WRITING ON THE ETHER: When Bad Things (Seem To) Happen on Good Sites

22 August 2013 iStock_000018287542XSmall photog StephenHenry4 texted story image

Table of Contents

  1. Goodreads: “We take all these comments very seriously”
  2. “I despise all of this drama”
  3. It’s Just Books

Goodreads: “We take all these comments very seriously”

You don’t necessarily think the world of bookworms would be full of bullies.

Goodreads August 2013Ether readers’ private notes to me about recent allegations of reader-on-author bullying at Goodreads have been intelligently restrained—concerned, not accusatory; baffled, not indignant. Communicating in direct message on Twitter and in email with me, readers have asked about this issue in terms of  searching, thoughtful worry.

So I’m especially glad to have new reassurance from Otis Chandler‘s managerial team at the Goodreads offices in San Francisco to offer you, and on a very tight deadline. I’m placing this statement first, hoping you’ll bear it in mind as we look at some details of recent remarks.

From Goodreads, then:

We take all these comments very seriously and would like to make it clear that threatening violence against other Goodreads members is not tolerated on the site, and any such content will be removed promptly when brought to our attention.

If any of your readers have any concerns, please encourage them to bring it to our attention at support@goodreads.com and we’ll investigate and take the appropriate action.

As a point of process, I might add that if you need to register a concern at that email address, put something direct in the subject line (along the lines of “Possible Abuse,” etc.), so the support staff can quickly identify your correspondence as sensitive.

SalonNow. A single ground rule as we look at what’s afoot: No one is objective (as journalists learn very quickly about themselves), but we can all try to be fair. And sometimes this means the best we can do is be very clear in acknowledging what we don’t actually know.

Hearsay can be intensely damaging. Confusion can be as big an enemy as mendacity. Having to say, “I just don’t know what happened, I wasn’t there,” can be less gratifying than adopting the claims of others as factual.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams

The line I started with—”You don’t necessarily think the world of bookworms would be full of bullies”—is the lead on Mary Elizabeth Williams’ writeup at Salon, Did a writer get bullied on Goodreads?

In her piece, Williams summarizes her understanding of the assertions of a writer named Lauren Howard.

On her Tumblr site, Howard identifies herself as being 22 and English. She says she had intended to launch a book titled Learning to Love, and now has decided not to publish because of bad experiences on Goodreads.

Lauren Howard

Lauren Howard

Briefly, Howard writes of asking (in a forum) a procedural question as a Goodreads newcomer. She wanted to know how she was attracting ratings of her book before it was published.

As it turns out, these are ratings of interest (not of review) that Goodreads members can make, based on a forthcoming book’s description.

Howard writes:

I was then attacked by people for asking that question. People started to rate 1-star to prove “we can rate whatever the hell we want.” My book was added to shelves named ‘author should be sodomized’ and ‘should be raped in prison’ and other violent offensive things, all for asking a simple question as a newcomer to the website.

Williams at Salon adds that “those earlier comments on Goodreads have now been deleted, so it’s impossible to gauge their severity, or how a young, debut author with a self-published book may have viewed them. ”

What we can see, though, is reaction to Howard’s descriptions of her experience. Here is one, for example, from an Ether reader to me in email:

This little incident was the first time I’ve seen these horrific threats first-hand, but I know it’s an iceberg tip. I hear heartbreaking tales of this kind of abuse on a regular basis, and it seems to be escalating.

And this from another Ether reader, this time on Twitter:

There are packs of people (authors/reviewers alike) that are out of control on the site.

Tina Klinesmith

Tina Klinesmith

And here’s a blogger’s response to the matter. In Bullies on Goodreads? What’s next?, author Tina Klinesmith writes:

A smear campaign began simply from [Lauren Howard’s] question as several people began giving her book 1-star ratings and adding it to “shelves” that threatened body harm and harassment to the new author. When she contacted Goodreads about the issue, she was informed that this was allowed and fell under the “freedom of speech” umbrella.

For all our praise of community—and despite Goodreads’ foundation on that very concept—what you’re seeing is community members, with all good intentions, handling things that are known only through partially observed and emotionally described assumptions as if they were fully visible to us. As you’ll see in our next section, Lauren Howard already is writing about the situation being “so blown out of proportion.” Back to Table of Contents

 

“I despise all of this drama”

The climb-down is a peculiarly familiar move in our culture today, and hardly just in publishing. One frequent feature of it is that it’s rarely announced as such by a person performing it. Embarrassment, lingering confusion, pride—these and more quite understandable components might be in play. In a new Tumblr post headlined Hopefully clearing stuff up…, Lauren Howard later has written:

Never did I expect (or plan!) for this to be so blown out of proportion…I cannot stress enough that though some people didn’t, I personally, originally perceived shelves as threats…When you are feeling targeted and victimized and a whole lot paranoid, it’s easy to feel like you’re being threatened.

As you may know, Goodreads members can name their virtual book “shelves.” Some members seem to enjoy naming them with colorful language that might be described as ribald genre designations. Howard:

As a friend of mine pointed out, no one could physically hurt me. I was not afraid of that at any point. I DO NOT condone these articles making it out like I was afraid people were going to turn up at my house and rape me for God’s sake. I was afraid because of the exposure I was getting and the negativity following.

If I had created a shelf at Goodreads called “Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women”—my own overworked line for romance novels of a certain cover trend—might that line be interpreted by someone else as threatening or abusive? Perhaps. Eye of the beholder.

And can we doubt that something Howard experienced as really unpleasant occurred? Probably not, and I’m sure we all wish her well. I think it’s reasonable to accept her explanation of being very upset by what she had perceived as hostility. I’ve seen enough messages relative to the event to know that she did, at the very least, run into a snarky, impatient tone in some instances and I fear there’s a good likelihood that she was treated to worse. Embedded in some of Howard’s new comments, you’ll also find that while she originally wrote that Goodreads had turned a deaf ear to her distress, the company has, in fact, been in touch with her. The emphasis here is mine as I quote her: 

I was asking myself: “How can people get away with abusing authors this way? There is a line between free speech and hate!” Goodreads has now told me this is NOT the case. Abusive shelves and ratings based on the author are NOT permitted.

 

She now clarifies:

At no point have I ever said “People threatened to rape me”… simply expressed how disgusted I was…

Still, one reason this situation could gain the attention it did is that the idea of a culture of bullying somewhere in the massive membership of Goodreads is not new. About a year ago, the Huffington Post’s Books unit found itself in hot water with some readers for running Why It’s Time To Stop The Goodreads Bullies, an unsigned opinion piece representing an effort called “Stop the GR Bullies.” The goal there was said to be to deflect such harsh treatment of authors as Lauren Howard describes experiencing.

Andrew Losowsky

Andrew Losowsky

Before the Stop the GR Bullies piece had been out long, the Post’s books editor, Andrew Losowsky, found himself posting a piece of his own,  Stop The GR Bullies: An Explanation, about “what I think we got wrong.”  Losowsky had found that there were critics of the critics—commentators who had qualms about the anti-bullying group, itself. He wrote:

Many members of our community, including several whose opinions and thoughts we highly respect, were upset that we had given a platform to the creators of the [Stop the GR Bullies] site and, in so doing, appeared to endorse their behavior. To those who feel that we let them down, I can only apologize. We should have provided more context and presented the debate over the site — and the broader issue of online bullying in the books world — in a more balanced fashion.

That “more balanced fashion” is rarely fashionable, it seems. I like Lowsowsky, and I don’t think for a minute that he “got wrong” deliberately on this. It’s hard for a lot of us to remember that “more balanced fashion” when we get around large, corporate entities that have a presence in publishing. We demand a perfection of these complex, evolving entities that we’d never expect of ourselves. Back to Table of Contents

Hunley instapoem VQR tumblr_mrfcvmEIiy1rmbkfqo1_1280

From VQR – More on poet Tom C. Hunley

 

It’s Just Books

I’m in no better position than anyone else to tell you what actually was said to, or about, Lauren Howard or any other author or reader on Goodreads.

I seem to be a lot less interested than many people in “all of this drama.” And some of this is just personal preference: I don’t like gossip, I have never cared for hearsay, and I’ve always found speculation to be a waste of time. This is why I’m so tired of our industry’s pundits and their predictions. I don’t care what they predict: I care what happens.

Needless to say, and as has been demonstrated in the Howard instance of alleged mistreatment, others feel differently. What’s more, the potential for abuse in a system as large and as diverse as Goodreads is as acute, yes, as it is “IRL,” in real life.

My own interaction with the Goodreads leadership—and this has included face-to-face meetings and conversations—has led me to believe that the intentions there are wholly good, the motivations earnest. Goodreads’ membership last month surpassed 20 million users. That’s close to the size of the population of Australia.

Take just a moment to imagine trying to create a way to manage and facilitate the interactions of that many people who, of course, are not even bound by national or other constructs; they’re brought together only by an interest in engaging in reading.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.com

Otis Chandler

As of a February report to the Tools of Change conference in New York  from Chandler, the Goodreads members were sharing 19 million books per month on Facebook alone. You can read more and see a video interview with Chandler from our colleague at O’Reilly Media Jenn Webb in Goodreads’ evolution from discovery platform to reader community. I’ll embed the slides from Chandler’s presentation for you here, too, in case you’d like to look at some of what was learned from a survey he had conducted of a sizable subset of the Goodreads population.

I’m told by members of the Goodreads staff recently that this Amazon-owned system produces tens of thousands of reviews and/or ratings of books every day and that only a tiny fraction of those may be flagged as problematic in one way or another—frequently the complaint, it seems, is that a review contains a spoiler.

Despite glitches along the way, in January alone of this year, Chandler has reported, there were more than 1.15 million quotes from books shared among members. In short, this is easily the biggest effort of its kind in history.

Put another way, we have never seen a population of this magnitude brought together for this purpose.

Put still another way, if there is a learning curve for a 22-year-old would-be published author in such a setting, there is also a learning curve for the company, itself.

We look at a corporate entity growing at a spectacular rate and we expect its procedures and technologies to function perfectly. How realistic is that?

Can you say to yourself that the 22-year-old author deserves some slack for finding her encounter with such a major undertaking to be at some points intimidating, frightening, confusing? Of course you can.

Can you worry that there may, indeed, be some members of this vast international population who will take advantage of a newcomer’s confusion and behave in abusive ways? Of course you can, and you can do it without for a moment condoning such behavior. Bullying in any form is practiced by thugs. Where it exists, it needs to be stopped. Goodreads has the capability to delete members found to be transgressing its standards of interaction. I have no doubt that its administration takes that action when an investigation proves it to be appropriate.

And can you understand that in an age when the digital dynamic has upended old patterns of book discovery, we need Goodreads to succeed in stimulating readership, not fail? I’m betting you can.

I’m also betting that the 20 million people who are participating in Goodreads offerings today aren’t doing it because they’re enjoying being bullied at the site. I think most of them are having what they consider a positive experience. Or they wouldn’t be there, would they?

The kind of hand-wringing intensity that has accompanied the Howard allegations and debates in recent days are a form of tacitly condoned bullying, in themselves. We are all bullied by hyperbole, rants, unstated bias, and ill-informed accusation. And I, for one, am tired of seeing the industry! the industry! riled up and shoved around in one direction and another by people who thrive on crisis, who get their kicks upsetting everyone else.

Alarmists are bullies.

The next time you start hearing of someone who’s been badly treated in one part of the publishing world or another, the first thing, if you’re close to the issue, is to make sure the perceived victim is supported and protected, certainly. It’s not the person on the receiving end of what looks like an attack from whom we expect a cool head under fire (and that includes Howard in this case).  It’s from ourselves we need to demand careful reaction.

Try recommending facts over quick “grapevine” reactions to your followers. Argue for patience; alert restraint.  Think twice before you “spread the word” on something you can’t see clearly. Once an incident is identified and the aggrieved party has been put into touch with the correct administrators, wait and watch a little while. Partial information can be damaging to good people and good companies, too.

When you feel the pressure to jump up and run around the room shouting with everyone else, try remembering that it’s just books we’re talking about here. Not life and not death. Books. They’re very important to us, yes. But are they worth hurting each other and important institutions? Just books. Take a breath, say it with me: just books.

Back to Table of Contents

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Porter Anderson (Find him on Twitter / Find him at Google+) is a Fellow with the National Critics Institute. As a journalist, he has worked with three networks of CNN, The Village Voice, Dallas Times Herald, D Magazine, and other outlets. He contributes to Digital Book World’s Expert Publishing Blog and to Writer Unboxed, and has been posted by the United Nations to Rome (P-5, laissez-passer) for the World Food Programme. He is based in Tampa. His companion to this column, Issues on the Ether Issues on the Ether, appears on Tuesdays at PublishingPerspectives.com, and is followed by a live chat on Twitter each Wednesday, hashtagged #EtherIssue. His Porter Anderson Meets series of interviews for London's The Bookseller features a live Twitter interview each Monday hashtagged #PorterMeets, followed by a write-up in the magazine on the stands each Friday. More at PorterAndersonMedia.com.

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80 Comments

  1. SO glad I read far enough (though it’s easy to do) to see these words:

    ” … riled up and shoved around in one direction and another by people who thrive
    on crisis, who get their kicks upsetting everyone else. Alarmists are bullies.
    The next time you start hearing of someone who’s been badly treated
    in one part of the publishing world or another, try recommending facts;
    patience; alert restraint. Think twice before you ‘spread the word” on
    something you can’t see clearly. Wait and watch a little while. Partial
    information can be damaging to good people and good companies, too.”

    So much could improve organically if there were more genuine listening and investigating, first. Reacting always brings us back to the same old places, though the resulting messes can get a whole lot bigger. Thanks for this post.

    • @b25bf4ef9d1929dabf48fe14b34d67d1:disqus

      Hi, Phyllis,

      And many thanks for this thoughtful comment.

      You’re right on the money about the improvement we could see (in so many areas, hardly just in publishing) if we were all better at listening and looking into things first before we react. It’s very hard to find this patience at times but so important. And certainly, as digital capabilities enable amplification as they do, the potential for bigger messes, as you say, is growing.

      Thanks again, good to have you with us, much appreciated.

      -p.

      On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson

  2. Like Phyllis below, I’m glad to read your quote about alarmists. And I appreciate that this is about books, just books. But I would argue that to that new novelist, it is her life, as it is for any newcomer to the field.

    • @heathercbutton:disqus

      Hey, Heather, thanks for weighing in with a very good point.

      When I talk about the perspective of the fact that it’s “just books,” I’m referring to the community at large, not to someone who feels that he or she is under attack. At a point of perceived hostility of that kind, yes, the person who feels victimized may well feel in crisis mode and asking that person for a lot of perspective isn’t necessarily sensible.

      I’m more interested here in the reaction to it by the wider community. Interpreting things without hanging on for more information, making fast assumptions that an incident is one thing or another — not unlike the kids who love to yell “fight!” on the playground, right? That’s where I think we need to help each other remember that it’s just books; that while no one should have to endure animosity, how we in the wider industry handle these incidents (maybe waiting for more information long enough to see the aggrieved party try to clarify things, as has happened in this instance) can mean the difference in level-headed, healthy concern and knee-jerk, tension-increasing upset.

      See what I mean? It’s really two dynamics here — the person in what looks, at least, to be a victim’s position is in one (unenviable) position and deserves all the support possible; the larger picture is where I think we want to try to temper any urge toward alarmism and see if we can gain more clarity to avoid over-reaction where possible.

      Does that help?

      Thanks again,

      -p.
      On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

      • Yes. I totally agree. Overall, I think you have a very balanced article, and while it references the GoodReads community only, I think your approach should be taken in the many social communities at large.

        • Well, very true — not necessarily your very kind words for the piece, thanks, lol, but the need for very serious thought on this in many of our major communities. I was just DM-ing with a colleague who was saying, “How DO we police” these online crowds the size of whole national populations? We simply don’t have experience at this yet, there’s really so much still to learn about the dynamics inside these gatherings.

          If anything, the oldest dilemma is the one that’s like the common cold, seemingly incurable — and that’s the question of why people would ever be so mean to each other in the first place. We just really don’t know what can cause such hostile behavior in settings that really should have nothing at all to do with negativity. That’s the human nature part and we’re still stumped by that one, and have been so since ancient times. Once we then add the new and little-known dynamic effects of these major virtual communities, whole new patterns can come into play. How to respond to them is really a tough question (as we saw, for example, when Amazon had to wrestle with the problem of false and hostile reviews on its site).

          Big, very hard issues And while supporting and protecting victims (actual OR perceived, they need help), we as a community need to think seriously about these things in hopes we can support the companies in finding ways to address them.

          Thanks again for all your input, much appreciated, Heather.
          -p.

          • Porter, it is hard to know what to do when eeejets muck up the nest with such villainy as described, though your cautions about firing wildly before the enemy has breached the compound (and before discerning the precise color of uniform they’re wearing) is well taken.

            Naive lad I, I didn’t know that Goodreads had any such frayed hemline, but I like to think of Gandhi’s words:

            “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

            Most of those good readers there are just that, not mud-slingers. I do feel sympathy for that young woman and enmity toward her puddin-headed detractors, but I trust she’ll move past this, and that Goodreads will stand more vigilant (though the hot-breathed haters will continue to come and go).

          • @disqus_z8blEym8w8:disqus

            Well said, Tom, thanks much, as ever for coming by and commenting.

            I don’t even think Goodreads’ hemline is frayed, as you put it. I think that negative experiences in the membership are probably very rare and can seem to hold more place than they actually do. A part of what the wider industry does when it “fires widely,” as you aptly put it, is make inappropriate behavior seem more prevalent than it is. Those 20 million members, as I wrote, surely are having a good experience or they’d move on.

            Nobody wants to see a single wrongful incident occur in an online community–or on a city street. The more prudent, cool-headed conversations we can have about problems when they occur, the better our chance of nurturing more inclusive communities and the writers and readers who join them.

            Thanks again,

            -p.

            On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

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  4. Thanks for addressing this, Porter. I’m glad the Goodreads people are at least looking into it. I don’t think most of us knew how huge the site is. A membership the size of Australia’s population is mind boggling. And policing it must be a nightmare.

    But I think there needs to be some clarification about the threats this women received. I saw the thread before it was cleaned up. There were many “reviews” that said “author should be [obscenity] and [obscenity]” and others left lists of types of rape they wished upon her. These might not have been overt threats to her life, but they certainly were threatening.

    I imagine she is trying to downplay it now in order to protect herself. She has been traumatized and only wants time to heal.

    But I saw what was said and it was, by anybody’s definition, abusive. The fact GR deleted the abuse doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I don’t think anybody would call me alarmist. But unless something is done to set up some better guidelines for behavior on Goodreads–and those guidelines are enforced–I don’t think any author is safe on the site unless they are in the safety of a closed, moderated group where authors are specifically welcomed.

    Goodreads could start by having a welcoming home page as an entrance to the site, with easy-to-find rules and guidelines. So much of the abuse happens to newbies who have no idea they’re breaking any rules. Stating those rules clearly would be a very big step in avoiding this kind of incident in the future.

    • Anne,

      I couldn’t have said it better myself. Overall, as an author I’ve had a good experience at GR, but the start was rocky. It’s a difficult site to navigate at first. The TOS aren’t easy to find. Setting up an author page is tricky, not to mention all the ‘unknown rules’ authors are subject to, which you won’t be forgiven for if you violate. Yet they’re advertising for new authors to join and market there. They need to clean up, streamline and clearly mark their behavior guidelines for everyone-authors, readers and reviewers.

      We’re all people to be treated with respect.

      • @b64b38e312e49fc90f50771631907f5a:disqus
        Hi, Jacqueline,

        Thanks for this input that dovetails so well with what Anne Allen is saying. It really does seem that there’s a big opportunity for Goodreads’ management team to review the experience newcomers have in many areas. When you write of “unknown rules” and violations that “won’t be forgiven,” I have to wonder yet again how it is that the culture of the site, even among a small number of members, could develop in such negative ways. I find myself wanting to just quietly remind them that it’s about books, for heaven’s sake. It sounds as if the more negative members see it as something else, doesn’t it?

        Many thanks for being with us and joining in on the conversation, great to have your input.

        -p.

        On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

        • @Porter-From what I’ve seen and researched, I’d say this negative culture came about from both sides of the fence. On one hand you have authors in the past who’ve spammed the community at large or overreacted to negative reviews. Meanwhile, a counterculture of ‘defenders’ have joined up to combat such authors.

          Unfortunately, now anytime anyone–author, reader, reviewer–speaks their mind in what’s deemed to be an ‘unacceptable manner’ in accordance to this ‘unlisted rules,(one rule is not to comment in someone else’s review space if you don’t agree with them-ever so no debating on actual book reviews, only in groups) then this group rallies their followers and gangs up on whomever is violating at the time. Usually it’s against authors, but I’ve seen readers and reviewers who’ve defended authors get attacked, called sock-puppets, and so forth until the whole thing devolves into name-calling and such.I’ve also seen them attack readers in group threads for posting things they don’t like.

          The shelf naming has gotten worse and more vicious just the last year that I’ve a member. I don’t have screenshoots, but I’ve seen threads where these certain members (who were involved in this against Howard) admit to each other that they want authors to get upset about the shelf names. It’s a thrown gauntlet, which they then victim-blame and pretend innocence.

          The whole thing has become sick and ridiculous. It’s beyond time for GR to step in and establish clear guideline for everyone if they want new authors to market with them.

        • First off, there’s plenty of obvious information regarding how authors should behave. I’m not an author, and I know where to find it. For example, if you go to the “help” page, there’s a link specifically for what to do, as an author, when you get a negative review. Secondly, I suspect these “unknown rules” she’s referencing aren’t Goodreads specific. They’re either common netiquette things (e.g. don’t spam), common sense things (e.g. read each individual blogger’s rules regarding submissions before asking for a review), or industry-standard guidelines (e.g. don’t engage with readers/reviewers, especially on reviews). Being an author and engaging readers in a positive way is not rocket science.
          To wit: As a reader, it’s not the site that’s negative, it’s authors who are *behaving* in negative ways…. generally because they want to use a site *for readers* in a way that serves *them*. Which is not to say authors are unwelcome. Of course GR wants author involvement: Surely you can see that author involvement can/could be a massive positive for readers? Getting to talk to your favorite author; getting to participate in giveaways; getting to see what the authors you like choose to read? All great things. It’s when authors try to turn it around that it becomes a problem.
          Reviews are supposed to be what the reader thinks of the book, not what the author tells them they should think. Bloggers are supposed to choose what they read and review, not have authors spam them with demands to read their book. (And then tell them to kill themselves when the blogger points them to their personal review policy. Yes, that happened. Recently.)
          I’m trying to think of another way to explain it, and the best I can come up with (at the moment) is that GR is a place for somewhat more “passive” selling, not for the aggressive sell. Be there so readers can come to you and interact and think you’re awesome. So they can ask questions about your next book and get psyched about it… and then go squee about how excited they are and tell everyone they know to try it, too. Don’t be there so you can be in anyone’s face. Don’t be there to net-nanny your reviews. Don’t be there just to add your book to every list that might remotely be appropriate. Don’t be there so you can complain about how your book isn’t selling.
          Be awesome, and readers will tell other readers you’re awesome. Try to tell readers how awesome you are, and how great your book is, and readers will tell other readers how egotistical and full of yourself you are. It’s simple. Really.

          • And: I’m sorry, I don’t know where my paragraph breaks went. *head desk* They were there, I swear.

          • @ThreeRs- I was a reader at GR before I was an author, and one of the unwritten rules is not to comment on someone else’s review space if you don’t agree with the review. I did so as a reader, not an author. and it did not go well. I’ve been on the ‘net for many years and commented for and against on many blogs and sites, but this was the first time I’d ever been on a site that did not encourage intelligent discourse between people. There are no TOS rules saying readers can’t comment on other reader’s reviews.

            I am not referring to the ones you listed.– “They’re either common netiquette things (e.g. don’t spam), common sense
            things (e.g. read each individual blogger’s rules regarding submissions before asking for a review), or industry-standard guidelines (e.g. don’t engage with readers/reviewers, especially on reviews).”

            But I find it interesting that you list ‘don’t engage with readers/reviewer, especially on reviews’

            Every professional author knows not to engage regarding reviews (as well as the other rules you listed), and I avoid this, especially negative ones.

            But that you would say ‘don’t engage with readers/reviews’ is quite telling. Thank you for that sage advice. I’m sure my fans will appreciate my disengaging with them from now on.

          • Please. Don’t be childish and petulant just because I disagree with you. You know exactly what I meant, but here you are twisting it into another unreasonable “unknown rule”. That’s exactly the sort of spoiled brat behavior I would expect from a self-entitled SPA. You didn’t do anything wrong, the site is just difficult. You didn’t misbehave, it’s just the rules are eldritch, hidden, and hard to understand.

            It’s never your fault, it’s always that someone else was mean, or stupid, or didn’t give you a chance.

            *head desk*

            It’s also amazing that everyone knows these rules, and yet someone — for example, Lauren — breaks them every week!

            But here, I’ll put it another way: do not confront, argue with, or insult readers or reviewers, especially in “reader” spaces. Is that better for you? I use the word “reader”, because it’s possible to engage — negatively — with a reader who is not the reviewer, see?

            FWIW, you may also be interested to know that many readers are uncomfortable with even positive “engaging” on a “positive” review. That’s not a “rule”, it’s just a fact.

            As for that single “unknown rule” you’ve mentioned? Discussion is not frowned upon at all. What’s frowned upon is going into a review and “correcting” or “arguing” with the reviewer, and even then it’s not a hard-and-fast “rule”. Tolerances range from reader to reader. One person’s discussion is someone else’s harassment. For myself — just as an example — if you want to come on my review and tell me I’m reviewing wrong, or have no right to dislike the book/author, I have no time for you. If you come on my review to tell me I missed the explanation for why Lisa hated John and it’s on page 135, I’ll at least look at what you’re saying. I may disagree that the explanation exists or is adequate, but I’ll at least check. I’ll even check if you do it as the author, although it might make me somewhat twitchy.

            Unless, of course, you’re nasty and confrontational from the get-go. (i.e.. God you’re stupid. That was explained on page 135. Go back to kiddie books if you can’t understand plain English.)

            Perhaps you’re referring to the “unwritten rule” that the reviewer is king (or queen) in their own review space. Provided they don’t break the rules — the written ones — they can do what they like. And that means that if a reviewer feels you’re being confrontational in their review space, then you’re being confrontational in their review space. If they don’t want to talk about what you want to talk about, that’s their choice. The proper thing to do, then, is apologize and shut up. I don’t see why this is such a difficult concept that you’d need it written down for you, especially when the site is geared toward the reader being in charge of everything in their space.

    • Hi, Anne –

      Many thanks for your input here. I think your comments about getting rules and guidelines into view right up front at Goodreads sounds excellent, since there do seem to be comments about how newcomers don’t always understand the routines and traditions there.

      I wouldn’t assume that deletion from public view of offending material means that the company isn’t addressing it (nor that the offending material hasn’t been retained). I have no insight into how this kind of thing is handled inside Goodreads, but I think the statement from the offices makes it plain that such issues are being addressed. I see no reason not to think that’s the case. There’s zero value in having a site with a reputation for unruly or abusive behavior.

      As I said, I think it’s clear that Howard had what felt like a very bad experience. For the life of me, I can’t understand why it would be fun or interesting for someone to treat her or any other new member in such hostile ways. And as I was saying in a comment to Heather, anyone who is having such a negative experience as she reports needs to be supported and protected first before anything else is done.

      The alarmist impulse in the wider community is then redeemed best by the kind of sensible and sensitive comments I’ve seen here today from you and other readers who are not alarmists but wisely are concerned about what can happen and offering your thoughts from your own experience of membership.

      So,as always, thanks for your readership here and in particular your perspective on the issues Goodreads is encountering.

      -p.

      On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

      .

    • Anne, with all due respect, Lauren herself said those threats never occurred that way. She felt the shelf names themselves were the threats and in the relative hysteria of the moment, she was misunderstood. I wouldn’t make that statement if I didn’t have screencaps and statements from Lauren (and two other of her supporters) to back that up, either. So even though you continue to appear at various blogs saying that you personally saw explicit, personal threats being issued directly to Lauren, it didn’t happen.

      • I SAW those comments, Barbara. She is pulling back, like many victims of trauma and rape who won’t testify because they want it to be over. I wish I’d taken a screenshot. I almost did, but they were so disgusting I couldn’t stand to look at them any more. But I’m sure somebody has those screenshots. You may not consider a stream of obscenities threatening, but I would have felt threatened by what I saw. In fact I did, just reading them.

        • It’s odd that there would be so many comments–dozens, didn’t you say yesterday?–containing such vile obscenity and outright threats, but there’s not a single reply to any of them. GR deletes the offending comment, but not replies to it, as you can see in the threads where the “stick your hand in a blender” and “go hang yourself” comments were made. And yet for some reason, there’s not a single reply to any of the threats from a single one of Lauren’s supporters. No outcry at all. Even Victoria, Ms. Blender herself, made her infamous comment directly to Derrick and not to any of the people wishing rape on Lauren: http://darkwriter67.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/hand-in-a-blender-1.jpg

          That’s odd, too. Didn’t you say yesterday that the blender remark was a response to the rape threats? “I saw the thread of comments before they were cleaned up and there were dozens threatening her with sodomy, rape and murder. The blender remarks came later as a response.” How VERY odd that Victoria doesn’t seem to be responding to a rape threat at all! What’s even odder is that Victoria’s comment was deleted extremely early in this tangled mess, before Lauren’s supporters sent out the alert and drew the attention of concerned bystanders such as yourself, so the rape threats must have still been there after her comment was deleted. But the screenshot of the thread was taken only 11 minutes after Victoria made her response, yet the only offensive comment to be seen is Victoria’s. Was the screen-capture program too traumatized to register the threats?

          How about Goodreads staff? After they cleaned up the threads, they sent Lauren an email, which she posted to her Twitter: http://twicsy.com/i/XkjU8d The staff member mentions one shelf name and some reviews that were hidden for being “predominantly about author behavior” (referring to one one-star review and several five-star reviews that were hidden because they didn’t contain enough content about the book; the reviews still exist and can be seen on the reviewers’ pages or via direct links). However, there’s no reference to reviews that were removed for threatening Lauren, and no reference to comments at all. Was the staff member too traumatized to remember the dozens of rape threats?

          It’s a strange, strange situation indeed. Maybe you could find someone whose screen-capture program was made of stouter stuff, and pony up a little proof of all these dozens of horrible, horrible comments.

        • They will indeed, Anne. I’m sure many people will be awaiting your retraction.

          I can’t apologize for commenting to set the record straight in regards to Anne’s comment and I’m offended that she thinks it’s okay to refer to me as “the crazy” for doing so. I think this is a sensitive and important story right now and want the record to be as clear as possible.

          • Agreed. It’s dangerous to have people spreading new rumors to promote their own agendas, especially rumors that hurt the very person they pretend to defend.

    • Excellent comment and point of view, Anne! After hearing about the Howard debacle, I wondered about abuse (since I’ve seen some on GR before this) and how to report it. It took me some digging on the site, but I found that the way to report abuse is to click a tiny, light-gray font word — “flag” — found next to the (much bolder) “Like” box. If I hadn’t made an effort, I’d never have known this was a way to signal GR that there was abusive content. It almost seems to be well-hidden from the average user. Now that I know “flag” means reporting abuse, I’ll use it if I see anything abusive. I hope more users find it and use it when necessary, too.

      • That’s a wonderful bit of information to pass on, Lexa – I hope more people, authors and readers make use of this instead of going after each other. Goodreads is getting better at responding to flags quickly and they’re very, very good at removing abusive content. Just be descriptive about why you think something needs to be removed in the dialogue box and don’t abuse the flagging system and it works fantastically!

        • I’m sure GR management is trying hard — especially now! lol — I just wish they would make it say “Flag Abuse” and use black font so people would see and understand it without having to dig around the site for a way to report abuse.

    • On a more topical note: We all finished reading an article about withholding judgement until after you’ve had time to gather evidence, then came down to the comments section and accepted claims that Lauren received many, many obscene and threatening comments, including lists of ways people wanted to rape her.

      Before accepting extreme claims, gather evidence.

  5. Pingback: Don’t Regret it in the Morning. | Jacqueline Patricks

  6. You know, I don’t necessarily comment on threads like this, but since I was involved in the original post that Lauren posted on the GR Feedback group, I want to comment. Yes, it is true that she asked a simple question about her book being rated by someone who hadn’t read it…however, her thread title in the group was about troll/sock puppet rather than just asking a simple question (http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1453162-low-rating-spam-troll-accounts#comment_80860376). Not long after that, a friend of hers proceeded to tell a reviewer (who admittedly hadn’t read the book) to go and shove their hand in a blender (screen capture – http://www.goodreads.com/photo/user/123334-derrick?photo=830842). Another reviewer was also told to go and hang themselves by another fan of the author.

    As to the shelves, as people seem to be glossing over them – the shelves did not say “rape and sodomize” her, but rather sodomy-by-lawn-sculpture, which was in reference to a quote from a book (Chocolate Wars – Tara Sevic) about fear of lawn gnomes. The individual said that both shelves were in-jokes – however, she has since changed them because it was pointed out that the context could be mis-interpretated.

    Now to mention the salon article – the quoted title here is – Did a writer get bullied on Goodreads? – however – if you look at the original link – the original thread title, which is captured in the URL was – debut_author_allegedly_got_rape_threats_on_goodreads – a bit inflammatory in and of itself and like many of the media articles I have seen (this one excluded) only told the story from one side. there was no exploration of alternate discussions, timeline of events etc.

    a pretty good run down of the events can be found on the Passive Guy by Issendai (who you also used a screen capture of) here – http://www.thepassivevoice.com/08/2013/cancelling-the-release-of-debut-novel/#comment-126462

    I’m glad that you wrote this article and it didn’t put Goodreads in a completely negative light because I love the site, but I just wanted to add some clarification/evidence – which is something I have not actually seen from Lauren’s side (lots of allegations, but no actual proof – since the threats have been “deleted”)

    • @Dee05:disqus

      Hello, Dee,

      Many thanks for your input here, I appreciate it.

      As we know, part of the problem with many incidents of this kind is that they involve complex series of communications that may occur (and indeed may later be deleted or moved) before there’s a wider consciousness.

      At some point, the larger picture takes over after everyone who has specific details, as you have, has offered what they’ve got. And I think it’s in that larger picture we can hope to gain a bit more clarity about the dynamics involved here.

      For example, in terms of the shelf names (and thanks for that input) — it’s important to realize that while naming a shelf something meaningful is important and often fun, thinking a bit about how a name might be perceived by someone who doesn’t know the reference behind it could be a good idea. (This is really no different from titling a book, a task in which you want to look for the “purest” communication of your intent without inadvertently confusing someone.) To me, that would be the bigger-picture message in this part of the story: shelf names might be something to give some real consideration to.

      And yes, I can tell from the slug of the story at Salon and the headline on the story when I arrived that there has been a change, obviously some editorial decision made by that group. While I’m not privy to the thinking behind that story and its headline, in the newsrooms I’ve worked in, we referred to “charged words” or phrases to indicate the type term that tends to carry an emotional input. (The classic example in journalism is to look at the difference in “he refused to comment” and “he declined comment.” The first tends to be freighted with an implication of resistance, even hostility, while the second doesn’t carry an emotional component. On some occasions, charged words are the right words. It’s always important, though, to know exactly what their connotations might be and to evaluate whether those are accurate.

      Lastly, I appreciate your bigger-picture take on Goodreads overall. As I said in my post, I think the Goodreads leadership is very well meant, and they’re also dealing with an amazing task — facilitating one of the biggest conversations, of sorts, of all time. There simply have to be problems from time to time, particularly at such scale. Anything someone can offer them in terms of frank and earnest feedback, suggestions, even useful questions, I think can only help, and I would encourage any of my readers to utilize the connection the company is offering in its statement. My sense of this is that the interest there is authentic and input will be sincerely handled.

      Thank you again for taking the time and trouble to give us your detailed thoughts on this, Dee, good to have you here.

      -p.

      On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

  7. Porter, thank you for this well thought out response to what is obviously a sensitive topic on many levels.

    I am co-founder of a publishing company (Booktrope), with a focus on marketing, so have spent a lot of time on Goodreads attempting to figure out how best to engage there for the mutual benefit of both readers and writers. While I have spent significant time in that research, to be blunt, I don’t find we sell any more books than if we ignore it completely. So from a marketing perspective, I tell authors to use it if they enjoy it, but don’t make it a “mandatory” part of their efforts as company policy.

    That said, I confess that on a personal level, I don’t enjoy it at all, despite being a book lover myself (profession aside). I don’t find the community to be particularly supportive, constructive or frankly, fun. In contrast, nearly every other social media site I use, from Twitter, to Wattpad, is welcoming and helpful to “newbies” and seems to have more value from a marketing perspective. I *want* to like Goodreads. I *want* it to be successful and useful, because as you point out, with such a large and focused group of book lovers, that would be amazing for all of us book-nerds!

    By way of partial explanation of my feelings, I will share one of my first interactions on Goodreads, professionally. It concerned a title we published in 2011 called “Throwaway” by Heather Huffman. I freely admit that my overall opinion was likely colored by this experience. A reviewer left a one star review of the book, because it has as its female “hero” a prostitute (it is romantic-suspense). The reader said that ‘of course the book was useless’ [paraphrased] because it centered positively around a prostitute, and that prostitutes were “not human”. As you might surmise, the review went on from there in a negative fashion. The comments also went on from there, and to this day it is the only review of our books I have ever commented on myself (I sincerely thought the review had to be a joke). If anyone is curious, this review is still there…it has never been deleted. (I didn’t want to spam the list with a link, but can happily offer one if anyone would like to see it).

    At any rate, thank you for your well thought out and thorough piece on the subject. I will be sharing it with our authors and broader team.

    • @katherinesears:disqus
      Hi, Katherine,

      So good to have you with us, thank you for reading and for taking the time to leave this thoughtful message.

      I appreciate your desire — which matches mine and probably anyone’s in publishing — to see Goodreads succeed for authors as well as for readers. Clearly, that’s the goal, the hope, and the real value (even now, despite various issues) of such an important experiment.

      I’ve found that the more I looked at the platform for this story — and then today, as I’ve had more input from so many good people with many, many viewpoints — I’m repeatedly struck by what a terrifically untested thing this really is.

      Many respondents, for example, are telling me that although they’re Goodreads members, they’d never realized it’s so large. Wide eyes all around when folks start wondering how you make anything work for 20 million people who, for the most part, rightfully pride themselves on being creative as readers and/or writers.

      On the other hand, your experience of that awful review, especially as a founding publisher with Booktrope is, of course, disappointing to any of us who’d like to see this work for as many people as possible. I hesitate to pull “the critic card on you,” lol, I’m a longtime professional critic. This is different from reader recommendation, of course, but as you might guess, I’ve seen occasions on which an artist or an arts organization took a harsh review much too hard and its effects colored everything they did for quite a while. Letting one opinion be so powerful just wasn’t good. (I actually used to challenge readers to test my reviews and disagree with me, if they would, simply to try to break them of the idea that a critic’s word is somehow biblical.) Over-reaction to one write-up is never what you want — and I mean to say this supportively, not in a lecturing tone. Utterly understandable, mind you, but not good.

      What I mean to say is that if there’s a way you can put that single (and ridiculous-sounding) review behind you and take another look — perhaps in concert with one or two of your authors who are game to explore this big, ranging community, I think it might be worth it.

      A couple of things make me feel this way.

      One is the Amazon buy. This, I hope, means that at some time sooner than later, some technical heft might be brought to bear on the site to help streamline and rev up its operation. “Clunky” is the word I get from so many of my own readers now about it, and if there’s a company on Earth that could work on that problem, it’s Amazon.

      Another element has to do with that astonishing 20-million-plus size. The system simply has become so big that elements of it, I believe, will start to evolve and develop as the leadership and staff find more and more opportunities brought to them by scale. Whether this comes in the form of more well-moderated sub groups (this might be an area in which Booktrope could have some input) or in some liaison work between users and management not seen yet…I’m not sure what I’m looking for but I’ll recognize it when I see it. Suffice it to say that at a point of such growth, more context for services should be in the offing. I’d watch to see if something sounds worth going back for a try, and if I were you, I wouldn’t hesitate to offer a good idea to the team if something strikes you from your own observations of your authors and their needs. If I was facing 20 million people, I’d be really glad to see a good idea walk in. :)

      Thanks again for your candor and your perspective. Such honest, yet hopeful input is something we don’t see as much of as we need in publishing these days, and it’s appreciated here on the Ether.

      Cheers,

      -p.

      On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

      • Thank you Porter. I have to say, your thoughtful response along with Dee above has me feeling more game to have another go. That 20 million number has some impact as well LOL! As I mentioned above, I am in fact a librarian there, so I suppose I owe it to GR to at least keep checking in ;) I hadn’t honestly thought about offering input to management, which is silly of me I guess (given I am also in a technology based publishing business, you would think that would have occurred!). Thanks again!

    • Hi Katherine
      I’m a member of a group on goodreads called sisterhood of the traveling book and we specialize (if you can call that) in reading/reviewing books for indie authors who are interested. If you think any of your authors would be interested let me know

      • Dee, this is great. Katherine, maybe something here to think about. This is the kind of intra-Goodreads development that just might be useful, perhaps worth exploring. Thanks again, both of you.
        -p.

      • Dee05 – we would love that! Although to clarify, we are an indie publisher, versus self-publishing shop – depends on how you define “indie”. As I said, I have not yet found the mechanism that makes it worth my authors’ time. That is never to say there isn’t one – just that I haven’t found it yet! Not to mention, I am ALWAYS open to trying new things….or even the same thing multiple times, before throwing in the towel. Please find me there and shoot me a message (same name). You can also find me on Twitter @ksearsbooks. Thanks!

      • I am the moderator of STB on GR. Katherine and any other Indie author…we will be glad to speak to you.

        I have to say that I have really mixed feelings on this subject and this article. First, as a top 1% GR book reviewer, I have been attacked by authors unsatisfied with my reviews. This has included an author sending several emails TO MY PERSONAL email address, which were verbally abusive and demeaning. What prompted this attack? I would not change my 3.5 star rating to 4 stars. I was complimentary in my review, but made a comment that the writing could have been tighter. Second, I have been called a failed author, which is funny since I never even considered writing a book UNTIL I was approached based on a spotlight series I had written for an Indie author that has expanded into a business. I have been called ignorant, stupid and dumb and that my reading level was too low for a certain author’s book. Can’t forget the author who stated that I can only handle books that are 250 pages or less so that they fit into my reading challenges. Chuckled at that one since I can’t remember the last time I participated in a reading challenge. I am a 4.0 MBA with well over a decade exec experience in business development/marketing.

        Dee has not been immune from this behavior either. Dee’s information was given out BY ONE OF OUR OWN AUTHOR MEMBERS, who, by the way, is no longer an author member. What prompted this behavior? Dee stated that the book could not finish the book because topic simply didn’t interest her and didn’t like the formatting or font of the book. Dee, a Ph.D. candidate had her “reading” levels questioned simply she stated a book’s topic didn’t interest her. This author also demeaned Dee by mocking Dee’s reading interest that, amazingly, only focused on one area of her reading interests.

        I have to tell you I have examples as high as my home.

        Please do not think that this is a one-sided problem.

        On that note, I have reported reviewers who have written personal attacks on authors to Goodreads. The most recent was done only to be told that the review is standing and that they wouldn’t take it down in the name of “freedom of speech”, WHEN THE “REVIEWER” DIDN’T EVEN READ THE BOOK, gave it one star and made negative comments unflattering to the author. This was within the last two months so I don’t know when Otis told you that this was being taken seriously. I did what I needed to do to ensure that readers of the review understood that this “reviewer” is using Goodreads as a bully pulpit. Now, I am a first amendment girl, but let’s at least have the reviewer read the book.

        • You can’t be “a First Amendment girl”and then allow free speech only when it meets your standards. That’s granting free speech in extremely limited circumstances, so it’s only free speech at your convenience.

          Also, if you are the moderator of STGRB, you’d better address their policy of harassment, stalking, lying, and threatening people.

          • Ginmar…you need to go back and reread my post prior to commenting. I am the moderator of Sisterhood of the Traveling Book on Goodreads (STBonGR) NOT STGRB . STBonGR is the Indie review group on Goodreads that was being discussed between Dee, Katherine and Porter.

            Furthermore, I think it is a safe assumption to think BEFORE one writes a review for a book that they would have read it or, minimally, not copped to using Goodreads as a forum for bashing an author because they don’t agree with their stance. Heck, I could even go further in stating it should be a Goodreads policy. Free speech stays intact.

          • I stand corrected only about the STGRB. Your views on the First Amendment contradict its very purpose.

    • Um… talking about a negative review this way is really a Bad Idea. It’s not hard to find the review in question (I did), and thus it’s comments like this one which “inadvertently” start a witch hunt where the review gets flooded with likes, dislikes, rebuttals and comments. Which won’t win you any friends. I give you the benefit of the doubt that such a thing is not your intention; I read the review and it is upsetting, and I can see how it would stick with you. But if enough people notice what you said, it will create a flood of traffic to that review, and it’ll be on your head. Maybe you or Porter could edit that out?

      The thing to remember as a “newbie” on Goodreads, is that you’re not the first “newbie” publisher/author/editor to interact there. Which I know you know, but you aren’t taking it in. You’re not seeing what it actually *means*. Because many of them have pulled the same kinds of shenanigans that Lauren has, and it’s left a bad taste in many mouths. Also remember that the purpose of Goodreads, while social, is not the same as the other sites you mentioned. It’s not about promoting you, and your thing, and how great it is; it’s about readers talking about what *they* think.

      Honestly, I’ve only been on GR for 8 months now, and I’m already fed up with the author drama. Pretty much every day there’s another author who’s decided to tell someone to kill themselves, or who’s trying to game the system, or is claiming that negative reviews are “bullying”. Again, I’ve only been at it for 8 months, and I’m sick of it. I stay because I love to read, and I’ve found far more new books to try on goodreads than I have wandering around my interests on Amazon. And also, because I’m not going to allow badly behaving “authors” to drive me away from a site for READERS. Still, though, it can be frustrating. And there are people who have been on there for much longer, and have dealt with much more. As such, tolerance for “newbie” behavior is getting lower and lower, and it’s not because GR isn’t welcoming toward newbies. It’s because some authors/publishers/editors, etc. have abused the goodwill they were extended.

      Let me explain that. It’s really more that “newbie” is a misnomer. It’s disingenuous. There are a handful of “newbie” behaviors which happen over and over and over again. Things like spamming bloggers. Things like asking about early one star reviews — never about early five star reviews, only about the one stars — usually in a way that comes across as petulant and often involves labels like “troll”. (FWIW, this is EXACTLY what Lauren did.) Things like arguing with reviewers and/or calling them names. If you assume it happens “accidentally”, because the author was “new” and “didn’t know better”, then over time you have to wonder what is wrong with so many “authors” that they can’t seem to *read*?. Because really: why can’t the individuals in question take the time to learn before they act?

      Let’s take Lauren, for example. Everyone says poor Lauren just asked a question. Setting aside the fact that her question was 90% whining about a “troll”, why couldn’t poor Lauren do a little bit of thinking on her own? Do you know that the very first post in the Goodreads Feedback forum — which, btw, is the forum she found her way to in order to ask her question — is a “Frequently Asked Questions” post? Guess what it talks about? Yep. The very first topic is rating a book before it’s been released. So if she’d bothered to *read* it — and isn’t it generally SOP to read the FAQ before asking a question? Or am I expecting too much from the internet again? — she never would have asked her question, and nothing would have happened. How simple is that? She was even linked there after she asked! Failing that (because it’s so hard to read the FAQ first?), she could have done a group/forum search on “rating before review” and had her answer that way.

      Knowing all that, her question starts to seem more self-serving, doesn’t it? Especially considering that she also managed to persuade a GR librarian to *break the rules* for her while trying to get her book deleted. Seems like rules and FAQS are for other people. She’s special. She gets to go to the front of the line and have her issue addressed now now NOW.

      But still. She just asked a question, right? Maybe it was an asinine question that had already been answered so often that it earned it’s own post, but it was still just a question. Well, except that it wasn’t. It’s a question that *has* been asked over and over again, and generally in the same way, with the same results. Lauren’s version went about as expected: first crack out of the box she called the reviewer a troll. Next she started lecturing reviewers, and then moved on to ranting and complaining about how GR rules were unfair, and stupid, and people were mean, and she was being bullied. I don’t have a crystal ball, but with only those 8 months of experience, I could have told you what she was going to do the minute I learned she had a question about a one star review.

      So when you say “it was just a question” or “GR needs to be more welcoming to newbies” (not claiming either is a direct quote, btw), what you’re really saying is: ignore all those other “newbie” authors who came before me. I know they didn’t read the rules, and were disingenuous about how ignorant they were and what they wanted. Ignore the fact that they all threw fits when they didn’t get their way. I’m different. No, I didn’t bother to read the FAQ or the guidelines or the rules or what-have-you either, but honestly. *I’m different*. I really am just floundering and lost and don’t get it, and if you help me, it won’t come back to bite you.
      But you know… most people are *still* welcoming to newbies. As long as the first thing you do isn’t spamming people, or claiming the rules should be changed, or complaining about negative reviews, or fighting with a reviewer.

      • ThreeRs – I think you misunderstood my comment. I was not defending Lauren’s behavior, or condemning it. I was speaking from my own experience. Actually, I have tried hard not to pay any attention to the activity over there at present, as I too am not a fan of the drama. In fact I am a “librarian” on GR myself, so I am not a newbie either and haven’t been for a long time. I was saying that in general, I find the attitudes there to trend heavily towards the negative overall, in particular towards the newer participants. I advise a lot of people on book marketing, so do have a pretty broad experience base from which I form that opinion.

        As to your comment about the review, well, it has been out there literally for years as it is. No one has cared thus far, and it has been ignored by the powers-that-be at GR. It doesn’t really hurt or help me regardless of what happens. The author who wrote that book is an activist for the fight against human trafficking, so she felt it was indicative of the attitude that allows that system to continue and was pretty prosaic about it overall. Obviously if Porter feels differently he has every right to adjust the content.

        Thanks again Porter. I really enjoy your work.

  8. How can one so much as mention the STGRB site without mentioning that they have doxxed people in the past and are doing so as recently as this month? They attacked one commenter for her reviews—-but she’d never written a review. They called her boss and tried to get her fired because she’d been sarcastic to someone online. Another reviewer got threats on her phone. And keep in mind, these writers are stalking and harassing people for the “bullying” tactic of pointing out awful grammar and spelling. What’s at issue here is a bunch of entitled would-be writers who don’t want to work hard at their craft and who quite probably have too much self esteem rather than too little. Shakespeare gets bad reviews, for Pete’s sake. So does Harper Lee. Yet these arrogant snowflakes expect nothing less than all five stars for their thinly-veiled Mary Sue self insert fic in which Legolas falls in love with their character at first sight?

    This all started when Wendy Darling wrote a review about some forgettable YA novel and the STGRB head stalker doxxed her out of pure spite. Called her a drunk and hinted at child neglect, posted photos and identified her favorite restaurant and what times she usually went there with her husband. Is that the acceptible way to respond to a critical review?

  9. “‘Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women’—my own overworked line for
    romance novels of a certain cover trend—might that line be interpreted
    by someone else as threatening or abusive? Perhaps. Eye of the beholder.”

    For those of you who cannot tell an abusive comment from a non-abusive one, answer this question: “Would I say this to my 10-year-old daughter?” If the answer is no, then no one should be saying it to anyone.

    • @LexaCain:disqus
      Ha, thanks, Lexa!

      Being without a 10-year-old daughter, I might ring up yours from time to time to test my (usually overworked) lines on! Then again, I might find it easier to talk to her of Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women than trying to explain to her what actually goes on in some romance novels. Maybe I’m not too far off the mark, after all. :)

      Cheers,

      -p.

      On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson

    • There are plenty of things I would feel free to say in front of other adults that I wouldn’t say in front of my 10 year old daughter, so this logic fails. I don’t take my daughter to R rated movies, I don’t let her play MA rated video games, and I don’t take her to grown up parties. Goodreads is a site for adults, I read and review books by adults, for myself, and for other adults.

      Asking people to think “would I say this in front of my kid” is essentially lumping GR posters in with people who think it’s ok to take their kids out to the local bar and grill, where kids might not exactly be banned, but bringing them in IS frowned upon, and then expecting the other patrons to keep it clean because “think of the children!”.

      • GR is not a site for adults. You can be as young as 13 and have an account. Some of the GR groups are adult only.

        http://www.goodreads.com/help/list/my_account

        Is there a minimum age to register for a Goodreads account?

        Yes, you have to be thirteen years old or older to sign up for
        Goodreads. This is a requirement of all social networking sites.
        Federal law (COPPA) has dictated that the legal age of consent to
        participate in a social networking site is thirteen years old.

        • Yes. But I have a private profile, I am in private groups, and as I said, I read and rate adult books. I expect parents to watch what their kids are reading online, my job is only to worry about what my own kids do online. Of course I wouldn’t go into children’s groups talking about adult books.

          • Yes, but those adult books and their reviews are not private as they are listed in a public forum. Therefore, anything posted in those areas is public, including shelves.

            I agree that parents should monitor their children, but since GR isn’t an adult site per se, then how is a parent able to monitor such comments on reviews without watching over their child’s shoulder every moment or completely blocking the site?

            Just saying…

          • I just got the link to post about the 13-year-old minimum age for GR, but Jacqueline beat me to it!

            Anyway, I suggested talking to a child if you CANNOT TELL what is abusive and what isn’t. “Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women” isn’t abuse by any stretch of the imagination. But I’ve seen some personal attacks on GR that go beyond mere rudeness. I think most mature adults know what abuse is, and while there’s some room for disagreement, I don’t believe abuse can be downgraded to being simply “in the eye of the beholder.”

  10. Badreads is designed and was started for the single purpose of intimidating and terrorizing indie writers back to parasitic, exploitive traditional publishing.

    Read the author guidelines, it actually threatens authors.

    I and seven friends were stalked from Amazon to badreads. The only way the seven other authors could have been discovered way by stalking me online. All of my books and all of the books of my friends were targeted and given 1-star ratings and put on disgusting lists. One of the authors is a woman in her 70’s who writes children book and donates all the proceeds to charity. Her books as, they all were, were placed on insulting lists such as “fukwad asshat whiners”. All completely unprovoked attacks.

    I complained to Badreads and they banned me for complaining about bad reviews although I never mention any review because none of the trolls had read a single word of any of my books or the other victims. That is how Badreads deal with complaints of vicious personal attacks, ban the victim. But that’s not the end of it. Once you books are on badreads they absolutely refuse to remove your copyrighted intellectual property. I have sent them 3 DMCA take down orders and they absolutely refuse to remove to remove them from their hostile website where they and I am still under attack. Anything badreads tell you is lies. They steal intellectual property and protect and defend serial criminals who do nothing but stalk, bully, harass, intimidate, defame, libel and terrorize authors with the malicious intent to destroy reputations, careers and livelihood.

    If you’re so chummy with Chandler ask him who the first $450k angel investor was in 2006 to start badreads. You can bet it was from someone closely connected with traditional publishing. Read my full report on this:
    http://beforeitsnews.com/media/2013/08/was-goodreads-designed-for-trolls-2473224.html

  11. On the topic of online author bullying, I would like to make a comment regarding a forum called Absolute Write Water Cooler. I tried using the forum to get feedback on the synopsis for my novel before submitting for query. Instead of providing objective feedback, I was told that my book (and by extension, I) was misogynistic, perverse, abusive, cruel, the list goes on. I was wholly taken aback because I don’t consider my book, or myself, to be any of these things (especially since I am a woman, I don’t consider myself to be misogynistic). I abandoned all effort to get feedback on the site. I don’t know what sort of reputation AWWC has, although I have seen it promoted on what I would consider to be trustworthy sites. Does anyone have experience with AWWC?

    I use Goodreads very little, so I don’t have much feedback on that topic, per se, although I have read some reviews that were quite aggressive and insulting to the author as a person.

    I think it’s especially easy to be cruel or otherwise unprofessional behind the anonymous masks of avatars and first names so popular online, so it’s likely that this sort of behavior will continue at some level no matter what.

  12. “Goodreads has the capability to delete members found to be transgressing its standards of interaction. I have no doubt that its administration takes that action when an investigation proves it to be appropriate.”

    Goodreads must be very glad that the author didn’t sue them!!! They also have a moral obligation to prohibit such behavior, and to immediately evict such bullies.

    Goodreads makes money through advertising – and the content for their sites is delivered for free by their 20 million members. The least they can do is to protect their author members somewhat.

    I’ am feeling very sorry for the young author.

    BTW
    The nastiest book reviews I have ever seen – on online retailers, such as Amazon or B&N or communities, came from recipients of Goodreads Book Giveaways … Unfair and mean what they wrote on several occasions to authors – as a thank-you for a free book. If they didn’t like it, why did they write a review? Besides, how to write a book review seems to be unknown to many reviewers.

    • Joan, please pay attention-it didn’t happen. Lauren wanted what she wanted and didn’t get it so she got mad. Only right now she is blaming it on PMS.
      If you want to be outraged, be outraged at her. She said she was threatened with rape, sodomy, and death. Now she says she didn’t say that-exactly and she was angry and we are making too big of a deal of all this. When she reappeared on GRs yesterday to ask for help changing her author name on her book, she said sorry, you’re not evil, I was just PMS-ing.
      Yes, people did get threats of physical harm and death if you didn’t support her but Lauren didn’t get any.

  13. great post, Porter. The WANA mama Kristen Lamb often blogs on how to deal with trolls, she described quite terrible things over the years. I hope many writers read these stories and learn from them on how to deal with trolls and bullies. Writers need to grow thick skin, which is hard, for we are quite emotional creatures. I don’t know why some people are full of hatred, life is already hard without it. But these people are better ignored and dealt with professionally.

    • @GrigoryRyzhakov:disqus

      Hi, Grisha, thanks for your thoughtful note, good to hear from you.

      You’ve put your finger on it. The old phrase I was taught is “don’t engage.”

      Thanks for the clear head. I’ll just step back away now, as I’ve been doing since about 13 or 14 hours into this column’s much-commented life. :)

      -p.
      On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

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