There be dragons

One Saturday last summer, I was at my local nursery, pleasantly hung-over, and feeling optimistic about the fact that this time I would for sure keep the new basil alive (spoiler: I did not). It was one of those sunny, hopeful mornings. And then, while in line, I made the mistake of checking email.

There was a message from a reader. The subject was in all caps, angry and accusing. The message itself was a dissertation, in length, if not quite in cogency. How do I hate your novel? Let me count the ways.

It wasn’t the first or last time a molotov cocktail has landed in my in box. But this one got to me. Something about the timing and the all caps subject line calling me a lazy writer was shocking. It felt so personal and mean, an attack on not just my writing but my whole weekend. I began to shake, right there in the nursery, surrounded by ferns and succulents and other people buying ficus plants. Instinctively, I put the phone away. I blamed myself for being the dumb ass who checks email in line. Good writers don’t distract themselves from the moment. They pay attention. Watch. Store the real world up for later. I vowed to stay off email until Monday. I thought about my new plants, how I was going to spend the day outside, potting and writing. I stopped shaking. I paid, made chit-chat with the cashier, carried my purchases to the car, congratulated myself on being so well adjusted. And then a woman came running out of the nursery waving my wallet.

Now, a year later, I can laugh about it but in the moment that reader’s anger was de-stabalizing to my work, to my ability to focus. I remembered this email the other day while reading Scaachi Koul’s excellent piece about a YA author who stalked a Goodreads reviewer. Yes, you read that right. This author got a bad review, lost all common sense, hunted down the reviewer, and showed up at her door. Let this be a lesson to all of us published authors: Goodreads is not for us.

Before my book came out, I used to be a regular lurker on Goodreads. Whenever I finished reading a book I really liked, I would go online to see what other readers were saying. My first Goodreads review was a one-star. It popped up while I was still working on the manuscript. Disturbance in the matrix? Break in the time-space continuum? Either way, my days on the site were over.

Goodreads is for readers. It’s for honest critique and dialogue and yes, sometimes, vitriol, about books. It’s for people who hate the synopsis and rate it one star. It’s for readers who want recommendations. For readers who want to keep and share to be read lists. It’s a democratizing force that bypasses the traditional gatekeepers and allows a wider range of books to gain traction. It’s for book lovers and bloggers. It’s for marketing departments. It’s for trolls (because the whole internet is for trolls). It’s a lot of things for a lot of people. BUT GOODREADS IS NOT FOR WRITERS. It’s a free internet so go on there if you like but I’m telling you right now it’s a mistake.

Because what are we on this earth to do? Write. And there is a limit to how many beatings one’s own ego can take before it begins to impact your work. And trust me, there are enough beatings to go around. There are hideous reviews that can’t be ignored. There are readers who itemize your failures via email or at a book club or event. There are rejections. Prizes you lose, lists that snub you, shops that don’t carry your book, loved ones who won’t read it. Trust me. Enough beatings. You need not go looking for more. And while I’m on the subject, for the love of god, stop googling your name. Get rid of that google alert. Leave it to your mom/ lover/ agent/ editor. GO BACK TO WORK.