Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ethics and Reviews

I got into an interesting discussion with an editor at Juno Books. She is a sincerely nice lady who has been in the publishing industry for a long time and knows a heck of a lot more about the business than I do. We got into a discussion about Harriet Klausner. For those of you not familiar with Harriet, she's the #1 reviewer on Amazon. Not that she's the best reviewer, but she's the most prolific. She has something like 13,000+ reviews on the site, posting as many as 90+ a day. If you have ever read a review by Klausner, then you probably already suspect that she doesn't read most of the books she "reviews." Generally, the reviews only summarize the back cover and she loves everything she reads; giving everything 4 or 5 stars (usually 5). She has also been known to give inaccurate information on books or give away major plot details. To add insult to injury (IMO) the reviews are poorly written. For the most part I could get over this. But now Klausner has made something of a name for herself. She's gotten a write up in Time where she was referred to as an "extraordinary talent." (gag) And now her name can be seen on the cover of various books (mostly minor authors) with her recommendations for the book. Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong on some level? The Juno editor tells me that I am over reacting. And she's probably right. But I have seen books on the shelf with Klausner's recommendation on it and I refuse to buy them on principle. But then I was told that I shouldn't judge the book by Klausner's name on it because author not only has no control over what the cover looks like, but also over the names the publisher uses to recommend the book. And furthermore, many blurbs we see on the books are written by "house authors" who are under certain obligations to provide such recommendations and it isn't that unusual for them to give the book their approval without actually reading it. Really? How disappointing. I told this person over at Juno books that I thought this was like reviewing a movie after only seeing the trailers. But then, I got to thinking. How many times have you seen movie previews where they flash recommendations by people you've never heard of saying some ridiculous movie is "brilliant" or "extraordinary?" I see it all the time. If I remember correctly there was a bit of an uproar awhile back over people being paid to give recommendations for movies; though I don't know if that changed the way things are done. But jeeez, isn't this all a bit disheartening? I don't do that many book reviews on my site (though I would do more if I got more ARC's hint- hint-) but I do try to be honest about whether I like a book or not. There is this kind of uncomfortable territory when you are given a free book though. I know the publisher wants the publicity for the book and it's kind of awkward to thank them by trashing the book. I have probably been over kind in the past, though I do try to be honest about what I do and don't like about a book. I know that over time I would probably be less inclined to gush about everything and offer honest reviews about what I read. So it offends me that someone like Klausner can make a career out of being a fraud. The editor at Juno said she didn't see the harm in it and that it was good for the authors to have the positive reviews. But I guess I haven't quite reached the point where I am that jaded. I still think a reviewer should read the darn thing, and give an honest opinion.


crunchycarpets said...

Lol and I just wrote a negative (ish)review of a book that I got for free.

This whole concept used to and still does drive my dh nuts.

In the online movie news world, the studios would 'court' the web guys with studio visits and turn then they were given gushing reviews of crap films.

It was mainly why my dh stopped doing reviews and set visits.

It is gross that this woman has made her name doing something as useless as amazon reviews.

The ethics around reviews are very blurry these days. Look at all the paypost thing going around.

While there are plenty that are happy to be honest about it..there are still loads that don't want you to disclose that you are being paid for the post.

I rarely base my book or movie choices on reviews anyway.

S.M.D. said...

You have every right to be offended. This lady deserves no fame for her supposed achievements simply because she has no achievements other than being a prolific liar. She has no credibility because she doesn't read the work she is reviewing, and honestly I think she should be banned from reviewing on Amazon. Authors want honest and well thought reviews based on actual reading, not flowery BS.

If I ever publish a novel (I hope it will be in the next 5 years lol), if I find out that woman is on the cover...oooooh. So mad! lol.

SQT said...


You bring up a very good point. If I ended up with this woman's name on my book, I'd be soooooooo pissed!

jedimerc said...

That sort of thing annoys me. On, which is supposed to be a workshopping site, you are allowed to review other authors works and you are supposed to be honest and open; however it is not often the case. If you gave someone a mediocre review, there was a good chance that one of your items would get a mediocre review for no good reason (I had several items that wound up this way, alas). For my part, I would not inflict any sort of vengeance upon the offended reviewer... I reviewed them as unbiased as possible. And then there were those who simply gave out high marks to their friends and expected the same as well.

My take on critics: 'A critic is someone who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing' :) (Mark Twain)

jedimerc said...

Of course, I try and take that to heart when I wear the hat of a critic :)

DesLily said...

Well, that sure doesn't make me smile. When looking for new material to read, I do read reviews to get an idea of the content... I may not be my deciding factor..but it does factor in just because I read it. Part of what you hear or read does influence you towards a purchase..

No one should be allowed to give a review of anything without reading the whole book/ article etc, or watching the entire movie..

geez that gives me an overall crummy feeling.

SQT said...


I think most people on Amazon try to actually give a genuine review. Klausner is just one person and people on Amazon are getting to the point of completely ignoring her. If you go to her review page and look at the comments people put after her reviews, well, they're scathing to say the least.

I've found that most books that deserve a 3 star review or lower generally have it, Klausner's review notwithstanding.

The part that bugs the s*** out of me is the fact that she's getting paid to put her recommendation on people's books.

Hey there, Skippy said...

90 reviews a day...? That's not a person, it's a cartel. In my other life (wherein Execution Friday etc. is but a morbidly amusing passtime) I'm actually working on this sort of "horizontal influence" stuff... Will have to email you, SQT, more some more info!

DesLily said...

sqt: ahh, yeah that would tick me off too... some people don't just step in chit... they rub it all over.. know what i mean? heh

Azrael said...

Doesn't Amazon, like ebay, have an "Is this review helpful" rating system? If enough people get sick of her crap, all they need to do is click "NO" for each and every review she has made.

BTW, Google/Blogger has screwed up your comments section, too. Grr...


SQT said...


What's wrong with the comment thing? My page show's it the same as always so I don't know what to do about it.

They do have a rating system on the comments and she almost never gets rated as helpful. I don't know why Amazon doesn't do something about her.

Avery said...

It's disheartening to see what sort of machine we writers are vying to become a part of. Books mysteriously become bestsellers before hitting the shelves and reviewers don't need to read their books... It's all contrived.

This might be slightly off-topic, but I'm starting to see a choice looming ahead of me (and this post has make it more concrete in my mind). I don't support major record labels because of their habit for promoting sameness and mediocrity, and the corporate nature of it all. I think I might be finally seeing the hypocrisy in myself for wanting to be published through the print equivalent of The Big 5 (some of whom are indeed the same company, no less).

Do I go for the money with the bigger 'label' or eschew the influence of The Man and take the alternative route as my favorite bands have done?

This post has really given me something to think about.


SQT said...

Aw man Avery, I didn't mean to make you feel bad.

Publishing has become a machine though. I worked in television and it's pretty much the same way. I understand the business aspects of the whole thing, but when you fake reviews of movies, tv and books, the quality continues to go down.

That said. I still have favorite authors and books and I'm always on the lookout for new talent. I would feel sad if talented people didn't publish their work because of the business side of things.

The only reason I mentioned the whole Klausner thing and the fake recommendations on books was to remind people to buy the books based on your personal preference for the subject or author. I have made the mistake of thinking positive reviews mean the book must be good. I've learned through experience that is not always the case and my conversation with the editor over at Juno just confirmed it.

DesLily said...

...but we always have to take reviews "with a grain of salt" anyway... what is "good" to one person, isn't necessarily "good" to another.

S.M.D. said...

When I review someone's work, I am honest. If I don't like it, I say so. I make it very clear that I'm not going to say happy things about a work if I don't actually like it.
But I always mention something good in a work. No author or writer wants to hear a plethora of bad things and have nothing good be said. It gives the impression that nothing was right, which is impossible. Something has to be right. So, when I review, I mention first a few things that I did like. In a review I did of Tower of Shadows by Drew Bowling a few weeks ago, I said a lot of things about how the book was terrible and then mentioned some things that I thought were good (namely Bowling's writing style). I've noticed I get fewer angry replies or critiques this way.

I'd never write flowery bullcrap though. That stuff is utterly useless to any writer.

Avery said...

Sqt, you didn't make me feel bad. Some points in your blog just made me think about the huge disparity between how I elect to conduct my personal life and how I'll have to conduct my business life if I'm to get what I want out of this book. I'm generally a "Fuck The Man" type of person and The Man is exactly who I'm going to have to become friends with in the near future. It just makes me feel a little like a hypocrite, that's all.

But, you should never feel bad for making someone think.

SQT said...

I'm actually working on this sort of "horizontal influence" stuff... Will have to email you, SQT, more some more info!

I forgot to tell you Skippy that I'd love to see this.


Well, I guess it's good I can provoke thought once in awhile. ;) I've actually had a few blogs link to this post and have had tons of hits on it (though not so many comments). But people on other blogs have mentioned that they find this whole thing really disheartening.

That really wasn't my point. I guess I was just hoping to be reassured that other people felt the same way I did. I would hate to think that everyone else is super cynical and I'm the naive one. So I am actually kind of pleased that so many people feel the same way I do. It gives me hope that maybe people like Klausner will be kicked to the curb eventually.

SolShine7 said...

Yikes! I had no idea about this Klausner lady. It's pretty sad.

Asara said...

That is just wrong. Thankfully I don't use reviews when I'm buying books.. I don't know that I've ever even read one. I will read the dust jacket or back panel to get the general gist of the story before I buy a book, but that's it. I tend to find movie reviews unhelpful as well, generally the reviewer has the opposite taste in movies that I do, so a negative review means I'll probably like it!

That someone could garner fame just by rattling off a bunch of crap about every book on Amazon.. for one I wish I had that kind of time to waste, and for two I'm glad that she's being called out for what she is, namely a waster of other peoples' time. I can't say that I would never buy a book displaying her recommendation, because as I said, I don't let reviews dictate my choices. But there is a part of me that feels sorry for the poor sod who buys a crap book just because he or she doesn't realize that a review nazi is the only one who thought it was good!