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Sunday, 22 September 2013

The week Goodreads blows up

If you're on Goodreads, then you probably already know about the howls of anguish screaming across the internet. 
To summarise: a number of people on the site have made a hobby of slash-and-burn posts, reviews and shelves against certain authors. A number of authors have had very public meltdowns and abused bloggers and reviewers. It's been ugly on both sides. 
Goodreads took their toys away.
Both sides promptly imploded in fits of wailing and chest-beating. There's also been a good amount of somewhat-pompous "see-what-you-get" comments, which change to wailing and chest-beating and screams of betrayal as soon as said commentator realises they've also been targeted.

I stepped back from Goodreads a while ago. The dog-piling on both sides was part of it, as well as being repeatedly spammed by book recommendations from authors, but mainly it was time (I just don't have that much of it). I still have my account and my groups, and I swing by to see what's happening every now and then, but I don't live on the site.

The world of Goodreads is insular. Dogpiles and flame-wars happen on a regular basis. This time, Goodreads managed to make itself a target, and has now experienced dog-piling to the nth degree. Some of the comments immediately following the announcement validated it to some extent, but the response - banning some of the commentators - didn't make the site   come out of it smelling like roses. People should have the right to their opinions, whether you agree with them or not.

So for what it's worth, here are my thoughts:

1) Goodreads was always for readers. It was never really an author-friendly place, outside of the author groups. I kind of liked that; I'm part of a couple of groups that just jabber and chat, and I've never mentioned my books to them. As a reader, it's a pretty cool place to find new books, or re-discover old favourites.
I don't want every part of my life to be around promoting my books. I write the things, I've already lived them. Sometimes I just want to be a reader, and people change how they interact with you on that site when they find out you are an author. 
It's not hidden; anyone who clicks on my profile will find it, but I don't wander around forums talking about it. 
It would be the equivalent of walking through a shopping centre wearing my underpants on my head, ringing a bell and yodelling. I'd get a lot of attention but very little support.

2) Censorship is never a good thing. Neither is dickish behaviour. But personally, I'd rather know that someone is a complete dick by seeing what they've posted. It may be poison, but it's up front and in your face. On the 'net, you can avoid it by clicking away. Nobody ever straps your ass to a chair and forces you to respond to it. 
As a reader, it meant that stuff certain posters were particularly vicious about probably got a look from me out of interest sake if nothing else. Sometimes their points were valid, sometimes they were being dicks.
As a writer, I'd cringe every now and then on behalf of whoever was on the receiving end, but as a writer the first thing you should be doing in strapping on armour before you head into the wilds of any public forum. 
Getting into a net war with these guys is like throwing popcorn at a toddler; you will end up surrounded by a bunch of very angry people, and they tend to exchange popcorn for small nuclear devices. It's pointless and exhausting, and kind of leads me to the next point, which is something it took me a while to understand:

3) Readers don't really want authors to interact with them on their turf. That's bolded for a reason; if readers want to interact with a writer, they'll head on over to the blog, or twitter, or Facebook, and comment and chat. Places like Goodreads and the Amazon boards are places the reader doesn't want the author to butt in. It's like having the chef at a restaurant sit down at your table and watch you eat, and occasionally complaining about how you use your fork.  

4) A lot of this is down to bad behaviour by authors; spamming forums about their books and getting into flame wars when people told them to shut up, and in certain cases just being as needy as toddlers wanting attention. Goodreads/Amazon is not the place to throw yourself a pity-party because you've only sold three books a week, and people don't understand your unsung genius, and won't somebody please give you a hug and tell you they love you. As a writer this is awkward to read, however much I sympathise. To the average reader, this is the equivalent of pissing on a live wire and wondering why it hurts. 
There is now open hostility towards authors on both of these places, and to a point that hostility has been earned. Whether we like it or not is immaterial; that feeling of 'stay off of my block' is there and imbedded. Whining about it won't change it. Realising that it's there, and not escalating things is important; it won't help you one little bit, and poking this particular bear with a stick may result in a very short-lived writing career. If you need support, join an authors group. Leave the reader forums the hell alone if you are wearing your author's hat.
   
5) It is unlikely that things will change that much. Threats of mass exodus happen every time something changes on a site like this. There may be a dip in attendance for a few days, but in six weeks time, odds are people will be back on the site, reviewing and chatting, and getting worked up about something else. 

6) There is always something else. There is always somebody who wants to be vicious, and someone who feel moved to respond and escalate the situation. There is always someone to throw popcorn at. It's the price we pay for being part of that particular society. But the censoring of opinion in any society, whether it's on-line or in the real world, is a slippery slope, and nobody in their right mind will condone it. Who get's to decide whose opinion is valid, and whose is not? Who watches the watchers?
I may not like a lot of the stuff I see on Goodreads, but the people who post it have the right to speak out. If they come across as bullying or obnoxious, they've exposed that bit of themselves, and that's a good thing. People are quite capable of making their minds up about the stuff they write, eye-rolling, and moving swiftly on. If they expose valid issues and concerns, that is also a good thing. 
Gagging them is not.