I recently read Bennett Madison’s terrific YA novel September Girls, and when I marked it as read I took a peek at the Goodreads reviews to see what others had to say. I was utterly horrified at some of the “reviews” I saw. (And for the record, I do not know Madison or anyone connected with the book. I’m just speaking as a reader here).
Sure. Not everyone is going to like a book. The point of Goodreads is telling the world what you think. But reviews that are over the top serve no purpose. They are not funny. They are not constructive. They are just plain mean. (UPDATE: I removed links to specific posts because some were concerned that these people could be targeted. Those reviews are online if you want to search).
Reviews like these demean and dehumanize authors, and in fact the only way someone could write reviews like these is if they pretend the author and everyone connected with the book are some dispassionate robots who have no feelings. (Or they pretend the author isn’t going to see it, but come on).
Everyone knows that it takes a thick skin to be an author. But no one who writes a book deserves to be subjected to online abuse. It’s one of the strange aspects of online life that it feels like nothing to attack someone through a computer screen, but the recipient of that attack feels as acutely as if it happened in “real” life. Make no mistake: These aren’t reviews, they’re personal attacks.
And this is just the tip of one very dark iceberg. Author Lauren Howard noticed bad reviews when review copies weren’t even out yet, and when she complained she saw people putting her book on shelves like ‘author should be sodomized’ and ‘should be raped in prison.’ She ended up pulling her book. (There are some questions about what exactly transpired here. Porter Anderson has a very good summary).
It’s an axiom among authors that you can’t complain about your bad reviews. You never win.
But some authors are saying enough is enough.
A blog has been launched called STGRB (for Stop Goodreads Bullies), to share horror stories and to press Goodreads to help change the culture. (UPDATE: There have been some questions about this site’s tactics raised on the comments section that I was unaware of. Please read for more. The allegations are serious enough I have removed the links to the site.)
It’s terrifying to stand up to online bullies, who can quickly make your life a nightmare, but also because many aspiring writers feel as if published writers somehow have it made and have forfeited their right to complain about anything.
The truth is that it’s hard enough to write and publish a novel without having to worry that the result of that immense effort will result in getting unfairly slimed and harassed by a pack of online bullies. It’s not hyperbole to say that there are talented authors out there looking at this landscape who will conclude it’s not worth it, and great books that won’t be published as a result of this culture if it continues.
This really has gone too far, and the tide needs to turn back. People writing these reviews need to wake up and recognize the humanity of the authors they’re trashing and think of the people they’re hurting. It’s eminently possible to write a negative review without abusing the person who wrote the book.
UPDATE: I also want to stress that I am not advocating censorship, nor do I think people leaving bad reviews are bad people. I’m just advocating a culture shift. Let’s acknowledge each other’s humanity.
Also, for the record I LOVE GOODREADS.