Monday, February 24, 2014

Dear Goodreads Authors, or, How You're Coming Across as a Whore and How You Can Stop It

I've been a fan of Goodreads for a good many years now. We've had our spats, and frankly, I like discussing books more over at Booklikes. But the functionality of the site is excellent, there are some great communities and discussions there, and some of my best Goodreads friends haven't made (and might never make) the transition over to Booklikes. In other words, I don't hate Goodreads. We're on speaking terms, at least.

I go to Goodreads primarily for the reading. Yes, I'm an author. I will tell you about my work from time to time. After all, the money I earn writing allows me more time to write, and people who read my work want to read more. It's a good arrangement. But my reason for being on Goodreads is because I love books and I love readers. Of course I like readers of my own work, but I'm talking about Readers in the general sense. I love being surrounded, both in real life and in my virtual life, by people who love to read and who like to speak intelligently about the reading they've done. My idea of Utopia is a city composed of nothing but libraries and facilities to support a population of readers in their reading and discussions about what they've read. An over-romanticized vision, I realize, but it's my ideal happy place.

Goodreads hasn't turned out to be a virtual version of my paradise. But it's pretty good. It has its problems, some of them severe enough that I have, admittedly, shunted much of my book discussion over to Booklikes. But I won't be abandoning Goodreads for the foreseeable future.

But something has happened in the last two weeks that is REALLY turning me off to Goodreads. It's something I've addressed before, but bears a revisit. I've said some of this before, but I'm here restating the case in much stronger and much more specific terms because, frankly, I'm getting pissed off at Goodreads Authors. I don't want to lay blame - maybe it results from systemic problems and lack of policing and the encouragement of bald-faced capitalistic greed, maybe not - but I do want to point out some real . . . "douchebag" . . . , yes, that's the word, douchebag things many authors are doing on Goodreads.

So, douchebags, this is for you:

So, Goodreads Author, you want to be my friend, huh? You've heard fellow authors talk about how great Goodreads is and how you can reach out to dedicated readers with minimal effort. Just by clicking friend request, you can build up a list of potential fans of your work. And the bigger the list, the better, right? Because it's all a numbers game. You want to make so many dollars, you need to sell so many copies of your self-published e-book to people, so you need so many people to feed you those dollars. Of course, you're no fool - not everyone will buy your book. In fact, only a small proportion of your Goodreads friends will actually buy your book. So you need LOTS of "friends," statistically speaking. It's all in the math, just go ask a famous internet self-publishing guru. He's got the numbers to prove it - if you write enough books and whore yourself to enough people, you can make a mint doing this stuff! He has, thousands of others have, why not you?

You know, maybe I should stop now. Maybe I should just let you keep on being an A-hole, shamelessly embarrassing yourself for the sake of your treacle-soaked dream of being a famous author. I get it: You've worked hard on this. So have I. You've had people tell you you can't do it, and you've proven you can write, despite other people's doubt in you. Me, too. You've done a lot of studying on how to write and have taken bits of writing advice and integrated them into your own writing endeavors. I hear you. You might have even spent good money, paid someone to teach you how to write at workshops, seminars, bought writing books - you've made a sacrifice to get this far. Good for you!

So yeah, maybe I'll just let you keep doing what you're doing: Acting like a douchebag, being obnoxious, perpetually peppering potential fans with reminders of how great your book is, stalking potential fans online. Really, I should just let you carry on. In fact, I should thank you. Why? Because your obnoxiousness makes it easier for me to sell my books. Eventually, readers will figure out that the invite you sent them to be a friend on Goodreads was disingenuous. You didn't want to talk books at all - you just wanted to sell a product. Goodreads isn't your community, it's your distribution warehouse. Goodreads friends aren't your friends, they're your consumers. And you? You're not even you. You're a machine. A capitalist money-making machine.

But you started writing for the love of writing, didn't you? You didn't want to turn into a capitalist money-making machine, did you? You actually enjoy writing! It's fun! And you want it to stay fun, right?

OK, I'm back on board. I'm here to help. Here are my pointers on how to avoid douchebaggery as a Goodreads Author. Pay careful attention! I've had to learn these things myself to pull myself out of the toilet bowl of douchebaggery. You can do it, too, if you want to. If you don't want to, if you are so bent on being a writing slut that you'll just spurn all of these pointers, I can't help you. Enjoy your life, but don't expect to do it with me as your Goodreads friend. And if you read this first and keep trying to "friend" me, you might receive a very direct message from me on why I don't want to be your Goodreads friend. If you want to get public about it, be prepared. But I think we can avoid all that nastiness. Sorry it's had to come to this, but this is where it's at now. This nice guy is fed up and is not taking anymore crap. So here are my rules. Ignore them to your blight, follow them to your blessing!

1) Do not try to friend me if you have 0 books reviewed. I told you up front, I go to Goodreads to read what other readers have to say about books. If you have not reviewed any books, you have nothing to say. Go do some reviews - real reviews, not some pithy one or two sentence gushes - then come back and try again.

2) Do not try to friend me if you have rated all your own books five stars. You're proud of your book, you think it deserves five stars, you want to exude confidence that your book is awesome. You're probably right. Now shut up about it. Remember that guy who used to go on and on about how cool he was and you were secretly excited when someone punched him in the nose? Or that girl who dressed herself to the nines every day, looking perfect, and looked down her nose at everyone who didn't meet her dress standards. She didn't have to say anything about your looks, you could see in her eyes that she was criticizing how you dressed. Remember when she fell down in the mud and stained her clothes and you had to turn away because you were laughing out loud at her? Well, self-5-star-proclaimer; you have become that person. Don't be that person. You may have even rated your favorite books by other authors as 5 stars. That's not enough. Put down the vanity mirror and let the book do the star rating for you. Get a 3 star review? Rewrite and make it better. That's what I did. Had to swallow my pride and fix the faults in my work. Or, as has also happened, ignore the low rater. High star ratings will get you temporary attention, but they won't get you long-term fans and won't make your writing any better. Try turning this around: learn from mistakes, write better, you will gain long term fans and 5 star reviews will come up themselves. Besides, if you really love your art, why should you care what other people think? If you love your money, then you should care. You need to decide how to balance those two loves within yourself, but if you are relying on high ratings for your self-esteem, you need counseling.

3) Compare books. This is one of the best features of Goodreads. I can click "compare books" when I'm at your page to see what likes we have in common. We don't need to match 100%. in fact, I'd be scared if we did. But I'd like to know that you and I have at least a few books in common and that we like or dislike more or less similar works. I'm going to check this every time I receive a friend request from you. Don't make me do this multiple times, or you're going to piss me off. You need to check and decide if you really want to be friends. Know that when I give something 5 stars, I truly loved it. And when I give something 1 or 2 stars, I truly hated it. Are there books in our comparison that I've rated 1 star and you've rated 5? How many? What books? Remember, we're going to be discussing books, and you don't want to pick a fight with me any more than I want to pick a fight with you. Think carefully on this before you send the friend request.

4) Be well read. If you've been on Goodreads for a few months and haven't thrown down at least a dozen ratings, I probably don't want to be friends, especially if you have zero reviews (see above). What are we going to talk about? Heck, add some books to your "to be read" pile. That way I'll know where your interest lies, at least. I'm not laying down a hard and fast rule that you need to have more books than friends (yes, many people do that explicitly to keep douchebag Goodreads Authors at bay), but you better have a pretty good backlist of books that I know so we can discuss things intelligently. Having ONLY your books in your shelves is an excellent way of pissing me off. Congratulations, you've unlocked Forrest Monster Mode.

5) Be engaged ahead of time. Send me a message before you send me a friend request. My contact information is all over my blog, which you can link to from my Goodreads profile. Twitter, Google+, Email, Tumblr, Smashwords,  all are good (except Facebook. I hate Facebook). If you can't find me online, you're not trying. You're just being a lazy douchebag Goodreads Author. And no one needs more adjectives added to "douchebag Goodreads Author".

6) If I decide to be your friend, that doesn't mean it will stay that way. You'll need to interact with me from time to time. Respond to my posts and reviews, comment in the same comment strings I comment in, that sort of thing. Otherwise, I'll dump you. I check regularly for those things, and if I have one good interaction with you, I'll likely put you in my "top friend" bin, where you'll be safe for a long, long time. But don't send me book recommendations blindly. I hate that. Send it to me in a personal message. You should know me well enough that you can comfortably do that before you go recommending books to me.

There's still hope. You can do this thing. It's a lot like real work, isn't it? That's because I don't toss my loyalty around lightly. If I  become a fan of your book, I'm going to tell people about it.I'm going to review it and tweet about it and that review will go up on G+ and here at my blog and on  Booklikes.  But you've gotta work for it by being genuine. Warning: I might become a great friend, read your book and hate it. Expect an honest, but measured review. But if you've tried to pander to me in the past by flouting my rules, then I read your crappy book, a lot of people are going to hear bad things about your work and about how you're a douchebag Goodreads Author. Oh, yes, I keep track! If you're book is good or great, I'll give it its time in the sun and write a fair review, but your douchebaggery will likely not end up in the review. But if it's crap, and you've been a douchebag, you're not going to hear the end of it for a while. Please, let's not have to add your name to the potential black list.

Thankfully, there are only a few authors who have hit my douchebag button so head on. But it's becoming more and more common. Douchebags, please stop giving us non-douchebag authors a bad name. Please stop screwing with me as a reader and, most especially, stop screwing with my readers! If they want to read your book, and you're a good author, they'll eventually find your work. In fact, I'd love to help them to do that. So don't make it hard by being a douchebag. Not at Goodreads. Not on my readers' turf.

1 comment:

  1. *applause*

    I just ignore recommendations now. It's so rare any of them are from my actual Goodreads friends excited to share a new find with me.