This is a follow-up post to ‘The reviews that make you sad‘, which I wrote two evenings ago after a raw encounter with a caustic one-star review. I still stand by what I said there – essentially, that people use words in online reviews which can scar, and which seem to disregard the humanity of the author while doing so.
— Archie Valparaiso (@Archie_V) June 8, 2015
At the time, in the heat of the conversation, I thought this was an odd thing to say. But thinking about it afterwards, I think he’s got a point. I think I’ve been looking at Goodreads in the wrong way.
Goodreads isn’t a literary journal. It isn’t, actually, even a collection of reviews. It’s a collection of people, talking (and often arguing) about books. The key word in Archie’s tweet is ‘eavesdropping’. It suggests a closed conversation between people. If you think of Goodreads as a group of people round a table in a pub, your attitude to it shifts.
And this is how people use Goodreads, I think. They listen mainly to the reviews of people they trust, and when a drunk person goes off on a rant about how this book is a load of steaming turd, they ignore them. They might not even see them, to be frank, just as I’ve been unaware of the Sad Puppies thing on Twitter, even though the noise from it in some quarters is louder than a plutonium rock band from the Gagrakacka Mind Zones.
So the standard viewpoint on Goodreads is the individual within a circle of online acquaintances. But this is not the viewpoint an author has. Her viewpoint is her book, and the aggregate reviews and ratings of it. She can see the reviews as they come in – the good, and the bad – with no social context whatsoever.
This is not a good thing.
On top of that, I do begin to understand the mild impertinence of my being on there at all unless it’s at the invitation of the community (which was Archie’s point about ‘eavesdropping’). If you were chatting about a book in a pub and the author came over and sat down at your table, uninvited, you’d find it presumptuous and you’d find it annoying. As an author, I don’t want to be presumptuous and annoying towards readers.
So, my new rules for engaging with Goodreads:
- Don’t look at aggregated reviews and ratings
- Only join in a conversation when invited to
- Don’t pretend to be a ‘reader’ on Goodreads when I’m in fact a ‘writer’
- Encourage my publisher not to use aggregated Goodreads ratings in other contexts (like its own website). Without the social context, these ratings are potentially harmful
- Trust in my books to find their enthusiastic audiences, in Goodreads and in the world, and live with the fact that some people will just hate them
I still think people’s use of intemperate language, on Goodreads and elsewhere on the Internet, is a modern plague. But that doesn’t mean I have to engage with it in a way that injures good people just trying to share their views on books.