Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Art of Practicing ARC: Stopping the Reviewer/Author Bullying Relationship

“When it comes down to it, I let them think what they want. If they care enough to bother with what I do, then I'm already better than them.” -Marilyn Monroe

When I decided I wanted to become an author and have the public at large read my work, another author gave me some sound advice. She told me I must have a thick skin. People are going to talk about me, not to me, and may say things that will hurt not only about my work, but myself. Don’t comment about it, don’t go after the critics and don’t get involved with those people who say these hurtful things about you because it will come back to bite you.

I took that advice to heart, and after two years of being published, those words of advice are now more important than ever. I knew once I became KT Grant the author, I would become a public figure. The moment my work, aka my books were unleashed on the world and people, aka the consumer decided to use their hard earned dollars for my product aka my book, they have the right to say whatever they want about my work and I have no right to say otherwise. If a reader, the consumer, wants to praise my work in a few sentences or in a mini-essay, I cheer. If a reader wants to do the same, but hated my book, so much that they give a very strong and emotional opinion, I should also cheer. It’s better having people talk about my books than no one talking about them at all, even if my books may only have poor reviews.

Bad reviews do hurt, I’m not going to lie about that. In a perfect world, there would be no criticism, no putting down of others. Everyone would be nice and chose not to be mean, snarky or rude. In a perfect world there would be respect, kindness, generosity and caring toward others.

Unfortunately it’s not a perfect world. People have faults and those around him who don’t like those faults have to live with it, accept it or ignore it. Some go too far and make it a point to ridicule and attack others based on something they don’t like about the person. It could be their face, weight, hair color, their laugh or the size of their ears. Sometimes they go so far that their purpose is to make this person, now their victim, feel horrible and feel like less than a person. The victim will stand there and take it, ignore it and walk away or fight back.

We live in a world where there are bullies. What’s a bully you make ask? A bully is, “a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker and influences to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.” We hear about bullying in schools and in the work place. Sometimes friends will bully friends. Sometimes a spouse will bully another spouse or their children which is known better as a form of abuse.

There is now cyber-bullying. Cyberbullying "involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others."

For some reason, some feel book reviewers, especially on Goodreads, have become cyber-bullies toward authors. A reader who uses Goodreads to keep track of their books and their thoughts will document their opinions about a book they read in a form of a review. It’s up to that reader to decide how many stars the book should get, as well as what they should write for their review, including the tone and how strong they feel about the book. Some reviews are to the point, some are very involved with pictures and GIFs and a large amount of words. Since Goodreads is an on-line community, a book group, other readers can interaction with these readers about what they have read. These discussions can go on for a very long time. Some are very honest. And, especially when some dislikes a book a great deal, others who feel the same have found a kindred soul and feel comfortable enough to leave their honest thoughts believing they won’t get attacked for their opinion.

Then something unfortunate occurs. The author of that work will leave a comment. That author’s comment sometimes comes across as inflammatory. The author lashes out at that reviewer and those who agreed with the review. Sometime authors will use name calling to get their point across, very cruel names to call the reader of the negative review such as “cow”, “bitch”, “douche” and so forth. And from this it snowballs. The reader wants to defend their stance, and those who support this opinion come forth in a very vocal way to put the author in their place. The discussion has now totally changed. Instead of discussing the work, these readers start discussing the author all because the author had to leave a comment. But it doesn’t just stay on Goodreads. Soon the discussion is taken to other on-line social medias as Facebook, Twitter and blogs. And the snowball effect has become a blizzard and a massive WTFckery. The vitriol and rage grows and finally someone brings forth the word –“bullying.”

I’ve talked about the cause and effect of authors attacking reviewers on-line or leaving inflammatory comments on reviews in the past. Authors should never, ever leave an opinion on a reader’s opinion about their book. How many times does it have to be said that reviews are not for the benefit of the authors, it’s for readers by readers. A review is not to stroke an author’s ego, nor is it to destroy their self-confidence. As an author, when you publish your work, you know full well what you’re getting in to. An author can’t be that clueless to think that the entire world will adore their work. There will always be someone, or in most cases, a group of someones who dislike your work. These people will write an opinion piece on your work that can be belittling and caustic that it will bring you to tears. Why in the world would an author search reviews out then? What’s the point of an author google alerting themselves or tweeting themselves and or their book? There’s a 50/50 chance somewhere along the way you’re going to read something about you and your work that’s hurtful and mean. You can’t stop others from commenting on you and your work, but what you can do is walk away and don’t put yourself in a situation where you take it upon yourself to right the wrongs of these people you feel are being mean and bullies.

Bullying is a word that shouldn’t be thrown around or used lightly. When did honest reviewing become such a dangerous thing? You seriously believe a reviewer, and for some odd reason the majority of them on Goodreads, have a goal to purposely write mean and snarky, I want to make the author roll up in a corner and cry reviews? If that were the case, then publications like the New York Times, People, Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly and so forth are all part of this underground movement to write mean and hurtful reviews just because they get off on the suffering of others. The same goes for all those reviews and critics for movies, music, television and theater. Their goal is to write the cruelest and meanest review with the sole purpose in bringing down the artist and ruin their career.

I encompass both roles as a reviewer and author. I try my best to keep both identities separate. I’ve written my share of what some may feel are nasty and mean reviews, but I’ve also written my share of praising, I want to have babies with this book because it’s so good reviews. As an author I’ve received my share of reviews praising my work, as well as some scathing reviews where I’ve been called a plagiarist, a hack, I can’t write to save my life. A few of these reviews almost brought me tears as well as made me want to give up and throw in the towel. After two years I haven’t given up writing. I refuse to.

Authors do put their hearts and souls in to their books. They spend so much time and energy, sacrifice on their work, hoping it will be well received. There’s no promise it will be well received or even published. But the author makes the decision to do this. No one is making an author spend hours on their craft. They do it because they want to. The same goes with reviewers. A reviewer decides on the tone of their review and how honest they want to be. If they have a book blog, they decide to post it there and allow discussions based on what they read. The same goes for a site like Goodreads. The decision is in their hands.

A decision was made a few weeks ago by a person or persons to start a blog about the so-called Goodreads reviewers who bully authors there. The owners of this blog choose to hide their identities because, “we hide our identities for obvious reasons. We know these people. We’ve seen them in action and we know they are vicious. Many of us have already been bullied in our lives, mostly when we were young. We are trying to incite change here. We are not going to do it at the expense of ourselves.”

Yet they will purposely find out as much private information they can and make an example of the so-called bully reviewers on this blog by showing pictures, their real names, where they work and go as far as make comments while making an example about the so-called Goodreads bullying reviewers parenting skills, stating they’re alcoholics and make fun of their disability or handicap they may have.

The owners of this blog have also decided to moderate comments and only allow comments that support their cause. They also twist the so-called bullying drama by not making it a point that during most of these flame wars that happens is because the author leaves a comment going after the Goodreads reviewers or how an author and her agent on Twitter, in public, discusses a not so raving review on Goodreads and went as far as to calling the review a “bitch”. A prime example of what this blog feel is bullying. The reviewer who was called a bitch by the author and a so-called professional, an agent are the ones who were bullied, not the other way around.

I also find it telling that one of the so-called bullying reviewers, a book blogger is in the wrong because she dared to write a blog post boycotting a blogger who is a blatant plagiarist and was responsible for invoking this lynch mob mentality. Who knew a book blogger, or Goodreads review would have so much influence and power to use their own version of a Jedi mind trick to make others become like cattle and follow this so-called bullying reviewer and book blogger?

I could go on and on about the dilemma, but I’ve spoken up about this before and it’s tiresome. As an author, if I go after a reviewer for their opinion of my work and we have words, and then that reviewer decides to talk about me in public on-line, and people join in the fray, it’s not bullying. I made a decision, I took it upon myself to start something. I also make a decision to turn away and not incite anymore flames or caustic behavior.

There's a post on the anti-bullying website, called, Face Bullying With Confidence: 8 Skills Kids Can Use Right Away. The 8 points stated are ones that should be used when the breakdown of that reviewer and author relationship occurs before it spirals out of control. There’s one point that stood out to me important when dealing with this situation of authors overacting about reviews:

Walking with Awareness, Calm, Respect, and Confidence: People are less likely to be picked on if they walk and sit with awareness, calm, respect, and confidence. Projecting a positive, assertive attitude means keeping one’s head up, back straight, walking briskly, looking around, having a peaceful face and body, and moving away from people who might cause trouble.

ARC. ARCs are advance reading copies reviewers get to spread the word about a book and an author. Reviewers want to share the wonders of the written word with others. There’s nothing malicious or cruel about that, regardless of whether a reviewer dislikes a book or not.

Why don’t we all, both reviewers and authors, practice the art of ARC?



Amy J said...

Great post!
I did write one yesterday on my blog because an author became rude with a dear friend of mine because of the feelings she had on a book. People attacked her on Goodreads including the author. The author continued to email her and even went as far as to tell her guidelines on how to rate books. She told her to change her rating to this star because that is how it should be.

KB/KT Grant said...

Amy: I've had reviewers email me asking if they should post their review because it wasn't that positive. I told them go ahead and post that review because I have no right to tell someone not to. An author manipulating a reviewer like that is sad and pathetic. How horrible for your friend.

Blodeuedd said...

Great post, I can't say more as i agree with all the things you said.

And now i read Amy's comment, how horrid. Because that is how it should be, excuse me Miss Author? No that is not the way it should be. I did have an author email me too..a lot and bug me to change a rating on amazon. He did try to bully me but in the end I just said that either the rating stands or I take down the review..and it was a 4!

Juliana Stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CAB said...

Great post. I love to read and if I read something that I really enjoy I absolutely write a review for it. Although I admit, if I absolutely hate a book, I might rate it as I didn't like it, but I am less likely to write my opinion because I don't want to trash a book. The fact is I recognize that I may not like something someone else will.

kara-karina@Nocturnal Book Reviews said...

Beautiful post, Katie! Thank you. It's always a pleasure to read from your blog or from Cuddlebuggery because you are not afraid to tell the truth and you do not mince your words in doing so.
That unfortunate blog which I'm not naming here strikes me as something very similar to religious fanaticism and you can not reason with fanatics. They are in the world of their own with their own twisted reason and logic. Ignoring them and giving them as little publicity as possible will probably be the best option short of legal action.

AnimeJune said...

Great post!

What bothers me so so much about this appalling website is that it actually prevents a true discussion about responsibility in reviewing from taking place.

Reviews can become inappropriate, too - mainly by making things personal. For instance, a review that insults the AUTHOR and their lives, preferences, habits, personal beliefs in any way, rather than critiquing the BOOK, is unprofessional and unacceptable in my opinion. We are here to review the BOOK, not the person.

And you know, we could have started a legitimate dialogue about that - but you can't do that if you cross the line and make someone feel physically unsafe. You just can't.

What really gets me about the bully site is that one of their "targets" was targeted for holding "lynch mobs" against authors by writing posts about their misbehaviour.

What they completely missed or forgot about was that this same blogger did the SAME THING for unprofessional BLOGGERS, too - she's the one who broke the story about the reviewer who, thanks to her anger about an author's misinterpreted Tweet, went and gave her book a one-star review WITHOUT READING HER BOOK. She wrote a review that was DISHONEST because of her anger with the author, rather than the book.

The blogger targeted by the bully site was NOT holding author lynchmobs - she posted about misbehaviour on both sides. It's not her fault that authors do it more frequently.

ahz1 said...

Thanks for a great post.

KB/KT Grant said...

Blodeuedd: An author has the balls to tell a reviewer to change the number of stars given for a review? Sad, really sad. As if the number of stars are really going to destroy and author's career.

CAB: Books are so subjective. One person's diamond is another's lump of coal. I wish author would keep this in mind.

Kara: If people think Cuddlebuggery is mean and nasty, they have been hiding under a rock.

AnimeJune: The blog we shall not name is very one sided to suit their needs. People are realizing this.

ahz1: Thanks!

Miravlix said...

I think your version of the world is to black and white for my liking.

There is MORE bad reviewers than there is bad author reactions. It's a simple fact that since the group of readers is larger than the group of authors, that group automatically have more bad people in it.

But in your world it seems only authors do wrong and it other post I've noticed the same issue of not being able to see the bigger picture, but you pick one thing out of a crowd and say that should be applied to the crowd as a whole.

There is always two sides and if your dealing with normal people they actually believe their side is totally right, but it seldom is.

Some authors is LEGITIMATELY fighting hate filled reviews.

Yes, this lead to some of them fighting non hate filled reviews (and some just fighting reviews) because they can't tell the difference. Dealing with a purely written communication form is not something the human mind is good at, loosing body language in our communication and you might as well be talking to an alien, you simply don't understand the person anywhere remotely like you would if you could see them talk.

Condemning someones action without actually understanding why they do as they do, is not a good way to get enlightened.

KB/KT Grant said...

Miravlix: can you give me an example of a hate filled reviews?

Also, what do you think about print publications like the NY Times and Washington Post, including Kirkus reviews that will be written in a way that are full of snark? Should authors be vocal about those reviews and also go after those reviewers?

There will always be negative reviews regardless it it comes from book bloggers or "professional" critics.

And I'm on both sides because I'm a book reviewer and author.

Lucy Monroe said...

I don't have a lot of time to read blogs. It's telling that yours is one of the few I have in my favorites folder...I visit, but don't comment. I just liked your new definition for ARC so much, I wanted to say so. :)

Cyberbullying is a real problem and it goes in both directions. I've seen authors and reviewers (attacked by other reviewers for not being negative enough) disappear from the online reading community. I've also heard of reviewers or readers who have stopped posting reviews because of the mean response they've received from authors and reader fans.

Like you, I've always felt an author is better off ignoring negative reviews and even the bullies. In my career of publishing more than 50 books, I've responded twice to negative reviews - both times because I thought there was common ground and a respectful platform to do so. Neither time did I feel attacked, nor did I attempt to attack the reviewer. (Since the only book by Stephen King that I love is "On Writing," I'm the first to acknowledge that what delights many may not delight one and vice versa.)

I've got to say I'm kind of glad I have no idea who you are talking about in your post. Just like a certain review site I never visit after reading a horribly mocking review of one of my favorite authors, I think in this case ignorance may be bliss. :)

RRRJessica said...

Great post Kate. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

Lucy Monroe: "Cyberbullying is a real problem and it goes in both directions."

I have to object to Monroe's use of the term "cyberbullying" to refer to readers posting negative reviews. Cyberbullying involves a deliberate, and usually repetitive, attempt to harm someone (i.e. to harass, threaten or intimidate them). Even the snarkiest negative review doesn't come close to cyberbullying.

Lucy Monroe said...

Hi, Jessica...I'm sorry that what I wrote could be misconstrued to mean that. I did not say negative reviews were cyberbullying. I said it is a real problem and that I have seen and heard of industry professionals drop out of participation in the online community because of it.

In the next paragraph I said I think an author is "better off ignoring negative reviews and even the bullies." I thought it was clear "even the bullies" refers to a separate set of people. Again, I am sorry you did not read it that way.

A dear friend and I were discussing this very issue of communication today. How you can say or write something and believe it is quite clear and can have only one meaning, only to have it taken in a completely different way than you intended. She and I laughed about it. I hope you will too. :)

Take care,

P.S. This is a general comment, not directed at Jessica. :)

One thing I've noticed in the description of bullying that might be misleading is the assumption that the conduct must happen repeatedly to the same person for it to be considered bullying. This is not true according to experts in the field. Once a person or group have established bullying behavior and shown their ability to effect negative change in the life of others, they need only attack a victim once for bullying to have occurred.

*Please* do not think I am again saying a negative review is cyberbullying.:) I am not.

But I am pointing out that a single scathing attack on a writer via the forum of review done by an established bully can in fact be that. So too can a politely worded request from an author to take down a review if that author has shown him or herself to be a bully in the past and using his or her reputation to effect change, even without the more easily identifiable behaviors associated with bullying.

I think that most people who have either themselves been bullied, or had close friends/relatives who have been victimized in this way, are not going to scream, "Bully!" over a bad review or a bookshop who refuses to carry their books, or any such nonsense. They recognize the true emotional and psychological cost of bullying and don't belittle it by seeing it behind every door. Just as someone truly cognizant to the horrors committed by Nazi supremacists does not go around calling every authority figure they disagree with Hitler.

Again, it's a matter of respect. And for those touched by the damages of bullying, one would hope they have too much respect for the one touched to label someone they don't like as a bully just because they can.

Do I see cyberbulling happening? Yes. Do I call it for what it is? Among my intimates, yes. Do I believe that behind every negative review lurks a bully? Heck, no. That would make me a bully for happily dissing the fur on everything trend started by Chanel. I may love the designer, but that trend? So not my thing. :) I still wonder, "Karl, love...*what* were you thinking??!!"

Grace Fonseca said...

It sickens me to think that things have spun out of control so fast. I try really hard to write objective reviews. Am I going to like everything I read? No. That's the reality. Just because I didn't like the book, doesn't mean someone else might like. It's an individual right for us to state our opinions. I try to give an honest, but fair opinion. I had to step away from twitter....because of this behavior.

Julie@My5monkeys said...

Great post and thanks for talking about it. I swear every summer I get crazy authors bothering me about something. Lately not this year, but I had an author fight over a star on goodreads, and another author not publish my DNF review of her book because of the formating of it. She left a comment on my goodreads review :( I hate bullies and hate to see it happen to anyone

Nicola O. said...

So much craziness. Kati, the only part of your commentary that I take issue with is this:

they have the right to say whatever they want about my work and I have no right to say otherwise.

Of course you have the right to say otherwise. The problem is that when an author objects to a bad review, it usually just makes them look childish and kind of dumb (IMO).

My blog policy states that I won't post anything that I wouldn't say to someone's face, including the author. When I write a negative review, I really try to frame it with kindness and remember there is a person on the receiving end of my words - not just a faceless bundle of fiber.

My blog doesn't have huge readership, but the only time I ever had anyone respond in any sort of way other than "thank you/glad you liked it!" was a very short, respectful exchange about a teen romance side plot.

I do think if you dish out super-snarky reviews (and I fully admit, these can be pretty funny) you shouldn't be too surprised if someone feels hurt by that and attempts to serve you up a similar dish.

This doesn't in any way endorse the retaliatory measures being dished out by The Blog That Shall Not Be Named, though. Beyond the pale, entirely.

KB/KT Grant said...

The reviews and commentary should stick to the work and not about the author or make personal attacks. Again, if an author is upset about a tone of the reviews based on their work, they don't have to read it. And again, if an author leaves a comment for a reviewer and goes after the reviewer for the review or the tone, then it's enabling all types of remarks from both sides, which leads to some major screaming matches and flame wars.

Now with the GRs bully blog and a GRs reviewer getting an anonymous, threatening phone call, what's the next step? I fear that someone can get really hurt as in an author or a loose cannon will seek out a reviewer and hurt them physically. Are we headed in that direction?