(At the request of people in this thread about the recent policy changes at Goodreads, I'm reposting my comment here.)

* * *

Dear Goodreads,

I have been a registered reviewer on your site since 2010, and was a lurker long before then. In July of this year, I became a Goodreads author when I self-published. When your company was bought by Amazon, I felt the same trepidation and dismay that many other GR users felt: we worried that Amazon's influence would corrupt Goodreads, a site driven by and for readers, and turn it into yet another marketing platform for authors. We worried that there would be no bastion of legitimate, non-commercial book reviews left aside from individual blogs. Amazon's relatively hands-off approach with GR had begun to soothe my fears about corporate parenting...until now.

This may shock you, but even though I'm an author, I still read all the time--as all authors should. And I rely on reviewers to guide my book choices. Reviewers like Steph Sinclair, whose reviews and shelves were deleted without notice. Reviewers like Emily May and Wendy Darling, who are now reconsidering their participation on this site.

And I rely on countless lesser-known reviewers who take the time to review the books they've read--people who review in the good faith that their contributions won't be summarily deleted without warning, or a chance to adjust to your new guidelines. Oftentimes I'm the first person to hit the Like button on a thoughtful, carefully written review that's been sitting in quiet obscurity on your site for years. Sometimes the reviewer replies to a comment I've made years after the original review, and we chat. That's an amazing thing. That's the ongoing conversation that is fiction.

And you guys just barged into that conversation and started slapping duct tape over people's mouths.

Look, deleting those reviews and shelves without notice was wrong. Period. That's not how you Community, guys. When you have a problem with the way the community is using your site, you talk to them about it. You begin a dialogue. You explain the problem and ask for solutions. When you implement a solution, you give users a grace period to adjust--to decide if they want to continue using your site, and if not, to back up their work and take it elsewhere.

You dropped that ball hard, guys. You owe the GR community an apology, and a promise to NEVER summarily delete our content again, if you ever hope to rebuild trust. Let the fact that you've lost some prominent reviewers for good stay your itchy trigger finger in the future.

But the greater problem remains: is this policy change actually helping anyone?

Abuse and bullying should never be tolerated on a community site, no matter which direction it flows from. But just like author Nathan Bransford in his spectacularly ill-informed post, you are misinterpreting legitimate criticism and cataloging as "bullying" and "abuse."

I think we can all agree that a shelf like "author-should-be-raped" should never be permitted on this site. But I have yet to actually see such a shelf. It seems that when shelves like these actually pop up on GR, the mods remove them quickly, as they should. However, there's a lot of hearsay from overly sensitive authors who misinterpret shelves (and GIFs, and star ratings) as personal threats, and I believe that's what's driving your decision to disallow author-centric shelves and reviews.

Well, I have a huge problem with that, Goodreads. Because as a reader, I have zero desire to contribute financially to misogynists, homophobes, racists, pedophiles, and other reprehensible human beings. And your new policy disallowing discussion of authors' real life behavior is preventing that. I want to be informed if the author whose book I'm considering purchasing supports causes and ideologies that conflict with my values. I don't care if the author thinks that's "mean." A public figure--as all authors are--is subject to scrutiny. It is not "bullying" to call out a public figure who promotes hateful causes. It is not "abuse" to point out that a reactionary author attacks her reviewers. That's public information about a public figure, and it is relevant to those interested in the author's books.

Your new policy is also really vague and hypocritical. Does it apply to living authors only? What about deceased authors? You do realize the literary canon is pretty much full of racist, sexist, privileged Dead White Dudes, right? So can we no longer discuss Joseph Conrad's racism in context of Heart of Darkness? Or John Updike's sexism? How about T.S. Eliot and Roald Dahl's anti-Semitism? What about the fact that Walt Whitman faked his own reviews? And geez, you may as well delete Mein Kampf from the site right now, considering it's nigh-impossible to discuss it without referring to its author, aka The Worst Human Being Ever. (Oh, shit. I just called out an author. SORRY, HITLER.) (Not actually sorry. Fuck Hitler.)

Are you starting to see the silliness of your policy change yet?

Goodreads, what you've done is being seen by many people as catering to offended authors at the expense of readers. Listen to the messages above (and those on social media, and blogs, and everywhere on the internet this week): your users feel betrayed. We feel like you're promoting an Us vs. Them mentality that will only further divide the community, and exacerbate the small pockets of hostility that exist between authors and reviewers. Yes, by all means, when actual bullying and abuse occurs, handle it. But you need some SERIOUS perspective adjustment on what actual bullying and abuse entails. Because right now you are starting to sound more and more like a certain "anti-bullying" site that, ironically, is itself an instrument of bullying. Who will need STGRB anymore when Goodreads itself fulfills their role?

Please note that I have used inclusive pronouns here: we, us, our. Because even though I'm a "published author" now, I was first and foremost a reader, and that is primarily how I continue to use this site: I read and review. And you are systematically making it less and less useful for that.

I believe Goodreads should remain true to its nature as a site driven by and for readers. You do not need to cater to me as an author. I don't want you to, your advertising and author programs honestly kinda suck, and I don't think you can successfully serve both groups. Please reconsider this change and your overall direction, and remember what made you the great site you are, and may yet remain:

Readers.

Sincerely,
Leah Raeder
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163 comments
781 likes · like  • 
Published on September 23, 2013 13:02 • 6,124 views
Comments (showing 1-50 of 163) (163 new)    post a comment »

message 1: by Stacey (new)

Stacey You go. Amen to that!


message 2: by Kristi (new)

Kristi Well said!!


message 6: by Катя (new)

Катя Thank you for saying that so perfectly, Leah.


Wendy'sThoughts first- thank you for expressing what we as readers have been feeling regarding this new policy.
second- my respect for you hasn't increased; it couldn't as I already have such high regard for you as a person and artist, there really isn't anywhere to go :D


message 8: by Sanny (new)

Sanny Great post - I hope it gets the credit it deserves.

Unfortunately, Amazon (and GR in association) has shown time and time again how much they love to ignore valid critism.


message 9: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Huston Thank you for writing this. You've managed to concisely say why there ought to be a reader's site that is unbiased and open to readers to say what they want. Very well done!


message 10: by Disgonbgud (new)

Disgonbgud Well said.


message 11: by Emmy (new)

Emmy Incredibly well said argument. Thanks Leah.


message 12: by Haley (new)

Haley This is perfection, Leah, from a reader's standpoint, an author's, and a GR user!


message 13: by julio (new)

julio Bravura post. Instant fan.


message 14: by Liz (new)

Liz Wilkins Perfectly stated. Have Tweeted. Will facebook. Thank you.


message 15: by AnnaLund (new)

AnnaLund Beautiful post. Well said.


message 16: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia +1000


message 17: by Annie (new)

Annie This deserves a standing ovation.


message 18: by Karen (new)

Karen This could not have been expressed more perfectly. Yes as someone has already posted I tip my hat to you and I join in their standing ovation. If there is any justice in the world goodreads will listen, if not then perhaps they too will go the way of the dinosaur. I guess we all need to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.


message 19: by Sara (new)

Sara Hemenway This is amazing!!


message 20: by Shelley (new)

Shelley aka Gizmo's Reviews Brilliantly said Leah!


message 21: by Keeley (new)

Keeley Excellent x


message 22: by Stacey (new)

Stacey My husband calls my book selection process "reading social activism." One of the things that helps me choose is (or used to be,) seeing how authors interact in reader spaces. Bad behavior = no sale for you. More than that though, I appreciate reviews that comment on author behavior and beliefs in other spaces, such as racism, misogyny, unwanted sexual advances at professional events (boob-grabbers, butt-pinchers, propositioners and serial creepers, etc.)

I want to know before I read, because these things are relevant to my reading experience, not some tangential factoids.

A review that tells me gender, race/nationality, political and/or social views, activism, and so on, is highly relevant, and I actively seek out voices that contribute diversity and inclusion to my choices. GR used to be the place I could count on to help me locate that information.

I would like Goodreads to explain to me how it shouldn't have bearing on my decision-making if (frex) an author donates money to anti-equality lobbyists, and why that information does not belong on an individual's review of a part of that author's body of work.

My friends and I talk about books, in person and in online spaces. We follow each other's reviews, we share recommendations. If on occasion, I want to make some commentary under my own name, on a book that everybody is reading, regarding why I refuse to read it related to EITHER problematic themes within the book, OR problematic behavior by the author, then HOW IS THIS IRRELEVANT TO THE DISCUSSION?

Here's a real, true personal experience from a year or so past:

I attended an author event by a BIG NAME AUTHOR with a very large catalog. He spent nearly the entire event bragging about his output, telling us his plans for future 12-18 book series, and telling us what was wrong with stories by other big name authors, how they screwed up their story, and how he was going to rewrite the series to fix everything. I can't recall a single complimentary thing he said about another author, his entire tone was sneering and authoritarian, I found it very distasteful. I swore to never read one of his books, although I had several in my shelves, both on GR, and on my physical dtb shelves.

My personal decision regarding this event that I personally witnessed, was to just remove all of his books from my GR shelves, and to take the few hard copies I owned from my tbr pile and give them to Goodwill, because he wasn't worth my valuable time. However, I would like to know why, if I had chosen to update a TBR on GR to a DNR with an explanation and account of his appalling arrogance, that this wouldn't have anything to do with reading and reviewing? And yet, under the new TOS, my experience at a book event, for a particular book, with this author, is now somehow off-topic.

I'm so cranky about this I'm blithering.


message 24: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Best post about this I have seen so far, and there have been some incredible ones. Brava.


message 25: by Leah (new)

Leah Thank you to everyone who's commented and liked this. ♥

@Stacey: "Reading social activism" - LOVE THIS. Hell to the yes.

It's going to be a HUGE issue when the Ender's Game movie comes out in November and people check out the book. And I'm incredibly pissed that GR is going to censor any discussion of OSC's raging homophobia and general crackpottery.

The dude is seriously noxious:

http://skipendersgame.com/
http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/201...


message 26: by Taznim (new)

Taznim Well said!!!


message 27: by Jessie (Ageless Pages Reviews) (last edited Sep 23, 2013 02:11PM) (new)

Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews) I think I love you. And you've just convinced me to buy your book.


message 28: by Kristen (new)

Kristen Perfectly stated!


message 29: by Mike (new)

Mike Since when is GoodReads supposed to be a community? I know, I know, that's an incredibly harsh way of putting it, but would you consider FaceBook a community? Would you say that Twitter is one big family? Of course not - just like GoodReads, they're social networks. And when running a social network, your first priority has to be deleting objectionable content. Giving people warning would be nice, but if they feel like it's important for the content to be deleted now, they have every right to delete it. After all, it's their website. They control anything that people post, and one should go into any social network aware of this. As a result, stuff will be unfairly taken down anywhere. Are they out of line for some of what they deleted? Probably. I agree with most of what you said about the content changes, although I don't think it's nearly as big a deal as all that. But GR doesn't have to say shit to it's users before deleting content it thinks is a violation of its rules. And really, saying that they're 'slapping duct tape over people's mouths' is going too far with it, in my opinion. It's not like they're stopping people from expressing opinions, just stopping them from bullying (for the most part - the Mien Kampf thing was indeed ridiculous.)


message 30: by James (new)

James And never mind how we go about reviewing autobiographies of sub-perfect people under this new policy...


message 31: by Pete (new)

Pete Morin Excellent statement


message 32: by Leah (last edited Sep 23, 2013 02:24PM) (new)

Leah Mike wrote: "Since when is GoodReads supposed to be a community? I know, I know, that's an incredibly harsh way of putting it, but would you consider FaceBook a community? Would you say that Twitter is one bi..."

You're being unnecessarily literal here. Of course Goodreads "can" do anything they want. They can delete the entire site tomorrow if they desire.

We're discussing this with the assumption that GR wants to retain their userbase and minimize abuse issues.

As for "stopping them from bullying," that is the entire point of my post: shelving an author as a BBA or discussing that author's public RL activities is not "bullying."


message 33: by Bunny (new)

Bunny Beautiful, cogent, balanced posting. Very very well said.


message 34: by Cathryn (new)

Cathryn Fantastic!


message 35: by Serena (last edited Sep 23, 2013 02:30PM) (new)

Serena Yates Perfectly said! I am totally with you - I am first and foremost a reader and while I do not support bullying and needless personal attacks, the deletion of first negative, and now several "too positive" reviews deeply worries me. I am afraid that, once the door has been opened to such deletions, there is no stopping the damage being done. Especially since there was no discussion, no warning, and there is still a lack of clarity as to what becomes "deletable".

And what about some sort of "checks and balances"? Some sort of oversight over what gets deleted? A way to appeal a decision?

Beyond that, the example of Hitler as an author of "Mein Kampf" is what went through my head - how can you not see the author's persona and beliefs as part of the evaluation of his "work"????? This case may be extreme, but it makes the point very well.


message 36: by Emily May (last edited Sep 23, 2013 02:52PM) (new)

Emily May Hi again, Mike. As someone who was bullied every day for a long time, I take issue with the word "bullying" being used to describe calling out authors for their own bad behaviour and/or stating your reason for not reading a book as being due to a dislike of the author. I think goodreads is stopping people from expressing their opinions on books, this is an interesting post on the matter: http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/3...


message 37: by Emily May (new)

Emily May Edit: Also, well done, Leah. This was a great post :)


message 38: by LaVerne (new)

LaVerne Clark Excellent post, Leah. I'm in total agreement. Come on, GR - communication is the key.


message 39: by Tishke (new)

Tishke Bravo! Thank you for expression how so many of us feel at this moment.


message 40: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Leah: I loved every word of your post, and thank you for taking the time to write it.

The thing that puzzles me about GR's deletion of shelves mentioning "author behavior" is that typically, these shelves reflect PUBLIC behavior. Perhaps they are actions that the author now regrets, but nevertheless, these actions were put out for the world to observe. I don't recall ever seeing a shelf like "Picks His Nose In His Car" or "She Is Mean To Her Husband At Home."

But an author who gets in Twitter arguments with reviewers, for example, made the decision to share that with the world. Why do we, as reviewers, have to ignore and hide that author's behavior?


message 41: by Bea (new)

Bea Well written!


message 42: by Tom (new)

Tom One of Mike's recent comments: "I honestly feel a little sorry for Klein. Based on my interactions with her, she seems like a nice person who deserves to be respected as an author. But if she's going to do that, she needs badly to edit her books better than this. Because quite frankly, this is an absolute mess." Is your comment above MEANT to be ironic, Mike?


message 43: by Dustin (new)

Dustin Leah, I LOVE your post! You are SPOT-ON, you've nailed how I (and most of GR, I think) feel about their poor decision. Thank you so very, very much!!


message 44: by Jason (new)

Jason and this is how an author gets a following. total respect and appreciation.


message 45: by deirdre (new)

deirdre Nicely stated! Thank you . . .


message 46: by Deeze (new)

Deeze not just good but GREAT post. Well said


message 47: by Stacee (new)

Stacee Well said, Leah.


message 48: by Lisazj1 (new)

Lisazj1 I don't think anyone could have said it better. I'm going to look for your books right now because if they're anywhere near as awesomely well written as this post, they should be great reading!


message 49: by Lisazj1 (new)

Lisazj1 Heh. I already have your book downloaded to read! :D


message 50: by Mark (new)

Mark Matthews Nice. If someone goes and takes down the 1 star review that says I clearly know nothing about what I am writing about, I will genuinely be upset.

Let's hope it's an overaction and the pendulum swings back.

I'm waiting to see how books on our "To Be Read" shelves end up on our Amazon suggested buys.


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