Surviving in the Amazon Jungle – How authors and reviewers can co-exist in a hostile environment (and run to court if they don’t)

20Mar14

Well, the Rice Petition has lost a lot of its steam as author after author continues to sign it with no apparent understanding of exactly what it proposes (based upon their own comments), but in the meantime, there has been a lot of discussion, and agreement, that Amazon’s review guidelines could use a few tweaks and a lot more enforcement.

There has also been a fair amount of criticism that demanding the true identities of ten million customers of Amazon products was too high a price to pay for a few dozen militant female reviewers to be “taught a lesson” by Queen Anne.

In that light, I began to consider the kind of actions the author and reviewer could take to both clarify their expectations in the book review arena and provide meaningful remedies against wrongdoers. There is no reason to send the cockroaches into the woodpile when a few well-coined provisos and wherefores can bring about harmony and understanding.

As a (dreaded) litigation attorney, I am forced to parse the language of contractual covenants, indemnifications, waivers, warranties, representations, certifications, promises and disclaimers. While the reading is excruciating, I take comfort in the fact that, pedantic and dull as they are, these kinds of clauses are usually enforceable according to their terms, no matter what they say. As long as both parties agree to the language and it is otherwise unambiguous and capable of only one meaning, it will be enforced in the event of a breach and consequent suit.

This kind of dirty business is not something fiction writers find tasteful (to say nothing of affordable), but believe me, knowing at the outset what your rights and obligations are gives you the comfort that your engagement in the Amazon marketplace is not going to land you in an FBI sting operation or subject you to nasty pranks or sudden food poisoning.

In the spirit of conciliation and cooperation, indie author to indie author, indie author to book reviewers of all kinds, and officious interloper to guileless newbie, I offer you these helpful tips to avoiding the snake pits and alligator jaws lurking in the Amazon jungle.

Authors and Their Babies Books

 When you’ve spent several hours a day, several days a week, over several weeks years, on your next series blockbuster; when you’ve waited days months for your friends experienced beta readers to return their uncritical praise detailed criticisms and smiley emoticons line edits; when you’ve begged paid your BFF copy editor to go over it with a blow-kiss fine-toothed comb; when you’ve spent hours putting together your cover using stock photos and impossible fonts hundreds for a professional cover from a reputable graphic artist, and run your word file through the free software you downloaded from someplace paid for professional formatting and design of interior matter, the last thing you need to worry about is having no control over who reviews your book and what they say. One opinion from a gangster bully the discriminating reader, and your new baby book is floating face down in the Amazon swamp, has met its first troll review unflattering opinion, a victim proud new participant of the evil unnamed cabal of bully gangster trolls rough and tumble of the new book marketplace.

To enhance the opportunity for your book’s immediate and unqualified acceptance by avoidance of the mindless fangurlz “thought leaders” of the Amazon review system (as represented by the vaunted Society of Top Awesome Reviewers – STAR), I suggest that you insert the following language into the front matter of every one of your ebook offerings:

By receiving a copy of this book from any source whatsoever, the reader agrees that s/he will not post any review of said book in any Internet venue, without prior disclosure to and approval of the author. The author shall have no obligation to approve any review that contains undue criticism of any aspect of the author’s craft, imagination, story, cover or author page. The determination of what is “undue” shall be at the sole and unfettered discretion of the author, with or without regard for fact or reality. The author reserves the right to employ any and all means of social media (included but not limited to Amazon forums, Facebook, Kindle Boards, Facebook, personal weblog, Facebook, Pinterest, DiggIt, Tumblr, Fivrr, Facebook and Facebook) for the purpose of criticizing, mocking, ridiculing and otherwise defaming any review or reviewer, whether or not such review has been published in any public venue (including but not limited to the Internet generally, message boards, bulletin boards, telephone poles and public urinals); and the reviewer hereby waives any and all claims s/he may ever have against the author for the exercise of said right. As security for the performance of the reviewer’s obligations hereunder, the reviewer hereby grants the author an unlimited, unconditional lien upon reviewer’s residence located at _____________ as described in a deed dated ____________ and recorded at the _______________ county registry of deeds at Book ___, Page ___.

(Notary Public)

Please note that the notarization is a very important detail, as many foreign states require that contracts contain the raised seal of the notary to be enforceable.

Authors new to the business might consider the recommended language to be more aggressive than necessary. Who would agree to such ridiculous terms just for the pleasure of writing a review?

Those authors are dipshits not inured to the risks of the marketplace. They have not witnessed the permanent damage temporary setbacks that can result from the ravings of a psychotic stalker troll the expression of a frank opinion.

You are business people. Business people use contracts. Contracts protect rights. You can’t be too clear with your expectations!

The Rabid Stalker Bully Gangster Trolls Reviewers

 Only a few short years ago, the average stay-at-home mom spent her relaxation time reading Jackie Collins and staring at the pool boy. Now, half of them are outselling Jackie Collins writing porn about the pool boy.

The other half are writing reviews of them.

Make no mistake – some of these reviews are the evil and illiterate rantings of jealous nobodies  can be controversial, as they may shine an unduly harsh light on perceived shortcomings such as spelling, grammar, usage, style, characterization, plot, pacing and other frivolous details.

As many of these hypercritical reviewers do not boast MFA degrees and over-blown writing resumes, their criticism is often met by rabid hoards of fans attacking en mass in a deliberate prompt from the author’s Facebook page emphatic disagreement. The troll truly dedicated reader, a devoted two-book-a-week genre junky who has been a big meanie and said bad things to me written hundreds of reviews (good and bad) and been responsible for destroying the destiny of fame and fortune for tons of indie authors the word-of-mouth sales of thousands of indie books, might be publicly attacked by a bestselling household name as a “cartoonist reviewer” or like term find her opinion challenged by informed and respectful fellow readers.

There is only one way to protect the avid reviewer from the repercussions of harsh attacks on illiterate tripe honest intellectual criticism. Get it in writing.

The next time those indie authors contact you via email with a review request, send this back to them, auto-reply:

Hi!! I’m so GLAD that you contacted me to request a REVIEW!!!!

I’m glad to oblige and I can do it almost immediately!

Just send me back a (prc)(epub)(pdf)(doc)(other__________) file and your signed acknowledgement of the following statement:

“By delivering a copy of my book to REVIEWER, I hereby acknowledge that I have no expectation that the reviewer will read, like, or even review my book; and should REVIEWER publish a review in any venue, I will not criticize or otherwise comment negatively upon the review or the reviewer in any Internet venue; and further, I will not request or exhort any family member, friend or fan to do so. I further agree that any violation of this covenant shall entitled the reviewer to damages in the amount of $5 for each such comment made, in any venue, times $5 for each day such comment(s) remain visible. I hereby certify under the penalties of perjury that my true and correct legal name is _________________, and my true and correct residential address is ____________________.”

It comes down to communication. Problems arise between author and review when there is a failure to communicate. By both utilizing the form language above, or such modifications as they may mutually agree, the risk of miscommunication is substantially reduced. Each party knows their rights and liabilities. And they have an ironclad, enforceable promise in writing, upon which they may escalate any possible dispute.

I am available for consultations, should a problem arise.



21 Responses to “Surviving in the Amazon Jungle – How authors and reviewers can co-exist in a hostile environment (and run to court if they don’t)”

  1. Hilarious!

    Of course, I’m a reader who merely feels, shockingly enough, that I am obligated to legally obtain the product (not violate any copyrights or pirate the book).

    Thankfully on amazon I can return for refund as soon as I read the anti-disparagement clause on the copyright page. Because you just know some author won’t get the joke and try it …

  2. Oh, and obligated to follow site guidelines if I do review (which means I cannot bash the author personally or site support will remove).

  3. 3 isanythingopen

    I approve this message.
    lol!

    isanythingopen

  4. Wonderfully acid Pete. I love it.

  5. Reblogged this on Susanne's Blog and commented:
    This post made me laugh. Some heavy irony but so true. A must read for any Indie author.

  6. Absolutely priceless. I have re blogged (don’t sue me).

  7. Ho ho, Pete. Well done. (But go ahead and sue Susanne–she’s a successful author. She can stand it, and it’s what we lawyers do for fun.)

  8. Anthoneeee! You have just revealed what the public out there suspects but never dared say…

  9. It’s all very well to say reviewers should identify themselves–but how likely is it that a real person would criticize your book? [ “On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.”] Reviewers should have to submit fingerprints, or a retinal scan, and post a bond.

  10. 13 Jamy Madeja

    HA. HaHa. The strikeouts are the best part.

    Jamy Buchanan Madeja, Esq.
    Buchanan & Associates
    33 Mount Vernon St
    Boston MA 02108
    617 227 8410 office
    617 256 8491 cell
    http://www.BuchananAssociates.com

  11. 15 G. from the Zon

    Thank you Pete! Truly. An author who truly GETS the anon issue, is an apparent rarity right now.

    Okay, that’s not quite the case, because many self-published authors are actually rallying against the AR petition: http://kdp.amazon.com/community/thread.jspa?threadID=189615&start=0&tstart=0

    I have mad respect for the authors who speak against the petition, and laugh a bit at those who post anon, yet rail against reviewers who do the same. Sigh. Thanks for the reasonable post. ;)

    • There are plenty of us. We’re Legion.

      • 17 G. from the Zon

        I am finally beginning to believe that Pete. Thanks again for the CLARITY your blog presents.

  12. Takes a lawyer to be able to dream of writing something like that.

  13. 20 Sheryl Dunn

    Hilarious, Pete. Could you send me the precedents, please? I’m going to renew my license – I see a great stream of revenue here. To hell with writing fiction.


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