Thursday, September 5, 2013

Messing with my Reputation

No - not that reputation - get your minds out of the gutter. (I was going to say "if only" but I'm really a nice girl.)

I ranted posted some time ago about a commenter on Amazon who had "found" an error in my book (Rules, Britannia) and wondered how many other inaccuracies the book contained. That was actually the title of her review. And she was dead wrong. Because of my explanation and comments from other reviewers, she deleted the comment altogether. God forbid she should just admit her own error. (There are now a string of rebuttals with no original comment which looks a bit odd, but never mind.) As I said then, I don't mind if you don't like my stuff. That's your prerogative. Free world, and all that. There are certain writing styles and book genres that I'm not particularly keen on. It's quite another thing however, to make assertions that you know are damaging to the writer, - me, in this case.

So I've just had another. I'm not posting about this to get everyone to leap to my defence/defense, but thanks anyway. I'm just wondering what possesses some people to troll around around the internet and make comments that are really just mean, but often couched as being in the public's interest, or whatever. This person isn't really a troll, just comes across as an interfering old windbag because s/he clearly didn't read the book that I was reviewing.

In short, I reviewed the Book "Unquiet Souls", which is a book about the aristocratic group The Souls, who lived at the turn of the 20th century in England. My opening sentence disclosed that I had done a small piece of research for the book, then I went on to say how much I had enjoyed it etc. It is a book I could read over and over and I always tell others about it. (As a researcher, I got a one-off small payment, and have never received anything else, nor will I in the future. I also didn't really know what the book was about specifically, read it for the first time when I bought my own copy.)

But no, some curmudgeon replied to my review thus-

I disagree with Ms. Hargis. Her comment can only be viewed as a conflict of interest at the least, self serving at worst. Had she written a more balanced review instead of what is very evidently promoting a project she worked upon, her credibility might not have been so shredded by her gusts of enthusiasm.

Worked upon? Isn't it just "worked on"? I digress. 

This person has chosen, not to write a review of the book, but to accuse me of unprofessionalism and literary skullduggery. I understand the s/he didn't have the whole picture (ie. that I make no money from sales of the book and never did), but where do you get off with accusations like that?

First off, it makes me wonder how s/he came upon the review at all, since s/he clearly hasn't read the book or there would have been some "balanced" comments to correct my errors. Second - Was this person therefore trolling around looking to uncover bias in Amazon reviews? Good luck then - that's a lifetime's work. Or third, was s/he just sniffing around my reviews? Oh and fourth - if I were trying to promote a book I'd worked on (and benefitting financially from) would I mention it in my comments? Duh.

Anyway, I always address criticism I think is unfair or ill-informed, and this one didn't escape either:-

As I disclosed in my opening sentence, I did a small amount of research for Ms. Lambert (and I mean half a day in the Country Life archives), receive no payment for sales of this book, nor did I ever. Like many researchers, I wasn't told about the end product (other than the period involved) and obviously had no involvement in the writing of it. It wasn't until I paid for my own copy of the book that I had any real idea of its contents. 
I have no other interest in telling people about the book than to share my enthusiasm as an avid reader of this period, and an avid reader in general. Sadly the author passed away a year or two ago so my review won't even help sales of future books. How it can possibly be "self-serving" is beyond me since I have nothing to gain from it and have been perfectly candid from the start. Your accusation is churlish and unfounded.

I review lots of books under the same (non profit-making) circumstances. Or are you saying that any review I write is self-serving or somehow "unbalanced" if I don't "go negative"? I'm interested in what you think a "more balanced" review might be since I thoroughly enjoyed the book when it first came out, and again on a recent re-reading. I'm certainly not going to insert negative comments just to please the cynics. (Interesting that you don't comment on the book itself and give your own "balanced" review.)


  1. Oh, I so agree with everything said here - BY YOU!!!!! I hate when I read "comments" made about books rubbishing them. They so often just sound like sour grapes and moaning - I have seen things along the lines of "this book is rubbish because the author is stinking rich", how is that a review of the book????? If you don't like the book send it back, give it away, toss it in the bin. Don't spend hours rubbishing it all around the place. Not everything is for everyone and 20 years ago we all accepted that. Now......
    There is no point in saying ignore it because you clearly are too furious to be upset (and rightly so IMHO).
    Some people need to remember what our grandmothers taught us when we were small, "if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all".
    p.s. I haven't read the book in question or any of your books - just my opinion on people rubbishing others work in case anyone had any queries - ha!

  2. I realize it's not all about me, but this post makes me feel like it! For whatever reason I JUST went back a few days ago and re-read your original post about the grumpy commenter, ended up going to Amazon to see the comment myself, and - after reading all the other reviews - bought a copy of your book. Kind of odd, because I've been reading your blog for at least a couple of years and have known about your book at least that long as well, but never bought it because I figured I didn't need it. I'm not moving to or visiting England any time soon (that I know of) but it was actually reading the comments that convinced me I needed a copy: at least one person pointed out that your book is also very helpful to North Americans who watch British television shows - which I do- and I reasoned the same would apply to people like me who read a lot of British authors. I never really feel like I'm missing anything, but obviously I don't don't know I'm missing it unless I know - well, you get my point, right? Anyway - I always read book reviews and comments, and I appreciate a thoughtful one, even if I don't agree with it. But I absolutely loathe comments that are obviously written by people whose first concern is NOT reviewing the book, but rather some other (usually obscure) issue or just plain stupidity- like possible hidden motives of a reviewer, or whether the author is really and truly an expert because I never saw a Morris dancer when I lived in London..(sorry, had to throw that in.) I think your response was excellent - what MrL would refer to as a 'smackdown' - well done!

  3. Amy - too funny! Thank you.

    MsC - I have to laugh at that. I also have to warn you that although the book talks more about the British way of life, there are a few things in there that will now be out of date because it came out in 2006 and so far hasn't been updated, (a publishing issue). Anyway, thanks for the purchase and I hope you enjoy it.

  4. The Amazon customer reviewers is quite a community. I've written a few reviews and commented on others, but I can't imagine questioning another reviewer's integrity for something like this.

    I have heard discussion on how some books seem to have suspiciously high numbers of positive reviews that seem to have been written by the author's friends and family, but your review doesn't fall into that category at all.

  5. Thank you Patience. Yes, you're right - many people write reviews of friends' books and there is a lot of "skullduggery" that goes on with the Amazon ranking system. (Most of it is beyond me.)

  6. Deep breath... deep breath...

    It's good that you had a right of reply. But of course you never know if the original commenter goes back to see.

  7. You know Iota, I don't really care what s/he thinks but I care about other people reading it, so they will see my reply and hopefully, make a "balanced" decision.

  8. Bravo to you - loved your response!

    For the life of me, I just cannot understand how people can be so ugly. I can only assume that it is because they are hidden behind the anonymity of their keyboards - I would hate to think they'd be that mean and spiteful to someone's face.

  9. Amazon book reviews are supposed to be reviews of the book, not reviews of reviews posted by other reviewers. And then to get all snarky on you! Wrong on so many levels.

  10. Lovethe article, greeting from Belgium

  11. From time to time I read the online versions of some popular British tabloids, mainly to read the comments to the news stories, because it is a great source of British sayings and idioms, which I collect. Of course the commentators don't know their words and phrases (especially the vulgar ones) are "special" but I learn a lot from them.

    Anyway, it doesn't take long to learn that MANY of these people who comment - especially the frequent ones - have some sort of personality problem, like your Amazon reviewer. They seem to feel they have some sort of job in life to set people straight or protect other (less sophisticated?) readers from being taken in by the sly agenda of the news article writer. I'll admit I find these folks hilarious, and have been known to egg them on or antagonize them in my own comments. It is addictive. I have found the Guardian to be the best source of loons from all over the world. I highly recommend that you give it a try. It will make you feel better, and will give you a chance to hone your sarcasm at the same time. Works for me.


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