This is the first entry in a series examining the threads Anne Rice recently started and debated in over on Amazon about the state of customer reviews on that site.
I’m Anne Rice and I write books. Do you? Then stop talking and believe everything I say. If you don’t… you’re against all authors!
The thread consists of 102 pages and 2538 posts, so this’ll take a little while to cover it all. The advantage to this capsulized form is obvious: you’ll get the entirety of the thread distilled into an easily digestible format, highlighting the items of interest, which will enable you to make up your own minds about exactly what transpired and was said.
Before we get into this I think it’s interesting to note that as yet I’m not aware of any notable authors- King, Gaiman, Roberts, Harris, Rowling, Martin, anyone- who have backed this farce, let alone shown any interest in it. None. If anyone knows of any, please share so we can hear their point of view on this. So let’s get this party started, shall we?
I first became aware of this back in December when I got linked to an Amazon discussion thread titled: What Can We Fiction Reviewers Do To Make Our Reviews Better? Innocent enough, and potentially informative and helpful, right? Even the OP (original post) seemed pretty ok, despite it’s tone and the history of the person behind it:
Initial post: Dec 7, 2013 11:39:04 PM PST
I’ve been reviewing fiction on Amazon for years. I love Amazon, and think it’s a great system. I also review film and sometimes music. And I’ve reviewed a lot of non fiction. But fiction is my great love.
What do you think makes for an effective and truly helpful review? Does the old formula work which says: Describe what the book is attempting, then describe what it has achieved in light of that attempt, and then ponder who the audience is for it, and how well it works for that audience.
I’ve been reading the comments of other famous reviewers and coming up with other formulae. But I go back to that old one all the time.
Another critic says: never blame a book for not achieving what it did not attempt.
I thought that was good advice too.
For me all reviews are essentially consumer reports; but consumer reports on fiction have a different quality than say a consumer report on pots or pans or shoes or clothes.
The responses on Pg 1 begin with a poster called Tessa, who immediately questioned Rice’s pots & pans analogy, why she’s challenging the ‘old formulae’ of reviewing if it works for her and what she meant by her ‘not blaming a book for failing to achieve…’ comment. Rice responds with some vagueness and a quote from Terry Anderson: “A good reviewer should convey to his audience at least two basic things — what the book is about and whether or not it is worth reading.” In response to the poster, nameinuse, Rice says the following
: “I too enjoy reviews that are well written and entertaining. To me, the marvelous thing about Amazon is that ALL kinds of people review fiction here, and so many put so much into their reviews. Obviously, they are under no pressure to do this at all, being volunteers, but they enjoy doing it.
(emphasis mine) And I enjoy reading what they so generously write. At the same time I respect the brief report on a book, the brief recommendation, the brief response. Again, it’s a wonderful system that allows for so much individuality in contributions.”
She also adds why she only writes 4-5 star reviews, and takes her first shot at what she considers abuses of the Amazon system.
Initially Rice comes off as well-meaning and earnest, if not vague, but honestly interested in the discussion which, so far, ain’t bad. But as things progress you’ll see how far she strays from that.
: Anne Rice advocates an overhaul of the review system and questions the use of pseudonyms for posting dishonest reviews. Her first post is about why anyone puts reviews on Amazon (didn’t she just go over this on pg1?).
I’m thinking a lot about why I review — why anybody does — on Amazon.
Frankly, I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for a novel; I enjoy the idea that the review might
bring attention to it, that some one might like the novel, some one who otherwise would not have tried it.
I guess that is the basic reason most people review a book that they have enjoyed.
Her ideas on changing the review system:
But what if there were three categories?
Recommending with Reservations
Followed by thoughts on the use of pseudonyms to facilitate posting dishonest reviews, and the first appearance of the term ‘careerist reviewer’ in the thread (Be sure to remember that one, kids!).
Pg 3: Here the focus immediately shifts towards negative reviews (two Salon article references). Tessa begins taking AR to task. Both articles are written by Laura Miller: The Case for Positive Book Reviews (Sept 2012) & Where Authors & Readers Battle It Out In an Online Lord of the Flies (Oct 2013). Of particular interest is the passage Rice points out from the first link about negative reviews.
Tessa, after her initial comments, begins trolling the thread, starting with Anne Rice before moving on to other posters. J.K. Grice closes with a good take on things.
Pg 4: Anne Rice ponders whether Amazon reviews really help customers (wouldn’t that question her own usefulness as well?). She also questions the idea of gaming the system and first refers to trolls, those abandoning the discussion threads and mob mentality due to viciousness- citing the recent scenario with Charlaine Harris as an example.
The links Rice gives are interesting, and show her growing bias against negative reviews, which she initially keeps denying- particularly the second one. Equally so is her open disdain for 1-star reviews; using one from DaVinci Code as an example, Rice wishes more of them were in this fashion so she could give them more consideration. Yet she makes no mention of the vapid, empty 5-star ones.
Pg 5: Things heat up a little as Anne Rice decries attack dogs derailing the thread (after making a digression post herself). Suze makes a good point about her reviews are like talking to a friend about the book. Old Rocker challenges that a contrary opinion is not an attack; Rice replies with mumbo-jumbo. Old Rocker hits back about authors who sic FB fans on those who give low reviews; Rice has a lame response- claims she’s NEVER seen evidence of anyone EVER doing that (!) and certainly NEVER used her FB page that way!- so naturally she gets challenged once again on her own history of doing so. Anne Rice also has no faith in ‘professional’ reviewers.
It all really starts with Old Rocker’s post here, and you can just keep scrolling down to see the rest or just check the screen shots.
So there it is, all in her own words. Anne Rice loves the Amazon system- except when she doesn’t; it’s not about negative reviews and attack mobs- except that it’s starting to be- and she’s never seen an author use their influence with their fan base to attempt to silence/smother a bad review. Not even when she did it repeatedly.
Starting to feel played yet?