The Curse of Google

I just came across a post claiming that blog’s readership consists of

three of us, a couple of our friends on occasion, that person who runs Safe Libraries, people who stumble upon specific posts when Googling, and the YA authors who Google themselves.

Now given that I got to that blog because I was googling Scott (husband-googling surely isn’t as egregious as self-googling, right?) this made me wonder how many other blogs have readership that breaks down that way. And how do those who read and write about books on their blogs feel knowing that certain authors are likely to come across those discussions?

I can tell you that I am deeply weirded out when a writer comments or emails me after I mention their book even though several times it’s led to excellent exchanges and even friendships. It’s one of the reasons I only bag books that are written by dead people (take that, Herman “bores my arse off” Melville and Henry “creepy sexist loser” Miller!) or where I reveal neither the title nor author and disguise the plots. Because for us delicate writers reading a bad review is like being stabbed through our very hearts.

Also the one very slightly negative thing I ever wrote about a book on this blog elicited a long email from the author explaining why I was completely wrong. This person was not a YA writer. The book was non-fiction and the author well-known. The whole thing made me feel really uncomfortable.

So what about those of you who write less than positive reviews? How do you feel about the authors reading your words of dissatisfaction? Are you tempted to post your bad reviews of Moggle’s Baby by Ustinej Labelisterai or Squinting at Arkansas by Hojn Eergn just so you can bag ’em in peace?

Does knowing that self-googing writers might come across what you say about their books affect what you write? And how do you feel when an author comments on your blog? Even if it’s just to say “thank you” for a good review? Does it make you shudder and scream, “Stop googling yourself and go write! Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do for a living?! Leave me alone!”


  1. Rachel Brown on #

    i value frank book discussion for readers (many of whom are also writers) over the possible hurt feelings of writers who might or might not ever find my post dissing their book. (And if they do, the comments may well be full of people saying hey! I loved that book!)

    all the same, if i know the author personally, i won’t publically say i hated their book. i do feel comfortable reviewing books by authors i know if i liked it but thought it had some flaws, ie, “a fantastic read except for the draggy bit in venice that ought to have been cut.”

  2. sara z. on #

    It depends. I usually only comment on blogs that mention me if they are in my regular daily feed of blogs. Like, your blog is in my feed so I read it whenever there’s a new post and it feels natural to comment. But if I find one via self-Googling, I usually refrain.

    A couple of years ago I blogged about a book I was reading by someone I didn’t know, someone not YA. He must have self-Googled, then sent me an email saying something like “Hope you enjoy it.” We kept up a correspondence and he ended up blurbing my book. So that worked out.

    But I would NEVER, like, rebut someone who didn’t like my book (or even acknowledge I’d read the post…that seems sad). And the whole deal does make me unwilling to post anything negative about a book. It’s weird. It’s probably not good for the community that we can’t really criticize (or we choose not to for social reasons).

  3. Justine on #

    Rachel: Me too! I love seeing vigorous debate about books and I know it’s wimpy of me that I will not publicly state my feelings about books I will privately bag.

    “Draggy bit in Venice”?! How could you say that!? That was by far the best bit in my book!! You hate me, don’t you?

    Sara Z: It’s probably not good for the community that we can’t really criticize (or we choose not to for social reasons).

    Yes and no. I do think as a YA author if you’re up front about hating certain YA books and they happen to be very popular or prize winners, you run the risk of looking like you’re majorly suffering from sour grapes. Ya know? It’s a tricky business.

  4. Patrick Shepherd on #

    I keep a link to my Amazon reviews on my blog, but I rarely put identifiable not-so-nice comments about a book’s quality on the blog itself (though I will frequently comment about some of the ideas an author presented in his book). Nowadays authors can comment about my review on Amazon, which at least keeps some kind of separation between the two forms of writing, and comments on Amazon are more likely to focus on just the review, and not other comments about who knows what.

  5. cofax on #

    I occasionally discuss books I’ve been reading in my LJ, although I hesitate to call them formal reviews, like what Micole and Oyceter write. Usually there’s no problems with it, but a few years ago I wrote a commentary about a new novel by someone I knew tangentially online (FoaF), in which I described what I liked and what I didn’t like about the novel. It was, in effect, a mixed review.

    I was really discomfited when the author showed up and *argued with me* about my interpretation. I was even more discomfited when she later put a link to my review on her own blog, claiming that the review was entirely negative.

    I’ve been very cautious since then about any public criticism, and frankly a bit disgruntled about writers who get into arguments with readers and reviewers. I know that it can hurt to see a bad review, or worse an unfair one, but I think it’s, well, unprofessional. The writer has had the opportunity to make her case: now the power is in the hands of the readers, and the writer just has to deal.

    So yes, I do want them to leave me alone, unless it’s a good review, in which case I’m happy to talk about the book (and have done).

  6. Justine on #

    cofax: I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Arguing with reviewers is spectacularly lame and, as you say, unprofessional. And what is the author really arguing? That the reviewer doesn’t hold the opinion they’ve just said they hold? How arrogant!

    If someone don’t love your books nothing you can see will make them suddenly change their mind. Arguing about it will only make them dislike the books more and go from not liking a book to actively disliking an author. A crappy result for everyone.

  7. shara saunsaucie on #

    Oooh, I’ve never commented here, but I couldn’t resist this post.

    I started up a reading journal on LJ (I give as my website) back in 2006 for my own sake. I’d started a grad school program where I had to write reading journals of my assigned reading, and my logic was if I wrote reading journals of EVERYTHING I read, then the assignments wouldn’t be so bad. I was right, but it had other benefits: I retain what I read, and I have a great record of what authors I read then.

    Silly me thought me and my friends and colleagues would read the blog, so I didn’t think that an author would google him/herself and stumble upon a review.

    Then I ripped into a particular book. And the author in question, i found out later, is a CHRONIC self-googler. He commented to defend a SINGLE moot point in my review, and then implied that I just wasn’t smart enough to “get” his book.

    Of course, the blood drained out of me. And then I replied as professionally as possible, saying that even the most perfect work of art will be criticized by someone, and that I was not this author’s target audience. I also ripped apart his defense of the moot point, because it was one of the two things that set me off about the book.

    He never replied.

    Said author has done this to other people I know, but only for bad reviews. I have yet to see him reply to a GOOD review to thank said reviewer, and I’ve actually written one since the previously mentioned incident.

    What I learned from the whole thing was this: authors will find my reviews. Big deal. The most I can do is be as professional as possible while being as honest as possible (my policy isn’t to slam the author, but to instead review it like I’m critiquing the work, which isn’t entirely fair to a published book, but I’m evil), and if something REALLY gets my goat, to wait a few days before posting that particular review.

    And I’ve gotten other author comments. It always makes me feel weird, because I’m always worried an author is going to pick a fight, but I find it says more about the author than it does about me. I’m doing this for my own benefit, and for anyone else who, for some reason, trusts my opinion about possible reads. And hell, I’ve had people WANT to read books I’ve given a negative review over, so it can’t be that bad.

    So for the time being, I’m going to keep trucking on. I’ve established a delightful friendship with a favorite author who found one of my reviews of her books, so it’s been worth it. 🙂

  8. Sheryl on #

    Well, until this post we used to have only 3 people reading our blog . . . 🙂

    It took a while before I realized that authors search for themselves online. I guess I just imagined them being so successful and busy writing that it wouldn’t even cross their minds. But I love it when an author comments! (although I’ve never had one say anything negative yet)

  9. Holly on #

    John Green actually found our blog by googling himself and that led to a very fun author interview. If I was an author, I would totally search for myself daily.

    Also, there have been a few negative book reviews on our blog about very alive YA authors’ books. We don’t really self-censor just because that author might read what we wrote. I figure Meg Cabot has so many people boosting her confidence that she won’t be too devastated that some lowly librarian didn’t love her last book.

  10. sara z. on #

    Justine – you’re right. If you’re an author and you comment negatively about books in your same market, you do risk looking like a jealous ass who can’t just let it go and focus on your own work. Maybe we can save the deconstruction for private conversations and gatherings rather than putting out there for the whole world and permanent record.

  11. Justine on #

    Shana: Welcome! Always lovely to have new folks around.

    What I learned from the whole thing was this: authors will find my reviews. Big deal. The most I can do is be as professional as possible while being as honest as possible

    That’s what I hate most about authors showing up to argue. It puts people who read and write about books (like us) on the defensive.

    I wish more authors would understand that reviews aren’t about them. They aren’t for them. In a strange way they have nothing to do with writers. It’s about that particular reviewers relationship to that particular book at that particular moment in time. And it’s mostly for other readers.

    So it makes me sad to think that author’s obsessive self-googling is affecting the way people on their blogs talk about books.

    Sheryl: Sorry! Fortunately my readership ain’t that big either.

    I guess I just imagined them being so successful and busy writing that it wouldn’t even cross their minds.

    Hah! One of the most famous writers I know is the most obsessive self-googler.

    Holly: That John Green! What a trouble maker!

    I figure Meg Cabot has so many people boosting her confidence that she won’t be too devastated that some lowly librarian didn’t love her last book.

    You’d be surprised! I’m not speaking for Meg Cabot—never met her—but I’ve known best-selling super-popular writers who are devastated by what’s been said about their books. I also know writers who aren’t selling very well who honestly don’t care what reviewers say. You never can tell.

    Well, except that the vast majority of writers I know are bothered by bad reviews. Especially when they’re already feeling low. But, you know what? that’s our problem not the reviewers!

  12. Oyce on #

    When I first starting writing up books, I wasn’t Google-able and had a teeny audience, so I didn’t really think about authors showing up. After a while, even though individual authors didn’t comment on my posts, the amount of authors on LJ made me feel a little weird. I consciously decided that I was going to keep writing up negative reviews, though knowing that people might stumble across it did change my tone a little (i.e. I’d cite more from the book to support my “OMG I hated this and chucked it at a wall!” rants).

    I’ve written several posts in which I’ve just torn into books. I’d like to think that I’m fair and ground my critique in the text and don’t insult the author (ha!), but I seriously doubt that I live up to that standard all the time. And I have critiqued authors in that I’ve looked across the body of their work and noted that similar (troublesome) themes keep appearing.

    So far I haven’t gotten into giant arguments with any author yet, though I am sure it’s only a matter of time. (Right now I am paranoid about Bill Willingham and Stephanie Meyer showing up and yelling at me.)

    The thing is, having an author argue back with me in my comments generally makes me respect them less. I do respect their comments about authorial intent, as I am not a mind-reader and things like that are good to know, but I feel that if I am reading something in the text, authorial intent isn’t enough to say that my reading is wrong. Which is not to say that I’m not wrong — I’ll just listen more if the argument is taking place largely from the text ;).

    And while I still am startled any time an author drops by in my comments, I have to say, pretty much all of them in my LJ have been incredibly polite and just leave a small “Thank you” or post a link to it in their blog without much commentary.

    In conclusion, I feel conflicted about negative reviews because I dislike getting into arguments in comments, but I continue to do them because I blog about books for potential readers, not for the authors. Also, I still post rants about books with sketchy politics because I feel it’s important to call people out on that. (As a side effect, thanks to all the race posts from last year, I am less bothered by flames now and more willing to hold to my point! Yay?)

  13. Justine on #

    Oyce: As a side effect, thanks to all the race posts from last year, I am less bothered by flames now and more willing to hold to my point! Yay?

    Well, yay for us who read and love your lj. I love your posts on race and find them incredibly useful. I’m grateful they’re there to read and would hate it if you pulled your punches.

    Plus you have on occasion let rip at books I would love to tear apart. Thank you! And when I disagree with you that’s kind of fun too. (I think you’re way wrong on the fourth vol of Emma fer instance. Way wrong! I love Emma and William! Those last few pages were so hot!)

  14. shara saunsaucie on #

    So it makes me sad to think that author’s obsessive self-googling is affecting the way people on their blogs talk about books.

    Well, in that particular case, me and a few other people I know have decided to not spend a single penny on that writer’s work ever again. If he’s going to act that way, we’re not wasting money on him, no matter how good his next book might be.

    I do sometimes seek out an author and let them know of a positive review I’ve done of their work. I figure it can’t hurt, unless they’re friends with someone whose book I wasn’t fond of. 🙂 So far, so good. 🙂

  15. Malcolm Tredinnick on #

    On the rare occasion that I have reviewed books on my blog I’ve been more concerned that potential readers will stumble across the posts via Google or Yahoo (hmm … meta-question; does the verb form of “google” allow for using Yahoo’s search engine?) and so don’t want to ruin the books, by giving away critical plot points, even inadvertently. Ruining the surpise of a book I enjoyed for another reader would make me sad.

    The odds of an author stumbling across the review hasn’t really been significant, but only because it’s about the same chance as anybody you write about finding themselves via Google searches. It’s going to happen from time to time.

  16. Jennifer on #

    As a bookblog blogger, it does weird me out when name-Googling authors come on over. (I actually hate Googling yourself in general. I haven’t Googled myself since around 1998, and I do NOT plan on doing it ever again.) If I gave their book a good review all is well, but one author I gave a real stinker of a review too and she was very, very upset in the comments. I apparently stabbed her in the heart because I said her MC was acting stupidly (I’m sorry, but she WAS! I could not dress that up nicely in any way!) and she said she hated characters like that herself. I can’t help but think, “um, why did you write one?” *sigh* That was not a fun day. I hate hurting someone’s feelings so badly, but…man, I couldn’t even justify how that character managed to stay alive in that book. I think she could have done better and damned if I know why she didn’t.

    I kind of want to go read another of her books again (not in that series though), but am afraid of what would go down if I mentioned doing so. Gah.

    If I ever get published I am NOT going to look for or read my reviews. I think I’d just go nutters.

  17. Diana on #

    the only time I ever let on that I’ve googled my way on to a blogger’s website where they are talking about my book is when they say they liked it. Then I thank them for reading, because, well, I’m grateful! I’m grateful that they bought the book and read it and mentioned it on their blog. I’m happy they liked it. But it’s not my job to respond to bad reviews or to criticism in general.

    Like Justine, I have decided not to talk specifically about books I don’t like anymore. Several years ago, I posted about a book I’d read. It was a mixed review, and the author apparently read it. well, ever since, she has made a point of disagreeing with me on every single point I’ve ever made on any list that we are on, and making many, many snide comments besides. I don’t have time for that crap.

  18. cherie priest on #

    I’ll see your vanity googling and raise you an automatic google notice email when I’m mentioned anywhere on the intertubes! So yeah, I keep track of it. And when I find people who’ve been kind, I stop and thank them. When I find unfavorable reviews, I shrug and remember that I can’t win ’em all, and that I can’t please everyone, and I go on with my day.

    (Read: I sulk for as long as it takes me to get through a half pint of Ben & Jerry’s, then I go out and find a good review to console myself.)

    Once, though, I posted a tepid review — not bad, but not great, and with a legitimate complaint — for a nonfiction book, and the author tracked me down to whine at me and beg me to change the review. This was a guy who was on the nonfiction bestseller list at the time, and was nominated for a Stoker, for chrissake! It’s not like I was doing him any harm by pointing out the problems with his citations (read: there weren’t any. And it was a reference volume.).

    Anyway. Yeah.

  19. Justine on #

    Jennifer: If I ever get published I am NOT going to look for or read my reviews. I think I’d just go nutters.

    That sounds great in theory. And I’ll admit right now that I’ve pretty much stopped reading reviews of my books for just that reason.

    However, authors often get asked for pull quotes (the good bits from reviews) and more and more prominent blogs and online journals are starting to carry weight. For example, my agent was ecstatic when I got a great review on boingboing and bookslut (to name a couple of examples).

    I’ve found myself in the position of having to trawl around the intramanets for reviews because most often your publisher does not keep track. So sometimes googling yourself really is part of your job.

    Diana: More proof that some writers be completely barking mad! Not to mention totally unprofessional! Let it go already! Sheesh. And if that’s the way they react to a mixed review how are they going to cope with out and out bad?

    Cherie: Which proves my point about even bestsellers being loopy about this stuff.

    And, yes, private sulking is the best response. Or moaning with your best friends. I have one friend who prints out and burns her bad reviews. (Hmmm, that’s kind of environmental vandalism, ain’t it?) Do whatever you have to just don’t air your hurt feelings in public!

  20. Dawn on #

    I think that if any author actually commented on my blog, good or bad, that would be amazing. Right now I really believe that only a couple of my friends comment on my blog, which is fine. It’s really just a place for random thoughts and rants, and if I really love a book (or hate, actually) I’ll honestly post what I think about it. Usually, I only post good things about the books I read, mainly because if I’m reading it, I probably think it’s a good book. I’m a very picky reader. After giving a book a fair chance (at least halfway through) and I’m still completely bored by it and the only reason I’m reading is because I’m still trying to give it a chance, I simply just take it back to the library. Probably in all of my reading life, there have only been three or four books I’ve really actually HATED. One of them, (I don’t even remember the title or author now, but probably because my subconcious is still ticked) was a really good book up until the very end. The romance was great, it had fantasy elements, and I was loving it. And then everything crashed and burned at the end and because of that, I DESPISED the book. I’m a big person on endings. People can die, people can never get back together…but please make it work! Another book I really disliked was My Antonia by Willa Cather. I had to read it for school, so I really couldn’t blame the book. It was the forced reading of a boring book that made me hate it more. I understand that reading negative reviews is like a stab to the heart, I feel the same way when I hear or read things that I dislike about what I’ve written. But my blog is my personal space, and where I feel free to tell my opinion. I’m not going to restrain myself from saying what I want to say, and on the flip side, I welcome disagreement and discussion. In some aspect, authors are kind of like actors. They face a lot of rejection before success sometimes and it’s just inevitable. Sometimes a hard skin and having a firm belief in yourself is something that you need to keep pushing through. Not everyone will like what you do.

  21. Dawn on #

    sorry my comment was so freakishly long!

  22. holly black on #

    I try hard not to post in the blogs of people that are reviewing my books (unless I already know them) because I do think it inhibits the conversation.

    And I have sworn off self-googling! It is the work of the devil!

  23. Diana on #

    oh cherie, I have the google alerts, too. I count that as self-googling without all the hassle. Also, I have the opportunity to look at the excerpt and if it’s not good, to choose not to go to the site and read the whole thing.

  24. Rebecca on #

    i have to say that i do worry about being googled, whether it’s authors or, um, people who’ve pissed me off, or something like that, even though it’s probably not all that likely a scenario. so i learned to be really careful what i write, and that goes for the pseudo-reviews i do as much as for anything else. (not that i’m perfect at it.) i think i’ve written about 1.5 formal book reviews ever, so i’m not too worried on that front. i do talk about the books i love or which i’m currently reading. and there are times when i have really disliked a book and i’d have loved to rant about it on my blog. but i don’t, for all the reasons mentioned in the other comments. if you absolutely have to rant about a terrible book, the friends-lock on livejournal is your friend. 😛

    i don’t have reservations about giving constructive criticism to someone who has asked for it, and in fact, i actually enjoy doing that, b/c it’s a much less formal and more personal way to discuss what i liked and disliked about a book. otherwise, i know how much even the tiniest bit of negativity can hurt and i’m afraid of doing that to someone else (whether it’s a legitimate complaint or not). i do wish it weren’t so. i’d like to talk freely about the books i read. but given that i will hopefully have people writing reviews about my stories someday, i’d just as soon avoid any possible confrontation. i feel kinda lame and cowardly saying it like that, but yeah.

  25. Maggie on #

    I don’t write any reviews unless they’re good ones. The books I don’t like, I just don’t write about, as I’m similar to you in that I would not want to stab a knife in any other author’s heart.

  26. alternatefish on #

    I’ve only just started doing book reviews on my blog, and I had to say pretty bad things about a recent read. Two days later someone got to my blog by googling the title, and I really hoped it wasn’t the author. It was a pretty non-famous book, so I can see it making an author sad…

    I feel like it’s kind of a credibility issue, though. I mean you aren’t going to like every book you read, and if you selectively review only the ones you like you aren’t going to be believable. Also by explaining why you don’t like books, readers can understand how you think when you review books and better decide if the book is right for them. I try to review books in a descriptive way so the reader doesn’t have to have my exact taste to know if they’ll like the book or not.

    When I become a hugely famous best-selling author, I may stop doing reviews. Karma thing.

  27. Core on #

    It is hard to have a thick skin and open mind about anything you create, be it art, science or children. We invest so much of ourselves that it is very difficult to accept criticism without taking it personally. While I can see a value in posting criticism, I certainly understand your hesitation in doing so. As a rule I do not post reviews or comments that are largely negative. For one thing, I just don’t want that much negativity in my life. For another, if I find so little redeeming in a book I am not likely to have read enough of it to give an informed opinion.

    You asked if what we write would be affected by what other say. I am not published and I don’t believe my writing is ready for publication. The vast majority of what I have written has never even been shared with anyone. I am trying to change that, because I think the answer should be yes. What other people say should change the way I write because it will help me become a better writer. I figure it doesn’t matter if you are a novice or a venerable master; there is always room to grow.

    On the plus side for my ego/self esteem, even as I put more of myself out there, I don’t have the patience to Google myself. Sharing a name with a former child actor does keep me well into the bottom ranking on Google.

  28. jonathan on #

    the one that threw me was when i made a throw away comment that i was reading someone’s book, and six months later they told me they’d been checking in again and again to see what i thought of it. i didn’t even know they read the blog.

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