Leah Raeder -- An open letter to Goodreads 

This is a blog post by author Leah Raeder, discussing her opinion on Goodreads’ controversial changes in policy
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Dear Goodreads,

I have been a registered reviewer on your site since 2010, and was a lurker long before then. In July of this year, I became a Goodreads author when I self-published. When your company was bought by Amazon, I felt the same trepidation and dismay that many other GR users felt: we worried that Amazon’s influence would corrupt Goodreads, a site driven by and for readers, and turn it into yet another marketing platform for authors. We worried that there would be no bastion of legitimate, non-commercial book reviews left aside from individual blogs. Amazon’s relatively hands-off approach with GR had begun to soothe my fears about corporate parenting…until now.

This may shock you, but even though I’m an author, I still read all the time—as all authors should. And I rely on reviewers to guide my book choices. Reviewers like Steph Sinclair, whose reviews and shelves were deleted without notice. Reviewers like Emily May and Wendy Darling, who are now reconsidering their participation on this site.

And I rely on countless lesser-known reviewers who take the time to review the books they’ve read—people who review in the good faith that their contributions won’t be summarily deleted without warning, or a chance to adjust to your new guidelines. Oftentimes I’m the first person to hit the Like button on a thoughtful, carefully written review that’s been sitting in quiet obscurity on your site for years. Sometimes the reviewer replies to a comment I’ve made years after the original review, and we chat. That’s an amazing thing. That’s the ongoing conversation that is fiction.

And you guys just barged into that conversation and started slapping duct tape over people’s mouths.

Look, deleting those reviews and shelves without notice was wrong. Period. That’s not how you Community, guys. When you have a problem with the way the community is using your site, you talk to them about it. You begin a dialogue. You explain the problem and ask for solutions. When you implement a solution, you give users a grace period to adjust—to decide if they want to continue using your site, and if not, to back up their work and take it elsewhere.

You dropped that ball hard, guys. You owe the GR community an apology, and a promise to NEVER summarily delete our content again, if you ever hope to rebuild trust. Let the fact that you’ve lost some prominent reviewers for good stay your itchy trigger finger in the future.

But the greater problem remains: is this policy change actually helping anyone?

Abuse and bullying should never be tolerated on a community site, no matter which direction it flows from. But just like author Nathan Bransford in his spectacularly ill-informed post, you are misinterpreting legitimate criticism and cataloging as “bullying” and “abuse.”

I think we can all agree that a shelf like “author-should-be-raped” should never be permitted on this site. But I have yet to actually see such a shelf. It seems that when shelves like these actually pop up on GR, the mods remove them quickly, as they should. However, there’s a lot of hearsayfrom overly sensitive authors who misinterpret shelves (and GIFs, and star ratings) as personal threats, and I believe that’s what’s driving your decision to disallow author-centric shelves and reviews.

Well, I have a huge problem with that, Goodreads. Because as a reader, I have zero desire to contribute financially to misogynists, homophobes, racists, pedophiles, and other reprehensible human beings. And your new policy disallowing discussion of authors’ real life behavior is preventing that. I want to be informed if the author whose book I’m considering purchasing supports causes and ideologies that conflict with my values. I don’t care if the author thinks that’s “mean.” A public figure—as all authors are—is subject to scrutiny. It is not “bullying” to call out a public figure who promotes hateful causes. It is not “abuse” to point out that a reactionary author attacks her reviewers. That’s public information about a public figure, and it is relevant to those interested in the author’s books.

Your new policy is also really vague and hypocritical. Does it apply to living authors only? What about deceased authors? You do realize the literary canon is pretty much full of racist, sexist, privileged Dead White Dudes, right? So can we no longer discuss Joseph Conrad’s racism in context of Heart of Darkness? Or John Updike’s sexism? How about T.S. Eliot and Roald Dahl’s anti-Semitism? What about the fact that Walt Whitman faked his own reviews? And geez, you may as well delete Mein Kampf from the site right now, considering it’s nigh-impossible to discuss it without referring to its author, aka The Worst Human Being Ever. (Oh, shit. I just called out an author. SORRY, HITLER.) (Not actually sorry. Fuck Hitler.)

Are you starting to see the silliness of your policy change yet?

Goodreads, what you’ve done is being seen by many people as catering to offended authors at the expense of readers. Listen to the messages above (and those on social media, and blogs, and everywhere on the internet this week): your users feel betrayed. We feel like you’re promoting an Us vs. Them mentality that will only further divide the community, and exacerbate the small pockets of hostility that exist between authors and reviewers. Yes, by all means, when actual bullying and abuse occurs, handle it. But you need some SERIOUS perspective adjustment on what actual bullying and abuse entails. Because right now you are starting to sound more and more like a certain “anti-bullying” site that, ironically, is itself an instrument of bullying. Who will need STGRB anymore when Goodreads itself fulfills their role?

Please note that I have used inclusive pronouns here: weusour. Because even though I’m a “published author” now, I was first and foremost a reader, and that is primarily how I continue to use this site: I read and review. And you are systematically making it less and less useful for that.

I believe Goodreads should remain true to its nature as a site driven by and for readers. You do not need to cater to me as an author. I don’t want you to, your advertising and author programs honestly kinda suck, and I don’t think you can successfully serve both groups. Please reconsider this change and your overall direction, and remember what made you the great site you are, and may yet remain:

Readers.

Sincerely,
Leah Raeder



  1. sonsofcorax reblogged this from pallekenl and added:
    An excellent post.
  2. pallekenl reblogged this from thebookmirror
  3. winged-berries reblogged this from thebookmirror
  4. thebookmirror posted this