Saturday, 26 July 2014

Goodreads vs. Spammers, Indie Authors and Readers Both Lose

Recently, Goodreads has issued an ultimatum to authors spamming their books in various groups throughout the site. Group moderators are being advised that their approval is required for all self-promotional postings. Any author not playing by the rules will have their thread deleted.

Though this is undoubtedly welcome news to anyone irritated by "author flies" buzzing their book praises in the ears of readers trying to conduct a discussion of an unrelated topic, it could present yet another hurdle to indie authors trying to make legitimate connections with readers, on what was formerly the last (semi) indie author-friendly site on the web.

Personally, I'm torn about the news. Nobody likes spammers, not even other authors. However, I'm worried that the line in the sand that Goodreads has drawn does leave some wiggle room for individual interpretation about what exactly constitutes "self-promotion." I now find myself worried about posting anything on Goodreads. I'm afraid about there being too fine a line between self-promotion and innocently mentioning something about your book during a conversation, or replying to genuine interest about your book from another poster.

Goodreads, should writers not respond to questions about their own books in a public thread? If a reader says they're interested in a book and wants to know where to buy it, should the writer wait and hope that someone else responds to the question, potentially losing a valued reader when that never happens? How much self-promotion is too much? Does the act of mentioning that you wrote something mean instant ostracization on your site now? Perhaps Amazon would be happier if all indie authors only promoted those books on their best sellers list. Is that what you're hoping to achieve?

Spamming should be abolished and penalizing offenders is one way to go about it. On the other hand, as enjoyable as it is to spend hours talking about everyday things with readers, writers do need to manage their time carefully to be successful. Writing and marketing are the two big concerns for every author. 

If Goodreads is worried about authors forcing their titles on people, perhaps they should instead provide an unbiased system to allow readers to find what they want in a book, using a search tailored to their individual interests. One that lists titles based on relevance, rather than popularity. Penalizing authors who lack the financial means to compete with publishing houses only helps the privileged few. 

It would be far more helpful to allow readers to discover the merits of a particular book, giving equal regard to the works of indie authors as well as tradpub best selling authors. In case you're thinking this sounds like science fiction, let me clarify: this is not a new concept. There are numerous music search engines that provide links to "similar artists." Some sites (I'll refrain from mentioning which, since I'm not on them) have already started this kind of service for books, but it's still very grassroots and their databases are far from complete. Most don't have nearly the volume of authors and books as, say, Goodreads and Amazon.

Any indie not on Amazon's best seller list knows the impossibility of ever climbing out of the bottom of the pile to build a meaningful readership. Most every book site out there, including Amazon, only pushes the top sellers and those authors with the expense account to buy some recognition, leaving tons of great books unread and innumerable talented authors unknown.

I've been on Goodreads for over a year, and as much as I would love the opportunity for any of my titles to be considered in any group's Book of the Month, I know better than to ask. I'm not traditionally published and don't have a multi-million dollar marketing machine to push my titles before their release, so competing against books that are already in the public consciousness is somewhat of a lost cause. Unfortunately, there are more unknown authors sharing this same boat than there are familiar names on the typical reader's lips. That connection with readers often never blossoms.

Spamming is an act of desperation by authors trying to be heard in an increasingly controlled market, designed to squash any book that doesn't immediately fly off the digital bookshelf. Given the chance, I'm sure most authors would prefer not to have to resort to such measures. It's not entirely their fault. When you're adrift on the ocean, alone, the natural instinct is always to scream for someone to find you.


  1. JB, you are so correct on all counts in this article. It is so frustrating for those of us who do not want to offend, who do not want to annoy, who only wish to assist folks in finding optional reading which might interest them. All my books have 4 and 5 Star reviews on Amazon and Smashwords, yet I sell a pitiful amount each month. I keep thinking something has to click if I can only keep at it and be persistent, but hey, now it is getting so I can't even talk about them without thinking I am going to break someone's rules.

    Thanks for writing this. I hope someone other than me reads it.

    1. This isn't an issue limited to Goodreads, but most social networking sites. With spamming authors fueling the anti-indie author sentiment growing throughout the web, it only makes life harder for authors trying to achieve a real connection with readers. Ultimately, social networking is perpetuating a vicious circle that only serves to profit established authors (ones with the marketing backing of major publishers). Readers want authors to engage in casual discussions on topics unrelated to their books. However, devoting hours of their limited time in such discussions, without mentioning their books, rarely contributes to a fledgling author's platform. It's not a problem that you'd expect to find most established authors struggling with (assuming that any of them participate in off-topic social networking discussions at all).

      As I see it, either indie authors embrace social networking and start "playing nice," or forgo social networking entirely and simply devote their time to writing. Neither option is apt to result in book sales. However, the latter might provide a wealth of material that could one day be submitted in literary circles and catch a publisher's eye.

      Until the day comes that a better system is in place for the communication of authors and readers, one that doesn't resort to spamming and trolling, I expect that I'll be keeping my head down and burying myself in my writing. There's still review sites and Goodreads Read 2 Review options available to get the books into the hands of interested readers. Maybe after doing that enough times, a few of them might be gracious enough to start spreading the word. I don't expect that I'll ever see the day that I can make a living off my writing, but at least this way, I'm spending my time doing what I love to do.