Ten Ways To Get Your Book “Review Ready”

23 January 2015

From Self-Publishing Review:

As the owner and editor of Self-Publishing Review, I deal with hundreds of self-published and indie books every year. People ask me, “How do I get a good review?” Apart from actually writing a good book (snort) there are a few other things you can do to make sure you get your readers to invest and feel they can sing your praises on Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes and Noble.

1. Get a professional edit for your manuscript. This is 101 stuff, but still I see authors saying they are doing it themselves, or have let it loose on a friend. This is never, ever enough. Editing and proofreading can be acquired for as little as $1 a page, and should be considered part of the publishing process, and not a luxury.

. . . .

4. Make sure your title matches your book content. There’s nothing worse than buying a book that you think is about one thing, that then turns out to be something else. If your title doesn’t properly suggest your book’s subject, maybe you should add a subtitle to give readers a better idea.

5. Make sure you choose relevant genre categories. Don’t try to game buyers into purchasing your book by slotting it into irrelevant categories. If a reader is caught off-balance with the content you could get a bad review. By being transparent about your themes you will give buyers confidence in your book.

6. Don’t tell the reader how to read your book. Don’t add a long introduction or preface telling the reader how the book is a certain genre mash-up, or how it isn’t really how you want it because you haven’t written a book before. I’ve even seen one introduction apologizing if the book is tedious! Let readers read the book! If you really feel you have something to apologize for, you’d best go back and edit your book before publication, hadn’t you?

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review

Want to nix all those pesky bad reviews? The EU shows you how

4 November 2014

From TeleRead:

The all-too-predictable consequences for the creative arts – including literature – of the European Union’s apparently misguided attempt to legislate a “right to be forgotten” appear to have started to roll. Croatian pianist Dejan Lazic has submitted a request to The Washington Post dated October 30th, asking the paper to remove a negative review of a performance he gave in 2010, on the grounds that it has featured too prominently in his Google search records for years.

The fact that the original EU legislation applied to search engine providers rather than media outlets doesn’t appear to have troubled Lazic unduly. Nor does the fact that it concerns a publication outside the EU. And the irony that his move appears to have secured more publicity for the bad review than the review itself ever received appears lost on Lazic too.

As quoted by The Post at least, Lazic explained in a follow-up e-mail that: “To wish for such an article to be removed from the internet has absolutely nothing to do with censorship or with closing down our access to information.”

Link to the rest at TeleRead and thanks to Shel for the tip.

Bad Advice for Writers!

31 October 2014

From The Huffington Post:

We at Bad Advice for Writers have thus far only concentrated on the act of writing, ignoring important things to like how to behave like a writer and the importance of not understanding how social media works.

Today, on the eve of NaNoWriMo, we will focus on bad advice for the novelist. We feel we should make this distinction insofar as some of this advice might actually not be bad advice if you are planning on a work of non-fiction.

. . . .

Advice #4: Correct negative reviews

There are only two types of reviews: the positive kind, and the kind where the reviewer didn’t understand the book. A bad review of your book is actually a cry for help!

Whenever you see a negative review that makes you say to yourself, “I should reach out to this person, perhaps in a borderline illegal fashion,” by all means do so. Find out where they live if you want! Show up on their doorstep and offer to politely explain how they simply failed to understand your novel. Make it clear that this is something they need to resolve within themselves and not a reflection on your work, and also that there’s no need whatsoever to call the police, so please put down the phone and stop crying.

Interaction is what reviewers are really looking for from you, the writer. Words like “awful” and “incomprehensible” and “this may have been written by a very dumb parrot” are really their way of saying, “I have failed to fully grasp your clear brilliance and would like for you to explain it to me”. So get out there and interact!

You may find that the sheer number of negative reviews makes it impossible to reach out to each and every person, however. When this happens you may want to consider writing a screed complaining about the nature of online reviews in general, and getting it published in a large magazine. This way you can tell multiple reviewers at once that you consider them unqualified to write reviews, and at the same time express a clear lack of understanding for how the Internet works.

Remember, nothing says “I am a serious writer” like a public inability to grasp how modern media functions!

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Don’t Attack Reviewers

28 October 2014

From Ruthless Culture:

Last weekend, the Guardian published an astonishing piece by Kathleen Hale about her experiences tracking down someone who spoke ill of her and her books online. According to Hale, the negative reviews spiralled out into a more generalised form of online vitriol that motivated Hale to trace her reviewer’s real identity, travel to confront them and then write an article about it in the Guardian that paints Hale as the (moderately self-critical) victim of things like ‘trolling’ and ‘catfishing’ rather than a petulant and intimidating online presence. Anyone who has published a negative review online will read this article and shiver, particularly at the manner in which Hale presents the silencing of her critic as a signifier for personal growth:

I’m told Blythe still blogs and posts on Goodreads; Patricia tells me she still live    tweets Gossip Girl. In some ways I’m grateful to Judy, or whoever is posing as Blythe, for making her Twitter and Instagram private, because it has helped me drop that obsessive part of my daily routine. Although, like anyone with a tendency for low-grade insanity, I occasionally grow nostalgic for the thing that makes me nuts.

It’s nice that Kale was afforded the privilege of writing about her experiences in a venue as visible and respected as the Guardian and it’s nice that she was able to transform her defeated and diminished critics into stepping-stones on the road to personal self-improvement. I am genuinely glad that she is feeling better but the bulk of my sympathies still lie with her critic.

I feel quite close to this issue because, for the past ten years, I have been hanging out on the margins of science fiction fandom occasionally writing about books and commenting on the state of the field. In that time I have seen a partisan dislike for negative reviews of favourite books broaden into a more generalised taboo against negative reviewing and a related dissolution of the taboo against authors confronting their critics and responding to reviews. Given that Hale frames her encounters with critics in strictly psychological terms, I think it appropriate that I should begin by doing the same.

The first time I took a step back from genre culture was as a result of being stalked for daring to publish negative reviews. The stalking was limited to some creepy comments and a rather cack-handed attempt to run me out of town on a rail by posting a long diatribe in the comments of a number of widely-read blogs but It did give me pause for thought and a reason for cutting back on my reviewing.

. . . .

In February 2009, I reviewed Ellen Datlow’s anthology Poe for Strange Horizons. I liked some of the stories but not all of them and was largely unimpressed by the anthology as a whole. A few days later, the Hugo-winning editor Ellen Datlow appeared in the comments to take issue with things that I had said. She was later joined by the author Anna Tambour whose contributions make little sense even upon re-examination. Curious as to where these authors and editors were coming from, I backtracked and came across a discussion of the review on Datlow’s blog. I later commented in public about Datlow’s willingness to go after her critics and she responded by saying that she didn’t believe that I had actually read her work.

In hindsight, this type of stuff seems like weak beer. In the past five years, online discussion has grown considerably more hyperbolic and an editor linking to a negative review on their blog would most likely result in 110 comments rather than 11. However, I started reviewing under the principle that a reviewer’s right to express their opinion about a book was sacrosanct and when you realise that this right has suddenly been taken away it cannot help but make you feel alienated from your culture (am I *that* out of touch?) and just that little bit more careful when choosing which books to review (does this author have a history of going after their critics and do I think that my review might prompt such a response?).

. . . .

The changes in the social protocols surrounding reviewing show how the lack of distance between authors and fans has put fan spaces under pressure to conform to the requirements of the modern publishing industry: A literary culture built to meet the needs of fans naturally encourages robust criticism because robust criticism encourages fans to talk amongst themselves and a negative review is no bad thing (whether you agree with it or not) because it aims to prevent fans from spending money on books they won’t enjoy. Conversely, a literary culture built to meet the needs of literary professionals has no interest in protecting people from bad purchasing decisions. This type of literary culture emphasises not only positive reviews that help to sell (sometimes terrible and offensive) books but also coverage of the types of things that publishers want. Why encourage fans to find their own areas of interest when you can drive them towards the blogs of people who review the right type of book in the right type of way and at the right time? A literary culture built to suit the needs of literary professionals has no need for independent or idiosyncratic voices and absolutely no need for reviewers who dare to point out that the hot novel of the moment is a waste of money. However, a literary culture built to suit to needs of its bourgeois professionals may feel the need to set out a set of rules that the lower classes would be wise to follow, hence Robert Jackson Bennett laying down the law as to where and when it is acceptable for critics to express their own opinions:

In other words, when you leave your platform, your own personal space of the internet, and go to someone else’s, or even to a community platform, it requires a different code of behavior. This isn’t your space anymore, so you need to act differently. And remember, you’ve had your say back on your own platform. That’s the place to speak your mind.

What has changed in the last generation is that the book publishing industry has been bought out by corporations who see the literary world as nothing more than another domain from which to extract money. Thus, the infamously sloppy and old-fashioned publishing industry was put under pressure to perform and in order to perform, belts had to be tightened and resources squeezed including authors who could no longer be allowed to sit around writing when there was marketing to be done. I understand when people like Robert Jackson Bennett say that they’re feeling vulnerable and exposed but it is capitalism and not fans who put them in this position.

Many of the writers who are now compelled to interact with fans in fannish spaces were not members of those spaces prior to becoming authors. Having been told by agents and publishers to set up a Twitter account and get branding, they arrive in fannish spaces expecting the cultural equivalent of an eBay account: Put effort in here, extract money there. Brought to these spaces for entirely selfish reasons, it is not surprising that these authors should find themselves alienated from a set of cultural values devised and maintained by people intent upon using those spaces for different reasons. Faced with a disconnect from the cultural values they have and the cultural values that benefit them financially, some authors choose to either lobby for a new set of rules (as in the case of Robert Jackson Bennett) or lash out at reviewers (as in the case of Kathleen Hale and Ben Aaronovitch) who refuse to act according to the rules that many new authors were lead to expect by publishers who don’t have the time to promote the books they themselves chose to publish.

Link to the rest at Ruthless Culture and thanks to Laura for the tip.

#HaleNo, Blogger Blackout and the Non-Existent War

26 October 2014

From Bibliodaze:

A week has passed since author Kathleen Hale revealed her exploits as a stalker in the Guardian, misrepresenting crucial facts and painting a narrative that smeared a blogger who gave her a bad review as a notorious troll, and a lot has happened in the interim period. If you’re unfamiliar with what happened, our open letter to Hale and Guardian Books is here, but so much has been uncovered since then.

Details of Hale’s previous stalking became common knowledge thanks to an article she’d written detailing her sustained attack against a young woman who accused Hale’s mother of molestation. Said attack climaxed with Hale pouring peroxide over the young woman’s head.

. . . .

We also have tweets showing Hale’s excitement over getting the reviewer’s address from YA Reads, who organised the debut author tour both participated in. Screencaps show the full passive aggressive attacks she sent on Twitter regarding a 3 star review of the book that called out some problematic word choice. That 3 star review wasn’t by the woman she stalked (these screencaps can be found in Hurst’s post, linked above). We have a myriad of evidence that refutes Hale’s claim that Blythe Harris launched some kind of extensive bully blogger attack of her as well as a glaring lack of evidence that such attacks ever took place.

. . . .

Bloggers were justifiably angry, but they were also scared witless. This incident opened up the possibility that not only were we unsafe for participating in a mere hobby but that publishers may be complicit in these attacks. Harper Teen and Hale have since come out and said the publisher did not give out anyone’s address (Hale procured it through dishonest means by way of a blog tour, claiming she wanted to send Blythe a present) but the lack of action and condemnation from HarperCollins, especially with the revelation that Hale’s future mother-in-law is an executive editor there, did nothing to calm anyone’s concerns.

Hence #HaleNo.

The hashtag started shortly after HarperTeen tweeted Dear Author to comment that they had not given Harris’s address to Hale (the tag’s name was by Cuddlebuggery). Its aim was simple – book bloggers, a crucial part of marketing in the publishing ecosystem, would refuse to give Kathleen Hale any space on their respective sites. No book tours, no reviews, no cover reveals, to interviews, nothing that would benefit her. She didn’t respect bloggers and saw stalking as ‘investigative journalism’ so why should she be welcome on the blogs we’ve all worked so hard on? It quickly gained steam and even trended on Twitter for a short time. #AuthorYes quickly followed, allowing bloggers to express their gratitude to the authors who have condemned Hale’s actions, and there are many authors who have done so. Bloggers wanted action from HarperTeen, and so far none seems to have taken place, although we have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes.

The next step was the blogger blackout, which followed a similar pattern to #HaleNo. Many blogs will black out for a chosen period of time to take a stand. Some will black out entirely, others will simply show no content related to new releases. Much space will be given to pieces on blogger safety and issues crucial to the community. Every blogger participating, ourselves included, has taken the step they have deemed to be the right one for them. For us, that also included a full boycott of HarperTeen releases. We understand that this is a drastic step and we also fully understand why others are not going as far. It could be seen as unfair to other HarperTeen authors who have condemned Hale, and we are sympathetic to them. However, this is the right step for us. This is one small but active step we can make in order to take a stand. Only a handful of bloggers are doing this and we do not condemn those who are taking smaller steps. We’re all doing what we have to do.

Link to the rest at Bibliodaze

Since The Passive Voice doesn’t do book reviews, the Blogger Blackout won’t be relevant here.

However, PG suspects Ms. Hale did not give a thought to how social media works when she wrote her stalking article for The Guardian. Tweets come and goes, but a simple Google search on her name will turn up HaleNo mentions for a very long time.

Poisoning the Well

26 October 2014

From Dear Author:

For better or worse, I have always been a fighter. For the people and principles I care about most, I will go to the mat, and the more unfair a situation becomes, the more energized to set things right I seem to become. I’m one of those cynical idealists who generally doesn’t trust people and yet can’t stop believing in basic ideals about how justice prevails and everything comes around in the end.

But over the last year –and especially the past month– I’ve seen things in and around our book communities that, honest to God, have so shocked and appalled me, and that seem so far beyond what any decent human being would do, that I can’t even figure out where and how to engage effectively and productively. It’s like one of those computer games where you can’t get from point A to point B without stepping in an unseen sinkhole or explosive trap.

This weekend, when the Internet exploded with The Guardian’s appalling breach of reader trust in publishing the disgusting account of author Kathleen Hale gleefully stalking a reader-reviewer, right on the heels of the somewhat less damaging, although not completely unrelated rant by Margo Howard over negative Amazon Vine reviews, I feel like we’ve reached a new level of ethical corruption in our book communities, where corporate systems – be they publishers, newspapers, or even authors — are more openly and unapologetically preying on readers, while readers seem to have fewer and fewer places to find safe harbor.

That, for example, The Guardian saw fit to publish the Hale piece, despite all of its obvious problems, is not merely baffling to me, but downright horrifying. How could anyone miss the massive hypocrisy of the moment where Hale’s obsessive distrust and pursuit of a pseudonymous reviewer is unselfconsciously eclipsed by her wholly uncritical trust in and promotion of a pseudonymous practitioner some of the most vile online vigilante injustice against book bloggers we’ve seen in the past decade? How could anyone think that publishing a professional author’s vaguely apologetic and yet not at all regretful hunting down of an amateur book reviewer was a goodidea, especially when the author made a slew of completely unsubstantiated and suspect claims against the reviewer, who had NO VOICE in the piece. And for those of you who may have been taken in by Hale’sobviously practiced ‘aww shucks’ confession of her obsessive tendencies, think about the fact that every single thing you think you know about that reviewer comes from a person who a) writes fiction for a living, and b) has absolutely no incentive to fairly represent, let alone make sympathetic, the person she’s hunting down like an animal.

. . . .

But the fact that ANY publisher might have furnished that information to Hale is likely scaring the hell out of anyone who has provided their address to an author or publisher for an ARC or contest. To those authors and editors and promotional staff who have not violated the trust of readers, thank you. To those of you who have spoken out in support of readers and reviews of all varieties, even snarky, sarcastic, snotty reviews, thank you. It sucks that you end up suffering the consequences of these incidents, too.

But for me, the lesson here is explicit: there are publishers and authors who are more than willing to exploit the value of readers to promote their books and then equally willing to participate in the ruination of that valuable resource, should it not seem valuable at the moment to them. Many of us are used to the systematic devaluation of female voices in, well, virtually every community you can name. But this feels like a sucker punch to the gut, and now that I’m getting my wind back, all I can say is congratulations to any of you who helped, supported, or cheered while Kathleen Hale — or anyone like her — lashed out at a reader-reviewer. Not only have you helped diminish the serious implications of real bullying (because wishes are not ponies and negative reviews are NOT bullying), but you are fundamentally damaging the community you simultaneously rely on for its honest, spontaneous enthusiasm about books. You are, in fact, poisoning the very well from which you’ve been drinking.

. . . .

In fact, one of the things that strikes me as so odd about this whole fiasco is that we routinely tolerate – even advocate – pseudonymity in the creation of author names, especially when the specter of social disapproval is strong (erotic fiction, for example). But even in more mundane circumstances, like when an author continues to review, or is trying to re-brand, perhaps in a different subgenre or genre, pseudonyms are wielded like shields of divine protection against the possibility or harassment, stalking, and other unseemly effects of daring to be anartiste. If we are so willing to let those who are writing for commercial profit these protections, why in the hell would we not extend them to reader-reviewers and bloggers, many of whom are getting nothing out of their reviews except the fun of talking about books with people on the Internet?

Link to the rest at Dear Author and thanks to Al for the tip.

Little White Lies: Are They Good or Bad in Publishing?

24 October 2014

From author Judy Mollen Walters via The Huffington Post:

Little White Lies. We all use them in daily life. A friend asks us if she looks like she’s gained weight and we say no when it does look like she’s put on a few pounds.

. . . .

But what about little white lies in publishing? Those happen all the time, too, yet many of us argue, they’re good, for both the liar and the recipient.

. . . .

My experience with little white lies started as a naive but hopeful author, sending out query letters trying to find an agent. Some agents sent a generic rejection letter but others wrote a little personalized note. I got excited about “nice” rejections — hopeful that they “meant” something. But in the end, they probably didn’t mean a thing more than no. No means no, no matter how nicely it is said.

Then I got an agent and we moved to trying to find a publishing house and editor for my work. Editors generally wrote lengthier rejection letters and again I read into them. The editor said the characterization was good! The editor said the subject matter grabbed her! Whatever it was, I clung to it, believing it meant something. But my agent would remind me that no meant no, and no matter how an editor “sugar coated” it, a rejection was a rejection. She went so far as to say that it was common in the publishing world to “cushion” the rejection with niceties and that I shouldn’t believe them. She was right. Rejections are rejections. How the person chooses to say it should not mean anything to you.

I left my agent when I decided to self publish. This time, I experienced the little white lies from other authors. Over the years, I had befriended a few authors online whose work I especially admired. They wrote contemporary, family centered fiction; so did I. The only difference was that most of them were traditionally published. I reached out to quite a few to try to get blurbs for my book cover. They all said no. Most said no with the “I’m too busy,” line. I sensed they were lying, especially when I would see their names on blurbs for lots of other books over the coming months and years.

. . . .

When I brought this up with other writers recently, a traditionally published author told me that frankly, traditionally published authors didn’t really want to associate with self pubbers. They didn’t want their names anywhere near our work. And that’s why they told us they were too busy. They didn’t want to tell us they thought our work would suck (even though they hadn’t even read it yet).

. . . .

I’ve talked with other writers about this. They agree that it’s difficult to tell someone their work is not ready to see the light of day, how treacherous it is to walk the fine line of constructive criticism and “this really stinks but I can’t tell you that.” We’ve talked about how “nice” everyone is in publishing. It’s almost taboo to be anything but super sweet to someone you don’t know, or even to people you do.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Here’s a link to Judy Mollen Walters’ books


Internet trolls face up to two years in jail under new laws

19 October 2014

From the BBC:

Internet trolls could face up to two years in jail under new laws, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has said.

He told the Mail on Sunday quadrupling the current maximum six-month term showed his determination to “take a stand against a baying cyber-mob”.

The plan was announced days after TV presenter Chloe Madeley suffered online abuse, which Mr Grayling described as “crude and degrading”.

She has welcomed the proposed laws but said social media should be regulated.

. . . .

Under the new measures, magistrates could pass serious cases on to crown courts.

Mr Grayling told the newspaper: “These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life.

“No-one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media. That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence.”

Miss Madeley received threats after defending her mother Judy Finnigan’s comments on a rape committed by footballer Ched Evans, which she said was “non-violent” and did not cause “bodily harm”.

Richard Madeley has said “prosecution awaits” those who sent “sick rape threats” to his daughter.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

The Choices of Kathleen Hale

19 October 2014

From Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:

Next week I will be a guest of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in British Columbia, Canada, and one of the workshops I’ve giving is on reviews. Specifically, it’s called, Reviews: How to Get Reviewed, and How to Put a Review in your Rearview Mirror. I’m a blogger and reviewer who regularly gives negative review to books, and I’m also an author of two books, both of which have received positive and negative reviews. I both write and receive reviews regularly, but it’s not that experience that gives me an understanding of where Kathleen Hale went wrong.

In an article published by The Guardian today, Kathleen Hale details how she targeted a reviewer on GoodReads who had given her upcoming book a negative review.

When Kathleen Hale stalked, monitored, and then personally harassed by phone and in person a reviewer who disliked her book, she had crossed what should be an obvious line of acceptable behavior. Hale repeatedly sought engagement and demanded attention from a person who did not consent to that contact, and moreover sought through every possible means to unmask a person’s pseudonym because she wanted to, and she thought she had the right to do so.

There is a line between how you feel about a review, and what you do in response to it. 

. . . .

When you publish a book, when you create anything and release it into the world as entertainment to be consumed and enjoyed by other people, you lose all control of the conversation about your creation.

I have written about this at length in a book edited by Brian O’Leary and Hugh McGuire. But here’s the shorter version: once it’s published, it’s not under your control anymore. Your name is on the cover, and your name is likely part of the review, positive or negative, as well. But you cannot control what people say about it, and chasing people down, arguing with them about what they said, rounding up other people to tell that person they are wrong, is not helping. It’s attempting to quell what could be a beneficial conversation.

. . . .

You and your book are SEPARATE THINGS. They are NOT THE SAME.

“Oh, I was reviewed by X. They flayed me alive.”
“I got a review at that site. They ripped me to pieces.”

As far as I am aware at this time, I have no magical powers to flay people, my eyes don’t turn black and creepy, and I am not definitely not Alyson Hannigan. So I don’t flay people, living or dead. If I had that skill, I imagine I’d be very popular among people who need to field dress an elk.

And I don’t rip people to shreds, either. I don’t have that kind of upper body strength, to be honest.

I may have disliked a book. Another reader may have disliked a book. That happens a lot. But the book and the author are separate things.  A book is not the author, and the author is not the book. If I am offended, angry, disappointed, outraged or completely over the moon with glee about a book, that has very little to do with the author personally.

Link to the rest at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and thanks to Barb for the tip.

‘Am I being catfished?’ An author confronts her number one online critic

18 October 2014

From The Guardian:

In the months before my first novel came out, I was a charmless lunatic – the type that other lunatics cross the street to avoid. I fidgeted and talked to myself, rewriting passages of a book that had already gone to print. I remember when my editor handed me the final copy: I held the book in my hands for a millisecond before grabbing a pen and scribbling edits in the margins.

“No,” she said firmly, taking the pen away. “Kathleen, you understand we can’t make any more changes, right?”

“I was just kidding,” I lied. Eventually she had to physically prise the book from my hands.

A lot of authors call this “the post-partum stage”, as if the book is a baby they struggle to feel happy about. But for me, it felt more like one of my body parts was about to be showcased.

“Are you excited about your novel?” my mom asked, repeatedly, often in singsong.

“I’m scared,” I said. Anxious and inexperienced, I began, a social reviewing site owned by Amazon. My publisher HarperTeen had sent advance copies of my book to bloggers and I wanted to see what they thought. Other authors warned me not to do this, but I didn’t listen. Soon, my daily visits tallied somewhere between “slightly-more-than-is-attractive-to-admit-here” and “infinity”.

For the most part, I found Goodreaders were awarding my novel one star or five stars, with nothing in between. “Well, it’s a weird book,” I reminded myself. “It’s about a girl with PTSD teaming up with a veteran to fight crime.” Mostly I was relieved they weren’t all one-star reviews.

One day, while deleting and rewriting the same tweet over and over (my editors had urged me to build a “web presence”), a tiny avatar popped up on my screen. She was young, tanned and attractive, with dark hair and a bright smile. Her Twitter profile said she was a book blogger who tweeted nonstop between 6pm and midnight, usually about the TV show Gossip Girl. According to her blogger profile, she was a 10th-grade teacher, wife and mother of two. Her name was Blythe Harris. She had tweeted me saying she had some ideas for my next book.

. . . .

Curious to see if Blythe had read my book, I clicked from her Twitter through her blog and her Goodreads page. She had given it one star. “Meh,” I thought. I scrolled down her review.

. . . .

“I think this book is awfully written and offensive; its execution in regards to all aspects is horrible and honestly, nonexistent.”

Blythe went on to warn other readers that my characters were rape apologists and slut-shamers. She accused my book of mocking everything from domestic abuse to PTSD. “I can say with utmost certainty that this is one of the worst books I’ve read this year,” she said, “maybe my life.”

Other commenters joined in to say they’d been thinking of reading my book, but now wouldn’t. Or they’d liked it, but could see where Blythe was coming from, and would reduce their ratings.

“Rape is brushed off as if it is nothing,” Blythe explained to one commenter. “PTSD is referred to insensitively; domestic abuse is the punch line of a joke, as is mental illness.”

“But there isn’t rape in my book,” I thought. I racked my brain, trying to see where I had gone wrong.

. . . .

After listening to me yammer on about the Goodreads review, my mother sent me a link to a website called, or STGRB. Blythe appeared on a page called Badly Behaving Goodreaders, an allusion to Badly Behaving Authors. BBAs, Athena Parker, a co-founder of STGRB, told me, are “usually authors who [have] unknowingly broken some ‘rule’”. Once an author is labelled a BBA, his or her book is unofficially blacklisted by the book-blogging community.

. . . .

“Blythe was involved in an [online] attack on a 14-year-old girl back in May 2012,” Parker said. The teenager had written a glowing review of a book Blythe hated, obliquely referencing Blythe’s hatred for it: “Dear Haters,” the review read. “Everyone has his or her own personal opinion, but expressing that through profanity is not the answer. Supposedly, this person is an English teacher at a middle school near where I lived… People can get hurt,” the review concluded.

In response, Blythe rallied her followers.

. . . .

It turned out that Parker and her co-founders were not the only ones to have run into trouble with Blythe. An editor friend encouraged me to get in touch with other authors she knew who had been negatively reviewed by her. Only one agreed to talk, under condition of anonymity.

I’ll call her Patricia Winston.

“You know her, too?” I Gchatted Patricia.

She responded – “Omg” – and immediately took our conversation off the record.

“DO NOT ENGAGE,” she implored me. “You’ll make yourself look bad, and she’ll ruin you.”

. . . .

In the following weeks, Blythe’s vitriol continued to create a ripple effect: every time someone admitted to having liked my book on Goodreads, they included a caveat that referenced her review. The ones who truly loathed it tweeted reviews at me. It got to the point where my mild-mannered mother (also checking on my book’s status) wanted to run a background check on Blythe. “Who are these people?” she asked. She had accidentally followed one of my detractors on Twitter – “I didn’t know the button!” she yelled down the phone – and was now having to deal with cyberbullying of her own. (“Fine, I’ll get off the Twitter,” she said. “But I really don’t like these people.”)

That same day, Blythe began tweeting in tandem with me, ridiculing everything I said.

. . . .

Why do hecklers heckle? Recent studies have had dark things to say about abusive internet commenters – a University of Manitoba report suggested they share traits with child molesters and serial killers. The more I wondered about Blythe, the more I was reminded of something Sarah Silverman said in an article for Entertainment Weekly: “A guy once just yelled, ‘Me!’ in the middle of my set. It was amazing. This guy’s heckle directly equalled its heartbreaking subtext – ‘Me!’” Silverman, an avid fan of Howard Stern, went on to describe a poignant moment she remembers from listening to his radio show: one of the many callers who turns out to be an a******* is about to be hung up on when, just before the line goes dead, he blurts out, in a crazed, stuttering voice, “I exist!”

. . . .

Over the next few months, my book came out, I got distracted by life and managed to stay off Goodreads. Then a book club wanted an interview, and suggested I pick a blogger to do it.

“Blythe Harris,” I wrote back. I knew tons of nice bloggers, but I still longed to engage with Blythe directly.

The book club explained that it was common for authors to do “giveaways” in conjunction with the interview, and asked if I could sign some books. I agreed, and they forwarded me Blythe’s address.

The exterior of the house that showed up on Google maps looked thousands of square feet too small for the interiors Blythe had posted on Instagram. According to the telephone directory and recent census reports, nobody named Blythe Harris lived there. The address belonged to someone I’ll call Judy Donofrio who, according to an internet background check ($19), was 46 – not 27, as Blythe was – and worked as vice-president of a company that authorises disability claims.

It looked as if I had been taken in by someone using a fake identity. I Gchatted Patricia: “I think we’ve been catfished?”

Patricia asked how I could be sure Judy D wasn’t merely renting to Blythe H? I had to admit it seemed unlikely that I might be right: why would someone who sells disability insurance pose as a teacher online?

“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Sarah said, sending me a car rental link. “Go talk to her.”

“DO NOT DO THIS,” Patricia cautioned me.

“You don’t want to talk to her?” I responded.


“I don’t.” I opened a new tab to book a car.

. . . .

As my car rental date approached, I thought it might be helpful to get some expert advice about meeting a catfish in person. So I telephoned Nev Schulman, subject of the 2010 hit Catfish, the documentary that coined the term. He now hosts and produces the MTV programme Catfish, in which he helps people confront their long-distance internet boyfriends, girlfriends and enemies – almost 100% of whom end up being fakes. Maybe, I thought, he could help me, too.

“Of all the catfish I’ve confronted, there was only one I didn’t tell I was coming,” Schulman said cagily, apparently shocked by my plan to go unannounced. Nonetheless, he had some tips: “This is a woman who is used to sitting behind her computer and saying whatever she wants with very little accountability. Even if she hears from people she criticises, she doesn’t have to look them in the face. She doesn’t know she hurt your feelings, and she doesn’t really care.”

“How did you know that she hurt my feelings?”

“Because you’re going to her house.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Tymber for the tip.

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