Scalzi encourages authors to post their 1-star Amazon reviews because, hey, it may sting, but it’s not the end of the world. What inspired this? Why, an author acting as if bad reviews are the end of the world! Not just by whining and complaining about them, but by actively harassing the reviewers and encouraging her readers, friends, and authors from her small press to do so as well. And, as if that’s not bad enough, she isn’t even going after a professional reviewer, but some poor Amazon reviewer. Just a regular person.
I thought Anne Rice was bad, but this is above and beyond.
It’s easy for me to sit here and say, “Oh you authors should calm down and stop whining!” because I don’t have a novel up on Amazon. I’ve also had to contend with very few bad reviews (because I haven’t published much that was reviewed at all, not because I’m super fantastic). Still and all, I hope that I have the sense and civility not to go careening after the bad reviewers with a virtual sledgehammer. In fact, many years ago I made a vow to have a good attitude about reviews and Amazon reviews in particular because of something I witnessed in another author.
I blogged about this back then, but my old journal now only exists in Bloggers servers. (I’m trying to decide if I want to import it into this blog. I doubt it would be at all useful). But the gist of it was this:
After my first World Fantasy I attempted to read all of the books that came in the free book bag. I was young, what can I say? One of the books was Prince of Ayodhya by Ashok K. Banker. I put it down after about 6 chapters because it just didn’t engage me. Too much set-up and introducing the huge cast of characters and not a lot of moving forward with an actual story. I went over to Amazon to post my review and found that there was a bit of a kerfuffle going on there between some reviewers and the author. I wrote at the time:
The author of the book has posted three (yes, three) reviews of his own. And they’re starred reviews, which I thought authors and publishers weren’t supposed to be able to do. (they were removed I don’t know how long ago, but there’s another one here. –T) The reviews are weird, too. One is a rebuttal of a bad review that is at once intelligent and also incredibly egotistical to the point of being comedic. Another is just a long list of praise for the book. And I do mean long. (It’s also one of the spotlight reviews, which I find highly suspect) The last is a note to Amazon – which he claims he didn’t want published, yet submitted it as a review – that asks Amazon to remove the review because it is obviously a malicious attack on his book, unfounded, by someone who didn’t even read it. And they should take it down because Amazon is in the business of selling books, right? So they shouldn’t allow bad reviews on their site because it would discourage sales.
Around this time I joined a mailing list of people I knew from the OWW and other related spheres. One of our members asked the group if she could invite Ashok in. They’d met during a con and shared a publisher (possibly an editor?) and she felt he’d fit in with us. We said yes, and I giggled behind my hand a little since I had been a bit WTF about him just a few weeks before. At the time, no one read my blog, anyway. He certainly hadn’t. Life went on.
Remember a few years back when something went wrong with Amazon Canada’s code and all of the reviews that had been marked “Anonymous” suddenly revealed the actual names behind them? And it became apparent that authors and/or their friends were going about giving themselves or friends positive reviews? Yeah, we all had a good chuckle about that. But in the course of discussing this on the list, Ashok lamented the Amazon review system and its many faults. Just anyone can put up a review! They can give negative reviews! And they don’t even have to have read the book! If they put up a bad review, it’s probably because they haven’t read it, anyway. Don’t they want to sell books! How stupid!
At this point I thought he was going to bring up the little scuffle he had with that other reviewer, but instead he said something like: “There’s a reviewer called fluidartist who gave my book a bad review and he didn’t even read it. It’s ridiculous! And if you look at all his reviews, you’ll see they’re all negative He just goes around giving negative reviews for no reason.”
Take a look at the URL of this website (or the Permalink, if you’re on LJ). Yep, he was talking about MY review.
I sat there wide-eyed for a long time because, firstly, I didn’t think my review was that bad. Secondly, I was trying to decide if I should say anything or not. Because my email at the time (and some of my emails now) came from fluidartist.com. It’s right there in every message, every reply. But Ashok hadn’t noticed. Everyone else did, though. And no one commented about it, on list. The thread just died.
I asked some of the others if I should say anything, but everyone told me it wasn’t worth bringing up if he hadn’t noticed. So, I didn’t. To this day I have no clue if he ever connected the two. No big reason for him to do so, as we weren’t close or friends or anything. Still.
It was just very strange to see how angry he was about what I considered a not all that horrid review. Certainly I’ve written worse. (Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon is still bleeding on the bookshelf, as is Master of None.) It left me feeling like authors need to have a thick skin. Not so thick that they can’t learn, improve, and admit to mistakes. But thick enough that random Amazon (or any other) reviews don’t send one over the edge.
I vowed never to be like that, if I could possibly help it. It’s also good to have role models in this regard. Though I suspect that Scalzi is not as level-headed, cool, calm, and collected about everything as he pretends to be, if he has nasty things to say about his negative reviews, he isn’t saying it on his blog. He hasn’t yet called me up to raise the pixel pitchfork in anyone’s general direction. In fact, most of the published authors of my acquaintance don’t do these horrid things. I respect them all the more for it. Sure, I know some people who are fakely aloof and passive aggressive about their negative reviews (“Oh, look at this bad review! Hahaha I don’t care. I REALLY DON’T CARE AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU BUT GO LOOK AND SEE HOW SILLY AND WRONG THEY ARE.”), but I try not to spend time around them.
More importantly, I try hard not to be them. Now, we’ll see how well I succeed when my first book comes out.