authors + rough riders + amazon reviews = kerfuffle

I’ve been very good for the last few years when it comes to Amazon. That is: I have weaned myself away from going over there every day, because (as I’ve mentioned before) there’s really nothing to be gained except anxiety of an astonishing depth and variety. For example, these questions:

Where does my novel rank today overall? In fiction? In historical fiction? In family saga historical fiction? In kinda-romance-kinda-not-women’s-fiction?

How many reader reviews? Really? That many? That few?

What’s the average reader score? Really? And the standard deviation? You don’t say. Any zingers today? What’s an author to do?

And so on.

I am writing this post because apparently some authors actually do answer that last question by calling on their fangirls to ride out and demand justice (as they see it). It goes like this: Reader A writes a review of The Prince and the Everlasting Magical Orgasm that is less than glowing. Let’s say it’s directly negative. Words like: waste and trash abound. PEMO’s author takes exception, and the next thing you know, Reader A’s negative review is bombarded with negative ratings of its own. You can do that by clicking NO next to the question was this review helpful? Which really should read: Will you show some mercy to a reader who disagrees with you? So the fangirls all bombard the review with NO NO NOs, and then at some point a switch is triggered and the review gets dumped.

If the author of the negative review posts it again, the same thing is likely to happen.

If you wander through the Amazon discussions you’ll see long threads on problems of this nature along with a lot of speculation on how those negative reviews disappear. Some suspect author interference, but as far as I am aware, an author who writes to Amazon to ask that a negative review be squashed is patted on the head and sent away. There, there dear. It will stop stinging soon.

The only time Amazon will edit the review is if that review gives away major plot twists. Even then, they try to leave as much as they can when they edit out the spoilers.

If it were possible for authors to snap fingers and demand a bad review disappear, you can be pretty sure there would be no bad reviews on Amazon at all. Either the author, the editor, the agent or sometimes screaming rampaging rough riding fangirls would see to that.

All this is my way of getting around to the topic of a one-star review of Pajama Girls. I wanted to talk about it because it actually made me see something I hadn’t noticed before. The reviewer took offense because she believed the story was about a woman who had secrets and wasn’t willing to share them. Which you know, perfectly reasonable: it says that on the book jacket. But this reader could not reconcile those statements about the character with the fact that when it comes to sex, she’s not repressed at all. In fact, to be clear: she’s in bed with John Dodge two days after she meets him.

This, said the reader-reviewer in a distinctly disgusted tone, is not somebody who is secretive and closed-off.

What took me by surprise was simply this: I didn’t anticipate this problem. I’m usually pretty good at guessing where readers will get hung up, but in this case I overlooked the obvious. Julia and Dodge end up in bed two days after he arrives in Lambert Square, which for some people can only mean that Julia is a woman of questionable moral character, or at the very least, sexually over active and indiscriminate. My personal take on this is that there are many kinds of intimacy and some are easier than others. The ones that are the most difficult don’t have much to do with sex, at least, in Julia’s case.

Let me restate something I have said in the past: if you have to explain what you hoped the reader would take away from the story, you failed. Clearly I failed in this case to make the reader see Julia the way I see her. Which is unfortunate, but almost unavoidable. There will always be readers who just cannot get past some element of a novel, no matter how well done it is otherwise. That’s to be expected. This particular one-star review makes sense to me, even if I don’t agree with it.

There are one-star reviews that don’t make much sense. For example, the woman who complained that her copy of the novel had two pages out of order, and for that reason, gave it one star. But in this case, I see the reader’s problem, and I have to acknowledge it. It would be wrong to ask that her review be taken down. That would be censorship, plain and simple.

Once in a while I go over to Amazon to see what there is to learn from the reader reviews. This time there was something interesting, if not especially pleasant. Now you’re wondering if I clicked “yes” next to “was this review helpful?”

Would you?