DO NOT ENGAGE: The New/Old Way Writers Deal with Readers

An interesting article first appeared on my Facebook timeline, then crept slowly into Salon‘s website,  about an author going beyond the norm concerning a blogger who gave her book a 1-star review on the Goodreads website.  I thought I might discuss it here because it does concern writing and the folks you hope will be reading.

The author, Kathleen Hale, went into detail in an article posted on The Guardian about her battle with the internet troll who gave her YA book a 1-star review on Goodreads. Now if you’re not familiar with Goodreads (and yes I’m a member too), it’s an Amazon-owned website where readers can identify popular books and review them.

In the new order of publishing this is a good thing; reviews are what drives folks to buying and reading a book for themselves. But the sword is double-edged. Goodreads has come under scrutiny not only because its owned by a web giant whose own website reviews can cause mayhem to an author’s perceived sales  (Amazon Vine readers, anyone?) but there are incidents of authors demanding reviewers who post poor reviews to take the comments back or remove them. The reviewers mounted a campaign of their own, stylized under the initials ABB (Authors Behaving Badly), where a collection of reviewers would trounce an author’s book and the writer to get even for authors who engaged with them.

Hale didn’t like the one-star review she received. On Goodreads (and other places), the YA market is tight and its fans can propel some titles into bestseller status simply on the nature of reviews.  So Hale turned obsessive: trying to figure out the reviewer’s name, get her address and meet with her personally to make the blogger take those wrong things back. The Internet stalker was being stalked, so to speak. Hale even reached out to other authors who experienced this form of trolling to see if anything could be done. One author made it quite clear (although Hale completely ignored the advice):


So this (and you should read Salon’s article, as well as the original in The Guardian to get all the details) took me on a thought-drive in the park. I’m a writer. I have a self-published book on Goodreads and Amazon. The book has reviews, some good, some middling. However it never dawned to me that I should NEVER EVER SPEAK WITH THESE PEOPLE. This is one of the “suggested” rules of authorship on Goodreads. DO NOT ENGAGE WITH REVIEWERS. There is a button that says comment (and the site knows you are an author commenting on a review of your book) that delivers a huge warning that tells you THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA.

But aren’t we supposed to engage with our readers? Are we not told to blog, write, give out freebies, do reviews, host blog chains and chat with readers on Reddit? I get comments on Wattpad all the time concerning ZAK CORBIN. I engage with these readers,if only to say Thank you or to answer a question. And readers have questions … they want to know when the next book is coming out, what will happen to this character, etc. Yes I get mean-spirited comments. I get “this is stupid” comments. I get comments from readers who just want to argue or incite me. I click on the report button and let Wattpad deal with them. Wattpad too has issues with readers and writers tangling up in their forums and comments sections. They have moderators who take stuff down and even block certain users.

This is the new engagement with readers, but it’s also the old engagement. Writers used to be  isolated and  wary of readers who contacted them (try Stephen King’s MISERY for an example of a fan who goes too far). So today’s published author must not only cultivate a social media presence (blogging, Twitter, Facebook … I have them all) but a hide of steel. Once an author puts their work out, they must leave it up to the consumer to decide what to think of it.

Should authors engage with their reviewers, or not?


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