to be just that– an opinion, nothing more.

        Aaaand… I forgot the point of my comment. Shutting up now. 😀

  5. I love GoodReads. I used to participate a lot–and then I got published. I found out very quickly that reading reviews was not for me. It wasn’t even a matter of bashing vs. gushing or that I was afraid of getting my feelings hurt–they were too contradictory. One says fast-paced, one says slow-paced. One says the ending was surprising, another predicable. So: reviews aren’t for me.

    • Yeah, but… we’re all saying bad reviews are fine. It’s stuff like calling authors fat or discussing how they don’t like them because of who they’re friends with that’s a bit gross.

      Which is not to say people can’t do it! They can! But other people can also say ‘Um, that’s gross.’

      The beauty and horror of the internet: anyone can say anything, and usually, they do. 😉

      • Yeah that’s bullshit and shouldn’t happen. I was responding mostly to the idea that authors maybe shouldn’t read reviews…I like reviews. All of ’em. I read them.

  6. I missed the huge Twitter incident yesterday but I enjoyed this post about Goodreads and the author/blogger situation.

    As a blogger I look at Goodreads reviews after I’ve written mine to see whether my ideas were in line with what others have thought and what some of the feedback is, if any. There are plenty of positive and negative reviews that are informative and there are just as many that aren’t. It’s easy for me to gloss over the non-helpful comments as I’m not the author, but I’m sure it’s not easy to not dwell on them if you are.

    I’m sure an author would rather see GR commentary, as you mentioned, that was gushing rather than the “it sucks.” But GR is a microcosm of the book lovers/hater world and there are people who are going to spend time writing a longer thoughtful positive or negative review and others that are going to sum it up in a few words. Then, of course, there are others that are just going to post something to get a reaction.

    Whether these people think they’re talking to friends only, or just want to upset someone, including the author, is how they’d behave elsewhere. I think the issue with GR is that it’s all contained, easy for anyone to see, especially the author. So unless you’re thick skinned or can just ignore the reactionary commentary Goodreads is definitely not a place to go to read reviews of your work. And neither is Amazon.

    Sure, it would be nicer, if like Twitter, you only saw reviews of people you were “friends” with or followed, but it isn’t.

    This whole author/blogger divide thing fascinates me though. I am not really surprised that there is so much conflict. As the commenter above mentioned, authors and traditional reviewers have always had a love/hate relationship, it should be no different with bloggers, except maybe that there are a lot more bloggers and authors tend to be more social with them than they would ever be with traditional reviewers.

    But no matter whether you’re an author or blogger the fact is everyone has an opinion, everyone has feelings and this is just one of those no win situations. No matter what is said someone is bound to be upset. And as for even the most casual of Twitter comments there is always someone watching and they may not recognize something to be an off-hand comment and will take it the wrong way and it will blow up into a major incident.

    I’m not sure if you upset anyone by your comment, but these things definitely pass. And at least you didn’t accidentally Tweet some inappropriate photos, those incidents aren’t so easily forgotten.

    Sorry for the really long ramble. You can delete the comment if it takes up too much space on your blog. 🙂

  7. I’ve been following good bloggers and writers for so long, I sometimes forget there are people that bash out there. And I guess I’ve never really considered what it might be like for an author with all those reviews on Goodreads. I personally like it, but I guess it provides a vehicle for people to rant about stupid things.

    I can’t figure out why someone would publicly bash an author for any reason. That’s just rude. I know the Internet gives people more bravery when dealing with these issues and especially bashing others, but I forget how mean people can be sometimes. I will continue to put my (hopefully) fair reviews up on Goodreads, hoping they may convince someone something is good if I thought it was.

    • I mean, nasty comments like that happen no matter what kind of internet group you become a part of. It’s part of the nature of the internet – anonymity makes people brave enough to say things they wouldn’t say that way in person.

      And like I said in the post, it’s definitely not the majority doing stuff like this. People can be critical about a book they didn’t like while being respectful enough to realize they’re talking to another person. At least that’s my take on it. 😉

  8. I generally agree. Though sometimes, I’m just too lazy to write a full review. A full constructive review for every book I’ve read this year(around seventy) would be exhausting.

    But I have seen horrible reviews on GR and Amazon. The worst one I’ve ever seen attacked Maya Angelou and made some rather idiotic comments regarding her sexuality and how she deserved the treatment she received in her childhood. Luckily, I think it was removed when I flagged it.

    I like reading both positive and negative reviews, though I don’t really get why someone would use that space to author bash. And I just don’t read negative reviews of books that I like because they often piss me off. It’s weird. I want to shake the reviewer and tell them that they don’t get the book. Thankfully, I don’t.

    • Oh yeah, I definitely don’t think every review should be an in depth critique. That’s kind of like telling authors they need to start tripling their daily wordcounts from what they’re used to.

      I think that, at least from the author side of things, if you’re going to read your reviews, you should balance them out. As many good reviews as you read bad reviews. Keeps your head from getting too big, and from thinking that your writing is perfect. Because it’s never, ever perfect. 😉

  9. What’s terrible is that I’ve recently seen the reviews on Goodreads appear on some of the newer websites that sell books! So, these reviews by the average “Joe or Jody” are becoming increasingly important because they effect web sales. Having your book reviewed by a professional who has spent years focusing on literature is one thing… but having your book sales effected because “TwilightFan” wishes you had more pictures… well that’s a big bummer. (Not to mention there is a lot of libel happening out there.)

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