I’ve read a couple of blog posts, which have come into my inbox during the past month or so, that were focused on Goodreads Authors and Goodreads Users. I remember there being a conflict at one point in the past as well, and having been out of the loop a bit, I’m not sure what sparked this conflict once again. All I can say is the posts I’ve been reading have a common message behind them, and that message is “Goodreads is not for authors.”
Personally, I find this message unfair and a bit insulting. Mostly because the bigger picture is being over looked. We’re so focused on the division between “author” and “reader” we tend to forget an author once was—and forever will be—a reader themselves. And Goodreads is a wonderful platform for both.
The real culprit of this conflict is not the distinction, but the lack of understanding for the unspoken rules of engagement on reviews. These retains to the author and the reader; therefore, for the community to thrive in harmony, we have to look at the problem from both sides.
The Goodreads Author Program can be a useful tool. It even includes an Author Dashboard where you can monitor your rating as an author, ratings and reviews of your latest novels, questions asked on your Ask the Author section of your Goodreads Author profile, and the entries into you Goodreads Giveaways. The only problem with all this amazing information is temptation.
First rule we have to remember as authors is when we publish a book, you’re going to open yourself up to negative reviews. Sometimes, very negative. I’ve had my share of heartbreaking reviews. And you’ll want to protect your books like it was your child.
But you can’t.
When it comes to reviews, there is only two things you can do. You can take the advice of many authors and not read them. Seems simple, right? Don’t want to see your novel receive negative feedback? Then just don’t look. I can’t function that way, personally. There’ll always be a review you want to read, and I want to learn from my audience. So, the only other thing to do is take that review for what it is: one person’s opinion. The trick is not to react. Don’t comment. Don’t respond. Don’t even mention it publicly. I won’t even like or favorite a review about my work on Goodreads anymore.
Instead, try to focus on your fan-base. Get involved in Ask the Author or build a discussion group. If you’re an author who is also a reader, then talk about other books (not written by you) with readers. And remember, Goodreads is more that the statistics and reviews. It’s about the people.
Goodreads is a wonderful community for readers where you share your views and talk with people who have similar interests, and even some who don’t. Yet just like an author, when you publish a review, you open yourself to comments and criticism. I think the biggest misconception here is people feel the review is purely for other readers. This simply isn’t true. Think about your audience. Think about who visits that site on a daily basis. You’re not only writing to potential new readers, but readers who already read the book and even the authors themselves. And certain authors will read your review.
This isn’t a bad thing. Personally, I feel an author who reads their books’ reviews (and does not react negatively, of course) becomes a better author. The problem, however, is when you have to write a negative review, because that’s when all eyes focus on you and the words you chose.
So with negative reviews, I see only two options in writing them. The first is the classic “if you have nothing to say, say nothing at all” and not write a review. Again, not something I really agree with, unless it’s a book I couldn’t finish because it made me so frustrated. I feel every voice should be heard, even if what they aren’t saying exactly what you want to hear. Which leaves me with my second option, which is try to soften the blow as much as possible.
When we write reviews—especially ones we lean strongly one way or another—we tend to write in an emotional state. To reduce this, I will take a couple of days after finishing the book and think logically about what I really want to say, remembering books aren’t just stories, they are someone’s heart and soul.
In conclusion, Goodreads is not just a site for readers. It’s for everyone who loves literature, including authors. I hope I’m preaching to the choir rather than lecturing to the crowd with this post. But I’m also aware that voicing my opinion gives others the right to criticize me in return. That’s the beauty of free speech. After all, it would be boring if we all shared the same thoughts and feelings. Plus, how would we learn how to be better people if we did face a critic a few times in our lives? Of course, we also owe it to others to respect their opinions and not over step our boundaries.