Firstly, let me explain. I am posting this because Goodreads use the feed from my blog and repost it on their site. (Even though, if you visit my blog, you will see that all content is copyrighted and needs permission to be reproduced). And I want them to read this. This week I have been horrified by the treatment some authors have received from Goodreads and also by a small proportion of their users. I emphasise SMALL because I believe there are thousands of genuine, lovely readers on Goodreads. I want to make it clear that this is not about you. But someone I care about - a Goodreads user - was hounded by malicious messages this week because she dared to openly disagree with one feature of the site. She was sticking up for me and the abuse she received was so horrendous it made her want to close her own blog.
As authors, we're not supposed to answer back. If we get a bad review, or our books are rated and reviewed even when we're still writing it and nobody could have read the book because it doesn't exist (this happens on Goodreads), or if we receive abusive comments on our blogs and websites, or if people illegally download our work without paying for it, we're not meant to say anything about it. If we do, we're 'bad sports', or we 'only want to see good things about ourselves', or we shouldn't complain because we're 'doing our dream job' and, as such, 'have asked for it'. Now, apparently, our views don't matter to sites who use our books as collateral in order to generate discussions, either. A senior bod at Goodreads recently told a publishers' conference, "Goodreads isn't for authors." Fair enough, but without books (and authors) for the site to discuss, where would Goodreads be?
So, if you're a debut author who has self-published your book and know, without a shadow of a doubt, that nobody can have read it yet, but are faced with one and two-star ratings supposedly from someone who has read your novel, that's apparently OK. You can't answer back - and, when you contact the site displaying the clearly false rating, you're told their users are doing nothing wrong and that 'most users will take the rating with a pinch of salt anyway'. Except that if you're relying on a site like Goodreads to make readers aware of your self-published debut novel (and we're told as writers that the reason we can't complain is that it's good publicity), a low star rating could put off potential readers from even looking at your book. I've heard many stories like this from authors this week. And it's not just debut novelists: Harlan Coben posted this today:
To those reviewing MISSING YOU on Goodreads: I'm only halfway done writing it so could u tell me how it ends? Thanks. http://t.co/C7drEjX9Ul— Harlan Coben (@HarlanCoben) August 19, 2013
But what angers me, more than all of the above, is that when people dare to openly question the system, they are subjected to malicious, horrific abuse. Abuse that they, like authors, are not supposed to respond to. I won't name the lovely lady who encountered this treatment this week because I don't want any more morons heading to her site. But she is a good friend of mine, an excellent reviewer and a member of Goodreads. She responded after I commented on Twitter that my new book had received a rating in June, when the rater couldn't possibly have read it because, like Harlan Coben, I was still working on it. She was angry at how some people were abusing the site she was proud to be a member of. So she spoke out. And the torrent of abuse she received was so bad it made her want to close the blog that she's worked so hard to create and is so well-respected by readers, publishers and authors alike. This is wrong. Whatever Goodreads say about their users, they cannot condone the merciless hounding of one of their users who dares to raise her head above the parapet - ultimately because she wants to make the site she is a member of a better place.
So, I'm standing up. I will not tolerate people being abused on social media or websites like Goodreads, especially not in my name. This lady did nothing wrong. She spoke up to improve the site she felt was being abused by a tiny, idiotic minority. She spoke up to protect Goodreads, by suggesting one thing the site could change to improve it. She did not ask to receive so much abuse that she was scared to go online. This has to stop. NOW. If you're reading this on Goodreads, do something about it. Raise awareness of the abuse perpetrated in the website's name by a minority of its users. Bullying of any kind is illegal. It should be taken seriously. Because if it is allowed to continue through inaction, it can be devastating. I am not prepared to stand by and allow it by my silence.