Wednesday, August 3, 2016

When authors disappoint: The case of Kim Harrison and the one star review

It's with a heavy heart that I write this blog. Why? Because one of my favorite authors, Kim Harrison, greatly disappointed me recently.

If you're like me, you likely got into Harrison's work via the excellent Hollows novels. You read them as soon as you could get your grubby little mitts on them and branched out into her other works as you discovered them. She always seemed so down to earth and accessible that it was easy to like her in general, making her a nice parallel to diva-esque authors like Laurell K. Hamilton and Anne Rice, who have openly made dismissive and sometimes even rude remarks about their critics. Rice is especially notorious for her caustic remarks and actions towards negative reviewers.

But Harrison? She just didn't seem to be the type to do things that us Internet bloggers, reviewers, and readers tend to label "badly behaving author" behavior.

That's what makes her actions that much more disappointing.

Last year Harrison put out The Drafter, a book that showed a marked departure from the type of storytelling she displayed in the Hollows series. It's definitely not an easy read given its style and I myself even put down my copy until I had more time to really devote to the book. Now I'm not so sure that I want to return to it, as a few days ago on August 1st Harrison made a post on her Facebook account asking her followers to upvote a positive review in order to make a negative one less visible.

Her reason for doing this was that she just didn't like looking at the negative review and that she felt that Amazon shouldn't highlight reviews by "casual reviewers". Harrison also rationalized that since the book had a four star rating, the negative review shouldn't be the one at the top of the list when looking at reviews by "most helpful". 

The review she's referring to is likely this one and the reviewer, while they have only reviewed 11 items, still gives a review that nicely details why they didn't enjoy the work. It's more than a lot of people give in their reviews and honestly, as far as bad reviews go this generally looks like the type that authors want since it's not nasty, it gives reasons for why they didn't like it, and isn't just someone saying that it was too different from the author's prior work. The review is sitting at 106 of 138 helpful votes, so I can only wonder how many of the "not helpful" votes on it (or on any of the non-4 or 5 star reviews) were added after Harrison posted her comment. 

Now while I suppose I can understand her consternation that the most helpful review on Amazon is for a negative review, one of the people responding to her on Facebook is correct - barring campaigns to upvote a specific review, reviews gain the "most helpful" status by people reading the review and finding it helpful. It doesn't mean that those readers would automatically share the same opinion of the book upon completion, just that it helped them in their decision making process. It also doesn't mean that the reader will leave with the idea that they won't purchase the book. If they're anything like me, they likely read the negative reviews to get a more well rounded idea of the book before acquiring the work and reading it. I've had a lot of books that were actually saved by negative reviews, as they cautioned me to not get my expectations overly high or warned me that the book didn't entirely match up to its description or so on, times when honestly, my expectations were a little high and/or I went into the work expecting something different than what it actually was. (How many of us have picked up a book with jacket descriptions that didn't even remotely match up to what the book actually was?) For that matter the helpful votes might have been written by people who didn't post their own reviews but went away from the book with a similar outlook. They might have not posted their review because they felt theirs was redundant, didn't like to review... or because they were afraid of being harassed if they posted a negative review. 

I just always thought that Harrison was better than the authors who ask their readers to manipulate review rankings in order to make specific types of reviews less visible. Not only is this potentially a violation of Amazon's TOS, but she had to have known that this type of post usually results in people writing reviews to counteract the negative reviews and in my past experience is that not all of the people who write such reviews will have actually read the work in question. They just post the positive reviews in the hope of getting a pat on the head from their author and showing their devotion. 

Such posts also run the risk of causing people to attack the negative reviews. I will say that Harrison never specifically named the reviewer, but given that she specifically mentions a one star review that's the most helpful it's not hard to figure out who she's talking about. The attacks haven't occurred just yet, but the problem is that they can and have happened to other reviewers that were directly or indirectly highlighted by authors complaining about negative reviews. Hell, this review received a metric shit ton of negative feedback and even some real world harassment after mainstream author Emily Giffin made a vague reference about it on her Facebook account. As an author that publishes nowadays and has a strong online presence, there's no way that she could be unaware of this in at least part.

This is just disappointing since I always figured that Harrison was above cheap tactics like this. The problem with actions like hers is that it runs the risk of silencing readers and I know of several people who stopped blogging and reviewing because they were afraid of authors retaliating in some form or fashion because they didn't like that a negative review was written and/or was visible. Stuff like this portrays negative reviewers as second class citizens. They're able to write and publish, but heaven forbid that they ever become visible. In a way this could even be seen as a form of censorship in a way, given that her actions were done in order to make a helpful review less visible. No, she wasn't actively asking for its removal but her actions could have caused the reviewer to remove their honest review because they didn't want to be harassed. It also makes it less visible for people who might otherwise have found the review helpful and didn't want to click through the various pages of reviews. 

I can understand her being upset. It's not easy seeing a negative review and seeing it voted "most helpful", however it's a bad idea to ask people to perform actions that would hide or otherwise obscure a review. Especially as that runs the risk of discouraging other reviewers because they're afraid of harassment from the author and/or their fans. She might not have realized all of this when she posted on Facebook, but she should've been aware that it could be poorly received even if she didn't specifically name the reviewer because history has shown that fans can and do find these reviews and in some cases, openly harass the reviewer. I know she can't be responsible for what her fans do, but this has happened so many times that "don't do anything that can identify a reviewer", "don't make campaigns to raise review rankings and/or stars", and "if you must rant, rant in a non-specific manner" are extremely well known guidelines for authors as a whole. 

Harrison, I thought you were better than this. Really, would it have killed you to, as some fans have told negative reviewers, "just stop reading" and stop visiting the site? Negative reviews happen. Sometimes people find them helpful. It doesn't mean that the book is complete crap or that everyone will share their viewpoint, just that this person had an opinion other people found helpful. It's difficult, but you just have to move on from that. The fan in me doesn't want to label you a badly behaving author, but this type of thing falls solidly in that area. 

Further reading

1 comment:

  1. Something else I just noticed that kind of horrifies me is some of the attitudes in the Facebook comments about negative reviews and reviewers, essentially saying that negative reviews shouldn't be posted and that there could be something wrong with people who post them. Seriously, WTF.