30 March 2011
Over the past couple of days I've been keeping an eye on a literary soap opera that perfectly illustrates the power of the internet to make or break a budding author.
On March 16, a blog called BigAl's books and pals, which specialises in critiques of independently published e-books, reviewed The Greek Seaman by a British-born author called Jacqueline Howett. I haven't read the book, but the review seemed fair enough. Al's conclusion was that it was a good story marred by spelling and grammar errors and he awarded it two stars.
One of the first things I learned as a writer, largely thanks to putting my early stuff up on the Youwriteon.com website, was that you have to roll with the punches. There's always the temptation when you get a review that is painful or just plain wrong to hit the keyboard and tell the reviewer why he's so mistaken. You don't. You take a deep breath and start the next paragraph.
Unfortunately, Jacqueline didn't.
Two days later she posted three five-star reviews from Amazon that said just how good her book really is. Perhaps it's a measure of her innocence that one of them came from someone with the same surname.
Her counter-attack got up the noses of some of Big Al's 606 followers, who pointed out that he was only giving an honest opinion. But Jacqueline still didn't let up. Fast forward a week and we're into a debate about which version had been reviewed and the author is upbeat that all the attention has increased her sales. If she'd just walked away then, maybe it would have worked out, but she always had to have the last word, which even more unfortunately turned out to be two words ending in Off!
By now Al's pals had alerted their friends and the debate had gone viral. Everyone knew about Jacqueline and wanted their say. The blog had 300 comments before Al, who comes out of all this pretty well, closed the gates.
But you can't shut out the internet and the pack had scented blood.
The battle moved to The Greek Seaman's Amazon page and a feeding frenzy in which the book was dismembered, her reputation as a writer destroyed and ultimately buried under an avalanche of ill-informed, sometimes vicious 1-star reviews (50-odd at the last count) from people who had evidently never read the book, and who I doubt have ever put in the hours of effort required to write one themselves, It was horrific to witness, but fascinating in the way of one of those wildlife documentaries where you watch the baby zebra come down to the waterhole where the crocodile lies in wait.
What's the verdict?
Jacqueline shouldn't have risen to the bait, but there's something sickening about this pack mentality and the way the internet allows faceless, nameless individuals to tear apart someone who has at least had the guts to write a book and put it out there. My advice is: get back to the keyboard, write another book under a different name and think Amanda Hocking, but, please, this time get a professional editor to take a look at it before you publish it.