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Bullying on Goodreads Leads to User Exodus

Authors expect bad reviews after a book is published.   Great Ducks Of The Universe - how authors should expect bad reviews.  Good reviews come as well, of course, and they make a writer's world a better place but the bad ones can really play some mind tricks on a writer who actually reads reviews.  I've learned to screen them - one quick glance through and then no more.  No hair shirts will be employed.  There will be no weeping or gnashing of teeth.

Opinions are like personality quirks and pet peeves - everyone has them, they are often vastly different, and the only opinion you should follow is your own.  Often people will play follow-the-leader with opinions, snap judgments or bad behavior.  I don't do that because I think PC stands for Petty Crap and that followers will NEVER arrive at any destination of their choosing.  I have my own opinions.  You're not required to like them, agree with them or follow them.  You're only required to respect my right to have them.  For example,  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE me some old school romance - yes, bodice ripping and all.  I'm actually bright enough to separate what I read from what I believe or how I'll act in real life.  I read to get away from real life.

In real life, I wouldn't put up with a bodice-ripping guy no matter how hunky he appeared.  I'd also NOT leave a shoe and wait for a handsome Prince to show up and rescue me - but I still love Cinderella.

Yes, we expect bad reviews AFTER a book is published, but no one expects to be tormented, bullied or threatened over a book, specially not BEFORE it's published.  Yet that's what occurred this week and it has caused one author to pull a book she was about to publish and to give up on writing altogether.  That's sad and it's sadder still that it occurred on Amazon's Goodreads community.  It was - or was intended to be - a site where readers discovered books and sometimes had a chance to interact with other readers who were also authors.  (Every writer is a reader.)

Lauren Howard, a/k/a Lauren Pippa, fell victim to a campaign of abuse and bullying on Goodreads and cancelled the release of her debut novel, "Learning To Love."  Here's how Lauren described events:

As someone who was bullied throughout her entire high school career, I absolutely refuse to let myself be a victim to these kinds of people ever again. I refuse to be bullied in any capacity. I must stress that had this criticism come after my book release, I would quite easily have dealt with it (I know everyone wouldn’t love my book), but the fact that I have been targeted this way prior to release and that these people have not read my book is just one of many reasons I needed to cancel release.

This morning, I was messaged on Goodreads by someone who told me that there is a group of people within the site that have been emailing my Goodreads link between themselves to other people to encourage them to shelve my book under abusive things and rate it one star. She told me that in the space of an hour she had been exposed to my book cover over 10 times by people making fun of me, the New Adult community and my book.

Again, these people do not have ARCs and have not read my book.

. . . .

I am absolutely horrified that Goodreads allows this behaviour, and I will not be a part of a site where it is acceptable to wish rape, sodomy, abuse and death on someone, simply because they dared to ask a simple, innocent question. Apparently this bullying is freedom of speech.

I first heard of this on Romance Divas - the forum where romance authors interact and exchange information.  It's a great, great place.  I expect that Lauren was not a Diva.  If she had been, the advice of some of the wise and experienced writers on the forum could have helped her deal with this, and she could have called upon the Diva community to intervene on her behalf - to bully the bullies.  But it sounds like Lauren dealt with this mainly alone, and based upon having been a High School victim of bullying, she chose not having to experience it again, even at the cost of publishing a book she had clearly worked hard to write.  Writing is a labor of love, but don't let anyone fool you - writing is also work.

The bad sheep on Goodreads were following the kind of leaders who exist solely to brew misery, mischief and misfortune.  First, they started a campaign to give the "not yet released" book very, very poor ratings.  When that failed to create enough drama, they began putting the "not yet released" book on shelves containing sarcastic, mean or threatening labels.  What kind of labels?  I didn't see them, and understand that Amazon removed most of them (as they well should), but witnesses say there were labels like this:

Aggressive-male-affection-in-prison, authors-being-aholes, psycho-fan-bitches, sodomy-by-lawn-sculpture, wouldratherchokeonmotoroilspooge, shitty-covers, great-soft-sissy-girly-nancy-french, no-fucking-way, abusive-attention-whore-authors.

Author Anne R. Allen who wrote "Gangs of New Media" says she witnessed the labels GR users were putting on the shelves holding this book.  She says there were "dozens" threatening the author with sodomy, rape and murder. The "blender" labels quoted above were toned-down versions of the originals, many of which, as noted, Amazon removed. According to STGRB, the blog that takes a stand against bullies,   Anne's comment was in response to a poster challenging the claim because Lauren didn't have screenshots to back up her account.  STGRB notes that Lauren was so new that she didn't know to take screenshots.

Lauren originally put up the post quoted on The Passive Voice blog.  I saw Lauren's original post, before she took it down, via a link on Divas, as noted above.  Now, on Lauren's blog, you find a note, which reads as follows:

I have no time for this.  ENJOY YOUR LIFE and stop wasting time on endless negativity!  Continue to be mean or continue to support, because it makes no difference to me.  I'm shutting myself off from this and living my life.  I do not nor did I ever want any part of this.  The smutty book of a boring girl DOES NOT MATTER.  Stop wasting your time stirring drama and MOVE THE FUCK ON.  Love & light to everyone.


I'm not certain of what Lauren did originally that caused such "offense" on Goodreads.  Because some of the shelves refer to her as "attention seeking", my guess would be that she made the error of entering ongoing discussions by posting comments that promoted her soon-to-be-released book.  It's an "early author error" that I made - back in the day - on the Kindle forums.  Regardless of what Lauren did to promote her book that perturbed GR users so much, the labels and threats against the writer are utterly unjustifiable.  They can vote down a book that hasn't been published yet and destroy any credibility they had with any GR users in the process of giving a low rating to a book they haven't read.  That's not honest, but it is at least an attack on the book.

What they can't do is attack the author or threaten her personally.  They don't know the author.  They could say hey, this author is promoting on threads where we are trying to have serious discussions -- or she's doing X, Y, Z to promote her book and we find that offensive enough to downrate her book before it's published.  They could say the low ratings are a message about objecting to the promo tactics.  All of that would be reasonable.  But - threats of rape, sodomy and murder?  That is never - under any circumstances - okay.  In fact, it's criminal behavior.

STGRB reports that in response to the whole event, many GR users have canceled their accounts.  That's understandable, but highly unfortunate.  It's similar to Lauren cancelling the publication of her book.  Surrender should not be the first option.  It should rarely - if ever- be an option at all.  I have a GR account, but like most of the Divas, my account is a "one way street."  I feed my blog in - and, when I remember to do so - I claim my books.  (I haven't been to GR in ages so I'm not sure I'm even current with claiming my books.).  But I have not been interacting with readers on the site.  My books are a love/hate deal anyway, so I expect that there are shelves all over GR calling them everything under the sun.  Bad ratings may be the norm - I don't know and, at present, I don't much care.  But I have not abandoned GR.  Why?

I don't have much faith in GR based on its history, but I have a great deal of faith in Amazon based on my personal relationship with that company.  Amazon has proved that it is a publishing partner that can - and should - be trusted.  Based on my faith in Amazon, which bought GR a little while back, I believe that the GR site will be cleaned up.  I think the Zon will evict the bullies and refuse to allow them to have GR accounts in the future.  I hope that the Zon also does a little detective work based on the account info they have at GR and reports any and all persons making threats to appropriate police authorities in the account-holder's area.  Doing those things would go a long way towards returning GR to a site where readers can interact as readers, or readers can choose to interact with authors.  I agree that authors have no place pushing their way into discussions to promote their work.  That behavior should get authors permanently evicted from the site as well.

As for Lauren, I hope she changes her mind, publishes her book and returns to writing.  The GR bullies have given her a great gift.  She's had publicity she never, ever would have received otherwise.  She should take advantage of it because in a capitalist society, that's what we do.  People behaved badly to try to harm a writer.  That writer profiting from the bad actors is the sort of poetic justice that even Shakespeare would have appreciated.  I also hope that Lauren joins Divas, to give her a place where she can get great advice about absolutely everything about publishing or promotion.   And when a bad thing happens, it gives her friends in her corner - the kind of friends who will go to bat for her, take up her cause and help her right any wrongs.

Lauren should keep in mind that the people who turn themselves into bullies at such sites are by and large folks who have no real power, accomplishments or acclaim in their "real" lives.  They can't create.  They can't do legitimate reviews.  All they can do is behave badly and possibly con or terrorize a bunch of others into following their lead.  It's a lot like a person running the office supply room at a large company.  That person can't be the CEO or a big shot executive.  That person lacks the power to influence anything or to make any mark.  All they have is that supply room.  So they turn into the Greatest Control Freak On Earth as to the dispensing of office supplies.  They may ask for your first born in exchange for a box of paper clips and you don't even want to consider what they'd  want for a new stapler.

The route around the mail room mafioso is the same route around bullies that exists everywhere.  Don't keep quiet; don't lie down and take it;  always fight back.  Posting it on her blog and screaming about it was a good start.  She should also have emailed Amazon -- posted on her blog a demand that Amazon Act to punish the bullies - tweeted about the incident and tweeted every link, every demand for Amazon to act.  Tweeted to Amazon - links showing her demands, other reactions, etc.  Reported the bullies to her local police.  Insisted that Amazon report the threats to police in the area where the bullies lived.

I'm very sorry that this happened to Lauren, but it should be a rallying cry to writers everywhere.  Find a community of friends.  Find a forum where folks have your back and you have theirs.  Again, for romance authors, Romance Divas is a great site.  I'm not familiar with forums for other genres, but I'm sure they are out there.  So, Lauren and all the future Laurens who may read about this and decide to stop writing - I urge you NOT to do that.

The pen really is MIGHTIER than the sword, no matter how much bullies might wish otherwise!!!