Today, I read this article on Bookriot warning authors not to respond to criticism on Goodreads (though it could just as well have been written about Bookriot if we’re going to be fair). It was filled with sensible reasons why engaging critics can blow up in your face, and highlighted one poor writer who is currently in the midst of a crap storm of literary magnitude. Unfortunately, he took issue with a one-starred review and well, the rest is like a train wreck. We’ve all seen this play out a hundred times and we’ve all seen the brutal consequences and effect on future sales that inevitably occurs. Bookriot gives a great argument for not touching the hot stove that is Goodreads, but where it falls short is giving any helpful tips for how to stop yourself when YOU JUST CAN’T HELP IT.
If you’re not a creative type you might not understand the proclivity writers possess in punching ourselves in the face. When our books are released into the world we scan the internet for reactions. You would think we’d focus on the glowing reviews and dismiss the negativity, but we don’t. I rarely remember any of the glowing reviews. I’ve got thousands of really nice comments under my belt but the only ones I remember are the almost infinitesimal number of hateful ones. Why?
Because I’m crazy!
I’m sensitive and thin-skinned and easily bruised and going on that site is easily the most self-abusive thing I do and until recently I couldn’t stop. Sometimes you just can’t stop putting your hand on the stove.
When people talk about Goodreads, and criticism in general, they float this idea that authors, and artists in general, need to have thicker skins. It’s sort of like when the abusive father tells his crying son to grow up and act like a man. There are even those who suggest a scathing review is good for a writer – it toughens them up – like having to pick their switch. With enough welts the body evolves, right? (Actually, I think it just ends with a trip to the hospital – but I digress). The enormous problem with this way of thinking is that I was under the impression that my job is to be sensitive. In fact, I might go so far as to say the people who do the best at this job are over-sensitive. How else are we going to notice the fragile natures of others if we aren’t so hyper tuned into feelings and experiences and how they affect us? The subtle smile of a boy with a crush, the heartbroken eyes of a widow, the way a mother sighs with impatience when her daughter can’t make friends at the beach – these are things we not only see, we feel them, we smell them, they brush up against us like a scratchy blanket. My sensitive nature tunes me into a world that most people never notice, it helps me construct that sensory information into sentences and paragraphs and stories. I am in many ways a person who draws engineering plans for the human heart, for injustice, and for how my mind. I write all of this down so readers can see this hidden world, with all its subtle experiences, and remember to take a look around from time to time. I mean, that’s why people read, right? Being sensitive is part of the job description.
Now, whether a writer’s sensitivity leads to success as a story-teller is open to debate – and sometimes that debate gets pretty rough. People can be mean, and they can hide behind their laptops and say things they would never say to your face, but a writer has to ask this question whenever they wade into that murky swamp – does it really matter what they think? Let’s be honest – do you take any of their criticism to heart? Does it advise your work? I’ll admit that from time to time I found shiny yo-yo in the jagged Goodreads playground but for the most part I’ve dismissed most of it. It’s hard to hear thoughtful reviews when I’m on the defensive. It’s impossible to listen to anything anyone is saying when you don’t feel safe. What I’ve learned since my YA debut is that Goodreads is not a safe playground for me. I’m not supposed to be on those swings and slides and I don’t think any writer should be. A writer should not only avoid Goodreads, he or she should walk several blocks out of their way to avoid it.
Yes, yes, yes – I’ve heard how Goodreads can be a great place to promote a book, and how you can post your blog (that no one is reading. Trust me, no one is reading anyone’s blog these days – not even this one) but the dangers far outweigh the rewards. I know this sound a bit like I’m grabbing my ball and going home but I’m not saying this out of spite. I’m not suggesting that because some of the kids throw rocks that we should all shun Goodreads. I’m actually saying that those kids, and the nice kids, and the sullen kids, and even the cheerleading kids don’t want us in their park.
Take that in for a second.
Goodreads belongs to them and we are not welcome and to be honest that’s a great thing. There should be a place online where people can do and say whatever they want about what we do. There should be a place like a Mad Max movie for readers – where the rules are that there are no rules. No one has to be polite or kind or nice. They can shout and bellow. They can cheer and fangirl out. They can be forty-five years old and read a book intended for a fourteen year old and love it (or hate it). They can roar if they want to and we shouldn’t pop in and ruin their fun.
Goodreads is like Neverland and the readers are the Lost Boys and Lost Girls. It’s a place where they can be an unapologetic fan or an unapologetic ass. They can stomp around and plan war and chase pirates and scrap with one another. It’s a place where they can crow! My mistake, and the mistake of any writer foolish enough to crawl up on that shore, is the belief that since you have big ideas and they are talking about you, that you are somehow Peter Pan. You are sadly mistaken. You aren’t even Captain Hook! You’re a pathetic side character like Mr. Darling, a buzzkill who wants them to grow up and behave. No wonder they gang up when a writer responds to one of them – you’re a punk! Get out! Who invited you, anyway? Goodreads is for readers, not writers and this isn’t me condoning some of the things that happen there. I know there are a lot of aspiring writers on that site and from what I’ve been hearing most agents and editors, how you play on that playground can hurt or help your chances of getting a publishing deal. But I know now that every time I visited Goodreads at three in the morning I was trespassing, so I closed my account and I haven’t been back. I wasn’t getting anything out of the experience other than a couple sleepless nights and an insane desire to give up on this dream I have had my whole life. Even though I have had ten years of success as a writer one lousy comment devastated me enough to consider throwing in the towel, all because some dumb person called my star-reviewed book a “silly clusterfuck.” Why did I let that hurt me? Why did I want to write back and tell her I thought she had a silly clusterfuck of a face? Because I’m CRAZY!!!!! That woman doesn’t know she hurt me. I’m not even a real person to her. And if she does know (well, she’s a sadist – lol) I’m sure she’s one of those people who would advise me to get a thicker skin, but here’s the thing …
… I REFUSE.
My sensitivity is exactly why I’m f’ing great at this job. It’s why she went out and bought my book in the first place. It’s why she’ll read the next one I write, and the next one, because folks, let me fill you in on a little secret about readers. They’re as crazy as we are. Even if they hate your last book, even if reading it felt like touching a stove, they’re going to buy the next one and read it too. They just can’t help themselves.
Well said. And I for one enjoy reading your blog.
That is really excellent advice. I read the first Sisters Grimm to my 4th grade class.(I do every year because they all love it) One student took the second and third quarter to read the second (she was a pretty low reader) then she went into a crazy reading frenzy and finished the whole series in the last quarter. You r responsible for turning a below grader reader to an on grade reader…and a into a life long reader. There was a huge smile on her face every time she came up to share a scene with me. So amazing things are happening in the playground as well.
I very much agree. I’ve never used Goodreads, never intend to. As a reader, I didn’t use it (partly because I never figured out how it was supposed to be used. I write down in a notebook what I read and what I thought of it, you see) and as an author I never wanted to. I am too easily hurt, so going some place where I am more likely than ever to be harmed is self destructive.
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Thank you for this. Thank you. Thank you. I found this article on Instagram. Someone had reposted an image of Anne Rice’s FB page featuring this article. I raced to find it. I needed to hear all of this. You have soothed my soul.
Your words hit home:
A writer should not only avoid Goodreads, he or she should walk several blocks out of their way to avoid it.
I have many 4-5 star reviews, and yet, I find myself, late at night, staring at the one star review that has one word after it– ‘Boring’. Like you, the first time I saw this review, I yelled, “No, you’re boring!” at my screen. Childish, I know, but I sort of felt better. And yet, I would be driving somewhere, not glowing in the great reviews, but sulking, asking myself, “AM I boring?”
Another friend of mine, a writer, had her book chosen for a Book Burn, or some silly title like that. 37 people tore her book apart in a public forum. Here are the pitchforks of the Lost Boys. Here is their bonfire. She is an amazing writer, and, to her credit, she bounced back. She has since won many awards. She reminded me of this when I found my own book being autopsied on Goodreads by two individuals. I couldn’t understand why they had spent so much time dissecting something they hated.
Thank you again, Mr. Buckley. You have given a name to something that has lurked in the night for too long. Keep on being sensitive. Keep on being you. Keep sending your awesomeness into the world….
Yes, perfect. Thank you.
I say let’s form a GoodWrites where we load up all the reviews done on books and tell the world what we think of “certain” verbal flatulence. And then when readers happen along to gasp and CAW-CAW their offense, we’ll all smile and say, RED ROVER RED ROVER LET THAT DUMBASS READER COME OVER. And then we’ll clothes-line the non-sense out of them because at GOODWRITES the reader will know what it feels like to walk into a place that wouldn’t BE there if it weren’t for them, and feel like an illegitimate stepchild of a fictional whore.
I hate to break it to you, but for author’s, Goodreads is the devil’s poop-chute and many of its inhabitants are the nasty little balls of you-know-what hanging from its thick-skinned ass. And for crying out loud, GET AN UPGRADE TO YOUR ANCIENT PLATFORM WITH THE MICROSCOPIC HIDDEN FUNCTIONS! Everytime I go there I have to tie something to my ankle and tell my PA, if I”m not back in 5 minutes, it means I’m lost and crying in a corner thanks to its abuser-friendly-INTERFACE.
I’m not thick-skinned, i’m TRANSPARENT! I see things as they are and I also TELL it as I see it. I see a lot of reviewers are ASSES. It’s not my fault I can see it so plainly and tell it so well! It’s who I am, it’s what I’m PAID to do!
I didn’t know about this until I read your post. I looked and did find a bad review about one of my books, but the person dissed it with such creativity I had to laugh. Then, after thinking about it for a moment, I got annoyed and moved on…