On negative reviews and personal attacks.

I rarely get on Goodreads. When I do, it’s to update what books I want to read or already have read. Very occasionally, if I’m uncertain about a book I want to read, I’ll check the book’s star rating and read a few reviews on Goodreads. That’s pretty much it. So when I heard about the Stop the GR Bullies site, my curiosity was piqued.

I’d never stumbled across any bullying, but I also knew my use of Goodreads was limited. I went over onto the site and browsed through its articles. At first, I skipped around, reading some of the screenshots of Twitter comments, Goodreads comments, and apparently a few blog comments as well. Then I went through and followed a few links (yeah, I was doing some serious procrastination in regards to revising my novel) and read those discussion threads.

Here are my thoughts: Yes, some of the screenshots of comments made were unpleasant. Many of the comments made in the linked discussion threads resembled large flame wars as well. Here’s the thing though: Reviewers have a right to say whatever they please about a book. They also have a right to say whatever they please about the author as well.

It isn’t necessarily classy to say the author is an idiot and should go DIAF for writing such a horrible book (this example is purely made-up), and I’ll probably skip over that review and look for one that feels more reliable. But people have been saying crazy shit about other people since the beginning of time. People hate, with or without reason.

Do I approve of personal attacks or bullying? Hell no, I don’t.

While the Stop the GR Bullies does cite some unsavory behavior, the worst is perpetrated by the creators of the site itself. In this case, it’s less about reviewers versus authors and more about people handling situations poorly. You may disagree with me, but I believe authors should not respond to reviews.

It’s art. Everyone interprets art differently. There will be people who love your book and people who loathe every single aspect about it. Yes, it hurts to find out someone hated your book, but resist the urge to “explain” why they misinterpreted the one scene that caused them to dislike the book. It’s all about interpretation. Everyone’s viewpoint is colored with their own life experiences. As an artist, we aren’t supposed to explain our work. We create and then let others interpret it. Be it for better or worse.

A good example of things turning sour from people deciding to respond to a review can be found here. More on the situation here and here. Rebecca is my friend and one of my critique partners. She is both an author and a reviewer. She posted a review of an e-book. It was fair and honest and entirely her own opinion. Unfortunately, she was also attacked by many friends of the author for posting her review.

The door swings both ways. Just as there very well may be some authors out there being harassed, stalked, and publicly insulted, there are also reviewers out there suffering the same treatment from authors and those authors’ friends.

Reviews are not for the authors. I firmly believe the only right way to respond to a negative review is to not.

Finally, but definitely not least, you can’t combat bullying with bullying. I don’t know if the people targeted on the Stop the GR Bullies site are actually bullying authors or not. What I do know is that the site is enforcing its own brand of bullying. There is personal information posted on the site, including: full names, where they live, names of family members, locations of day jobs, and even daily routines and how to find them.

I’m not sure how listing all of this personal information was meant to help solve any potential problems of online behavior. I find it scary, however. I think a line was crossed and things have been taken too far. Maybe these people haven’t been nice online. I don’t know any of them and I’m not going to judge. But their personal lives have been invaded in a very real and dangerous manner. There are unbalanced people out in the world. What if someone takes enough offense to what’s been said online to decide to track this person down (using all the handy information provided on the Stop the GR Bullies site) and murder them and their family? Think I’m off-base? Think again. Or for a more recent example of people discovering an online person’s place of residence and threatening them, go here.

What is your stance on this? Any of it. I’m interested in what others think about this. Keeping in mind that this has proven to be such an incendiary topic in the past on the internet, I would ask that no specific names or fingers be pointed in the comments. I want intelligent discussion, not insults.

Edit: And as feared, this stuff is being taken too far. It’s disgusting. I’m just hoping no one gets physically harmed, because it’s pretty obvious who ever is behind this is mentally unbalanced and potentially dangerous.

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8 Comments

  1. I use Goodreads to keep track of what I’ve read. I rate books, but don’t usually read reviews. I never write reviews, for the same reason as what you said–I’d be subjective and not necessarily helpful to anyone else.
    Some people feel safe online and say whatever they want, as if there won’t be any consequences. Sadly, they’re wrong. Why can’t we be nicer to each other?

      1. Well, maybe. But I was speaking more generally, about hateful speech of any kind, related to books/authors or not. I should hope everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I have seen people attack others for voicing one…

      2. Then those people are hypocrites since they are voicing their own opinions.

        Also, I thought you were specifically talking about book reviews, sorry.

  2. I was just as surprised as you were to learn of this bullying issue on Goodreads. I use Goodreads for keeping track of my books, writers’ blogs I follow, and occasionally writing a brief positive review of any book that I really love. I try to stay away from writing negative reviews because I don’t find them helpful. You’d think this bullying behavior from such behavior was, well, unprofessional, from serious writers, but I guess there may not have been any writers involved in the actual bullying. I do think you are right about writers not responding directly to their own reviews. I think there are other forums where they could express their books meanings, if they so desired, such as their own websites, when they speak about their books in public, etc.

  3. I can not abide bullying. But sometimes honest critique/commentary is looked upon in the same negative fashion.
    A friend gave me his book to read. I did so. i liked the premise, I had high hopes and expectations, and I was disappointed at the flaws I discovered. I sent the friend an e-mail with an attachment of a critique. Not detailed but it didn’t skim the surface either. The critique had some valid and specific commentary. I gave it a low rating on Goodreads and an honest evaluation.
    Was that wrong?
    Well, it must have been because the friend requested that I retract my review and rating. I did so because that was the easiest course of action. But I am surprised that there was no mention of the separate critique I sent, no response or even a defensive posture at my suggestions. It was about the stats and nothing but the stats.
    No, bullying and rude and unnecessary comments have no place and no business in a respected environment such as Goodreads. However, writers must be able to accept valid commentary and criticism otherwise they will never develop and get better.

  4. Hi! I stumbled upon your blog post while looking for some “intelligent discussion” on this topic, as you’ve put it. Before I begin, I’d like to warn you that this may get a little long…

    Anyway. I’ve been a member of Goodreads for a long while now, and though I (try to) avoid all the drama, I can’t help seeing it all unfold as a number of my GR friends are involved in it. And this one in particular got me so riled up I just couldn’t stay quiet.

    As someone who reviews books for fun (and being somewhat stingy in ratings and a little nitpicking of my books), I find it upsetting that there is a perception that leaving negative ratings of a book is considered “bullying”. Not only is this trivializing *actual* bullying, but it’s also a gross misrepresentation of negative reviews.

    I think what the people at “Stop the GR Bullies” site has a problem with is reviewers using snark, sarcasm, to emphasise their distaste of a certain book. If someone could enlighten me, I really want to know what is wrong with that? I know sometimes it comes across as childish, maybe even hurtful that your book is being laughed at, but it is never something *personal* towards the author, nor a judgement of his/her self as an individual. As for reviewers “harassing, stalking, and/or publicly insulting” authors, obviously that is another matter altogether. I personally have not seen any reviews that attack the *author*. And I’ve read reviews written by the people the “StGRB” site has profiled as “bullies”, and I found no instances where they have actually written a review that attacks an author.

    Saying things about an author on forums, discussions, etc. on the other hand …. well, they’re not reviews, are they? And it’s a social networking site, where people are bound to have opinions. I still don’t think that’s bullying. I have a strong dislike for Angelina Jolie, and if I want to rant on about her fish lips to my friends on their facebook wall, that is entirely my prerogative. (Though I’m just angry I have fish lips myself.)

    Anyway, I do agree that authors should not respond to reviews. Some reviewers believe that authors shouldn’t respond *under any circumstance*, but I still give room for clarifications or thanks. It makes authors come across as unprofessional to give even the tiniest of clarifications, but I wouldn’t boycott his/her future books because of it.

    “I’m not sure how listing all of this personal information was meant to help solve any potential problems of online behavior.”
    I’ve looked at the site, been through all their pages, trying to find a valid reason for their extreme actions; and I’m under the impression they’re *not* trying to solve anything at all. It just smells like a petty attempt of revenge to me.

  5. I use GoodReads for keeping track of what books I’ve read/would like to read, to write reviews for those that I think should get more attention, and read other people’s reviews, good or bad. Though, I admit I definitely read more bad reviews than good, mostly because I find it educational. Some are incredibly well thought out and can be a lesson in what not to do, others are a simply cases of haters gonna hate. But either way, it’s important for writers to know that bad reviews exist for either reason, one we can change, one we can’t.

    To be completely honest, I find most of the snarky reviews entertaining. Not the ones that are mean for no discernible reason. But there are plenty of reviewers who have a voice I enjoy even when they’re trashing a book I liked or hailing one that I think is crap. I might change my mind when it’s my book their tearing to shreds because let’s be honest, everyone gets bad reviews, but my policy is in most cases, authors shouldn’t respond to reviews, good or bad.

    Unless maybe you’re self-published and you’re thanking someone that you’d previously asked for taking the time to give their opinion and publicity for your book, even if it wasn’t the glowing review you’d hoped. Is there an rule of etiquette for that? I’m not sure.

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