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September 22, 2006

Deliver Me From Temptation, Temptation Being Amazon

Dear Authors,

It has come to my attention that Amazon, the leading online bookseller, is now allowing comments on individual product reviews, including reviews of books (and therefore, your books). This means that now, finally, you can correct the views of all those poor unfortunates who gave your book less than the four or five stars it so richly deserved, and explain to them, in your enormously engaging way, why they were so very wrong about your book and should forever regret not understanding it sufficiently well to bask in its wisdom, and to give it more than three stars.

When the urge to correct an Amazon reviewer takes hold, and you find yourself reaching for the keyboard, here are some simple steps I suggest you do next:

1. Step away from the keyboard; go to the basement.

2. Turn on the bandsaw you have down there.

3. Run your hands through the bandsaw, at the wrists.

4. Turn off the bandsaw with your teeth. Safety first!

There! Thanks to the loss of your hands, you are no longer able to type your reply, and with the salutatory effect of massive blood loss, you are likely no longer in a frame of mind to respond anyway. Which is good, because not only are your readers entitled to their own wrong opinions, they're also entitled to share them with others without the author turning up like a neurotic harpy to make a snarky retort.

"But wait!" I hear you say. "What if I sign on to Amazon and post my retorts under an entirely different name? Then I have the satisfaction of responding, but no one will know it's me!" Yes, well. The term for using a fake name to respond to comments is "using a sock puppet," and if you're going to engage in sockpuppetry, this is how you should go about it:

1. Put a sock over each hand. You may decorate the socks to taste. You've made sock puppets!

2. Dip each sock, hands still inside, into the largest vat of honey you can find.

3. Feed sock-wrapped hands to the brown bear you have procured for just such an eventuality.

Once again, after the bear has finished its delicious little snacky-snack, you'll most likely neither have the means nor the desire to respond to those mean and nasty Amazon reviews. And what a relief that will be! Now you can turn to more important things, like plotting your next work, training your voice-operated word processor, and developing a Zen-like detatchment regarding reviews, particularly the ones on Amazon. You'll feel better. And they're doing amazing things with prosthetics these days.

Just thought I'd share,

Your friend,


Posted by john at September 22, 2006 11:19 AM

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Paul | September 22, 2006 12:16 PM

Sometimes it's hard to resist when I see a rating of 1 star and a comment like this: "This book wuz grate!!! But I only gave it 1 star cuz amazon customer service sux!!!"

Guess I need to go buy a bandsaw. I should read the reviews on Amazon to find the best one.

Dr. Phil | September 22, 2006 12:35 PM

Wasn't the SUX the big car in the RoboCop movie's commercials? I think this was the one with the 50,000 volt (or so) electrocution via the steering wheel for anyone trying to jack your SUX.

Perhaps such an electroshock system, with the SUX's wrist clamps, mounted on the keyboard is the effective control system Scalzi is looking for re the Amazon Commenting on Reviews problem. Put a counter on it, so it can tell if this is your first or tenth attempt, and ramp it from mild shock to major burns to blow the arms apart at the wrists.

Dr. Phil

Jon Hansen | September 22, 2006 12:51 PM

Don't have a brown bear. How about a black bear?

Nance | September 22, 2006 12:53 PM

Many years ago, Esquire magazine ran an article called "The Revenge Symposium," and gave half a dozen well-known authors the space to respond to a particularly irksome review. I don't remember many details -- other than that it was pretty amusing and that many authors are very, very thin-skinned people -- but there was one great line from Tom Robbins. He said something about this critic in Seattle, at "a newspaper in whose turkey pen I used to toil." I don't think I've ever heard a more apt description of working in newsrooms, and I've stolen it so many times I'm now half-convinced I wrote it myself.

Steve Buchheit | September 22, 2006 12:59 PM

The Harlan Ellison Memorial Fan Reply Option.

Welcome to the open community. Let the fun and games begin. Anybody got a jerrycan of gasoline?

Jeff Hentosz | September 22, 2006 01:07 PM

Jon: I think black bears have a reputation for being big chickens. A raccoon or coyote might work in a pinch. Do you have a raccoon or coyote?

Hugh | September 22, 2006 01:29 PM

The Harlan Ellison Memorial Fan Reply Option.

Steve, I don't think you can call it that w/o HE's permission. I read somewhere (Locus, I think) that HE has gone to the trouble of trademarking his name. ;-)

Steve Buchheit | September 22, 2006 01:32 PM

HE name use, for the lawyers, it was used as satire.

Hugh, yeah, I think he did that. Harlan's just this guy, you know...

PixelFish | September 22, 2006 01:38 PM

Just last night I was thinking that if I ever get a novel on the shelves, that I'd have to completely forego Amazon. I was already having enough issues over some of the silly remarks on somebody else's book.

If I ever get that urge, I'm going to go to the bathroom, stare into the mirror, and say, "Remember Anne Rice," over and over, until it sinks in.

Jon Hansen | September 22, 2006 01:46 PM

I think black bears have a reputation for being big chickens.
Too afraid to go after my hands if I'm just standing there? They are cowards!

Do you have a raccoon or coyote?
No raccoons, but there are coyotes in my neighborhood (I live on the edge of a national park). I'll stake out one of the neighbor's kids and see if I can get one.

Eric | September 22, 2006 01:53 PM

I was going to say, I thought Anne Rice was the one with Amazon.com issues, not Harlan Ellison(TM)(C)(pat. pend.)(P)1934.

My understanding is that Harlan Ellison(TM)(C)(pat. pend.)(P)1934's online-DIY-reader's comments problem is with Wikipedia.

(Y'know, I recently re-read "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream," and despite the misogyny in it, the quality of the prose really drove home how much of a shame it is that Ellison has turned into the Little Richard of sci fi. Oh well... whatcha gonna do?)

Melanie Heller | September 22, 2006 01:56 PM

We trust you to not pull an Anne Rice on your critics. :)

Tripp | September 22, 2006 02:15 PM

Speak of the Devil. We've got a local politician, a city councilman, who did just what you describe. The local paper has a comment section on their website. This politician used that comment section to defend himself, using his own name, but then went the next step and signed in under another name to further defend himself. He also used the other name to attack a few of his opponents. He kept this up for months!

I think you can see where this is going. When he was finally confronted he claimed self-defense - he had a right to 'defend himself.' Of course he missed the deception which was the major point of this whole thing.

He now claims the local paper is out to get him. That may or may not be true, but even if they were 'out to get him' he really shouldn't be providing the ammunition and loading their guns for them.

JonathanMoeller | September 22, 2006 02:28 PM

Amazon.com: Proudly Mindtrapping Authors Since 1995.

James | September 22, 2006 02:58 PM

And in a quick scan of Amazon reviews, the first author I have seen commenting in response to a review is ... (drum roll) Steve Stirling!

I suppose he would have been in my top few candidates for taking this on, along with Anne Rice.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden | September 22, 2006 03:43 PM

Steve Stirling? I would have sworn he knew better than to do that.

Zeynep | September 22, 2006 03:44 PM

I think multiple commenters over in Making Light said it best, so I'll follow their example and just stock up on popcorn. But your advice is, as is usually the cse, very sound.

James L. Haley | September 22, 2006 03:50 PM

Having had a Texas history published after seven years in writing, I just started feeling good about myself upon reading a print review saying, hallelujah, somebody finally includes cultural history, not just oil and the Alamo. Then I saw the bombola customer review on Amazon, headed "Just More of the Same," pining for someone to write about cultural history.

I would never answer back. As the sign says above the cash register at the Green Mesquite Barbecue in Austin: Arguing with stubborn people is like mud wrestling with a pig. Eventually you realize the pig likes it.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden | September 22, 2006 03:52 PM

Reviewers will never get it right.

James | September 22, 2006 03:58 PM


To be fair, he was answering a specific concrete question by a reviewer (the review is for A Meeting At Corvallis), but giving into the temptation at all is probably a bad sign (the review was not otherwise completely favourable, but he didn't respond to any of the other, more tendentious points).

But the reason I wasn't surprised is that I remember his almost automatic responses to Joseph Askew on Usenet, and some similar behaviour, though less marked, on the Bujold list. He does have a tendency to argue back even when he should know it won't do him any good.

AliceB | September 22, 2006 04:17 PM

I think this was a GREAT idea--not for the authors who respond, of course, but for the rest of us that will read about the dust-ups in upcoming blogs. Sigh. Because that is where we're going to read about it. Right?

Off to wash my hands.

Joe Rybicki | September 22, 2006 04:34 PM

Why do I get the feeling John had a specific example in mind when writing this post?

Spill the link, Scalzi. I desperately need a laugh.

Nathan | September 22, 2006 04:41 PM

Synchronicity happens.

Earlier today Chris Gerrib suggested that people check out The Lost Fleet: Dauntless.

I thanked him for the reccommendation 'cause I'm 200 pages in a book where NOTHING HAS HAPPENED YET!!

B&N didn't have it in stock. (Nothing by Scalzi on the shelf either BTW)

The book I just COULD put down?

The Protector's War--Stirling.

If he's still at Amazon, I goin' over there and give him a digital kick in the shins.

Nathan | September 22, 2006 05:09 PM

Oh, and BTW

Anne Rice's rant on Amazon IS priceless.

Look for review #15 to The Blood Canticle.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here, but I think she needs to pull the sock over her head before the whole honey and bear mashup.

Ginny | September 22, 2006 06:23 PM

Shame on you--sock puppets have a long and fabled history on these here intertubes; without them I would have had nothing to do from 1996-1998 or so.

Chang | September 22, 2006 06:52 PM

I would get into so much trouble with this. I have enough trouble keeping myself in check on the innerweebs. This would be astoundingly hard to avoid.

Arguing with stubborn people is like mud wrestling with a pig. Eventually you realize the pig likes it.

I'm putting that up in my office. Or our bedroom.

Kristine | September 22, 2006 07:10 PM

No hands, no problem. Voice recognition software.

Which means that after you cut off your hands, you have to figure out how to cut your throat, or at least sever your vocal cords.

Maybe the bandsaw, using your toes. But if you're that good with your toes, you probably need to cut those off too.

I read a horror story years ago about a prisoner whose adversary had over time cut off his legs, arms, and I think removed his tongue. The prisoner *still* managed to kill him. Said prisoner died in the commission of the crime, but he did get, so to speak, the last word.

This is not going to end well, but it will provide fodder for con bar discussions for years to come...

Carol Elaine | September 22, 2006 07:27 PM

It doesn't require special toe dexterity to flip a switch on a bandsaw. You just have to know how to aim precisely enough to cut your throat, but not actually decapitate yourself. Then, as you bleed profusely, use your big toe to press the speed dial for 911.

Or just call 911 before the self-maiming.

Tina Anderson | September 22, 2006 07:51 PM

Oh man, let's invite all authors to become glorious spectacles of performance art. ^_^;

I've resisted the urge every time, to use this new feature, since catching site of it. I'm in a genre that's judged solely against how another 'culture' [Japanese] produces the same genre, with fans that are mostly women in their early to mid 20’s. I've seen many a good title bogged down with comments like: ‘it's not real if it's not from Japan’ Perhaps if some authors were quick on the trigger to shoot down that nonsense, immature reviewers might dwindle away...but alas, this is asking for trouble, because even those truly critical of your work will avoiding saying so for fear Rice-Style retribution.

elizabeth bear | September 22, 2006 10:11 PM

*volunteers for bear duty*

Nathan | September 22, 2006 10:18 PM

Hey Elizabeth

You sold three books today.....to me.

I'm sure you sold more, that was the limit of my participation.

Sandy D. | September 23, 2006 08:46 AM

As someone with a few reviews on her blog, can I also suggest that you don't use Technorati or Google Blog Search to uncover those reviews and leave long, incoherent rants there? For one thing, it shows just how badly some authors write when they don't have an editor (or a spellcheck?) on hand.

Matt McIrvin | September 23, 2006 09:53 AM

This comes right after The New Republic fired batty cultural critic Lee Siegel for extravagant, fawning sockpuppetry on his blog comment board.

Fun, fun, fun.

elizabeth bear | September 23, 2006 01:29 PM

Nathan, thanks!

Nathan | September 23, 2006 01:45 PM


Kinda surprised I didn't find these before.

Starting with Hammered.

Jenny's getting breakfast (or so she promisded Simon)

allochthon | September 25, 2006 11:13 AM

Excellent! I've been looking for an excuse to buy a bandsaw. This is perfect!

Patrick Shepherd | September 25, 2006 11:55 AM

Some excellent advice for authors! Now if we could just get other reviewers to quit making inane comments about someone else's review, the system might even become useful. (mumble, grumble about a certain author who went out of his way to provide one of mine with a bunch a negative votes, and then got all of his (virtual) friends to do the same on another, totally unrelated review).

Chris Gerrib | September 25, 2006 02:15 PM

Nathan - You'll probably have to order The Lost Fleet from Amazon.

Nathan | September 25, 2006 03:02 PM

Already did, Chris.


S.M. Stirling | October 16, 2006 10:49 PM

It takes a while to get used to internet communication. Eventually I did, which is why I no longer post on unmoderated forums, as a general rule.

They have a natural tendency to degenerate into slanging matches dominated by people who enjoy that sort of thing; turning from sandbox into catbox, as it were.

I've noticed that this almost never happens in face-to-face communication, particularly among people who have to live in the same geographical area. The downside consequences and risks of being that rude to someone in person are too high.

There really should be some sort of Internet equivalent of the restraining factor of personal contact, tho' for the life of me I can't think of any practical alternative.

Mind you, there was a time when the rudeness quotient in, say, newspapers was almost as bad -- the Jacksonian era comes to mind. But in those days, the aggrieved used to challenge the offending commentators to duels fairly often, or used less formal means of registering complaints.

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