Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wannabe a Writer We've Heard Of?

I'm excited to have Jane Wenham-Jones here today. Jane is a novelist, journalist and presenter and the author of the Wannabe Books - two how-to manuals on getting published and becoming well-known. Her solid advice is given in her own easy to read, humorous style. Below is an extract from Wannabe a Writer We've Heard Of?, available on Amazon or through all good bookshops.
For more on Jane see

Amazon – a double-edged sword

There is no doubt that Amazon can be a wonderful tool for the modern writer. Readers can see all your books at the click of a mouse, order them instantly while the iron is hot – when they’ve just heard you on the radio for example, or seen you on TV – and have access to feedback from others who’ve already made a purchase..

You can collect glowing reviews, post your own comments and author info and build yourself a profile. You can also become obsessive about your ratings if so inclined. (I am.)

If you have a website, you can link to Amazon and potential customers can click through to the store from there. Many authors have a ‘shop’ page – I do myself – with thumbnail images of their covers that go directly to the corresponding page at the bookstore.

If you join the Amazon Associates Programme (details on the Amazon site), traffic originating from your site will be tracked and you will earn a commission on any resulting sales – of anything, not just your books.

These small payments can accrue quite nicely and while you’re unlikely to be able to retire on them, they may well keep you in chocolate from time to time.

For any author who is self-published or whose books have not been widely distributed in the High Street, Amazon can be a godsend.

You can have a fair idea of whether stock is moving – each book’s ranking is updated hourly; there’s a lot of cross referencing – “customers who bought this item also bought”, etc., which can increase awareness and sales; and customers are positively encouraged to write reviews and comment on the reviews of others – both of which are simple to do. So far so good.

The only fly in the ointment is that as far as the reviews go, there are millions of books on the site, millions of readers posting their thoughts and you may find some of them unwelcome.

Readers are invited to award one to five stars to a book they’ve read and if you find you’ve been given only one and your book, that you spent a long year of your life sweating blood and tears over has been pronounced “Unintelligible Bilge that’s a waste of the rain forest” you may, understandably, feel upset.

But everyone is entitled to their opinion. Sometimes readers will just hate a book and that I’m afraid is something we have to take on the chin. You can’t please ’em all and nor should you expect to.

However, it can be galling if the reviewer is clearly just trying to plug a rival book or something of their own, and puts up negative reviews purely in order to bring your average star rating down. What can you do about it? If they’re clever about it, not a lot. But they often aren’t…

Fiona Mackenzie is the author of How to Start and Run a Petsitting Business (How-to Books). She received what she describes as a “heart-stopping” review on Amazon.

My one star review advised that I was “no writer” and that anyone wanting to be a petsitter should join a certain fee-paying association. The review ended with ‘sorry sweetheart’.”

Since this appeared to have been written entirely to further the reviewer’s own ends, Fiona decided to investigate.

“I had no idea who this person was but I did a search on the internet with her username and found her on ebay. It felt good being able to see who she was and that she had links within the pet care world so perhaps had an agenda. I then contacted Amazon and said as I’d had a book published by a highly respected publisher, clearly I was a writer and if they let the review stand it would reflect on other ‘How To’ books. I tried to avoid making it all about me. Amazon took the review down within twenty-four hours.

Amazon takes all complaints seriously but obviously you cannot complain just because someone doesn’t like your book and says so.

Everyone has the right to free speech and is entitled to their view – which is entirely as it should be. However, if you feel that any reviews or comments made are actually defamatory then you can say so. Amazon has a procedure for reporting such things.

After two years of largely positive reviews of my first Wannabe book, I had a sudden spate of one star reviews myself.

They came from different names but were all very similar in content – each one seemed to be getting het up over the fact that others had described my book as “brilliant” when it very clearly wasn’t, and opining that one would do far better to read Stephen King.

The former was reasonable, if a little obsessive, and I can hardly disagree with the latter since I recommend On Writing by the awe-inspiring Mr King myself, in Wannabe a Writer?

However, the reviewer, not content with popping up several times saying this, then descended into what amounted to libel by accusing me on several occasions of either writing the five-star reviews myself or asking my friends to.

Several of the reviewer’s own ‘friends’ materialised to agree.

This was utterly untrue. My publishers reported it as defamatory and the offending comments were removed. I can’t stop this person reappearing any time he wants to – and from time to time, he does. I’m not always sure what is said because Amazon themselves have often deleted the comments before I’ve got there – and a note has been left to this effect – but as this has happened, one can assume they fell into the abusive or libellous category.

Such behaviour is not worth getting steamed up about – one could indeed feel sorry for the kind of person who finds this a fulfilling way to spend their time – but it is worth keeping an eye out for.

Just to be clear: if reviewers are merely stating their opinion – honestly held – you haven’t got a leg to stand on. If they are making any claims that are untrue, and therefore they will be unable to substantiate them, then you have a case to report them to Amazon as defamatory and Amazon will take action. (Details of how to make such a report are clearly laid out on the site.)

For example.

“I hate this book”

“This book made me throw up my breakfast”

“This book is inane, facile, full of useless information and the author is a dork”

(Which, I think, is what my admirer was trying to get at) are all fine but:

“The author has plagiarised A.N. Dork in the writing of this dreadful book”, or

“This author is a convicted criminal who roasts hamsters and eats them”, or

“This book is the most expensive of its type on the market”

when these statements are false and unproven, are not acceptable and you have every right to ask for them to be removed.


This entertaining follow-up to the successful Wannabe a Writer? is an essential read for every author and would-be best-seller, whether established or debut, self-published or still dreaming of the limelight. In today s celebrity-driven world, self-confessed media tart Jane Wenham-Jones, takes us on an uproarious ride along the publicity trail from getting the perfect promotional photo to choosing clothes to wear on TV. With anecdotes from Jane s own numerous media exploits, Wannabe a Writer We ve Heard Of? is packed with tips and tricks to help you get yourself noticed, gain maximum column inches and airtime and create online buzz for your books and projects. Offering advice and insights from writers, journalists, publicists and celebrities who ve been there and done that, this is the ultimate guide for anyone longing for fame and success. Includes contributions from Joanna Trollope, Richard Madeley, Tracey Emin, India Knight, Shazia Mirza, Kelvin MacKenzie, Lucy Mangan, Katie Fforde, Joanne Harris, Helen Lederer, Peter James, Carole Blake, Stanley Johnson, Sue Cook, Carole Matthews, John Hegley, Carol Midgley, Sam Leith, Lisa Jewell, Giles Coren, Robert Crampton, Tim Dowling, Mike Gayle, Marina O Loughlin, Suzanne Moore, Sir Roy Strong and Erica Wagner. Foreword by Jill Mansell.

Wannabe a Writer Site:

Buy links:
Amazon UK (paperback)

Amazon UK (Kindle)

Amazon US (paperback)

Amazon US (Kindle)

The Book Depository

Bookmark and Share



Liz said...

fascinating! I was not familiar with the Wanna Be series...I should do one: "Wanna Open a Microbrewery AND Write?"
nice post Gale. Thanks for the insights.

Hales said...

Nice post thanks. Is the How to soley on how to use Amazon to the max or is that just one section used for this excerpt?

Gale Stanley said...

Thanks for reading. This is just an excerpt. There's lots of other good stuff.

Calisa Rhose said...

Love this post Gale. One of my pub-house sisters recently went through this.The 'reviewer' suggested her facts on the civil war were inaccurate (despite her biblio in the back of the book with links to her research information) and that the author basically wasted their time and money. The review was written so poorly I still am not sure I understood just what they were trying to say but they made a comment about the author's grammar also. A bunch of us went in commented to the reviewer and marked the review as NOT HELPFUL. I checked out that person's 'other reviews' on Amazon and the last one in the list degraded the author for horrible grammar. That's fine, if it's true. But the review was written with such horrendous grammar I had to leave another comment to the affect that they shouldn't criticize a published author until they learned to talk themself.

It's ridiculous what someone will do to make themself or someone they know look better. If they feel threatened by another- maybe they need to learn their craft better.

Gale Stanley said...

Tearing down others with bad reviews seems to be pretty widespread in the industry, but I think readers like to form their own opinions. We all like different styles. I tend to make judgements on blurbs and excerpts.
Glad you liked the post.

Calisa Rhose said...

I go by the book too. If someone gives a bad review I pay attention to their wording and intelligence before I make a snap judgement. My cp got a horrendous (my word of the day? lol) review on her CarinaP ress steampunk book on Goodreads. The reviewer Said stuff that made no sense, like she was expecting a full length novel in a 15-20K book. Nonsense. But she was brutal, I don't deny her the right to her opinion. But-She said she'd like to meet the author, then said no that wouldn't be a good idea because she'd slap her for writing such drivel! That review was abusive but I don't know how to get one removed from Goodreads.

Gale Stanley said...

Readers can tell the difference between a review and a personal attack. I think the best idea is to read them (or not) and move on.

Maeve said...

Great post, Gale! And Amazon is very responsive to an author's inquiry. I had a reader give one of my books a low rating and then go on to list her own books as better reads. Amazon took down the review quickly.

Mary Corrales said...

Wonderfully informative post, Gale. Thank you. I actually didn't realize that there was anything that could be done. I just thought an author had to live with it, no matter what another person posted about their book.

Ah, so much still to learn. :)

Catriana S. said...

Wow, I definitely know how this feels! My short story, Call on Me, received a fairly vicious review on Amazon by someone who I honestly believe did so as a personal attack. I didn't know you could request to have them removed.

The person accused me of knowing nothing about the gay community, saying I didn't do research on gay sex. Well, that's funny, because my story doesn't even HAVE sex in it. Things like that. It was bad enough I was left a 2 star review over something I have no control over (the person complained the book was too expensive for how short it was). It would be nice to have those removed, since one I can't control and shouldn't be judged for, and the other was borderline slanderous and not based on facts.

Gale Stanley said...

Unfortunately most of us have to deal with this at one time or another. When you put yourself out there, you become a target. It's good to know Amazon will do something about it. Thanks for reading.

Lelani Black said...

Oh, great blog. An author acquaintance says she avoids reading reviews of her work, and at first I tended to shy away from reviews as well. I figure anyone that buys/reads my work is certainly entitled to their opinion, good or bad.

But I also realize that reviews can be helpful when crafting my future works, as well as promoting current books.

I do think it's true there are people out there who would like to see a book fail for whatever reason. But in trying to hurt an author, they may be inadvertently helping them. There are readers like me who will buy books with ratings that cross a broad spectrum, to see for themselves why there is such a disparity.

But some of the stuff I've read--definitely uncalled for, like the one reviewer on Amazon who said he was rating an author's book with 1 star, just because of all the "gratuitous" 5 star ratings the author was receiving from other readers. There are some people who are just that petty.

As a reader if I'm waffling about buying a book, I look at site reviews, as well as reader reviews. Mostly it might just be the author name, cover or blurb that makes me whip out my debit card and just buy the book anyway :)

Judy said...

I had the same experience with a bad review which said "There were no sex scenes" and "if you want to waste your money, go ahead"! I checked her other reviews, of which there was only one, and it also panned the book. After thinking it over, I approached Amazon about it--and the review was removed! I can survive a 'bad' review if it's written in a straightforward, fact/example-based manner--in other words, professional: writer-to-writer or reader-to-writer.

Nightingale said...

Many of Amazon's perks you mentioned I need to learn! I'm not very Amazon savvy, but the review comments resonated with me a lot. When I was a semi-finalist in the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest, I got a scathing review that made me want to quit. Then I found out it was another contestant. Thanks for an interesting and informative post.

PamelaTurner said...

Thanks for the info! I didn't know that about Amazon either, but I've read scathing reviews which were obviously intended to promote the reviewer's books and agenda. I've also seen where someone created multiple accounts so s/he could blast negative reviews. (Of course, they all sounded the same, so it was obvious they were written by one person.):-/

HeatherLin88 said...

Very interesting blog!