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Top Ten Things Authors Should Not Do at Amazon

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I meant to post my Top Ten Things a Publisher Can Do to Help Readers Spend Money this week but over the weekend, an author began to engage readers over at Amazon in a fairly combative manner over a three star, or average, review. I think it serves as a good illustration of just what not to do. I give you the Top Ten Things Authors Should NOT Do at Amazon, the short version:

1. Suggest that the reader does not have good reading comprehension.
Reader: It’s an average, historical read.

Author: but you mention a reason for your disappointment that would be historically inaccurate.

2. Suggest that a reader is only allowed to have a lukewarm opinion of a book if she has published a book. “Perhaps you would also like to show the rest of us how historical fiction should be WRITTEN! I look forward to reviewing your first novel, Lilly.”

3. Insult the readers by suggesting that their opinions are “knee jerk” and that they don’t have the good sense to appreciate work that the professionals do. “I hope you will reconsider your knee-jerk reaction one day. After all, many reviewers, including several professional book critics, have admired my writing tremendously.”

4. Invoke the name(s) of successful authors in the genre to buttress your opinions. “And I take very serioulsly (and to heart) something Jenny Crusie once said at a romance authors convention I attended — which is that trashing authors online is rude, not to mention, bad karma. “

5. Suggest that a reader giving an opinion about a book is tantamount to insulting the author’s child. “it would be the equivalent of stopping another mother on the street just to gloat, “my, you have an ugly baby!”

6. Ignore one’s own good advice to walk away from the encounter. “Let’s drop this, now and enjoy our holiday weekend.”

7. Call the readers a bunch of witches. “In attacking me like a coven, you’ve all missed your own point.”

8. Tell the readers to do something more constructive than read and write reviews. (and invoke another big name author if possible and get it wrong) “Why not then, channel that passion into your own manuscripts — seriously? I read somewhere that many years ago, before she wrote her first novel, Nora Roberts wasn’t too moved by the romance fiction on the market, and so she said to herself something along the lines of “heck, I can write as well as this, if not better.”

9. Complain about Harriet Klausner’s consistency. “Harriet Klausner posted the same exact review on BN.com and gave the novel 5 stars! What gives, Harriet??”

10. Post a glowing five star review for a fake profile that links to your bridal registry that was filled out in May of 2007. Then suggest that the reader who recognizes the reviewer is a bit, um biased (read: related to the author), is totally making things up. “You couldn’t possibly seriously think that only people who are related to me would post a good review.”

***

The Longer Version. I present to you the case study of Leslie Carroll or The One Where the Bridal Registry Did Her In.

The latest sad tale began when Reader Rebecca left a 3.0 out of 5 stars review of All For Love: The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson by Leslie Carroll on July 2, 2008. The review is a detailed examination of the book and the reader’s response toward the book. The review is so carefully constructed that it makes the book interesting despite the grade.

Author Amanda Elyot tells the story of a woman who grew up in near poverty and turned herself into a celebrity in late eighteenth century England. . . It’s quite a tale, going from rags to riches to love and abandonment, over and over again. For Mary longs to fall in love, but that elusive security always seems to vanish just as it’s nearly in her grasp. And she keeps struggling to survive with her daughter, turning to acting and writing to support them both, despite having to cope with a crippling illness.
. . .
While a great deal of the story would seem to improbable, but the story of Mary Robinson is quite true. Many of her works survived to this day, including the memoirs that she wrote at the close of her life, and what Amanda Elyot based most of her novel on. Told in first person, it’s a lively excursion through Georgian London, filled with plenty of witty talk, details of daily living and especially clothing, and quite a few insights into Mary’s own plight and that of women as well.

Ultimately, though, the book disappointed the reader

The reader is reminded continually that men of this time were perfidious louts, using their wives as not much more than breeding stock or a bank account. . . . And Mary? Instead of showing both of these ‘gentlemen’ to the door, instead pines away, and hopes that they will finally turn and be faithful to her. It’s this that ultimately ruined the book for me — I so wanted to see her develope some kind of backbone and give these men a good kick of the backside before slamming the door. . . .I was hoping for something more, but this breezy, chatty, gossipy novel really didn’t rise to the mark. That’s too bad, as it could have been much more in the hands of the author.
. . .
It’s an average, historical read. Three stars overall.

Within a day, Leslie Carroll aka Amanda Elyot responded and while it’s not the best example of a response, it could have died there.

Sorry the novel didn’t entirely work for you, Rebecca, but you mention a reason for your disappointment that would be historically inaccurate. Mary Robinson DIDN’T show her lovers the door and for me to have given her the sensibilities and decisions of a twenty-first century woman (or in fact any woman other than Mary Robinson) would have been to defile the events of her biography, something any historical novelist worth her salt would never do.

Rebecca took great pains to state the book was historical but that the manner in which the story was told wasn’t satisfactory to her. For example, Rebecca finds that the heroine lacked backbone but while Carroll initially states that Mary Robinson can’t be given “the sensibilities and decisions of a twenty-first century woman” she did fight back against the Prince’s abandonment. “She didn’t take his abandonment lightly at all! In fact she fought for what royal mistresses before her had always been given: an annuity, even after they had been dumped by their noble lovers,” writes Carroll. Obviously this fiestiness didn’t show itself within the pages for Rebecca.

Another reader responds to Rebecca’s review with the following:

Hum. I see overall that Elyot hasn’t improved since her first novel (Helen of Troy.) It’s too bad because she does write about intresting people and plots (especially the Jane Austen Actress sent back in time) but I could never finish her books after the first one. She makes good choices on what to write and then messes up the writing. Thanks for the heads up on this one.
PS- I see you’re close to the top 1000! I am too-heres hoping we both make it soon and show them how historical fiction should be reviewed!

Carroll can’t leave well enough alone. This is the part where I begin to half cringe and half shake my head in disbelief. Carroll assumes that the two reviewers are authors and starts striking back:

Perhaps you would also like to show the rest of us how historical fiction should be WRITTEN! I look forward to reviewing your first novel, Lilly. And all the rest after that, should you be fortunate enough to get published again.

Two other readers respond with the fact that they don’t really appreciate Carroll’s tart response to which Carroll replies with the standard “I’ve got lots of other people who love me.” Why not pay attention to those professionals then? Why care what a few readers at Amazon think?

Sorry about that, Misfit and YA Lib. I hope you will reconsider your knee-jerk reaction one day. After all, many reviewers, including several professional book critics, have admired my writing tremendously. So there are as many opinions in the world as there are people.

But things that smack of personal attacks should be avoided at all costs. And I take very serioulsly (and to heart) something Jenny Crusie once said at a romance authors convention I attended — which is that trashing authors online is rude, not to mention, bad karma. There are many books I have begun to read and couldn’t finish, and many more that I didn’t care for at all, but, being an author myself I am not comfortable, nor do I feel compelled, to share my opinion in a public forum. After all, it’s only mine, and it would be the equivalent of stopping another mother on the street just to gloat, “my, you have an ugly baby!” It’s an unnecessary and unpleasant encounter.

My comment to Lilly was not intended to be rude, but rather to encourage her to imagine the shoe being on the other foot. A problem with online communication is that the tone can often be misinterpreted.

Let’s drop this, now and enjoy our holiday weekend.

Oh, but if only Carroll would have taken her own advice. Instead, she keeps on responding:

In attacking me like a coven, you’ve all missed your own point. Just because a book can be not to your taste for whatever reasons, (and as you’ve said, all literary tastes differ); it does not automatically make the writing bad — or the author untalented. Constructive critique is welcome when it is indeed constructive, rather than a comment like “gee, she still can’t write.” I’m more interested in hearing what works for you in historical fiction. You’re all very passionate about historical fiction, which is fabulous, even if mine doesn’t personally float your individual boats; and you each have a good deal to contribute to a discussion about it, and probably have a lot of creativity and imagination as well. Why not then, channel that passion into your own manuscripts — seriously? I read somewhere that many years ago, before she wrote her first novel, Nora Roberts wasn’t too moved by the romance fiction on the market, and so she said to herself something along the lines of “heck, I can write as well as this, if not better.” And now she’s probably one of the wealthiest and most prolific women in our industry.

Actually, Carroll, I think Rebecca laid out pretty well what she likes and doesn’t like in historical fiction and unfortunately it isn’t your writing.

And Carroll doesn’t stop there. She takes umbrage with the fact that Klausner gives her a four star rating on Amazon and a five star rating at Barnes and Noble:

Harriet Klausner posted the same exact review on BN.com and gave the novel 5 stars! What gives, Harriet??

The coup de grace, though, is the mysterious five star review that appears on July 7, 2008, by La Riva Gauche. It is the only five star review for the book and it is the only review of La Riva Guache whose only identifying information is a List of a Bridal Registry for one Leslie Sara Carroll dated May 19, 2007. *

In sum, this is actually a fairly entertaining set of links and comments by a disgruntled author. It’s also a good illustration of what not to do at Amazon. At least delete the bridal registry if you are going to pretend to not be related to the author when giving a glowing five star review.

*This review has since been revised and now says it is written by the author’s husband after a reader’s unmasking. The exchange following the five star review is priceless because one commenter calls out the reviewer (pre edits) for being related and Leslie Carroll responds, totally disingenuously, “You couldn’t possibly seriously think that only people who are related to me would post a good review.”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

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