Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review Revenge...

...and other tales from the literary dark side.

Every time you think you’ve seen the ultimate in review abuse, something new comes along.

First I was amused by this article, which describes how a publicist dealt with the problem of a reviewer being too busy to read her client’s book. She sent some “mock reviews” that could be used instead. Two of those were “Great page-turner” and “Couldn’t put it down”.

Well, of course the reviewer would love her client’s book. And would express said love in the most tired and generic terms. Unfortunately the story had a less happy ending. As the reviewer described it,

So I turned back to her list of blurbs, which I had printed out. Unfortunately, they fell to the floor and were all mixed up. I tried to reconstruct them, but they got a bit garbled…

Here’s my best shot: “Don’t even think of page-turning anticipation!” ”Kept me up down.” “Filled with NY Times!” “Couldn’t put it near the water!”

Publicists should feel free to use them as needed.

That was funny, but the case of Robert Stanek is less so. Apparently he’s a self-published author who posted several hundred five-star reviews of his books on Amazon (and one-star reviews for some other writers).

Then a newsletter which mentioned Stanek received a vaguely threatening email from a lawyer claiming to represent him. Said lawyer sent it from a Hotmail account, “as used by the best attorneys” -- link. When a writer describes this as a “one-man PublishAmerica”, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration.

Mr Stanek’s view of the critics is:

Clearly the originators, and perpetuators, of all this nonsense are enormous fans of George RR Martin… In prison, people like them usually get shanked.

That’s just disturbing, so let’s move on to the last and latest in the tales of review revenge. This hit the news today (and inspired my post).

A Cambridge-based academic found a scathing online response to her book on Russian culture, an Amazon review calling it “the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published". The reviewer, who took the handle Historian, also trashed other books, including two by a professor at Oxford University.

In contrast, Historian loved a book by another professor, Orlando Figes, and expressed disappointment that he hadn't won a certain prize. The book which had won was "not nearly as good as its many plaudits in the press and book prize judges think."

According to Historian, anyway.

But the problem with picking on academics is that they’re really fond of doing research and putting the pieces together. Soon emails filled with formal fury circulated and the lawyers were summoned. Then the news broke.

The butler professor’s wife did it. And apparently she’s “a senior law lecturer at Cambridge University, barrister, and member of the top human rights specialists” -- link. How could someone so educated not realize that whoever was behind the reviews would be found out, discredited and maybe laughed at into the bargain?

Never a dull moment in publishing, that’s for sure.


Loren said...

Reminds of something amusing from Isaac Asimov's writing career. Someone was once slamming IA's stories for gallivanting across the Galaxy, stating that even for Earthbound stories like The Caves of Steel. Seems to me that that reviewer was a troll.

But IA had published his Lucky Starr stories under a pseudonym, and he discovered that that reviewer liked IA stories when he did not know that it was IA writing them. So he had a lot of fun at that reviewer's expense.

fairyhedgehog said...

I loved the mock reviews mashup!

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I love reading about Stanek. I stumbled upon stories of his self-reviews years ago. If you dig into the internet, you can find all kinds of stories about him now, including one of how he allegedly pasted himself into a photo of a Brian Jacques book signing so it looked like he was signing books at the same event.

Marian Perera said...

Loren : I'd love a link to that, if it's online? It must have been quite a while ago, though, because even in my greenest moments I knew that Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr stories.

fairyhedgehog : That was the best response to the publicist, too.

Barbara : The versions of the picture with Brian Jacques are... interesting. In one of those, there's a paper cup and some other trash before Stanek. In another, the table is cleared.

Someone also pointed out the lack of a shadow on the table before Stanek and the positioning of his hands. It's like one of those "spot the differences" sets of pictures.

I did a search of the local library catalogue for any novels by Stanek, but nada, and I'm not going to use taxpayer resources to request one. His self-promotion is probably more entertaining than his fiction, anyway.

Loren said...

I learned of that trollish reviewer from Isaac Asimov's two-volume autobiography. A check with Google Books pointed to "In Joy Still Felt", page 11.

As to the Lucky Starr series, I could not find a legitimate online copy of it, not even in Amazon's Kindle service. The closest I could found was from that great fount of knowledge: Lucky Starr series - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Enbrethiliel said...


Wow! Stanek is a mess.

I agree that the story of his self-promotion is probably a million times more interesting than his actual books.

Anonymous said...

The husband added more to the story, and said it was actually his idea from the start. He was the one who was leaving the bad reviews, not the wife.

Marian Perera said...

Someone needs to sit down and have a little talk with him. Everything else was bad enough, but throwing his wife under a bus?

I hope she's got a good lawyer of her own.