Saturday, October 5, 2013

Why we don't want to ditch Goodreads just yet (An Interview)

I used to work in an industry that referred to librarians as- no joke- Knowledge Managers. A little high-falutin'? Welcome to the intersection of software and marketing. But they had a point, and I think most of the avid readers and writers I know would have even higher praise.

Many writers I know have grown leery of Goodreads because of the well-publicized reports of bullying of some authors. On the other hand, a number of reviewers are up in arms over Goodreads' attempts to address some of those complaints and have charged Goodreads with censorship.

Up until last week, I would have said that no one was happy…until I overheard one of my favorite librarians recommending it to someone. With that, I decided I wanted to talk with these two about what Goodreads could offer and why, just maybe, we don't want to ditch it.

The world is filled with writers and reviewers, but we're all outnumbered by the readers.

File:Goodreads logo.svg

What do you use Goodreads for?

Librarian 1: What DON’T I use it for? I check to see what books are in a series and in what order they should be read. I look up the summaries of books that look interesting to see if I want to read it. I check to see what shelves people have used for certain books, to know if I should put a book under fantasy or mystery in the library. I talk with friends who enjoy the same books I do. I’m a part of several groups, but am really only active in one group that’s like my home away from home. I get book recommendations from friends outside of said group, and from friends inside said group. I participate in a BOM in that group once a month, I chat with my favorite authors, several of which are in that group as well. I’m currently participating in a group read challenge, and every year I do my own personal challenge and set a goal of how many books I want to read during the year. GR keeps track of what I’ve read every year, though if I reread the same book the following year, it changes the date I read the book, hence my shelves that list years. I also use GR to keep track of the books I own, what I need to acquire, whether it’s a library book or something I need to buy. I have shelves for everything from what I need to get, to what I’ve read for various BOMs, and different genres.

Librarian 2: My main use for Goodreads is to keep track of the books I’ve read and what I want to read. My want to read is up in the thousands...LOL. I use Goodreads with my work to see what information is available about a book. Also the order of series books. Easier to do than a library catalog or even Amazon. I have found the lists are also great. If I want a book of historical paranormal romances for teens, they probably have a list for it. I tend to find the Goodreads list via Google. I also have joined a few groups. I just recently weeded the YA book groups because I can’t keep up with the posts. I now keep my groups to the Amish Fiction and Christian Fiction. They are my go to books when I need peace. I also am following my favorite authors that have a Goodreads account so I can find out when new books are published. Also, there are free giveaways. I have gotten one book.

How do you use Goodreads?

L2: I use it on my smartphone, laptop and PC in work. As long as I have some sort of internet connection and data streaming on the phone.

What's the best part of the Goodreads experience?

L1: At one point I would have said the shelves, and the yearly challenge. I know that alone has gotten me to read more than I ever did before. But now I would have to say the groups are awesome. I have a new home with great people I love to hang out with. People I can’t wait to meet in real life someday. I’m on GR all the time! Or, I could just say the best part is getting to talk about books all day and getting great book recommendations.

L2: I just find it easy to use.

What does Goodreads have that other platforms don't?

L1: I took a “tour” of LibraryThing once and was very disappointed because their discussion boards were mostly empty and weren’t set up in a way I would like. They weren’t pleasing to look at, and I rather like the way GR has Groups that anyone can set up for anything. The best part is belonging to a group owned by a favorite author. Everything is more pleasing to the eye and easy to find on GR than on LibraryThing.

L2: Other than Goodreads, I put one review on the Teen Blog. Otherwise, it's just random chats with friends on Facebook on a rare ocassion.

What are some other platforms you've used to discuss books and share reviews?

L1: I actually haven’t used anything else. I post reviews on the Teen Blog, but that’s about it. I looked at LibraryThing after I’d joined GR, but GR was it for me. I had several friends who were on GR and I ended up joining because they were on there and because I could keep track of my books. The yearly book reading challenge was what initially drew me in. I only wanted to read and keep track of my books. I wasn’t interested in the social media aspect of it until I found one of my favorite authors on there who had a group. And that was the end of my solitary days and the end of me even looking at other websites.

There have been charges of bullying by authors, doxxing or outing of reviewers by other users and charges of censorship by reviewers after Goodreads removed some of their content. How has this affected your experience of it?

L1: That’s nothing compared to the stuff people get up to in my niche genre! But the stupid things our readers, reviewers, and authors get up to spans the entire internet and includes outside review blogs as well as things on GR. I was once in a VERY LARGE group on GR where a lot of stuff was happening that shouldn’t have been. Authors were getting angry at readers for stupid things and readers were getting angry at writers for stupid things and the moderators were only adding fuel to the fire. It seemed like there was a mini explosion of some kind every week in this group. I simply left the group. Several friends also left the group. The one group I’m heavily involved in is a lovely group. We treat each other like extended family and look forward to meeting each other in person during conferences. There is a good mix of writers and readers of a still small niche genre, but we all get along and act like adults/humans should act. We talk about what goes on, but it’s mostly shaking our head at the most recent explosion, and thanking whoever we can thank that there are other genres where things are actually worse. For us, in our niche genre of M/M Romance they tend to repeat themselves and they can be very nasty, but not as nasty as what I’ve heard going on in Sci-Fi. I just tend to stay out of it, and keep my mouth shut. It’s pretty much how I got through high school. It would be a waste of time to get involved for a number of reasons.

L2: I haven’t had any content reviewed. I don’t do real reviews, just put a few opinions and if I am excited for the next book when it comes out. In the groups I am a member of, they don’t tend to be bullies. Due to the nature of the books we read, if someone gets all high and mighty, they get blocked. My group self-censors but if someone doesn’t like a book, as long as they say it’s her/his opinion and worded maturely, it doesn’t get censored. I have heard of the bullying and what not of writers versus other writers. And it does concern me but I guess it can happen on other websites as well. Even Facebook. So it hasn’t affected me yet but if it happened, I’d have to see how it plays out and then decide whether to stay or not. I have done that with other groups on yahoo and even a professional union page.

What should an author do to make the most of their presence on Goodreads?

L1: The biggest thing is to not say mean things about other people. Be courteous and act like an adult. And it saddens me to have to say that. Beyond that, it really depends on what an author is comfortable doing. The group I’m heavily involved in belongs to author, Josh Lanyon. It’s a large group, but it’s not too large. A lot of authors hang out there and can talk about their books if they come up in conversation or they’ll give a quick shout out to say they’ve had a new release. They don’t harp on it, but we’re all one big happy family so they can do that. Josh likes to hear what others are working on, and is more than happy giving writing and publishing advice to others. He has specific threads in his group for that very thing. Authors can either join existing groups or might want to start a group of their own, but I think in order to do that an author needs to be well-known and popular, otherwise it’ll be a very quiet group. If an author joins an existing group they need to be willing to chat about more than just their own books, otherwise they’ll be quickly ignored. (The same goes for all social media!) You don’t have to be talking every day either. Though if it’s your own group, you’ll want to be a part of the conversations a majority of the time if you can. Josh has wrist problems and other things going on which he’s happy to talk about if it impacts his writing so when he disappears from social media for a while, or when he took a year-long break from writing, we know what’s going on.

L2: I like that an author sets up an author page. I like when the page has a link to their blog or website. I like seeing posts on the page by the author regarding books he/she is working on or has just published. Some authors aren’t as quick to update their pages. No biggie. I have a link to their blog or website to see what the author is doing. Some also post book signings and where. Some have special contests that are on their blog/website like a signed copy of a book or a signed book that was published before in a series.

What activities are a waste of time for an author?

L1: If you listen to Josh Lanyon, his advice to authors is not to rate or review books. He only comments on a book if it really moved him. He doesn’t get involved in any of the ruckus partly because he’s very good at keeping away from it. Authors in a specific genre are like your coworkers, especially if your genre is small. Everyone is asking advice of everyone else. It behooves an author to not alienate others by writing bad reviews. Of course, this is his advice and not everyone agrees with it. Me, personally, I’ll give star ratings but I generally don’t write anything about a book unless it was either that terrible (and I try to soften the review a bit) or it was that awesome that I can’t keep my mouth shut about it. I save my reviews for the teen blog. Otherwise, I don’t think there is anything on GR that’s a waste of time for an author. Unless of course they get too chatty and never write a book again!

Have you noticed any changes since Amazon took over?

L1: No. I haven’t. Not yet anyway. But I tend to stay in the bubble of my group and that’s about it.

L2: I don’t like the main page after you sign in. The home page starts has the discussion tab as the default. I prefer the updates being the default. Might not be an Amazon thing. Might be something I need to find out how to fix.

What new features or policies would you like to see?

L1: I asked them to take off the profile feature where you have to pick a gender. Or to offer other options, for those who don’t identify as one or the other. They said they would consider it for the next time they made updates, but I have yet to see that change.

It’s hard to know how to deal with authors behaving badly. Many people will pay people to write reviews of their books that are fake. Things like that take time to investigate. I’m not sure there is one way to “police” a site like this. Yes, some people need to have their reviews taken down, but it needs to be done on a case-by-case basis.

The app could use a few features similar to the website when writing comments in the groups. Being able to add a link to the book and being able to hit the “reply” button on someone else’s comment that give you part of their comment within yours so people know who and what you’re referring to would be helpful. Also, having the link to the series title after the individual title work on the app would be great. I can’t check a series list on my phone!

If I could keep track of how many times I’ve reread a book and the dates I read the book, that would be very helpful since right now I can only keep one read date per book.

Thanks to these two great librarians for talking to me about their experiences. Any questions? They'll be happy to follow up.