Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Amazon Review Mafia. I know a guy who knows a guy.

Okay.  First things first.  I'm running low on Hormel Chili and Applebees won't let me take any more free after dinner mints.  So please, stop what you're doing and go buy "I've Been Deader."  This blog post will be here when you get back and, it isn't going to be anything special anyway.

                                          Feed my need, and watch Fred Feed.

Now that that's out of the way.

As some of you may know, there has been talk recently about Goodreads review bullies and an Amazon Review Mafia.  Allegations of a group of people who seek out authors they don't agree with and then attack them on their book's website or Amazon page. Obviously, this is happening to some extent. But should we care?

Here is what I observed on the Amazon forums. I can't really speak for Goodreads, because their Badly Behaving Author group, is private and for some reason they won't let me in. But there's serious overlap with the cast of characters and they seem to feed on each other's anger.

                                  WE KNOW YOU'RE OUT THERE!

First, a word about the victims. Authors. The authors that the target of  ARM attacks are generally not the most behaved lot. You have have read recent news stories about big time writers who pretend to be someone else by creating what is known as a "sock puppet" and leave nasty reviews on their competitor's book.   I know it sounds like fun, but people have a problem with this type of behavior.  Well, imagine that behavior multiplied by several magnitude and you get an idea of what a lot of self-published authors are up to.  There are  no innocents in this little drama. That being said, there does seem to be concerted actions by a core group of reviewers, focused on attacking these authors and doing so in a way that impacts their book without actually reviewing or apparently reading the book.

Here's what's happening:

There seems always to be a thread on the Amazon Kindle Book Forum (KBF), that deals with "Badly Behaving Authors." The thread is filled with about half a dozen posters who search out links to books where the author has done one or more of the following:

1. Left a review of his own book (Guilty, but I assure you it was all in good fun).

2. Had friends and family leave shill reviews or engaged in swap reviews with another writer.

3.  Spammed, or self-promoted their book in a place that Amazon says they can't (Guilty).

4. Responded poorly to a negative review of their book. (Joe Blow gives a two star review of my book and I comment on the review, calling Joe Blow a jerk).

I'll use example 4, since this seems to generate the most inappropriate comments from essentially the same group of people.

Here's what happens. Someone writes a book. Probably not a great book. Joe Blow buys the book, doesn't love it, and leaves a review that says "I didn't love it."
                                           "Too many POV shifts and the ending was predictable.  Two stars!"

Then the author comments on the review, saying "You didn't love it because you only read 30 pages and why is this your only 2 star review?? You're a dope."

                              "NO ONE UNDERSTANDS ME!  THAT'S WHY I WRITE!"

Then, someone on the BBA thread discovers the authors comment, posts about it, and before you know it, there are a string of comments defending the reviewer and attacking the author. Usually, the author not being the brightest bulb in the patch, continues to argue and things quickly spiral out of control.

In the end, the author is blacklisted on the Goodreads, BBA site, where everyone puts the book on their "Do Not Read" shelf, and the BBA thread posters on Amazon spend a few pages dissecting what they did and how terrible so many writers are.

Now, as you may also know, Dougie Brimson, a writer from the UK, is stirring the pot over this and causing no end trouble over at Amazon and a webpage called "STGRB" (Stop the GoodReads Bullies) is attacking the reviewers who are engaging in this type of behavior, or worse.

In the end, literary apocalypse.

                                         (Where did everybody go?)

So, my conclusion is that there certainly is an organized group of people who are committed to harming the reputations of authors they feel deserve it. I'm not saying they pay dues or anything.  But they know what they know and they support each other in their quest.

Of course, the easiest way to resolve this problem is to refrain from engaging in bad behavior.  If you have a book and someone writes a negative review, shut up.  You won't be doing yourself any favors by arguing.  If you are going to put up fake reviews, be prepared to be called out on them.  And when you get caught, don't respond.  Just delete.

Yes, there is a Review Mafia.  Yes, they seem to have a lot of time on their hands and enjoy overreacting.  Yes, they often inflame a situation that would have died down on its own.  But in the end, they don't have a book to sell.  So shut up and get writing.

Any thoughts? Comments? Haiku?