Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Like watching crocodiles dismember a baby zebra

Over the past couple of days I've been keeping an eye on a literary soap opera that perfectly illustrates the power of the internet to make or break a budding author.

On March 16, a blog called BigAl's books and pals, which specialises in critiques of independently published e-books, reviewed The Greek Seaman by a British-born author called Jacqueline Howett. I haven't read the book, but the review seemed fair enough. Al's conclusion was that it was a good story marred by spelling and grammar errors and he awarded  it two stars.

One of the first things I learned as a writer, largely thanks to putting my early stuff up on the website, was that you have to roll with the punches. There's always the temptation when you get a review that is painful or just plain wrong to hit the keyboard and tell the reviewer why he's so mistaken. You don't. You take a deep breath and start the next paragraph.

Unfortunately, Jacqueline didn't.

Two days later she posted three five-star reviews from Amazon that said just how good her book really is. Perhaps it's a measure of her innocence that one of them came from someone with the same surname.

Her counter-attack got up the noses of some of Big Al's 606 followers, who pointed out that he was only giving an honest opinion. But Jacqueline still didn't let up. Fast forward a week and we're into a debate about which version had been reviewed and the author is upbeat that all the attention has increased her sales. If she'd just walked away then, maybe it might have worked out, but she always had to have the last word, which even more unfortunately turned out to be F*** Off!

By now Al's pals had alerted their friends and the debate had gone viral. Everyone knew about Jacqueline and wanted their say. The blog had 300 comments before Al, who comes out of all this pretty well, closed the gates.

But you can't shut out the internet and the pack had scented blood.

The battle moved to The Greek Seaman's Amazon page and a feeding frenzy in which the book was dismembered, her reputation as a writer destroyed and ultimately buried under an avalanche of ill-informed, sometimes vicious 1-star reviews (50-odd at the last count) from people who had evidently never read the book, and who I doubt have ever put in the hours of effort required to write one themselves, It was horrific to witness, but fascinating in the way of one of those wildlife documentaries where you watch the baby zebra come down to the waterhole where the crocodile lies in wait.

What do I think?

Jacqueline shouldn't have risen to the bait, but there's something sickening about this pack mentality and the way the internet allows faceless, nameless individuals to tear apart someone who has at least had the guts to create something and put it out there. Get back to the keyboard, write another book under a different name and think Amanda Hocking, but, please, this time get a professional editor to take a look at it before you publish it.


Mike Ritchie said...

You have penned a considered post here, Douglas.

I was alerted to this yesterday and my first reaction - not surprisingly - was that the author could have benefited from PR support.

The author definitely lost the plot (sorry)with her "how-dare-you-not-like-my-book" attitude in addition to the claim that BigAl had read the wrong version. Al had to struggle through the one with the typos, bad spelling and grammar, seemingly. Yet he did say the plot was good.

This didn't prevent the mauling the author set up for herself by her juvenile reaction - although I do agree, the anonymous venom rampant on the Internet is a major downside to the medium.

Maybe her book will succeed because some may be curious to read something that's attracted attention in such a negative, hostile way. Some have suggested the whole thing is a spoof but I don't agree.

However, if it is, then it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

Thomas Quinn said...

It's terrible, isn't it, that people have so callously and so easily used Amazon to maul someone's book. I hope Amazon are sensible and do something about it.

I posted this on Facebook/my blog the other day and a few people raised the comment that it was probably a publicity stunt for the author. Which reflects our general level of cynicism.

It does make you wonder though why some people go through the whole writing process. It is so thankless. This woman has probably had her novels turned down by most publishers, has made the effort to self publish, and gets pasted for it.

The sad thing is the original review wasn't bad. If she'd taken it on a chin, and employed an editor she might have made something of it.

Doug said...

I agree completely Thomas. I think one of the problems of this great opportunity that's opening up for writers is that some of them will rush to publish things that aren't ready to be published and will be unequipped to take the criticism it attracts.

You think you've done a brilliant job with a book, but if you're with a publisher you'll have an editor who'll give you an objective view. Friends, even very good ones, fear to criticise because of the effect it might have on that friendship. Even when they do, they're often too sensitive for fear of hurting.

Ellen Arnison said...

An excellent piece Doug.

I agree, if she'd just kept quiet none of this would have happened.

The whole story highlights the best and worst of the internet, doesn't it?

Geoff Carter said...

Hi Doug,
There is a good reason we have editors in publishing, this is often the problem with the internet.

On the subject of best and worst - I have given you a crude plug on my latest post.

Doug said...

Thanks for that Geoff, any plug is very welcome. Your blog is great, it always reminds me how hard I need to work to make the books as authentic as I can.