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Lissette started an interesting thread about Amanda Elyot in CMT - http://www.paperbackswap.com/forum/topic.php?t=124892
It would appear the Elyot is an author behaving badly!
Dear Author has been having a lot of fun lately with these type of scandals on AZN. The Love & Romance group was upset a month or two ago over an author they refer to as DAM (Deborah Anne MacGillivray).
There's also been a lot of discussion at historicalfiction.org. Here's just one of the threads.
I read a lot about the DAM scandal last night. It's like finding out that there is a whole sub-level of seedy behavior going on that the everyday reader is completely unaware of happening. The behavior of some of these author's is disgusting enough, but it makes me angry that they are manipulating and even deleting bad reviews. Can we, the average reader, even trust the reviews at Amazon anymore?
I left another post in Lissette's thread about this, so I won't repeat myself, but I'm angry over this whole thing. Author's should not be able to manipulate and cause reviews to be deleted, and, from what I read, it sounds as if Amazon is pandering to the author's instead of protecting the people who actually spend their money on the books! I wonder how prevalent this behavior is and if there is even any point in reading the reviews at Amazon anymore. I'm probably just going to disregard reviews now, except if they are written by people that I've come to recognize and trust to be good, honest reviewers.
So if I understand this correctly, the author(s) can have unfavorable reviews dismissed from the Amazon website? That would call the honesty of all the reviews into question for me. I would trust the ones on PBS more! Just on principle alone I would have to make a point of not reading any of those authors' books. If you are proud of the work you have done you should be able to stand up to a little criticism as no author is going to be able to appeal to all tastes.
Last Edited on: 7/18/08 11:18 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
LG, I agree completely. I now think the whole reviewing system at Amazon is suspect. You should really, really read all of the threads and blogs that I've been reading about the DAM scandal!! It is unbelievable. Way worse than anything Elyot said or did, and DAM, Deborah Anne MagGillivray (sp?), was not punished by Amazon at all. The things she did and said are truly disgusting. I'll stick some links here if anyone is interested.
I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I've been on a bit of an obsessed quest for the past couple of days. Yeah, another obssessive quest... :-D I've spent much of the past two days reading the "Reviewers" threads at the Amazon discussion boards, and, WOW, was it enlightning! Before this, I'd never paid any attention to reviews or reviewers at Amazon, but, now, I've realized there is a whole 'nother world at Amazon! I didn't realize that the "Top Reviewers" were given tons of ARC's to review by publishers, and, once I found that out, I wondered if any of these reviewers would write their true thoughts on the free books given to them. Wouldn't they be afraid that the source for free books would dry up if they trashed a bad book in a review? So, I had to go looking to see for myself, and I've found that some reviewers do give less than perfect reviews, but there are still too many four and five star reviews to be entirely credible. I also think that some of these reviewers are selling these free ARC's and could possibly be making good money on their reviewing. Nothing wrong with making a buck, but it does, to me, make their reviewing even more suspect.
Also, these top reviewers seem to be obsessed with their rankings. That led me to wonder if they are truly wanting to share their thoughts on books and products or are they just wanting to see their names on the ranking board? Take this Harriet Klausner, for instance. Can this woman be real? Is it possible that she can read all of these books? I don't think so. Many of the reviews that I read seem to be little more that back cover blurbs. I wonder how I never noticed this woman before now because she reviews everything! She seems to read every genre know to man! And, she loves them all. From what I saw, no books she reads is less than a four star book. No way!
From now on, I'm only going to read the reviews written by people who are not top reviewers. They seem to be the only ones who wouldn't have the other motive's, rankings and free books, for their reviews. I'll have to look a bit harder because the reviews that are most prominent are always ones written by top reviewers. I really don't mean to trash ALL top reviewers because I know there are some who write really well-written and thoughtful reviews, but, with such a corrupt system, how do we know which ones to trust? Best to just not read them if you are using the reviews at Amazon to choose which books you'd be interested in reading.
I've always suspected the glowing, five star reviews that you just about always find on small press books, and, now, I'm glad I did because they seem to all be written by other authors. A scratch my back, and I'll scratch your back deal. What a joke! Before now, I didn't even realize that you could leave comments for reviews and I don't really see a good purpose for it. Lots of authors leave a comment thanking a reviewer for a favorable review, but some use it as a platform to disagree with a less than perfect review. The whole comment thing is pointless, really.
Anyway, I'm probably just now realizing things that you guys have always known about Amazon, but, when I go to Amazon, I don't notice much of anything other than the books. I have a bit of a one-track mind when it comes to books! I am kind of surprised that AZN doesn't seem to care about any of this because part of their uniqueness, to me, has always been the customer reviews. AZN is the place I always go to first to find out about a book, and I still will, but, from now on, I'll just stick with the non-ranked reviewers. Those would still be credible, I'd think.
Now, I've found a thread entitled, "Bar none, the best historical novels", and I have to get back to it! I've already filled three pages of a notebook with new-to-me titles that I have to search for and read. It's a great thread! See you all in a couple of days when I resurface for air. ;-)
Good post. I completely agree.
I review on Amazon, and there are still people out there like me that just review to review because we like to write and share our thoughts on what we liked or disliked about a book. But I agree that it's hard to find reviewers that are trustworthy since it seems it's not just "regular readers" reviewing anymore. I also followed the MacGillivray fiasco and it ticks me off that Amazon did nothing. These authors (yes it was more than one, but MacGillivray brought it out) should be ashamed of themselves, but they aren't. The fact that Amazon looked the other way just emboldens them more and they'll continue to behave badly so I think it's important that people realize who these authors are as it's clear only the readers will be able to do something and that is fight back with their wallets by not buying their books!!
I also think that some of these reviewers are selling these free ARC's and could possibly be making good money on their reviewing.
Slate did a special report on this issue back in January. Top reviewers are apparently getting more than free ARCs.
Take this Harriet Klausner, for instance. Can this woman be real?
My suspicions parallel yours. I think this is a group rather than an individual. Of course, to keep a group satisfied and silent, the rewards have to be remarkable. It's also possible that HK simply publishes reviews that publishers write - for a price.
I've always suspected the glowing, five star reviews that you just about always find on small press books...
Another tip is not to depend on reviews written too close to the release date for a book.
I stopped reviewing on Amazon a couple of months ago because my ranking was getting high enough to engender a bunch of negatives to bring me down. Absolutely pointless. I now do reviews on historicalfiction.org, LibraryThing and my blog.
Genie, why were you getting negative's? I have a very hard time believing that your reviews could possibly have been anything other than helpful! Do jealous reviewers start hitting others who are moving up in rank with neg's to keep them from advancing? I remember reading that on the AZN disc. boards, and I can't think of any other reason for you to get a neg.
You're idea about Klausner is the most plausible explanation I've heard yet. Did you see the article The Times did on her? I think it was The Times...
Thanks for the link! I'm going to go check that out. I don't really know why I'm finding this so interesting. It's just something that I'd never really thought about before.
Do jealous reviewers start hitting others who are moving up in rank with neg's to keep them from advancing?
That's been my impression. From the discussions at historicalfiction.org, I think others believe the same. I don't know what scripts or software these folks use, but the process is automated. Within seconds of posting a review, I would receive a negative vote. Some of my virtual friends have experienced the same thing. Some even receive several negatives within seconds of posting. (Not to feed your obsession <she says with a wicked grin>, but there are entire threads on Amazon filled with hundreds of comments from reviewers who feel victimized by this phenomenon.)
Unfortunately, I think the consumer review process at AZN is seriously broken.
I'm not sure if I saw The Times article. It's a subject I follow because my readers at Virtual Chase are interested. But I've been so busy with other things this past month, I've fallen behind in my watch lists. You don't still happen to have the article title or URL?
That's what I thought, Genie. I spent way too much time reading those threads at AZN, and the subject of negginator's always made for a very heated topic. I do love the term "negginator's" though! This makes me even more angry! I've read your reviews, and all I've read were thoughtful, and well written reviews. It's such a shame that this ranking system can spoil that. It makes me mad!
I'd have to agree that the review system has become very corrupt, and AZN doesn't care. It really is a shame though because the reviews are a very special part of Amazon. I hope I didn't seem as if I think every Amazon reviewer is bad because I really don't think that at all. Even a lot of the top reviewers write very good, thoughtful and intelligent reviews that certainly sound as if the books were read and reviewed for enjoyment, even though I have to wonder how they can read so many books in such a short amount of time. I read a lot and I read very fast, but lots of those top reviewers put me to shame! Anyone would wonder how they do it, and anyone would question their motive's after hearing about all of the monetary gains that come from reviewing. ;-)
The Times article was just one of those soft, human interest pieces, and it was an old article that you may have seen already, but I'll try to find a link to it. Harriet said she was a speed reader and that is how she is able to write so many reviews. I have to call BULL!
Forgot to mention the Slate article. It was excellent! And, he's right on, in my opinion. It's great to see that this author who found one of his own books rated with a five-star, glowing review would speak out about this.
This new Vine program Amazon started is going to do nothing but encourage the corruptness. The top reviewers who have been invited by AZN to participate in Vine are getting free electronics, appliances, and books to review. There is NO WAY that they are going to give their true opinion of any "bad" products in a review and take the risk of AZN removing them from Vine. Why would they?
Who knew there was a "Harriet Klausner Appreciation Society"? LOL! I have to go check that out!
The HK Appreciation Society is interesting. They talk about more than just HK - http://harriet-rules.blogspot.com/
And...Harriet has not one, not even two, but SIX blogs that she frequently writes on. With all of the book reviews, how does Harriet do it? http://www.blogger.com/profile/15737192992257674872
Here's the Times article - http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1570726,00.html
And, a few other articles that all say basically the same thing - http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2002/07/53488 http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/11/post_5.html
Last Edited on: 7/22/08 11:09 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
and AZN doesn't care
I agree with just about everything else you say, but here I'll disagree. From purely a business standpoint, AZN can't afford not to care. The issue is having an impact, albeit a small one, on their business. For example, there is currently a boycott that developed from the DAM controversy. Some people - on a relative scale, a small number - have actually stopped all purchasing from AZN until it adequately addresses the issue.
But what a lot of consumers don't understand is the Catch 22. If Amazon responds in the way many consumers want it to respond - by banning the authors from the site, restoring the removed reviews, and removing abusive negative votes - then it begins to accept responsibility for the content of the review system.
From a legal perspective, this is a real bugaboo (do you like my legal terminology?). I'm not a lawyer. But I am a webmaster (and professional researcher) working for a law firm. So I have to be aware of issues like the one AZN faces.
If AZN actively controls the content, it becomes legally responsible for how consumers use the system and what they say. In other words, it increases exponentially its legal liability for that content.
eBay is a case in point. For years, eBay took the stand that it was not responsible for the fraud perpetrated on its auction site. But over time, it lost revenues because both consumers and sellers cut back on their use of the site - because of the potential for fraud.
Last year, eBay was forced to admit that it had to take an active stand on the issue. Doing so is necessary to the company's future viability, but it also increases its legal exposure. AZN's issue isn't as critical, or at least I don't think it is. It could respond simply by pulling the review system. Time will tell.
It'd be really interesting to do some public records research to see if #1 HK exists and #2 what she does/did for a living. She claims to be a retired librarian. If true, and assuming she worked a public librarian, she could have the kind of contacts one would need to start the book reviewing project described in the TIME article.
The article was written a year and a half ago. It seems awfully naive to me. I wonder if the reporters ever looked into her background.
The sad state of background research leads journalists to write stories like this one, which are based on false information. With the advantage of hindsight, the newspaper later did the research they should have done before they went to press. What they found they at least had the courage to publish under the title "Fooled Again."
All of this is just my way of saying I question the quality of the research behind the TIME article. I'd love to have the time to it myself.
I read that article from Valli's link too. I did think it seemed pretty naive, but did you catch the bit where the writer wonders if HK isn't a fictional character as well! Like Valli says, I find it hard to believe someone around my age can read all those books and run all those blogs. There just aren't enough hours in the day plus how would she have any eyesight left at all??!!
Genie, I didn't mean that AZN doesn't care about the DAM scandle, well, they probably don't really care too much, but that isn't what I meant earlier. ;-) The only thing I can imagine them doing about that would be to give her a time-out from posting in the DB's or the comment area's of book reviews. I don't really know enough about the rules of behavior there to know what should be done about DAM. I don't even know if they have a "Be nice" rule like we do here. Honestly, I don't see a good purpose in having a comment section for reviews at all. All of the comments I've seen so far have been arguments over a personal opinion or, even, mispelled words. What is the purpose of the comments section? It's very possible that I'm missing the whole point of the comment boxes.
When I wrote that AZN doesn't care, I was talking about the fact that their review system is becoming a joke. I realize that they do seem to care about the fake voting and they have worked out ways to factor it in when points are assigned, but, to me, they are encouraging the "fake" reviews with the Vine program (free stuff) and the whole idea of rankings. They've always touted the reviews as being by everyday consumers, but it's obvious that isn't the case anymore. Maybe Amazon has grown too big for the rankings? Maybe they should let the public know that these "Top Reviewers" are reviewing products they got for free!, for the sole purpose of reviewing the item? Okay, in the grand scheme of things, this is not a huge deal, but I feel like it's a bit misleading. Yeah, I do get too worked up about things, but I was used to scanning the reviews at AZN and I just assumed that everyone was writing their true opinions. It never occured to me that there'd be so many ulterior motive's in a CUSTOMER review.
I just got through looking up the reviews for The Sinner's Tale by Will Davenport. I wanted to find out what others thought because I'm having a hard time getting into the book. Well, I happened to notice that CW Gortner gave this book five stars and that made me curious about his other reviews. ALL of his reviews are five stars! Even Dear Heart, How Like You this? which was junk, pure junk. The characters said "verily" on every other page, and that wasn't even the worst part of the book! The best part of Dear Heart was the nice, loud "THUD!" it made when I wallbanged it. But, Gortner gave it five stars. No way. I do understand that AZN can't control other people and there is no way for them to control the author-on-author back scratching action that is very apparent in reviews. That isn't AZN's fault at all. You would think that the author's would care a bit more for their integrity, especially since we can backtrack through their reviews and look at the profile's and actually SEE who is writing five star reviews for whom. Or, should that be "who"? Oh, who cares?! These author's luurve each other. ;-)
I don't even know if they have a "Be nice" rule like we do here. Honestly, I don't see a good purpose in having a comment section for reviews at all.
The only rule I'm aware of that had a direct impact on the DAM incident is the anti-spam rule. As I understand it, AZN banned the reviewer, who left the 3-star review that upset DAM and launched the whole silly mess, because she complained about the way DAM responded by posting the exact same message to multiple discussion boards on AZN. That's interpreting the rules a little to literally and conveniently for my tastes. This action was one major impetus for the boycott.
When I wrote that AZN doesn't care, I was talking about the fact that their review system is becoming a joke.
Mea culpa. I agree the review system has become a joke. It's ineffective at best. I still have trouble with AZN not caring about this - a criticism I have seen before even though I understand this is not what you meant.
What encourages fake reviews and other abuses is the reward system. If AZN did away with ranking reviewers, and rewarding frequent reviewers in other ways, then those who do it for the money would lose their incentive. It wouldn't stop publishers from rewarding folks, or paying people to post reviews for them, though.
I'm thinking out loud here, but it seems to me that AZN might address this problem by letting publishers and manufacturers bid for reviews, and then labeling such reviews as paid. PayPerPost.com works on a similar theory. Advertisers bid for bloggers to post on particular subjects, products, services, etc. Such posts, when accepted and published, are labeled as paid posts so that readers know it's advertising - along the lines of an infomercial.
I happened to notice that CW Gortner gave this book five stars and that made me curious about his other reviews.
Well, that's interesting. CW Gortner is a fictional writer, although relatively new. He's maybe a bad example because I think many writers would have a particularly difficult time in giving honest reviews. It's like asking a doctor to testify, or provide evidence against, another doctor.
Especially because he's new and still trying to establish his reputation, he'd be a real unusual case to stick his neck out by being honest about the work of an establish author - one who might have the connections and vengeful personality to thwart his progress in the field. It's a matter of survival.
Also, having read Gortner's mystery - I forget the title - on Elizabeth I, I have to wonder what he considers good. It wasn't bad per se, but I remember giving it a lukewarm review. I thought it was fluff.
That said, his latest book, which I haven't read, is getting positive reactions from the group at historicalfiction.org. It's on Juana the Mad and it does sound interesting. Still, Gortner hangs out there, so you have to wonder how much of what people say, they say because they know he's listening.
You would think that the author's would care a bit more for their integrity
My friend, you are a dinosaur! ;-)
(Had to edit my spelling and grammar. Do you think spelling discussion as disscussion was a Freudian slip?)
Last Edited on: 7/23/08 8:20 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Genie, I am a dinosaur, a very naive dinosaur! LOL! I just want people to say what they mean and mean what they say!!! Is that really too much to ask?! Why doesn't an author just decline to review a book if they have nothing good to say about it? Or, be honest, and point out the bad with the good? Maybe I don't read reviews like other people. I don't even usually bother reading the five star reviews. I like the three and four star reviews where people actually discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the book in question. The 3 and 4 stars do not deter me from buying the book if it's something that I find interesting, and what is a weakness to one person, may not be a weakness to me.
How do you guys judge reviews? I'm curious about this now... No groaning, please! There couldn't possibly be much left to this topic that will interest me, so I should be shutting up very soon. ;-) In fact, I am now feeling the urge to research the Hellships used by the Japanese, so I will probably be seduced away by that topic soon. Oh, and I need to ask my Great-Aunt if an Australian ancestor was one of the original Ho's sent to Botany Bay.
Back to the question --- Do you look for and like to see that the book has lots of 5 star reviews? Or, do you look for those with lesser stars to get a good, yet critical opinion of the book? Let me know, please, or, I'll probably continue talking about this for a full week. ;-)
I think the labeling of reviews as "For Pay", or something similar, is a GREAT idea. That would eliminate my whole problem with Vine and the solicited reviews. That's an idea that should be sent in to Amazon!
Gortner may be a bad example, but there are plenty more on AZN. I had no idea that Gortner posts at Hf.org, and now I wish I hadn't mentioned him/her. That's exactly how I embarrassed myself one of the few times I posted at H/F.org. I mentioned The Traitor's Wife without realizing that she posted there. :-/ Then, someone, kinda snarkily, I thought, said that if I'd been lurking, I should know that she posted there. How in the world was I supposed to know that someone named Baxter (?) was Susan Higginbotham?! LOL! I need to just shut-up right now! I'll take it all back......
I think the Amazon's review system is AWESOME! I think every author there is AWESOME and truly deserves nothing but FIVE STAR reviews! And everyone should leave comments telling each and every reviewer that they are AWESOME too! Now, please don't send me hate mail because I've dissed your favorite author, reviewer, or, even, your favorite mythical reviewer. :-P
Okay, that was silly, but, I have to say, that I am fully enjoying this discussion and learning a LOT about the way things work. Thanks to Genie, and eveyone else who is participating!
This may sound dumb, but to the extent I want consumer opinion, I look for the review graph. If it's top-heavy (mostly, 4s and 5s), I look at the number of reviews. If it's a small number, did they all go up within a few months of the release date? If so, the majority probably come from friends and business acquaintances, so they have zero impact on my decision to purchase.
If the graph is even - almost the same number of 4s and 5s as 2s and 3s or 1s and 2s, then I look over the negatives first to see what they didn't like. If most of the reviews come in around 3, then I feel fairly confident the product is mediocre.
As for the snarky comments, it's so easy to be rude while hiding behind your computer monitor, isn't it? Try to ignore 'em. But just fyi, a lot of HF authors hang out at HF.org and at other discussion board sites (Yahoo HF, Wars of the Roses board, etc). Many of them (mostly the newer ones) actually participate, but there are several that just monitor the comments. Most are upfront about who they are, so over time you begin to learn who is who.
I've enjoyed chatting with a few of them. I've had a few private e-mail discussions with Elizabeth Chadwick, whose real first name is Susan, and with Susan Higginbotham. They're both very down to earth and approachable. I've seen them handle constructive criticism well. I figure, if you're a professional, you'll listen to your readers even when it's hard to hear what they're saying, because they are your future. Without them, you lose your meal ticket.
I'm enjoying this discussion, too. :)
When I look at reviews, I look at them all. I select a few 5's to look at, 4's, 3's, and so on. I feel I get a better overall picture of what the book is like. I like to see the different opinions from positive and negative reviews, they may have a different perspective and so I can get a better idea of the book.
Sometimes, when I see a book that has a higher than average book rating, and I look at the 5 and 4 star reviews, I notice only a handful of well-written reviews, most are just a few sentences to a paragraph giving glowing praise. I steer clear from those type of reviews, they aren't helpful to me. Same goes for the negative reviews. I also ignore the ones that are too general, I like specifics, what *exactly* did you like or not like about the book?
I don't always go by a book's average review rating either. The thing is, we all have our different opinions and even a book that has a couple hundred to a thousand reviews is only a small sample of the total reading population. The only people that decided to take the time to review a book. I've read books that had overall bad rating and I enjoyed it still. So it's a matter of preference too, how a person will rate a book.
So many factors involved in why a person gives a certain star rating to a book, and so I don't completely rely on reviews, it just helps me get an idea of what the book is about and what people feel about that book
Genie, that's not a dumb thing to do at all. I usually quickly scan the graph too. It gives you a quick view of how well people liked the book, but I always hate it when I look at the graph and every star is represented, 1 thru 5! When that happens, the only thing to do is get the book and read it for yourself. ;-)
I basically read reviews the same as you do - I sample a few of each; the good and the bad. I don't allow the reviews to make my mind up for me, but I like to get a good idea of how well received the book was. Also, the reviews are very handy when the synopsis is too short to get a clear idea of what the book is about. I just about always read at least a couple reviews before I request or buy a book. I don't have enough years left on Earth to read everything, so I try to choose wisely. I really, really wish I had the time to read everything. I want to read every book ever written and know everything about everything, but I think I'll have to settle for a less lofty goal. ;-)
I think the comment made at H/F.org was just a case of a friend trying to protect a friend, and I really wasn't offended. It was just a bit embarrassing to be called out on something I wasn't aware of on one of the very first posts I'd made. It may have even been my first post. I actually didn't say anthing at all about the book, just mentioned that I was reading it. Maybe the person that commented thought the book sucked and was afraid I'd say something mean? Hmm... J/K - I really enjoyed the book! I thought parts of it were just a little bit clumsy, but I also really loved the fact that she didn't "dumb" it down for us. She included every person that played a role in the times, all of them. She didn't leave people out because she thought it would be too confusing for the reader. She knows we're smart! :-)
Lani, I completely agree with you. One person may give a book one star because of some aspect of the book that she/he hated, but it might be something that wouldn't bother me in the least. For instance, I've seen a lot of poor reviews given to H/F because the author didn't stick 100% to the facts. I don't mind a few liberties taken with actual dates and where people were at a certain time, but if an author has Henry VIII driving a Camaro to the execution of Anne Boleyn, I'd have a problem!
I don't usually read the one or two liner reviews either. You can't get much from those!