The folk at Shelf Inflicted – who appear to be mostly Goodreads escapees – are running a series of interviews with the 25 people mentioned in the Forbes article about Goodreads however long ago. I was listed as #18 of the top 25 reviewers, and I think the category was in the last year, for the whole world. So, you can check out my interview here, or you can read it below. The whole series is pretty interesting though, and it’s a super weird group of people with super disparate interests.
How did you discover Goodreads?
An irl friend sent me a link in April of 2008, which means I’ve been active on Goodreads for five years now. I didn’t interact much at first – I had no experience with social media; facebook would come later for me – but very slowly accrued friends other than my mother, husband, and a smattering of real life friends. As an introduction to social media, it was a kind experience, as the early-ish days of Goodreads had a sort of backwater enthusiast vibe, and you could be reasonably sure that no one at all was paying attention, which suited me fine.
What have been your most memorable Goodreads experiences?
That’s hard to say. There have been some memorable scandals, trollings, call-outs, and cat-fights that have occurred on Goodreads which were fun for me. I can think of a dozen instances where pointless and/or stupid trolling turned into runaway threads full of humor, lolcats, and, you know, profound commentary on books. My personal favorite was the time one of my reviews got trolled by a fine young man from Texas with a penchant for dismissing people as “ugly lesbians”. I still get comments on that clusterfuck of a thread wondering what the hell happened.
Though I haven’t been involved in much of this, except as an observer, I find the various author/reviewer meltdowns that occur pretty fascinating. Goodreads is a focal point for two different trends: self-publishing and citizen reviewing. So you have two different kinds of folk running up against each other – people who don’t know shit about marketing running up against sometimes harshly stated opinions – and the result can be explosive. And I really shouldn’t be singling out the self-pubs, because a fair number of these explosions have happened between Big Six authors (or their agents or friends) and their readers. As the industry changes from more mediated relationships – authors are largely left to their own devices these days (I am given to understand) – the potential for conflict approaches one.
I don’t have any easy answers for this, and I don’t think either reviewers or authors have gotten it right 100% of the time. I believe there is a tendency for reviewers to be rewarded for strong reactions – when I sort my reviews by the ones with the most votes, the first ten are either five-starred or one-starred reviews, hatchet jobs or soaring praise. I get it: we respond strongly to strong emotion, and I don’t think there is anything wrong or bad about that. I worry sometimes about this feedback loop though, at least as it pertains to the critical process. I mean, no one ever said that a citizen review had to be a measured intellectual endeavor, and god bless all the goofing, irreverent, parodic, cheerfully off-topic reviews out there, but I still worry about the middle-voice, the three-starrer that gets lost in the wash. Heated rhetoric is rewarded – and I’m not saying I’m immune to this, having penned some hatchet jobs and love-fests myself – but sometimes I wonder what reviews would look like if it weren’t. I certainly think about this when I reach for the hatchet.
Name one reviewer not in the Forbes 25 that people should be aware of.
Just one? This question sucks. How about 25? In no particular order:
Eric from Minneapolis
Matt from Nebraska
Miriam from California
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Michael Springer, who has some terrible pseudonym these days
Dead Flamingo Jessica
Joel from Chicago
Terence from California
Kelly from I don’t know where
Aerin from Seattle
My Flesh Sings Out aka Josh
oriana from Brooklyn
This might be more than 25, and I could add more. I <3 a lot of reviewers on Goodreads.
What was your initial reaction to Amazon buying Goodreads?
Zombie apocalypse? No, really, I think it was inevitable that Goodreads was going to sell out or go public, because the problem of monetizing any start-up for the founders. CEO Otis was looking to cash out on a very good idea executed (mostly) well, and I can’t say I blame him. Plus, Goodreads just hit some kind of tipping point with user numbers – 10+ million and counting – and I don’t think Goodreads has been able to cope in terms of capital or infrastructure. (Witness the complete failure of the notification system on a regular basis, and less important problems like their inability to update top lists for months.) After facebook went public to not disastrous, but not fantastic results, that left selling out. I am hugely disappointed that it turned out to be Amazon, but I’m also not hugely surprised.
Amazon has created a problem for themselves with the discoverability issue – as the bricks and mortar bookstores shutter, there’s no place for serendipitous browsing, and their “if you’ll like this, then” algorithms are probably the best out there, but that doesn’t mean they’re good. Plus, Amazon reviews are heavily gamed by all kinds of competing forces – authors and/or fans with grudges, a downvoting system that tends to punish outlying opinions or perspectives, payola scandals, even Michael Jackson fans gone insane. As product reviews not personal responses, the personal gets lost. The social network aspect of Goodreads solves their discoverability issue and the issue of confidence in the review. We goodreaders are now all the person inside the Mechanical Turk. Which sucks. Maybe there’s no difference in shaking my ass for CEOtis or Amazon, but it feels different.
How many books do you own?
A quick estimate using my thumb puts the number at about 750, but that’s not factoring the stuff in the basement or the kids books. So probably a thousand. I like books, as objects, but I tend to give them away when I love them, and I seldom re-read.
Who is your favorite author?
Ursula K Le Guin
What is your favorite book of all time?
Fail. Impossible to compute.
What are your thoughts on ebooks?
I adore paper, and there are things that are impossible to do with a screen that you can do with a physical object, but ebooks have their place. I read a lot of pulp mass market stuff, because I can put down several throw-away fictions while I’m reading something more considered. It’s almost required, because I’m a pleasure reader primarily, and while I get pleasure from smart stuff, it requires a level of engagement that I can’t give it just before bed or on a Sunday afternoon or whatever. So an ebook that I can half-assedly download from the library and pick at can be really perfect.
I’m not hugely excited about all the proprietary readers out there – Nook, Kindle, Kobo, whatever – which lock readers into a specific distribution channel. I don’t think that’s good for publishing, but I don’t know what the solution is.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
Boy, what a thing. Obviously, publishing is in a huge upheaval at the moment, much like music was ten years ago, but I don’t think we can necessarily extrapolate what happened to music distribution to book publishing. So many of the arts have fractured into the long tail – a series of sub-sub-sub-genres catering to very, very specific readerships. Which can be great for those specific readerships, but if you’re not in them, maybe hard to figure out. I am absolutely game to read self-published works, and I have read and enjoyed a number, but I do admit I worry about the editorial process, and, given some of the meltdowns I’ve seen, the insulating effect of the publisher when authors and readers interact.
We could all use an editor – as I’m fiercely aware of when I post some damn review riddled with typos and badly connected thoughts. Platforms like Goodreads become all the more important when sorting through self-published works, which are rarely reviewed on traditional platforms – even the mid-list gets lost, and if you’re talking about genre fiction, forget it – which is why the Amazon takeover continues to worry me. The difference between product review and criticism is vital.
Any literary aspirations?