Every self-published writer I know reads their reviews and probably takes them too seriously. The new guys might as well wear screaming neon suits, they're always devastated by a one star review, always looking for a reason to give up because writers may seem like egomaniacs, but in the end we're all children looking for a pat on the head from Mommy, or Daddy, or fat Uncle Brian. Whenever I get a poor review, if I find it particularly cutting, I cheer myself up by scanning the good reviews for the same title because if someone hated it, someone else almost always loved it. If that doesn't work I go look at Selena Kitt's reviews and remind myself that it doesn't take five stars to tell a good story or sell well. Different work resonates with different people, especially in a genre like erotica, which can involve very specific kinks and fetishes.
So I noticed right away when Fire began to garner some odd customer reviews on Barnes and Noble. On December 24th, 2011 I discovered a five star review titled Flameestar to auquaclan (sic). The text of the review reads, "Greetings, im leader of blazeclan (flamecolored shecat with long fur asnd sky blue eyes) i want to welcome u to the f9reest. My camp is the first result for 'narnia'. If ur clan needs help settling in, ask f9r flamestar. Starclan guide u."
Since it was a five star review, unsolicited, I let it be. Hey, I've had a two star review left by someone who said in the review they didn't read my story because they don't read stuff like this. I figured turnabout was fair play. Ok internet crazies, I'll take your five stars as payback.
Then I had another review on the 24th titled Deputy, "My name is aquastar may i be deputy"
Then three more the next day, then seven more in the next four days. I'm up to a total of sixteen reviews ranging from one to five stars that seem to be from people pretending to be some type of cat clan who communicate with each other in the review sections of Barnes and Noble's Nook books.
Do a search for Earth, you'll see Earth by David Brin. His review section has ten messages from RPers. You'll also see Earth-Born Lord by Brenna Lyons, also riddled with messages about things such as seeking mates, other search terms to use in order to find more cat clan members, and calls to arms over pretend assassination attempts and imaginary cat wars.
Here are a few more titles I found riddled with clan reviews: Aqua Erotica by Agor Singh, The Cyber Mermaid by Jane Air, Dracula Refanged by Brandy Stoker, and the grand master gathering place seems to be Tartarus by Edward M. Grant, nineteen out of the twenty reviews on the first page alone are these RPers playing their game on the back of someone else's hard work. They seem to be targeting indie titles, and seem somewhat attracted to erotica as a genre, perhaps because of the high percentage of indie versus traditionally published titles. I didn't follow all the suggested searches to find other titles affected (they instruct each other how to find other places to message) but it seems like a relatively new phenomenon on B&N's site.
After it became a nuisance, I marked the offending reviews on my title as not helpful, and sent Pubit an email. Pubit informed me they no longer address customer review issues, that I would have to contact customer service. An email to customer service gained me the following email:
Dear Valued Customer:
Thanks for contacting us. We are experiencing unusually high email
volume, and want to assure you that your concerns are always very
important to us.
If you have a question about the status of your order, please check the
information we provide on your online account. You can check order
status, modify orders, and manage many other aspects of your
BarnesandNoble.com account in this area.
Just follow this link to access your account:
If you have more urgent questions, you invite you to chat with one of
our agents by clicking on this link:
The best time to join us is Sunday through Saturday 1:00PM-4:00PM ET.
Thanks again for your patience and loyalty during this busy time.
-- The Customer Service Team at BarnesandNoble.com
An email that actually says they're too busy performing customer service to help me with my customer service request. At my request a friend and fellow author also submitted an email for me, reported the offending reviews, and went into the suggested chat, where they found a bot auto-responding with FAQ topics. Unhelpful, to say the least.
This entire situation only adds to the impression of self-publishing as hackneyed, thrown-together crap hurried onto any site that will have it without a thought to professionalism or presentation. It makes my work look bad. It makes Barnes and Noble's site look bad. Their lack of attention to the problem makes it seem as though they don't care what happens to the indie erotica authors once their work goes up as long as the dollars keep rolling in. Erotica is a cash cow for all the big (and some not so big) ebook publishers, but it seems like no matter how much we bring in, they're more likely to treat us like factory farm animals than working professionals.