"This whole situation may well get uglier before it gets better..."
July 11, 2012 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Bullying & Goodreads: "Little more than a week ago, a website aimed at naming and shaming so-called Goodreads [A kind of facebook for bibliophiles.] ‘bullies’ suddenly appeared online – called, appropriately enough, Stop the GR Bullies. Run by four concerned ‘readers and bloggers’ writing anonymously under the handles Athena, Peter Pan, Johnny Be Good and Stitch, the site thus far seems bent on punishing the creators of snide, snarky and negative book reviews by posting their handles, real names, locations and photos in one place, together with a warning about their supposed ‘level of toxicity’ and some (ironically) snide, snarky and negative commentary about them as people. There’s a lot here to unpack, but before I get started on why this is a horrifically bad idea, let’s start with some basic context."
posted by Fizz (178 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
What a bunch of jerks.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:24 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Tonstant Reader fwowed up" will be expunged!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:27 AM on July 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm experiencing a great deal of confusion over their use of the word "bullies".

Also, this is exactly one of the scenarios that Facebook "negative reviewers" have been warning about for years.
posted by DU at 6:27 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


What Kat really is: an unemployed housewife who stays at home, drinks, and sometimes takes care of her children, that is when she is not drinking, tweeting, or waging her holy war against authors.

How rude. It just makes those people look crazy.
posted by discopolo at 6:28 AM on July 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


everything is bullying because aggression is the fundamental biological reaction

sweet dreams
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:30 AM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


What a bunch of jerks.

You need to be a bit more specific. Maybe you can provide the following:

Name:
Age:
Gender:
Number of Reviews:
Credit Score:
Place of Birth:
No. of Pets:
posted by Fizz at 6:31 AM on July 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Thanks internet for reminding me:

"You don't need red hot pokers. Hell is other people." Sartre
posted by incandissonance at 6:34 AM on July 11, 2012 [20 favorites]


"These are grown-ass adults. All of them." - A Thing I Just Said Aloud To An Empty Room After Reading The Links.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 6:34 AM on July 11, 2012 [50 favorites]


Is there any actual miss-behavior amongst the critics being accused of bullying?

It's perfectly acceptable to call an author lazy because they use parenthetical comments or footnotes for example; well that's simply paraphrasing Fowler's Modern English Usage. It's obviously acceptable to criticize writing as uninspired, poorly informed, verbose, etc. too.

I've difficulties imagining how criticizing a work or an author's style turns into bullying unless the critic has really gone overboard, like say by publishing the authors personal details.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:34 AM on July 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


There's a long and honorable tradition of reviewers and authors responding to one another, often snarkily. These exchanges in the letters section of any decent review publication usually make for more entertainment than the reviews themselves.

None of this sounds like that, though.

I signed up for Goodreads ages ago but I never use it. Because god, I really don't need any help in finding out about more things to read, acquiring them, and then not reading them.
posted by rtha at 6:35 AM on July 11, 2012 [22 favorites]


Without getting too deeply into whether the bullying is legitimate or not (which I view as an irrelevant topic since it's largely subjective), it seems pretty clear that the way Goodreads runs is like the Wild West - if you don't like somebody, feel free to gun them down. You might do it with a bad review, with hurtful comments about their personal life, starting a bully-shaming site, or whatever tickles your fancy.

Obviously I don't think that's the way a good community should work (which is part of the reason I'm on Metafilter), but if you voluntarily take part in an online community, you're subject to their customs, both the good and bad. Goodreads seems to prefer a more anarchic "anything-goes" type of approach to their forum, so people who participate shouldn't be surprised when things occasionally get a little nasty.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:35 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


This "Stop the GR Bullies" thing almost has to be related to Wendy Darling / The Selection Review blow-up, doesn't it?

I mean, what with the references to bullies and the same "post real-life data for negative reviewers" tactics being used and the "Peter Pan" handle, it's not hard to connect the dots.

My apologies if this was mentioned in the article. I'm taking a super-quick break to post this and didn't have a chance to do anything more than skim the article. Might've missed something.
posted by anthy at 6:36 AM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


discopolo, be sure to read the Stop the GR Bullies post about Kat Kennedy. They document some pretty shitty, if not outright bullying, behavior on her part.

Don't get me wrong, I think what they're doing - basically trying to give the bullies a taste of their own medicine - is stupid, obnoxious and wrongheaded. But to get a complete picture of what's going on here, I think you might want to spend some time looking through the site's documentation of what's been happening at GoodReads.

Or, you could decide not to touch this mess with a ten-foot pole. That works, too.

(Thanks, Fizz, this is fascinating, in a trainwreck kind of way.)
posted by mediareport at 6:36 AM on July 11, 2012


Giving these tools attention just seems like willfully flapping a blanket over smouldering Internet douchebaggery.
posted by Diablevert at 6:38 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


bent on punishing the creators of snide, snarky and negative book reviews

They failed to learn the first rule of publishing, apparently: never read reviews.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:43 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some people never really leave high school do they? I'm glad there's a place for them.
posted by unSane at 6:45 AM on July 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


I recommend reading the amazon reviews of any book by a current author for an idea about how widespread this is even on other sites. Half the amazon reviews for any new book are dark allusions to book review cabals attempting to ruin the author's life for unexplained reasons and the other half are accusations about author-controlled gangs who are fighting to suppress truth, justice and the right to complain about historical inaccuracies in a book about a gumshoe zombie in 1940's New York.

I used to enjoy reading it more than te books, but dragging people's offline lives into it makes it too depressing to enjoy.
posted by winna at 6:47 AM on July 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm waiting for "Stop the Amazon Bullies" so we can find out who writes those snide, snarky, product reviews...and send them fan mail.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:48 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fizz: "Run by four concerned ‘readers and bloggers’ writing anonymously under the handles Athena, Peter Pan, Johnny Be Good and Stitch,"

Sounds like they're writing pseudonymously.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:49 AM on July 11, 2012 [12 favorites]


I sort of like an an anarchic style. Reviewers ought to be free to savage authors. Reviewers ought to be free to call each other out and engage in drama. I'm free to say that the "STGRB" crowd is disgusting and that by laying claim to an "anti-bullying" purpose they cheapen and besmirch a purpose far more important than their own, while being more than a little hypocritical. It's all the circle of life, I guess.

Dox'ing is bit over the line, I line, I think, but presumably someone will eventually serve that same dish to the little pirate crew with their Neverland names. Can't wait to hear why that'll be "different"
posted by tyllwin at 6:49 AM on July 11, 2012


wolfdreams01: Without getting too deeply into whether the bullying is legitimate or not (which I view as an irrelevant topic since it's largely subjective)

I'm not sure it's all that subjective. If we say that people shouldn't try to get other people to change their behavior through mockery, intimidation, threats, or hostile acts, we can set that as a rule that can be honored by anybody. It's objective in the sense that whether people are doing that or not is pretty clear. Certainly there are degrees to each of those behaviors, but whether they're doing them or not is something we can objectively assess.
posted by lodurr at 6:51 AM on July 11, 2012


also, whiel I'm less and less of a fan of snark as I get older and happier, literary snark is absolutely a time-honored tradition and something that you need to be able to deal with, in some sense, if you're going to be a public author.
posted by lodurr at 6:52 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because – and I cannot stress this enough – simply disliking a book, no matter how publicly or how snarkily, is not the same as bullying.

I appreciate the sentiment here and the need to argue that the behavior being exhibited is not bullying per se, but at the same time, I keep thinking:

"See this is why we can't have nice things on the Internet!"
posted by Leezie at 6:54 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


This complexity is both its primary attraction and the single biggest source of contention among users, as the crowdsourced nature of much of the information available, in conjunction with the fact that the site itself has no in-house moderators – meaning that the majority of alleged violations of the terms of service must be manually referred to and assessed by Goodreads before they can possibly be removed – means that, to all intents and purposes, the site can and does frequently function like any large, unmoderated forum, viz: wildly. As the TOS is at pains to point out, Goodreads considers itself a third party where user content is concerned. To quote:

We are only acting as a passive conduit for your online distribution and publication of your User We are only acting as a passive conduit for your online distribution and publication of your User Content.



OH THAT WILL MOST CERTAINLY END WELL
posted by louche mustachio at 6:55 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


discopolo, be sure to read the Stop the GR Bullies post about Kat Kennedy. They document some pretty shitty, if not outright bullying, behavior on her part.

Can you be more specific? I didn't really see anything wrong there.

I also would not consider the STGRB site remotely reliable as a source; they write:
Of all the attacks she has led on authors, there are two that stand out for us: the attack on M.R. Mathias, here, and on Rebecca Hamilton, here. Both authors were attacked for harmlessly commenting on reviews. Neither called anyone names or were hostile in anyway.
I don't know anything about Rebecca Hamilton but Mathias was previously the subject of a post here for tweeting things like 143k twitteres are gonna know you are a #NAZI FOR DAYS and DAYS and DAYS and generally being extraordinarily hostile toward basically everyone.
posted by enn at 6:56 AM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


If we say that people shouldn't try to get other people to change their behavior through mockery

Why not?
posted by unSane at 6:58 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


What the fucking fuck?

Could someone please explain this to me? What did Kat Kennedy do that warrants outing her?

whether the bullying is legitimate or not (which I view as an irrelevant topic since it's largely subjective)

Is bullying really subjective? Here's Metafilter's policy:

"Note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site."

Am I wrong to think that this is objectively correct? What community goal would justify breaking that rule? How do you have a healthy discussion without it?
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:00 AM on July 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm really interested in the structures that support this sort of thing and the structures that could be used to disincentivize it. Mobbing is common in internet communities, regardless of the focus of the community and apparently regardless of the intelligence or political leanings of the community members - in my experience, people with a strong theory of social justice that is carefully articulated within the community mob somewhat less, somewhat less cruelly and for somewhat better reasons than other folks, but mobbing still happens*.

So I liked how the article mentioned a couple of technical fixes- making certain things hide-able or private, for example. But I wonder what else could be done to reduce mobbing when it's not possible to pay moderators - it seems like GoodReads sure could step up in this regard, but it's not going to be possible (or desirable, honestly - I can't imagine how anyone but a queer radical could effectively moderate queer radical internet spaces, and I can't imagine how hiring such a person would work, or who would make the hire) for many internet communities.


*Mobbing someone for being a rapist or a racist is a lot more reasonable than mobbing someone for fandom things, but IME there tends to be slippage in the mobbing, where what starts as a series of legitimate attempts to drive out people who are actually committed to racist ideologies, refuse to back down and refuse to listen turns into mob attacks on people whose apologies for comparatively minor errors of judgement are judged to be insincere. It's a bit depressing. But what I find even more depressing is that radical internet mobbing isn't that different from other kinds of mobbing, so that leads me to suspect that it isn't really principle-driven; it's just the radical form of what happens at GoodReads. Which means that even when people are talking about not tolerating whatever bad behavior, it's probably not actually political, it's just social and thus there really isn't an ideological commitment.
posted by Frowner at 7:03 AM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Little more than a week ago, a website aimed at naming and shaming so-called Goodreads [A kind of facebook for bibliophiles.] ‘bullies’ suddenly appeared online – called, appropriately enough, Stop the GR Bullies

I'm finding this sentence really hard to parse for some reason. Who is bullying who on what website?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:05 AM on July 11, 2012


There is one amusing "solution" here : Identify the negative reviews posted by the authors that stopthegrbullies.com outs. Repost additional negative reviews that paraphrase the "bulling" critics' criticisms more politely. If a handful of people did this, it'd ensure that stopthegrbullies.com was objectively harming any author it tried to protect.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:09 AM on July 11, 2012


lodurr: If we say that people shouldn't try to get other people to change their behavior through mockery

unSane: Why not?

That's a different question. I was just talking about hypotheticals: If we accept that standard (as increasingly I do), then we could make an objective assessment of whether bullying is happening.

As for why we shouldn't: What good does it ever really do? It's basically using violence to stop violence. I see less evidence the older I get for the efficacy of it as a tactic; basically you're just shaming people while you validate the equivalent behavior in the name of some concept of justice.
posted by lodurr at 7:10 AM on July 11, 2012


Am I wrong to think that this is objectively correct? What community goal would justify breaking that rule? How do you have a healthy discussion without it?

Yes, bullying is incredibly subjective. In terms of maintaining comity among members of a community, avoiding personal criticism is quite important. The question is, is the author of a published work, put out for sale on the basis that many people will enjoy it, an equal member of a community or a public figure? Being able to criticise public figures is a respected right, and a healthy thing.
posted by Diablevert at 7:13 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Degrees of bullying are clearly subjective; whether it's happening need not be all that subjective.
posted by lodurr at 7:19 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


And we're talking about a book review site, for Pete's sake. People will cook up drama just about anywhere, won't they?
posted by jonmc at 7:20 AM on July 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


It's basically using violence to stop violence.

I think you need to think through your chain of equivalences a bit more carefully.
posted by unSane at 7:21 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Posting a person's address on the internet is a chickenshit thing to do unless said person has threatened others or done something despicable enough that posting the address is a worthwhile warning. "BAWWW THEY MADE FUN OF ME" does not constitute "something despicable enough".
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:21 AM on July 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


This is one of those things that's going to annoy me obsessively if I pay attention to it. Suffice for now to say that there is remarkably bad behavior all the way around, but that the 'four concerned' are on really remarkably shaky ethical ground as soon as they start slandering their subjects. ("What Kat really is: an unemployed housewife who stays at home, drinks, and sometimes takes care of her children, that is when she is not drinking, tweeting, or waging her holy war against authors.") And doing it anonymously adds layers of contaminated irony to the shit-icing.

To be sure, Kat's exhibiting some serious asshattery in those linked threads. But I'm not seeing how that's ethical justification for publicly and anonymously calling her a drunken child neglecting loser.
posted by lodurr at 7:24 AM on July 11, 2012


As for why we shouldn't: What good does it ever really do? It's basically using violence to stop violence. I see less evidence the older I get for the efficacy of it as a tactic; basically you're just shaming people while you validate the equivalent behavior in the name of some concept of justice.

I think your analogy could use some tweaking. Using violence to stop violence can actually be a really effective idea. If there's a crazed gunman on the roof of a library using a sniper rifle to shoot people, I don't want to see police negotiators trying to "talk him down" - I would prefer a tactical team putting a bullet in his brain ASAP.

Unrelated to the analogy - but in reference to your other comment - persuading large numbers of people of the rightness of your beliefs and the incorrectness of their own has (historically speaking) almost always been the best and most effective way to reshape the world to your desired vision. Jesus did it. Gandhi did it. Hitler and Stalin did it.

Obviously, the methods they used differed greatly, but dismissing the various tools in the propaganda toolbox as being irrelevant seems a little naive to me. (No disrespect intended - I'm not saying that you are naive Lodurr, simply talking about this one limited instance.)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:25 AM on July 11, 2012


unSane: I think you need to think through your chain of equivalences a bit more carefully.

Really? Maybe you could do that for me, since I'm not seeing the error. Unless by "chain of equivalence" you mean that none of these behaviors actually qualifies as violence, in which case we will just plain be disagreeing about that.
posted by lodurr at 7:26 AM on July 11, 2012


... dismissing the various tools in the propaganda toolbox as being irrelevant seems a little naive to me.

I'm not dismissing them as irrelevant. I'm saying that I've come to believe they're ethically wrong.
posted by lodurr at 7:27 AM on July 11, 2012


Though the years, we've had pitchfork brigades here on Metafilter who would stoop to this level of slander.
posted by crunchland at 7:29 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah...you know; if you're going to start a website shaming other people for bullying, *by* bullying those people you don't like...you should probably hide your identity a little better. It took me less than 5 minutes to find the people behind this website, including where they work. Given 5 more minutes, I could probably find their home addresses and phone numbers.

Now, it just so happens that I don't give a rat's ass about this tempest in an inkpot, but I'm betting the people who started this site are going to be very unhappy once someone with a higher interest and lower ethics decides to make it personal.
posted by dejah420 at 7:29 AM on July 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


Stop the GR Bullies is very probably written by Melissa Douthit, an author who got angry because her book got a snarky review and then created sockpuppets to give negative reviews to other authors and positive reviews to her own book.

More info here, with lots of linkage (and a little snark).
posted by rednikki at 7:30 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


People will cook up drama just about anywhere, won't they?

And they're not even cookbooks!
posted by octobersurprise at 7:30 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


discopolo, be sure to read the Stop the GR Bullies post about Kat Kennedy. They document some pretty shitty, if not outright bullying, behavior on her part.

Can you be more specific? I didn't really see anything wrong there.


I have to agree; without endorsing either side, as a Good Reads member, I can definitely see the "bullies" side. It is tedious to deal with authors who try to push their books on you. I don't post a lot of reviews, but even just listing books on my To Read or Read lists results in being contacted by the authors of the books or authors who think their work is similar. If I wrote a less-than-stellar review and then had the author jump ugly, I would do much the same as the "bullies". Some of these authors must make it their main job to respond to anything written about their book. I understand they are labors of love, but you can't expect everyone to embrace a work. In one of the examples linked by the Stop the Bullies folks, look at this author response Two giant paragraphs filled with CAPS and *emphasis* and whatever else.

Let's let the ill fight the ill and stay the hell away from it.
posted by yerfatma at 7:30 AM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Indeed.

Alternately, they could have not started the fight in the first place. That would have been a lot simpler all the way around, but then they wouldn't have gotten to get all outragey over stuff.
posted by lodurr at 7:30 AM on July 11, 2012


crunchland: Though the years, we've had pitchfork brigades here on Metafilter who would stoop to this level of slander.

yeh and we usually have a MeTa and everyone meas a little culpa and apologizes to jessamyn & cortex for calling them censoring nazi fascists.
posted by lodurr at 7:33 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not seeing what K*t K*nn*d* did that would invite such behavior. Then again, my eyes glaze over when there's a wall of text and screenshots and no strong narrative to tie it together.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:34 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's definitely some weird phenomenon going on when it comes to online reviews. I'm an Amazon Vine member, (which means that Amazon offers to send me free stuff, in return for me posting a review. Sounds great, but the reality is that there's a limited number of items available, and within seconds of them sending out the monthly email listing the stuff they're offering, it's already been snapped up.) Anyway, there is some weird mindset where other amazon vine members will give unhelpful votes, just for the sake of being stinkers .. I can't really figure out the reasoning behind it, as it doesn't get them anywhere by doing it. And yet, it happens.

Clearly we have more work to do when it comes to whuffie.
posted by crunchland at 7:37 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


This.

FWIW, I also found the Kennedy posts incredibly frustrating. I'm just not willing to spend any time reading this closely to come to my own conclusions, but my impressions even after reading the article and then checking out the "Stop the GR Bullies" post is that I'm not feeling a lot of sympathy for anyone defending Kennedy.

This reminds me of the things said in academics -- the fights are so severe because the stakes are so low. Everyone has been in a web community that never managed to become what metafilter became, which does have an unusual amount of intelligence and respect. Most web communities teeter on a knife-edge. Once it gets captured by a spirit of hateful exclusivity, it's pretty hard to turn it around. Largely because the site is then filled with hateful, indifferent types -- there are selection effects in these communities as well as effects due to poor management (or lack thereof). Reminds me of the Governor in Walking Dead and the kind of community he successfully enabled to prosper.

All said, I would need to see a lot more evidence than what the author shows that posting the "Stop the GR Bullies -- Kat Kennedy" material is truly "bullying" or damaging. The author claims she drinks too much -- his evidence are her tweets. Either those are ironic tweets and she's playing some part, or that's a reasonable conclusion to draw. He also goes through and notes that she selectively blocks people in threads and engages in cabal-like behavior under the guise of "my friends" and "my thread" and so on.

The GR community has no oversight yet I'll accept it is a vital community without any mechanisms for working out interpersonal problems. What a surprise that therefore you see people going to great lengths to use shaming externally to deal with this. There's a normative response to that and a positive response. The normative response would be "should they do that?" Part of me thinks we should never do it, just based on my Christian principles. But another part of me feels sad for the community that there are people there who feel so disenfranchised that they cannot seem to conceive of another way. The positive response, though, (where "positive" means descriptive) is that I think this is kind of the natural order of things. Tit-for-tat strategies can help achieve cooperation in the infinitely repeated prisoner dilemma game. Which is my way of saying -- maybe it's not the worst thing in the world that communities develop credible threats of real sanctions. The prospect that my decision to block someone or delete a comment or say something nasty might get exposed can be a deterrent against doing such things lightly. They are stifling to relationships, and they are poisonous to communities built on love and mutual respect. That should be the goal of any community as a foundation -- a willingness to love and respect the Other.

I'm not of the opinion -- yet anyway -- that the "Stop the GR Bullies" group are themselves a bunch of bullies. At least, it didn't read that way to me. They read more like a group of disenfranchised community members who feel desperate that ignorant, charismatic types have harmed their vision of the good society, and they are without options because the value of the community is larger than the next best alternative (to them).

Funny -- I just got on good reader last night for the first time and my only response was I couldn't figure out how to make the good reader app automatically detect all the kindle books on my iPad, which pissed me off because I felt like the one impediment I consistently have to these book sharing sites is that they make me input all my books in myself. I just assumed it'd go over to my kindle app and find everything and just load it in, but apparently not.
posted by scunning at 7:38 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Stop the GR Bullies is very probably written by Melissa Douthit, an author who got angry because her book got a snarky review and then created sockpuppets to give negative reviews to other authors and positive reviews to her own book.

Whaaaaa? Hahaha! Ho ho ho heee. That's so awesome, this couldn't get any better. Bring the lunatics from the asylum. Take them to level five!

Level five?

LEVEL FIVE!!!!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:46 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think some authors do not understand that, to the rest of the world, your book is not a beautiful thing simply because YOU wrote it. It's off in the world now, and not everyone is going to like it. It may i fact not be a very good book, and reviewers will note that.

In the legal system, we get a jury of our peers, not a jury of our spouse, Mom, and college buddies. Book reviewing is similar.
posted by thelonius at 7:46 AM on July 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm not dismissing them as irrelevant. I'm saying that I've come to believe they're ethically wrong.

I see. So you believe ethics and morals are objective rather than subjective? I mean, it sounds like you're proposing your view that propaganda is a negative thing as a standard for other people to live by, so that's pretty intolerant of other opinions that may differ from yours.

And yet, you mention earlier...

Degrees of bullying are clearly subjective; whether it's happening need not be all that subjective.

So I'm picking up weird mixed messages from you.

1) Using propaganda to influence others is objectively bad,
2) Degrees of bullying is subjective,
3) Whether bullying is happening is objective.

It's just very confusing, that's all. I feel there are inconsistencies in your overall worldview.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:47 AM on July 11, 2012


Wait... so if I understand this correctly, you've got a group of people getting all pitchforky because other people posted negative reviews of books?

If every review was positive, why bother having reviews? Unless, of course, you've got the kind of people who get off on congratulatory self-masturbatory adolation.
posted by mrbill at 7:49 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Degrees of bullying are clearly subjective; whether it's happening need not be all that subjective.

I disagree. If there are degrees of something, then it's possible to debate whether a given example rises to the level of the something, whether it passes that threshold. And as the first link of the post rather verbosely put it, bulling is all about power, too, and it's very possible for two people to disagree about who has power in a relationship. Think of the famous Ask v. Guess Culture thread; a guesser may feel a sense of obligation (may be under an obligation, according to their culture) to accede to a request, where an asker doesn't have any idea that they're being imposing.
posted by Diablevert at 7:53 AM on July 11, 2012


Yeah, I'm not seeing what K*t K*nn*d* did that would invite such behavior. Then again, my eyes glaze over when there's a wall of text and screenshots and no strong narrative to tie it together.

It would probably require a collective line-by-line discussion of the article and then going through Kennedy posts for what I suspect is like a million posts by her. But I actually had the opposite reaction reading the (selectively chosen, admittedly) Kennedy posts. I probably have just been on the receiving end of the outsider in such communities enough that my radar blares up. I sort of thought the narrative was pretty obvious though, and the picture presented in "Stop the GR Bullies" post was that she was basically abusing the stated, but unenforced, norms of the community through favoritism and hateful speech.

Whether that is in fact happening or not would require so much attention to detail and involvement in this that I don't see how anyone who isn't a part of that community could possibly judge, though.
posted by scunning at 7:53 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I see. So you believe ethics and morals are objective rather than subjective?

No, and I've not said anything that should lead you to think that I do. I've made it clear that if we accept a given standard, then we can make objective judgements based on that standard.

If you have a standard for bullying that's fact based -- behavior of type x occurs or does not -- then you can objectively determine whether it happened.

The degree of the bullying is quite definitely subjective. I don't think there's a need to discuss that, but if you want to argue otherwise, have at it.

I mean, it sounds like you're proposing your view that propaganda is a negative thing as a standard for other people to live by...

I'm quite unclear on why you would think that.
posted by lodurr at 7:54 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. I don't think I'd click with Kat Kennedy and be her great friend, either. But I mean, really, so what? We're talking about the merit or lack thereof, of a book. Are we arguing that she was drunk when she wrote the review? If not, what difference does it make if she drinks? Was she too distracted with housework and child care to appreciate the book? If not, what earthly difference does it make that she's an "unemployed housewife?" Even assuming that we're OK with using "unemployed housewife?" as a term of implied derision (which sort of surprises me here, BTW).

I mean, you could make a decent argument that what GR needs is some sort of "meta" scale to measure trustworthiness of reviewers, or better yet, how closely reviewer "X's" tastes are likely to match yours. You could argue that lacking, that, all you can do is review reviewers, so to speak. But how is her personal life ever going to be relevant?
posted by tyllwin at 7:56 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


lodurr -- is the "degree of the bullying" subjective because the effect of bullying is interior rather than exterior to the person? For instance, bullying's harms are inside the mind in the form of memories, shame associated with that, limited social capital, and so forth? As opposed to say physical assault where the damage is a combination of interior (all the above things) and exterior (physical health risks) damages?

It seems like saying it is subjective is maybe just another way of saying that there are some harms from bullying that are more challenging -- empirically -- to recognize, identify and measure. Or maybe you mean something else?
posted by scunning at 7:59 AM on July 11, 2012


I disagree. If there are degrees of something, then it's possible to debate whether a given example rises to the level of the something, whether it passes that threshold

Not inherently, no. I imagine you're thinking of things like "wet" or "blue". I'm thinking more along the lines of "is there an x", followed by "how big is the x."

So for this discussion: "are there one, two or three incidents", "what's the severity of the incident."

Put another way: The criterion is threshold. You set a criterion; if it's satisfied, then you say the thing happened. Then you can look at degrees.


And wolfdreams01: You will please note the use of hypotheticals in this discourse, just as I've tried to use them through this entire thread.
posted by lodurr at 8:01 AM on July 11, 2012


tyllwin - I admittedly started skimming the article, so maybe I need to read it again more carefully. (I try to only exert myself on stuff that has some chance of affecting things, though, which doesn't seem the case with this). But I didn't get the impression from reading the article that they were taking her to task for negative reviews of books. The writer was relying on easier to prove evidence of abuse, like behavior in forums such as name-calling, blocking people from writing posts for ad hoc reasons. Of course, that's just the picture presented, but based solely on that picture, the behavior I saw as the most atrocious was the behavior in forums, not the negative reviews (which I didn't read yet).
posted by scunning at 8:04 AM on July 11, 2012


Oh boy.

This is all a bunch of really, really convoluted drama and I'm almost disappointed to see it here on metafilter, but I've had it out with people in both sides of this argument. These days, I try to stay really, really uninvolved because I find it scary and alarming, to the point where I'm even scared to hit post right now.

(In short, I was or have been friendly with a lot of these reviewers, but I got into an argument with one of them--I honestly don't even remember what it was about, but nothing worse than the debates I've gotten into on metafilter--and a friend of mine defended me and a bunch of them blocked me. A similar anti-GR blog popped up which my friend, a fellow mefite who I write with and own a review blog with, was accused of keeping, and I received numerous emails asking me to prove it wasn't him. It wasn't, but I still feel really, really gun-shy around the whole place, even though it used to be one of my favorite websites.

Having said all that, I feel even more nervous now. Let's see if I post this.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:05 AM on July 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


lodurr -- is the "degree of the bullying" subjective because the effect of bullying is interior rather than exterior to the person?

I hadn't gone that far with it, frankly. I'm just thinking in general terms about how you could characterize something. But at first blush I'd personally be disinclined to distinguish physical from psychological all that strongly.

I think you're fairly stating my view on subjectivity of judgement, but just to be clear, I mean that it's difficult not just because there's no easy empirical method, but because the experience is subjective.

However, I was also talking about degree. I think that's possible, and necessary. You wouldn't respond the same way to a passing sneer as you would to, say, publishing someone's name and address and saying they drown kittens for fun.
posted by lodurr at 8:07 AM on July 11, 2012


The main take-away from the first link:

"Because – and I cannot stress this enough – simply disliking a book, no matter how publicly or how snarkily, is not the same as bullying. To say that getting a handful of mean reviews is even in the same ballpark as dealing with an ongoing campaign of personal abuse is insulting to everyone involved. If Athena and the Stop the GR Bullies mob had chosen any other word to describe the problem – if they’d stopped at calling it toxic and objected to it on those grounds – then I might be more sympathetic; after all, as stated above, Goodreads is a largely unmoderated site, and that doesn’t always lead to hugs and puppies. But conflating criticism with bullying is a serious problem – not just in this context, but as regards wider issues of social justice. Increasingly, ‘bullying’ is being bastardised into a go-to term to describe the actions of anyone who actively disagrees with you, to the point where some conservative politicians are now describing leftwingers who call them out on sexism and racism as bullies, or else have decided that ‘bully’ is just a meaningless epithet like ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’, which is arguably worse for suggesting that all three concepts are somehow mythical.

Which is why, in short, the Stop the GR Bullies website is an appalling idea on just about every level. Not only does it appropriate some actual bullying tactics – such as attempting to disseminate the real names and locations of its targets to strangers, then implicitly encouraging said strangers to engage in further harassment – while serving to further water down and confuse the actual, meaningful definition of bulling, but as a protest against the perceived abuse of the Goodreads TOS, it’s completely and utterly meaningless, because the whole site constitutes an active violation. "


And to that, I agree whole-heartedly.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:07 AM on July 11, 2012 [13 favorites]


You're going to really regret posting that once you see what I wrote about you at my anti-PhoBWanKenobi Tumblr, PhoBWanKenobi. ;)
posted by scunning at 8:08 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been a Goodreads member for years and I guess I'm antisocial or something because none of this has ever even showed up on my radar. But I really only follow what people I know read so I can pick up book recommendations.

This brouhaha doesn't incline me to do more social reviewing, either. It sounds like the book equivalent of a fandom_wank post.
posted by immlass at 8:09 AM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


This reminds me why I now avoid pretty much all internet forums other than Metafilter. I have been on two book websites, and various other forums (such as parenting related) where it all turned to clag because a small minority got-off on creating drama and trying to police the actions of everyone else. Almost always it was really, really inconsequential stuff - the kind of thing that 'you don't like someone's posts? Don't read them.' would be the best answer for. I'm not talking death threats, or racist abuse, but just people who get their knickers in a twist over the actions of others, and then seem to have nothing more to do with their lives but turn it in to a.very.big.issue. To the point that many users just walk away.

Thanks MeFites for mainly avoiding that kind of thing. And thanks to the mods for their help in that.
posted by Megami at 8:09 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi, I hear you. I may actually stop following this thread because the story is bothering me more than it really should. We have nasty petty people being abused in a nasty and petty way for being nasty and petty. That's just ugly.
posted by lodurr at 8:10 AM on July 11, 2012


It frustrates me mostly because a lot of the more moderate reviewers have gotten drowned out because of this stuff. It's like you're forced to pick a faction--you're either in it for the authors or in it for the reviewers--and you're supposed to see things in a very, very black and white way which I just can't do. Not in the least because I was one GR for three years as a (moderately popular) reviewer before my book sold. Having that happen, it's helped me see that there's a lot more complexity to the whole situation than I was initially aware back when the whole YA Mafia situation originally arose a few years ago.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:15 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


OK, maybe I'm going too far back in the chain of events, which I see as happening like this:

Kennedy, et al, write savage review --> Author and/or fans take Kennedy and company to task --> Kennedy responds angrily --> Back and forth between the two factions --> subject web site gets put up.

I guess I can see the argument that all was well until the 'Kennedy responds angrily" and it's her response at that point that makes her actions "bullying." I'd have to invest far more time than it's worth to say if that's true or not. But if that's what they're advancing I think they need to be much clearer that it's about later behavior and not about the reviews at all, because what I get out of it is an impression that she think she's just evil root and branch.
posted by tyllwin at 8:19 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


i'm an "unemployed housewife" who drinks a lot, where's my bullying hate site? if you need ammo, i like lady gaga, the big bang theory, those books mtv released in the late '90s/early 2000s, yet i still feel smug about seeing now popular bands back when they were doing the white van/bad clubs circuit.
posted by nadawi at 8:23 AM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


MTV released books?
posted by scunning at 8:25 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


an unemployed housewife who stays at home, drinks, and sometimes takes care of her children

They say that as if it were a bad thing.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:27 AM on July 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


I guess I can see the argument that all was well until the 'Kennedy responds angrily" and it's her response at that point that makes her actions "bullying."

Enh, that just makes it a lame old flame war. You could just as convincingly argue that there's no point in responding to negative reviews like hers.

The writer was relying on easier to prove evidence of abuse, like behavior in forums such as name-calling, blocking people from writing posts for ad hoc reasons.

Name-calling? Blocking? Yeah, that's what I saw. Whoop-dee-doo. That may be mean and lame, but it doesn't even come close to justifying doxing. Everyone involved is acting like an 11-year-old, and not very nice ones.

MTV released books?

Why, yes! The Fuck-Up by Arthur Nersesian was an MTV book, and it was actually pretty decent.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:27 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Has there been any response from the company behind the site? Good Reads is an enormously popular website, which almost certainly means that eventually it will get snapped up by Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, or the like. Those companies will be buying the community more than anything else, so it's definitely in their interest to nip stuff like this in the bud.
posted by cell divide at 8:32 AM on July 11, 2012


I'm exhausted from reading a mountain of self-indulgent crap on that site. From both sides.
posted by prepmonkey at 8:34 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the romance and YA communities, there has been a good deal of discussion over the last five to seven years of the "author/reader divide" -- a divide which many people perceive as being marked by hostility and mistrust. When kerfuffles like this one break out, I grow more sympathetic to that perception.

> These days, I try to stay really, really uninvolved because I find it scary and alarming, to the point where I'm even scared to hit post right now.

PhoBWanKenobi, this is my policy as well: Do Not Engage. Do not engage with reviewers. Do not share my opinion of this current fracas (or the many that came before it). You gain nothing and stand to lose a great deal (of peace of mind; of readers' good opinions) by engaging.

The authors being "championed" by Stop The Goodreads Bullies are, for the most part, behaving badly. Many of them are commenting defensively on reviews of their books, forgetting the fact that these reviews are not meant for them but for readers. They do not have my sympathy.

At the same time, if we're going to justify the nasty tone of certain reviews and reviewers by situating it within a long history in the western world of "literary snark," then we should also acknowledge that that history includes authors snarking right back at their critics. However, Author Snark is not tolerated in these particular pockets of the internet. To the contrary, it's a quick ticket to being labeled as an "Author Behaving Badly," and becoming the object of excoriations across the reviewing blogosphere.

This apparent hypocrisy is not so hypocritical, I think, as it is a reflection of the dramatic shift in our understanding of what it means to be a writer or reader in this era of late capitalism. Authors once were considered (or, at the least, idealized as) artists, and the act of reading was once considered (or, at the least, idealized as) a form of cultural engagement. No longer. Writers are the producers of commodities like any other, and readers (in this particular virtual ecosystem) very often cast themselves as consumers. The result of this (relatively) new understanding of writers and readers is that author snark is perceived as egregious abuse of consumers, much as Wal-Mart snarking on its customers would be considered egregious and enraging. Author Snark is met by the response: "I will never buy your product again." Or, to flesh that out: "I did not like your product and as a paying consumer, I have every right to complain about it, but YOU, the producer, do not have the right to criticize the manner in which I choose to complain, and if you do so, I will take my business elsewhere."

This all makes perfect sense to me. It just seems odd because we're still suffering a hangover from more romantic notions of authors and readers and the relationship between the two.
posted by artemisia at 8:35 AM on July 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


I don't condone this freakishly hypocritical anti-Goodreads-bully site at all.

But after one peek at Kat Kennedy's blog, I wholeheartedly support any endeavor that causes her personal or professional trouble.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 8:38 AM on July 11, 2012


>But after one peek at Kat Kennedy's blog, I wholeheartedly support any endeavor that causes her personal or professional trouble.

Can I ask why? She doesn't pull her punches, but I'm confused about why her reviewing style would make you hope that she suffers personal or professional trouble.
posted by artemisia at 8:40 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


[1.] Kennedy, et al, write savage review
[2.] --> Author and/or fans take Kennedy and company to task
[3.] --> Kennedy responds angrily
[4.] --> Back and forth between the two factions
[5.] --> subject web site gets put up.


Yeah, I think that's about right. The "savage" part is probably what would have to be gone over carefully.

But imagine actually doing that -- imagine that the review wasn't just savage, but in fact was like lodurr noted a kind of behavior that met some communally defined criteria for "bullying" or hate speech or something. Imagine how much time it would require, and much you would have to scrutinize those posts, and how involved the case against Kennedy would become, to provide evidence for that. In my imagination, when someone tries to make their defense even clearer, they get attacked and ridiculed even more. It's a no-win situation oftentimes.

This is actually a general problem with all societies. It's the problem of the public good. The "victims" bear all the costs of explaining and documenting the abuse but share those benefits with the entire community assuming real change ever occurs. Not surprisingly, when goods are indeed public -- meaning non-rival and non-exclusive, which is basically the description of internet threads and forums, for the most part -- private communities do a shitty job of providing them. They are rife with tragedy of the commons problems. That's all trolling is -- it's just the over-use of the resource for what is at the margin some small annoying little comment. But it mounts up if unchecked and the resource, while in potential able to produce something of real value, is a giant, stinking cess pool.

It sounds to me like this isn't really about negative reviews to be honest. It sounds like GR has the potential to provide a tangible sense of community to bibliophiles, but there's no enforcement mechanism on the site (e.g., no mods) and nothing to make forums exclusive (e.g., no "$5 life-time membership" like MeFi, no limits on the number of posts in a week, so forth). So threads can be abused easily, and are often, and by the same groups apparently.

The problem with the solution the authors offer -- shaming -- is that it's still a private provision of the public good. They're going to do this forever from now on? And so what? Now I know next time not to use twitter, or maybe I just don't care at all. Whatever, who cares. To most people, Kennedy can credibly just say "yeah, basically people get worked up over stupid stuff, you know how that is" so it's not obvious this even really functions as a credible threat anyway. The site may need to seriously reconsider its charter. There's definitely such thing as over-moderating a site and killing it, but there's also the opposite problem of complete laisseze faire approaches. That works for 4chan, but not for every site that doesn't want to become 4chan. And this is a site of book worms -- I'm picture Peter Pan or whoever as a librarian or something. It's kind of inconsistent with the values of the people who self-select into the site if I had to just venture a guess.
posted by scunning at 8:40 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The proper chain of events would have gone
Kennedy, et al, write savage review --> Author and/or fans ignore it --> The Earth continues to spin. This idea that all criticism, or even just all harsh criticism, is a personal affront and must be met with extreme force until the critic sees the error of her ways and either repents or retreats is bizarre to me.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:42 AM on July 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Stitcherbest: "Name-calling? Blocking? Yeah, that's what I saw. Whoop-dee-doo. That may be mean and lame, but it doesn't even come close to justifying doxing. Everyone involved is acting like an 11-year-old, and not very nice ones."

I guess it depends on the subject value you place on the things you lose as a result of those actions, and the alternatives that you have. I am not in this community, so who knows -- maybe you're right. But in principle, you're not always right in what you say here. Just saying "whoop-dee-doo" doesn't mean that individuals on the receiving end of the actions taken do not suffer meaningful harm. It would require a lot more than just casual glances at a couple of articles to say anything material about that. People end up in therapy for a lot less, trust me.
posted by scunning at 8:43 AM on July 11, 2012


The most ridiculous part of this whole thing is the bizarre 'author vs. reviewer' mentality. It's been growing for a while now, to the point where some people (mostly those on the 'reviewer' side, I have to say) talk about it the same way political commentators talk about the Republican/Democrat divide. You are either one or the other. If you comment on the situation, you must be either one or the other. By definition, anything the 'other side' does is evil.

Keep in mind, we're talking about book reviews here.
posted by anaximander at 8:44 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


NO YOU
posted by goatdog at 8:44 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Enh, that just makes it a lame old flame war.

Sticherbeast, that's a pretty apt description.

I thought the recent League of Strays drama on GR was a pretty good example of how these conflicts snowball on the site due to the factionalism there. Essentially, one reviewer got an advanced copy and read as far as a scene where a bunch of kids homophobically bully and beat up a guy for revenge. She found it distasteful, stopped reading, and reviewed it, and the book popped up on a bunch of "do not read" lists for being homophobic. And then an anonymous review criticizing the initial review appeared. People assumed it was the author (I did, too)--the book showed up on more do not read lists for "author bad behavior." One reviewer commented to say they thought people were being rash; she got chased out of the discussion. The author responded once, to say that it was her overzealous 13-year-old daughter who had written that review. Then someone finally read the book to the end and it turns out it was really about how bad and terrible it is to homophobically bully someone for revenge.

I don't know how the drama ended, but that's as far as I followed it.

All of this is complicated by the two-faced way GR deals with authors and reviewers. Until about a year ago, the site seemed to be courting authors as much as reviewers. They courted author participation on reviews and discussions of books (now they have a warning every time you respond to a review about how such interactions rarely go over well). They still take authors' money for ad campaigns, too. And when you have an author account, your books feel like they're "yours." Their pages are linked on your homepage, with a nice graphic that showed exactly how many ratings and reviews you have, and they make it easy to view every single status update about your book and every single shelf it appears on. I use leechblock to block all of that stuff, because fuck that noise, but it really shows what a mess the site is in terms of intended audience.

Oh, and they'll censor libelous reviews, but not libelous comments, so now people just put their author-focused reviews in the comments to avoid deletion.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:47 AM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


And here I was worried about giving the first novel of a nodding acquaintance a three-star review.

Mostly I use Goodreads as a personal database because I have a terrible memory for book titles and authors, and people tend to look at me funny when I have a conversation with lines like, "oh, what was that book involving a city, a pit, and a man in a pig suit, who turned out to be a pig in a man suit?"
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:48 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm confused about why her reviewing style would make you hope that she suffers personal or professional trouble.

She's just another self-infatuated bloghard, that's all. Do I have to give each individual cockroach the benefit of the doubt, or can I just feel that there should be less of them in the world?
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 8:48 AM on July 11, 2012


Not inherently, no. I imagine you're thinking of things like "wet" or "blue". I'm thinking more along the lines of "is there an x", followed by "how big is the x."

You've lost me a little with this. I basically think of "bullying" as an adjective we use to characterise the tone of an interaction between two people; as a noun it's just a succession of incidents which exhibit that characteristic. There are clear whens and what to any interaction between people, but I'm having trouble conceiving of a factual basis you could use to categorise a tone which wouldn't be subject to interpretation.

I mean, if I had to define bullying, I'd say something like "threats or criticism meant to intimidate, belittle or inspire fear in the victim, esp. in order to silence or otherwise coerce them." But having said that, I don't think there's a single word in that definition that wouldn't be debatable, if someone said "does this interaction constitute bullying?". The intent of the accused bully and the subjective experience of the purported victim are intrinsic.
posted by Diablevert at 8:49 AM on July 11, 2012


You've lost me a little with this. I basically think of "bullying" as an adjective we use to characterise the tone of an interaction between two people; as a noun it's just a succession of incidents which exhibit that characteristic. There are clear whens and what to any interaction between people, but I'm having trouble conceiving of a factual basis you could use to categorise a tone which wouldn't be subject to interpretation.

I mean, if I had to define bullying, I'd say something like "threats or criticism meant to intimidate, belittle or inspire fear in the victim, esp. in order to silence or otherwise coerce them." But having said that, I don't think there's a single word in that definition that wouldn't be debatable, if someone said "does this interaction constitute bullying?". The intent of the accused bully and the subjective experience of the purported victim are intrinsic.


If it's intent only, then it's pretty much useless. That's an impossible norm to enforce, except for in religions where "intent" is monitored by a deity. The definition of bullying should be something objective. That unfortunately will always date the definition and make it technologically fixed. Very hard to imagine defining bullying adequately before youtube and smart phones, for instance.

But if you don't do it that way -- if you link it merely to intent -- then I don't see how you can ever get around the trap of "I didn't mean it that way". I hear that explanation about 10 thousand times every day from one of my kids about something they said to their siblings. The rule is they cannot say those things, not whether they were "joking".

(btw, the biggest out ever invented by man is to be a piece of shit to someone else and claim you were only joking. Now you just add insult to injury -- not only is this person I picked on hurt because I picked on them, but they also have no sense of humor. All the more reason to pick on them.)
posted by scunning at 8:54 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


You've lost me a little with this. I basically think of "bullying" as an adjective we use to characterise the tone of an interaction between two people...

It's all premised on the idea that you can have an objective criterion for bullying. I proposed one, but that's really a maguffing; if you had one, whatever it was, you could do this. I happen to believe that you could come up with one, so then it becomes a matter of assessing severity. Based on that, I don't think assessment of whether bullying happens is necessarily very subjective; assessment of its severity would be, though.
posted by lodurr at 8:55 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


She's just another self-infatuated bloghard

Really? She doesn't seem to be taking herself too seriously.
posted by yerfatma at 8:57 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


scunning, thanks, intent is a very good point. at some point you have to stop doing that kind of thing. you can always carve out exceptions for personal space, subgroup norms, etc., but i'm coming to believe that things just work better in life when you don't do that shit.
posted by lodurr at 8:59 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


And here I was worried about giving the first novel of a nodding acquaintance a three-star review.

You can, but in my experience it might make things awkward.

Ironically, those conflicts-of-interest are at the source of a lot of this. The whole "YA Mafia" thing was about whether or not aspiring authors should review. Some authors have suggested not, never, you have to sit next to these people at conferences and ask them for blurbs. I honestly only keep doing it because I genuinely love it.

That's not to say that becoming a Real Author hasn't changed my approach. Lev Grossman has talked a little bit about this, too; I no longer get that thrill I used to when panning something, back when a lot of it was motivated by "stupid publishing world doesn't know what's good." Once you get the validation of the stupid publishing world, it kinda weakens that whole line of rhetoric.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:00 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


It frustrates me mostly because a lot of the more moderate reviewers have gotten drowned out because of this stuff. It's like you're forced to pick a faction--you're either in it for the authors or in it for the reviewers--and you're supposed to see things in a very, very black and white way which I just can't do.

I think this is the case for most subject oriented comment forums, MeFi included, which tends to keep me from participating. No real loss to the world, I know, but when I sign up for a site, I do so partially to join a community, not join an ongoing struggle between communities.

(The other reason I join is to talk about Batman. Have you heard about Batman? He's quite a special fellow.)
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:01 AM on July 11, 2012 [8 favorites]


Kat Kennedy strikes me as a funny, smart person who doesn't seem to be actively flamebaiting, though she certainly doesn't pull punches. I disagree that blocking users on a web site is a method of cliquish divisiveness, not when fights get as protracted as the few I just read on GoodReads get.

The second you make a thing, that's when you isolate yourself from the response to that thing – unless you're looking for a specific kind of feedback in a specific kind of channel, you will learn nothing useful about yourself, only things about other people rephrased to sound like they're actually about you. There are exceptions to the rule, critics who are truly good at illuminating their subjects, but they're just that: exceptions.

This rule applies for people who "create" criticism, too, and good critics understand that their taste is not the only taste in the world and learn not to reply to 'baiters. But sometimes, the satisfaction of knowing the target of your skewering is writhing and bleeding on the hooks is too much to turn down a chance to stick a few more knives in. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's negative and largely a waste of time, but it's fun! No more pointless than your average TV binge. Plus, it's not your responsibility to help other people get over their egos.

When I was 17, I wrote and self-published a novel, which I immediately shared on the Something Awful forums. The shitkicking that followed was as glorious as it was painful. People like to rip on things, and if you're not looking to be torn, you remove yourself from those arenas immediately. Making lifts you above the arena in which people fight over the made, and if you participate anyway, you deserve whatever consequences ensue.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:01 AM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Apart from the mods, I've noticed on MetaFilter the low background chorus hum of "it's okay to let it go, it's okay to just walk away" that is both sincere and a good reality check. There is a kindness that users here show towards other users that may be falling to deep into the drama trap which I think is really healthy for the site. The mods tend to frame the really nasty arguments as "bad behavior" and not the product of bad people.

I think that as a society we are still adjusting to the idea that text on the internet is not always the same as published text. When all the negativity starts flying around like in this case, it can be hard to see that it is often stream-of-consciousness, and nothing like the fact-checked, edited, maybe peer reviewed text we have become accustomed to as having some kind of authority. So personal attacks feel deliberate when often it is just totally unplanned bad behavior. And then we react as if we had been libeled in a public forum, when really half of these rants are more akin to a drunk dude shouting at you as you walk past him at 2am. It's not that you can't libel/slander people while drunk, or at 2am, but when you encounter that situation it is I think a lot easier for people to let it go than an attack that feels pre-meditated and actually calculated to harm.
posted by newg at 9:03 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Word that I'm chagrined to admit I didn't know for today: doxing. how did I now know this word.
posted by lodurr at 9:03 AM on July 11, 2012


Rory Marinich: The second you make a thing, that's when you isolate yourself from the response to that thing...

Hmm...gotta think about that one for a bit...it's a concept...feels a little Buber. You been reading the Chabon on Joyce thread?
posted by lodurr at 9:06 AM on July 11, 2012


Kennedy is in the current spotlight, but looking at "Wendy Darling," the sequence there seems to be:

"Wendy" writes snarky review --> Author calls her a bitch and cranks up a hate campaign

Do I have that right? Because that's a whole different question.
posted by tyllwin at 9:10 AM on July 11, 2012


"Bullying" is a lot like "blue" in that there's a region where everybody can agree on what they're seeing (a clear sky/punching a fourth-grader and taking his lunch money), but the edge cases depend on who you're asking and where they stand.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:13 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to me that this is happening with regard to Goodreads, not Amazon. An awful lot of authors are convinced that rashes of poor Amazon ratings are hurting them in a very immediate way.
posted by BibiRose at 9:20 AM on July 11, 2012


You can, but in my experience it might make things awkward.

Actually, it turned out ok. She sent me a polite, "thank you." The bimodal distribution of ratings bugs me when I tend to score toward the middle on most books/movies. In my opinion, three stars mean you did a competent job and delivered what I expected, four stars are reserved for best-of-the-year, and five-star works are superlative best-of-breed. I was honest in that I liked the book, but it didn't quite succeed at selling one of the central relationships.

I'm starting to have second thoughts though about using Goodreads as my primary bibliographic database because there are books and comments about books that I don't necessarily want to track in the public eye.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:27 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can make your account private, if it's any help.

And yeah, GR's scoring range is weird, and doesn't help anything. They say that three stars is "liked it," but the common perception among authors (and some of the public) is that 3 stars is a big ol' meh. And of course, any star rating system is deeply flawed. I've found that some books I've scored as 3 are ones that really stick with me and that I love in retrospect, but who knows what's going on when the spirit grabs you to rate something a certain way in the moment.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:29 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Very hard to imagine defining bullying adequately before youtube and smart phones, for instance.

I confess, I'm flummoxed by this. Kids have been getting beaten up for their lunch money since the dawnna time. I think you're trying to say something like, since we can put a timestamp on an interaction and save it to a hardrive, we can now objectively define bullying where we couldn't before? But surely content and context still matters: there's people I could text "god, you're such a slut. I hate you" in the certain knowledge they'd chuckle at the other end. In another context, those same words would be harassment.


It's all premised on the idea that you can have an objective criterion for bullying. I proposed one, but that's really a maguffing; if you had one, whatever it was, you could do this. I happen to believe that you could come up with one, so then it becomes a matter of assessing severity.

well, that's exactly what i'm saying: i don't think you can, and I'm struggling to understand why you do think so, and by extension what kinds of facts or measurements you think could be made to define the phenomenon. Beyond that, it's a case of if my aunt had balls; if there was an objective standard, then sure you could measure against it.
posted by Diablevert at 9:31 AM on July 11, 2012


I wonder if this is spillover from the Ebay mentality where anything less than perfect reviews is considered cause for concern.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:40 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've found that some books I've scored as 3 are ones that really stick with me and that I love in retrospect, but who knows what's going on when the spirit grabs you to rate something a certain way in the moment.

I gave a book two stars and then went back and changed it to three, after realizing the two was more in relation to other books by her than to all the books I've been reading. And then why should it be in relation to the books I happen to be reading? The whole star thing is so unfair. I guess the upside of online reviewing is that a cranky review in print is no longer maybe the only review you'll get.
posted by BibiRose at 9:42 AM on July 11, 2012


diablevert: i don't think you can, and I'm struggling to understand why you do think so

I'm not going to the mat on this one; mostly I'm just unwilling to say you can't. If you could, I think it would have to be something along the lines of saying that any behavior fitting these criteria would be classified as bullying. That's why I keep focusing on the severity: because if you did take that approach, you'd end up with a lot of stuff classified as bullying, and it wouldn't make sense to treat all those cases the same way.
posted by lodurr at 9:46 AM on July 11, 2012


tyllwin - kinda sorta. I'm totally on the outside of this looking in (read up on this a while back due to notes in the Amazon reviews, barely knew GR existed before that point), but here's the sequence there as I saw it:

"Wendy" writes snarky review --> Author is upset, votes up positive reviews to push Wendy's review down --> Author's AGENT calls Wendy a bitch in twitter conversation with author --> Wendy is upset, posts screencaps of this --> Wendy's followers vote her review up even further and write "reviews" that are sometimes thinly-veiled of criticisms of author/agent --> Author and agent apologize to Wendy (and author continues to encourage people to write (vote up?) positive reviews) --> completely unrelated self-published author who has in the past made herself an army of sockpuppets and been kicked off of GR writes blog post calling Wendy and co bullies, posts Wendy's personal information.

There are also anonymous comments involved and accusations of sockpuppetry for positive reviews.

It's a mess all around, but at the same time it's really fascinating (to me) in a trainwreck sort of way.

I know nothing at all about the Kennedy issue.
posted by anthy at 9:48 AM on July 11, 2012


GR's scoring range is weird, and doesn't help anything. They say that three stars is "liked it," but the common perception among authors (and some of the public) is that 3 stars is a big ol' meh.

Wait? Really? In my estimation two is "meh." Three is "yeah, that was pretty good."

I like GR. I use it primarily as a personal database to remember to read books, but I also have a few friends who read very different things than I do (or the one in publishing that reads about five times as much as I do), and I've found some great books as a result. I like finding new books that I might not otherwise have found or considered. I have done very little reviewing, except for a few books won via giveaways. (Which I rated as two/meh -- now I'm thankful that I never won a YA book.)

I'm rather fascinated and repelled by this whole new side to Goodreads that I had never seen before.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 9:49 AM on July 11, 2012


It frustrates me mostly because a lot of the more moderate reviewers have gotten drowned out because of this stuff. It's like you're forced to pick a faction--you're either in it for the authors or in it for the reviewers-

From the first link (fozmeadows blog post)

are authors, editors, agents and publishers within their grounds to reject aspiring writers who’ve written negative reviews of authors they work with or know, or is this a form of discriminatory nepotism? is the primary purpose of book blogging to act as ‘cheerleaders’ for authors, or to give good consumer advice to readers? – what it frequently boils down to is a dispute over judgements of taste. Or, more specifically: at what volume or intensity does the presence of comedic snark in a book review see it go from being a professional opinion to unprofessional abuse?

These are darned good questions, and a hell of a good place to start a fascinating discussion. But that discussion can't happen unless there's some level of respect and/or moderation. Because we humans are collectively way too new at this internet stuff (the power we wield when we choose to share our ideas, passions, etc). Like a bunch of eight year olds flying off on feelings-hurt tantrums, closing our eyes and swinging our fists.
posted by philip-random at 9:53 AM on July 11, 2012


So this is mostly to do with adults and YA books, correct? This confirms my bias.
posted by bongo_x at 9:55 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Author's AGENT calls Wendy a bitch

Oh, it was the agent. OK, I don't really expect agents to be any other way.

are authors, editors, agents and publishers within their grounds to reject aspiring writers who’ve written negative reviews of authors they work with or know, or is this a form of discriminatory nepotism


I'm pleased to see self-publishing become more viable and relegate this question to the dust-bin of history.
posted by tyllwin at 9:56 AM on July 11, 2012


I've been a Goodreads member for years and I guess I'm antisocial or something because none of this has ever even showed up on my radar. But I really only follow what people I know read so I can pick up book recommendations.

Same here. For anyone not familiar with Goodreads, this is not something you’d necessarily bump into on GR like you would if it were happening on MF. There must be a special "Immature Drama" section somewhere.
posted by bongo_x at 9:59 AM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm pleased to see self-publishing become more viable and relegate this question to the dust-bin of history.

I'm not sure if you're being sarcastic; I don't think self publishing really works this way or probably ever will. Strictly speaking, of course, you might not have an agent, but you'll have "agents" -- people or institutions that do things for you, and upon which you are dependent (and probably with some mutuality).

So it will actually make it more complex (though it may alleviate some of the intensity).

Mind you, I'd love it if it were so relegated, but I just don't think it could be.
posted by lodurr at 10:00 AM on July 11, 2012


I'll second bongo_x -- my exposure is limited, but such as it's been, haven't really seen any of this. But it's a massive site, saying that all I've ever seen was good is a bit like assuming there are no mean streets left in NYC after only seeing the new disneyfied times square.
posted by lodurr at 10:02 AM on July 11, 2012


Hmm? The dustbin comment wasn't really a unified thought about agents in general. It was just an aside about the gatekeeper roles of publishers and editors. It's that gatekeeper function that I think may actually fade some. Sorry to be vague.
posted by tyllwin at 10:05 AM on July 11, 2012


are authors, editors, agents and publishers within their grounds to reject aspiring writers who’ve written negative reviews of authors they work with or know, or is this a form of discriminatory nepotism?

The thing is, I don't know if that rejection happens.

Wait, that's not true. There are some agents who I've seen say stuff about not taking writers who have panned their stuff or who review at all. That's not all agents, though. When it came down to it, I chose not to query those agents with anti-reviewing attitudes because reviewing is important to me. I also generally chose not to query agents who represented work I hated, because to me that represents a fundamental mismatch of taste (I mean, no one is perfect, bu Jodi Meadows and I clearly have disparate tastes, and so why send her my work? And let her edit it? That doesn't seem like a good idea.) As an author, you're not obligated to pursue representation with every agent who is out there. In fact, it's probably best if you don't. Don't query people who seem like assholes or who are down on the things you want to do with your career--up to and including reviewing! It's okay!

As for editors, in my experience they're some of the most opinionated schmoes in the business. Mine's never said anything about my reviews (and I know my agent used my blog as a selling point when I went on sub). Maybe I'm lucky; maybe that day is to come and my reviews will be pried from my cold, dead hands. I'm skeptical, though. Editors generally seem pretty sensible about such things. They want to represent books they like and which will make them money.

More commonly, you hear other authors not telling authors to review. And that comes from two places, as far as I can tell. One place is a more regimented, systematic one. Authors say they will refuse to blurb other authors who have negatively reviewed them. That's their right. The whole blurb thing is weird, and that's not outside the bounds of reason. And every once in awhile, an author will say something about how they'd tell their agent not to represent people who have panned them. That's weird and I doubt any author has that pull with his or her agent. I know I don't.

The other reason authors warn about this has nothing to do with that kind of refusal of professional help, or whatever, but that it simply introduces a whole lot of awkward. Authors, particularly in YA, are expected to have somewhat friendly relationships. You might get sent on tour with another author or sit next to them at a panel. And man, let me tell you, yes, it's weird to end up friends with someone who you reviewed negatively. Elephant in the room. Huge one. If you're both unusually well-adjusted, maybe you can laugh about it someday. Maybe one of you might awkwardly broach the subject at some point but generally you'll be avoiding it. Not that that's hugely different from the way a lot of author friendships work--where, if you read their book and hated it, you pretend that never happened and just never speak of it. But if you review, they know. They always know.

Awkward!

But I mean, shit being awkward on occasion isn't the end of the world. It's just the inevitable price for being friends with artists and being honest about their work.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:10 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it's intent only, then it's pretty much useless.

Intent is the only difference between murder and manslaughter, yet that's still a distinction that most societies seem to be OK drawing.

It's true we can't know anyone else's intent with absolute certainty, but we don't need to; we seem to get by OK in most cases drawing reasonable, yet less-than-certain inferences about the intentions of others. I'm OK with attempting to discern intent as best we can as one of the components of bullying. ("As best we can" also means not always believing the person who says "I didn't mean it that way," when other evidence suggests they did in fact mean it that way.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:13 AM on July 11, 2012


The authors-reviewing-authors thing puts me in mind of something Gene Wolfe said in an interview (of himself by himself):
You have a reputation as one of the nicest guys in the field, but you and I both know you're a hyena on hind legs. How do you pull this off?

I never finish a book I don't like, and if someone asks me about it, I say "I haven't read it."
posted by Zed at 10:19 AM on July 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


Also, I would like to reiterate my dislike of the term Young Adult (YA) for books. Young adults are people in their early 20's. These are books for people aged 10 to 13, who would better be described as Elderly Children.
posted by jonmc at 10:19 AM on July 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


as far as I've ever heard, Gene Wolfe appears to still be the only one who knows that Gene Wolfe is a "hyaena on hind legs."
posted by lodurr at 10:23 AM on July 11, 2012


tyllwin: It's that gatekeeper function that I think may actually fade some

oh, then I'm with you, mostly. someone's always gonna find a way to be a gatekeeper, 'cuz there's money in it, but the role can be considerably reduced.
posted by lodurr at 10:25 AM on July 11, 2012


I have a vain hope that as things evolve, those new gatekeepers will be beholden to the audience instead. Buyer's rather than seller's agents, so to speak.
posted by tyllwin at 10:36 AM on July 11, 2012


I dunno, tyllwin. Both my agent and my editor made my book unspeakably deeper and better. I realize that's not a popular thing to say among self-publishing proponents, but it's very, very much true that their gatekeeping has been for the betterment of the reading public's experience.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:39 AM on July 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's okay to not like things.

(SYTL)
posted by THAT William Mize at 10:46 AM on July 11, 2012


Both my agent and my editor made my book unspeakably deeper and better

Yeah, but isn't that separate from the gatekeeper question? I don't doubt that most people can benefit from having a talented and on-board helper look over the work that make suggestions that you feel you can't just blow off. It's a cliche really that authors works mostly plunge downhill when they're positioned to ignore editors or choose to be edited by sycophants.

But that's someone who's more in the role of a producer for a record album, someone who sells themselves to an artist on the basis of talent min the medium of choice, vs. selling on the ability to say "I'm valuable because Bob at Random House and Alice at Simon & Schuster will always return my calls," and thus having the clout to say "I'm telling you not to talk down one of Bob or Alice's cash cows."
posted by tyllwin at 10:50 AM on July 11, 2012


I'd like to think we can all accept that agents & editors have often had the role of making things much better, but evidence I'm aware of suggests that's rarer and rarer and that killing self-publishing would do nothing to foster its renaissance.

I like the producer analogy; I'm just not sure people (in any part of the food chain) are going to be willing to spend money on that.
posted by lodurr at 10:53 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


which is to say that the killer here is margin pressure, and I'm afraid that's a feature of the times.
posted by lodurr at 10:53 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but isn't that separate from the gatekeeper question?

No, because my books before this one didn't sell and they sucked. When I got representation for this book, it was okay, but the process of preparing it for publication made it really good. Without those gatekeepers in place, I would have been forced to self-publish books that rated somewhere between meh and suck.

"I'm telling you not to talk down one of Bob or Alice's cash cows."

Again, in my experience this doesn't actually happen, though it seems like a common fear among aspiring authors who also review. "Common" is not "grounded in reality," though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:53 AM on July 11, 2012


Man, this is all very confusing to me. I review books very actively on Goodreads, and I don't hold back (although I am not actively gunning for lols) but I've never had any interaction more negative than someone suggesting a book that I'd already read.

(I did have an author comment on one of my reviews, once, but a) it was someone I'd met in person - one of Jessamyn's friends actually and b) she was just commenting that I'd correctly identified a couple of her inspirations. It was all very pleasant.)

I wonder if there's a particular genre that's more prone to this sort of weird author-responsiveness, or if I'm just not reading the right books.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:56 AM on July 11, 2012


Wow. I am obviously not using Good Reads to the fullest extent. I just like having an app where I can list what I have read, will read and have read. Easy peasey. I think I went into the forums once.
posted by govtdrone at 10:56 AM on July 11, 2012


I wonder if there's a particular genre that's more prone to this sort of weird author-responsiveness, or if I'm just not reading the right books.

Ya, and to really attract that kind of attention you have to write kind of snarky, perhaps mean-spirited reviews. A friend of mine panned New Moon in a really snarky way four years ago and still gets comments. She doesn't get comments on any of her other reviews at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:57 AM on July 11, 2012


I feel like this would be more immediately applicable to me if authors could weigh in on Goodreads threads from beyond the grave. (You hear that, Spenser! "The Faerie Queene" is stupid, overwritten, overrated tripe, you shifty, dull, obsequious hack!" )
posted by thivaia at 11:00 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


After spending a few minutes looking into this, I think everyone, authors, "bullies", reviewers, all of them, come off looking like self-important jackasses.
posted by cherrybounce at 11:08 AM on July 11, 2012


Wait a minute, are people seriously saying that negative reviews are making them stop writing? This is baffling to me. Unless you're prepared for criticism, write poems to your cat.

Christ. The one thing I'll say for MFA programs, they toughen you up but quick.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:15 AM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


This sort of authors-behaving-badly theatre started a while back. I point you towards Stacia Kane who earlier this year reminded authors and their armies that Reviews Are Not For You.

Rachel Russell writes her take on this most current of author/reviewer kerfuffles.

And Scarlett Parrish weighs in on avoiding interaction, in online spheres, as an author.

Question to those folks who know the law better than I, (which is probably everyone), but isn't publishing the kind of info; names, addresses, phone numbers, work numbers, schedules, etc., isn't that legally considered liable? I've just scanned this page at the Citizens Media Law Project, and I'm not positive it is; but it sure seems like it's skating on the edge of actionable. But if so, that's a civil suit, yes? There's nothing the "outed reviewers" can do to stop the the bullies at "stop the gr bullies" from publishing all this data?
posted by dejah420 at 11:24 AM on July 11, 2012


Yeah, but isn't that separate from the gatekeeper question? I don't doubt that most people can benefit from having a talented and on-board helper look over the work that make suggestions that you feel you can't just blow off.

But how do you put this in place without an editor who's being paid by the publisher? By paying for it yourself (assuming you are the author)? That is done at times, but it's insanely expensive. By paying your self-chosen editor out of a percentage of projected earnings? Now they're going to be a gatekeeper, if they are any good, because a lot of people will want their services.

On her website set up to help authors, agent Janet Reid discussed hiring editors and said that instead you should look for a tough critique group and other sources of criticism. The problem with this approach (speaking for myself now, not Reid) is you still won't be getting in-depth revision advice that involves intensive rewrites, sometimes more than one.

I have read, or looked through, a lot of self-published mysteries by first-time authors. A lot of those people are also members of mailing lists I frequent and in many cases they have put in years of work, and they are not dumb, but their books lack professional quality. I daresay a majority of them would gladly take the kind of help a professional editor gives, as long as it would lead to publication.

For readers? Choosing books is always a crap shoot. Plenty of genre fiction published by major houses has major flaws or is otherwise pretty weak. But try downloading a bunch of free books from Kindle Select or similar that have been written by otherwise unpublished authors. See if you can pick one that you want to read all the way through. I mean based on the first 10-20 pages, leaving aside considerations of how likely it is that the book will live up to the promise of those pages. (A problem with traditionally published books too-- although, self-published mysteries, at least, tend to throw the reader under the bus more often, in my experience.)
posted by BibiRose at 11:26 AM on July 11, 2012


I think the single most appalling thing coming to light in all of this for me is that people are still using LiveJournal.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:29 AM on July 11, 2012


But how do you put this in place without an editor who's being paid by the publisher? By paying for it yourself (assuming you are the author)? That is done at times, but it's insanely expensive.

I had a talk with a fellow writer a few months back over a few beers. He was currently in a University workshop situation (grad level) and was considering just paying one of his fellow students (somebody who seemed to really get what he was trying to do) to edit his stuff. He figured a thousand bucks was a fair figure (for a student) to read a 150,000 word novel and give fairly thorough notes.

I didn't think much of it at the time, but I must say, the idea's been appealing to me ever since in a sort of pragmatic way.
posted by philip-random at 11:39 AM on July 11, 2012


I feel like this would be more immediately applicable to me if authors could weigh in on Goodreads threads from beyond the grave
"Still must I hear? — shall hoarse Fitzgerald bawl
His creaking couplets in a tavern hall,
And I not sing, lest, haply, Scotch reviews
Should dub me scribbler, and denounce my muse?
Prepare for rhyme — I'll publish, right or wrong:
Fools are my theme, let satire be my song."
—George Gordon, Lord Byron. English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:46 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, I would like to reiterate my dislike of the term Young Adult (YA) for books. Young adults are people in their early 20's. These are books for people aged 10 to 13, who would better be described as Elderly Children.

actually YA is for teens -- ages 12 to 18. you're talking about middle grade.

I'm also a YA author and used to follow all this drama but my god does it ever exhaust me now. I'm even having trouble typing up a coherent sentence about it.
posted by changeling at 11:46 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The amount of free time these people have on their hands amazes me.
posted by falameufilho at 11:51 AM on July 11, 2012


I had a talk with a fellow writer a few months back over a few beers. He was currently in a University workshop situation (grad level) and was considering just paying one of his fellow students (somebody who seemed to really get what he was trying to do) to edit his stuff. He figured a thousand bucks was a fair figure (for a student) to read a 150,000 word novel and give fairly thorough notes.

$1000 is not a fair rate at all.

Also it's not the same. It's nowhere near the same. The first edit letter of my book was seventeen pages long, followed by another eleven page letter, followed by a four page letter addressing issues with the book on every level from word choice to individual character arcs. This was after six months of revisions with my agent. Before that, I had beta readers and a critique group.

I thought I was a really good reader/editor from my own reviewing and teaching and freelancing, but I'm not at all qualified to do what my editor does. A sympathetic MFA student wouldn't be, either. Promise.

A lot of those people are also members of mailing lists I frequent and in many cases they have put in years of work, and they are not dumb, but their books lack professional quality.

I've found this to be the case, too. Many of the stronger self-pubbed books feel like beta reads with potential. I haven't encountered one yet with polish.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:51 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


But how do you put this in place without an editor who's being paid by the publisher?

Maybe you can't, but that doesn't bother me if "publisher's" roles change a bit.

For a long time, the strength of a publisher has been that they and only they could get that physical book into bookstores across the country.
I think that's less true every day, with Amazon PoD, Nooks, Kindles, iPads, etc.

But thinking about the future, let me pull an example from the past. I've always been a big fan of horror/dark fantasy. Many years ago Dell had an imprint called "Abyss" and after a couple, I'd basically buy them sight unseen. I was buying just on the strength of the editors, often not even knowing the author ahead of time. The publisher in that case was serving a very different function -- that of offering a hallmark, of telling potential buyers "we put our name on this, so if you like our previous selections, we think you'll like this" like an underpowered version of Oprah's book club. That's a totally different function and has nothing to do with basic access to markets. I'm glad to see that "access to markets" function wither away but I don't have any issue at all with the "endorsement" function, just the opposite, in fact.

I guess this is all sort of far off the GR rails, though. Sorry.
posted by tyllwin at 11:55 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if this is spillover from the Ebay mentality where anything less than perfect reviews is considered cause for concern.

This actually reminds me so much of fandom wanking, so much so that it can't be a coincidence. Starting a pseudonymous blog to "out" people you don't like is classic attention-grabbing and ingrouping behavior that is sometimes seen in fanfiction from smaller writers trying to get the attention of Big Name Fans.
posted by muddgirl at 11:59 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


bu Jodi Meadows and I clearly have disparate tastes,

Belatedly, I meant Jodi Reamer. Not Jodi Meadows, who is a wonderful SF/F YA writer. *facepalm*
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:01 PM on July 11, 2012


Also it's not the same. It's nowhere near the same. The first edit letter of my book was seventeen pages long, followed by

I don't disagree with you, except I think you're arguing old paradigm versus ... well who knows? But the paradigm is changing, and what there now seems to be are way more people who think of themselves as writers (with MFAs etc to back it up) than there are established industry pros to handle their work. And meanwhile, as stuff goes increasingly online/digital, the readers are there ...
posted by philip-random at 12:02 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


the whole question of who does the editing without publishers misses or at least elides a major point: Publishers provide less and less of that. Increasingly if writers want it (and again, I think it's a great thing when it works), they'll need to find a way to get it without the publishers' help.
posted by lodurr at 12:03 PM on July 11, 2012


I don't disagree with you, except I think you're arguing old paradigm versus ... well who knows? But the paradigm is changing, and what there now seems to be are way more people who think of themselves as writers (with MFAs etc to back it up) than there are established industry pros to handle their work. And meanwhile, as stuff goes increasingly online/digital, the readers are there ...

Who wants to sell books that are mediocre to suck, though? I mean, it's a bizarrely commercial and anti-art argument, it seems. "People will buy it so it doesn't matter if the work isn't polished, finished, or good."

Publishers provide less and less of that. Increasingly if writers want it (and again, I think it's a great thing when it works), they'll need to find a way to get it without the publishers' help.

Have you experienced this with fiction? You always hear rumors about editors who don't edit but I've yet to meet an author who has worked with one. Maybe they're out there. I don't know.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:06 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Goodreads never appealed to me and this whole kerfuffle confirms my stereotypes. It feels too much like Amazon reviews. I tend to go google for reviews once I've read a given book, to see what others thought of it and goodreads is a site that pops up very often, but is largely useless.

What I've noticed before in such flaps is that these often involve communities of wannabe and self published writers, who, to put it as neutral as possible, have evolved their own views on what is acceptable critic behaviour, where it's all about supporting the writer and anything negative is wrong. There's a sense of entitlement underlying these things.

(Also, where is my internet drama? I've been doing my booklog for over eleven years now and the only hassle I ever got was from a grandchild of a Golden Age sf author who was disappointed with my review of their grandfather's book. )
posted by MartinWisse at 12:07 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the single most appalling thing coming to light in all of this for me is that people are still using LiveJournal.

Oi.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:10 PM on July 11, 2012


(Also, looking at the Top 50 Reviews page, it seems to me like Goodreads users value critiques that strive over-hard to be hyperbolically, cleverly cruel. Wendy's review is the nicest negative review of the bunch.)
posted by muddgirl at 12:10 PM on July 11, 2012


Have you experienced this with fiction?

Not personally, no, but I have heard first-hand accounts. Once in an odd twist the writer was getting edit suggestions from the copy editor.

But also, look to your own experience. Haven't you essentially said that you didn't get this yourself until that last book? Where was it before? You got it when someone decided you were worth it.

Also consider for yourself whether you have good reason to believe this is typical or something your editor believes in. As far as I can tell there are still a lot of agents and editors out there who do, but they're getting squeezed and if the margin pressure continues and in the absence of other revenue streams, the amount of attention given to editing will continue to decrease.

but tyllwin's right, we should get off this, it's OT. I mean, I'm enjoying the discussion, but...
posted by lodurr at 12:12 PM on July 11, 2012


But also, look to your own experience. Haven't you essentially said that you didn't get this yourself until that last book? Where was it before? You got it when someone decided you were worth it.

It wasn't there because none of my previous books were good enough to get me representation or contracts. They weren't (and will never be) published. And frankly, I think it's good not to waste my time, an editor's time, or an audience's time on them.

If what you meant was "if writers who haven't sold books and a small number of authors who have sold books want editing, they'll have to pay for it," that might be accurate, but I don't think it is for the vast majority of authors who have sold books.

And from what I can tell, my experience is pretty typical. I'm in a 2013 debut group with a great number of other authors and there's plenty of bemoaning about long edit letters.

Anyway, long live the gatekeepers, is all I really have to say. They seem to be here to make books better, and I really can't complain about that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:19 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]



but tyllwin's right, we should get off this, it's OT. I mean, I'm enjoying the discussion, but...


I don't know that it's ALL that off-topic. I think the whole self-publishing boom is tied up with why these internet-critic wars are going on-- for a lot of reasons that have been said, or suggested, in this thread. Something to do with a narrowing gap between (the perception of) professional and non-professional. Professional critics and fandom, especially, here, but also just a growing sense that professional writers and critics are not too different from you and me. I was actually shocked the first time I saw a writer ask her fans to go on Amazon and post some positive reviews and vote down negative ones. Up to that point it had really been my impression that writers were above the common run of humanity. Now it is almost impossible to sustain that view.
posted by BibiRose at 12:22 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Where is Encyclopædia Dramatica when we need it most? Oh, Atlantis...
posted by jfuller at 12:28 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been a reader for friends' novels, and I've been a copyeditor (not for the same books) and I once did what I guess was a developmental edit for a friend's friend's novel. They're all very different things, and I don't know that any one person can do them all well for the same book, or even necessarily different books. I know that the developmental job I did was not anywhere near as good as it should have been, because it was my first time doing anything like that (the author knew this). To have them all done well would be - to me - worth more than $1,000.
posted by rtha at 12:29 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my last life, I had the unenviable task of taking user feedback and filtering and/or summarizing it for the consumption of the delicate artistic types for whom it was intended. This was an important job, because people are shockingly bad at coping with criticism about their creative output. Shockingly bad - they tend to indulge in behavior that they would consider infantile in any other context. I don't think professionally-published authors are necessarily any more hardened to that sort of thing, but I suspect there's a layer of filtering and/or behavior control that tends to mitigate the author's impulses - having an agent to yank your leash and yell "Drop it!" is probably a really, really good idea for most people.

I have an author friend who has done some self-publishing (after publishing some stuff through a major) and she hired her editor at the major, who was an underpaid freelancer, and got the same level of editing done on her self-published stuff. It cut into her profits, for sure, but she says she wouldn't consider doing without.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:33 PM on July 11, 2012


Nothing like a good old internet dust up to boost sales. No such thing as bad publicity. The cynic in me is bored with this thread/story.
posted by pdxpogo at 12:40 PM on July 11, 2012


While the boundaries may be grey and fuzzy, I have few doubts that creating a new Blog for the purpose of engaging in a pissing match is taking it too far.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:58 PM on July 11, 2012


On the topic of 'gatekeepers', I generally agree with PhoBWanKenobi (yes, I have tried to read self-published books; the majority of them are barely readable, if even that). The one are where the gatekeeper system fails, I think, is that they also let in a whole lot of crap.

Full disclosure: I read PhobWanKenobi's book as a beta reader, and knew pretty much immediately that it deserved to be published. I read a lot of YA, and this was head and shoulders above most of it. Fast forward about six months, and she gets a book deal. Huzzah! Now she says the gatekeepers have made her book even better, which I believe, because her particular gatekeepers sound pretty amazing in that regard. I've been following that book's journey to publication from first draft to the book deal and beyond, and it makes me think that traditional publishing, for all of its flaws, is still ultimately doing things right...

...except that I read YA science fiction for an active review blog, so I'm fully aware of how much shit is getting published as well. We're talking rank amateur, 'this person might be a decent writer in five years' if they keep practicing' level stuff here. It gets published, and in some cases it gets hyped and the author gets a huge advance and I'm left wondering at what point these editors gave up looking for genuinely good books and settled into a role as a cog in a machine designed to pump out as much fast-selling mediocrity as possible.

So there you go - my thoughts on the aging beast that is traditional publishing are conflicted, to say the least. On the one hand, I'm glad there are professional editors out there who'll do their utmost to make a book as good as it can be before it hits the shelves, but part of me wonders if it wouldn't be a better idea to just get rid of the gatekeepers and let readers decide what they want to read.
posted by anaximander at 1:00 PM on July 11, 2012


We're talking rank amateur, 'this person might be a decent writer in five years' if they keep practicing' level stuff here.

Well . . . you know, we differ in opinion on this. The worst of the mainstream published stuff strikes me as right about average for self-published stuff. You think merely "functional" prose is close to indistinguishable from "bad prose." But the truth is, a lot of self-published stuff is not even functional.

But having taught 19 year olds creative writing changes one's perception of "rank amateur." I think a lot of these schlocky, merely functioning books are fun and entertaining and fast reads, and that's why they sell well, and I have trouble faulting traditional publishing for that even if they're not great literachooor. However, I think traditional publishing is also the best way to create great literachoor, thanks to things like advances and editors, which are part of the whole package of it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:16 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well . . . you know, we differ in opinion on this. The worst of the mainstream published stuff strikes me as right about average for self-published stuff. You think merely "functional" prose is close to indistinguishable from "bad prose." But the truth is, a lot of self-published stuff is not even functional.

For me, that represents a whole other kind of bad in itself - the 'this is literally unreadable' type of bad. The publishing industry will never let something like that through the gates, I agree, but what it does let through can be terrible in its own right.

My problem with what I'd consider 'bad' traditionally-published books isn't so much that it tends to be the worst writing you're likely to find, but that the conditions under which the book is published and/or promoted seems so often to be completely divorced from any consideration of its quality. So you get this bizarre situation where there's an incredible amount of 'buzz' about a book that sucks (or is only mediocre) while far better books are left to fend for themselves and subsequently disappear.

To use a fairly noncontroversial example, I don't think anyone is going to argue that Uglies deserved more attention than Liar, but it was the former that got all the attention - and, I would assume, which sold far more copies.

Not that a gatekeeper-less world would necessarily be better, mind you, but I feel it would be an improvement in some regards at least.
posted by anaximander at 1:32 PM on July 11, 2012


I don't think anyone is going to argue that Uglies deserved more attention than Liar, but it was the former that got all the attention - and, I would assume, which sold far more copies.


Well, in that case I think it's possible that larger issues than publishing are to blame - I mean, you're talking about a book about white post-Americans written by a man vs one about a (if I recall-correctly) mixed-race person written by a woman.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:39 PM on July 11, 2012


Plus fairly straightforward action-oriented narrative vs. genre-bending character study with unreliable and often rankly unlikable narrator.

I mean, I preferred Moon to the new Star Trek, but I understand why the new ST sold better.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:44 PM on July 11, 2012


Not that a gatekeeper-less world would necessarily be better, mind you, but I feel it would be an improvement in some regards at least.

Ah, well here I think the subjects connect up again. Because I'm imagining a world in which there's still a gatekeeping function, but the gatekeepers are a bit different. As it is now, the gatekeepers are paid according to, and thus motivated by, number of units sold. I think it's quite possible to move to a model where the gatekeeper, instead of a publishing house, is something more like goodreads itself instead. (Or, of course, the gorilla in the room, Amazon.) A "Consumer Reports" sort of gatekeeping, where the gatekeeper cares less (financially) about which works, exactly, are sold, and more about its credibility. And little fiascos like this prove how far we are from that ideal.
posted by tyllwin at 2:28 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, I'm glad there are professional editors out there who'll do their utmost to make a book as good as it can be before it hits the shelves, but part of me wonders if it wouldn't be a better idea to just get rid of the gatekeepers and let readers decide what they want to read.

Like Fifty Shades of Grey?

The few pages I read of that read like a lot of fair to middling self-published stuff to me. But that was a rare example where I think the diamond-in-the rough quality worked for people. It made it relatable-- not just the erotic fantasy but the idea of it being grass-roots.
posted by BibiRose at 2:29 PM on July 11, 2012


the book showed up on more do not read lists for "author bad behavior."

Is that a thing on Goodreads and does it extend to deceased writers as well? Some of my favourite books were written by assholes.

GR and LibraryThing seem appealing, but I couldn't stand the idea of someone knowing what I read; it feels terribly personal.

At least with MeFi only readers of this thread know I'm an uncouth barbarian who hasn't read the Decameron.
posted by ersatz at 4:40 PM on July 11, 2012


I'm all for every website with a forum to have a ShitRedditSays-esque blog or subsection, but if you're allowing your fans to respond to To Catch a Bully with sexist and rape-y comments you're enabling another kind of bully.


If I was her husband I would NOT be cool with it. I’d tell her to get off her butt and go get a job.
Captain Hook

I’d do more than that. I’d spank her.
Johnny Be Good

That might not work. She might like it. Of course, now we know what she doesn’t like, don’t we?
Captain Hook

[source]
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 5:09 PM on July 11, 2012


Yikes, this is one of the reasons I prefer LibraryThing. The Community is not as big, it's true, it's easier to forgo the community aspects of it than goodreads, and there are exponentially fewer reviews.

However, I've not really seen any bunfights over there; the few reviews that are up are orders of magnitude more thoughtful on the whole than GR, and I've done a tonne of reviews and never had a negative sentiment - despite some of my reviews being harsh (but fair).

This whole thing reminds me of Red and Blue rioting in Byzantium over chariot races or something; it's pathetic, but the inevitable result I suppose when people (not even authors ye gods!) associate their identity with something like a book way, way too much. And I say this as someone who spends too much time reading and identifying with books as it is.
posted by smoke at 5:26 PM on July 11, 2012


"I'm valuable because Bob at Random House and Alice at Simon & Schuster will always return my calls," and thus having the clout to say "I'm telling you not to talk down one of Bob or Alice's cash cows."

At last! We know Bob and Alice's shared secret!
posted by Zed at 6:23 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


A lot of those people are also members of mailing lists I frequent and in many cases they have put in years of work, and they are not dumb, but their books lack professional quality.

I've found this to be the case, too. Many of the stronger self-pubbed books feel like beta reads with potential. I haven't encountered one yet with polish.


That’s the world we’re getting. Books as well as music for now, and who knows what’s next. What we’re getting is lots and lots of cheap stuff that ranges from crap to “pretty good”, with the bar steadily dropping.

As much as people like to pretend that the works just flow out of their favorite genius, it’s a collaboration between many people. If there is no economy for this stuff then there is no collaboration. Skilled people aren't going to edit your book or produce your album for free, and soon there won’t be a lot of people who know how to do those jobs at that level, they will simply not have had the same experience. You get really good at something, world class, by making it your job for many years, not by being an enthusiastic hobbyist.

I know, “but the interenets and the future!!!"
posted by bongo_x at 6:38 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course, bongo_x, the extension of this is that most people are happy with a brand of shit they like, most of the time. Or perhaps, not most, but enough. Sometimes I feel like fan culture is a conspiracy to get more people to switch their brains off and accept otherwise unacceptable mediocrity.
posted by smoke at 6:53 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Or perhaps, not most, but enough.

Yes, that’s part living in a Capitalist system (not that I’m entirely ready to throw that out the window). Things don’t have to be good, or even good enough, they just have to be good enough to sell. Why actually spend the time and money making good stuff? Have the fans make it for cheap or free, throw it out there, make money on the delivery system or advertising.
posted by bongo_x at 7:05 PM on July 11, 2012


At last! We know Bob and Alice's shared secret!

It is to my eternal shame I can only favorite that once.
posted by yerfatma at 6:42 AM on July 12, 2012


An excellent measure for whether a reaction to a negative review is reasonable is to ask yourself, "Would Dorothy Parker be banned under the policies of this person/site?"

By the standards of Stop the GR Bullies, Dorothy Parker would be doxed with a vengeance, and therefore the entire site fails on its face.

(Alternate measures: Mark Twain, Roger Ebert's I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie)
posted by nicebookrack at 10:29 AM on July 12, 2012


mefi's own, jscalzi, weighs in and it's awesome.
posted by nadawi at 10:27 PM on July 17, 2012


as usual scalzi got me laughing pretty quick.
5. However, if your solution to this “problem” is to vex, annoy, threaten or harrass them, you are almost certainly a bigger asshole.
6. You may also be twelve.
Good summary. Just needs a touch of "and why are you watching this train wreck, anyway?"
posted by lodurr at 5:32 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


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