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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Laws of the (Amazon) Jungle—Eight Rules Authors Need to Know to Stay Safe

by Anne R. Allen

Everybody tells authors we must use social media to have successful careers in the E-age, but nobody talks much about the dangers that lurk here.

Here's the thing: the Internet is still the wild frontier. And it's so huge nobody's quite sure how to police it.  Big, loosely regulated social media sites seem to encourage the worst in human behavior. Facebook allows people to make hate pages for celebrities with happy abandon, and the comments on news sites and You Tube can make you want to wash your eyeballs.

You Tube is making some sweeping changes to try to curb some of the more horrifying comments. You'll soon need a Google+ account to log in. (Google+ is set to become the most important player for business in social media. We'll have a post on that in a few weeks.)

Online nastiness is so pervasive that even some literary sites have become more like a jungle full of feces-throwing monkeys than a place for civilized discourse.

Recently, the review site Goodreads (now owned by Amazon) has tried to cut down on the poop-tossing by deleting some ad hominem attack "reviews" and obscene or threatening "shelf" names. Some people decry this as censorship and are protesting by sabotaging Goodreads with thousands of one-star "reviews" on random authors' books.

You can read an overview of the new developments by Pavarti K. Tyler at Indie Reader and Laura Hazard Owen at Gigaom and more at the Passive Voice.

But I fear it will take more than deleting a few reviews to change the online culture of entitlement and emotional brutality.

After I wrote my post on "Gangs of New Media" a few months ago, people contacted me with heartbreaking tales of online bullying in the publishing industry. Authors, readers, and reviewers alike had horror stories.

Respected reviewers had stopped posting to Amazon because of reviewer-on-reviewer attacks and harassment by angry authors. A seasoned Hollywood screenwriter was hounded so mercilessly she had to unpublish her books and change her name. Even a retired army sergeant has been terrified into silence.

But Amazon is trying to crack down, and you can help by reporting abuse when you see it.

Meanwhile, writers need to learn how to avoid gang-infested neighborhoods and stay off the radar of the poop-tossers, bullies, and vigilantes.

Unfortunately marketers sometimes tell us to go into those neighborhoods and do the very things that will set off attacks. I've seen "marketing handbooks" that are the equivalent of sending children into gangland wearing a rival gang's colors.

Part of the problem is that the rules of the online book world bear little resemblance to the conventions of the staid, gentlemanly publishing industry of the past.

That's because the laws of online activity come from the people who were here first: hackers and gamers.

When you enter the online culture, it can feel like stepping into a game of "Grand Theft Auto." It's an aggressive, testosterone-fueled, competitive universe. On some sites, sociopathic behavior is the norm and innocence is a crime.

Everybody is trying to eliminate the enemy, and the enemy is probably you.

"Gaming the system" is a matter of pride for some, and because people tend to judge others' characters by their own, the system-gamers think every innocent newbie is gaming the system too. (If someone accuses everybody he meets of sneaky, underhanded dealings, he's revealing a lot about himself.)

Probably the most infamous Internet menace was the sociopath called Violentacrez, who slimed up the forums of Reddit with threats and hate speech masked as "categories" with names like "chokeabitch" that were technically within site guidelines, but invited misogynist rants, child pornography and hate.

We can't blame the Internet entirely for the phenomenon. These are the same people who 40 years ago would name their dogs a racial slur and claim to be "just calling the dog." If anybody objected, they'd rally a mob to beat up the "puppy hater."

Violentacrez was finally outed by Gawker last year, but thousands of his trollish kin remain—and plenty of them lurk under literary bridges.

So don't give them an excuse to terrorize you. Follow the rules. Nobody deserves to be bullied, but you're safer if the bullies don't notice you.

Remember: social media should not be used for direct marketing. It should be used for making friends. You wouldn't wear an advertising sandwich board to a Chamber of Commerce mixer, but a lot of authors are doing the digital equivalent. It makes them bully-bait.

If the bullies catch you breaking their rules—even unwritten ones—they will destroy your career and reputation with all the self-righteous sadism of the Taliban slaughtering a schoolgirl.

Unfortunately, ferreting out those rules can be daunting. Even when they're posted, they're usually obfuscated by legal jargon written in a fly-speck font. I've only learned the following by trial and error. Lots of error. When I wrote this post urging older people to learn to write Amazon reviews, I was pretty naive. I still urge readers of my generation to write reviews—this is a culture desperately in need of grown-ups—but if I'd known about the hostility of the review culture, I would have worded it more carefully.

Since then, I've been saying, "I wish somebody would post the rules!"

But hey, nobody has, so here they are—as well as I can figure out. Pass them on to your marketing department.

Rule #1 Never Spam 

Easy to say; harder to follow.

What is spam? It's unwanted promotion: the digital equivalent of those sales pitch phone calls you get just as you're sitting down to a family dinner.

But one person's spam is another person's "savvy marketing." One of our biggest problems is that spam is defined differently depending on where you are.

Here's a detailed post on how NOT to spam on specific sites like Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, forums, etc.

A few authors have spammed and gamed the system so badly that we're all paying the price.

Some readers have reacted so negatively they've invented a bizarre dichotomy of readers vs. writers. They consider anybody who writes to be the mortal enemy of "readers." Don't ask me where they think reading material comes from. A Magical Book Stork in the Sky may be involved.

Of course, in real life, authors are voracious readers, but remember this is a videogame world, so they need an enemy.

Mention you've written a book—even an unpublished one—and that enemy is you.

Rule #2: Never Trade Reviews

It's against Amazon's terms of service. A violation can get you kicked off Amazon. It will certainly get your reviews pulled if you're caught.

One of the tricks of the early Amazon-gaming authors was to give a book a 5-star review, then contact the reviewed author and demand a 5-star in return. If the targeted author refused, the 5-star would be reduced to a one-star.

Not all trading of reviews is the result of blackmail. Lots of authors drop hints they expect a quid pro quo when they've written a good review. Do not fall into this trap. Even if you love the reviewer's book, you could be violating Amazon's TOS.

One of Amazon's rules is that you can't review a product if you will benefit from the proceeds. That's why your Mom can't give you a review. Or your editor. You also can't review if you have a "rival" product. This has been interpreted recently to mean "any author who writes in the same genre"—even if that review is positive.  I think that's silly, but it's best to be safe.

In the great Amazon review purge following the purchased-review scandal of 2012, thousands of reviews were removed, some of which were solid, honest reviews, so you need to avoid any hint of impropriety. If you love the book of an author in your genre who has given you a nice review, and you want to avoid any worries, give her a spotlight or interview on your blog or offer a blurb to be included in the "editorial reviews" instead of appearing to trade.

Update: South African author Niki Savage reports that an Amazon spokesperson told her the Zon has revoked the rule that authors can't review other authors in their genre! I don't know if this applies to the Zon worldwide, but if you've been dying to review a book in your favorite genre, go for it!

Rule #3: Don't Pay for Customer Reviews 

As I mentioned above, buying reviews is a major no-no. Not only will they be removed, but your career can take a big hit. When John Locke got caught doing it a year ago, he got hit with hundreds of one-stars and his sales slowed considerably. 

It's OK to pay for a professional review from Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, or other respected publication like the Midwest Book Review. But those reviews can't be posted on Amazon as "customer reviews." You can paste a quote into the "editorial reviews" section. But a customer review is not supposed to be for sale. 

Even a free book is considered "payment" by some, so book review bloggers are now required to post disclaimers when they review a book they have received from the author or publisher, although free review copies have always been a standard practice in the industry.

(Recently a blogpost was circulating that accused pretty much every major indie author of purchasing 500+ book reviews from Fivrr. This was a nasty hoax. Some of the authors accused don't even have 500 reviews on all their books combined.)

Rule #4 Never Respond to Your Reviews

If a review violates the rules, you can ask for it to be removed, but responding—even to a good review—makes some reviewers nervous. They want to feel we're off in another realm somewhere, not right here looking over their shoulders.

On places like Goodreads, people will call you a "badly behaving author" simply for thanking a thoughtful reviewer for a good review.

What you can do when you get a fantastic review is follow the reviewer on other social media and hope they'll initiate contact. Several of my reviewers have become good friends because I friended them on Facebook. But resist the urge to say "thank you" in the comments of the review itself. I did this myself before I knew the rules, with no bad consequences, but you never know when a vigilante might be lurking. (I'm only talking about review sites here: not blogs. Most bloggers welcome a thank-you for a nice review.)

But especially don't comment on nasty reviews. You're inviting more abuse.

Here are a few facts about reviews that may help to keep your fingers off the keyboard when the nasties hit:

1) Online review sites do not require reviewers to read a book and often allow people to rate a product even before it's available to anyone. This is a convention of the gaming world. It's something videogame companies did in the early days to gauge interest in a new game. Now, unfortunately, it's become a convention in online bookselling.

There's nothing we can do but spread the word that those star ratings don't mean a thing. I wish they'd drop them.

Why do people write nasty, hateful reviews of books they haven't read? Because being nasty and hateful is what they do. A new study says haters really gotta hate. Be glad they're on your book page and not in your living room.

2) One of the most common nasties is the "I hate this genre" review. I've seen plenty of review pages by people who apparently do nothing but troll Amazon for books in genres they hate so they can write one star reviews. Unfortunately, they have that right. 

3) Bestsellers pretty much always get snarky reviews. So accept it as a mark of success. Sometimes they're from sour-grape wannabes and sometimes from sock puppets. (Those are other authors with fake id's trying to get you "out of the way.") But sock puppetry is hard to prove. If the person has no other reviews and mentions a "rival" book, report abuse and hope the Zon elves will give you a hearing.

4) Free books are magnets for cruel reviews. It's one of the reasons free books aren't working as well as they used to.

Give-aways of free paper review copies on Goodreads and other book sites are being gamed. Every day I see authors complain that their expensive review copies are immediately sold on Amazon as "new" and they get no review, or worse, a one-sentence one-star.

So I advise that authors only send paper review copies to established bloggers and reviewers they have a prior relationship with.

NOTE: Always query a book review blogger before sending a review copy and for goodness' sake, READ THE BLOG—why is that so hard? Publicists: I'm talking to you.

5) Luckily, your readers can usually spot a troll review and nice people may even buy the book because of it.

And guess what? There really are a lot more nice people than nasty ones. One way to fight all this is to be one of the good guys. Writing honest reviews of books you like is the best way to fight this behavior. 

Rule # 5: Always Report Abuse (and take a screenshot)

These crimes are new—and span continents—but when a few sociopaths interfere with the bottom line of multinational corporations, you can be sure somebody's going to figure out how to control them.

That may result in restricted freedom for us all, so cutting down on it now is in everybody's interest. That's why you need to report abuse whenever you see it.

Okay, what's a screenshot? If you're a Boomer like Ruth and me, you may not know much about them.

But it turns out there's a way to take a photo of what's on your screen.  I could really have used it when I witnessed some abuse recently. But since then, I've found this great thing called Awesome Screenshot that puts a button right on your toolbar. You just click on that button and, voila! You can capture the whole page, the visible part or a partial. You can even make red circles around the pertinent spots.

Note: a negative, snarky review is not abuse. A review that's obscene, threatening, or attacks the author personally is. So is an ad for another author's book or services.

So you have to live with a review that says: 

"This wud be the wurst buk i ever red, if i wudda red it." 

But you can report one that says:

"This author is a cyberslut-boy who gay-sexted with Anthony Weiner."
"Somebody should #%&*@#!@$&*%!!! you sidewayswith a %*&@#!!!"
"This book is soooo boring. My erotic romance FIFTY SHADES OF DRYING PAINT is much more exciting. Here's the link."

A barrage of One-star personal attacks, called "swarming" can usually be removed. Character assassination by "review" is one of the more heinous misuses of Amazon and Goodreads.

To report abuse:

1) On FaceBook there's a little downward-arrow to the right of the post that will bring up a menu. One of the possible selections is "report abuse." Unfortunately the trolls have found it too, and they love to report people for abuse when they haven't done anything. But if that happens, you can write to appeals@facebook.com.

2) On Twitter Click on "***more" in the lower right corner of the tweet. This brings up a menu for "share", "embed" or "report". "Report" brings up a new menu where you can simply block, mark as spam, "compromised" (for when your Tweep has been hacked) or "abusive". "Abusive" brings up a form to fill out. It's more hoop jumping than they used to require, but that's to prevent trolls from reporting random innocents for abuse, as has been happening on FB.

3) On Amazon there's a prominent button for reporting abuse. Use it especially if you see abuse on another author's page. Amazon will pay more attention if it's from somebody other than the victim.

4) On Goodreads the button for "flagging" abuse is harder to find, but this post by friend of the blog Lexa Cain will tell you how. Also report abuse to the administrators via support@goodreads.com. Goodreads has tolerated rampant abuse of their review and "shelving" system for a long time. But now they're trying to clean up their act, so they will pay attention to your reports.

Even if you don't see an immediate result, things are probably happening behind the scenes. Site admin. usually pays attention to abuse reports only after they get a lot. So report.

Rule #6: Never Argue with a Drunk or a Fool

Internet bullies are both. They are literally drunk on their own rage. Rage can trigger endorphins that create a high similar to cocaine or meth.

How far do you think you'd get using reason and logic with a crazed tweaker on the street? Right. Then don't try it on the Internet. Even if they are wrong. Because guess what? They almost always are.

This famous 2008 cartoon from xkcd says it all.

The most important thing to remember when you encounter unpleasantness is: take a breath, verify facts, and don't over-react. As Bob Mayer said on his blog last week: "The internet is a very dangerous place. I’ve seen internet lynch mobs go crazy over the slightest thing (done it myself a time or two) but a day or two of waiting and watching isn’t going to change anything."

When cybermonkeys start tossing verbal feces around a forum or blog, treat it like any other pile of poop.
  • Carefully walk around it.
  • Realize you don't have to tell anybody what it is. Its stink will give it away.
  • Call maintenance.
  • Go someplace cleaner.
You might want to send private messages of support to victims, but don't stand up for victims in cyberpublic no matter how much your inner Atticus Finch is hurting to speak.

I didn’t follow that advice recently and I'm still scraping stuff off my shoe.

Rule #7 Stay Out of Rough Neighborhoods

Absolute Write is no longer recommended. I used to suggest looking there for info on bogus agents and scam publishers. These days, it's so dominated by bitter, bad-tempered snark, you'd probably be safer with the scammers.

Amazon Forums: The Deadwood of the publishing frontier. Brutally anti-author and out of control with vigilantism.

LinkedIn Writers Groups. Some may be safe, but I've unsubscribed from all the ones I belonged to. Way too many rageaholics. LinkedIn is the most invasive of all social media and if you're not on it because of work, I'd recommend you stay away. They'll try to trick you into giving them access to all your email accounts so they can spam every one of your contacts mercilessly in your name, including every agent you've ever queried.

Goodreads: Mean Girls meets Lord of the Flies. This site has been desperately in need of adult supervision for a long time. Recently, they have made big steps in cleaning up the site, but I'd still suggest you stay in safe, author-oriented groups. (I'm fond of my BoomerLit group.) And don't read your reviews!

Or, to be really safe, follow the advice one agent tells her clients: "Go to Goodreads to put up an author profile. Link to your blog. Log out. Never go back."

Rule #8: Change your definition of "review" and don't take online reviews so seriously

1) An online product review is nothing like a traditional book review. When most of us think of a book review, we think of something in the New York Times, or a thoughtful assessment of a work written by a sincere blogger who has read the book and done some careful thinking and writing about it.

But online product reviews—as established in the early days of the Internet—are essentially comments, like the comments you see at the end of online news stories or a You Tube entry.

That means some online "reviewers" bear the same resemblance to traditional book reviewers that homicidal baseball fans do to sports commentators: not much.

2) Cruel, angry reviews say more about the reviewer than they do about your book. And they put you in excellent company.  I know yours hurt like a physical wound, but it helps to read some of the idiotic one-stars of the classics.

3)  It's an urban myth that Amazon requires a certain number of reviews or stars or "likes" on your author page to "move you up the ranks." Only one thing does that: sales.

Some advertising newsletters like Kindle Nation Daily, E-Reader News Today and BookBub do require tons of 5-star reviews, but I think that encourages gaming the system so I use advertisers that don't, like E-Book Bargains UK.

For actual readers, it's much more important to have a few good reviews and some good editorial reviews from well known authors. So don't obsess.

4) A lot of people view retail site reviews as a place for comic relief. Some can be hilarious. Actor George Takei recently made "top reviewer" status on Amazon for his reviews of odd products. I dare you not to laugh.

Others can be morbid and weird, like the Yelp reviews of the hotel where a body was found in the water cistern, or reviews of a wife-killer's "self-help" books.

5) Bad reviews don't always mean bad sales. One young writer engaged in an ill-advised snark battle with an ex that ended up in getting her book over 100 one-star nasty, racist reviews. But her book seems to be selling briskly.

6) Amazon also has an ultra-competitive "top 500/100/50 reviewer" program and you can get caught in their games. According to many reports, Grand Theft Auto mentality is rampant there. Reviewer-on-reviewer bullying and competition can be toxic. I've seen them use review comments and "useful" voting buttons to harass each other. Or they give one-stars to books their rivals love. With the author or vendor getting caught in the middle.

This is obvious breach of Amazon rules, so clicking the "report abuse" button usually solves the problem, but it can be traumatizing for the baffled author.

There is a rigid Amazon review culture and fall afoul of it at your peril. I've just heard of a new book about it called How to Get Good Reviews on Amazon by Theo Rogers, which may explain some more of the arcane rules.

7) Most people who write product reviews and comments are sincere, helpful customers, and some Amazon book reviewers are old school literary experts who could be published in any upscale magazine.

The best way to clean up the review system is add your honest reviews to the mix. Join the ranks of the sincere and helpful! 

I know sometimes it seems as if nastiness on the Interwebz is getting worse, but according to some, it's actually turning around. In the May 2013 issue of Esquire, Stephen Marche said: "The Internet has reached peak hate. It had to. At every other moment in history when there has been an explosion of text — whether through social change, like the birth of a religious movement, or technological change, like the advent of print — a period of nasty struggle ensued before the forces of civility reined it in."

Let's hope for those forces of civility to step in soon.

Please don't discuss any specific recent incidents of bullying in the comments, or we'll attract monkey-poo (and if you see it, don't respond. Let it stink for itself.)

But don't keep bullying stories to yourself. Lawyers, law enforcement, and journalists are collecting information and will be grateful for your input. You can leave an incident report for NBC news here. There's more info at the International Bullying Prevention Website.

What about you, scriveners? Do you think Internet can be civilized? What other rules should writers follow to stay safe? Can you recommend other safe places for writers? Know of any other bad neighborhoods we should avoid? Do you think retailers should drop the "star" system on online reviews?

This month Anne has an article about the pressures social media puts on authors at Talking Writing, the magazine for creative writers and readers.

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Blogger The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress said...

Thank you for this information. This is very helpful and a bit scary!

October 6, 2013 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Some great and insightful tips.
I've never thanked anyone on Goodreads for a review (not publically) but I have left a comment of thanks on a blog. I guess that's wrong?
Giving other authors' books five stars hoping the gesture will be reciprocated - yeah, it happens.
I've received a few one stars from people who didn't read the book and couple scathing reviews from people who started to read but didn't finish. You just have to live with those.

October 6, 2013 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

Funny you should talk about bullying this week. In my personal life I'm under attack by a bully at my daughter's school. Yeah. And we're supposed to be adults. I guess some children never grow up.

October 6, 2013 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Excellent! As usual.

October 6, 2013 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jitterbug Girl--I know it's scary, but not as scary as the death threats I got when I wrote a blogpost that bullies thought encouraged review trading. I'm trying to help new authors avoid the horrors I went through.

Alex: THIS IS NOT ABOUT BOOK BLOGGERS!! I'll have to reword this if I'm giving that impression. Blogs are a whole different animal. You DO want to thank a blogger for a good review. This is about Amazon and other retail sites where the reviews are essentially comments.

Anne--So sorry you're going through that. We have a bully-promoting culture, I fear. When a handful of politicians are bullying the entire country in order to inflict a minority agenda and subvert democracy, what can the rest of us do? But I hope you have some legal recourse.


October 6, 2013 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Bill Peschel said...

Taking a screenshot is pretty easy. Pressing the "Prt Scr" key saves a copy of the screen. Open a program like MS Paint, create a new file (as large as your monitor) and select Paste. Save file.

Also, check in your Accessories folder. (If you're using Windows 7, click on the home button to call up your programs, choose "All Programs" and look for the folder.) There might be a program called Snipping. This lets you draw a box around that part of the screen you want, then you can save it to your computer.

(Also, the "somebody is wrong on the Internet" art is from xkcd. The credit line is underneath the image.)

October 6, 2013 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Martha Reynolds said...

I'm sharing this everywhere. Great post, Anne.

October 6, 2013 at 11:06 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Bill--One generations' "pretty easy" is another's "OMG, I'd better call tech support!" Those directions make my whole body go tense. That's why Awesome Screenshot is such a boon to non-techies.

And thanks a bunch for the correction on the cartoon attribution! I just fixed it. I had no idea xkcd was a person.

Martha--Thanks for sharing it. I think it may save some heartache.

October 6, 2013 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger Natalie Aguirre said...

I've really learned a lot about bullying on the Internet and how to avoid it from this post and other ones you've posted. It's very sad what goes on out there.

Looking forward to learning about Google +. I've never joined and not sure if I should. I'm guessing you'll tell us what we're missing out on.

October 6, 2013 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Joe O. said...

Great post. I’m a little confused though, so forgive my ignorance. Here’s an excerpt from a recent blog post I wrote:


I've read amazing books that left me reeling. On the other hand I've read books that could probably give sedatives competition.

As a reader, it's acceptable to write candid reviews with reasons why the book was great or awful. Yet, the privilege does not appear to extend to writers, because writers are supposed to celebrate a higher level of sportsmanship.

How do you become a good writer? You read a lot.

How do you motivate yourself to read? You pick up interesting books.

“How do you find interesting books? You follow someone's recommendation.


I’d like to know what the prevailing advice is? I’m working on becoming a published author. In the meantime, I read quite a number of books, but it seems I should not be leaving my reviews, or comments, because what I genuinely deem to be a 1 star rating would be a blow to the writer? Perhaps that’s true, but every now and then that is the feeling I get when the book is so bad I don’t want to finish it.

So, I’m not saying this week’s post was wrong. I hate bullying as much as anyone else, but has the climate grown so toxic that we can’t express our genuine views? Thanks for your candid responses.

October 6, 2013 at 12:19 PM  
OpenID islandeditions said...

I have shared this very important post. Last week, an author told me she had paid for a review to be published in a trade magazine - presumably she "paid someone" to ensure that a positive review would appear. I was afraid to ask how much that set her back, let alone advise that she should never have paid anyone at all to review her book. The problem is that writers are so desperate to get attention that they fall prey to anyone seeming to offer help, even if it costs the author a great deal of money. I hope writers and authors will read your post and be safe from all manner of trouble that's out there. Thanks for the warning!

October 6, 2013 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger Roland D. Yeomans said...

I read such hateful, hurtful reviews on books I liked when I first visited Goodreads that I, like that agent said, set up my author profile and stayed away.

You have some great rules here. I almost had to sit on my hands to keep from replying to one review of my book. Thanks for spotlight my latest post in Google+. That was very gracious and kind of you!

Drat! There is that STAT blood call that seems to come whenever I try to comment here. Have a great safe new week! :-)

October 6, 2013 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger Holli said...

I think most writers will take the chance and leave reviews on Amazon of books in their genre. According to that rule, I will never again be allowed to review a mystery novel, which is pretty much all I read.

I can sort of understand the logic, you don't want writers who know each other writing fake good reviews, and you don't want spiteful writers writing mean reviews just to make another writer's book look bad, but I think Amazon needs to give more credit than that to writers as a group.

I would take the risk of Amazon pulling my reviews down than not give an honest opinion of a novel just because it happens to be in the same genre that I write.

I always hated it when the teacher took recess away from the entire class because one loud mouth misbehaved. I would expect such a large vendor to be above elementary school tactics.

October 6, 2013 at 12:53 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Natalie--The post on Google+ will be a guest post from a savvy tech guy. I'm on Google+, but I know I'm not using it right.

You're right that the bad behavior on the 'Net is mostly sad.

Joe--The number one rule you need to keep in mind online is the Golden one. How would you feel if you got a nasty one-star? If you're hoping to network with other authors to start your career, maybe you don't want to be the one to write the nasty reviews.

Don't worry. If it's a bad book, somebody will dis it. (Even if it's a good book.) There's no shortage of critical people who hate stuff.

If you genuinely think that readers are being steered wrong and they need to be alerted to flaws in a book or product, go ahead and give that one star. But be aware of the "brand" you're creating for yourself.

For example, I have very strong political views, but since I've become an author with a big online presence, I keep those mostly under wraps in social media. It's not that I'm being dishonest. It's that my "brand" isn't that of a political writer.

We don't have to broadcast to the world everything that's in our heads.

Roland--One of my few visits to GR was to review a new book by a well known literary icon, and I saw such childish, ignorant "reviews", I never went back. I figured it wasn't a site for educated people

I loved your post on sex scenes in novels. The quotes were priceless!

October 6, 2013 at 1:09 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

islands-- A paid review for a trade publication (like Publishers Weekly) isn't the same as paying for customer reviews. Generally PW, Kirkus, etc, will give an honest review even if it's paid. Their reviewers have always been paid. Not necessarily by authors, but they are paid professionals with a reputation at stake.

Holli--I'm so glad to hear you're being brave and doing it anyway! I agree totally with your reasoning. I've taken the chance and reviewed some mysteries recently. I just make sure they're not exactly in my subgenre. But I think the rule is silly. If I were dissing other chick lit mystery authors it would be a different story.

October 6, 2013 at 1:16 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

This is a terrific list, Anne. I'm sharing and posting...only on approved sites. :) Hugs, Paul

October 6, 2013 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger Judith Mercado said...

Thank you.

October 6, 2013 at 2:14 PM  
Blogger Lexa Cain said...

Thanks for the fabulous, thorough post. I'm stunned by the level of willful ignorance and spiteful hatred I find on the net. And it's all because people don't have to admit who they really are, so they aren't held accountable. But we live together in a civilized society and have to act with tolerance and diplomacy. The only ones who can afford not to care about what others think are mountain men who live completely outside society -- like the Unabomber!! The time is coming closer when there'll be internet police and rules for behavior, and some of us will be grateful.

Thanks for all you do in this community, Anne, and for including me in the links. :-)

October 6, 2013 at 2:28 PM  
Blogger ED Martin said...

Thanks for this post! I read a ton, but I find myself writing fewer reviews because I don't want to get caught in a nasty mess. And it's a shame, because sometimes I feel like I really have something insightful to add, but I'm paranoid it'll somehow come back and affect reviews of my own books. I know other authors who unfortunately feel the same way. Here's hoping civility will grow online!

October 6, 2013 at 2:42 PM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

So much to know, keep track of and, unfortunately,avoid. Thanks for all the information. Thanks for sharing all of your valuable life(or should I say writer)lessons with us.

October 6, 2013 at 2:47 PM  
OpenID rightinkonthewall said...

Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and detailed post on this. I'm pre-published and it's a great time to be so when there's information shared like this to help you understand what it's like before you jump in. I'm going to start leaving more reviews for books - it's awful they're not always genuine.

Also, thank you for the GalleyCat link - I'm a freelance editor and just listed my details. I'll also be looking for an editor after NaNoWriMo, so it's great to know about resources like this.

Finally, I'm looking forward to enjoying Food of Love!! Started it this morning :) Sara

October 6, 2013 at 3:01 PM  
Blogger Susan Stuckey said...

What a timely and much needed post. I could have really used this two years ago. I discovered some of these facts about sites the hard way.

So glad you posted.

October 6, 2013 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Paul--Thanks much for the shares!

Judith--You're welcome :-)

Lexa--Many thanks for your contribution to this post. You helped me see that the way to deal with this is report, report, report! I agree that the Internet is all about community. Nobody gets to be a Unibomber and not suffer consequences eventually.

ED--Professional authors welcome all insightful reviews, but there are unprofessional authors as well as unprofessional reviewers. When you have monkey poo coming from both sides, all you want to do is run. But I still think it's good to write reviews. As long as they're helpful to readers, and not just soapboxes to talk about one's own issues.

Christine--There is lots to avoid, but think of all the time we can save not going to these sites. :-)

rightink--I'm glad your take-away from this is that it's good to write reviews. That's what I hoped to tell people. When you're prepublished is when you can review without being accused of trading or trying to knock down "rivals."

Good luck with NaNo! I thought that GalleyCat project looked like pure gold for editors and writers alike.

And I'm so glad you bought Food of Love! I hope you enjoy the screwball humor!

October 6, 2013 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Susan--Me, too! If you click through to my post on Amazon reviews and read some of the comments, you'll see what I had to deal with because I was so naive. These vigilantes are brutal, even if you haven't actually done anything.

October 6, 2013 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...

Chat rooms are another place where serious bullying/favoritism/threatening are extremely rampant.

I spent about three and a half years in one particular forum and I left because I couldn't deal with the bullying/favoritism (that particular website was/is so notorious for selectively enforcing its ToS that a slew of media companies withdrew their permission to let that company run their forums.

October 6, 2013 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Jim Bessey said...

Your article is so comprehensive and so helpful, Anne, that I couldn't wait to share it with my author friends.

Bookmarked, and much appreciated for your hard work in putting this together. Thanks.

October 6, 2013 at 4:58 PM  
Blogger Katie Cross said...

I hadn't really prepared myself for this possibility, so I'm grateful to get such good advice. I've seen it get ugly before, and I'm glad I feel more ready for brushing it off and walking around the monkey poo now.

Thanks so much! I love your blog.

October 6, 2013 at 5:51 PM  
Blogger Stacy Green said...

Hi Anne! Thanks for the great post. I think it's unfortunate that this is happening across the board, but sadly, it's part of putting yourself out there as an artist of any kind. I try to keep my head down and write these days. Sometimes it's hard, especially on Facebook, because I have pretty strong political views among other things and could easily get vocal. But at the end of the day, before I post something, I always think: how is this going to further my career and/or affect my reputation?
And I usually stop myself.

As for Google+, I'm really interested to hear how it will working with YouTube. I'm on there, but I don't know how to use it effectively, and so far only other writers are in my circles.

Thanks for the post!

October 6, 2013 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger Kathryn Treat said...

I am so glad you touched on this subject.

October 6, 2013 at 7:51 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

G. B. I've mostly only heard the stories of those old chat rooms, but I did venture into a literary chat room a decade ago. One troll made vicious comments on every single creative work posted. Everybody ran and it disappeared. Good riddance. Everything will devolve into Lord of the Flies if nobody is in charge. Sorry you had to go through that.

Jim--So glad the post is helpful!

Katie--Thanks! It's so hard to resist the urge to defend yourself against nastiness and lies, but it really is better to walk around it.

Stacy--Keeping your head down at the same time that you're trying to make a name for yourself is tough. But you're right that you constantly have to think about your audience, not your own needs.

The stuff I'm hearing about Google+ is fascinating. And I don't see much troll activity there. Although I'm sure it will come.

Kathryn--I had to give myself some time to cool down after the last troll attack I got, but I think all this stuff needed to be said.

October 6, 2013 at 8:19 PM  
Blogger KyBunnies said...

I personally HATE the star review system. Everyone looks/understands the rating a little differently. This is a big problem what I think is a raving 5 star book is something you think is good but not close to 5 stars. It should be dropped and people write a review with more than 20 words.

Sadly bullies/trolls will always be around. I look at them this way 'They are just jealous of an author (or someone) success. They attack because they know they will never be able to create such amazing work.' Ignore them and stop giving them ammunition.

Thanks for a great post. Even if I am not a boomer I enjoy reading and learn something helpful each time.

October 6, 2013 at 8:50 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

KyBunnies--I have mentioned my age too many times in this post, haven't I? I didn't mean to imply this advice is just for Boomers.

Ruth and I have been in this business a long time, so we've collected a full set of mistakes so we share them in hopes of keeping new writers from having to make them. We hope we're talking to writers of any age here.

There's definitely an element of envy/sour grapes in troll behavior. I know when I was in the theater, the people who were most critical of any production were the actors who didn't get cast. Or didn't have the courage to audition.

They don't always need much ammunition to attack. "Reviews" give them a voice. We have to learn not to engage and escalate the drama they crave.

October 6, 2013 at 9:11 PM  
Blogger IParrot Post said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

October 6, 2013 at 10:45 PM  
Blogger Silverbird said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

October 7, 2013 at 12:30 AM  
Blogger Sharon K. Reamer said...

Thanks for this - things are much scarier than I thought! I generally only interact with social media for the social part and announcements when something new comes out, so thanks for making me aware.

I stopped reviewing on Amazon a while back after they changed their policy on reviewing friends' books, etc. But I did join Goodreads and set up an author profile. I never discuss my books on there and use it only as a reader - posting reviews that I used to post to Amazon and staying out of any groups or discussions. It feels safe that way, but maybe I've just been lucky.

Thanks again! A good tip about g+

October 7, 2013 at 3:06 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

Anne, this is a brilliant and very helpful post. I've long wondered why novelists have been suckered into the self-promotion trap when most of us just want to write novels. To read all those 'hype-yourself-to-fortune' ebooks, we need to work 24/24 just on our social networks to sell a few dollars' worth of books.

'Tain't so! As a means of selling books for a substantial profit, social networking just doesn't work. (And yes, I know about John Locke, et alia...)

Proof? I did some research on this, which you can find at:

(I hope you won't regard this as comment spam. My thoughts in that post might be of interest, and they accord entirely with your own.)

October 7, 2013 at 4:24 AM  
Blogger Kittie Howard said...

Another great post, Anne. I bookmarked several links for a more in-depth look later. I dropped out of Goodreads months ago because the site's basically useless. Don't do FB. Tried Twitter, but found it boring. I reported to Amazon a case of outright plagiarism but their legal beagles have the corners covered. So, I just do my own thing and plod along. But the day's coming when the DOJ will have to do something about Internet abuses that are illegal in everyday life.

October 7, 2013 at 4:48 AM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

Fabulous post. Was really interesting to find out that the Star system on Amazon isn't used for ratings. I recall a short time ago if you gave an author less than 5 stars you'd have your head handed to you. Guess that's changed. Like others, those stars should go. They're not helpful at all except to corrupt the whole point of a "review" i.e. a thoughtful, fair, honest, warts and all overview evaluation.

Thanks for the Awesome Screen Shot link. That'll sure be fun, especially for a Luddite like me.

And what is with Linked In? I joined for reasons that now elude me and now I keep getting constant "endorsements" from people I don't know endorsing me for talents I don't have. What's up with that? I have no clue.

Anyway, great informative post. Let's hope the On Line society will finally begin to come to terms with it's more outrageous abuses. (A hint regarding the whine about "free speech." That only applies to government. Amazon, Google, et al are private companies. They can set and enforce ANY standards they want. And I suspect when abuse starts showing up in their bottom line, they'll reach for their copy of Miss Manners.)

October 7, 2013 at 6:20 AM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

Oops, meant "its more outrageous . . " Duh.

October 7, 2013 at 6:34 AM  
Blogger Julie Luek said...

As always, good information Anne. When I first started using Goodreads, it was for my own personal use-- to record the books I've read, what I thought of them and get ideas for new books. Now that I'm more familiar with the author side of it, I'm going to close my account. I feel like I risk hurting authors with my star-reviews if I didn't like a book and risk their anger. I will go back to my pen and paper tracking.

So much to consider. Bottom line: hold myself to an, as you said, adult ethical behavior.

October 7, 2013 at 7:12 AM  
Blogger Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Anne,

Thanks for this... WE ALL need to be alert and know what's happening in our world. It is a shame that a writer today has to be on the "alert" because of the few bad apples that are ruining it for all of us.

BULLIES are everywhere... so sad, really. The arts are designed to create, nourish, and give people a sense of pride and appreciation for the written word or other creative endeavor.

But for centuries artists have been bullied. Even DaVinci was bullied by the Medici to finish their tombs in cold marble. An appropriate end for them.... Cold heart/cold tomb.

October 7, 2013 at 7:20 AM  
Blogger J.L. Campbell said...

Thanks for these reminders. I've avoided many of the places you've mentioned but it's good to be aware of what goes on and what to avoid.

October 7, 2013 at 7:22 AM  
Blogger JoAnnAinsworth said...


You might be interested to read “The Bullying Antidote: Superpower Your Kids for Life” by Dr. Louise Hart and Kristen Caven. It gets sat the roots of bullying, how to catch and stop it early on, and tells how being bullied can lead to health issues later in life.

October 7, 2013 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

"If the bullies catch you breaking their rules—even unwritten ones—they will destroy your career and reputation with all the self-righteous sadism of the Taliban slaughtering a schoolgirl."

A one-star review isn't even remotely comparable to murder. I found this analogy extremely offensive, both to reviewers and to actual victims of terrorism.

October 7, 2013 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger Sandra Danby said...

Excellent article, Anne, thanks. I've just read Jonathan Franzen's comments and have some sympathy.

October 7, 2013 at 8:43 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

I take issue with discouraging people from using Goodreads beyond setting up an author profile. Building a platform is about mingling with readers, and although I do not doubt that there are bullies on the site, my own experience over the past year has been a positive one. The groups I've joined have been equally helpful about exploring genres, recommending new books and generally building camaraderie. The site will not ever improve if we just decide to write it off based on a few people's negative experiences.

Also, I want to clarify my earlier comment that when I referred to 1 star reviews, I meant 1 star reviews with a thoughtful explanation of why the 1 star was given. Nasty reviews are counterproductive and ought to be deleted by the site administrators, which brings me to the other point that I sincerely hope we do not get to a point where the Internet is heavily regulated. Bullying is awful, but it should be up to the site to decide whether it is committed enough to intelligent discourse and not a government agency. The sites that don't care or don't enforce their own terms of service will naturally be abandoned by users.

October 7, 2013 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sharon—If you're on Goodreads as a "reader" and don't mention you've written any books, you should be pretty safe. Also, as I said, GR is trying to clean up its act.

Dr. John—I'll check out your post. (No. It's definitely not spam when you link to a relevant article.) I owe my whole career to social media, so I don't knock it. But I think we have to be reasonable in our expectations and use our time effectively.

Kittie—It's not just the US DOJ but international courts that are monitoring these people. When the crackdown comes, everybody will scream about it, but if people can't behave nicely, somebody has to call the authorities. Meanwhile, as I said, Google+ seems to be pretty civilized. I guess because it's mostly businesses doing networking, instead of people trying to pretend they're still in high school.

Churadogs—The star system IS still used for *ratings*. It affects the algorithms that choose also- boughts and suggestions. But it doesn't affect your *numerical ranking*. Presumably you could be #1 on Amazon and have a bunch of one-star reviews if you could sell enough copies. But of course the one-stars will affect sales, even if they don't affect your numerical rank. And a 1-3 star review is still an unpleasant insult to an author.

You're so right about "free speech." These sites are all private and owners can make us all say "hail great spaghetti monster" before we're allowed to post and it's totally within their rights.

Julie—Sounds like you've figured out how to protect yourself. There's an illusion of "privacy" with your own shelves and groups, but the truth is there's no such thing as privacy on the Internet. So pen and paper is still best for private notes. There are authors whose work I don't care for at all, but I don't discuss them online. Not because I think these authors are going to come after me, but because it's like a big cocktail party. Things get passed on and feelings get hurt.

October 7, 2013 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Michael—You may be right that creatives have always been bullied. The poet Ovid got exiled by the emperor Augustus for no reason anybody has ever figured out. And the Medici were horrible bullies to everybody. In fact, the history of the world is basically the history of the bullies.

J.L.—Now you can stop feeling guilty about not going to those places marketers say we should. :-)

JoAnne—Sounds like a good resource. There's a lot out there about fighting childhood bullying—which is epidemic--but not so much about adult-on-adult bullying. But it's a major factor in the workplace.

Amber—Self-righteous sadism is a continuum. It's a matter of degree. These people have sent me death threats. And online bullies have destroyed people's careers and driven them to suicide. Bullies hate to see the consequences of their behavior. They need to feel that self-righteous high.

Sandra—I don't want to be put in the Franzen Luddite camp. He seems to hate the 21st century altogether. I love social media. I just want to see it grow up.

Joe—As I said to Sharon, I think Goodreads is perfectly safe as long as you're not wearing your "author hat". I think you're right that if sites aren't monitored, people go away. As Churadogs pointed out "free speech" doesn't apply to private property, and these sites are private. It's up to the owners to make them a safe place for users. But if they don't, law enforcement will step in and it will remove freedoms for us all.

October 7, 2013 at 9:57 AM  
Blogger Gary Henderson said...

I think this is an insightful post, and I have shared it to my networks on Facebook and LinkedIn (writers group). But I also am uncomfortable with your dismissal of Goodreads. As "Joe" above me says, we can't improve things by ignoring them and treating them as though they don't exist. I have only had one negative experience on Goodreads, and that was for a 2-star review I wrote. A very thoughtful, careful review. Unfortunately, one of my friends took issue, and another leapt to my defense, and I was stuck in the middle trying to keep things civil.

Instead of avoiding Goodreads altogether, why not use it like you want other people to use it? Make a community, interact with others. Get recommendations based on what you've read and liked. The same rules you've outlined for every other site, basically.

Other than that one point, I think you're spot on, though. Thanks for the post.

October 7, 2013 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger Gary Henderson said...

Heh. While I was reading all the other comments and then composing mine, I see you responded to the Goodreads thing several times. Never mind. :)

October 7, 2013 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger Rishabh said...

I read the entire post and I couldn't agree more. The troll army is so brutal that it could make Genghis Khan and Alexander cry. I sometimes avoid social media completely.

I believe twitter and answering reviews could expose one to the harsh online world. Replying to a degrading or hurtful review would only encourage the said reviewer to hit back with sock puppet accounts.

October 7, 2013 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Gary--Good point. If you're brave, it's good to go out there and model good behavior. As I said, I haven't left Goodreads myself. That agent's advice is for newbies who haven't developed armor yet.

Rishabh--You're so right. As shown by one of the comments here, these bullies don't seem to realize their online cruelties have repercussions in real life that are just as final as an attack by a real army. People have committed suicide, suffered heart attacks and other serious real life illnesses brought on by bullying. It is serious and life-threatening, and needs to be prosecuted as a crime.

October 7, 2013 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

This might be the longest blog post I ever read but it was so interesting I couldn't stop. I had one of those one star genre hating reviews on Amazon. I don't get the haters.

October 7, 2013 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger LD Masterson said...

That's a lot of information to digest. Thank you for putting it all together.

October 7, 2013 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Tammy J. Palmer said...

Glad I found your blog. Very informative. Thanks.

October 7, 2013 at 3:41 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Susan--I probably should have divided it, but I kind of needed to give an overview of all the rules. At least I took out the "how not to spam" part for next week. Do I get points for that?

LD--It took me a looooong time to learn it all, believe me.


October 7, 2013 at 4:02 PM  
Blogger Southpaw said...

Good info, I didn't know people made hate pages on facebook. That is so sad.

October 7, 2013 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger Karin Kallmaker said...

Thank you for this excellent, sane, pragmatic summation! I will be sharing far and wide.

October 7, 2013 at 7:24 PM  
Blogger Mira said...

Thank you so much for writing about this, Anne. I think many people are scared to, actually, and I truly appreciate your courage.

It's difficult to over-state how important it is for writers to find out about this, know what they are wading into and learn how to protect themselves.

And also, talk among ourselves! It's much harder to hit a group than it is to hit an isolated individual.

Thank you again, from the heart!

October 7, 2013 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Grace Burrowes said...

"Don't stand up for victims in cyberpublic..." Oh, that bothers me, as much as I understand the sense of it. But how do we deter the uncivil when they intimidate us so thoroughly? I don't have those answers. Does anybody else?

October 7, 2013 at 8:47 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Southpaw--Sad is the word I use, too. You wonder what kind of horrible lives bullies must have to need to do such terrible things.

Karin--Thanks much for spreading the word. If we can save one newbie from being bullied away from writing, we've done a good thing.

Mira--Thanks so much. It is scary, and I'm already getting flak for posting this. Abusers are power-crazed and high on their own hate. Nothing to be done but hope the sites that harbor them will see it doesn't benefit their bottom line. You're right that banding together and letting people know the abusers are out there is the way to fight it--just like fighting any other kind of abuse.

Grace--I'm speaking from experience here. I spoke up and got attacked with everything from toxic reviews, to slander and death threats (including a Google maps photo of my house.)They have sent people to the hospital and left others destitute. The more kind and helpful or innocent you are, the more they want to destroy you. They shouldn't be underestimated.

What we can do is report, report, report. That means talking to the media and law enforcement as well as admin.(And take screenshots!)They are breaking a lot of laws and law enforcement will catch up with them, but only if they know what's going on.

October 7, 2013 at 9:16 PM  
Blogger Donna said...

To do a screenshot, it the Alt button on your keyboard and then the Print Screen button on your keyboard. You can the open a Word document and paste it. (control v)

October 8, 2013 at 2:16 AM  
Blogger Chella Ramanan said...

Interesting post, with some great tips. As a gamer and a writer, I am confused by the 'Grand Theft Auto mentality' you refer to, as well as the fact that you seem to infer that gamers and trolls are one and the same. This isn't true.
Most gamers are just regular internet users who want to be able to comment and debate things online without being attacked by trolls. I don't think trolls belong to any fixed group. They aren't gamers or readers or sports fans, they're more like football hooligans - just there for the buzz of destroying and antagonising. I'm not sure if you play games or how familiar you are with GTA, but the brush you tarred gamers with felt a bit Daily Mail i.e. a sweeping statement based on little personal knowledge.
Thanks for otherwise interesting post though.

October 8, 2013 at 2:29 AM  
OpenID nikisavage said...

Hi Anne, thanks for an interesting post. Just a small correction. I recently discovered that Amazon has revoked the rule about authors reviewing in their own genre. I found this out after reporting a one star review from a fellow romance author. She called my 75000 word novel short and accused me of deceptive practices. Upon investigation, I discovered that she had written 8 books, all in the 75000 word range. I reported this to Amazon, thinking that the same genre rule was still in place, but they told me that it had been revoked. Of course, I resisted the temptation to give her a one star review in return.

October 8, 2013 at 3:26 AM  
Blogger Gyula Mészáros said...

Thank you Anne, this had to be said.
Funny, but sometimes I buy a book because what is said in the one star reviews, because I like what they criticise.
I completely agree with you on this:
"The best way to clean up the review system is add your honest reviews to the mix. Join the ranks of the sincere and helpful!"

October 8, 2013 at 5:54 AM  
Blogger T. A. Miles said...

"We don't have to broadcast to the world everything that's in our heads."

Communication suffers sometimes between my fingers and my brain. I'm a passionate mouthy person, who has a habit of ranting, usually about injustice and people being people. I used to do this on my blog, thinking it was my 'private' online journal space. Oh, how silly I was. I've never had any direct attacks on my blog, nor have I been involved in more than one(or a few) skirmishes where my fingers just would not be reasoned with, but as I've come to understand this media culture(it's taken years of expedition into many different settings), I realize it's a very young, reckless, and still vulnerable culture. The only way to help it is to guide it gently and without use of incendiary grenades, no matter how justified they may seem. I've since taken down blog posts that have rants which seem too passionate and as an author I never comment or interact with readers on review sites. Not even to be pleasant, because to some an author speaking to them pleasantly may seem like Norman Bates. Though one reviewer friended me once at GR and scared the crap out of me just for the fact that he did it with my as yet unreviewed book on his tbr shelf, so it goes both ways(I say that lightly. The reviewer turns out to be a friendly person who likes to connect with authors).

Anyway, thank you for the clarity of this post. I shall pass it on!

October 8, 2013 at 6:59 AM  
Blogger Rachel Schmidt said...

I shall pass this along to all my author friends

October 8, 2013 at 8:41 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Donna—That's easy! Even I could do that. OK, people, if you don't want to download Awesome Screenshot, that's how you do it!

Chella—I admit I've never played a videogame. I've only watched young men play them. Mostly very nice young men, including my three brilliant nephews. But the point of the games seems to be to kill people. Virtual people, but still the carnage is kind of shocking to people who aren't in that world.

This is what Wikipedia says is the object of Grand Theft Auto "The game allows the player to take on the role of a criminal who can roam freely around a big city. Various missions are set for completion, such as bank robberies, assassinations, and other crimes." That's what I meant by "Grand Theft Auto mentality." When people apply that mentality to interactions with real people on the Interwebz, real problems arise.

Niki—Thanks so much for sharing this info. I'm going to put it in the body of the post. I love my commenters!! Although I'm sad that it involved leaving a nasty attack comment on your buy page. I'm going to be adding some comments from an intellectual property lawyer that shows your "rival" author might not have been in violation of the Amazon rules, but Amazon was breaking the law to leave it there, and you can report it to law enforcement.

Gyula—I do that too! If somebody who's obviously semi-literate complains that a book is "too hard" and "full of big werds" and "why doesn't everybody act like they should?" I'm much more likely to hit the buy button, because I like intellectual challenge. And yes! Writing real, honest reviews is the best way to fight this.

T.A.—Lots of wisdom in your comment. Yes: "it's a very young, reckless, and still vulnerable culture. We need to act as if we're dealing with vulnerable cocky teens, who need guidance and a firm hand, but not rage and irrational retaliation.

Rachel—Thanks much. Spreading the word will help vulnerable newbies.

October 8, 2013 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Attorney Janet Normalvanbruecher left this fantastic comment, which was too big for Blogger to publish in its little window. Here's part #1. I'm going to put the rest in the body of the post. This is such important info for everybody!!


Thanks so much Janet!!!

"Great post, Anne. You have always been the voice of reason in the wilderness. However, looking at this as a practicing attorney with a sub-speciality in intellectual property law, you have made layperson assertions about the permissibility about what Amazon/Goodreads/other review sites are doing to authors which are not legally correct.

[*just because a multi-national corporation willfully breaks the law does not mean it is legal*]


I will list links to the relevant legal statutes, government agencies, and news sources so your readers know they DO have recourse.

1. Online customer reviews are a form of 'endorsement' or 'customer testimonial.'

(Note: due to the government shutdown you can't access this video until the trolls in congress stop bickering ... but it's excellent).

2. This doesn't just apply to online bloggers, but ANY distributor (seller) or other website that makes their money selling third-party review data to create sales. The operative word is 'commerce.' It has to somehow involve money.

3. Attorney generals nationwide are beginning to crack down on fraudulent third-party review sites such as YELP who rates hotels and restaurants much the way Goodreads reviews books"

October 8, 2013 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger Kristie Leigh Maguire - Romance Author said...

Thank you for writing this great article. I've been on the receiving end of things like this and it's not pleasant. For the most part, I've given up on making internet appearances as an author except on my FB Author Page.

October 8, 2013 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger Rick Carufel said...

I like to address a few issues.
First reporting abuse.
1)facebook There is virtually no way to contact them. If you send a form report they do nothing.
2)Twitter too does nothing. I sent them SS of a troll publishing my home address and they said it didn't violate their guidelines.
3) I have been told by amazon that stalking bullying, harassment, defamation, libel, 1-star, no read reviews and publishing my home address is all withing their guideline. Every complaint make by email gets a canned response, a second complaint get a response that says they can no longer address the issue and a third response get a threat that if you continue to discuss the same problem they might ban you.
4) I complained to Goodreads about the trolls from Amazon stalking me and seven friends, 1-star rating all our books and listing them on disgusting shelves. Goodreads banned me for complaining about poor reviews.
So much for reporting abuse. You have to be vary careful about reporting abuse to GR they have a policy of banning the victims.

Most reports of reviewers being abused are lies by the trolls.
If a review even a one star discusses the book it's a good review. If on the other hand a post is made that attacks the author is it not a review but a personal attack. And the poster is not a reviewer but a troll. It is these personal attacks that authors have responded to that are reported as authors attacking reviewers. But they are in fact not reviews and the poster not a reviewer but a troll.

The main problem is that the DMCA was gutted with a rider that removed all liability from website owners for their content. So what was a great bill was destroyed and made ineffective. This is why the trolls get away with what they do and the websites refuse to do a thing.

Janet know what she's talking about the fraudulent APIs from goodreads and Amazon are the chinks in their armor. They are in violation of FTC regulations.

October 9, 2013 at 12:16 AM  
Blogger Michael Parker said...

It's all very well defending Amazon for their toughness over unscrupulous reviewing, but what about their stance on reviews that are no longer relevant? My first e-book was formatted by someone only known to me through the web. It was an absolute disaster and was slaughtered by reviewers. I was called lazy, hadn't a clue about writing, had no right to be publishing on Amazon etc. I accepted the responsibility for this because I did not read the proof before it went to Amazon. As a result of this debacle I withdrew the book and learned how to format for Kindle myself. This meant learning HTML as well. Since then I have reformatted, using Amazon's very good 'How To' ebook. I contacted Amazon and asked if they would remove the nasty reviews as they were no longer relevant to the newly formatted book. They refused. This meant that some readers would see a snarling review for a book that doesn't exist and therefore choose to ignore it. I often think that some reviews say more about the reviewer than the book itself.

October 9, 2013 at 2:01 AM  
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October 9, 2013 at 5:09 AM  
Blogger Claude Nougat said...

I'm the 78th to comment! Goes to show how successful your blog is and how you've hit on a sensitive issue for all of us. My sincere thanks for enlightening us and I'm glad our group on Goodreads has managed to create a friendly environment for all its members. I sincerely hope it goes on this way.

I also meant to post about Book Reviews, To Do or Not to Do, but you beat me to it, well done! Though, with your leave (and links to your excellent post) I might still do it for the benefit of my blog readers...

October 9, 2013 at 7:39 AM  
Blogger Angela Perry said...

This is a terrific post. It mirrors my experiences online exactly, and it has supporting documentation! I love the studies you found to help explain the nonsense.

I'd add Making Light to the list of sites to be wary of. Last time I was there (several years ago), it wasn't quite as bad Absolute Write, but it was close. The same people hang out there.

October 9, 2013 at 8:38 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Kristie--Judging by my responses to this post, I'd say you're in good company. It doesn't matter how you're published. Trolls will attack anybody and they don't seem to need much provocation at all. Facebook is usually safe, but I know authors who've had their FB pages hacked by the literary trolls, so no place is really safe except your own blog.

Rick--Sorry to hear you've had such bad luck getting a response. I did finally get help from FB using the appeals@Facebook address above. I think it's a question of reaching critical mass. If they get enough complaints, they'll act, as GR has after years of abuses. But Janet's suggestion to contact law enforcement is a good one. I've heard there's a legal team in the Hague looking into prosecuting Amazon for fraudulent reviews, because they interfere with international commerce. Also American Express is working on curbing bogus reviews. I just read about it in the NYT this AM.

Michael--That's a serious problem. I didn't know they did that. And it certainly is misleading to the customer. Since customer service is supposed to be their #1 priority, they're definitely asleep at the wheel there. I guess that means you'd need to republish under a slightly different title to avoid getting those reviews pasted onto your book forever. It might be something to report to Janet's law enforcement sites. It's consumer fraud to misrepresent a product, and that's what the old reviews do.

Claude--Unfortunately about 10 of those comments were spam. Grrr. I'm working on a spam post as we speak.

Yes, our Boomerlit GR group is wonderful. It's why I'm not leaving GR. It's marvelous to discuss books with adults. And interestingly enough, more Boomers seem to "get" humor than younger people. Learning to laugh at ourselves must come with wisdom (and wrinkles.)

Do write that post! The more the word is spread, the more writers can stay safe

Angela--Thanks much! I've never heard of Making Light, but I appreciate the heads-up. One place I never have to go! Anything that cuts down on fritter time is a good thing. Now back to the WIP!

October 9, 2013 at 10:04 AM  
Blogger Marc Quattromani said...

Great stuff!

I don't think this we really be solved until the review sites institute more sophisticated methods for finding useful reviews and getting useful ratings.

There are heuristics that would allow quality reviewers to be identified (for one, anyone spamming 1 star reviews can immediately be eliminated but there are other ways to do it, including community approval).

Once the site can identify the better reviewers (those that tend to offer a range of ratings, those with a certain number of reviews, those that the community finds useful), it would then be possible to filter ratings and comments by degree of trustworthiness of the reviewers. You want everything fine, you get the raw comments and ratings. You want to see only trusted comments and just as important, you want to see ratings based on only trusted reviewers, there you go.

This is not trivial to implement but it can be done. Now, if someone wants to post something in appropriate, they run the risk of losing their trusted reviewer status. They can still post what they want and it is community rated so you can't say it is censorship. Of course, no one needs to read the junk, either.

October 9, 2013 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger Ann Bennett said...

As much as I support free speech, I also feel no one should post negative comments without having their identity verified, posted and can be contacted.
You are right in a comment speaking more about the commenter.d. To give a one star review, I would have to feel someone's life was in danger or a gray deal of money was involved. A book would rarely satisfy that criteria. Like all our moms have said, "If you cannot say anything nice, say nothing".
Since all our home addresses can be found on the Internet, I do not know if this blog topic is reasonable. However, how do people and authors protect their personal info from trolls.

October 9, 2013 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Marc--Great suggestions. I wouldn't want to weed out the occasional reviewer, though: the one who might only read a few books a year, but falls in love with one and wants to share her experience.

But eliminating anonymity would be huge. That would also eliminate sock puppets. It wouldn't be so hard. Most trolls are anonymous, so most of them would be gone right there. Retail sites could also limit the number of reviews you could leave per week. People who leave 100 one-stars a day could be cut off there, too. And they should put it in the TOC that you need to read a book to review it.

Ann--Great idea: just what I was saying to Marc above. People keep claiming they're only being "honest" when they leave one-stars, so why not actually be honest and use their real names?

As far as protecting our personal identity, it can't be done. I've never posted my physical address anywhere and my phone is unlisted, but these people found my address and got Google maps photo of my home and threatened me with murder.

Nobody is really anonymous on the 'Net. That means Amazon and GR know who these terrorists are and they could stop them if they felt enough pressure.

October 9, 2013 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Carol Shaughnessy said...

Thank you. It's a scary world out there. I would never have thought of this.

October 9, 2013 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

Yikes! I didn't realize Goodreads was like that. Great advice here, especially as I'm prepping to send my book out into the big world. Thank you.

October 9, 2013 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger Melissa Jolly said...

What a fantastic article! Thank you for finally putting so many of the "rules" in one place. After seeing where was Goodreads was headed, I started telling all of my clients that Goodreads is for READERS. Make sure your books are on it and then walk away. It's like a black hole for writers. I'll be very interested to read your upcoming article about Google+. I know it's extremely important for your SEO. And why wouldn't Google give their own products a heavier weight in their own search engine?

One of the most important things that anyone ever said to me was, "whatever negative thing someone says about you, it says more about them than it does about you." A little bit of a mind bender, but it's true in life and it's true online.

Thanks again!

October 10, 2013 at 6:58 AM  
Blogger Shah Wharton said...

This post is long, but every word deemed required reading in my book. I shared it with one author who's having a hard time right now. I'm clearly not interesting enough to garner the spew some have to endure. Thanks so much for this, at least I'll be prepared for it when it happens. X

October 10, 2013 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Shah Wharton said...

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October 10, 2013 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Shah Wharton said...

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October 10, 2013 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Morgan Dragonwillow said...

Thank you, this helped me a lot.

October 10, 2013 at 8:55 AM  
Blogger Meghan Ward said...

Great advice to take a screen shot of abuse, and not to read your reviews. I'll bookmark this for the day I have a book on Amazon or GoodReads. Meanwhile, I'll share it for those who already do.

October 10, 2013 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Carol—It is scary indeed. When I first ran afoul of these nutjobs, I was a newbie blogger with only one book out. The attack was so brutal and out-of-nowhere that I started to have panic attacks. These people require only the flimsiest pretext to ruin a life. They especially prey on seniors and the young.

Julie—Congrats on the new book! Forewarned is forearmed. Stay out of rough neighborhoods and you'll have a better chance of avoiding them.

Melissa—That's the same advice the agent I quoted gives. I personally enjoy my GR group, but we're almost all authors. What's hard to get your brain around is that some people think writers aren't readers. Kind of a disconnect there. But we do need to take off our author hat when we're there and only think like a reader. And yes, a nasty review is almost always about the reviewer, not the book.

You're so right about Google+. Google has a right to reward its own. That's why a Blogger blog gets higher rated in searches than WordPress.

Shah—I hope the post helps your friend. If she's being bullied, she's not alone. And it's pretty random. All you have to do is be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And we ALL get nasty reviews. It's part of the business.

Morgan—Glad I could help!

Meghan—Thanks much for sharing this. Your post on multi-media venues for stories today was fascinating and full of brand new innovative info. Haven't had time to comment, but I did share.

October 10, 2013 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger Huntress, aka CD Coffelt said...

These faux reviews are making all of us unbelievers. Is any given review an actual opinion? Or is it payback for some imagioned slight? I dont see an end to it.
As a reader and author, this puts me in a seriously deep chocolate funk.

October 10, 2013 at 11:51 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Hi, I just read the article below and thought I'd share it with the group here. It's a pleasant way of approaching hatred and criticism. You can also catch the link off my Twitter @js_orozco


October 10, 2013 at 4:32 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Huntress--I tend to agree with you. The more I learn about online "reviews" the less I trust any of them. But yes, chocolate helps. :-)

Joe--Thanks so much! Great piece. Love this quote that we should ALL keep in mind: "Most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice." —Bob Goff"

October 10, 2013 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger kathy barron said...

I love this post, Anne. Your description of Goodreads was right on. I've signed up, logged off and haven't been back since. I think in some way I feel protected by the bullies because there's a computer screen between us. But the internet is an abyss of the good, the bad and the ugly. Thanks for the great information!

October 10, 2013 at 6:02 PM  
Blogger M.L. Swift said...


This may have been your "longest post ever," as you said, but with information such as this, who cares? I devoured it!

Years ago, I stood up for someone being bullied on a TV program message board, and dang if I didn't get kicked off the board. And I was KIND! Adult. Level-headed. I stay clear of all that now.

I've bookmarked this post...just for reference. Thanks for all the valuable info!

M.L. Swift, Writer

October 11, 2013 at 4:23 AM  
Blogger Emilia Quill said...

Thank you for this post. I deleted my Goodreads account because it made my panic attacks worse and I haven't even got books out there for the bullies to bash.
In the worst moments I questioned whether pursuing publishing was worth getting rape and death threats (I wouldn't quit writing). Now I'm trying to push it out of my mind until the matter's more current.

October 11, 2013 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

kathy--That does seem to be the safest way to do it. Unfortunately, that "computer screen between us" is an illusion that makes the trolls feel powerful. Sometimes they don't seem to realize there are real people out here. They treat others as if they were just computer generated prey in a videogame.

M.L--Sorry that happened to you. I relate. I certainly have felt the heat for standing up for a bullied victim. It's hard to repress your inner Atticus Finch, but sometimes you have to for self-preservation. These people see any kind of kindness or empathy as a mark of weakness.

Emilia--I hear you about the panic attacks. I have them too (the tendency is hereditary in my family. It comes from an ultra-sensitivity to stimuli. We're the natural "sentinels" for our "tribe". We sense danger before others do.) I think anybody who is sensitive needs to be ultra careful about putting yourself in harm's way, and unfortunately, GR generates more "harm" than a lot of other sites.

It's still the Wild West, but the law is coming, as the intellectual property lawyer told us. Things will get better. You may be one of those people who would be better off with a team, and if you have an agent or publisher or author collective who are on your side, that can make you feel less vulnerable. Not everybody needs to go the independent route. Not that having a publisher or belonging to a collective protects you from bullies--sociopaths will go after anybody. But you'll have some moral support in dealing with them.

October 11, 2013 at 11:44 AM  
Blogger Mildred R Holmes said...

I came across your post via Julie Luek. About a year or so ago, I was doing research and came across some posts and reports on this subject. Even before I put my very first post on the net, I had to do some serious thinking about the subject of bullying and hate. I am Anishinabe, therefore a possible target for this type of behavior.

I went ahead with it because most people are "civilized" and agree to disagree at some point. I posted about my thoughts on reviews, which I only write sparingly. If I like a product, I "like" it and rarely comment. My recommendations are sent to family and friends. I try to keep my private and "professional" life separate, i.e. social networks.

I read a lot, I watch some of the videos. I don't blindly post links. I checked out some of the forum discussed, joined a few and rarely stuck with them because of the feedback I received. My last name is English due to a forefather a few generations ago. In some respects, this protects me when I am a noob. Other times, I will register with my Anishinabe name when I want a quick reaction.

I watch and read blogs, pretty much stay away from book review sites. I tend to rely on my "sales figures" for my readership. My long range plans don't really include the United States. Because I am Anishinabe, I expect most of my sales to come from overseas. For some reason, Europeans are fascinated by us.

My background in tribal law has given me the edge in some respects. I know how to deal with government agencies, I know how to deal with "unruly" people. I learned to "pick my battles." What I am researching mostly is international law as it applies to sales.

I try to tell people what it's really like without diminishing their dreams and hopes. This post is a good one and I have shared it.

October 14, 2013 at 5:08 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Mildred--I should have a prize for the 100th comment! We don't always get this many. Julie is such a great friend of the blog.

Your history is fascinating. It's shocking how little we learn in school of our own indigenous population. What a shame you don't find as many readers in your native land as you do abroad.

You're so right about "picking battles." Arguing with trolls is an exercise in futility. They only want to stir up your emotions and are impervious to reason.

There's certainly no ironclad formula for avoiding awful people, but there are some sites where they seem to feel more welcome than others and those are the places for the rest of us to avoid.

October 14, 2013 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Geri Walton said...

Great information. Thanks!

October 18, 2013 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Roderick Gladwish said...

Informative and scary. Many on-line gamers hate trolls too. You'll see the acronyms PTO or PTFO turning up regularly.
PTO - Play The Objective! When someone is causing havoc in the game for their 'amusement' or targeting a player instead playing the game.
I think you can guess what the 'F' in the four letter version stands for.
Great post, by the way.

November 22, 2013 at 11:34 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...


Roderick--Thanks for the gaming lingo. :-) I didn't want to imply that gamers are more likely to be trolls. I think every online community is plagued with them. What I meant is that gaming has a different set of manners from traditional publishing. Since most gamers (at least in the early days) were young males, the rules of young male culture tended to predominate. And the culture of gaming is by definition adversarial. When you're shooting monsters and Orcs all day, you'll have a different mindset than if you've been schmoozing editors or hiring cover designers.

November 23, 2013 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger Kathleen Grieve said...

Very helpful post. Thank you!

December 28, 2013 at 4:11 AM  
Blogger Rick Carufel said...

Great post Anne. I'd like to say a few things to add to your post.

First and perhaps most important is due to the victim rich environment provided by Goodreads and Amazon, the annoying trolls have evolved into stalker gangs who target indie authors and stalk, bully, harass, discredit, defame, libel and terrorize indie writers. Once they target an author they will not stop. their goal is to destroy the reputation, career and livelihood of new writers. Neither Goodreads nor Amazon will do a thing to stop it.

Second although an author should never respond to a valid negative review, they should scream bloody murder over fake ratings, reviews and personal attacks.

Lastly understand there are trolls on both sides of the issues. websites like stopthegrbullies.com are just as bad as the trolls. STGRB is attack after attack on members of goodreads. I don't condone the actions of the GR trolls but the real villains are not the goodreads members, they are within the TOS and guidelines of goodreads.

The real villains are the websites like goodreads.com and Amazon Forums who, by allowing such behavior, encourage and protect the stalker trolls. As a result of allowing fake reviews and ratings on books that have not been bought or read the APIs from both goodreads and Amazon are complete frauds.

February 19, 2014 at 1:20 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Rich–I like the term “victim-rich” environment. This post is an attempt to keep new authors from offering themselves up as victims because they’re ignorant of the rules.

I agree that it’s up to Amazon to police the sites they own and rid them of gang behavior. I wish they’d do a whole lot more to stop it.

February 19, 2014 at 9:18 AM  
OpenID robertmgoldstein.com said...

You're observation that the internet is still under the cultural sway of hackers and gamers is spot on. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this influence is the idea that winning is everything regardless of what you have to do--there is no sense of honor and a win by cheating is still winning. It will change because we can't allow one of the most civilizing tools ever created to be used as a club by infantile sociopaths.

Thank you for posting this important information.

March 27, 2015 at 10:18 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Robert--Thanks! This post was written long before #GamerGate, but that debacle exposed the toxic environment gamers have created online. It's a Lord of the Flies adolescent-male attitude fueled by the "win at all costs" immorality you describe. Scary stuff.

I don't think that Amazon/GR is doing itself any favors by burying its head in the sand. It's going to be up to the big tech companies like Amazon and Twitter to do some policing. I know Google has been trying to clean up comments on YouTube, and some news agencies are removing comments. I hope they'll do more.

March 28, 2015 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Darkocean said...

Wattpad is a safe place, bad behavior isn't allowed and the mods will take the time to look things over and (gasp) actually talk to you.

August 11, 2015 at 9:32 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Darkocean--I've been told that by many members, so I always strongly recommend that new writers "test out" their writing on Wattpad. Publishing on Amazon is for pros, who have built up professional-strength emotional armour.

Wattpad is a great place to get honest, not trollish feedback. And it's also not officially "publishing" so books can be tweaked and fixed and then sent out to agents and they won't be considered 'published" (and therefore not eligible for a trad publisher.) So Wattpad is great on many levels. Great advice!

August 11, 2015 at 9:53 PM  

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