iMediaEthics wrote previously about author Karin Calvo-Goller, who filed a defamation lawsuit over a negative review of her book. A French court found that the lawsuit was a case of “forum shopping” and that the review was a “scientific opinion” and not defamation.
But, there’s been another high-profile case of an author challenging a negative book review. In this case, Jacqueline Howett, took to the comments section of book review blog, BigAl’s Books and Pals, to dispute the 2-star review given to her book “The Greek Seaman.”
David Barnett wrote for the Guardian’s Books Blog that Howett’s “online meltdown” indicates that “the internet has finally removed the line in the sand between reviewers and authors.”
The 222-word March 16 review called Howett’s story “good” and suspenseful, but commented that readers may quit before finishing the book because of “numerous proofing, typo, and grammar issues.”
“It’s difficult to get into the book without being jarred back to reality as you attempt unraveling what the author meant,” he wrote, adding that “Reading shouldn’t be that hard.”
Howett responded numerous times in the comments section, starting with March 18’s comment that it was “a very unfair review” because BigAl “obviously didn’t read the second clean copy I requested you download that was also reformatted.” She noted that she received 4-star and 5-star reviews on Amazon.com.
“Maybe its [sic] just my style and being English is what you don’t get. Sorry it wasn’t your cup of tea, but I think I will stick to my five star and four star reviews thanks.” In the following days, she posted three favorable reviews of her book from Amazon.com in the comments section. (See the review and its 309 comments here.)
Other commenters criticized Howett for her comments. “Anonymous” commented ” Wow…you blame the reviewer for not going and getting a different copy, dismiss his review, then post three more reviews from various places? Uh, can we say petty? The professionalism here is just astounding.”-
And, BigAl responded, noting that he did get an e-mail Feb. 7 requesting he “download the new copy of the book, which I did.” He added:
“I have doubts that Ms. Howett being English is the reason for my reaction to her writing although I can’t discount it entirely. I can say that in the last year I’ve read and in many cases reviewed on this blog books by natives of England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and multiple European countries where English is not the primary language. Some have been full of country specific slang. In none of these cases has this been an issue for me.”
BigAl noted that he spotted more than 20 proofing errors in the first two chapters of Howett’s book. “Some were minor, but all have the potential of disrupting an enjoyable reading experience, depending on the specific reader and their sensitivity to such things.”
In a later response to Howett, BigAl cited a couple of examples of awkward phrasing from Howett’s book, including:
- “She carried her stocky build carefully back down the stairs.”
- “Don and Katy watched hypnotically Gino place more coffees out at another table with supreme balance.”
Howett reiterated that “my writing is just fine!” and claimed that BigAl “did not download the fresh copy…. you did not. No way!”
She continued to comment on the blog defending her work. Referring to BigAl’s two cited examples of awkward sentences, Howett wrote “what I read above has no flaws.” Fueling the fire in the comments section, Howett made grammatical errors in her responses. For example:
“if their were any spelling mistakes they were corrected.”
Howett also labeled BigAl a “liar,” a “big rat” and “a snake with poisenous [sic] venom,” demanded BigAl to take the review down and called on him respond to her e-mails. “This is not only discusting [sic] and unprofessional on your part, but you really don’t fool me AL.” She also told BigAl:
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“Besides if you want to throw crap at authors you should first ask their permission if they want it stuck up on the internet via e-mail. That debate is high among authors.”
And, she accused BigAl of commenting on the site under pseudonyms.
Comments have since been closed on the review. In a later post, BigAl commented “Some think this was a planned publicity stunt. If so I wasn’t let in on it and question how successful it was. Her sales rank did rise, but I don’t believe this reflects that many sales.”
He noted that his traffic went from an average of 50 daily visits to as high as 194,000.
BigAl disclosed on his blog that he receives “many of the books” as “free review copies.” And, sometimes, BigAl “may receive a small commission” if readers buy a book off a link on the blog.
In a March 25 post, BigAl blogged to explain that he doesn’t “give negative reviews lightly” and that he has received “multiple emails from authors” requesting a negative review be taken off the website. He noted that he won’t remove any posts and won’t respond to unpublishing requests.
Even if “everyone else says my book is great,” BigAl wrote “everyone and I disagree. It happens.” He also has explained a “guide to reviews” on his site, in which he explains his star rankings.
Likewise, Red Adept Reviews, another book review blog, wrote in a March 13 post that it won’t remove or change reviews “unless there is a blatant error.” Red Adept Reviews commented that in response to some reviews, “I have been slandered, maligned, insulted, stalked, and even called ‘cat lady’ by authors who received less than stellar reviews.”
iMediaEthics is writing to Howett and BigAl for comment and will update with any response.
iMediaEthics wrote last April when Russian historian Orlando Figes admitted he wrote negative reviews of his competitor’s work on Amazon.com. Figes and his wife later apologized and paid damages to the competitors.
UPDATE: 4/3/2011 4:11 PM EST: BigAl’s Books and Pals responded to our e-mail inquiry. BigAl wrote:
“Your piece is factual and in my opinion speaks for itself. In answer to your specific questions, aside from the initial email requesting I review the book and giving instructions on how to retrieve an electronic copy I received 4 emails from Ms Howett.”
Those e-mails include the request that BigAl read the “updated copy of the book,” which BigAl says he did and told Howett “the same day that I had.”
Big Al added: “After the review was published I received 4 emails over a several hour period asking that I remove the review, remove notification of the review from my Facebook page, taking me to task for posting a less than favorable review without her permission, and asking me to remove her as a follower of my blog. The last is not something I’m even able to do. The others are not something I should do if I expect to be considered a credible reviewer. I did not respond to any of the emails directly although they did inspire the March 25th post you referenced in your article and my response to her in the comment section that same day.
“This was not the first time a review I have written has resulted in this request although in my experience, reviewing on this blog for a relatively short time and for several years on a music review website, it is rare.”