The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Stopping the Goodreads Bullies, and Adding Sanity Into Book Blogging

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

I’ve been debating whether I should write about this for a while.  It’s not really my usual book column fare, but—for better or worse—it has affected the way I look at book blogging, and the way I write my own reviews.

I’m talking about the authors versus book bloggers atmosphere that has arisen on the internet.

So how does the show down usually go?  A book blogger will write a negative review of a book.  The author will find that review and take issue with it in the comments, or maybe they’ll spew some venom about it on their blogs.  They usually claim they’re not taking issue with the negativity of the review, but rather its “unhelpfulness” or “meanness.”  Then bloggers—often those who weren’t even involved in the original review—will respond, threaten to boycott that author, etc.—words are exchanged, blah, blah, blah, etc.
The latest development in this scandal?  A website called Stop the GR Bullies aims to stop the so-called “Goodreads Bullies”—bloggers who frequent the Goodreads site writing scathing reviews and making vitriolic comments to those who don’t agree with them.  Allegedly, they published personal information about the bloggers, including addresses and telephone numbers.  They deny that such personal information was ever published, but what they do have on their site is pretty nasty.  Check out this posting on Cuddlebuggery blogger Kat Kennedy.  They call her, “[A]n unemployed housewife who stays at home, drinks, and sometimes takes care of her children, that is when she is not drinking, tweeting, or waging her holy war against authors.”  They even post screen shots of her Twitter tweets as evidence.

Wow.  Yeah.  Cause that doesn’t seem like bullying AT ALL.

I have seen numerous instances of authors behaving badly on the internet.  I’ve got to be honest: it sours me on the authors’ work.  I have a lot less respect for authors who can’t suck it up and take it when they get a bad review.  Author Stacia Kane has written several times about the phenomenon of authors responding to bloggers—this is the latest post—and she sends the message better than I ever could.

I don’t want to talk to authors.  I want to talk to bloggers.

I get it.  I am a blogger.  We have every right to dislike a book.  We have every right to dislike a book and shouldn’t have to risk being called out by an author who just can’t tolerate the criticism.  I’ve been very lucky: I’ve never had an author go completely nuts on me about a negative review.  But even lukewarm reviews can garner defensive responses.  About a year and a half ago, I wrote a review of a book that was, overall, favorable, but took some issue with certain points of character development.  The author then commented on the review, taking issue with my issue.  She was polite and not overly hostile, and it was nice knowing that the author had read the review.  But the interaction also had the effect of making me feel bad about the criticism.  I shouldn’t have.  I am just one person, and it was just my opinion about the book.  As a book blogger, I have every right to have, and express, that opinion.

But something sometimes gets lost in these online interactions.  Take a deep breath and say it with me: authors are people, too.

Imagine that you’ve written a book.  It’s probably not hard to imagine for many of you, because many people passionate enough about books to blog about them—me included—are writers themselves.  So you sat down in front of your laptop, and you spent months or years drafting a novel.  You put time, effort, and energy into it.  You love your little book, and you hope other people will love it, too.  So you take the risk and get the book published, putting it out there for everyone to see.

And then the reviews start coming in.  Maybe some of them are good…but some of them, inevitably, are not.  Maybe Book Blogger Betty went on to her blog, or to her Goodreads page, and said that your book sucked.  Maybe she even got a little bit insulting about it.  (“Really, did she have to compare reading my book to being scalded with hot acid?  What nerve!”)  Maybe she even said something personal.  (“How dare she say my mother probably smoked crack while I was in utero?  That BITCH!”)

You’d be pretty pissed, right?

I’ll admit it: I’d be livid.  But more than that, I’d be hurt.  Because deep down, I want other people to love my work as much as I do.  I want people to pat me on the back and say, “That was a great book, Beth.”  I want to be validated as a writer.  I know that is a weakness of mine, and that I need to develop a thicker skin.  But if you write a book and then publish it, it stands to reason that you want your work to be read, and you want other people to like it—otherwise, you could have left it sitting in your dresser drawer.

I’d like to think that I’d be strong and mature in the face of these reviews, that I wouldn’t let them affect me.  But I know myself too well for that.  They’d hurt.  I’d like to think that, especially having the perspective on the book blogging world that I have, I wouldn’t do anything stupid and rash and write a rant on my own blog—one which, naturally, readers would trace back to Book Blogger Betty.  I’d like to think that I wouldn’t comment on Book Blogger Betty’s blog and threaten to sue her for libel.  But we all have weak moments, and after a few hours of drinking and crying, who knows what I’d do?

NONE OF THAT justifies the Authors Behaving Badly-type behavior that has sprung up on the internet over the past few years.  I saw a comment thread about a year or so ago where an author responded to bloggers—and readers—who argued with her with, “fuck you”—in several different comment threads.  I’ve seen authors single out bloggers who have written harsh reviews and tell their readers to boycott that blogger, or to flood that blogger’s website with trolling comments.  

I think the guise of anonymity on the internet sometimes leads people to become their own worst selves.  But authors aren’t really anonymous.  Once you become a published author, you are—in some form or another—a public figure.  Authors should remember that the way they behave on the internet represents not only themselves, but their work.

But I digress.  I’m talking to you bloggers here.  And it comes back to what I said earlier: authors are people, too.

The problem isn’t JUST that some authors behave badly on the internet, reacting in unacceptable ways to negative reviews.  It’s also that some bloggers choose to inflame that behavior with their own comments.  Then the author responds with an even angrier comment, it goes back and forth, and blah blah blah.  We end up with a gigantic pissing contest where no one really wins, but it damages the relationship between authors and bloggers.

We are living in a really amazing era.  When I was growing up, I thought of authors as being removed and distant, off in their ivory towers somewhere writing Great Literature.  Fans?  Pshaw!  What would Great Important Author care about fans?  At the time, the only way to get in contact with Great Important Author was to write to his or her publish company, which would forward that letter on to Great Important Author—if you’re lucky.  Maybe you’d get some form letter back, along with an invitation to join Great Important Author’s fan club.  For only $19.99 a month, you’ll get an exclusive preview snippet of Great Important Author’s new books two weeks ahead of everyone else!  Whoo hoo!

But that stereotype by and large doesn’t exist anymore.  Sure, there are a few members of the old guard who are still distanced from their fans, and some who are just big enough that networking with the people doesn’t matter anyway.  But most of the authors I read are actively networking with their readers and fans.  They’re available on Facebook, on Twitter, through their websites and blogs—and for most, it’s actually them making the contact, not some random website or message board administrator like it has been in the past.  For a rabid fangirl like me, this is just about the coolest thing ever.  I’ve e-mailed back and forth with some of my favorite authors.  I’ve commented on their blogs—and gotten responses!  I’ve chatted with them through Twitter.  I’ve even gotten very positive e-mails thanking me for my reviews—and thankfully, these have been much more numerous than the combative comments.

You have every right to write a negative review.  Not every book works for everyone, and you, as a blogger, can and should express your opinion.  And authors should really resist the urge to respond to negative reviews with anything other than a polite, “Thank you for your review”—if even that.  Most do.  But the few authors that don’t are creating an atmosphere of hostility between authors and bloggers.  But we, as the bloggers, have to take responsibility, too.

Authors should behave in a professional manner on the internet, including all social media sites.  This is, after all, their job—and as I said before, they represent not only themselves, but their work.  But we don’t need to fan the flames every time an author flies off the deep end—by posting incendiary comments, boycott lists of badly behaved authors, or links on Facebook and Twitter to Nora Novelist’s very public meltdown on Goodreads.  

The reason a site like Stop the Goodreads Bullies exists is because they kind of have a point.  Nora Novelist may be making a fool of herself when she flips out on Betty Blogger for her “unprofessional” review (a situation I’ve seen many times), but the rest of us don’t have to pile on to tell Nora Novelist that she’s in the wrong for responding to a negative review, and how dare she infringe on our right to say whatever we want!

I’m advocating for a little bit of empathy, and a lot of common sense.  We are in an era where we, as readers and fans, are able to reach out to our favorite authors like never before.  But this will start to disappear if we treat authors as the enemy.