Monday, July 23, 2012

Stop the GR Bullies: Get Over Yourselves

I stole this title from Ray Garton's HuffPost article about this group. I will not link to the group and other than the title of the blog, I'll refer to them only as STGRB. I don't want them getting any more traffic than they have already. (Click here for his article.)  I just recently found out about this, and I have to say that I'm horrified. (I picked a wrong time to take a siesta from the internet and finish my books for review, apparently. I walk away and come back to find two WTF scenarios.)

The site is essentially a place for people to post the private information of reviewers they believe are "bullies" at Goodreads. According to author Jessica Scott, they were also posting photos of these reviewers and of their families. So you have a website that not only told you the real names and contact info of various people, but also showing you what they look like.

Seriously, what the freaking heck? What about that sounds like it's "striking back" at the "bad" reviewers? What about that is in any way constructive? Easy answer: it isn't. There is nothing about publishing private information that would even potentially be helpful in any way. No matter what the argument is, there's no excuse for posting personal information about anyone on a site that's essentially a site for people to lump together and bitch about people that they say have written nasty reviews. All that does is encourage people to harass, stalk, and prank the people you have listed, whether they have any beef against that person or not. Don't believe that there are people out there who would do this? Go google "Encyclopedia Dramatica". There is a whole section of the internet that will harass people just because they can, and trust me- these people make a simple negative review seem like it's nothing. When you see people try to justify multiple years of harassment of an autistic man by saying that "he's a jerk", it's hard to see the justification of people saying that their feelings were hurt by groups of people on Goodreads.
One of the people that the site complains about reviewer Wendy Darling, someone I've conversed with on Goodreads. She can be a tough reviewer, but she's also a fair one. WD doesn't post negative reviews just for the hell of it and she doesn't write them with the idea that she's going to harass authors just to gain publicity. (She doesn't need it! She has enough followers!) STGRB in particular focuses on the fiasco surrounding Kiera Cass, her agent, and Wendy's review for The Selection (which I blogged about). STGRB is quick to make it seem like Wendy is some nasty reviewer who was gunning for Cass. Thing is, Wendy was more upset with Cass's AGENT than anyone else, as the agent repeatedly posted nasty comments about Wendy's review and anyone who defended her. What also bothered Wendy and many other reviewers/readers was that people were saying that Wendy had no right to post a review because she didn't finish the book.
The point of me going on about this is that Wendy didn't do anything wrong by posting a review that stated that she didn't like the book. That she didn't finish the book doesn't mean that she's not allowed to post a review because hey- if you couldn't finish the book because you disliked the book then that that's still an opinion that you could share with others. Also, Wendy isn't required to respond to people apologizing, especially when that apology only comes after several people began to state that the poor reactions by the agent (and the author's lack of reaction to her agent's abhorrent reactions) would keep them from being able to read the book.

Hell, it doesn't matter what Wendy wrote or what any reviewer writes in a valid negative review. Very few negative reviews are an active attack against the author and people have the right to post what they feel about the books they read. Authors do have the right to get angry, but they need to do it in the privacy of their own homes and keep their anger off the internet. Responding to any negative review runs the risk of them saying something stupid that will come back to haunt them. That might not sound fair to some, but the thing is... when you put your work out for public consumption you're going to get negative comments. You're even going to get some pretty nasty stuff said about you. Just look at Twilight and the vitrol it's received over time. Do you see Meyer going on and posting the personal information about the people that post stuff like "Edward is a stalker, your books romanticize abusive relationships" or "Jacob imprints on a baby, you're romanticizing pedophilia and child grooming"? Nope. She hasn't and she won't, at least I'd like to think so. She also doesn't encourage others to take these actions and from all I've seen, does not condone such actions.

Now to be fair, I went over the website to see some of the "awful, harassing" reviews that people claim are bullying authors. Of all the reviews posted, I couldn't really see where any of them were so awful and life shattering that they needed to be posted on the internet as an example of unexcusable reviewer behavior and have their personal information posted for all to see. From what I can see of the site it looks like they've removed any of this stuff but what's disturbing is that at one point they had it posted and didn't initially see where the posting of this info would be a bad idea.

Do I think that sometimes people overreact to authors responding to negative reviews? Yep. Do I think that some of the negative reviews out there are a little irrelevant? Yep. However, I also think this of many positive reviews as well, especially when I see some insanely blatant attempts by authors to bombard their books with multiple positive reviews that they've either posted themselves, gotten their friends/family to post, or received by trading positive reviews with other authors. It's frustrating when you see someone give a book they've never read 5 stars or giving a positive rating for a book that they clearly didn't like, all because they felt bad for the author or out of some misguided fandom guilt. It's funny how so many of the people on STGRB are so quick to highlight the so-called negative reviewers as the cancer that's killing Goodreads when they ignore that there's a large section of authors that try to game and manipulate the system by flooding the system with fake ratings and reviews. (This isn't limited to Goodreads either- you see this on Amazon as well!)

One of the people from the site tried to justify their site and their behavior on the HuffPost (click here), but the fact remains that no matter how you try to justify it, STGRB goes about trying to combat "bullying" by encouraging the bullying of the reviewers, whether this encouragement was intentional or not.

The bottom line is that not every reviewer is going to post a review that is positive or that meets what the author, you, or even I think is a rational negative review. They don't have to. The beauty of the review system of any given public ratings site is that you get the candid and uncensored opinion of the random reader. Not every reviewer is Roger Ebert, giving elegant and detailed reviews where they state their opinion and that's not the point of these review sites. The point is to get the opinion of the average person in their words. That means that occasionally you'll get reviews that are rough or that focus more on the reviewer's personal dislike of the author than on the book in question. This is inevitable.

Try as much as you like, there will always be a portion of the reviewing world that writes reviews along the lines of "my dog could barf up a better book" or "this author must have never gotten laid because the sex in this is blah blah blah". Like it or not, this is how many people talk about things, whether it's a book, a movie, or a TV show. I've worked in enough retail stores to know that people say all of these things about your books, sometimes saying things even worse than this. The only difference from the people in the retail stores and Goodreads is that now it's on the internet. It's not going to go away and trying to stop it via plastering names and reviews on a website and labeling them as bullies won't stop a thing. If anything, it's the worst thing any author can do because you've shown the professional publishing world that you are incapable of getting a negative review and that you are a potential PR risk, a loose cannon that might not be worth the money you could bring in.

The author's job is to learn how to deal with this in a way that won't ruin their image. This pretty much directly translates to "ignore the comments, don't respond" because it's near impossible to respond to a negative review and not come off as defensive. Even if you are incredibly eloquent, it's just better to ignore the negative reviews, because you're always going to get them. ALWAYS. If you're an author then you're going to get negative reviews as long as your books are in the public sphere, even long after you're dead. Just look at Jane Austen, who still gets people saying some pretty nasty things about her books. You just have to learn to grow a thicker skin and deal with them. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by railing against the reviewers.

Further reading

*Stop the GRB: A response
*A perspective by one of the "bullies" labeled by STGRB and how she's been harassed

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