It keeps happening. Authors with some level of clout start seeing their debut novels out in the world, whether through advanced copies or just good ol’ release week, and go hunting through the wilds of Goodreads for that dopamine hit of ego boost: the reviews. Cue Bad Author Behavior.
I’m not sure why they haven’t figured this out yet: Goodreads is not for authors. It’s a social networking platform for readers (it’s right there in the title). And while we appreciate that writers are also sometimes readers and can have their own accounts where they tell their followers about the books they are reading or lightly promote their own, the platform is meant for readers to share what they really think about the books they’ve read.
What they REALLY think. Not what they curate and cull to soothe an author’s potentially hurt feelings. And here is where we come to it.
What Not To Do: Author Edition
A debut author earlier this week decided to go milling around the Goodreads reviews on her release day and found some four star reviews that she did not like. Yes, you read that correctly. FOUR STARS. These reviews were fairly glowing, several paragraphs long and pretty informative, and in some cases qualified they were rounding up or down to four point five stars.
Do you know how GOOD a book has to be for me to give it four point five stars??? It better be Melina Marchetta
or the best it’s getting is a three point five.
But this author (her name is Lauren Hough, and I hadn’t heard of her before Book Twitter exploded onto her bad take, so she’s not the focus of this post; bad author behavior is) decided to call these reviewers “Goodreads assholes” who need to “fall in love” or else only give four-star reviews to show how “super tough” they are. She then doubled down and called out other authors for not liking her tweet because they were terrified of the “scary as shit … fucking nerds on a power trip” that are, let me check my notes again, HER READERS WHO LOVED HER BOOK.
As she was rightly getting called out by book bloggers she tried to backtrack and say she was stoned and not to be taken seriously. But she had taken screenshots of the reviewers and posted them in her tweets, and she didn’t take them down when called out. This is Classic Bad Author Behavior. As this escalated, Book Twitter did what Book Twitter Is Wont To Do and started one-star-bombing her debut book. On her release day.
She didn’t like that. But she did start deleting tweets. But as we all know, tweets are forever. And so is bad author behavior.
We’ve Been Over This
Once an author’s book is out in the world, the reaction to it out of their hands completely. The words are there for the world to read and digest, but how those readers respond to it is their own.
Authors have no right to require a certain reaction, and they certainly aren’t owed a good review. That’s not how this transaction works. Reviewing books is like sex: it’s fun and it’s free. And I get to enjoy it or not without a stranger on the internet’s approval.
But more than that, authors calling out reviewers (readers, book bloggers and the kind of people who spend time writing reviews for their own edification and not for money) is the worst kind of punching down.
This author’s book has been touted by Roxane Gay and Charlotte Clymer. The audio book is narrated by CATE BLANCHETT. Why does she need Debbie and Hannah who are discussing this book with exclamation points and happy emoticons to validate her writing skills? Her coolness? Her clout? Didn’t she get enough of that in HuffPo and through her celebrity friends?
After Kathleen Hale famously wrote a book about how she stalked a reviewer who didn’t like a different one, authors working hard to keep their status as the number one Edgelord on Twitter should know better. In the ranks of Bad Author Behavior, blasting Goodreads reviewers publicly is just below showing up on a book blogger’s porch and barely above writing Nazi romance.
Should reviewers also be assholes? Of course not. They shouldn’t go to an author’s public feed and demand better. They shouldn’t tag authors in unfavorable discussions of their work. But an author is still the one with the sway in a public confrontation, and their behavior matters … if they want to keep selling books.
I’m never sure what the purpose of blasting one’s own readers on Twitter or Facebook is meant to do for an author. Do they anticipate that their review average is going to go UP by complaining? Is it an attempt to impress upon their celebrity followers that they’re still intellectually irascible?
Whatever it is, the consequence is that an entire swath of readers will never engage with your work. Sure, you’ll get the people who wander into a bookstore or Hudson News looking for something they’re pretty sure they’ve seen in Real Simple.
But you won’t get the readers. The ones who jockey for early release copies, who are one-click loyalists of their favorite authors, who have 1500 friends on Goodreads who listen to what they say.
And you’ll never get that review ratio back.
Beth is the proud sponsor of two little women and a huge fan of fandom. She took 3 years of Latin in high school and now speaks fluent pretension, which fully explains her current preference for gay wizard regency novels. She will roll over for a giant book with a map in the front. She takes comic book recommendations every day but Wednesday and TV recommendations never (she knows what's good).