You know, the recent spate of articles about "puppetry" on Amazon might be making me a little paranoid.
In 2012, I published a book that was by all criteria a "hit." Excellent reviews, including stars in three of the big industry publications (PW, LJ, Kirkus), good sales, positive reader response.
Just recently I noticed a bunch of 1-star reviews crop up on Amazon. And, interestingly, for this particular book, the first two reviews on Goodreads had been 1-star.
When you work in this industry long enough, you learn to take reviews cum grano salis. You can't please everyone, which is why we put so much stock in publications with serious, qualified reviewers (like those mentioned above; and yes, for a long time, a good review in Kirkus has meant something, because that publication has high standards).
Still, something wasn't quite sitting right with me about all of this, so I called a friend of mine who keeps more on top of breaking news, and some of the bizarre things that happen in this industry, than I do. And here's what I am told: That some vindictive writers who have been rejected by publishers, whether large or small, begin a campaign of smearing those publishers' books on Amazon and elsewhere. The way to discover this, apparently, is to look for these people's other reviews. If you look for them and can find no other reviews, you have likely found a "puppet" who created an account to smear you.
So I checked those really bad reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and - hmm. Each of those people (except for one, and more on that later) wrote exactly one bad review, and it was for my book. So, apparently, false identities can be created not only to prop up a book with 5 stars, but also to try attempt to ruin publishers.
I find all of this too much to take in, but I suppose it is the "brave new world."
I don't know whether it's all true or not, but if it is, I can't even tell you how disgusted I am. The editors here respond to every single query we get, and we are never rude. We try to say something encouraging; and even if we can't, we wish writers the best of luck with their work. We don't take joy in swiping at people, and I can't tell you how many times we've passed on really good work because our house really is NOT the best place for the book. We give strangers our time every single day, and to think that we (not to mention our hardworking authors) somehow deserve this sort of smear campaign is stomach-turning. Of course, it may not be true at all. I certainly hope that is the case.
Now, about that other 1-star review. I checked out the reviewer's other 45 or so reviews. I counted: 42 of them were 1-star. What? In each case, the reviewer took two or three sentences to trash the book. I have to ask this person: Why do you read? Is it to escape and enjoy, or to hate? Because, from your reviews, it certainly seems like the latter.
So, from there, I went to look at some of the poor reviews of recent best-sellers, the names we all know (and whom many people enjoy to a greater or lesser extent). I'm estimating that in a majority of the cases, the reader was completely out of sync with what the book sets out to accomplish (what I call authorial intent). There were reviews that complained about Alexander McCall Smith books not having enough of a mysterious plot - hence 1 star; reviews that complained about Andrew Vachss being too dark and disturbing - hence 1 star; reviews that complained that Laura Lippman's book was too "female" oriented and chick-litty - hence 1 star; reviews that complained that the latest Stephanie Plum was outlandish, because who really thinks a woman can be a bounty hunter? - hence 1 star.
You get the point I am trying to make. Now, I KNOW and ADMIT that the covers of our books often try to sell them as something they are not. Well-chosen blurbs can put lipstick on a pig, and there's always that delightful ellipsis to get rid of inconvenient or unpleasant words from a review. But with the writers listed in the paragraph above, I think it's pretty clear what you're getting; so why on earth would ANYONE choose to buy and/or read a book that is clearly NOT TO THEIR TASTE? I just don't get it. I could live to be 100 and I'd never have enough time to read everything I WANT to read. Why on earth would I waste precious time reading something that I want to HATE? Do these same people buy albums (oops, showing my age - I should say CD's) by singers whose voices they cannot stand? Do they go to Chinese restaurants to indulge in their hatred of Asian cuisine? Do they attend Broadway musicals so that they can rant about how unrealistic and silly they are?
I think most writers make it pretty clear what they're up to in the first three pages of their books. Amazon's Look Inside gives you those three pages (and more) for free. And browsing in bookstores is free... So why choose a book that you KNOW you will not like?
I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I don't know why this business can be so unrelentingly NASTY. You rarely hear Hollywood actors trashing one another. Most musicians talk about singers/groups that they like and admire, not acts they loathe and detest. But there's something about this whole writing/book thing that makes some people vicious. I mean, think about it: A publisher rejected them, so they seek to destroy not only the publisher, but also the authors published by that house? I'm sorry, there is only one word for that: SICK.
And there, in a nutshell, is the other side of the story of all those "puppet" 5-star reviews.