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I have been annoyed with GoodReads for a while now. Oh sure, it’s a great community for readers. For authors, not so much. At least not for me. It all started a couple of months ago when I accepted a seemingly harmless friend request from a new author.

Now, let me preface the rest of this post by saying that I did in fact make a conscious decision from the beginning to make my GoodReads profile an interactive free for all – meaning that I would accept any and all friend requests. I made this decision based on my loosely researched (and as I later discovered, erroneous) understanding of this very intriguing community. The risk to my privacy seemed to be minimal, and the audience is vast. And though I knew all about the bullies and the trolls, I was fairly certain that I had the savvy to steer clear of that kind of trouble. Besides, it makes good sense to go where the readers are. Right?

What I didn’t see lurking in the shadow was yet another kind of trouble – predatory purveyors looking for the opportunity to pfish the friend lists of other authors in order to market their own books. In some cases, including mine, these predatory purveyors are pushing even more poorly written low rent derivatives of 50 Shades of Gray by anonymous persons with generic and sometimes false identities, slapped into a downloadable format and sold on the cheap through blog sites or Amazon Kindle Direct. Cuz, you know, anyone can publish a book now and call themselves an author.

Let the reader beware and all that, I guess. And the author, too, for that matter. By the time I figured out what these predatory purveyors were up to, the damage was done and could not be undone. My many correspondences with the GR customer service folks resulted in little more than a few episodes of dangerously high blood pressure, but they also helped me better understand the beast I was wrestling.

GoodReads, for all their attempts to give appearances to the contrary, has no real gatekeepers. No one is minding the store, and what’s worse, that’s the way they want it. GoodReads is literally nothing more than a giant crowd sourced database curated by random members who are granted the status of “librarian” merely for the asking. Folks with little or no knowledge of legitimate publishing practices or consumer protection policies hold all the power, and claim that imposing even the most minimal standards is an act of censorship.

Everyone can do, say or promote pretty much anything they want without regard to their audience, and it is considered free speech. This sounds like fun to a lot of people. Anarchy usually does. But when we throw out all of the rules, people tend to get hurt. NO BOOK OR AUTHOR on GR is vetted before it is added to the database. Really. Let me say that again. NOTHING IS VETTED.

Like I said, reader and author beware. I could go on (and on) about my feelings on crowd sourced information and open access projects, but I’ll stick to the relevant point for this post: taking steps to protect your public identity is every bit as important as it is to protect your personal privacy.

Gates and boundaries are both prudent and necessary. If you haven’t already done so, dear author, it’s time to start putting some degrees of separation between you and the rest of the world.

Everyone is not your friend – not all people play nice in Cyberspace. Consider the potential consequences of unrestricted interaction before you engage, and then do so cautiously. Blindly accepting every friend request is a bad idea (and this goes for Face Book too). If you decide to do so, understand that there are risks. Big ones.

Fans are Better Than Friends – when it comes to your public life. With social media sharing sites like Facebook and GoodReads the lines between virtual reality and real reality are a bit too easily blurred. For your own sake, and the sake of your true friends and family, build two worlds for yourself – one in which you can safely engage with the people in your real life (i.e. family and other people you actually know), and one in which you can safely engage with the general public. Encourage readers and other interested folks to follow you (become your fan on GR or your FB fan site) rather than friend you.

Social Interaction Is Not (Necessarily) the Same as Social Media Marketing & Neither Guarantees Real Results  – one of the big draws to social networking is that it appears to be free advertising. But is it, really? In today’s social media world an investment of time and energy is generally considered equivalent to an investment of capital. There are people out there touting some very attractive metrics supporting this idea, but the concept of risk vs reward still applies. Just remember that while social media marketing may not cost you any money, there is still a price. You may be saving some cash, but you are still paying – with your valuable time, your precious credibility, and your priceless personal privacy. And you could risk it all and never sell a single book. It all comes down to making informed choices.

Just for fun, let’s do a little crowd sourcing right here. What’s your favorite social media platform, and why? Least favorite? Help another author out by sharing your success stories, and/or your spectacular failures!!