Should authors really be on Goodreads?*

Monday, September 12, 2011

I have some conflicting feelings when it comes to Goodreads. First of all, I like being able to catalogue and keep track of everything I've read, though I'm on so many different sites now I forget to update it regularly. And I love discussion about books and being able to communicate with other readers on more neutral ground than someone's blog. So I think Goodreads is fabulous in those respects.

However, I don't think one's attitudes towards a book can really be distilled to a score out of five. I much prefer reading reviews that explore the various things they liked and disliked about the book thus giving the reader of the review a sense of whether a book is for them.

Another thing I'm uncertain about is whether or not writers should be so closely connected to their reviewers and their reviews.

It's nice to talk about how important it is that writers accept feedback and critique and improve their work and interact with their readers. Let's imagine for a moment that all reviews - positive and negative and indifferent - all critique the author's work without ever being nasty or personal or vague. This is not true, obviously, but even in this ideal reality of conscientious readers and writers all responding to one another, there would come a point at which the writer would need to stop reading and believing every review of their work and just write already.

Every reader will have a different opinion of a work. By the time something is published, a novel has already been read and ripped apart and pieced back together by multiple people - other writers, editors, and so on. Someone saying 'this book is crap, it would have been better had the girl not died in the end' after a book has been worked on for years and then published is not helpful to the writer.

Reviewers - those writing for print publications, book bloggers, people on Amazon and Goodreads - are brilliant. They help other readers figure out which books are for them and promote novels they love and talking about books and reading and writing is just about as fun a past time as actually reading and writing. But if authors are in close contact with their reviewers, it makes it a hell of a lot harder for them to remain objective. Now that I know lots of authors I find reviewing books by people I know downright impossible - what if I like the author but not their book? What if I dislike the author but adore their book? You end up bringing a lot more baggage to the review.

Writers cannot please every reader. I really want to become the best writer I can be, and enjoy writing, and share stories with other people for as long as possible. But if I read all my reviews and take everything to heart, I will never be able to write. Advice for writers sometimes suggests you write to one person only, and I think that's a lot easier before you're published and you have the opinions of everyone who has a copy of your book and an internet connection. If you believe the nice things people say about you, you have to believe the negative things too.

I'm not saying stop reading your reviews, or stop being friends with authors (guys! Be my friend! Sitting at home and writing is lonely!), or stop accepting critique (everyone has a different opinion, and other people's points of view, those of non-writers or publishing folks, can be immensely helpful). I'm just saying everything in moderation. Don't feel as if you need to read every review of your novel and take all that critique on board, because it won't result in you writing the perfect novel. Maybe, when you're writing a first draft, step back a bit. Because you can't please everybody. And an average score of 2.73 or 3.61 or 4.17 on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever ultimately means very little.

*And by 'authors' I of course mean 'Steph Bowe', but it seemed kind of odd referring to myself in the third person in a blog title. In the body of a blog post, however, anything goes!

Would love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between writers and their reviews - should writers read all of their reviews? Or ignore them entirely? Should reviewers be besties with the writers they review? So many questions! Give me some answers!
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