Ever since I began publishing independently in 2013, friends and fellow authors have warned me, “Don’t get involved with Goodreads. It’s poison for authors. There are people there who take pleasure in destroying writers – and the platform does nothing to stop them.”
I wondered about that, but life, the universe and everything has kept me so busy that I haven’t had time for many such forums or discussion groups. My blog takes up a couple of hours each day, and the ordinary alarums and excursions of everyday life refuse to take a back seat to my writing. (So do our cats. As far as they’re concerned, we humans exist to satisfy their needs. If we have any time or energy left over after doing that, they might grudgingly condescend to allow us a little creative “alone time” – but they reserve the right to interrupt us at [their] will.)
Now an article in City Journal illustrates how Goodreads harmed one particular author by allowing reviewers to spread untruths and inaccurate reviews, and refused to do anything to stop them.
Every author understands that negative reviews are a fact of life. But what’s one to do when his book is targeted by malicious actors who exploit a corporation’s feckless approach to content moderation? A group of people leveled untrue personal attacks against me in the guise of reviews on Goodreads, a social network for books owned by Amazon. My publisher warned me that my books were in jeopardy on Amazon platforms, and I flagged the reviews as personal attacks. But Goodreads let them stand and then banned me from its site without explanation.
The affair began in April, when I noticed a one-star review of my latest book, Mad Travelers, on Goodreads. The reviewer—let’s call her Courtney—categorized my book as “awful garbage” and added that she was “pretty sure I hated women.” … All the characters in the book are men because no women were involved in the events. Nothing controversial or derogatory about women appears in the book; and though I’ve written many columns in my career, I’ve never covered women’s issues.
Since the review contained nothing about the book, I believed that she’d never read it. When I flagged the review, Goodreads left it in place, so I wrote a response, pointing out that I do not hate women and asking Courtney what she was referring to. The comment was deleted, but the review remained, even though it was an ad hominem attack—supposedly prohibited, according to Goodreads’ review guidelines … When I asked [Courtney] over email why she wrote that I hated women, she responded that all the female characters in my book are “portrayed as villains.” (Mad Travelers contains no women and only one man who could be construed as a villain.)
. . .
After that incident, the publisher of Post Hill Press, which published my book, called me. He said that Courtney had contacted Goodreads via Twitter and had sent messages to executives at Post Hill and at Simon & Schuster, the book’s distributor, claiming that I was harassing her and threatening her with lawsuits. My publisher said that all of my books—all about travel, none political—risked being pulled from the Amazon platform. And so, a corporation that sells about 70 percent of my books, according to my publisher, wasn’t just providing a platform for “reviewers” to defame me but also had the power to effectively kill my sales, too.
. . .
This is not my first brush with Big Tech harassment. Last year, when my third book, Footsteps of Federer, was published, I tried to advertise the book on Instagram and Facebook but was “permanently banned” from advertising on the platform for reasons that remain a mystery to me.
Silencing users with unfashionable opinions—while allowing those with the right opinions to break the rules—is all too common online these days, as conservatives have learned. Those with huge platforms, like Matt Walsh, can overcome such treatment … But those of us without such a high profile are easier to vaporize.
There’s more at the link. It’s well worth reading.
I haven’t had too many problems with reviewers like that, but there have been some on Amazon. One review (three-star) said a novel of mine was OK, except for all the sex and drugs. (The book contained not a single reference to either.) Another one-star review protested that an incident I described was so far-fetched as to be physically impossible, and trashed the entire book as a result. I could only point out, in a comment, that the incident was, in fact, based on real life, and had been witnessed by multiple people. It wasn’t a figment or a product of my imagination at all.
Then there are those who have their own ideology and express it in their reviews. A reviewer of my memoir of prison chaplaincy accused me of a “stunning lack of empathy” and ranted, “If you’re poor, struggling, sick, flawed, criminal or basically just any human being that crosses his path, don’t expect any religious charity or understanding in his writing.” Odd, that – I had some hardline conservatives accusing me of being too empathetic towards criminals, and not strict enough in dealing with them. I guess you can’t please everybody…
At any rate, having read the City Journal article, I can only thank those who suggested that I steer well clear of Goodreads and its rabid reviewers. I’m glad I took their advice. Have any Mad Genius Club readers got any stories to confirm or contradict the article? If so, please let us have them in a comment, so we can all learn from your experience.