This morning I was asked by a dear writer friend who is preparing to publish her first romance novel, "What do you think of this?"
She had given me a link she found on twitter, a write-up about INTERNET BULLIES.
I am acutely aware of this problem, specifically bullies who troll books with 1 star ratings, troll social media with hateful comments, and use vicious shelvings and lists to spread hatred throughout Goodreads. Anyone who spends as much time in social media as I do will eventually encounter this problem (probably numerous times over). I had personal experience with a mess like this HERE, and again in a twitter blowout, where social media gurus were abusing a certain hashtag used for an author group I work with.
In my experience, there is never anything to be gained by engaging internet bullies. I tried, I vented, I unleashed that wicked part of me that I tap into for writing villains and horrific scenes of murder and mayhem. That monster belongs in my books, not in my social media.
Here's my practical advice, a policy for avoidance:
Yes there are bullies. A fact of life.
The key to authors avoiding this, is to grasp the intricate balance between author/reader relations. Never, ever attack a reader for a negative/critical review. If the reviewer admits they did not read the book, then sometimes, Goodreads allows that review to be removed, or in the case of spoilers, hidden. If the review has wicked/nasty shelvings, those shelves can also be removed.
This is something to address with GOODREADS or AMAZON, not with the reviewer, and not in comments on the actual review.
This negative energy vortex generally only hits authors who are crossing the fine line of etiquette with readers one too many times. I have never crossed that imaginary line, but, the negativity did hit me, from a competing author, and again from a group of social media gurus. I hit back with a wicked vengeance.
In hindsight, that was a foolish mistake.
Luckily I skated past without any real issues. No matter how much hatred is flowing from bullies, never let them get you out on social media with anger, it will quickly become an epic, deranged episode of Jerry Springer.
The thing about Goodreads, you cannot be spammy, you cannot enter that site with a needy-begging please-read-my-book-I-need-ratings kind of mindset. And that goes for anywhere in social media.
If you need ratings, reviews, there are gazillions of proper ways to seek those out from fans of your genre, and none of it involves begging or becoming a sycophant.
Authors who misbehave badly with reviewers and solicitations have created a situation in social media where bullies are empowered by these few bad examples. You must take pains to never be that misbehaving author, or you will become the next example, the next target.
Authors are not angels, and neither are readers. They both get ugly and these things escalate into massive proportion blowouts that can ruin book ratings averages very quickly.
Example: I know an author who has a certain set of conservative values, who came across a Facebook group of authors swapping book reviews. The rule in the group was no negative reviews. If you were to participate, it was for the purpose of bolstering the members with positive reviews. In some cases, some of these authors may not have even read the book they 5 starred.
Is that a horrible concept? NO. Is it morally grey, potentially unethical? YES.
Goodreads allows readers to rate and shelve books however they like, as long as they don't resort to personal attacks on the author. Amazon allows the same in reviews. So, as long as its allowed for, it will continue, regardless of morality or ethics.
I follow a simple rule: I rarely review Indie work, but when I do, its always positive. If I have something negative to say about Indies, I don't say it publicly. I might go to them and say, hey, I think you could benefit from this and this. Usually I don't. Chuck Wendig has a wonderful blog post about critical reviews of a fellow author, and I agree with him.
So, this author friend of mine gets all up in his righteous indignation about this heinous Facebook group doing 5 star reviews, and proceeds to blog about them, trying to inform the world of this unthinkable immorality (which goes on 24/7, with or without Facebook groups to organize it).
Guess what? This author soon found himself the target of bully attacks and one-star ratings on his books. Surprised? Nope.
Common sense rules the day.
Don't engage negatively in social media. Don't engage negatively regarding reviews and ratings. Don't use social media to 'call someone out.'
Now, on occasion, you might see me being an obnoxious bastard in social media.
That's just me being me, projecting the tone of my obnoxious, perverse fiction novels, along with my own brand of snark. I have embraced who I am, and its very liberating. But, I draw the line at personal attacks.
So, next time someone spews reeking hatred all over one of your books, pull up Charlaine Harris's latest novel, or Laurell K. Hamilton's latest novel, and see how much hatred is spilled across those books. While you're at it, see if you can find the fans who love those authors regardless of such a heavy, vocal, presence of negativity.
Internet bullies hit hardest in our insecurities. We perceive them as far more dangerous than they truly are.
Stop worrying about bullies and write. Write with all the passion you can muster. Write books that make you laugh and cry. Write sex scenes that make it uncomfortable to sit in your chair any longer. Write violence like you're eviscerating that bully who left you a 1 star rating.
Write great books.
Keep writing great books, and rise above the pettiness bullies would like to see you mired in.