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Industry News: Author’s reaction to reviews increases Goodreads brawl. Some blame Amazon.

October 26, 2013

When Microsoft bought VISIO, several people I know, including myself, worried that they would ruin what had been an important and effective tool. Many people felt the same way when Amazon bought Goodreads. Their fears (unlike mine) may be coming true. According to a recent article in Salon, there’s a flame war a-brewin on Goodreads and it all has to do with suppression of comments. Recently, Goodreads decided to more aggressively enforce rules about what reviewers can and can’t post about books. Specifically, it’s been more aggressive with negative reviews, especially when they reference the author’s actions, rather than the content of the book.

The brawl expanded when a new author named Lauren Pippa (real name: Lauren Howard) challenged a two-star review she’d gotten for a self-published young adult book that hadn’t been released yet. Goodreads permits this practice, though how you’d know ahead of time is anyone’s guess. (It may have been a pre-released book or perhaps someone flagging it to read or not read later on.) After Howard challenged the review, the reviewer’s friends challenged the challenge. After some additional one-star reviews and more cybercrap flinging (including Howard complaining on Twitter and alleged death threats), Howard pulled the book.

Except Howard decided later not to pull the book and admitted the threats didn’t happen (she blamed PMS). (Really.) As you might imagine, this only expanded the brawl.

Overall, a more generic version of this fight has been raging for some time, as authors have started to push back against reviews they think are unfair. And reviewers are pushing back against the pushing. The brawl has spilled over into two competing websites, Stop the Goodreads Bullys and Badly Behaving Authors.


As a result of all the flying feces, Goodreads stepped up enforcement of its rules. Previously, if they decided a review was over the line, it was removed from the book’s page, but kept on the reviewer’s profile. Now, it’s deleted from the site. But with the change, a number of long-time, well respected reviewers saw a lot of their reviews disappear. In protest, reviewers would post off-topic complaints about Goodreads policies on books about censorship. Then, as you’d expect with angry literate Internet denizens, the protest got creative. Protestors would make snarky, clever, off-topic posts, then report each other to get Goodreads to react. As you’d expect, Goodreads deleted those posts, too. As you’d expect, that just increase tensions.

Where does Amazon come in? Given that most of the reviews are bad, some of the protestors think Amazon is turning Goodreads from an honest broker to a cheerleader site for books. Amazon, it should be noted, can make money from sales of books listed on Goodreads (Goodreads is now integrated in some Kindle models).

And because self-published authors tend to use it to build word-of-mouth recognition of their books, they’re kind of cranky when someone slams them, particularly when they haven’t released their book yet.

As the brawl continues, some protestors are finding new and unique ways to fight and some are finding other venues to review books. Either way, it’s a war of attrition that may not end soon.

What this means to you: A few things:

  • Never, ever pick a fight with a group on the Internet. Especially not with veteran users. There are more of them than there are of you and some of them are skilled at Internet brawling.
  • You have to have a very thick skin as an author. While it might not be fair for someone to trash a book before it’s published, it’s going to happen. That’s part of the cost of putting yourself out there. Understand it before you start.
  • Be honest on the Internet. By lying about the severity of the attacks and giving a lame excuse, Lauren Howard has guaranteed similar abuse for any similar books. It’s understandable why people would lie when they’re ganged-up upon, but it’s the worst possible thing you can do.
  • The Internet, in its current form, exists to make money. Whether it’s Goodreads trying to build sales for Amazon (or for its own author packages) or Facebook letting you post every cat picture in creation, money has to be made. There’s a name for services that don’t make money: MySpace.
  • Amazon is really big and influences (and even controls) and awful lot of what goes on in this industry. In my estimation, it was naive to think things wouldn’t change at Goodreads.
  • Finally, and perhaps most important, don’t skimp on the prep if you self-publish. Find a good editor and get a book cover. Make your work as professional as possible.
  1. October 26, 2013 9:25 am

    At the conference I heard several cautions touching this subject. Your summary of “what this means” is worth heeding.

  2. October 27, 2013 2:15 pm

    I think your points are on target, but I’d add one thing:

    Why doesn’t Goodreads (a tool I enjoy very much and far prefer to Amazon), just make the same rule regarding early reviews as Amazon recently adopted: permit no reviews until the book’s official release date? I have frequently seen per-release reviews that in the body admit that the starts are based on the first book in the series, or to show how much they anticipate/dread the new book’s release. That’s not what stars are for: they are meant to reflect the opinions of someone who actually read the book.

    That said, people who can’t take bad reviews should not write for the public. Bad reviews (whether they are deserved or not) bite, but they are part of the job. Unfortunate, unpleasant, but true.

  3. October 28, 2013 1:25 pm

    I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at reviews, which I know I should. But this is the reason why. There is too much disruption and lying on these sites, and since anyone can post a review, it’s really “Katy bar the door” when it comes to WHO is actually leaving the review. I am a firm believer in what Chris says at the end here, we, as indy pubed writers, need to have our books edited by someone who knows what they are doing. NO writer published by a traditional publisher EVER goes to press without being edited. Why should we be any different, and, if we would ALL do this indy press writers would have better reputations in the public eye.

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