Monday, 19 April 2010


Despite being a crabbit old bat, I have an unnatural sympathetic streak which cringes when people are found out for their bad behaviour. It's embarrassing.

BUT behaviour like this REALLY pisses me off. I have never read Dr Rachel Polonsky's books and therefore have no opinion as to their wondrousness, but she did not deserve to be rubbished by someone disguising the fact that she was the wife of a rival. If her books are bad, and if you think so, you should either say so under your own name in an accountable fashion or shut the hell up, frankly.

I have also had very weirdly vitriolic bad reviews on Amazon, from people saying things like "worst book I've ever read" and signed by "Bob Geldof", who, frankly, I think has more important things to do than review my teenage books. I'm sorry but if my books are the worst you've ever read, you haven't read many. Consequently, I now don't trust Amazon and other online reviews unless it's clear who wrote them. (Or if they're good, of course, and about my books - then I KNOW they're true! Erm, not...) I have had some good ones, btw, lest you think I'm totally crap.

That's irrelevant. I just want to make a stand for integrity. Yes, I could go and write a stinking anonymous review for a rival's book. But I wouldn't. Why?

Because I wouldn't be able to sleep at night, is why. OK?

Have some standards. Your soul is at stake.


Anna Bowles said...

Amazon reviewing is an absolute free-for-all, which is good in a free speech sort of a way, but creates an ethical quagmire – and a problem for authors of the sort of books that generate hostility in a small but active quarter of the readership.

In the field of kids' books there's a similar, if less obviously scurrilous, problem with adult reviews of books that are not primarily intended for an adult audience. E.g. new books featuring Rupert Bear: on Amazon they get immediately trashed by nostalgic 60-year-olds who just wish Alfred Bestall was still drawing the cartoons and hate anything else on principle. Whether or not the books are any good for today’s kids doesn’t get a look in.

Luckily the sales of the Rupert Annual really aren’t dependent on Amazon reviews. But I've heard that, for more literary adult books, vindictive or even plain silly customer reviews can stifle sales.

Sally Zigmond said...

I agree. I find it all very sad. I would have thought that so-called intelligent people would have more honesty, integrity and a clear sense of decency. Am I naive?

Whilst I love to receive favourable reviews, but am always prepared for bad ones, Amazon doesn't seem the appropriate place for academics to behave like spoiled children. What's wrong with the appropriated learned journals?

ClothDragon said...

I recently found the blog of an author I enjoy and have been reading through some older posts. He also had an issue with certain comments and the pain of publication.

I read the explanation first,

and the reviews next,

But I thought it was an interesting insight into a published author dealing with criticism.

Anonymous said...

And then the rest of us have to explain to children why it's not mature to behave like that.... :)

steeleweed said...

1) Anonymity (or alias) is the first refuge of scoundrels.

2) Everyone has an opinion, but some opinions are better supported by facts and logic.

3) The Internet has brought democracy to Communication.

4) Democracy is basically faith in the collective wisdom of a lot of ignorant individuals.

I am contemplating building a service whereby posters are 'vetted'. Sort of like Wikipedia but monitored. If a blogsite only allowed blogs and comments by competent writers and could identify writers (thus removing anonymity), I suspect it would be patronized by those interested in meaningful and honest opinion and dialog.

KarenG said...

Excellent points. There needs to be some professionalism out there in reviewing. Amazon and Goodreads reviews carry a huge amount of power now to the reading/buying public. Which is both good and bad, depending.

Nicola Morgan said...

Cloth Dragon - I went to read that and it was really ineresting. He speaks very powerfully about it and describes very well the pain we have to deal with when reading a bad review of something we've poured our hearts into. Of course, we don't expect everyone to like it, and of course we have to deal with neg reviews (and, as he says, the more successful you are the more often you will have to) but people should try to know what they're doing before they stick a knife in. We're all humans - we all hurt, and being hurt publicly hurts most.

Sally - you'd think so...

Anna - yes, I've had the "I don't read teenage books so I don't know why i read this - teenagers might like it though" and then they give it 2 stars!

hampshirefyler and steelweed - indeed. (Good luck!)

Nicola Morgan said...

KarenG - I think that more and more people are disregarding Amazon reviews, fortunately. The Vine programme is awful and useless. I've asked my publishers not to put me up for it from now on.

catdownunder said...

Academia can be particularly bad for this sort of thing. Employment and research money depend on being 'top' - no matter how.
I was almost annihilated when I made a small change to some research methodology (to suit the physical capacity of the subjects in question) and accidentally shattered a long held theory in psychology. It was not something I intended to do at all but that made no difference. Life was very, very uncomfortable. I sympathise with the victims in all such cases.
I ignore Amazon reviews - indeed most reviews. I prefer to make up my own mind.

Old Kitty said...


Not that I defend Dr Figes' wife's actions or anything - but I'd like to think she did this cos she loved hubby so much!

Oh come on!!!! It's a kind of twisted love story for the 2010 generation - it's got everything - Amazon, online reviews, lawyers, media, and classic ingredients of madness, power, lust, and er... cambridge!

Take care

Sarah said...

I'll read a few Amazon reviews, but I disregard the ones that are overly negative without giving any justification for their position.

I'll pay far more attention to reviews I see on blogs I trust than anything else.

Still, Nicola, sorry you're having to deal with it. It's a form of bullying, I think. Someone is doing his or her best to land hits without giving their target a chance to respond.

mindmap1 said...

Apalling 'Lady MacBeth' behaviour, infantile and cowardly.
Hoist by her own petard methinks and a superb example of what goes around comes around.

I take no notice of book reviews on Amazon, or anywhere else for that matter, if they're signed by 'anon.'

It's given you an oily little stomach flip hasn't it Nicola - like being back in the playground. And they didn't give you the right to reply which means their comments are neither valid or authentic - ignore them!


Kaz Augustin said...

Interesting that Figes' wife is a "member of the top human rights specialists, Blackstone Chambers". Human rights indeed!

Ebony McKenna. said...

Amen sista!

I post things publicly as an author - therefore I am always careful about what I write and assume everything is public and will get back to me.

It's all about having some kind of integrity, or at the very least, accountability. If I don't like a book, I shut up about it. Just because a book isn't to my taste doesn't mean I'll stop anyone else reading it.

Anonymous postings are never really anonymous. People get found out in the end. ISP thingmeys and all that. A person's writing style comes through loud and clear, especially in moments of anger.

Paul said...

That is low. I'll be interested to learn if there are any consequences from all of this.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many people out there would use the review process seriously; to make decisions about which books they buy? I certainly don't. I ignore most reviews and all hype. My experience of Amazon reviews is that they generally fall into two main categories, both highly non-objective: (i) bad reviews from people who, for whatever reason, hate the author and (ii) virtually mindless gushing from the author's friends.

The only review I would even consider taking seriously, would be one based on facts, reason and objective analysis. Probably won't happen for fiction, then.

Now who's crabby? ;o)

Ally said...

Blimey, that was a bit of a rubbish thing to do. Fact is there are a lot of very bitter people out there and they can say what they like.
Sometimes I do wonder if we are spewing out words willy nilly thinking that the consequences are harmless.
Unfortunately one can only trust human beings to be one thing, human.

Dan Holloway said...

Nicola, I am 100% in agreement.

It's the anonymity that's so underhand here - this sort of thing has, of course, been going on non-anonymously in academic journals since time immemorial - whcih is the reason the newman and Baddiel "History Today" skit was so funny and true.

Catherine Hughes said...

I review books that I have enjoyed on my blog, and tend to shy away from reviewing those I have not enjoyed. Because it is all subjective, isn't it? If I read a great book, I want to encourage others to enjoy it - but they might not! One friend of mine absolutely hated a book that I adored!

I tend to believe that, if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all. Now that I am starting to get books from publishers to review, I am not sure what I will do if I can't stand any of them. Luckily, this has not yet happened, but you can rest assured that I will be honest about it!

I don't mind Anon comments on my blog, but I do wonder why people bother to express a view that they won't put their identity behind. (I say 'identity' because many of us use names online that are not the names we use in real life.)

It's not naive to expect the best of people - to expect them to hold to the standards you espouse. But I think that it is sometimes - sadly - unrealistic.


Alexandra Crocodile said...

I just read the article - I was appalled! She sounds like a 10 year old to me - and she has a phd?! Crazy... No morals, obviously!

Anonymous said...

Nicola, dear, those without firing synapses will exploit and embrace anonymity to exhibit their inherent immaturity. I guess that's why I take Amazon reviews with a grain of salt. Too many whack jobs out there to be concern about.

Harry Markov said...

Oh yes, quite the hoax these Amazon reviews & I wonder how someone can debase themselves in such a manner. In the end, crime does not pay. :)

Katherine Langrish said...

Well said. Plus life is too short.

Creepy Query Girl said...

I will read amazon reviews because, more often than not, they're done by people who like to read and truthfully wanted to review the book to the best of their ability. But I will look for markers- do they talk about the author's other books? What books do they compare this one to? Etc...I think its obvious is someone is just 'badmouthing' and I disregard. Also, if the book has a free excerpt, I read it. I usually know within the first page if its a style or a story that's going to hook me.

Anonymous said...

I generally read a few Amazon reviews but generally disregard those reviews that are overly negative and normally seek out reviews elsewhere to back the Amazon reviews up.

I also agree with the idea that if you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all - generally speaking if I'm not keen on a book I will still review it but I will try and find things good to say about it as well.

Elizabeth West said...

Wow, that's completely reprehensible.

Consumerist had an article about how to spot fake online reviews recently. It was mostly about product reviews, but I always look at the book reviews on Amazon too. Some of the advice was relevant to those.

-- I always discount things like "This book is dumb," or any ones that have no stars and no good reason why.

--Five-star reviews that read like marketing copy (one of the Consumerist article's red flags) are also suspect.

--Another one they mentioned was multiple reviews that are exactly the same. They might have different user names on them, but they're so obviously spammy that I can't trust them.

Generally, commenters agreed that middle-of-the-road reviews are the most trustworthy. And reviews written in honest language with examples of WHY they liked the book or not are helpful too. This criteria helped me find some good books about writing and publishing.

Ebony McKenna. said...

Didjasee, didjasee? It gets worse - it was Orlando Figes after all, not his wife!

We have a saying here in Australia.
"You idiot!"