Bullying…on Goodreads

Remember months ago, there was this whole thing about stop the Goodreads bullying? Yeah, apparently, that’s still a thing.

Agent-turned-author Nathan Bransford posted this about bullying on Goodreads. There were several links to other posts on the topic, including one from Porter Anderson on Jane Friedman’s blog.

I read the first three reviews of the book Bransford mentions in his post. Then I read Anderson’s take on what happened to author Lauren Howard. And I’ve gotta say, his two examples don’t exactly match up.

The first few reviews on Goodreads for The September Girls are abysmal. They are of the “run screaming from this book and don’t ever look back” variety. Bransford acknowledges that while an author needs to have a thick skin and be able to take criticism, those reviews are over the top mean. Personally? I don’t think they are. I think they were well thought out and informative.

I should also point out that at no point in those reviews do the reviewers take pot shots at the author.

However, in the case of Lauren Howard, people did take pot shots at the author, and that was all before her book even went up on Goodreads. According to Howard, she was confused as to why her book was garnering two-star reviews before it had even been released, and when she asked about it on a forum board, she was informed it was a way for readers to indicate their interest in a particular title.

I’ve got to interject here, because I’ve wondered about those ratings myself, and if that’s truly the thinking behind them, that’s a fucking fuckton load of bullshit. You indicate your interest in a book BY ADDING IT TO YOUR TO BE READ SHELF. Maybe you even add it to a special, shiny shelf called OMG I CAN’T WAIT TO READ THIS BOOK shelf. But rating a title before it’s released? Misleading and ignorant and just plain fucking stupid. But as much as I wish it were true, there’s no stupid police, so people will keep doing it.

Now. Before I started ranting-

Howard was apparently targeted by some users of the board who then took to rating her book even lower and adding it to specially created shelves reserved for the lowest of the low in terms of humanity.

That, my friends, is bullying.

Sometimes we come across books that are offensive and it’s tempting to believe that the views expressed by the characters are those of the author’s. But should we start calling the author out on promoting pedophilia (in the case of A.M. Homes’ The End of Alice) or being a sexist douchebag (in the case of the author of The September Girls)? No. We’re not privy to their thought processes. We don’t have the inside details of their personal lives.

But belittling an author for things beyond their control, for trying to catch up on a steep learning curve (because make no mistake, the world of publishing feels like a fucking sheer cliff sometimes), for blaming an author when you just plain don’t like a book – because yes, it’s all their fault, they should know how to write that one perfect book that will appeal to each and every single person who can read the printed word – is bullying. It’s cowardly, and frankly, it only makes the reviewer look bad.

I’ve heard a lot about authors being bullied on Goodreads, but I’ve never come across it myself. It makes me wonder if it’s being blown out of proportion, or if I’m just not reading the books that are attracting that sort of attention. And I’m not the only one. Several of my co-workers are friends of mine on Goodreads, and they’ve never seen this bullying in action, either.

That said, there are ways to write an effective negative review. Since my tone leans toward snarky, I’d probably have been inclined to write something similar to those reviews Bransford called out (minus the GIFs. Why do people insist on using those in reviews?) What you want to convey, though, is why you don’t think people should read the book. What didn’t work for you? Was the writing shitty? Were the characters flat? Did it turn out to be something you personally found offensive (and if that’s the case, I highly recommend you clearly state that)?

Authors need to understand that negative reviews are not an attack on them personally, and for the most part, they do. I think Bransford may be the exception here. I don’t know. Read the reviews for yourself, and tell me what you think. Have you seen any of this bullying action going on?


4 thoughts on “Bullying…on Goodreads

  1. I’ve been bullied as a child/teeneager and I know for a fact the person who did it has low self esteem. It made her feel better to know I was beneath her.. flawed.. imperfect.
    I can’t say that’s the case here, as I haven’t read the book. Some people are very EGOIC (Have you ever read A NEW EARTH by Eckhart Tolle?) Half of his book was about overcoming the Ego! They aren’t necessarily bad people, just perhaps in their own worlds. the world revolves around them (They think), everyone in their world is here to serve them and they can say whatever they want, do whatever they want.
    On the other hand some people are just evil.. they have no remorse when they hurt someone’s feelings, They enjoy hurting people. it makes them feel powerful.

    1. Excellent point. And based on the secondhand information regarding Ms. Howard, I think she was bullied, or at the very least, felt she was – and that’s not something that should be discounted. It’s appalling to think that people would be just that petty and small-minded. I’ve had nothing but good, helpful encounters with others in the publishing world, be they authors, editors, or agents; they’re all willing to help, because they’ve all been there before.

  2. Amanda (I like that name; it’s mine too!), this is a great post. I responded to this same issue (and Bransford’s article) in my own blog post about the topic: http://wp.me/p3kbeW-ij .
    I agree with you that it’s not helpful to readers OR writers to be dishonest in flattery. But I do think that the most helpful criticism is one whose aim is constructive, not destructive. Maybe it’s my teaching experience or writing workshop experience, but I’ve found that people take criticism the most seriously when it’s strategic and not hurtful.
    That being said, I still agree with your points. It’s not a critic’s job to make friends; it’s to criticize. I think the other article I discussed in my post, “Are Novelists Too Wary of Criticizing Other Novelists?,” is calling us out to be honest. I think the old “act in a way that you’d like to be treated” rule is a helpful standard. We NEED constructive criticism, for sure. As long as it’s not attacking the author himself/herself, as you said.

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