WRITING ON THE ETHER: When Bad Things (Seem To) Happen on Good Sites

22 August 2013 iStock_000018287542XSmall photog StephenHenry4 texted story image

Table of Contents

  1. Goodreads: “We take all these comments very seriously”
  2. “I despise all of this drama”
  3. It’s Just Books

Goodreads: “We take all these comments very seriously”

You don’t necessarily think the world of bookworms would be full of bullies.

Goodreads August 2013Ether readers’ private notes to me about recent allegations of reader-on-author bullying at Goodreads have been intelligently restrained—concerned, not accusatory; baffled, not indignant. Communicating in direct message on Twitter and in email with me, readers have asked about this issue in terms of  searching, thoughtful worry.

So I’m especially glad to have new reassurance from Otis Chandler‘s managerial team at the Goodreads offices in San Francisco to offer you, and on a very tight deadline. I’m placing this statement first, hoping you’ll bear it in mind as we look at some details of recent remarks.

From Goodreads, then:

We take all these comments very seriously and would like to make it clear that threatening violence against other Goodreads members is not tolerated on the site, and any such content will be removed promptly when brought to our attention.

If any of your readers have any concerns, please encourage them to bring it to our attention at support@goodreads.com and we’ll investigate and take the appropriate action.

As a point of process, I might add that if you need to register a concern at that email address, put something direct in the subject line (along the lines of “Possible Abuse,” etc.), so the support staff can quickly identify your correspondence as sensitive.

SalonNow. A single ground rule as we look at what’s afoot: No one is objective (as journalists learn very quickly about themselves), but we can all try to be fair. And sometimes this means the best we can do is be very clear in acknowledging what we don’t actually know.

Hearsay can be intensely damaging. Confusion can be as big an enemy as mendacity. Having to say, “I just don’t know what happened, I wasn’t there,” can be less gratifying than adopting the claims of others as factual.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams

The line I started with—”You don’t necessarily think the world of bookworms would be full of bullies”—is the lead on Mary Elizabeth Williams’ writeup at Salon, Did a writer get bullied on Goodreads?

In her piece, Williams summarizes her understanding of the assertions of a writer named Lauren Howard.

On her Tumblr site, Howard identifies herself as being 22 and English. She says she had intended to launch a book titled Learning to Love, and now has decided not to publish because of bad experiences on Goodreads.

Lauren Howard

Lauren Howard

Briefly, Howard writes of asking (in a forum) a procedural question as a Goodreads newcomer. She wanted to know how she was attracting ratings of her book before it was published.

As it turns out, these are ratings of interest (not of review) that Goodreads members can make, based on a forthcoming book’s description.

Howard writes:

I was then attacked by people for asking that question. People started to rate 1-star to prove “we can rate whatever the hell we want.” My book was added to shelves named ‘author should be sodomized’ and ‘should be raped in prison’ and other violent offensive things, all for asking a simple question as a newcomer to the website.

Williams at Salon adds that “those earlier comments on Goodreads have now been deleted, so it’s impossible to gauge their severity, or how a young, debut author with a self-published book may have viewed them. ”

What we can see, though, is reaction to Howard’s descriptions of her experience. Here is one, for example, from an Ether reader to me in email:

This little incident was the first time I’ve seen these horrific threats first-hand, but I know it’s an iceberg tip. I hear heartbreaking tales of this kind of abuse on a regular basis, and it seems to be escalating.

And this from another Ether reader, this time on Twitter:

There are packs of people (authors/reviewers alike) that are out of control on the site.

Tina Klinesmith

Tina Klinesmith

And here’s a blogger’s response to the matter. In Bullies on Goodreads? What’s next?, author Tina Klinesmith writes:

A smear campaign began simply from [Lauren Howard’s] question as several people began giving her book 1-star ratings and adding it to “shelves” that threatened body harm and harassment to the new author. When she contacted Goodreads about the issue, she was informed that this was allowed and fell under the “freedom of speech” umbrella.

For all our praise of community—and despite Goodreads’ foundation on that very concept—what you’re seeing is community members, with all good intentions, handling things that are known only through partially observed and emotionally described assumptions as if they were fully visible to us. As you’ll see in our next section, Lauren Howard already is writing about the situation being “so blown out of proportion.” Back to Table of Contents


“I despise all of this drama”

The climb-down is a peculiarly familiar move in our culture today, and hardly just in publishing. One frequent feature of it is that it’s rarely announced as such by a person performing it. Embarrassment, lingering confusion, pride—these and more quite understandable components might be in play. In a new Tumblr post headlined Hopefully clearing stuff up…, Lauren Howard later has written:

Never did I expect (or plan!) for this to be so blown out of proportion…I cannot stress enough that though some people didn’t, I personally, originally perceived shelves as threats…When you are feeling targeted and victimized and a whole lot paranoid, it’s easy to feel like you’re being threatened.

As you may know, Goodreads members can name their virtual book “shelves.” Some members seem to enjoy naming them with colorful language that might be described as ribald genre designations. Howard:

As a friend of mine pointed out, no one could physically hurt me. I was not afraid of that at any point. I DO NOT condone these articles making it out like I was afraid people were going to turn up at my house and rape me for God’s sake. I was afraid because of the exposure I was getting and the negativity following.

If I had created a shelf at Goodreads called “Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women”—my own overworked line for romance novels of a certain cover trend—might that line be interpreted by someone else as threatening or abusive? Perhaps. Eye of the beholder.

And can we doubt that something Howard experienced as really unpleasant occurred? Probably not, and I’m sure we all wish her well. I think it’s reasonable to accept her explanation of being very upset by what she had perceived as hostility. I’ve seen enough messages relative to the event to know that she did, at the very least, run into a snarky, impatient tone in some instances and I fear there’s a good likelihood that she was treated to worse. Embedded in some of Howard’s new comments, you’ll also find that while she originally wrote that Goodreads had turned a deaf ear to her distress, the company has, in fact, been in touch with her. The emphasis here is mine as I quote her: 

I was asking myself: “How can people get away with abusing authors this way? There is a line between free speech and hate!” Goodreads has now told me this is NOT the case. Abusive shelves and ratings based on the author are NOT permitted.


She now clarifies:

At no point have I ever said “People threatened to rape me”… simply expressed how disgusted I was…

Still, one reason this situation could gain the attention it did is that the idea of a culture of bullying somewhere in the massive membership of Goodreads is not new. About a year ago, the Huffington Post’s Books unit found itself in hot water with some readers for running Why It’s Time To Stop The Goodreads Bullies, an unsigned opinion piece representing an effort called “Stop the GR Bullies.” The goal there was said to be to deflect such harsh treatment of authors as Lauren Howard describes experiencing.

Andrew Losowsky

Andrew Losowsky

Before the Stop the GR Bullies piece had been out long, the Post’s books editor, Andrew Losowsky, found himself posting a piece of his own,  Stop The GR Bullies: An Explanation, about “what I think we got wrong.”  Losowsky had found that there were critics of the critics—commentators who had qualms about the anti-bullying group, itself. He wrote:

Many members of our community, including several whose opinions and thoughts we highly respect, were upset that we had given a platform to the creators of the [Stop the GR Bullies] site and, in so doing, appeared to endorse their behavior. To those who feel that we let them down, I can only apologize. We should have provided more context and presented the debate over the site — and the broader issue of online bullying in the books world — in a more balanced fashion.

That “more balanced fashion” is rarely fashionable, it seems. I like Lowsowsky, and I don’t think for a minute that he “got wrong” deliberately on this. It’s hard for a lot of us to remember that “more balanced fashion” when we get around large, corporate entities that have a presence in publishing. We demand a perfection of these complex, evolving entities that we’d never expect of ourselves. Back to Table of Contents

Hunley instapoem VQR tumblr_mrfcvmEIiy1rmbkfqo1_1280

From VQR – More on poet Tom C. Hunley


It’s Just Books

I’m in no better position than anyone else to tell you what actually was said to, or about, Lauren Howard or any other author or reader on Goodreads.

I seem to be a lot less interested than many people in “all of this drama.” And some of this is just personal preference: I don’t like gossip, I have never cared for hearsay, and I’ve always found speculation to be a waste of time. This is why I’m so tired of our industry’s pundits and their predictions. I don’t care what they predict: I care what happens.

Needless to say, and as has been demonstrated in the Howard instance of alleged mistreatment, others feel differently. What’s more, the potential for abuse in a system as large and as diverse as Goodreads is as acute, yes, as it is “IRL,” in real life.

My own interaction with the Goodreads leadership—and this has included face-to-face meetings and conversations—has led me to believe that the intentions there are wholly good, the motivations earnest. Goodreads’ membership last month surpassed 20 million users. That’s close to the size of the population of Australia.

Take just a moment to imagine trying to create a way to manage and facilitate the interactions of that many people who, of course, are not even bound by national or other constructs; they’re brought together only by an interest in engaging in reading.

Porter Anderson, PorterAnderson.com, Writing on the Ether, Ether for Authors, London on the Ether, JaneFriedman.com, Ed Nawotka, Philip Jones, PublishingPerspectives.com, The Bookseller.com, books, ebooks, author, agent, Amazon, publishing, The FutureBook, CONTEC Conference, Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Bowker, WriterUnboxed.com

Otis Chandler

As of a February report to the Tools of Change conference in New York  from Chandler, the Goodreads members were sharing 19 million books per month on Facebook alone. You can read more and see a video interview with Chandler from our colleague at O’Reilly Media Jenn Webb in Goodreads’ evolution from discovery platform to reader community. I’ll embed the slides from Chandler’s presentation for you here, too, in case you’d like to look at some of what was learned from a survey he had conducted of a sizable subset of the Goodreads population.

I’m told by members of the Goodreads staff recently that this Amazon-owned system produces tens of thousands of reviews and/or ratings of books every day and that only a tiny fraction of those may be flagged as problematic in one way or another—frequently the complaint, it seems, is that a review contains a spoiler.

Despite glitches along the way, in January alone of this year, Chandler has reported, there were more than 1.15 million quotes from books shared among members. In short, this is easily the biggest effort of its kind in history.

Put another way, we have never seen a population of this magnitude brought together for this purpose.

Put still another way, if there is a learning curve for a 22-year-old would-be published author in such a setting, there is also a learning curve for the company, itself.

We look at a corporate entity growing at a spectacular rate and we expect its procedures and technologies to function perfectly. How realistic is that?

Can you say to yourself that the 22-year-old author deserves some slack for finding her encounter with such a major undertaking to be at some points intimidating, frightening, confusing? Of course you can.

Can you worry that there may, indeed, be some members of this vast international population who will take advantage of a newcomer’s confusion and behave in abusive ways? Of course you can, and you can do it without for a moment condoning such behavior. Bullying in any form is practiced by thugs. Where it exists, it needs to be stopped. Goodreads has the capability to delete members found to be transgressing its standards of interaction. I have no doubt that its administration takes that action when an investigation proves it to be appropriate.

And can you understand that in an age when the digital dynamic has upended old patterns of book discovery, we need Goodreads to succeed in stimulating readership, not fail? I’m betting you can.

I’m also betting that the 20 million people who are participating in Goodreads offerings today aren’t doing it because they’re enjoying being bullied at the site. I think most of them are having what they consider a positive experience. Or they wouldn’t be there, would they?

The kind of hand-wringing intensity that has accompanied the Howard allegations and debates in recent days are a form of tacitly condoned bullying, in themselves. We are all bullied by hyperbole, rants, unstated bias, and ill-informed accusation. And I, for one, am tired of seeing the industry! the industry! riled up and shoved around in one direction and another by people who thrive on crisis, who get their kicks upsetting everyone else.

Alarmists are bullies.

The next time you start hearing of someone who’s been badly treated in one part of the publishing world or another, the first thing, if you’re close to the issue, is to make sure the perceived victim is supported and protected, certainly. It’s not the person on the receiving end of what looks like an attack from whom we expect a cool head under fire (and that includes Howard in this case).  It’s from ourselves we need to demand careful reaction.

Try recommending facts over quick “grapevine” reactions to your followers. Argue for patience; alert restraint.  Think twice before you “spread the word” on something you can’t see clearly. Once an incident is identified and the aggrieved party has been put into touch with the correct administrators, wait and watch a little while. Partial information can be damaging to good people and good companies, too.

When you feel the pressure to jump up and run around the room shouting with everyone else, try remembering that it’s just books we’re talking about here. Not life and not death. Books. They’re very important to us, yes. But are they worth hurting each other and important institutions? Just books. Take a breath, say it with me: just books.

Back to Table of Contents

Main image:  iStockphoto – StephenHenry4


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Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

View posts by Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed. Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

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Phyllis Edgerly Ring

SO glad I read far enough (though it’s easy to do) to see these words: ” … riled up and shoved around in one direction and another by people who thrive on crisis, who get their kicks upsetting everyone else. Alarmists are bullies. The next time you start hearing of someone who’s been badly treated in one part of the publishing world or another, try recommending facts; patience; alert restraint. Think twice before you ‘spread the word” on something you can’t see clearly. Wait and watch a little while. Partial information can be damaging to good people and good companies,… Read more »


Hi, Phyllis,

And many thanks for this thoughtful comment.

You’re right on the money about the improvement we could see (in so many areas, hardly just in publishing) if we were all better at listening and looking into things first before we react. It’s very hard to find this patience at times but so important. And certainly, as digital capabilities enable amplification as they do, the potential for bigger messes, as you say, is growing.

Thanks again, good to have you with us, much appreciated.


On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson

Heather C Button

Like Phyllis below, I’m glad to read your quote about alarmists. And I appreciate that this is about books, just books. But I would argue that to that new novelist, it is her life, as it is for any newcomer to the field.

Porter Anderson

@heathercbutton:disqus Hey, Heather, thanks for weighing in with a very good point. When I talk about the perspective of the fact that it’s “just books,” I’m referring to the community at large, not to someone who feels that he or she is under attack. At a point of perceived hostility of that kind, yes, the person who feels victimized may well feel in crisis mode and asking that person for a lot of perspective isn’t necessarily sensible. I’m more interested here in the reaction to it by the wider community. Interpreting things without hanging on for more information, making fast… Read more »

Heather C Button

Yes. I totally agree. Overall, I think you have a very balanced article, and while it references the GoodReads community only, I think your approach should be taken in the many social communities at large.

Porter Anderson

Well, very true — not necessarily your very kind words for the piece, thanks, lol, but the need for very serious thought on this in many of our major communities. I was just DM-ing with a colleague who was saying, “How DO we police” these online crowds the size of whole national populations? We simply don’t have experience at this yet, there’s really so much still to learn about the dynamics inside these gatherings. If anything, the oldest dilemma is the one that’s like the common cold, seemingly incurable — and that’s the question of why people would ever be… Read more »

Tom Bentley

Porter, it is hard to know what to do when eeejets muck up the nest with such villainy as described, though your cautions about firing wildly before the enemy has breached the compound (and before discerning the precise color of uniform they’re wearing) is well taken. Naive lad I, I didn’t know that Goodreads had any such frayed hemline, but I like to think of Gandhi’s words: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Most of those good readers there… Read more »

Porter Anderson

@disqus_z8blEym8w8:disqus Well said, Tom, thanks much, as ever for coming by and commenting. I don’t even think Goodreads’ hemline is frayed, as you put it. I think that negative experiences in the membership are probably very rare and can seem to hold more place than they actually do. A part of what the wider industry does when it “fires widely,” as you aptly put it, is make inappropriate behavior seem more prevalent than it is. Those 20 million members, as I wrote, surely are having a good experience or they’d move on. Nobody wants to see a single wrongful incident… Read more »

[…] In Writing on the Ether at JaneFriedman.com, Porter Anderson looks at allegations of bullying in the book-recommendations community in a larger context.  […]

Anne R. Allen

Thanks for addressing this, Porter. I’m glad the Goodreads people are at least looking into it. I don’t think most of us knew how huge the site is. A membership the size of Australia’s population is mind boggling. And policing it must be a nightmare. But I think there needs to be some clarification about the threats this women received. I saw the thread before it was cleaned up. There were many “reviews” that said “author should be [obscenity] and [obscenity]” and others left lists of types of rape they wished upon her. These might not have been overt threats… Read more »

Jacqueline Patricks

Anne, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Overall, as an author I’ve had a good experience at GR, but the start was rocky. It’s a difficult site to navigate at first. The TOS aren’t easy to find. Setting up an author page is tricky, not to mention all the ‘unknown rules’ authors are subject to, which you won’t be forgiven for if you violate. Yet they’re advertising for new authors to join and market there. They need to clean up, streamline and clearly mark their behavior guidelines for everyone-authors, readers and reviewers. We’re all people to be treated with… Read more »

Porter Anderson

@b64b38e312e49fc90f50771631907f5a:disqus Hi, Jacqueline, Thanks for this input that dovetails so well with what Anne Allen is saying. It really does seem that there’s a big opportunity for Goodreads’ management team to review the experience newcomers have in many areas. When you write of “unknown rules” and violations that “won’t be forgiven,” I have to wonder yet again how it is that the culture of the site, even among a small number of members, could develop in such negative ways. I find myself wanting to just quietly remind them that it’s about books, for heaven’s sake. It sounds as if the… Read more »

Jacqueline Patricks

@Porter-From what I’ve seen and researched, I’d say this negative culture came about from both sides of the fence. On one hand you have authors in the past who’ve spammed the community at large or overreacted to negative reviews. Meanwhile, a counterculture of ‘defenders’ have joined up to combat such authors. Unfortunately, now anytime anyone–author, reader, reviewer–speaks their mind in what’s deemed to be an ‘unacceptable manner’ in accordance to this ‘unlisted rules,(one rule is not to comment in someone else’s review space if you don’t agree with them-ever so no debating on actual book reviews, only in groups) then… Read more »


First off, there’s plenty of obvious information regarding how authors should behave. I’m not an author, and I know where to find it. For example, if you go to the “help” page, there’s a link specifically for what to do, as an author, when you get a negative review. Secondly, I suspect these “unknown rules” she’s referencing aren’t Goodreads specific. They’re either common netiquette things (e.g. don’t spam), common sense things (e.g. read each individual blogger’s rules regarding submissions before asking for a review), or industry-standard guidelines (e.g. don’t engage with readers/reviewers, especially on reviews). Being an author and engaging… Read more »


And: I’m sorry, I don’t know where my paragraph breaks went. *head desk* They were there, I swear.

Jacqueline Patricks

@ThreeRs- I was a reader at GR before I was an author, and one of the unwritten rules is not to comment on someone else’s review space if you don’t agree with the review. I did so as a reader, not an author. and it did not go well. I’ve been on the ‘net for many years and commented for and against on many blogs and sites, but this was the first time I’d ever been on a site that did not encourage intelligent discourse between people. There are no TOS rules saying readers can’t comment on other reader’s reviews.… Read more »


Please. Don’t be childish and petulant just because I disagree with you. You know exactly what I meant, but here you are twisting it into another unreasonable “unknown rule”. That’s exactly the sort of spoiled brat behavior I would expect from a self-entitled SPA. You didn’t do anything wrong, the site is just difficult. You didn’t misbehave, it’s just the rules are eldritch, hidden, and hard to understand. It’s never your fault, it’s always that someone else was mean, or stupid, or didn’t give you a chance. *head desk* It’s also amazing that everyone knows these rules, and yet someone… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Hi, Anne – Many thanks for your input here. I think your comments about getting rules and guidelines into view right up front at Goodreads sounds excellent, since there do seem to be comments about how newcomers don’t always understand the routines and traditions there. I wouldn’t assume that deletion from public view of offending material means that the company isn’t addressing it (nor that the offending material hasn’t been retained). I have no insight into how this kind of thing is handled inside Goodreads, but I think the statement from the offices makes it plain that such issues are… Read more »

Barbara W.

Anne, with all due respect, Lauren herself said those threats never occurred that way. She felt the shelf names themselves were the threats and in the relative hysteria of the moment, she was misunderstood. I wouldn’t make that statement if I didn’t have screencaps and statements from Lauren (and two other of her supporters) to back that up, either. So even though you continue to appear at various blogs saying that you personally saw explicit, personal threats being issued directly to Lauren, it didn’t happen.

Anne R. Allen

I SAW those comments, Barbara. She is pulling back, like many victims of trauma and rape who won’t testify because they want it to be over. I wish I’d taken a screenshot. I almost did, but they were so disgusting I couldn’t stand to look at them any more. But I’m sure somebody has those screenshots. You may not consider a stream of obscenities threatening, but I would have felt threatened by what I saw. In fact I did, just reading them.


It’s odd that there would be so many comments–dozens, didn’t you say yesterday?–containing such vile obscenity and outright threats, but there’s not a single reply to any of them. GR deletes the offending comment, but not replies to it, as you can see in the threads where the “stick your hand in a blender” and “go hang yourself” comments were made. And yet for some reason, there’s not a single reply to any of the threats from a single one of Lauren’s supporters. No outcry at all. Even Victoria, Ms. Blender herself, made her infamous comment directly to Derrick and… Read more »

Barbara W.

They will indeed, Anne. I’m sure many people will be awaiting your retraction.

I can’t apologize for commenting to set the record straight in regards to Anne’s comment and I’m offended that she thinks it’s okay to refer to me as “the crazy” for doing so. I think this is a sensitive and important story right now and want the record to be as clear as possible.


Agreed. It’s dangerous to have people spreading new rumors to promote their own agendas, especially rumors that hurt the very person they pretend to defend.

Lexa Cain

Excellent comment and point of view, Anne! After hearing about the Howard debacle, I wondered about abuse (since I’ve seen some on GR before this) and how to report it. It took me some digging on the site, but I found that the way to report abuse is to click a tiny, light-gray font word — “flag” — found next to the (much bolder) “Like” box. If I hadn’t made an effort, I’d never have known this was a way to signal GR that there was abusive content. It almost seems to be well-hidden from the average user. Now that… Read more »

Barbara W.

That’s a wonderful bit of information to pass on, Lexa – I hope more people, authors and readers make use of this instead of going after each other. Goodreads is getting better at responding to flags quickly and they’re very, very good at removing abusive content. Just be descriptive about why you think something needs to be removed in the dialogue box and don’t abuse the flagging system and it works fantastically!

Lexa Cain

I’m sure GR management is trying hard — especially now! lol — I just wish they would make it say “Flag Abuse” and use black font so people would see and understand it without having to dig around the site for a way to report abuse.


On a more topical note: We all finished reading an article about withholding judgement until after you’ve had time to gather evidence, then came down to the comments section and accepted claims that Lauren received many, many obscene and threatening comments, including lists of ways people wanted to rape her.

Before accepting extreme claims, gather evidence.

[…] been following this incident just after it started a couple of days ago on Goodreads. I hate to say this, but it’s not the […]


You know, I don’t necessarily comment on threads like this, but since I was involved in the original post that Lauren posted on the GR Feedback group, I want to comment. Yes, it is true that she asked a simple question about her book being rated by someone who hadn’t read it…however, her thread title in the group was about troll/sock puppet rather than just asking a simple question (http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1453162-low-rating-spam-troll-accounts#comment_80860376). Not long after that, a friend of hers proceeded to tell a reviewer (who admittedly hadn’t read the book) to go and shove their hand in a blender (screen capture… Read more »

Porter Anderson

@Dee05:disqus Hello, Dee, Many thanks for your input here, I appreciate it. As we know, part of the problem with many incidents of this kind is that they involve complex series of communications that may occur (and indeed may later be deleted or moved) before there’s a wider consciousness. At some point, the larger picture takes over after everyone who has specific details, as you have, has offered what they’ve got. And I think it’s in that larger picture we can hope to gain a bit more clarity about the dynamics involved here. For example, in terms of the shelf… Read more »

Katherine Sears

Porter, thank you for this well thought out response to what is obviously a sensitive topic on many levels. I am co-founder of a publishing company (Booktrope), with a focus on marketing, so have spent a lot of time on Goodreads attempting to figure out how best to engage there for the mutual benefit of both readers and writers. While I have spent significant time in that research, to be blunt, I don’t find we sell any more books than if we ignore it completely. So from a marketing perspective, I tell authors to use it if they enjoy it,… Read more »

Porter Anderson

@katherinesears:disqus Hi, Katherine, So good to have you with us, thank you for reading and for taking the time to leave this thoughtful message. I appreciate your desire — which matches mine and probably anyone’s in publishing — to see Goodreads succeed for authors as well as for readers. Clearly, that’s the goal, the hope, and the real value (even now, despite various issues) of such an important experiment. I’ve found that the more I looked at the platform for this story — and then today, as I’ve had more input from so many good people with many, many viewpoints… Read more »

Katherine Sears

Thank you Porter. I have to say, your thoughtful response along with Dee above has me feeling more game to have another go. That 20 million number has some impact as well LOL! As I mentioned above, I am in fact a librarian there, so I suppose I owe it to GR to at least keep checking in 😉 I hadn’t honestly thought about offering input to management, which is silly of me I guess (given I am also in a technology based publishing business, you would think that would have occurred!). Thanks again!


Hi Katherine
I’m a member of a group on goodreads called sisterhood of the traveling book and we specialize (if you can call that) in reading/reviewing books for indie authors who are interested. If you think any of your authors would be interested let me know

Porter Anderson

Dee, this is great. Katherine, maybe something here to think about. This is the kind of intra-Goodreads development that just might be useful, perhaps worth exploring. Thanks again, both of you.

Katherine Sears

Dee05 – we would love that! Although to clarify, we are an indie publisher, versus self-publishing shop – depends on how you define “indie”. As I said, I have not yet found the mechanism that makes it worth my authors’ time. That is never to say there isn’t one – just that I haven’t found it yet! Not to mention, I am ALWAYS open to trying new things….or even the same thing multiple times, before throwing in the towel. Please find me there and shoot me a message (same name). You can also find me on Twitter @ksearsbooks. Thanks!

Naomi B.

I am the moderator of STB on GR. Katherine and any other Indie author…we will be glad to speak to you. I have to say that I have really mixed feelings on this subject and this article. First, as a top 1% GR book reviewer, I have been attacked by authors unsatisfied with my reviews. This has included an author sending several emails TO MY PERSONAL email address, which were verbally abusive and demeaning. What prompted this attack? I would not change my 3.5 star rating to 4 stars. I was complimentary in my review, but made a comment that… Read more »


You can’t be “a First Amendment girl”and then allow free speech only when it meets your standards. That’s granting free speech in extremely limited circumstances, so it’s only free speech at your convenience.

Also, if you are the moderator of STGRB, you’d better address their policy of harassment, stalking, lying, and threatening people.

Naomi B.

Ginmar…you need to go back and reread my post prior to commenting. I am the moderator of Sisterhood of the Traveling Book on Goodreads (STBonGR) NOT STGRB . STBonGR is the Indie review group on Goodreads that was being discussed between Dee, Katherine and Porter. Furthermore, I think it is a safe assumption to think BEFORE one writes a review for a book that they would have read it or, minimally, not copped to using Goodreads as a forum for bashing an author because they don’t agree with their stance. Heck, I could even go further in stating it should… Read more »


I stand corrected only about the STGRB. Your views on the First Amendment contradict its very purpose.


Um… talking about a negative review this way is really a Bad Idea. It’s not hard to find the review in question (I did), and thus it’s comments like this one which “inadvertently” start a witch hunt where the review gets flooded with likes, dislikes, rebuttals and comments. Which won’t win you any friends. I give you the benefit of the doubt that such a thing is not your intention; I read the review and it is upsetting, and I can see how it would stick with you. But if enough people notice what you said, it will create a… Read more »

Katherine Sears

ThreeRs – I think you misunderstood my comment. I was not defending Lauren’s behavior, or condemning it. I was speaking from my own experience. Actually, I have tried hard not to pay any attention to the activity over there at present, as I too am not a fan of the drama. In fact I am a “librarian” on GR myself, so I am not a newbie either and haven’t been for a long time. I was saying that in general, I find the attitudes there to trend heavily towards the negative overall, in particular towards the newer participants. I advise… Read more »


How can one so much as mention the STGRB site without mentioning that they have doxxed people in the past and are doing so as recently as this month? They attacked one commenter for her reviews—-but she’d never written a review. They called her boss and tried to get her fired because she’d been sarcastic to someone online. Another reviewer got threats on her phone. And keep in mind, these writers are stalking and harassing people for the “bullying” tactic of pointing out awful grammar and spelling. What’s at issue here is a bunch of entitled would-be writers who don’t… Read more »

Lexa Cain

“‘Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women’—my own overworked line for
romance novels of a certain cover trend—might that line be interpreted
by someone else as threatening or abusive? Perhaps. Eye of the beholder.”

For those of you who cannot tell an abusive comment from a non-abusive one, answer this question: “Would I say this to my 10-year-old daughter?” If the answer is no, then no one should be saying it to anyone.

Porter Anderson

Ha, thanks, Lexa!

Being without a 10-year-old daughter, I might ring up yours from time to time to test my (usually overworked) lines on! Then again, I might find it easier to talk to her of Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women than trying to explain to her what actually goes on in some romance novels. Maybe I’m not too far off the mark, after all. 🙂



On Twitter: @ Porter_Anderson


There are plenty of things I would feel free to say in front of other adults that I wouldn’t say in front of my 10 year old daughter, so this logic fails. I don’t take my daughter to R rated movies, I don’t let her play MA rated video games, and I don’t take her to grown up parties. Goodreads is a site for adults, I read and review books by adults, for myself, and for other adults. Asking people to think “would I say this in front of my kid” is essentially lumping GR posters in with people who… Read more »

Jacqueline Patricks

GR is not a site for adults. You can be as young as 13 and have an account. Some of the GR groups are adult only.


Is there a minimum age to register for a Goodreads account?

Yes, you have to be thirteen years old or older to sign up for
Goodreads. This is a requirement of all social networking sites.
Federal law (COPPA) has dictated that the legal age of consent to
participate in a social networking site is thirteen years old.


Yes. But I have a private profile, I am in private groups, and as I said, I read and rate adult books. I expect parents to watch what their kids are reading online, my job is only to worry about what my own kids do online. Of course I wouldn’t go into children’s groups talking about adult books.

Jacqueline Patricks

Yes, but those adult books and their reviews are not private as they are listed in a public forum. Therefore, anything posted in those areas is public, including shelves.

I agree that parents should monitor their children, but since GR isn’t an adult site per se, then how is a parent able to monitor such comments on reviews without watching over their child’s shoulder every moment or completely blocking the site?

Just saying…

Lexa Cain

I just got the link to post about the 13-year-old minimum age for GR, but Jacqueline beat me to it!

Anyway, I suggested talking to a child if you CANNOT TELL what is abusive and what isn’t. “Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women” isn’t abuse by any stretch of the imagination. But I’ve seen some personal attacks on GR that go beyond mere rudeness. I think most mature adults know what abuse is, and while there’s some room for disagreement, I don’t believe abuse can be downgraded to being simply “in the eye of the beholder.”


Perhaps you should read this for an outside view- with screenshots- of what went on: http://darkwriter67.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/reality-on-goodreads-your-mileage-may-vary/

Rick Carufel

Badreads is designed and was started for the single purpose of intimidating and terrorizing indie writers back to parasitic, exploitive traditional publishing. Read the author guidelines, it actually threatens authors. I and seven friends were stalked from Amazon to badreads. The only way the seven other authors could have been discovered way by stalking me online. All of my books and all of the books of my friends were targeted and given 1-star ratings and put on disgusting lists. One of the authors is a woman in her 70’s who writes children book and donates all the proceeds to charity.… Read more »


On the topic of online author bullying, I would like to make a comment regarding a forum called Absolute Write Water Cooler. I tried using the forum to get feedback on the synopsis for my novel before submitting for query. Instead of providing objective feedback, I was told that my book (and by extension, I) was misogynistic, perverse, abusive, cruel, the list goes on. I was wholly taken aback because I don’t consider my book, or myself, to be any of these things (especially since I am a woman, I don’t consider myself to be misogynistic). I abandoned all effort… Read more »

Joan Heilmann

“Goodreads has the capability to delete members found to be transgressing its standards of interaction. I have no doubt that its administration takes that action when an investigation proves it to be appropriate.” Goodreads must be very glad that the author didn’t sue them!!! They also have a moral obligation to prohibit such behavior, and to immediately evict such bullies. Goodreads makes money through advertising – and the content for their sites is delivered for free by their 20 million members. The least they can do is to protect their author members somewhat. I’ am feeling very sorry for the… Read more »

38 Caliber Reviews

Joan, please pay attention-it didn’t happen. Lauren wanted what she wanted and didn’t get it so she got mad. Only right now she is blaming it on PMS. If you want to be outraged, be outraged at her. She said she was threatened with rape, sodomy, and death. Now she says she didn’t say that-exactly and she was angry and we are making too big of a deal of all this. When she reappeared on GRs yesterday to ask for help changing her author name on her book, she said sorry, you’re not evil, I was just PMS-ing. Yes, people… Read more »


great post, Porter. The WANA mama Kristen Lamb often blogs on how to deal with trolls, she described quite terrible things over the years. I hope many writers read these stories and learn from them on how to deal with trolls and bullies. Writers need to grow thick skin, which is hard, for we are quite emotional creatures. I don’t know why some people are full of hatred, life is already hard without it. But these people are better ignored and dealt with professionally.

Porter Anderson


Hi, Grisha, thanks for your thoughtful note, good to hear from you.

You’ve put your finger on it. The old phrase I was taught is “don’t engage.”

Thanks for the clear head. I’ll just step back away now, as I’ve been doing since about 13 or 14 hours into this column’s much-commented life. 🙂

On Twitter, @ Porter_Anderson

[…] Anderson: When Bad Things (Seem To) Happen on Good Sites. Excerpt: “Ether readers’ private notes to me about recent allegations of reader-on-author […]

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[…] Writ­ing on the Ether: When Bad Things (Seem To) Hap­pen on Good Sites […]


I believe that there is a systemic problem with the rating system on GoodReads that makes it particularly prone to reader/author conflict. There is a difference between a “rating for recommendation” system and a “rating for review” system, and that GoodReads attempts to have one system serve both functions.

My own analysis of the situation is here: http://mishaburnett.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/more-on-the-goodreads-meltdown/

[…] a look at how pleasant a task handling all that relationship work might be, see last week’s Writing on the Ether: When Bad Things (Seem To) Happen on Good Sites, the Attacks section. I mean the Comments section. (Check how many times the word […]

[…] WRITING ON THE ETHER: When Bad Things (Seem To) Happen on Good Sites from Porter Anderson at Jane Friedman […]

[…] one of the pairings I’ve suggested this week involves the Ether of August 22, WRITING ON THE ETHER: When Bad Things (Seem To) Happen on Good Sites. Our good colleague Nathan Bransford has posted his own thoughtful piece on what his headline terms […]

[…] According to a few authors, Goodreads has been quoted as saying “We take all these comments very seriously.” And if an unacceptable (threatening, malicious) comment is reported to them, they do everything to remove the comments right away. Similarly, they are encouraging people who use Goodreads to contact them with any concerns or questions they might have about the matter. Hopefully, this is the starting ground to making a few changes that might improve the author/reader/reviewer experience. You can read a very enlightening article about it here.   […]

[…] bullying on Goodreads. There were several links to other posts on the topic, including one from Porter Anderson on Jane Friedman’s […]

[…] Anderson has a good wrapup of the Howard saga here, and concludes, “The kind of hand-wringing intensity that has accompanied the Howard […]

[…] Anderson has a good wrapup of the Howard saga here, and concludes, “The kind of hand-wringing intensity that has accompanied the Howard allegations […]

[…] behavior on the vast reader recommendation site. For background on the issue, you might look at Writing on the Ether: When Bad Things (Seem To) Happen on Good Sites at JaneFriedman.com. Alleged hostilities have run both ways, some authors complaining of […]

[…] The incredibly disappointing handling of the Howard story by both Salon and Jane Friedman’s Writing on the Ether  reveals the strain on journalistic standards when it comes to the allure of drama over the […]

[…] about how authors are being bullied on Goodreads. Nathan Bransford mentioned it on his blog. Jane Friedman posted an article by a guest blogger, Porter Anderson, andMary Elizabeth Williams discussed the […]

[…] we’ve all heard about the various smackdowns involving readers and authors but those incidents represent only a tiny fraction of interactions between authors and readers.  […]

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[…] Two quick references here for you relative to some things we’ve covered on recent gassings of the Ether. Goodreads (Ether: When Bad Things (Seem To) Happen on Good Sites). […]

[…] this year, when looking at Goodreads’ efforts to prevent hostile comment that transgressed its regulations, we considered here on the Ether what it must be to try to monitor a community nearing the size of […]

[…] this year, when looking at Goodreads’ efforts to prevent hostile comment that transgressed its regulations, we considered here on the Ether what it must be to try to monitor a community nearing the size of […]

[…] recent post by Porter Anderson on Jane Friedman’s blog caught my eye. In this article, entitled, When Bad Things (Seem To) Happen on Good Sites, Porter […]

[…] dust-ups on the huge Goodreads site (which became so insupportable at one point that they triggered administrative intervention last year), for me the key concept she has introduced in her good essay is animus — as in intent, an […]

[…] WRITING ON THE ETHER: When Bad Things (Seem To) Happen on Good Sites from Porter Anderson at Jane Friedman […]