A lot of people ask why authors stay away from Goodreads. I can’t speak for anyone else, but here’s why I tend to shy away.
Don’t get me wrong, as a reader, I loved Goodreads. I love the recommendations. I love being able to track what I’ve read. It’s an awesome, invaluable site for book lovers.
As an author it can be pretty brutal. And that’s okay. Goodreads is for readers. It’s for readers to interact with other readers. It’s for readers to find new books they will love.
No matter how much Goodreads tries to lure in authors to use their (sometimes useful) features, for the most part, their policies are pretty anti-author. One example is the way Goodreads allows people to one-star books that have not even been released yet. Sure, I know often this is a mistake by the user, but it shouldn’t even be allowed. Amazon doesn’t allow it. Amazon owns Goodreads now, so maybe they should get on that. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing a one star on a book you haven’t even finished. Or worse, a book you haven’t even started writing. I mean, why even bother?
Throughout high school, college, and law school, I worked a variety of retail jobs. In college, one of the department stores I worked for started randomly printing out those surveys at the bottom of the receipt. You know the ones, “tell us your opinion and get $5 off your next purchase” or some similar incentive. Our raises and performance evaluations were partially based on the customer feedback to those surveys. We would get in trouble if customers rated us anything less than a 5 (excellent) in each category. So maybe, the other sales girl was rude to the customer, and the customer gave a 1 in that category, I would have to sit down with my manager and explain myself. Then there are some people who just do not rate things a 5, no matter what. Was it fair that the store based our raises on this system? Not really. There was nothing I could do about it besides smile and do my best give five star service to each and every customer.
I started working on my first serious novel (currently unfinished and gathering dust under my bed) during my third year of law school. As graduation approached and all those student loans I’d racked up took on the definitive shape of something I’d have to start paying back very soon, I realized I didn’t want to do this. Eventually, I had to, because—student loans! As an attorney, you’re evaluated a thousand different ways. By judges,—who do not give a shit about sparing anyone’s feelings—by senior lawyers, by your clients. Criticism of your performance can be professional or…not. There’s not a lot you can do, except always be prepared and do your best.
Back to Goodreads. The cruelty displayed in some of the reviews there is what it is. The gifs, the pictures, the language allowed is very different from what Amazon tolerates. It’s a free-for-all. The harsh reality is, some people live to tear other people down. Some are failed authors who are working out their jealousy. Some are rival authors or their street teams. But sometimes, there are a lot of painful truths in those types of reviews. That’s okay, because again, Goodreads is for readers. Readers enjoy and benefit from those types of reviews or else they wouldn’t be so popular. It’s unfortunate that it might impact the author’s livelihood, but that is the nature of this business. It’s not something an author can control, nor should they try to. I cringe every time I see an author complain about a one-star review “taking food out of the mouths of his/her children” or some similar nonsense. That’s not the reader’s problem, nor should it ever factor into the equation. If the author knows in her heart she wrote the best book she was capable of, that’s all that matters. Don’t try to guilt people into changing their mind. Don’t look for sympathy. Move on and write the next book. Sometimes the spitefulness of the review isn’t warranted and the answer is as simple as, people just enjoy ripping the hard work of others to shreds. Because they can. That is not exclusive to publishing. That is life. That is human nature.
I’m not one of those authors who says she “learns” something from negative reviews. Because I don’t. If you don’t “get me” or get what I’m trying to accomplish with my stories that’s fine. I’m not going to change who I am or what I write to suit other people. If you felt I should have written something a different way, you wanted to see more violence on the page, you wish a book was longer, or shorter, you expected something to happen in one of my books and it didn’t. That’s on the reader, not me. I’m in charge of the stories I tell. You can like it or not like it, but an opinion on how I should have written a book means nothing to me. It’s not helpful. Write your own book.
I’ve been a proud member of RWA for more than four years. I was on the board of my local chapter for three years. I attend conferences. I’ve taken more writing classes than I can count. I’m devoted to always learning more about the craft of writing. I’m constantly obsessing over how to improve my writing skills. No one is harder on me than I am on myself. I hire skilled editors. I care deeply about the product I put out. So, if someone complains about my technical skills, again, it’s irrelevant to me, because I can honestly say I put out the absolute best book I was capable of at the time. Besides, I’m the first one to admit, I know fuck-all about where commas go. I’ve made peace with it.
Sometimes I’m forced to go to Goodreads. To add an ISBN number, set-up a giveaway, update a blurb, whatever. Sometimes curiosity gets the better of me. And I’m lucky. I’ll find a review that is so beautiful, so perfect, it gives me chills. This reader gets me! Oh my God! I will copy and paste that review, screenshot it or whatever so I can send it to Mr. Lake right away. I’m hesitant to “like” or comment on reviews unless I know the person, because 1) Goodreads encourages authors not to do this and 2) I don’t want to make a reader feel uncomfortable.
Inevitably though, I’ll come across a review or comments that are so nasty or mean-spirited or, I’ll just say it, so stupid, it crushes my soul. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be a review for one of my books. It can be a review for a book that a good friend of mine wrote. A review of a book that I happened to love. Or just something really nasty in general. All the good feelings from the positive review are gone. That kind of negativity, those brutal words, will stick in my head for a very long time, drowning out all the positive words. They will pop up when I’m working on the next book. I will doubt myself. Question my story. Question my characters. Question everything. Should it be that way? Probably not, but I can’t help who I am.
There are people who say, “Well you’re an author now, you just need to get a thicker skin.” You know what? Fuck that. I’m a sensitive person. If I had a thicker skin I wouldn’t be me and I wouldn’t write the stories I write the way I write them.
So, what’s the solution? Should readers stop writing reviews that hurt the delicate feelings of some sensitive little author? Fuck no.
Here’s the thing. You may or may not be able to see this throughout my books. I’ve survived a lot of drama and negativity in my personal life. I’ve had toxic people who were close to me. At a certain point it’s either me or them. It’s protect myself or let their bitter toxicity slowly kill me. And I learned something from that.
Cut it out.
If something is so damaging to my self-esteem, my soul—if something perpetually puts me into a negative, bitter place. Stop doing it.
Can you do that with every single thing in your life? Of course not. But the things I do have control over?
Here’s why. If I take pleasure in tearing another person down, it makes me feel ugly on the inside. I’ve found that when I focus on the positive, life improves. I prefer to celebrate what I do have instead of worrying about what I don’t have. When I do the best I can and stop comparing myself to others, the words come easier. When I support and encourage my friends, I’m happier. Surrounding myself with negative people puts me in a negative place and emotionally drains me. Eventually, I have to cut them out of my life for my own sanity.
Is that selfish? Maybe. But about ten years ago, I was in a very unhealthy place. I finally realized, I’m no good to anyone if I can’t take care of myself. Avoiding negativity is one of the ways I try to take care of myself. I prefer to stick to funny, light sarcasm or positive things on social media. It’s not always possible, but I try. Sometimes something so devastating occurs in my life—like my beloved Pug passing away a few weeks ago—that I do share it. I feel awkward about it, but I want people to understand why I’m not answering their messages or tags.
I think it’s admirable that some readers say they never give a book less than three stars. You’re a blessing to sensitive souls like me. I want to hug you. But at the same time, I can’t deny there’s a thrill that comes from receiving a 4 star review from someone you know doesn’t hesitate to hand out 1 and 2 stars.
So there is my 1663 word essay on why sometimes I avoid Goodreads. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the time people have taken to read and review my books—I do. But those reviews aren’t for me, they’re for other readers. Good and bad, they are valuable. They help the book community grow and thrive. I may not always like them, but I don’t have to. I may think some are unfair, but life is often unfair.
To other authors who despair over negative reviews, let me tell you this: I discovered one of my most beloved authors through a one-star review. The review basically said there was too much use of the F word for her taste. I thought, let me one-click that motherfucker! And it was one of the best decision I ever made.
If you really love one of my books and want me to know about it, email me or message me on Facebook. I love hearing from readers. Sometimes I am influenced (in a good way) by your ideas. I like knowing which character you want to know more about. Your interest fuels my creativity and is absolutely priceless to me. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by your words and not sure what to say, but I’m always grateful you took the time to contact me, and I always (eventually) respond.
If you hate my work, by all means leave your review on Goodreads. Explain in detail what didn’t work for you so other readers can decide if it might work for them. Eventually, I’ll probably see it. You can have the satisfaction of knowing it crushed me. I’ll bitch about it to Mr. Lake. I’ll bitch about it to my critique partners. Maybe I’ll lose a sale because of that review. Maybe I’ll gain a sale. Who knows? I’ll live.
Sometimes, I’ll turn harsh words into a positive. One of my favorite ones-star reviews was a lengthy diatribe on why this reader hated one of my secondary characters so much. Once I got over the shock of the vitriol, I thought, Gee if I can inspire such a passionate, well thought out criticism of a character who has had very little page time, I must be a pretty fucking awesome writer!
See, there’s that positive thinking.