The Author as Enemy: A Response
by Dr. George H. Elder
Gary Murning’s “The Author as Enemy” is a great article, and I can attest to its accuracy regarding GoodReads efficacy from some writers’ perspectives. I was signed up for GoodReads by my publicity folks, but it may have been a lame idea for all the reasons expressed in Murning’s article. As writers, we have no choice but to suffer harsh reviews when they come, and sometimes they are well deserved. If the criticism is justified, tempered, and well articulated, it can help improve a writer’s work. Indeed, that should be the goal. Sure, getting panned can hurt, but the pain can become intractable when the reviewer displays a lack of understanding about the nuances of a specific genre. Moreover, Murning clearly demonstrated, GoodReads sometimes distributes books for reviews to people without regard to their preferences.
Another concern is critics who have axes to grind of one nature or another, and here one notes reviews that are often just as savage as they are shallow. These critics don’t understand, or care, that reviews influence incomes, and very few writers make a lot of money as it is. Damn, how would any critic, let alone a harsh critic, like a writer filling out his or her work reviews? Yet it is a writer’s task to endure the judgments of those who are faceless and sometimes cruel, people who often could care less if they harm another. Sure, everyone has a right to express an opinion, but we should also try treating others as we would like to be treated.
There is one critic in particular who regularly dishes out one and two-star ratings along with demeaning comments and sometimes inaccurate information. She has panned many writers and seems to rather revel in her cruelty. I am contemplating reviewing some of her reviews, which I feel is fair game. However, most writers are well-advised to avoid getting into “pissing contests with skunks”—and especially skunks with friends. That’s how the likes of some particularly vicious critics maintain their immunity. Any author who risks their ire is social networked to death by hoards of angry “friends.” They gather on command like flies on a wounded writer’s carcass and suck up the festering effuse.
I quit GoodReads as an author and then joined as a reader. Now, I can spend some time reading reviews and responding to the critics, which might offer some balance. Someone has to do it. Besides, what can GoodReads do to me for expressing an opinion? I’m just a fellow reader now. The goal is to promote a set of guidelines that will make GoodReads as friendly to writers as it is to readers. As it now stands, GoodReads is certainly no friend of many writers and that hardly does the reading community much good. It sets up a dynamic wherein authors and readers are sometimes working in opposition and no possible benefit can come of that. Here are some steps to consider.
1. During promotions, GoodReads should only dispense a writer’s books to those who have demonstrated some degree of familiarity with a particular genre and/or subject matter. For example, a person who is a member of a group that specializes in the supernatural and paranormal genres may not be the best person to critique a Sci-Fi adventure book that revolves around a theme of science vs religion.
2. This may be an unpopular view, but not all reviewers are equal. Those with formal training (e.g., editors, writers, publishers) and/or education (e.g., literature degrees, special degrees in related fields) should have their reviews weighted more heavily than is the norm—so long as the reviewer has ample and demonstrable experience in the writer’s genre. This can be a danger or blessing to a writer, but at least he or she will have the advantage of having a review done by someone with a related background and demonstrable expertise.
3. There should be a writer/reader forum wherein a given review can be examined to determine its efficacy. Here the writer will take a great risk, as will the reviewer. It may be the case that the reviewer’s criticism is well founded, and that the writer is behaving in an overly sensitive fashion. However, it may also be the case that the reviewer has missed some basic points or demonstrated a noteworthy lack of civility. The central point is, disagreements that are openly aired can lead to resolutions, and this will benefit the entire community! Why Goodreads has failed to do this is a complete mystery to me.
There are ample reasons to debate all of the above mechanisms, and I am positive some of you reading this can come up with better ideas. This community has nothing to lose and everything gain by discussing these ideas! Perhaps we can collectively figure out how to better unite readers and writers, if not here—then somewhere else. Now come on, Goodreads, time is a wasting.