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It Will Happen to You Sooner or Later

Every writer gets trashed, sooner or later. And there isn’t a darned thing you can do about it, if you don’t want to make the situation worse. I just had my first experience, and it isn’t pleasant. A person who just reviewed Hidden Boundaries and gave it one star on Goodreads was apparently pissed because I gave two stars some time back to a book she loves. Apparently, no one has the right to differ from her in their opinion of a book.

So what did she say about Hidden Boundaries? “As a serious work it lacks depth, originality and charm. The characters are composed of construction-grade spruce with equally contrived inner conflicts.” I’d consider her entitled to her opinion¬†– if ¬†she had actually read it. She spend the first half of the review of the book she’s defending on her diatribe, calling Hidden Boundaries master-slave erotica, which it isn’t, because I don’t write erotica. She points out that you can read a sample at Amazon and won’t have to spend any money on it, and admits that she was “unable to finish even a few paragraphs as it is quite juvenile both in style and content)” She’s obviously miraculously insightful if she can discern so much about the book from the first few paragraphs.

Not content with trashing my book, she goes on to trash me, personally. And I should mention that she joined Goodreads just this month. She put my name in quotes to imply that it’s probably not my name, and has “discovered” that I have a reputation for trashing new authors. Even worse, I had the nerve to give a Hugo winner a “lashing,” as if there aren’t plenty of Hugo winners who come in for their fair share of criticism. In her final crushing blow she says I “wrote a nearly identical review to the one she gave . . .” I won’t mention the name of the book because I don’t want anybody hunting her down and starting a ruckus. Since each of my reviews is completely individual, I’m wondering where she got that little tidbit. Would it be fair to say she made it up, along with my bad reputation?

Okay, so why am I going into such detail about someone who adored a very bad book and apparently took my review as a personal insult? Even though I wrote the review months before she showed up? Because this is so typical of attacks that other writers have had to put up with. Lies, distortions, and personal attacks that have nothing to do with the book under consideration are becoming par for the course. And often enough, if the author tracks the reviewer down, it isn’t unusual to find that the reviewer is the author of the book or a book that might conceivably be in competition. More usually, we’re dealing with a friend or a fanatical fan of the author who got a bad review.

This is one of the reasons that many authors don’t write book reviews. No matter how honest and objective your reviews are, you never know when they’re going to come back and bite you in the ass, for whatever reason, whether it’s about competition, someone’s ego, or just plain crazy. Normally, I don’t even bother to review books unless I can give them at least three stars. So this one did come back to bite me.

Checking more closely, I now see that it’s a coordinated attack, since Hidden Boundaries received three one star ratings in a row. One person went to the trouble of giving one star to all four of my books. Which probably means that all three are either fans of the author or actually the author herself, using different IDs — sock puppets. Or is it just coincidence that all three people are new to the site? I wrote to Goodreads with the details, but don’t seriously expect them to do anything. It’s happened to other writers there, and Goodreads doesn’t seem to care very much.

So beware, if you’re an author and you write reviews. This is a problem that’s getting worse, and you need to consider how it will impact your own books.

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22 Comments

  1. thanks for this warning! so sad you had to deal with this. i hope such unwarranted attacks don’t influence other readers’ willingness to pick up your books!

    • I don’t think I get many sales from Goodreads (if any), so it’s more annoying than anything else. And I’m always amazed, even as old as I am and as much as I’ve seen over the years, especially on the web, that people reduce themselves to such a level.

      Some people have quit Goodreads because of this kind of thing, but it can happen anywhere. Besides, I enjoy Goodreads, and I’m not going to let a few nasty critters chase me away.

      • Victoria Grefer

         /  October 15, 2012

        good for you! it’s just sad how people act on the internet, really it is….

  2. Ha! The reviews are so “bad,” they’re obviously fake. Obviously your opinion means a lot to these “reviewers.” Consider yourself flattered. :)

    • Yeah, the joke goes around every now and then that you’ve really made it when someone thinks it’s necessary to attack you. What’s really fascinating is the way they contradict themselves or leave evidence that they haven’t read the book at all, and don’t realize that they’ve actually shown how stupid they are.

    • Have to agree with CMStewart.

      Great points. Great blog post. Will remember that when my book is finally ready. Thanks.

  3. Egads. I’m sorry you have to go through this. It does give me reason to pause over my own reviews. One thing I can say, you can tell when a review is fake – especially if they admit they didn’t read the entire book. Personally, if I don’t read a book all the way through, I don’t review it. Good luck.

  4. Thanks for the warnings. I would hope that anyone reading such rants as you have suffered, would see them for what they are. There is no need to be nasty when reviewing a book, but even the professionals are quite often. I think these amateur reviewers are trying to emulate them and sound more important than they are.

    A warning I could add: I have seen glowing reviews for books on Amazon that are clearly written by friends of the authors. On the strength of these reviews, others have bought the books and have then written terrible reviews of the books because they have felt cheated, as the books are nowhere near as good as their friends have said. It is natural to want to encourage sales for friends but to mislead others can lead to even worse reviews because of anger at feeling cheated. I have given fair but truthful reviews of some books that friends have written or, if I think they have not done well, I do not review. I think your policy of not reviewing a book unless you can give it at least 3 stars is a good one.

    I haven’t had a book published yet but accept that I will need to be a bit thick-skinned to read reviews. When I do review books on Amazon etc, I do try to be fair and any criticism I give is constructive and as kindly given as possible, so that, if there is a genuine problem with the writing, I hope that any future books the author writes would be better. I am hoping to turn my blog about ‘public speaking’ into a book soon and imagine that people will disagree with some things I say. I’ll bear your warnings in mind.

    • The problem with the three-star policy, and I’m still debating it, is that readers have a right to opinions from all sides. When we’re badgered into silence, the whole concept of free speech suffers.

  5. pigeonweather

     /  October 16, 2012

    I’ve heard of ‘gang’ attacks on Goodreads. My own rule is to try to not write negative reviews. it’s not worth it.

    • Catana

       /  October 16, 2012

      For a gang attack, this one wasn’t very bad, from what I’ve read elsewhere, but you’re right about negative reviews. I’ll have to overcome my sense of responsibility to other readers, since they no longer have the right to be told that there’s any reason they might want to avoid a book. Only the semi-literate have the right to speak up now. Hmm. Isn’t that called mob rule?

      • pigeonweather

         /  October 16, 2012

        Interesting parallel, isn’t it? Whenever it comes to crowds or mobs, the same rules seem to apply, regardless of the context. There’s a great book about all that (positive review!) called ‘Crowds and Power’ by Elias Canetti

        • Hadn’t heard of the Canetti book, but I’ll check it out on Amazon. You might also be interested in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Probably older than Canetti’s book, though I don’t think Canetti is exactly a household name any more.

  6. How unpleasant and petty!
    It sounds like at least this reviewer showed up their mean motives in the review rather than being subtle so at least any discerning person who reads it will know to discount it as having anything useful to say about the book. It might even inspire them to give it a try. I ended reading a good story on GR partly because I was intrigued by why it was being reviewed so savagely.

    It is a worrisome situation now when we are cautious about speaking our minds about books for fear of reprisals. I enjoy using Goodreads too, but clearly it has some issues.

    • When I’m debating whether to read a book, I look at the lowest ratings first. When they’re honest and specific about what’s wrong with a book, they’re more useful than the highest ratings.

      Another issue that just came up is a reminder that Kobo Writing Life links your books to your Goodreads reviews. I haven’t published on Kobo yet because they’ve been having too many problems, but the Goodreads reviews aren’t going to help at all, even though the past reviews are good. So, unless Goodreads does something about the situation, I probably won’t publish on Kobo.

  7. Thanks for posting about this, Catana. Being new to Goodreads (just a few months), I had no idea this sort of thing went on. It amounts to organized thuggery or cyber bullying. I guess I’ve been living in a fool’s paradise.

    • Not a fool’s paradise, Thomas. Just part of the learning curve. Glad I was able to advance it a bit, but also sorry that it’s something you have to be aware of. I doubt that it really happens all that often, but there’s always the possibility of being blindsided.

  8. Carl

     /  October 16, 2012

    I’m not surprised to find this seeping into the market. What’s a nice way of putting this… Let the prey out of the cage and the predators will hunt them down? I like to think of the publishing industry, as it was before anyone with a computer could self-publish a book and create an online presence, as a guardian, or protectorate. Of course, that also meant they made the rules you abide by.

    Fly into the free open air, spread your wings, but watch out for the hunting dogs, men, and other birds. Much like a business needs PR control, so too do we for ourselves as people.

    I’m guilty of being upset about criticism, of course, I think we all are; we’re human. I’m glad you didn’t point out the book, or reviewer, as others who don’t think so calmly may hunt them down and cause problems; they, being detached from the fire, standing on the sidelines, simply cheering or taunting. It reminds me of a recent spat with a well-known online humor website with stolen content, a lawyer, and many fans sending all sorts of distasteful messages.

    Bleh. It’s tough, but if you can stand on your own two feet with all the mudslinging, and not fall down, then you’ll be just fine. That’s a hard lesson that many Hollywood celebrities learn real quick — often overnight.

    • Predators and prey — good analogy, Carl. I think maybe the protection of publishers probably had less effect than the “elevated” stance of writers and their comparative rarity. Now that we have the “anyone can write” standard, writers can be a legitimate target for the disgruntled.

  9. What a horror, Catana! As someone new to all this, but intending to put out a novel in ’13, I’ve been thinking about this kind of problem for about a year now. Finally, I decided that unless I could give a book at least 3 stars, I wouldn’t review it at all. It seems by far the safest thing for authors to do. (Have finished Ancien btw. Send me an email if you’d like feedback.)

  1. Review Trenches | N. E. White
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