J. K. Rowling, Lynn Shepherd, and the misuse of the Amazon review system

I just came across this little brouhaha (as usual I’m late to the party). I don’t really care to address Ms. Shepherd’s opinion– I think she’s wrong, but she’s entitled to an opinion, and more than enough people have already responded to her article to make anything I can say superfluous– but I want to say a brief word about the fact that some thoughtless people have been leaving one-star reviews on Amazon for Ms. Shepherd’s books in retaliation for her article.

This is wrong, people.

Petty, vindictive spite is not what the Amazon review system is for. Anybody who uses it in that manner is wrong. Doing so devalues reviews for everyone. Ms. Shepherd clearly has a right to ask Amazon to remove such reviews. And, while I can’t speak for Ms. Rowling, it seems antithetical to the whole spirit of Harry Potter in the first place.

Rethink your attitude, folks.

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9 thoughts on “J. K. Rowling, Lynn Shepherd, and the misuse of the Amazon review system”

  1. The problem with the statements made by Lynn Shepherd is they’ll follow her through history, her Amazon ratings will reflect this faux pas for some time to come, but she’ll probably gain a few fans off the back of it too – so she’s got some publicity out of it, name repetition and recognition. There’s a bit of a catch now, although people should be decent and not abuse the Amazon rating system, they are still entitled to have an opinion. Hopefully Ms Shepherd will learn to temper her opinion more articulately. It’s really hard to be a writer these days, but JK Rowling has earned her success fairly, she deserves to do what she enjoys, and does best, while her fans have every right to enjoy her work.

    1. Yes, people are entitled to opinions about her opinions, and so they are perfectly free to create their own post or article in response. I think Ms. Shepherd completely misses the boat about the nature of success as a writer and the fact that, in most ways, the success of one writer in the digital age enhances everyone’s opportunities. J. K. Rowling expanded the YA field for everyone, and she’ll probably do the same thing for adult fiction now that she’s writing for adults.

      But seeing people misuse the Amazon review system to lash out at her torques me in two different ways–
      1. it bothers me that people can be so petty as to think they have to strike back at someone whose opinion they disagree with– that sort of response smacks of fanaticism.
      2. it devalues the Amazon review system for everyone, which affects me as a self-published author.

      You’re quite right that Ms. Shepherd’s statements are probably going to haunt her the rest of her life, but there are better forums for people to express their disagreement with her. Whatever her opinions, though, her published works still deserve fair and dispassionate reviews on their merits. The Amazon review system has never really been as dispassionate as we would like it to be, but this sort of thing reduces it value for everyone.

      Thank you for reading.

  2. I suppose there’s no more direct line to the author than through the reviews on their Amazon profile, I’m not sure what other forums would be more appropriate considering she’s probably been bombarded on every social media platform. I feel so sorry for her actually! I love JK, I think she should write forever (like Terry Pratchett).

    I took a look at some of the reviews people left, and over the 24th and 25th February there have been really nasty ones – unrelated to the book, and on her titles that don’t have many reviews, they stick out like a sore thumb. People are horrible! They think that the blanket of anonymity gives them the right to say whatever they like.

    But what Amazon Reviews gives self-published authors like us, is the question “Was this review helpful to you?” I’d hope that people reflect the usefulness of a particular review as most of those that have appeared within the past two days have been malicious, unhelpful, and have nothing to do with the subject matter – keeping the value in the system. By doing that, we can keep the review system working productively for the good of all who use it.

    The problem is, if we can go around requesting that reviews be deleted, we’re guilty of tampering with the data. Where do we draw the line when we begin allowing that?

    What a PR nightmare! I hope she recovers from this, honestly without proper management, it’s so easy to put a foot wrong, and she just let off the equivalent of a rip-roaring whopper in the library!

    1. “…and she just let off the equivalent of a rip-roaring whopper in the library!”

      Can’t disagree with you there.

      Amazon has always allowed authors to request the removal of clearly malicious reviews, and that sort of thing has gone on before– I’ve just never seen it on this scale. Ultimately, of course, everything that appears on an Amazon page is there at the sole discretion of Amazon. Hopefully they will take note of this situation and provide some corrective action.

      1. That’s reassuring to know in the event that I one day might end up with both feet firmly inserted into my mouth. I think that they can easily tell which are the malicious comments. Great article and discussion.

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