Saturday, January 17, 2009

Something is weird in the state of Amazon!

Something weird either is or has been going on behind the scenes at ... and from a writer's perspective, I'm fascinated and a little ... disturbed.

There are two diametrically opposed items sitting on my desktop right now, defying me to rationalize them. So I'll just pass them right along to you, and let you make up your own mind!

On one side of the fence is a name no less than Ann Rice herself, who took on Amazon and its online public review forums back in 2004. Here's the brief backstory of the event from Library Journal:’s policy of allowing readers to post reviews of books might be a helpful feature for consumers, but for bestselling vampire author Anne Rice, it’s been a pain in the neck. Rice was so outraged over the vitriolic response to her latest book, Blood Canticle—apparently the final installment in her bestselling Vampire Chronicle series—that she posted a 1200-word response that requested that unsatisfied readers mail her back the book for a refund. Baring her own fangs, Rice blasted the readers, saying "your stupid arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander…you have used this site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehoods and lies." While admitting she reads’s reviews for other author’s works, she criticized the site’s "willingness to publish just about anything."

O...kay. That's a good one, but okay. God knows, we all get rotten views from time to time; Keegan has had some stinkers. You chalk it up to experience, because lousy reviews put you in the same general bracket as a lot of very good, very expensive movies which were labored over by a thousand people, cherished by half the audience ... and promptly dismissed by various critics as a cartload of rotting compost. It happens to every artist sooner or later. Your name could be Hugh Jackman or Angelina Jolie, and you'll have to put up with this tripe. Apparently, Ann Rice believes she shouldn't have to. O...kay. Whatever.

The ending to the case of Rice v. Amazon was that eventually Amazon intervened in the bitter feud that was going on, on their forums. I did hear that they deleted the whole thing, but you can still find many pages of comments at the above link. Perhaps they edited some of the vitriol? In which case -- game over. Who won? Good question.

(The fact is, actors, directors, writers -- the ethics and protocol of the business dictates that we absolutely can not tackle critics over anything they've said. Ever. We might want to. We might feel like pelting them with rotten eggs. We might feel like irrigating their lawns with turpentine in the middle of the night. But you don't -- ever -- respond, no matter what the arrogant, pea-brained little buffoons have twittered this time.)

Now, the other side of the Amazon public review argument is this:

...and I'll try to give you a nutshell version, but it's going to be rough! There's a really silly pseudo-science book (can't even call it "pop science" because it doesn't even have the credibility, nor one Iota of the quaint charm, of Chariots of the Gods) called The Final Theory by someone called Mark McCutcheon. Apparently it's a best-seller at Amazon; people love it ... well, unless they know the slightest thing about the most basic physics as taught in school classrooms. The book appears to be a rebuttal of modern physics, post-Einstein, and people are lapping it up at US$22 per copy or so. Enter Brian Powell, who's affiliated with the SUNY Buffalo Physics Department, and is superbly qualified to review this book.

He goes to Amazon and reviews it, calls it what it is (in his words at the time, "complete trash") And then the fun begins. Over the space of the next few weeks a strange correspondence takes place between Brian Powell and Amazon, and the bottom line is ... scathing reviews of -- well, anything, I suppose -- will not be published. Brian Powell states his case like this:

"This issue of manipulating reviews and misleading customers will definitely be brought to the attention of the general public, and I assure you that they will be interested to learn of your practices. Skewing customer reviews in an attempt to boost sales is terribly unethical."

...and if you take about five minutes are read through the saga of Powell v. Amazon, which is related right here: Amazon Cans 1-star Reviews --well, it's impossible not to wind up scratching your head and wondering what the heck is going on here.

Personally --? I've had marvelous reviews at Amazon. Beautiful ones. Also crappy ones. The books that get the best reader reviews at The Big A are Fortunes of War and Death's Head. The ones that get the worst are An East Wind Blowing and Aquamarine ... and what really smarts about Aquamarine is, people are giving it three stars due to the horrific production qualities foisted on that edition by the publisher, Millivres! The DreamCraft edition is out now, and is as close to error-free as any book ever is these days. But Aquamarine still languishes. Rats. Wish I knew what to do about that.

Incidentally, I can't link you through to the fantastic reviews mentioned above, because at this point there are no copies of the old GMP titles for sale via Amazon ... and when they vanish from the catalog, the reviews vanish with them. The Fortunes of War on Amazon at this time is the new DreamCraft edition, with a new ISBN, and therefore, no corresponding reviews. Anyone want to get in there and, uh, rectify that?!)

A little good news now: the proof copy of Dangerous Moonlight has arrived, and is perfect. The new cover looks absolutely fantastic, and I'm giving this title the "nudge" which will get it on its way into the Amazon engine in the next couple of weeks. I'll post about it when it arrives there.


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