For the past couple of years, I’ve been using the reader networking site Goodreads, and, by and large, I’ve found it to be an excellent way to share information on the books I read and, also, the books I write. It has a number of features that – whilst I haven’t used them excessively – have proved useful a number of times.
One such feature is the option to create a book giveaway. I did this with If I Never and I recently did it with my new novel Children of the Resolution. Both giveaways attracted a great deal of attention and, as a result, many people added the books to their “to read” lists who otherwise may not have.
Upon receiving the names of winners of the latest giveaway, however, I was rather annoyed to discover that, in total, the people concerned had something like five or six friends listed in their networks. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the idea of the book giveaway is that free books go out to people who then read and review on Goodreads. Goodreads claims to, where possible, target people who would normally read the kind of book you have written – and, one would hope, people who actually have friends on their network. With a little further investigation, I discovered that some of the winners had in fact only recently joined, didn’t appear to be in the least bit active, and looked suspiciously as if they may have joined simply to apply for the chance of receiving free books. Naturally, this galled me somewhat – so I got in touch with Goodreads.
I suggested a number of things that might make this process work more fairly for all those concerned. This, in part, was the response I got:
It is frequently suggested that we limit giveaways to those who are active on the site, those have a minimum number of books rated or friends added, and while we understand where these concerns come from, we are not planning to change the algorithm. If a user comes to the site specifically to enter your giveaway, they should be as eligible as the next person.
In other words, the people who make the community work – who visit daily, interact, discuss, argue, laugh and cry about books (oh, yes, and read and occasionally click on all those ads that I’m sure the people at Goodreads depend upon) – have as much value to those running the site as those who may have just dropped by because someone told them you can sometimes get a few free books there.
Also, authors themselves (and, let’s face it, sites like this would not exist without authors) are treated pretty poorly in this and other ways. A fellow author and friend, for example, recently replied to a message I sent her through the Goodreads system. When I went to my inbox to read the message, to my surprise I spotted the warning below:
If this author is harassing you about a negative review, please flag this message to report him. Do not reply, it usually doesn’t end well.
This bothers me on so many levels. Firstly, there seems to be a prima facie assumption that authors are, somehow, by default, going to harass readers. I have absolutely no doubt that some out there respond to negative reviews – and possibly quite vociferously. I, personally, generally don’t. I may at some time in the future feel the need to correct certain points, politely, but thus far I’ve been pretty fortunate with reviews.
But what if I were to receive an especially bad review? This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot, recently, because it’s something that’s happened to a fellow author and friend. The reviews in question have been unexpectedly bad. I read the book in manuscript, supplied promotional quotations and I was flabbergasted when I saw the prepublication customer reviews (through Amazon Vine).
The problem we as authors must now address, I believe, is that we are faced with an environment that – quite rightly – allows everyone express an opinion. An opinion that they no longer simply share with a couple friends down the pub, but now have the opportunity to share with hundreds, if not thousands of people. The customer buys our books and can immediately let other prospective customers know what they thought of it. This is a good thing. This is something of which I approve.
Except for one thing. This is a new world. We no longer live in that quaint little village that has one shop where the customer is always right. Sometimes the customer, the book reader, can be wrong – and, you know what, in today’s environment we as authors have the right to respond. We have careers to consider. And if we don’t look after them, politely, no one else will. Goodreads, to one degree or another, seems to be developing an “author as enemy” mentality. The reader must must take precedence over those nasty, nasty money-grubbing, argumentative writers. But this isn’t the case. The vast majority of us enjoy interacting with our readers, even when we don’t agree. And, shock horror, our readers seem to enjoy it, too!
I’m going to finish by addressing one more quote from Goodreads:
[…] we have many thousands of times more readers on the site than authors, so we must provide them with the best experience possible.
And what would this experience be like without authors? If, as unlikely as it is, we all decided to wave Goodreads goodbye and take our book giveaways elsewhere – what then?
In my reply to the above letter, I suggested certain compromises regarding the book giveaway process. This was a few weeks ago. I have still had no reply.
Are you a reader and/or writer? Please share your views.
To read your free sample of Children of the Resolution, please click here.
© 2011 Gary William Murning ©