Monday, August 17, 2009

Goodreads, Lost, & Chapters

I’m going to be all over the board with my blog today, but the good news is that if you don’t like one topic, you can move onto the next.


Last week, a friend and fellow author forwarded a funny exchange between the author and a reader who ripped his book on a Goodreads review. The exchange was actually very lighthearted and humorous for both the author and reviewer, but it spurred a discussion on other reviewer experiences that were not so lighthearted. In fact, some were downright spiteful by the authors whose books were reviewed.

As an author, I love Goodreads. I know some authors can’t stand to see bad reviews of their books. I’ll admit, I get a sick feeling in my stomach when I read a really bad review. But at the same time, I would never in a million years give up the chance to see good, honest feedback. Goodreads provides not only ratings, but lots and lots of personal feedback from the people I am trying to appeal to. I am a Goodreads junkie. On Amazon, I have about twenty reviews. On Goodreads I have over a hundred and many more ratings.

As a reader, I also love Goodreads. How cool is it to be able to see thousands of people rating a book you might not have read? And these aren’t just any people. These are my kind of people—our kind of people. People who not only read a lot of books, but care enough about them to go on-line and list and rate what they’ve read. These are people who talk about books the way most people talk about sports or movies. I LOVE these people. It makes me so happy that I’m not the only one who feels this way about books.

So what’s the problem right? I love Goodreads as an author and as a reader. The thing is, I don’t love Goodreads as an author who is also a reader. Why? Two problems. First, when I review a book—especially a contemporary book—I am reviewing my co-workers. I am placing a star rating on people I may run into at a conference or in a league or on an on-line board. I read a national YA book the other day that I really didn’t like. But in a roundabout way, I know the author. I’ve never met the author before in person, but a friend of a friend, kind of thing. And, assuming that author is a Goodreads junkie like me, that author might see my poor review, notice I am an author too, and remember me when we bump into each other. (Ouch!)

Which brings me to my second problem. I want honest reviews. I know of many, many authors who get a bad review and immediately go to their friends and ask for good reviews to be placed. I personally HATE that. Not that the authors want good reviews. We all do. Or even that they ask their friends for good reviews. But that the review process is now being corrupted. We are rigging the game. It would be like a sports star asking his friend to let him score an extra touchdown because he got blanked the week before. Even without the issue of me reviewing other people’s books, I worry that if authors regularly respond to Goodreads reviews, readers might start to be afraid to post honest reviews. As much as I don’t want bad reviews, I do want honest reviews. I learn a lot from reading the negative and positive reviews of my books and others. It makes me a better writer to see what some people don’t like.

So the questions is, do I remain a Goodreads author? It’s great to make friends, have discussions, post my blogs, do contests, etc. But are people less likely to review a book honestly of they see the author is also a member of Goodreads? Are you less likely to give a poor review to an author is a member of Goodreads? If you are an author, how do you feel about reviewing books by other authors you know?


Okay, this is going to make me look like a total dweeb, but I am not a fan of the TV show Lost. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying I dislike it. I’m saying I don’t watch it. At least I didn’t watch it. James Dashner and Jessica Day George would kill me on the spot if news of my dark secret got out—so don’t tell them, okay? There is a reason I never started watching Lost. If Lost was a book or even series of books, I would have read them at once. A book or series has a set lifespan. The author chooses how long the series will be and should know in advance how it will end. A TV series is not like that. It can end any time the network decides viewership is too low. Or it can go on as long as people keep watching. I don’t want to get caught up and hooked only to be left hanging or dragged along after the series should have ended.

With all that said, I am now a Lost junkie. I discovered and watched the first episode. And like any other addict, I see all those other episodes just calling to me—almost commercial free—and I click. Since most of you who are Lost viewers have seen all the episodes I am just now discovering, and those of you who haven’t watched it probably never will. I feel like I can review the series without giving away spoilers.

Having watched the first episode through the eyes of an author, I am impressed. Most people would think of Lost as a plot driven show. People are stranded on an island with some really freaky stuff going on. Even I knew that, and I hadn’t seen a single episode until last week. But where do we start the show? Through the eyes of a doctor who I assume will be the protagonist. He wakes up disoriented in the middle of a jungle. He runs out of the jungle to find a beach filled with burning plane parts and crash survivors. For the next third of the show. We meet different characters through a series of action scenes. The pregnant woman. The mysterious couple who are only looking out for themselves. The slow-witted but nice guy. The aging musician. The helpful lifeguard and his snotty girlfriend. The love interest. The man with his son.

We get to see just enough of each charter to place them and generate some interest without getting completely confused. In fact the writer goes out of his or her way to not introduce very many names very early. I love that the protagonist is out there saving everyone, and it’s not until he feels things are under some control that we learn how bad his injury is. Authors take note here. We didn’t see the plane crash at first. We didn’t know exactly what was going on. We started in the middle of the scene and expanded from there. The very fact that we didn’t know what was going on kept our attention. Next, we focused on characters. If we don’t know who to care about, we won’t care. But we did it through action scenes that were showing us who the characters were, not telling us.

Not until we knew the basic cast (with plenty of other players we will meet later I assume) did we see something huge moving through the jungle actually knocking down trees. Yes, the show is about weird stuff going on, but it only matters because we care about the people the weird stuff is happening to. Finally, once we knew the cast and saw that something weird was going on, we sent the protagonist and the protagonist’s love interest into the jungle. By separating them, we can focus on who the writer wants us to focus on.

I’ll watch more this week and let you know what I think, so if you are a big Lost fan, don’t tell me how full of it I am because this or that happens in the next episode. But feel free to tell me what your reaction to the first episode was. Or if you are not a fan yet either, hope over to Hulu and watch it on-line with me.


I promised last week I would post the first two chapters of Land Keep. So here they are. I considered telling you why I started the way I did, just like I reviewed the beginning of Lost. But I think I will let you give me your feedback, before I tell you why I did what I did. Enjoy!

(Click on the fullscreen button to make the document more readable)

Farworld Land Keep, first two chapters


J.N. Future Author said...

I love goodreads! that site is the bomb! I have not updated it in a while, but i soon will!

^.^ actually, on that site I'm a librarian - so I have been adding books on there for a very long time ^.^

but sometimes i think people are very over critical about books. in my opinion, if I enjoyed reading it, it was a good book.

If I read it again, it was a great book.

If it makes me think for at least a week afterwards about it, it was a fantastic book.

If I would read it more than once, and it makes me think about a myriad of different ideas - well then it goes on my top favorites list.

also, I only talk to the authors that make my favorites list - they seem to be the most exciting, and they can always give great advice. their books are amazing, and I tend to read them ALOT more than once. hey, if the adventure was great the first time, then it will still be great the 8th time

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

You could always come over to LibraryThing, we don't pull any punches because an author is an LT Author. I do notice that most LT Authors, as well as authors with blogs, don't rate or review books for the exact reason you mentioned.

I can't wait to read the next Far World book! Loved my ARC of the first one.

Graham Chops said...

Sure seems like that whole "Goodreads" thing is a double-edged sword in an author's position. I'd say do it like JN does it--if it's good, review it and plug it. If not, move on to a good one.

I'd get into "Lost" if I didn't have enough bad habits already :-) Burn Notice keeps me plenty addicted.

Oh and I put up the second review of Farworld on GrahamChops. Holler if you want more details :-)

Erin said...

Would you believe me if I told you that I just barely discovered good reads? Yes, I have been living under a rock. I love going through the good reads reviews and looking up books I've read. I can understand your dilemma. But I think it's best if the authors steer clear of getting mixed up in the reviews. If I didn't like a book I would be scared to death to review it knowing the author would instantly fire something back at me. In some instances I think keeping your thoughts to yourself is the best way to go. :)

Zirsta said...

Like Erin, I hadn't heard of goodreads until a while ago, when I started running out of books. I think that if the truth might end up sounding really harsh, then not review it. Because yeah, someday you might end up meeting them, or someone that knows them. And you don't want to sound like an author stepping all over others to climb up the bestsellers list. Also, if you've met the author, then I think that changes your views. Like, if I wrote a review on Farworld, I would praise more than critique, because it's more personal to me than the average person.

Loved the excerpt! I think we're in for some good laughs over the "caring lessons"... And Riph Raph hasn't lost any sharp wit either.

Marny said...

I just like to read books, not write/review about them. I'm bad at book groups for the same reason.

Jeff-- Great start to the new book. But tell your typesetter to turn on ligatures! (That's bugged me in a bunch of the Shadow Mountain books recently, not just yours.)

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

I have several places I write book reviews, and several audiences I write them for. When I write for GoodReads, I'm writing primarily for myself. I see GoodReads as a place I can keep track of what I read and what I thought, so my star rating is often tough and my commentary honest. Some of my friends read my reviews there, and occasionally one of my students will happen upon them as well. I hear from many people who appreciate my honesty. I often turn off the little button that sends my update feeds to anyone who is my friend or who happens to be following me just because not every book review I post is for everyone who might read my listing.

When I write my newspaper column, if I didn't like a book, it's unlikely I'll even include it in my column. If the author is a friend of mine and they requested a review, I will try to be as kind as possible, or avoid the book and write about the author instead. However, if you asked me to do a review, and I never to around to it, it could also be because I really never did get around to reading your book because of deadlines for the other books I review.

I review professionally for LMC Magazine, The Signal Journal, and The ALAN Review. Those publications have deadlines, and somehow all three of them tend to overlap the same few weeks. If a friend sent me a book during that time, it's easy for the book to get set aside. Those reviews MUST be brutally honest. Teachers and school librarians rely upon that total honesty, and when they spend money for a book, they need to know it's a book that will find its audience.

If you're an author, and you really don't want to know what other people honestly think about your books, then don't read the reviews. You'll know by sales numbers anyway how you're really doing. As an author, you also have to decide if writing online reviews is really in your best interest.

For me, I write reviews for myself as well as for a readership. When I'm no longer reviewing professionally, maybe I'll stop writing the reviews altogether, but for right now, I know lots of people who are glad that I do, and that I am honest.

I've found that passionate readers usually don't care if the review is good or bad. They will read it anyway to find out for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I've never had a bad experience with authors on goodreads, but I have had bad exchanges when I have wrote less then glowing reviews for my blog. The ones that get me are the ones that ask to have the book reviewed but then don't take a small comment such as "The characters at times seemed predictable" and turn it into an all out battle.

I understand an author is going to stick by their work 100% but fighting over someone's views of the book and trying to change their views of it isn't going to help it makes the author look like a poor sport. In the end an author has to understand that there are going to be different people that like different things, and if they are open to hearing some things about their writing it might help them in the end.

On a final note I hate reviews that trash just to trash, if you don't like the book fine but don't trash it. Put why and move on :)

Anonymous said...

Why not create two goodreads accounts: one as an author and one as a reader. That way you can safely give honest reviews of books you have read, without identifying yourself as an author. It might get confusing at times, but it's something to think about.