This week on the U.K.’s Daily Mail, Nick Fagge wrote an article titled “Women writers at war over fake book reviews on Amazon.” The article begins with the story of author Rosie Alison’s recent fit over scathing reviews on Amazon about her book, The Very Thought of You. Alison became so incensed over her negative reviews that she hired an investigator to find out if her competition was responsible for the negativity.
According to Fagge, Alison is not the only author who takes Amazon reviews to heart. Simon Winder, for example, (who is notably not a woman writer, despite Fagge’s stirring article title) recently forced Amazon to remove a critical review written by an academic rival.
Amazon guidelines do state that reviews should not be posted by anyone with financial interest in the book or a competing book, but this rule is difficult to impose when anonymous reviews are accepted online.
On the opposite side of the review spectrum, Fagge mentions companies that offer authors packages of good reviews for purchase. In the UK, a company called Reputation 24/7 offers a review service starting at 5000 pounds for 10 positive Amazon reviews. Though Fagge could not cite any examples of women writers waging war over this service, it is easy to see how companies like Reputation 24/7 can also be controversial to sensitive authors. Is purchased fame fair game?
What does it matter? Even if competition is commenting on a book, does a one-star review really warrant an investigation? Rather than filing a lawsuit, why not send an equally scathing Amazon comment back? The Internet is meant to be a forum for the public. Just because authors prefer to hear from one section of the public more than another, it doesn’t mean that the competition can’t lob their two cents in. After all, author spats aren't new developments. William Faulkner is popularly known to have commented disparagingly on Ernest Hemingway’s writing, stating “he has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” Hemingway was recorded as responding “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” Of course the words still flew between these two authors, but rather than running to the source of the comment and asking for removal of the upsetting statement, why not fight back? Not everyone is supposed to love the same book or have the same opinions. That's what makes art so rich and varied.
As for purchased reviews, I can see how they may look a bit less like fair game and a bit more like blatant fooling, but online marketing for positive reviews appears, to me, to be an outgrowth of book marketing that has developed over time. How much different is purchasing reviews than targeting bloggers who are known to enjoy an author’s work or sending out ARCs to readers who show interest in a certain genre? Purchased online reviews seem to be a hybrid of targeted marketing and social networking sites for book lovers that hand out books in return for review. If the issue at hand with such services is with generating positive buzz unfairly, then what can authors say in the past who have handed out books to family, friends, and coworkers, asking them to share the good word, or to those long ago authors who would seek friends in high-up places with income to fund or with a spot on a local newspaper to write a sweet blurb?
Of course reviews matter, but are online reviews of websites like Amazon really of such import as to warrant lawsuits and investigations? Am I alone in thinking it’s okay for competitors to post negative comments on author’s postings, or for authors to blow 5000 pounds if so wish to burn that money on publicity? Though it may be fairly argued that writing is a business, writing is still an art, which means it is meant for public viewing. As a result, as long as any criminal laws aren't being broken, the reception of this piece - how the public, the author's competitors, or even the author herself wants to voice opinions about the art once it is released 0 is fair game. What do you think?