(Image courtesy http://xkcd.com)
by J.D. Rhoades
By now I’m sure you’ve heard the story:
named Deborah Anne McGillivray writes a romance series about
beautiful hot blooded noblewomen with names like Aithinne and Tamlyn and studly Knights
with names like ‘The Black Dragon" and such as that. Not my usual
cuppa, but that’s not important to this story.
After reading the second book in the series, a reader named Reba Belle goes to Amazon.com and writes a three star review, which is actually pretty mild. I mean, check it out…we’ve all had worse.
McGillivray (hereinafter referred to as DAM) makes her first mistake.
She goes on the Amazon.com site and starts arguing with Reba in the
Now, I mean, really. What is the
point of that? Does DAM expect Reba to suddenly have a Road to Damascus
moment and go "Holy Shit! You’re right! This book is the greatest work
of literature in the English language!" Ain’t gonna happen, ma’am,
Then, things go from odd to
bizarre. DAM apparently writes to her Highland Press author group and
claims to have, and I quote, Reba’s "name, her husband’s name, her
children’s names, her grannies and great grannies name. Her address
phone number and email lol – quite interesting." She demands that other
group members "vote this bitch down", i.e. rate her review as
"abusive", which apparently causes Amazon to auto-delete them without
even reading them.
Okay, so there can be
no mistake and no misinterpretation of what I’m about here, let me
state some things which I consider absolutely without question: DAM may
be a lovely woman if you meet her in person, but what she did was
freaking psychotic. If someone flames you on the Internet, it’s a
natural reaction to hit back. God knows I’ve done it enough. But
searching out someone’s personal info and threatening to use it against
them over a lukewarm book review is nuts. Cuckoo. Bat-shit crazy.
mean, I’m not saying collecting someone’s personal info is always
wrong, but that sort of thing should be saved for when someone’s
threatening or harassing you or your friends. I’m just saying.
here’s the thing: I know there are some readers who sincerely just
don’t care for a book, and they and their opinions deserve to be
treated with respect. But (and I know there are certain elements who
are going to flame me for this) there are some people out there in the
Interwebs who are just nucking futs–insane dysfunctional geeks who
are going to hate you for obscure reasons, no matter what, and who are
going to post the meanest thing they can think of because their
anonymity keeps them from getting a bop in the nose. How do you tell
Obviously, the best
response is to play it safe. Assume everyone you see is sane and
sincere. Say "thank you for your input," if you say anything at all,
and move on. I also try to hold in my head certain basic principles:
Whatever you do, somebody isn’t going to like it.
The Internet gives everyone who has access to it a voice.
People who are angry, disgruntled, or, as I said, just plain nuts are
more likely to write about it, especially on the Internet.
Therefore, you can expect more bad Internet reviews than good ones. If
you’re getting more good than bad, you’re beating the odds. Rejoice.
least that’s what I try to do. But what is it about Internet reviews
that makes it so hard to resist the temptation to bite back? Patricia
Cornwell once asked her fans via her website
to go to Amazon and post positive reviews because, she said, "she had
reason to suspect that someone (or a group of someones) might be
mobilizing people to attack me through Amazon and Barnes and Noble,
etc., to hurt my sales and reputation." Said someone or group of
someones, she hypothesized, might include the Bush Administration and
the Billy Graham family (with whom she’d been friends for years).
Uhhh…what? A few years ago, Anne Rice stirred up a fuss by not only
responding, but by posting her home address on Amazon.com
and offering a cash refund to Amazon reviewers who didn’t like BLOOD
CANTICLE. Now, I’ll grant that it’s got to be pretty hard not to want
to respond to reviews with titles like "What’s that I smell? Another
piece of first draft drivel?" and "I WANT TO BURN THIS THING!" But
posting your home address–well, see "nucking futs," above.
In the long run, it’s just not smart to attempt to bite back. As Tess Gerritsen recently discovered to her chagrin, there’s a certain subset of bloggers, reviewers and commenters for whom every amateur review, blog post or comment, no matter how wrongheaded it may be, is above questioning by the ink-stained wretch who spent months of his or her life creating the work. If said wretch doesn’t just grin and bear it, or if, like Tess, they even make a joke about it, they’re alleged to be "demeaning and offensive to readers" and/or they’re accused of thinking readers "are smart enough to spend money on your books but not smart enough to offer reasoned critiques."
It’s an odd form of reverse elitism where everyone can comment except the author who wrote the work , but there you are. The customer may not always be right, but that’s the way to treat ’em.
issue this raises, though, is: if the Amazon review and
rating system is apparently so easily gamed, is it of any use any more?
If you can mobilize a relatively small number of your buddies to take
down bad reviews, or conversely to flood the place with good ones, of
what use are they? (Not that I’m trying to discourage my friends from going to Amazon or
Barnes and Noble and saying lovely things about my books, mind you. If and only if, the spirit moves you, please, feel free, and do so with my thanks).
All that said, I bet we’re all still going to read them.
how about you? Writers, do some of your Amazon or other Internet
reviews make you want to hunt the reviewer down and bop them right in
the nose? Have you ever had trouble resisting the temptation to at
least post back? Is that from sincere respect for others’ opinions or fear of retaliation?
And readers, knowing what you know now, do you really
put any stock in Amazon reviews anymore?