Monday, April 19, 2010

At Home with the Amazonians

I've just returned from a week in New York, and I'm rather amazed at the number of things I let slide while there. I need to catch up, desperately--so naturally I'm perusing the Internet.

I don't know what authors obsessed over before and their customer review feature, I'm only imagining they led much more complete, fulfilled lives. I learned long ago to stop reading the things, because it turns out the last thing you really want to know is what everyone with internet access and a basic ability to spell thinks of your book. You may trust me on this. For my first novel, a friend left a positive customer review and another reviewer held up something he said as ridiculous because the book was so very bad. My friend chose to be offended, and I rather thought that this wasn't about him.

But, as much as you really don't want to read the customer reviews, you also really, really don't want to use the review feature to castigate your rivals. Because it turns out that people pay attention, and that's when things get embarrassing:

An extraordinary literary "whodunnit" over the identity of a mystery reviewer who savaged works by some of Britain's leading academics on the Amazon website has culminated in a top historian admitting that the culprit was, in fact, his wife.

Prof Orlando Figes, 50, an expert on Russia and professor of history at Birkbeck College, London, made the startling revelation in a statement through lawyers following a week of intrigue, suspicion, legal threats and angry email exchanges over postings on the website's UK book review pages...

It ended on late on Friday evening with the surprise unveiling of Figes's wife, Dr Stephanie Palmer, a senior law lecturer at Cambridge University, barrister, and member of the top human rights specialists, Blackstone Chambers, as the reviewer calling herself "Historian", and responsible for several anonymous online attacks on the works of her husband's rivals.

There's an uncomfortable dinner table conversation for you.


  1. And be leery of yourself on low self-esteem days. Years ago, when I was researching an article on eBooks for Horn Book, I noticed that one eBook author had written an Amazon customer review for her own book. She gave it three out of five stars.

  2. Wow. That embarrassing incident is hilarious--from the outside. I got in the habit of reading low-star product reviews for toys because it's good to know if the door to the play oven will never stay shut. Generally the more pointed and caustic the review, the less credibility it has for me. I can't tell if the poster's problem is really with the product, or if they are just having a bad day.

  3. If only books were as easy to evaluate as play ovens. The cover won't stay shut--don't buy it!

  4. One writer I know said never make a business call in one's pajamas or when in a bad mood. The same should be said for posting reviews on Amazon, eh? Oh, the mistakes we make.

  5. I would never get any business calls done that way at all, Claire.

    Oh, wait...