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Be Careful What Wars You Sign Up For

Be Careful What Wars You Sign Up For

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Bullying sucks. I think we can all agree on that. We all felt a little sense of schadenfreude when we saw that Australian kid who was picking on the fat kid get body-slammed into the ground—even if it was not the appropriate way to handle the situation. And sure, signing a petition to stop bullying sounds great, but you have to be careful what train you hitch your wagon to because it’s actually a very complex issue.

What the Heck Am I on About?

Every once in a while in one of the author-groups I’ve joined on Facebook, I’ll see a petition pop up to stop review bullying. It seems great in theory, right? Be very careful before signing on to any movements or petitions that claim to be trying to stop review bullying on Amazon and Goodreads. That goes doubly for you, authors.

Why Should I Be Careful?

First of all, some of the people who claim to be against bullying, are being bullies themselves.

Let’s start here: in one post on “Stop The GR Bullies,” the [expletives] actually post a GoodReads user’s name, the city she lives in, and where she works? What is the point of that? So the next time she steps out of line on GoodReads, someone can try and get her fired. Seriously? This is what constitutes stopping a bully?Jenny Trout

Secondly, as this site will prove, there are two sides to every story. Now I’m not going to take sides and say that everything on this site is totally factual, because I don’t know from experience. What I will say is that the claims made here are incredibly well-cited. The people who have issues with the organization STGRB claim to have experienced some terrifying stuff. Screencaps on Jenny Trout’s blog will prove that this site has doxed reviewers, and blog posts by such reviewers indicate stalking, harassment, and threats. No matter how mean you are in a review on Amazon on Goodreads, you don’t deserve to have your feeling of safety compromised. You don’t want to hitch your wagon to that train. Seriously.

Criticism is Not Bullying

Someone may have one-starred your entire series. That doesn’t mean they didn’t read it, and it doesn’t mean that they aren’t entitled to their opinion. A bad review is NOT bullying. Reviews are for readers to help them make decisions, not for authors to feel good about themselves.

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And, as Blake Northcott said in our self-publishing panel last January, sometimes one-star reviews help sell books!

Bad Company

Many of the people complaining about review bullying have experienced some crappy, unfair review practices. I’ve seen a book I love given one star on Amazon because the reviewer made an assumption about the target-age group and gave a book with sexual content to her twelve-year-old daughter. I have received a one-star review from a brand new account with no content to explain why. It happens. But it’s not always the case.

Some of the authors who fume the loudest over bullying have dug their own grave. A few years ago I saw a bunch of people in an author community jumping on to sympathize with a blog post about bullying. Finally another author chimed in with a link to the real story—screencaps of what had since been deleted from Goodreads: an author lashing out against a tough but fair review of her book. What had come since was mob-justice, and while it may have been a disproportionate response, nobody was innocent.

It happens a lot. Perhaps Goodreads users are oversensitive to what they label Authors Behaving Badly, but their paranoia has a root. Authors do often behave badly. It’s hard to see someone trash on something you put two hundred hours of your life into, especially when it’s done in a snarky way with GIFs and everything. But you’re the professional here, and you have to behave like one. You have to take a deep breath and move on. When readers on Goodreads hear you complain about bullying:

  1. Nobody likes a whiner, even if it’s true.
  2. They wonder if you might be one of those authors who has done something to deserve it.
  3. They’re focusing on the criticism your books receive, rather than the praise.

Anne Rice, who has had some fantastic movies made out of her books, should—of all people—be above the fray. A lone consumer on Amazon can’t convince people that Interview With a Vampire sucks, because Brad Pitt. Yet even she has engaged in some less-than-professional behavior, sending hordes of fans over to leap on nay-sayers.

Unintended Consequences

So back to that petition. Maybe, in theory, it sounds like a good idea to require Amazon and Goodreads reviewers to use their real names. That won’t really stop all of the bullies, but it will hurt some legitimate reviewers.

  1. Some people review genres that could negatively affect their personal and professional lives. Preschool teachers might not want parents to find their review blog that covers steamy, smutty romance. A public official in Alabama might not want to use their real name to review books about paganism. These people should still be allowed to express their opinions about books, even if the moral turpitude of their community looks down on what they choose to read. Their opinions might be very helpful to someone in their situation.
  2. Some people act irrationally when you talk crap about their books. Some people go to extremes. If you’re going to be honest about bad books, you may want to protect your family from the consequences of an author’s unbalance by leaving your name out of it.

Reviewers have all sorts of reasons for anonymity, even if one of them may be to sometimes be a jerk. You, as an author, do not want to be associated with anything that could be seen as trying to silence reviewers, even if that is not your intention.

If You Can, Ignore The Reviews

I really love to watch Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay. In one episode, a restaurant owner was convinced that Yelpers were out to destroy his business. He threatened one lady with police action, claiming he’d report her to the LAPD for hate crimes; he’s a white Australian. This guy was absolutely mental about negative reviews. He was convinced someone was deleting all the five-star reviews of his restaurant, and he refused to hear complaints. One of the local Yelp staff came on and talked to him about feedback. He was advised to ignore comments unless they become common. One person says your burger is dry? Forget them! Ten people say it? Look into your burger.

You see, it’s really not healthy for individuals to become fixated on an internet troll, even if that is what the stranger on the other end of the ethernet legitimately is. I understand that this is your livelihood, and some people leave really unfair reviews, but let’s not let someone on the internet give us ulcers when they can also just be ignored.

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Before going on that Facebook rant about bullies or signing onto any petitions, think twice about how your actions might look to an outsider. You might be hailed as a hero for standing up for yourself, but you also might be lumped in with a subset of authors who really can’t handle the truth.

Everyone gets bullied. Heck, I’d say bullying is a great indicator that you’ve arrived! Even the most-loved classic get dumped on, and readers expect a certain amount of petulant one-starring in the review section of any book on Amazon. A one-star review out of two dozen will NOT kill your career, but lashing out and acting like a crazy person just might.

A Note About Bullying:
If you are REALLY being bullied (attacks on your personal life or appearance made in reviews; a reviewer following you from network-to-network, clearly trying to get your attention; threats made against your life; racial slurs being use; etc) then report that user to Goodreads and Amazon and make it clear in your report exactly which piece of text is the problem.

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  • Kevin Weinberg

    If you are against bullying, Amy, then why do you say you will use your friendship with someone at Smashwords to try to stop books from being published if you find them offensive?

    This is precisely WHY websites like STGRB exist: to call out this kind of author sabotage and expose it.

    What you are threatening to do is sabotage another author’s career because you don’t like their work. Is that not you in the screenshot below?

    Without even bothering to read the book (which contains no rape, sex, BDSM of any kind), you are claiming that you are going to use personal connections to prevent your fellow authors from having the same chance of success that you enjoy — and THAT is bullying and life-ruining behavior.

    • “I can talk to them about it” does not mean I will demand it gets taken down. Smashwords has content guidelines that prohibit certain kinds of materials, including work they consider to be racist or promote rape. My contact READS all the books, and he would decide if the novel violated their terms.

      You complain that she hasn’t read her book, but you clearly haven’t read HER POST. The thesis of her post was that there is no consent when one human being is LITERALLY OWNED by another. The story she objects to is a romance about a real life pair of human beings; one who OWNED the other (real slavery, not kinky BDSM slavery) and raped her throughout her life.

      Romanticizing that is screwed up. Period.

      And criticism and calling it like you see it is not bullying.

    • The hilarity of all of this is that I never reached out to my friend at SW.

  • SG Daniels

    Great advice. Well done, Amy

  • Excellent post!

  • dwm

    Well -written post.