Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

When Online Reviewing Is No Longer Fun

Last week I wrote about some of the recent attempts to police reviews and control reviewers, culminating in Anne Rice’s petition aimed at having Amazon disallow pseudonymous reviews. When I first started participating in the online Romance community, there was a fair amount of backlash against critical reviewing from traditionally published authors. The book community was growing by leaps and bounds back then, though, and there seemed to be enough room for everyone to do their thing.

And it was fun. Sure, we complained about over-marketing and pressure by authors to “be nice.” Sure there were some alarming incidents in which authors went after readers or readers went after other readers on behalf of a favorite author. But book blogs were growing, readers were getting more opportunities to review books via NetGalley and other venues, and for the most part I think people felt like they could have honest, controversial discussions without fear of major reprisal.

Now, though, it feels like a lot of the fun around talking about and reviewing books has died. Although there has always been a large portion of the reader community hoping to get published themselves, there was, I think, a stronger sense of a reader community online. And we were united in our love of books. In fact, I think many of us looked forward with unabashed eagerness to the possibilities that self-publishing were going to bring to both authors and readers, because traditional publishing was not doing the best job of diversifying the genre fiction marketplace.

So there’s some sad irony in the fact that so much of the current reviewing woe is emerging from the self-publishing community. And although I would not define it as a self-publishing problem, per se, I find it even more frustrating that authors who know better than anyone how much being artificially limited can dull inspiration and creativity want to be so aggressively controlling over reader responses.

And yet, in the process of devising various strategies to give advantage to their books (what many call “gaming the system”), more than a few self-published authors are fueling the backlash against reviews that don’t fit a certain limited set of criteria (i.e. at least 4-star, only positive comments about the book, etc.). And to many of us, it’s become just another attempt to “game the system,” by manipulating the reader community into artificial, even coerced, cooperation. In other words, it has gone beyond the ‘good girls are nice’ rhetoric we’ve been fighting for so long in genre communities, and into a space where reviews are almost seen as author property, or at least as something owed authors.

For example, a commenter on my previous post shared her experience:

I’m on a lot of author email lists, simply because I like to read, and hey, authors give stuff away sometimes. Happy coincidence. :) Twice in the last month, I have received announcements from authors about recruiting for new “street teams” of reviewers. Both announcements were similarly worded, and asked that anyone who wanted to be on the street team be willing to either post a five-star review or email the author directly and say why they couldn’t do that. I found the requests offensive, and emailed both authors to say so, politely, of course. Both replied with carefully worded denials – that they were specifically talking about pre-pub ARCs and both stated emphatically that anything less than five stars would hurt them in the ratings. That left me wondering where exactly they thought the reviews would get posted. Amazon doesn’t allow reviews on books until the publication date.

On the author side, note this discussion regarding a book publicist who promises to place his clients books on various lists – for a substantial fee – and who is now under fire for being a “scam artist.” There is extensive discussion of this individual’s alleged credentials and the problems one author had with his service, but nowhere in the discussion is there any questioning of whether this is an ethical practice to begin with. It reminds me a lot of the justifications for paid-for-positive reviews – that they’re a normal part of publicity, similar to the quid pro quo that traditional publishers have relied on for years with author blurbs and recommendations. However, there is a broader question here about whether any of that is ethical, and how, when you have dozens, maybe hundreds, of authors attempting to advantageously position their own books, how any of these practices fare, and how far authors need to go (especially as time wears on and the marketplace becomes more crowded) to gain “success,” however that is to be defined.

In my last post I mentioned the possibility of long-term, systemic research on the way reviews affect a book’s success – and let’s note that success can be defined on a number of different registers, not just money earned. However, I’ve lately become less and less convinced that research would change the mind of authors like Rice and others who have participated in her position. In fact, I wonder how much this issues overlaps author views on piracy, because no matter how many studies demonstrate that piracy does not harm – and may, in fact, help – many authors, there is still a very entrenched belief that piracy is A Very Bad Thing and Must Be Eradicated At All Costs.

One commenter noted an almost “Pavlovian” character to the negative responses of authors toward readers, and we know that even an author’s fans can take up that charge, especially when the author urges them to it. However, if you read this post by author Ella Fox, in which she defends the right of readers to say whatever they want about a book without feeling harassed, you can see how many of the comments simply repeat the refrain of how awful it is for these readers to be mean to authors. It feels like a cycle that continues to become more urgent and more outrageous, with more authors pushing harder to control the entire market in which they release their books.

And it’s killing the fun that got a lot of us reading and reviewing online in the first place. Fun may seem like a simple, even trivial, motive, but it’s not; many of us engage online with books in our leisure time, and when this time ceases to be enjoyable, when it becomes a burden instead of a reprieve, where is the incentive to remain engaged?

As I argued in my last post, it is incredibly illogical for readers, who have the least economic interest in a book’s sales, to be on the front lines of author publicity and experience pressure to conform their views to a certain standard. I know many readers who have become unmotivated to review, or at least to write critical reviews of books when a) they don’t know of the author, or b) they know the author or his/her fans might come after them. For those authors who believe negative reviews hurt their books, this is success, this is achievement of the agenda.

But at the very least it’s a very myopic definition of success, and at worst it’s detrimental to the book community as a whole, inclusive of those authors currently trying to make that community serve their market goals (see Sunita’s post on creating a market for lemons). Once we can no longer rely on reviews for authenticity, the value of reader responses becomes unreliable and undermined, and the point of all of this “gaming” behavior – to create reader buzz – is moot, because readers will, in turn, feel tricked and manipulated, and beyond a very core group of fans, they will look elsewhere for their entertainment — maybe to other authors, maybe to other ways to spend their leisure time. You can already see a certain instability in the self-publishing market, where one book will sell really well, but later books suffer from a substantial drop in sales (you even see a version of this in the way all of Hugh Howey’s books since Wool have performed). Or authors who screamed onto the scene as stars drop off the radar within a year or two (aka where is Amanda Hocking?).

In fact, despite the continuing insistence that readers have the power to drive the market, this is a situation in which more and more readers feel powerless. How many more examples will we see, in this market, of the brilliance that was SB Nonnie’s C review of Carla Cassidy’s Pregnesia at Smart Bitches, as well as Cassidy’s equally brilliant and classy response – a combination that generated wonderful reader buzz for the book, the kind of buzz that spontaneously sells books. How much fun can reading and reviewing be in an environment where readers don’t feel safe to speak without giving second thought to every word and opinion?

No, this is not a problem that readers can solve. This is a problem that I think only authors have the power to address, although, unfortunately, not immediately or directly. Not engaging in these destructive behaviors is essential, of course. But there’s another, relatively simple, thing authors can (and some already) do: let readers know they’re safe to say whatever they want about their books. Telling readers directly (on Twitter, Facebook, websites, reader boards) that they support the right of readers to speak their mind, and to do so in whatever way suits that reader’s style – whether that be snarky, gif-filled, short and sharp, long and ponderous – can give readers a much-needed safe harbor. It may even help sell a book or two — assuming that the author backs up the message with action (or the lack thereof). Along with that, authors who value authentic, open book communities can discourage their own fans from feeling the need to protect the author’s books by going after other readers. Authors have an incredible amount of influence over their fans, whose loyalty can be marshaled to fight for an author’s economic interest as their own. That authors can get readers to do this speaks volumes about how much potential authority can be leveraged over loyal fans.

The book community is at a crossroads right now. Publishing is at a crossroads right now. There is very much a wild-west aura to the self-publishing landscape right now, with authors rushing to stake their claim. And like its historical namesake, this gold rush will come to an end, too, and the market will shake out, sacrificing many along the way. There is no guarantee that the authors who remain will be the “best” writers with the “best” books. However, the pendulum always swings, and it’s going to swing here, too. No one knows what the future of publishing holds, but as everyone tries to make their fortune in this new, uncharted territory, readers are being trampled.

I often hear authors say that they are readers first. Well, if that’s true, then this is the time to put on the reader hat and stand up for the basic rights of the reader to talk about books without the fear of reprisal by authors. Honest reader reviews are a natural resource in the book community, and one that needs to be protected on behalf of the literary ecosystem as a whole. And, as that Ella Fox post indicates, it can’t be a one-time thing — there needs to be sustained effort, and partnership among readers and authors, dedicated to cultivating an environment in which readers feel safe to be honest. Honest feedback can be one of the most powerful natural marketing resources for authors, but that resource has to be cultivated, not threatened and attacked and harassed. It wasn’t that long ago when, at least in the Romance community, there was a lot of pride around the wide expanse of readers who engaged openly and critically with books. I don’t know about you, but to me that environment feels like it’s contracted significantly, both in size and spontaneous enthusiasm.

But you tell me: are you still feeling the fun? Do you feel inhibited in what you say about books? What would you like to see happen in the online book community re. authors and readers?

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!


  1. Willaful
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 11:52:00

    @Ros: In addition to the other issues mentioned, I’ve seen authors talk about returns as just being signs of piracy. Which may or may not be true, but it’s obviously not very effective as a way to send a message. Also, I’m not sure if anyone else mentioned this, but that’s only a Kindle feature. Readers who use other devices don’t have that option.

  2. Willaful
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 12:00:35

    @Imani: Thank you, Imani! (And Angela and Alexa.) We seem to be getting away from the issue under discussion — how does pushing readers to respond more address the fact that they are harried and burnt out from the current situation?

    I was just looking at a list of potential review books and feeling very reluctant to try any because I didn’t know the authors. Once upon a time, I got into a whole new genre because Josh Lanyon and J.L. Merrow put free books out and I read and loved them. Nowadays, it takes a lot to even get me to bother downloading a free ebook, much less reading it. I sympathize with authors who want to find readers — because I want to find writers! But it’s hard to slog through so much crap looking for the gems, even without the threat of reprisals. And then to be told this is our responsibility?

  3. Sirius
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 12:11:38

    @Willaful: I almost never download freebies anymore, ever. Why bother if it is most likely going to be crap? Unless friend whose tastes are close to mine recommended it, or it is a story from the author I know, I dont bother. But I suspect most authors put out freebies because they want to entice new readers? If so, am so not enticed. – risk not worth possible benefits if you ask me.

  4. M.M. Justus
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 12:19:47

    Gatekeeping is about filtering. Market behavior is about demand (or lack thereof) for the products that emerge from that filter.

    Yes, it’s the difference between having the only door available slam shut in front of one, and having a choice of wide-open doors. I can’t begin to say how much less devastating one reader saying, “I don’t like this book because” is than a tradpub agent or editor saying, “I really like this, but I can’t sell it because.”

    I guess I’m still enough of a newbie self-published author that I find it an incredible relief to have that choice of doors rather than only one which kept slamming in my face no matter how many positive comments I received in the process.

  5. Sandy James
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 12:38:16

    @Sirius: “But I suspect most authors put out freebies because they want to entice new readers? If so, am so not enticed. – risk not worth possible benefits if you ask me.”

    I’m sure there are a lot of people who think exactly the way you do. But I do get new readers with the free book being available. It’s just hard to be seen in such a large crowd.

    @willaful “I sympathize with authors who want to find readers — because I want to find writers! But it’s hard to slog through so much crap looking for the gems, even without the threat of reprisals.”

    This is why I think authors shouldn’t comment on reviews! Readers should feel open to expressing their true opinion. Sure, there will be some that are snarky or downright cruel, but…it’s still very important to me as an author that readers tell me what works and what doesn’t. I’ll admit to loving reviews that praise me. Who wouldn’t? But I often learn more about the changing “wants” of readers by good constructive criticism.

    @M.M.Justus ” I find it an incredible relief to have that choice of doors rather than only one which kept slamming in my face no matter how many positive comments I received in the process.”

    The whole nature of publishing has changed, and I strongly doubt it will ever return to the gatekeeper dynamic. Authors have so many more choices, which is great for us. Readers have more choices, which is great for them. The biggest downer, though, is having to separate the wheat from the chaff. And there are so many different theories on how to do that well (hence the 200+ comments on this post). I know that as a reader, I depend on reader/reviewer comments to help me choose. Sometimes they’re very helpful; sometimes they’re not. But I’m grateful when a reader/reviewer is honest about her thoughts on the story.

  6. MrsJoseph
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 12:41:50

    @Willaful: Agreed. I don’t d/l most freebies nowadays, I’d prefer to go buy a book from an author I already trust. But on the few occasions I have succumbed and d/l a freebie…it takes a while for me to get to it. I always feel a little funky if its a NTM author.

  7. Lynnd
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 13:20:30

    @AlexaB and @Sunita: Of course you are right that from a social sciences perspective, readers cannot be gatekeepers and as someone who knows that I should not have used that terminology improperly, at least with respect to the traditional publishing realm where there are “true” gatekeepers no matter how effective or ineffective they are. They are the ones controlling the market.

    With respect to the wild west of self publishing, my feeling is that, by default, readers have had to become their own gatekeepers because in this world, anyone can publish anything they want (mostly), whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. Certainly the self publishing platforms do not purport to be any kind of gatekeeper. I don’t think that reviewers are gatekeepers either as they have no control over what is being published. Reviews have become tools to help readers determine whether something should pass their own individual gates or not. Whether there should be some other gatekeeper to filter things for readers is, I expect, a matter of personal opinion for each reader. Personally, for the most part, I like having the freedom to choose what I want to read from a wide selection of possibilities and if I get burned, that’s a lesson learned. Others may not feel the same and will wish to have some assurance that there is some level of quality control.

    For those like me who are O.K. with being our own gatekeepers, reviews become especially important because they are one of the few tools we have to determine if a book is going to get past the gate of our wallets. That’s why for me, honest reviews are so important and I find that those who game the system are being disrespectful of me as a reader.

    @Sunita and @AlexaB, or any of the other social scientists here, if there is a different term than “gatekeeper” to describe the role that I think readers are now playing, with respect to self published books, please let me know. I really do not like to use such terms inappropriately. It creates unnecessary misunderstanding of the argument I am trying to make. Thanks.

  8. Angela
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 13:23:35


    Readers can’t be gatekeepers, by definition.

    Gatekeepers control the gate.

    But readers have zero say over who and what gets published, when and at what price. We’re the market after the gate is opened.

    +1 (or however many now)

    This is what I wanted to say and I didn’t get anywhere near it by the time I got everything else out.

  9. Sunita
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 14:21:35

    @Lynnd: I can’t think of a term that is comparable to gatekeeper for the kind of filtering individual readers do. What does come to mind is the “paradox of choice” debate, because some readers are finding the increased number of options in the (relatively unregulated, ungated) marketplace to be detrimental to making informed decisions, while others are willing to take on the extra information burden in order to choose from this wider range.

  10. Robin/Janet
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 14:58:43

    I don’t want to interrupt the gatekeeping/quality discussion, because it’s an important one. I just want to go back for a second to the question of what quality has to do with author behavior. Because in the past it’s often been traditionally published authors who have served as some of the worst examples (and I don’t think their publishers did a damn thing about it, at least not from what I can tell).

    I definitely agree with Noelle that as the market is more and more crowded with books and erratic in terms of what books become visible and popular, desperation grows and ethical boundaries can dissolve, but I am in no way convinced that it’s the authors of the so-called “worst” work who are to blame here. Beyond the subjectiveness of that judgment, I think we need to be careful not to equate professionalism with the “best” writing, because, well, I don’t think that relationship is sound.

    Maybe it’s more like these are two intersecting issues, and the sheer breadth of books being self-published right now is just making everything feel more chaotic. And the volume of self-published has increased, accelerated, and made more visible this aggression toward less-than-stellar reviews (I don’t even want to say negative, because sometimes it’s a perfectly decent review that gets hammered). And given the fact that publishers have used pretty aggressive marketing strategies, maybe there’s a perception (correct or incorrect) that publishers did all sorts of things to get their authors visibility, so why shouldn’t authors? And I don’t know how much of this behavior is now being socialized into the self-publishing community, even though it’s NOT intrinsically a SP issue. And yes, the lack of gatekeeping has led to a market in which virtually everyone can publish their work, which has flooded the market, which has, in turn, helped pump up the author desperation. Still, I don’t think the lack of gatekeeping has caused this enormous uptick in aggression toward readers and reviews. Although I agree that there are a lot of layers here that can and should be examined.

    @Angela: I read Linda Hilton’s comment as author -to – author gatekeeping, but now I’m wondering if I misread it.

  11. AlexaB
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 15:03:52


    Sunita’s the social scientist, so I defer to her! I’m just a marketer.

    But I think you are touching on something Sunita talks about in her “market for lemons” essay.

    Readers have more choice than ever before, so they have to find the signals that work for them in order to sort the wheat from the chaff. In your earlier post, for you that appears to be trusted recommenders, whether reviews here on DA or fellow readers who share your likes/dislikes.

    But I wouldn’t call it gatekeeping. In marketing terms, I’d call it consumer behavior and the buyer decision process. And you’re right, readers now have to be take a more active, more informed role in that decision, because the risks and rewards have drastically changed. We’re no longer choosing from a pool of books that have already gone through some sort of vetting process. We’re choosing from a vast ocean.

    You’ve found signals that help you make a decision, and I think you’re right – we all need to inform ourselves. But being informed takes energy and time, and in marketing we try to make that decision process seamless, one step and oh so easy for the consumer. Hence why Amazon has the “most useful” reviews at the top of the page, plus a one-click button.

    But if the formerly reliable signals are noisy or outright compromised – if reviews are faked and manipulated and negative voices intimidated into silence – then the consumer can’t make an informed decision and ends up disappointed. Or even feels tricked and misled into buying under false pretenses. Which in turn makes the consumer less likely to repeat a similar purchase. As people in the thread have mentioned, they’re no longer inclined to try unknown self-pubbed authors for fear of getting burned by a bad reading experience, or torpedoed for having a less than “OMG AMAZEBALLS!!!” response.

    It’s truly in authors’ best interests to encourage honest reviews and to dial back the manufactured squee, for the health of the entire market. But when there are supposed pots of money riding on being accepted by BookBub and other advertising venues that require a certain number of reviews and Amazon star rating, and when ratings appear to figure into one or more of Amazon’s algorithms that influence how and where books are presented to potential buyers – there’s little incentive for authors to let the market chips fall where they may and lots of incentive to game the system.

    To answer @Willaful: heck if I know how to encourage readers, especially those with a less than positive opinion, to speak out more when the incentive leans on shutting them up. “Change the incentives” springs to mind, but I’m not Amazon.

    One last note: I’d say there are still gatekeepers, only now the gate is in the hand of the authors. Unfortunately there are plenty who do a poor job determining if and when their product is ready to leave the gate and head for the market. (And plenty who put out a polished, market-ready product as well, of course!)

  12. Robin/Janet
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 15:08:36


    One last note: I’d say there are still gatekeepers, only now the gate is in the hand of the authors. Unfortunately there are plenty who do a poor job determining if and when their product is ready to leave the gate and head for the market. (And plenty who put out a polished, market-ready product as well, of course!)

    In terms of self-publishing, this is an excellent point, because in that case, the author is serving in two capacities: author and publisher. So, in in terms of the publisher capacity, you are exactly right that self-published authors are now also gatekeepers for their own work.

  13. Robin/Janet
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 15:19:31

    I hit post comment too soon.

    One other comment I wanted to make is that for me, the current situation frustrates my desire to be able to separate the book from the author, so that I can read the book on its own terms. It’s always been a fundamental goal for me, and now, with more and more authors stepping out from behind the book in negative ways, it’s made it even more difficult. I know the separation was already crumbling with the strength of Facebook, Twitter, and other direct author marketing. But this just makes it feel exponentially worse to me, in part because I can ignore the marketing stuff more easily, and in part because of the nature of the collapse.

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  15. M.M. Justus
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 18:14:51


    Whether there should be some other gatekeeper to filter things for readers is, I expect, a matter of personal opinion for each reader.

    Which reminds me of a frustrated comment someone made on RRA-L a few years ago, before things changed so much. It went something like this — I can’t choose to buy something that isn’t available no matter how badly I want it. And I have no way of telling the publisher (gatekeeper) what I want. I can only *not* choose what is available, if I don’t like it, which only tells them what I *don’t* want.

    So, to me, the fact that so many books that weren’t available before, in genres/niches that I want to read, are now available to me, is more important than that there is so much that isn’t worth reading. Those gems are worth the slog.

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  17. Lynnd
    Mar 28, 2014 @ 19:01:22

    @M.M. Justus: I feel the same way. Convergence of the small publishing houses into the giant multinationals was not IMO a good thing because it took away so many choices for readers and authors. I wonder if the constricting of the market may also have contributed to some of the awful behaviour of trad published authors who had very little choice to move elsewhere if their contracts were not renewed. In an environment where an increasing number of people scrabble for increasingly scarce resources, people will take actions they shouldn’t to survive even if such actions end up being self-destructive.

  18. Hank smith
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 09:52:09

    The petition is not about stopping reviewers from posting bad, mean or even vicious reviews. It’s about lifting the shield of anonymity off posters who stalk, threaten, and attack authors on a personal level. If you make a public statement to or about a person that rises to the level of cyber-bullying–not book reviewing–you should take responsibility for it.

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  20. Angela
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 10:42:38

    @Hank smith: If reviewers are threatening, stalking, harassing authors in their reviews (and I’d really like to see an example of this because I never have – note I don’t say that it hasn’t happened, but I’ve seen far more of the opposite), there is already Terms of Service in place to prevent that and protect people. Amazon – whom the petition is aimed directly at – already has my actual contact information. If I’m truly guilty of any of those above things, they can get and provide my legal information as needed/required. There’s no need to remove my safety online for it.

    From Amazon Review Guidelines:

    Who can create customer reviews?
    Anyone who has purchased items from

    What’s not allowed
    Amazon is pleased to provide this forum for you to share your opinions on products. While we appreciate your time and comments, we limit customer participation to one review per product and reserve the right to remove reviews that include any of the following:

    Objectionable material:
    • Obscene or distasteful content
    • Profanity or spiteful remarks
    • Promotion of illegal or immoral conduct

    Promotional content:
    • Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively
    • Sentiments by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product (including reviews by publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product)
    • Reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product. This includes reviews that are a part of a paid publicity package
    • Solicitations for helpful votes

    • For more information on what we consider promotional content, please see our Frequently Asked Questions.

    Inappropriate content:
    • Other people’s material (this includes excessive quoting)
    • Phone numbers, postal mailing addresses, and URLs external to
    • Videos with watermarks
    • Comments on other reviews visible on the page (because page visibility is subject to change without notice)
    • Foreign language content (unless there is a clear connection to the product)

    Off-topic information:
    • Feedback on the seller, your shipment experience or the packaging (you can do that at and
    • Details about availability or alternative ordering and shipping information
    • Feedback about typos or inaccuracies in our catalog or product description (instead, use the feedback form at the bottom of the product page).

    If you have safety concerns about the product you are reviewing please report this information to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or contact directly. Please make sure to include all information about the product (product title, and ASIN or manufacturer’s SKU) and the details of the incident.

    Customer reviews should be relevant to the product in question. If you have questions about the product or opinions that do not fit the review format, please feel free to use the Customer Discussions feature on the product page. Learn more about Customer Discussions.

    From Amazon’s Profile and Community Guidelines:

    Our Service may be used only for lawful purposes. We reserve the right to restrict or remove any and all uses or Content that we determine in our sole discretion is harmful to our systems, network, reputation, or goodwill, to other customers, or to any third party. The following non-exhaustive list details the kinds of conduct or Content that is prohibited:

    The upload, download, or transmission of any Content that would violate, or would facilitate the violation of, any applicable law, regulation, or rule or policy
    The upload, download, or transmission of any Content that infringes the intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights of others, including, without limitation, copyright, trademark, patent, or trade secrets
    The upload, download, or transmission of any Content that is unlawful, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, indecent, lewd, harassing, threatening, harmful, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, abusive, inflammatory, or otherwise objectionable
    The upload, download, or transmission of any harmful Content, including, without limitation, viruses, Trojan horses, worms, time bombs, cancelbots, or any other computer programming routines that may damage, interfere with, surreptitiously intercept, or expropriate any system, program, data, or personal information
    The upload, download, or transmission of any Content offering or disseminating fraudulent goods, services, schemes, or promotions (e.g., make-money-fast schemes, chain letters, pyramid schemes)
    The upload, download, or transmission of any domain names, URLs, or hyperlinks
    The use of the Service for commercial purposes such as advertising, promotion, or solicitation
    The impersonation of any person or entity or forging of any e-mail communication or any part of a message

    So. I suggest avenues and rules already existing get used regarding “attacks” on authors instead of trying to push through ridiculous demands.

    But thanks for making me want to go look this up. Because now I’ve learned that it actually is against Amazon TOS to BUY reviews and yet there are authors out there doing just that, in so many different ways.

    *all emphasis mine

  21. Angela
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 10:43:46

    @Angela: Well damn, my formatting didn’t work. *le sigh*

  22. Kate Sherwood
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 10:49:55

    @Hank smith:
    From the petition: “Reviewers and forum participants should not be anonymous.”

    The REASONS it gives may relate to abuse, but the SOLUTION proposed seems to be about lifting anonymity for everyone, not just those who abuse the system.

    If the real target is just those who “stalk, threaten, and attack authors on a personal level,” that target can be hit through police involvement. There’s no need to hit all reviewers with a bomb blast when a sniper’s bullet could take care of the very few who are actually stalking or threatening people.

  23. Sunita
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 11:20:19

    @Angela: It worked, it just went to pending because of links, etc. Here you go.

  24. Angela
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 11:56:33

    @Sunita: Oh! Thanks :D

    I didn’t know links put it in moderation too.

  25. karLynP
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 13:02:49

    @Kate Sherwood:

    There seems to be a difference in what the petition calls for, and what many of the people signing it expect to happen. So many of the comments believe it is to stop the rude, snarky and mean negative reviews and comments (which may not be civil, but are allowed). Others commented about changing Goodreads or requiring proof-of-purchase, which the petition doesn’t cover. Others just signed it saying (paraphrasing) “I hate all bullying, so I will sign this” or “I love Anne Rice, so I will sign this”, not considering the pros or cons.

    I have yet to read one comment on that petition that argued why ALL of Amazon’s products (not just books), and ALL of Amazon’s vendors (not just authors), would benefit from this change. Nor have I read one comment about how ALL of Amazon’s reviewers would be perfectly OK with their real identities displayed, despite the fact Amazon already has that information.

    As far as Hank’s belief that lifting the identity veil to the general public will result in stopping threats, stalking and attacks on authors, I am not convinced that is why most signers really want the identities known. We have all seen authors and fans go ballistic over a negative review or comment that were simply rude or mean, but doesn’t qualify as a ‘stalking, threatening or an attack’ post. I have read far too many comments over the years by authors who want a way to deal with those people since Amazon will not delete such reviews or comments.

    Last week a popular NA/YA romance author took to her Facebook page to rant over a negative review that was mean and snarky, but allowed per Amazon’s policy. She received over 300 comments from her fans expressing their outrage, anger and hate for this reviewer, it received over 800 ‘likes’, and the review on Amazon was seriously down voted. There were many mean and nasty comments left on the review as well, several of which Amazon deleted under their policy of not allowing attacks. Some of the fans commented on the FB page how they really wanted to know the reviewers real identity so they could give her a piece of their mind! In other words, it was personal and they wanted to make their attack on this reviewer even more personal.

    Now THAT is why I think many authors and fans want to know the real identities, so they can make their own attacks even more personal. And once they have identified their enemy, the reviewer will have a much harder time stopping further attacks at her place of employment or else where. Those type of attacks have already happened to reviewers whose identity were known, and such a change in policy would only make them far more common.

    I do not see this change as a way to make the relationship between authors, fans and reviewers more civil, not when authors and their fans are as blood-thirsty for ‘revenge!’ as we keep seeing over and over.

  26. hapax
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 14:11:41

    @karLynP: I think that you are absolutely correct, both about the mixed motivations for signing this petition, and the impetus behind the original writing.

    Which, as to the last, is completely hypocritical. Not just because many, MANY authors (including Anne Rice!) use pseudonyms; but also because of the constant mantra for reviewers: “make it about the book, not the author.”

    Well, what’s sauce for the goose, etc.; if it’s about the book, it should also be about the review. You don’t need to know the “real identity” of the author of EITHER to respond effectively to the words you have in front of you!

  27. karLynP
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 15:03:20


    If if it’s about the book, it should also be about the review.

    A most excellent point, and one more hole in the faulty logic behind this laughable (and transparent) petition.

    I have no worries that Amazon would ever make this change, and I laugh at imagining a scenario where Jeff Bezos announces to his shareholders how the author’s sensitive feelings against snarky reviews, and their ability to confront and extract revenge against the meanie reviewers and commenters, convinced him to put his entire customer base at personal risk and expose everyone’s real identities. The shareholders would vote him out that very second.

    In reality, Amazon assumes all authors are professionals who understands the pros and cons of becoming a published author, and that it is up to the authors – not Amazon – to ensure they don’t make a public spectacle of their own careers.

  28. Bobbi Romans
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 15:29:20

    Whatever happened to God given horse sense? Seriously? That small something which seems to be lacking in nearly every day to day action.

    Not just reviews, but dare we mention the FB word? *gasp*

    All reviews should be wanted from authors. All. Have I seen over the top reviews, that became NOT a review but a threat?


    “Stick your hand in a blender”–“Author should clearly play on a busy highway.”

    The difference between the story sucked, author is a moron, don’t waste your money and “stick your hand in blender’ is a threat.

    Common sense.

    BUT– Reviewers MUST feel able to leave an open/honest review (this goes for authors swapping review reads) or else it flat out isn’t enjoyable AND no-doubt will result in said author having a hard time finding reviewers.

    Its hard enough to find reviewers, period, much less want to alienate them in any way.

    Bottom line, life is too damn short for a bad book. Don’t like it, move on. Deep down we should all know that as a truth.

    Same goes for FB. I’m sick to death of seeing all the “un-friend” threats if they see another injured animal, political, (I’m talking personal pages not professional ones) “share this if you love” etc.

    I aint ya momma. If you don’t like something that another posts, life is too short for unneeded drama. Un-friend. Don’t threaten. If it upsets you, I’m sure the other party would rather you unfriend on a social network than in real life.


    As always, great post.

  29. Linda Hilton
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 16:40:10

    @Bobbi Romans:

    Just for the record. The “Stick your hand in a blender” remark was made by a “fan”/friend of the author to a reviewer who not even reviewed the book.

    The only reason I bring it up — and yes, I have the screen shots — is that the explosion over that particular instance of bad behavior by an author seems to have sparked much of the subsequent animosity. Not one of the claims made by that author proved to be accurate. Not one. Yet her experience seems to have settled into urban legendry as The Author Who Was Threatened With Prison Rape. It never happened.

  30. karLynP
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 16:48:50

    @Linda Hilton:

    And lets not forget the urban legend of ‘death by garden gnomes’, despite that no proof ever surfaced and the author who made the claim came clean days later and retracted her statement.

    Also, lets not forget the tale of authors being threatened by the statement ‘the only good author is a dead author’, when in fact it was coined by a moderator of a classic books group who read authors from past centuries.

    And we all know who started these urban-legends too.

  31. Bobbi Romans
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 16:52:50

    While I basically used that as example, I’m very glad to hear that. I’d caught part of the bruahaha, peeped in, tucked tail and ran back out.

    I’m a chicken. I’ll own every feather on my back.

  32. Linda Hilton
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 17:10:56

    Maybe, ultimately, it all comes back to the same issue for reviewers as it does for authors: If you don’t want to risk negative feedback, don’t put your words out in public. As harsh and “but….but…but…but….” as that may sound, it may be the only guarantee a reviewer can have.

    If the reader/reviewer longs for the good ol’ days of the trad pub gatekeepers, well, they’re still in business. And if you confine your reading — or at least your reviewing — to mostly trad pubbed books, you should be okay. No really bad books, no really bad authors.

    Reviews on GoodReads or on your own blog or website give you control over what comments are posted, if any. If you want to, I think you can even block all comments, so you never even have to see them. Isn’t that the same advice given to authors? If you can’t handle the negative feedback, just don’t read it!

    Best advice I can think of, though, is to call on some friends and have a good laugh over it. Show the author and their minions that you don’t take the whole issue nearly as seriously as they do. Make it fun, and make sure they know they can’t make it not fun.

  33. Bobbi Romans
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 17:40:42

    I have been known to even click “like” on bad reviews. Why? They took time from their lives to take a chance on the story.

    Honestly I still do think much boils back to common sense. (and maybe a wee etiquette too perhaps- from ALL parties)

    Changing topic a bit, but though I’ve heard from some that didn’t like, some of the Goodreads reviewers do amazing things with those GIFS.

    I love Goodreads and sometimes start my day with coffee and checking out what gifs were put up. They find the perfect ones (or so it appears) and more than anything…figured out how to put a pic on Goodreads. I’m HTML handicap.

  34. Wahoo Suze
    Mar 29, 2014 @ 20:24:22

    I’m starting to wonder if a lot of the outrage on the part of authors is that, even the trad-pubbed ones are expected to do more and more of their own marketing, and they just don’t know how. Marketing is a whole other skill set from writing, and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally.

    So authors attend workshops and take courses and learn that they should get reviewed on blogs, and develop street teams, and build buzz — and they don’t know how, and often I think the people trying to teach them don’t know how, and they end up blundering around being offended and offensive.

    And then I remember this and think that there’s nothing new under the sun:

  35. The Badass Bulletin – March Edition » Badass Book Reviews
    Mar 30, 2014 @ 06:01:53

    […] The ladies at Dear Author examine what happens When Online Reviewing is No Longer Fun […]

  36. The Sunday Post [11]: Book Buying & Ebook Settlement Credits | Lost and Found In Fiction The Sunday Post [11]: Book Buying & Ebook Settlement Credits | My Life in Words Read & Written
    Mar 30, 2014 @ 09:54:39

    […] the Web: “When Online Reviewing Is No Longer Fun” on the Dear Author blog. This is such a well written piece and it’s something authors need to […]

  37. Tricia Drammeh
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 07:24:23

    I’m both an author and a reader. I definitely feel pressure when I post a review. I’m afraid of backlash if I say anything less than glowing. I also hate the idea of misleading my readers by telling them a book is a 5-star work of genius. Consequently, I review far less frequently than I used to. I don’t accept unsolicited book review requests and rarely sign up for reviews as part of blog tours. I screen books carefully (by utilizing the Look Inside feature) on Amazon before I buy, so my star ratings these days tend to be on the high side. It has taken the fun out of reviewing because I feel like I can’t give an honest critique on every book I read, and I’m afraid to review indie books I didn’t like.

  38. Cynthia Sax
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 09:45:27

    This thread really makes me sad. No reviewer or reader should feel scared about expressing her or his feelings about a book.

    So what can writers do about this?
    Would creating a button that writers can share on their sites communicating that we’re open to honest reviews help?
    Do reviewers/readers check a writer’s website?

    Tell me what you think we should do and I’ll happily lead the charge.
    An environment of fear is NOT what I want Romanceland to have.

  39. Cynthia Sax
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 09:55:35

    Or perhaps creating a central database of honest review friendly writers?
    I’m open to ideas.

    Right now, Amazon’s Top 100 Best Rated Books in a category sway some writers to be aggressive about positive reviews. If we wish to stop this behavior, we have to create an offset.

  40. Bobbi Romans
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 13:52:41

    @Cynthia…I’ll skip along behind whatever you decide to do and help spread the word.

    @Readers- For many of us, the fact you took time, from your day, to take a chance on our story, means more than whether you liked the book. You could hate, either way, you took precious time.

    Don’t know about anyone else, but free time is a rarity.

  41. Angela
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 14:33:08

    @Cynthia Sax: I don’t know that there’s any one thing that could fix the environment – or even a series of things. But I do think that something every author can do is make a statement, somewhere, somehow, that they support readers and reviewers and their *honest* opinions. No ifs, ands, or buts.

    It may seem a lot like there’s talk about the authors that berate readers and reviewers, and it’s true there is, but honestly I’ve added authors to my wishlists for the express reason that they were vocal about supporting readers. (I mentioned her before, but Stacia Kane did a lovely series of posts about readers and reviewing.) We (readers) notice this. We talk about it. We spread the word. It doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s appreciated.

    Added to this, as a benefit to the author, it’s likely to get me to remember an author’s name. Even if I don’t buy a book right away, when I see something that looks really interesting and an author’s name is familiar to me, I check my GR shelves and notice I have them on my ‘wishlist’, then I buy it. That’s better than me shying away because I’m not sure how an author will react, I think.

    I like the idea of a database, but someone has to curate that. Because I *know* that a lot of the authors that are some of the worst offenders do not at all see themselves that way. But now you’ve got me thinking about it. If someone was willing to curate it, and do the research, and give out ‘official’ badges or something – it could be incredibly useful. Authors and readers could nominate authors (themselves or others). This could definitely turn into a full time job though.

  42. Linda Hilton
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 15:10:11

    I think one of the saddest aspects of this whole thing is that there have been so many authors who adamantly insist they want honest reviews, that they have no problem with negative reviews, that they firmly believe reviewers have the right to say whatever they want about a book . . . . but then these same authors turn around and find reasons to berate readers who have given their books negative reviews or no stars or whatever. Either they claim the review is false because the reader didn’t really read the whole book, or some such malarkey that justifies their changing their tune about leaving reviewers alone.

    And to make matters worse, those readers (and authors) who have dared to call them out for it end up getting in trouble. Reviews and accounts have been removed from GoodReads and Amazon because of comments about author behavior, to the point that reviewers are afraid not only of backlash from authors but backlash from the websites!

    There’s little or no negative consequence to an author who engages in bad behavior; if anything, they tend to profit from the attention. Maybe what’s needed is a Wall of Shame where those authors who have ruined the game for everyone else are put front and center for their meltdowns. Or they’re made conspicuous by their absence. Or something.

  43. Cynthia Sax
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 16:14:32

    You’re right and an author can’t curate the database. (You and Linda have great points about how we don’t always see our own faults.) Authors can sponsor and promote the database, but we can’t curate it. The database owners have to keep the authors involved accountable also.

    There must be a better solution but I can’t think of one right now.

  44. Cynthia Sax
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 16:20:29

    @Linda Hilton: Talking about writers behaving badly just gives them even more press, making them more popular.

    As commenters have said
    It is better to have negative press than no press at all.

    Look at how many people are now talking about the writer who started this petition.
    (which IMHO was a marketing move on her part – she’s a very media savvy woman)

    Rewarding writers behaving well would be more productive. I don’t know how to do this though.

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