If you've read a lot of my articles and advice column answers over the years, than you've probably noticed there are a few web sites which I tell self-published authors to steer clear of completely or to use with caution, however I never really went into much detail on why I say this, which has resulted in the following question frequently being asked:
"Why do you tell self-publishers to avoid the absolutewrite.com forums? I've heard it is the best forum for writers, why would you tell writers to stay away from it?"
Along with it's "sister" question:
"Why do you tell self-publishers to avoid the GoodReads discussions? I've heard it is the best place to promote my book, why would you tell me to stay away from it?"
AbsoluteWrite and GoodReads are both great places for writers, I never said they were not. Both places are vast sources of information, however, there is a serious issue on both sites with SELF-PUBLISHED authors being violently assaulted by other members and more disturbingly: by the moderators themselves who often instigate these horrendous personal attacks. Do note that the word "self-published" is key here. If you are not a self-published author, than you will be treated as an equal by other members. It is ONLY self-published authors who have ever run into the trouble described on this page.
Let's have a look at each site individually, starting with mega-giant super forum Absolute Write's Water Cooler. Absolute Write's Water Cooler is a place you seriously want to avoid if you are a self-published author. Over the years THOUSANDS of self-published authors have fled Absolute Write's Water Cooler in tears and terror. Not a few isolated instances, not dozens, not hundreds, but literal thousands of self-published authors have been subjected to the most horrendous flame attacks and trolling assaults I have ever seen on ANY forum anywhere, any topic. (Keeping in mind that I am an actively posting member on more than 300 forums, including the super-mega-giant ProBoards Support with it's more than 3 million active members.)
Many years ago, back when I was a highly active member on the forums (cir 2004 - 2009), AbsoluteWrite was a small site with a couple hundred members. The environment was warm and chummy, with folks bouncing ideas off each other and sharing stories of "here's how I did it". It was a tiny site run and managed by one author and moderated by a few friends. It was quaint and peaceful and the trolls were kept at bay and no member needed to fear their posts would come under attack.
The site got bigger and bigger and around 2007ish new owners took over the place, moderators (who bragged of being "SuperModerators swinging chainsaws") were now complete strangers unknown to the owners, people who simply volunteered for the job of "eating trolls" as they so jokingly put it. That's when the trouble first started, see the moderators were all traditionally published or as they so arrogantly put it "trade published" authors, boasting top-quality agents, and bragging of high sales from huge mega giant publishers, which seemed a good idea at first, but soon all hell broke lose on the forums as any member claiming to be self-published fell under heavy fire from these mods who were claiming that no self respecting author would ever stoop to what they termed as "the shady scam artist tactics" of self-publishing or working without an agent.
(Check the new member guidelines, where they boldly proclaim they will ban any member who dares call them "traditional published" and the rant about how they are "trade" not "traditional" and only idiots and stupid self-publishers would think to call them "traditional" published authors.)
Soon every self-published, small press published, or unagented author found themselves blacklisted, issued warnings, or banned from the forums for no reason other than "you don't deserve to call yourself a REAL author, you're just a self-published scumbag" (the actual words moderators wrote in the emails to these members.
The whole thing was swept under the rug by the owners, who claimed it was a misunderstanding on the part of the mods, pointing out that the site featured an entire section devoted to self-publishing.
(Yes, yes, it does. And the threads there are frequently attacked by "trade published" authors bragging they are better than people on this section of the forum. And I will point out that this forum is MASSIVE, with 70 sections all aimed at "trade" authors, and the self-pubbing section is tacked on to the very bottom of the forum added as an after thought, to bring the self pubbers back to the forum after first banning them. I will also point out that the self-pubbers are kept corralled in this one section and if they venture out into the rest of the forum they are immediately chased back into their tiny corral at the bottom of the page, by massive waves of attacking trade authors.)
Self published authors got their accounts back but few dared returned. Once bitten twice shy.
The environment grew more hostile as each year passed, with the super egos of "professional" authors, posting endless hate filled rants on every thread started by "self-published trash". If the poster being attacked hit the report button, the mods would land on the thread and lash out with even more hate, snidely chiding the "self-published idiot" who was "too dumb to write a book worthy of REAL publication".
Starting a thread asking the question "Should I consider self-publishing?" would result in mods lashing out hell fire and damnation, telling the poor question asker that they had been "brainwashed" and was being "force fed KoolAid" (a reference to JonesTown Mass Murder Suicide, insinuating that self publishers deserved to be murdered since they were too dumb to get published).
Name calling was nasty, and all was done in total disregard for the ToS which clearly stated that flame attacks, personal attacks, hate speech, and trolling would all result in banned accounts. Mods blaintenly flaunted the fact that rules didn't apply to them, than stated that they didn't apply to anyone who was "a REAL author" either.
In short the moderators of the Absolute Write Water Cooler would seem to be nothing more than elitist spoiled brats who get away with doing and saying whatever they want to any member they want, and make an alarming daily habit of lashing out horrendous personal (often religious and racial as well) attacks at self-published authors.
Side Note: If you write Christian, Inspirational, Spiritual, Mormon, or Pagan fiction or non-fiction, than DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES even attempt to mention this fact on Absolute Write's Water Cooler. The moderators flaunt the fact that they are self proclaimed "Christian hating Atheists" and have a serious hatred for anything perceived as religious.
Where are the owners while this is going on? Who knows. In spite of hundreds of thousands of active members, and dozens of spit-fire mods, the site appears to have been abandoned by the owners who stopped answering member pleas for someone to enforce the site's ToS and do something to get the insanely out of control mods under control. Basically the site has been left to the whims of psychotically hate filled mods, who many have questioned are they even the real mods at all or is this a team of hackers who simply highjacked and took over the site?
My advice? If you are a self publisher: read the site; search the forums for answers, read what other folks have said, but avoid asking any questions, avoid posting answers to questions, and don't even bother joining or creating an account. Heck, you won't have to read very many threads before you start to see just how nasty the anti-self-publisher environment is over there.
UPDATE: Added on September 19, 2013
In recent years, the overall environment of Absolute Write's Water Cooler has become generally more hostile to everybody. They are still extra hostile to self-publishers, but no longer is it only self-publishers under attack.
In the past year the
overall posts across the board have become very elitist and
holier-than-thou. New members are being attacked for nothing more than
creating an account (which is seen by long time members, and especially
the fire tonged moderators) as an outright invasion of private property.
New members are being belittled, bullied, treated like shit, and chased
off the message boards mere hours after creating their accounts.
A new thread started just this week had been written by a new member who had three super "evil" marks against her (according to mods and members).
#1 She had self-published a book.
#2 She had joined the forum to ask advice.
#3 She said she had given up on and fired an agent.
Within seconds of posting her thread asking for advice on what to do now that she had gotten rid of an agent that had steered her the wrong direction, she was attacked by 5 members and 2 mods. One of the first posts (written by a mod) lashed out at her calling her "anti-agent" and accusing her of being "more self published trash out to lure authors away from agents and legitimate publishers" and ending with a rant of "I'm telling".
Minutes later the mod ran to other boards on the forum posting multiple new threads announcing the arrival of a new member and crying out to "come to arms against this agent hating bitch".
Within an hour the thread by the new member was under heavy fire with several members simply posting and telling her "go home you anti-agent piece of trash, you don't belong here with us REAL authors". Each member was posting blind hatred, raving and ranting, and it was very clear that not a one of them read a word of her post at all.
The posts decrying her as anti-agent railed on for several hours, working themselves into a hate frenzy worthy of the Ku-Klux-Klan. And than suddenly another member came on and asked "But did you actually read her post? I can't find anything anti-agents in her question at all. What are you people talking about?"
Instantly the response back was "the bitch deleted it to deceive you and make you think we were crazy" and "yeah, more of those scam tactics used by self-publishers to deceive you."
FACT: I was watching this thread since the beginning. I saw what it said before anyone answered it. (I subscribe to Absolute Write's Water Cooler's RSS feed so that I can read the posts without having to head to their site.) I know for a fact that the original poster never said anything anti-agent at all. I know that she was basically in tears asking for help after having been scammed by someone who had pretended to be an agent when they were not.
FACT: Her original post was very long and would have taken at least 10 minutes to read.
FACT: The first poster was a mod who responded seconds after the post went up, and had clearly only read the title of the thread (which stated "Fired my agent, now what?"and not the post itself which told the full story.
FACT: The poster fell under attack, her thread receiving 30 hate filled posts in under 4 minutes after posting it, proving that not a single responder read her post at all, as it would have taken at least 10 minutes to read it.FACT:
When some one who was not a member of the galloping hate pose pointed out that what they were saying about the original post was simply untrue, they lashed out at that person accusing him of lying, than further attacked the original poster accusing her of having edited the post. Some accused her of changing the post and than using this second account to make them look stupid. They were next attacking both posters accusing them of being the same person with two accounts.
Other questions I have received on this topic include:
"You're right. Absolute Write's Water Cooler is a nightmare. I joined thinking they wouldn't do that to me. Boy was I ever wrong. Those people are crazy! They attacked me just like they attacked those other people. What can I do? I want to post on a writer's forum but I don't want to be in a war zone like that. Are there any friendly forums that are safe for me to join?"
Yes there is. National Novel Writing Month's NaNoWriMo Forum is extremely warm and friendly, and very welcoming to new members and self-publishers alike. (Btw, don't mention NaNoWriMo on Absolute Write's Water Cooler, they'll attack you for saying it's name and than lash out a belly full of why NaNoWriMo is the evilest place under the sun because it "promotes shitty writers and advocates writing crap" according to the Absolute Write's Water Cooler mods.)
While Absolute Write's Water Cooler is run by self-righteous armatures devoid of any knowledge of the site's rules and ToS, NaNoWriMo forums is run by professionals, people who know what they are doing, staff who are actually trained in human resources management, and people who are well versed in the rules and ToS of the site.
NaNoWriMo has a "No Trolls", "No Flamers", "No Hate Posting", "No Racial Slurs", "No Swearing" policy which is tightly enforced. Posts of this nature are deleted minutes after showing up. A "3 strikes you're out" rule is also enforced: post hate after being warned twice and your account is deleted.
Because the forum mods are always on their toes and doing the job they were hired to do, the NaNoWriMo forums are 100% troll-free. The site is so threat free, family friendly and inviting that school teachers promote it as one of the best sites for teen authors to visit, which has in turn resulted in the fact that now more than 100,000 of the forums active members are between the ages of 13 to 18.
Now entering it's 15th year, and boasting 500,000 ACTIVE members (averaging 30,000 online at any given time) the NaNoWriMo forum has become known as the #1 spot on the internet where writers of all kinds, published or unpublished, self-published or traditional published, to hang out and talk shop.
The best part of NaNoWriMo is you can ask for advice without fear of being told you are stupid, without fear of being attacked, without fear of being told you don't belong there for whatever high polluting reason.
Another common question I receive regarding Absolute Write's Water Cooler is:
"I was just at the Water Cooler and I've had it with their snotty nosed attitude. I'll never be good enough in their eyes. Who the hell died and made them God? They don't own me, they can't tell me what to do! So what if I self published a book? It's my book. It's my life. I've had it. I'm not going back to that place. Too many bad vibes. I get sick to my stomach every time I go there. What I want to know is, is there a place like The Water Cooler but is just for self publishers only?"
Yes. Yes there is. In fact there are two such places. Kindle KDP Forums and CreateSpace Forums. Both are targeted directly to helping self-publishers with every aspect of their career. Both of them are owned by Amazon.
You can find links to both places on this page. You have to click EACH of the "Get Started" buttons in order to join both forums individually. You will find no mention of either forum on that page, just a button telling you to get started on your ebook or your print book. Getting started means you create an account, and after you have created an account than you will be given a link telling you how to log into the forum. You are not required to publish a book on either Kindle or CreateSpace in order to join the forums.
I point out one quick note here: Amazon does little to moderate these forums and on occasion trolls and flamers are known to attack, it's rare, but it happens.
Frequently you will run into old members who are "fed up" with "answering newb questions that have already been answered" and will often respond to a new member's question with "Will you just use the search feature for crying out loud, it's right there in your face. Use it and stop asking questions we've already answered 500 times!"
If you are a new member, use the search function first, than if after reading all 500 threads on the topic you still haven't found your answer, start a new thread, but start it with: "So I used the search feature, and found lots of info, but nothing that really answered my question, so I was wondering if you could help me out with this..."
You'll start out on a better foot if you let them know you know how to use the search feature before asking questions.
Now moving on to GoodReads.
While the hostility on GoodReads has not yet reached the insanely overblown anti-self-publisher extremes seen on Absolute Write's Water Cooler, it is escalating at a rate which suggests it will not be long til it is as equally unsafe for self-publishers as Absolute Write's Water Cooler is.
While at Absolute Write's Water Cooler I say "Don't even bother to create an account", at GoodReads I say "Use your account with care". The problem at GoodReads is quite different than what is seen at Absolute Write's Water Cooler. Absolute Write's Water Cooler has flagrant, unjustified attacks on any author who dares admit to ever self-publishing, with most of these attacks instigated by the moderators. GoodReads however is not so mindless in it's attacks, and the attacks on GoodReads are by members not moderators.
The problem with GoodReads is also usually started by the author. While Absolute Write's Water Cooler is a site where writers talk about writing, GoodReads is a site where readers talk about reading. However some self published authors have abused GoodReads' book reviewing system, by spamming readers asking for reviews. This is a big no-no that will get your account banned. GoodReads is not the place to promote your book.
For the most part authors chatting with readers was going along fine, until the self-published e-book boom of 2010 - 2011. That's when the trouble on GoodReads started.
A flood of tens of thousands of self published Kindle authors (most of them one-shot-wonders, who did no formatting or editing and were passing off short novellas of 40,000 to 75,000 words as "novels" [novels are 120,000 words or more], that where dripping in typos and errors) landed on GoodReads all at once, and began to "self add" their books to GoodReads database (normally readers add a book after they have read it - it is a taboo no-no for an author to add their own title to the database).
Adding the books to the database was not a big issue, until those authors than began to contact every member on GoodReads with site wide emails saying: "Here's my book, please buy if off Amazon and tell me what you think!"
The annoyed readers would than leave 1star reviews saying "I didn't read this book, I just want to warn other readers to stay away from this spammer."
The author would comment on the review. The reader would comment on the comment, and next thing you know an all out battle between reader and author is going on.
This happened so many thousands of times to so many tens of thousands of readers, that a majority of them banded together in an "anti-self publisher protest". An angry mob of thousands of members began actively searching out self-published authors and back-lashed their books with not hundreds, but rather thousands of hate filled 1 star reviews. The herd continues attacking any book or author "perceived" as self published, whether they are or not. Many of the herd's members began petitioning GoodReads demanding a ban on self-published books in the database.
Things seem to have calmed down on GoodReads, but the herd rises up from time to time to lash out on any self-published author who posts in the groups and discussions with any mention of their book.
To be safe on GoodReads, never contact another member asking them to check out/buy/read/or review your book, and if you post on threads, never mention that you are an author, never mention your book, just be a reader among readers and talk about books you've read, forget that you are an author while roaming GoodReads and you'll do fine.
However I do frequently receive questions like this one:
"Is there an alternative to GoodReads where I can post my book and let people know it's out there?"
Not really. No. There are alternatives to GoodReads, yes. LibraryThing, headquartered here in Portland Maine, was the very first book database and was the inspiration for GoodReads and thus is very similar. However, like GoodReads if you start blasting your book in everyone's face, you'll receive a nasty reception from the members, most of whom are in fact librarians, as the site was originally open only to libraries. Anyone can join today, but librarians still dominate the membership.
Are there places to promote your book? A few, however, none that I'm aware of, which actually do the authors any good. As a general rule promoting your book online via groups, forums, etc, is not recommended and causes more harm to your reputation than anything else.