I’m asked, semi-frequently, to join Goodreads. I actually started this post as part of a FAQ I’m working on, but then it got too long to be useful there. (I know this will come as a huge shock to all of you.) So! Here it is.
I haven’t joined Goodreads, yet. This is not because I don’t read – I do – or because I don’t want to interact with my readers – I do, obviously, which is why I have this website, my Facebook page, my Twitter feed and hopefully, if I can figure it out, my Tumblr. (There’s an “Ask me anything” link at both the top and the bottom of the Tumblr page, and it sends the question to my inbox, where I can answer it, and the answer will be posted. In theory.)3
I consider Goodreads to be a board for readers. And I’ve come to understand, over time, that I can’t be present as an author and interact as a reader without some difficulty. If, for instance, someone hates my book (any book; pick one) that’s a perfectly valid response: being a reader, reading itself, is entirely about the reader. I can’t respond to that as a reader; I wrote the book. So far, so good (actually, I’ll come back to this point in a minute).
But if, for example, someone hates, say, Tanya Huff’s book (any book), and I love it and disagree — I can’t actually respond as a reader, either, even though my response would be a reader response–I didn’t write her book(s); I don’t think like Tanya. I read them as a reader, and evaluate them as a reader. But I can’t talk about Tanya’s books on goodreads and not be Michelle Sagara the author to many of the people who might be discussing it. If I disagree with another reader’s take on a book, many other readers will assume that I’m doing so as part of an authorial action–because I’m her friend, not because I actually disagree (people who know me in real life, oddly enough, never assume this). I could talk only about books written by people I do not know, have never met, or have never interacted with, but even then, there are problems. So: I can’t use Goodreads as a reader.
I could use it as a writer.
But now we return to the point above. Goodreads is for readers, and I do read, but I can’t be present there as a reader. Unless I’m anonymous. (For a variety of reasons, I never do anything anonymously on the internet; I never have.)
And it’s a place where readers necessarily discuss and share their reactions to books–mine among them. Given how definitively I offer my loves and hates when I’m recommending books in the bookstore at which I work, I know that this is a wonderful thing. I want to be able to throw a book across a room in disgust; I want to be able to rave about a book that I adored and press it into as many hands as possible.
I am not immune to reader responses about my work. And as many people do, I tend to place a disproportionate amount of emotional weight on unhappy reader reviews or comments. It’s not unlike having a favorite coat/dress/piece of clothing, and overhearing, while walking past a cafeteria table, that you look repugnantly immature/fat/short/tall/green in it. It’s not going to ruin your life.
It is going to ruin your day.
The readers who hate my books? They are not, in fact, trying to ruin my day. They are–quite rightly–not thinking of my day, or my feelings, at all. They are talking about their own responses among other people who are also not trying to ruin my day–or even make my day brighter. My books are not irrelevant to the discussion – but I am.
I actually try hard not to read any of my reviews, anywhere; I read them if someone sends me a link, or tweets @msagara; I don’t go to Amazon or Goodreads unless I’m in a very happy and entirely objective frame of mind (about 3 times a year). If I don’t wait? I frequently feel disappointed in myself or guilty when I’ve lost a reader who used to enjoy my books; I spin in little writerly circles and start to second-guess every word. This does not, as you imagine, make writing any easier <wry g>.
In fact, I’ll open it up and say that at the wrong stage of any book, I will also come across an elated, overjoyed review, I will puff up with pleasure – and then I will utterly deflate and become paralyzed because clearly the book I’m writing now will be so crushingly disappointing to this self-same reader that they will Never Read Me Again.
I have no reason, unless I’m uploading short stories, to be on Amazon, and it’s relatively easy to avoid myself there. I’m not sure I would be able to avoid myself on Goodreads. It’s kind of like chocolate – some people can have really good chocolate in their house and eat a piece or two a day.
Some people buy the chocolate intending to eat a piece or two a day, and then, well, no chocolate remains in the house after day one. From this example, you can probably guess which one of these is me. My adult self realizes that the best thing to do is to not buy chocolate and bring it home unless I intend to eat it all Right Now. I am perfectly capable of not buying the chocolate when I see it. I am not, sadly, capable of ignoring its compelling, siren call if it is sitting in my cupboards at 2:00 a.m. on a writing night. So…my impulse control is all front loaded.
This is why I am not on Goodreads. I’m pretty sure I would start reading all the reviews and this would be as healthy for me as eating ALL the chocolate. (I would be enormously grateful if someone who is on Goodreads would change the author’s website portion of the author page there to my new site >.>)
I would, on the other hand, be happy to listen to dissenting opinions about Goodreads, with the caveat that I am not saying that Goodreads is a bad place; I think it’s a great place. If, for instance, some of you are on goodreads, and you tend your author pages and you’ve found it helpful & fun, or if you interact with a lot of your authors there, I’d love to hear about it.