You Have the Right to Remain Positive: My Reaction to Goodreads “Bullying”

When a newly published author asks me for advice, the first thing I usually tell them is, “Don’t read reviews.” Then, I almost always throw in the addendum, “especially don’t read Goodreads reviews.”

Today, an article spread across the web and Twitter that likens some particularly harsh Goodreads reviews to “author bullying.” After publishing six novels, what I’ve learned about Goodreads is this: It’s for readers. It’s for readers to share their opinions, as they have every right to do, in whatever form they choose. It’s not a site for authors to receive helpful critique about their work, nor is it intended to be. And for its intended purpose, it is an excellent site.

It’s true, some things that are said online are harsher than if they’d been said in person.  Because people feel protected and distanced by their screens. But we are an online world now. It’s time we get used to it and learn to work with it.

Why do I tell authors not to read reviews? Because it’s wasted energy. A bad review is going to upset you. It’s inevitable. No matter who wrote it and no matter how much you belittle them after you’ve read it. It’s just a matter of fact. You will be affected by it on some level. Unless you’re an author who’s miraculously managed to completely detach from the emotions of feedback. (There are some out there and I applaud them.)

So if you know it’s going to negatively affect you, why choose to do it?

Why choose to put yourself through that? Don’t you have better things to do with your time? Like write more books? Or focus on your fans—the people who actually do like your book?

Time and energy is in such short supply. For everyone. Why choose to give any of yours over to something that doesn’t serve you?

We have a choice in everything we do. Free will still exists in the online world. And I’m no longer just talking about authors. We choose what we read, who we follow, who we friend, what we watch. And you have the right to spend your time and energy on things that make you happy.

You have the right to remain positive.

Despite what’s going on around you.

Those who know me know that I strive to lead a life that’s full of positive thinking and optimism, and void of complaining. This is my choice. I’ve found that it works for me and has brought me happiness and success.

You have the choice to lead your life however you want. So do Goodreads reviewers, so do Yelp reviewers, so do Facebook commenters.

But if negative or hateful reviews are ruining your day, choose not to read them.

If someone is blowing up your timeline with incessant griping that drains you, choose not to follow them.

If a book is not your preferred style or genre, choose not to buy it.

The choice is always yours.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating cyber bullying in anyway. That is definitely a real problem (especially among teens) that needs to be addressed and resolved and I’m not setting out to do either in this post. I’m only hoping to remind you that just because it’s posted on the internet, doesn’t mean you have to pay attention to it.

Getting back to published authors for a moment. The word “publish” derives from the word “public.” It literally means to offer your work to the public. Whether you’re self published or traditionally published, the choice to publish your work comes with a huge decision.

Do I want to open myself and my book up to public scrutiny?

If the answer is no, then there is no shame in writing just for you. Or for your family or close knit circle of friends. If you love to write, then write! Publishing (and hence receiving public opinion) is definitely not for everyone.

If the answer is yes, then by all means, publish away. But be warned that not all feedback will be good. Not all feedback will be elegant. Not all feedback will be invited.

I write because I love it. Because it makes me happy. I share my writing with the world because it brings me joy to see my words reach people and because I like entertaining others. I realize not everyone is going to be entertained by my books and certainly not everyone is going to like them. And I’m fine with that. It’s something I’ve been able to come to terms with over the past six years of being a published author.

I choose to focus on the readers who do like my books. I write for them. And I will continue to write books for them for as long as they’re willing to read them. I know the others are out there. And every once in a while, despite my efforts, they manage to sneak into my consciousness and steal a little bit of my energy. But every day, I do my best to keep my focus where I want it. To choose who I give my time to. And to remain positive.

Because it’s my right.


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  • So well said!

    Speaking from a passionate reader/reviewer’s perspective Goodreads is an easy forum to voice reader’s opinions IN THE MOMENT. I can only speak for myself; my Goodreads timeline is littered with comments of how I might feel not so nicely towards a character, or timeline… yet still love the book on the whole and buy it, and/or recommend it to someone who might like it more than I do. A lot of the time I’ll toot the horn of the author and try and promote them if I can. Because those authors who do decide to publish have some big cajones. And if it’s just for that, their talent should be recognized. (Point of this ramble: authors rock. Even if you read something negative, it might not be the whole truth.)

  • Hey, Jessica. Thanks for posting this! It came to me at exactly the right time…my debut YA novel is out next week, and just today I read one too many reviews on Goodreads. 🙂 Also, thanks for coming to Tampa in June. I heard you speak at the B&N. You were awesome then, too!

  • Wow. Such a good post! I’m a writer (but not published) and also a book blogger and avid reviewer. I get worried, seeing all the really harsh reviews on Goodreads. That’ll be my book one day. It’s not fun to envision. I’ve heard the horror Goodreads stories, and it’s scary. This was a really encouraging post for me right now, so thanks! Loved it! 🙂

  • What a fabulous post. Free will– what a concept. Thank you.

  • Stephanie @ Inspiring Insomnia

    In the corporate world, you hear, “Dress for the job you want.” I think the same could be said for writers: “Emulate the writers you admire.” I know there are exceptions, but MOST successful authors don’t waste time and energy responding to negative reviews, or worse, scream that they’re being bullied. I also know that a few bloggers thrive on silly drama, because one bragged on Twitter about the number of pageviews she received after a day of s***-stirring following some silly Twitter drama with a “big” author.

    I work for a mutual fund company, and I blog about books as a hobby, so take this for what it’s worth, but the best advice I could give to authors is to not engage with a negative review. If it’s a legitimately critical review, the author risks looking insecure and petty. If it’s a reviewer trolling for attention, the author is feeding right into it. It’s really a no-win situation for the author.

  • Jessica – what a great post and I totally agree with everything you say. I’ve had plenty of bad reviews and while it can be hard to take I just remind myself that for everyone who doesn’t like my books, there are just as many readers who do.

  • Jessica, this is a lovely post and I appreciate your sound reaction to the events of yesterday. The term ‘bully’ gets thrown around without any understanding of what it actually means. Reviews on Goodreads are not put in front of the author, unless the author chooses to look. As you said, “The choice is always yours.” A lot of the posts about Goodreads bullies like to pretend that the reviewers are hounding the authors with their reviews and that the author has no choice but to look at them. While I do understand that looking would be tempting, it is still and ever will be a choice to do so.

    A review OF THE BOOK doesn’t begin to approach bullying unless the reviewer sends it to the author over and over again, which I think most of us do not do. I’ve personally never contacted an author to force them to read my negative review. I almost never @ authors about my reviews unless I’ve given them a completely glowing review. The exceptions are friends who I’ve spoken to beforehand.

    Thanks again for being a voice of reason and helping me remember that most authors are wonderful people.

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