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“Amazon Anonymity – Authors and Reviewers Respond”

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I have never written a book. For whatever reasons I have always wanted to but it just never happened. However, I have been reading them since I could first put a sentence together and, in that time, they have taken me on journeys I could have never imagined, transported me to places I will never see and given me an escape when my dysfunctional childhood was no longer avoidable.

Because of this, I have a great admiration for any and all writers from the unpublished, to the indie, to the best-seller. It is, also, for these reasons that I decided to review books, hopefully, encouraging other readers to experience the same thrill-ride I had just experienced.

So, when I first noticed a new petition on the Anne Rice Facebook page, addressed to Amazon and Jeff Bezos, asking them to reconsider their policy of allowing book reviewers and Amazon discussion forums posters to post anonymously, I had to admit, I was fascinated.

The petition, initiated by Editor Todd Barselow is growing daily and has attracted some high profile authors such as Anne Rice, author of “The Vampire Chronicles”, “The Lives of the Mayfair Witches” and “The Wolf Gift Chronicles”. Mrs. Rice has long been a vocal critic of Amazon’s anonymity policy.

When I first read it, the writer in me was outraged. I couldn’t imagine how I would feel if my life-long dream of writing a book was blown to smithereens by a faceless, nameless reviewer who refused to stand behind their own words.

However, the reviewer part of me was torn. Is it not my right to say whatever I want about a book, especially if I paid for it and was sorely disappointed? Did I really want to post my real name and worry about millions of outraged fanatics attacking me because I just didn’t get it? And what about writers who use pen-names, isn’t that the same thing?

It was and is a particularly tricky subject.

So, I decided to go to both sources. In the interest of fairness, I asked a few best-selling authors and some long-time Amazon reviewers what they thought about the petition. Wow!

The responses were extraordinary, thoughtful and plentiful. So, with that in mind and in the interest of hearing everyone’s opinions, the “Tampa Bay Books Examiner” will present a couple of articles on “Amazon Anonymity – Authors and Reviewers Respond”.

Here is the first part, the authors.

Hope you enjoy!

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First up, the critically acclaimed award-winning author of nearly eighty books, Wendy Corsi Staub is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller with the suspense novels she writes under her own name and women's fiction she writes under her pseudonym Wendy Markham. Author of “The Good Sister”, her new novel “The Perfect Stranger” comes out July 2014.

“Are reviews--positive and negative--a good thing? Absolutely. It's frustrating to have people misunderstand the point this petition is trying to make. Anyone in the industry is aware that sheer volume of reviews boosts discoverability in a crowded online marketplace. Amazon reviews also serve as a valuable forum intended to provide authors with direct feedback on their work, provide customers with a resource to help them decide whether to purchase a book or try a new author, and provide readers--genuine readers--with a voice and a place to share their feelings about books they've read. In a perfect world, as a New York Times bestselling author with a career that spans two decades, I'd have received nothing but glowing five-star reviews from loyal readers. In the real world, I've grown a thick skin, as any author must. Not everyone loves my books, and I don't expect them to. I certainly have no problem with anonymous reviewers in theory, regardless of whether they enjoyed one of my books and gave it five stars or hated it and gave it one. I appreciate and respect anonymous reviewers who take the time to support their opinion with detailed feedback and constructive criticism (or even just plain criticism) provided they've read the book.

I do, however, have a huge problem with Amazon providing a public forum to people--note that I don't refer to them as readers--whose mission is purely to attack the author/publisher and hinder sales. This isn't about growing a thick skin; it's about slander and defamation, which should be taken seriously. Like all bullies, the people in question seek power by undermining others, and that power is only enhanced when they're cloaked in anonymity. I don't know of many--if any--established authors who haven't been targeted at one point or another by anonymous trolls and bullies on Amazon. I've had the despicable bandwagon descend en masse to post spoilers for kicks, because they can. I've had them bestow a bevy of one-star reviews meant to diminish my book's overall ratings, because they can. Most often, these reviews are peppered with smug proclamations that they've never heard of me, never read any of my books including the one they're "reviewing," but are encouraging Amazon customers to boycott me because my book was reviewed by a certain Amazon reviewer they dislike, or because they have some beef with my publisher or genre, or because it's Wednesday and the sky is blue... Even more frustrating, it's nearly impossible, once the damage is done and reviews are posted, to have them removed because as it stands now, they don't violate Amazon's terms of service.

It's time to make a change. It's time for Amazon to step up and make some effort to protect the authors whose livelihoods are being targeted even as Amazon's own sales are being damaged. I don't know that forbidding anonymity in review forums is the only answer, or even a viable one; ideally, Amazon would screen each review before allowing it to go public. But I do believe that unmasking the reviewers would make them accountable and thus provide some deterrent.”

And on the subject of pen-names, Ms. Staub writes:

“I use several pen names and have a second identity, in fact, as the USA Today bestselling author Wendy Markham. For me, and for many if not most pseudonymous authors, it's all about branding. I want readers to know what to expect when they pick up one of my books. Wendy Corsi Staub writes psychological suspense novels. Wendy Markham writes romance and women's fiction. I'm not hiding--I'm marketing my brands.”

And, this from Rebecca Cantrell, whose Hannah Vogel mystery/thriller novels have won the Bruce Alexander and Macavity awards and been nominated for the Barry and RT Reviewers Choice awards; her critically-acclaimed cell phone novel, iDrakula, was nominated for the APPY award and listed on Booklist’s Top 10 Horror Fiction for Youth. She also writes the Order of the Sanguines series with New York Times bestselling thriller author James Rollins. Find Rebecca Cantrell on Facebook, Twitter, and at www.rebeccacantrell.com.

“I do think that it would be a good policy to disallow anonymous reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It's very easy to be cruel behind a mask of anonymity, both for those who are naturally destructive and for those who are actively seeking to destroy the works of others. (Remember the fake sockpuppet accounts created by some authors to pump their own work and denigrate others?).”

And, from Anne Rice, iconic New York Times Best-selling author of over 30 novels, “These people are obsessed with their own importance. They try to sell the world on the idea that authors are essentially cheaters and racketeers, and that they, the anti-author gangsters must keep authors in line.

They also try to insist that I'm against all negative reviewing. I have NEVER been against responsible reviews of any kind. Why they insist on making it about ALL reviewing is telling.

Again and again, they mischaracterize the things I've said so that they can attack their own mischaracterizations.

One paradox: Over and over I said my remarks were aimed at a small group of anti-author bullies. Over and over again they insisted that no such thing existed and I was insulting them. They never saw the contradiction.

If such a thing doesn't exist, and if they themselves are NOT anti-author bullies, then how could I be insulting them?

I asked and asked. They never got it.

It's all about power for them. They desperately want to be important in the world of Amazon, to offer themselves as badly needed gatekeepers and author disciplinarians.
You'll come to see all kinds of variations in their posts on those themes: Without them and their strict policing of authors, the public would be ripped off. Without them, authors would be totally out of hand, and run roughshod over the public.

They're deeply offended by authors, by their creativity, their self-confidence, their aspirations and dreams. They want to humiliate and hurt authors and put them "in their place." You'll see it again and again.

They vilify authors as being "thin-skinned" and having "ego." Ego is a word they use all the time as if it were bad for authors to have ego.

Some are positively offended that indie authors would dare to publish on their own. They are eager to discipline such presumption.

They lecture authors non-stop. They see themselves as instructors.

Over and over they talk down to authors as if authors were children. They are utterly contemptuous of authors and certain of their own superiority. They warn authors to behave, and threaten them with down voting on Goodreads.

Like bullies everywhere, they warn people against themselves trying to shift the blame for what they do to the victims.

This is the sum of my experience in posting in a number of threads involving them over the last maybe six months or more.

I think you'll also come to see that they are for the most part not terribly smart. This is the best they can do in the world of books ---- develop themselves as rather low-brow vicious book police. One reason they love preying on indie authors is that they can publish long "reviews" about grammar, punctuation and formatting in indie author books. They love this.

I suspect right now they're in a panic. They've likely heard about the petition that Todd Barselow created. They've likely heard something of the news articles on all this.
If Amazon were to clean house it might be emotionally catastrophic for them. Many post incessantly on the site in many different threads. If you click on their identities to see their reviews, you might not find any because they review under a different pseudonym. On Goodreads they use yet another. It's their life for some of them.

And they are gunning for author blood all the time in the Top Reviewers Forum, in the Meet the Authors Forum, and in Fiction or Books or wherever they smell it.”

And, as for pseudonyms, she writes, “I think pen names are fine for authors. There is a long tradition behind the use of a pen name. And I have never ever heard of any incidence where an author used a pen name to abuse anyone else, or game any system. It's entirely different from reviewers using pseudonyms.

Mark Twain is a pen name. So is George Eliot. Pen names for me functioned as an excellent means to alert readers that I was doing something radically different as Anne Rampling or A.N. Roquelaure, and though I have owned both names, I am happy that they still function as intended on the book jackets in question.

Many great authors, deeply admired authors, have used pen names.

Again, I've never heard of any author using a pen name to hurt someone else."

And there you have it, the author’s opinion on Amazon review anonymity.

I hope you enjoyed the first article on this critically important subject and to end this portion of the discussion, here’s something from Gregory Maguire, best-selling author of numerous books and most notably, the “Wicked” series.

“I would have to think about this a bit, but I know personally I refuse to write anonymous comments even when they are requested, and always sign my name as a matter of honor. If I can't stand behind what I say, I feel I have no business saying it.”

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