The controversy & conflict between some authors and reviewers has been growing for some time leading to several fairly well publicized clashes between the two. Much of the ruckus seems to have been centered around Goodreads and what each side considers to be “bullying” behavior on both parts. While I absolutely support a reader/reviewer/consumer’s right to interpret a book and express their opinion almost any way they want to outside of directly attacking an author, I haven’t really gotten directly involved in much of the heated debates. However, with the recent updates to Goodreads policy in their attempt to control the accusations of bullying on their website, I thought it would be a good opportunity to weigh in with my opinion which will probably be as scattered and rambling as most of my thoughts are so please excuse if this post is a bit all over the place.
The Goodreads policy change that seems most questionable to me is that they will be deleting content focused on author behavior, maintaining that the book should stand on it’s own merit and that an author’s behavior is irrelevant. I do not agree with this for several reasons.
I actually think that readers have the right to be made aware of the type of person they would be supporting so that they can make an informed decision. An extreme example of why this is so important would be the book The Secret of Cant by K.P. Bath. This author is a convicted pedophile who is writing children’s books according to THIS ARTICLE by Bryan Denson of the Oregonian. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why this author’s behavior should be a factor in choosing whether to support their work.
Of course, as I said the above is an extreme example, but there are others that I also feel strongly about such as when popular author Emily Giffin, upset about a negative review of her book, basically encouraged her fans & husband to attack the reviewer who had the audacity to think her book was crap. And when the reviewer in question began receiving death threats from irate fans, Giffin’s response was to advise that if she doesn’t want death threats, she should remove the negative review and stop talking about it. This kind of thing is absolutely appalling behavior, and while it hardly represents the majority of authors, it IS, I believe, relevant information that potential consumers should be made aware of.
I am not going to dispute that there has been reprehensible behavior on both sides of the equation. Undoubtedly, there are reviewers whose reviews seem to be an attention seeking attack on the author instead of an opinion about the book, but I believe that the average reader can spot a BS review and overlook it. And it kind of comes with the territory, which doesn’t make it right, but it is the reality of putting yourself in the public eye. I equate authors with celebrities and I know many actors and musicians constantly have their work & personal lives spoofed, judged, ridiculed, and otherwise talked about. But when they lash out at the media for this, it is THEIR brand that is harmed, it is their public image that comes under fire. I don’t think that snarky shelves or reviews is bullying any more than those Star news articles saying that XYZ celebrity gave birth to a 3 headed alien is bullying. I think that authors are being more in the public eye than ever before because of social media and they have to adjust to that, just as a singer or an actor that suddenly finds themselves & their work prone to public scrutiny & opinion.
I hate that Goodreads is making these changes because I felt that initially, this site was a social media site geared toward the reader. A place for readers to catalog and discuss books among themselves and rate them however they want to for whatever reason they want to. I always felt like if a reader wanted to, for example, rate 1 star every book with the color blue on the cover, they should be able to do so without having to justify or explain it simply because that is how they chose to catalog their books. They could create groups for other people who hate books with blue covers and discuss the atrocities of the color blue. They could create shelves named “Would Rather Be Gang Raped With a Garden Gnome than Read These Blue Covered Books” and “Books With Blue Covers Should Be Burnt” and nobody would do much more than roll their eyes and block them if it bothered them too much. Now, it seems that Goodreads is becoming more of a marketing site and geared more toward promoting the author and so the content of the ratings and reviews are now being censored. And I personally don’t think it’s a good decision.
I do want to say that I do not condone threats against anyone, author or reviewer and that is a completely separate issue. While I don’t think that shelves with creatively horrible names are a problem, I think shelves that could be construed as threats are inappropriate and should absolutely be removed. But I think that removing shelves and reviews that allude to author behavior or how the Goodreads member feels about the author, whether right or wrong, is, indeed, censorship. I don’t think that this solution will effectively address the problems although I honestly do appreciate that Goodreads is trying to find a solution. I just wish they would have chosen a better way than censoring their members in this way.
Not only are these changes clearly changing Goodreads to cater to the author, they are taking the hand-holding to the point of being patronizing to authors who are well aware how to conduct themselves in a public venue. Apparently when an author clicks on a negative review, instead of a comment box – this message appears:
I’m sure the majority authors are more than capable of conducting themselves like reasonable professional adults and this really should not be necessary. The fact that Goodreads feels that something like this is required says everything about the type of people they are catering to with these new policies.
When deciding to write this post, I actually questioned maybe 10 of my Facebook friends who are readers but who are not an active part of the online book community such as Goodreads and have no idea about the current conflict, whether they thought author behavior was relevant and would it affect their decision to purchase the book & support that author. The answers were about 50/50 with half saying that they do not think an author’s behavior has anything to do with the book and it would not be a factor in their decision to buy. The other half said that it would certainly be a factor. Here are some of their responses.
“Not at all. A good books a good book. Whether or not the author's a good person.” – BreeAnna Ford
“It most def would. If an author acts a fool just cuz someone doesn't like their book means that if they cant accept constructive criticism then i don't wanna buy their book. If an author is that shallow that they cant understand people have different opinions then i probably wouldn't give it time of day.” – Paula Rossotto
“No if its good writing I'm gonna read it anyhow. I wouldn't have half the friends I do if I didn't support asshats lol” – Tawnya Bowman Miller
“Yes it would effect my decision to buy. Anyone who is educated enough to be an author should be able to accept criticism and realize not all people are going to enjoy their work. Criminal history: no, everyone makes mistakes, is entitled to voice. But I think inevitably a consumer is not going to buy from an author who has political, or religious views they don't agree with. Nor would I bother buying a book from someone with a questionable public image.” – Carla Davidson
“I would say no. Actions don't affect writing ability.” – Lindsay Miller
“I would probably still read it at a latter date and time...like from the library..but yeah no I wouldn't buy it. People are idiots they don't realize without their fans they wouldn't make the money they make.” – Rebecca Ford
“No to all. Just like with Mel Gibson, Martha Stuart or Miley, these peoples lives have nothing to do with their work and personally I could care less “ - Biliegh Berrie
“Hmmm very good question and unfortunately I don't have a clear answer. It would all depend. And maybe just by saying that the answer is yes. But it would be pending in the case. Ie: I love Stephen King. If he were a little crappy to a fan on occasion I would expect it. I wouldn't stop reading. However if he got in his car and ran a fan down? I would stop reading. I am pretty forgiving to someone proven. For someone I had not read that I knew was a cult leader or murderer no remorse, cut throat and writing to make a buck. No way. Would but the book. Does that help? Guess I sum it up to I would not support a criminal trying to make a buck. But would back someone up for a mistake.” – Sherry Gerych Marion
Ultimately, I DO believe that an author’s behavior matters. I will not support an author who attacks reviewers because of their opinions and/or ratings or has a childish tantrum on a social media site if they feel like their book has not been treated fairly. I maintain that reviews are for readers and are under no obligation to give an author constructive criticism or offer ideas on how to improve. That is the job of their beta readers or someone else they hire specifically for that reason. Reader reviews don’t have to be logical, rational, or worded in a certain way. Reader reviews are a reaction, opinion, and/or interpretation of what they have read and therefore cannot be right or wrong. While I completely understand an author being passionate about their book, it is NOT their baby any more than a song is a singer’s baby or a movie role is an actor’s baby. It is put out there for public consumption and the public can and will react to it in a variety of ways, just like a song or a movie. An author needs to be prepared for that and be able to handle it professionally and with an eye to their public image and brand. When they lash out publicly, it will affect my opinion of them and I will choose not to support their work and I think that readers should be able to inform other readers about the type of author they would be supporting. As with anything in life, there are consequences for your actions and an author should be held just as accountable as any other celebrity when they have a public meltdown over a negative review or rating. This is another reason why I think that it is wrong for Goodreads to censor reviews in they way they have chosen to.
What do you think? Do these changes affect how you feel about Goodreads? Do you think that these changes are a step in the right direction in resolving the author/reviewer conflict? Does an author’s behavior affect your decision to purchase their book? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this even if they do not agree with my own opinions.