Today, I welcome Amelia Autin to the blog. Each week, I'll be bringing you posts by fellow authors!
It’s so easy to tear something down. So easy to mock someone else’s work. What isn’t easy is having the guts and determination to create something from scratch, and follow through. Not just finishing the darn thing, but putting it out there in the public eye, accepting that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but still… Hoping and praying someone will enjoy it. That someone will get the message you’re trying to convey, whether it’s a book, a painting, a poem, a song, or even a blog post.
I recently had the not-very-pleasant experience of dealing with a “troll” on Goodreads. Why do I say this person is a “troll?” Not because he/she left one-star ratings (the lowest rating possible) on five of my books on the same day (April 11th), but because this person has (as of the morning of May 8th) left a total of 2,927 ratings (zero reviews, by the way), of which 2,923 are one-star ratings. The other four are two-star ratings, a statistically insignificant number. This means this reader has never read a book he/she liked!
It was obvious to me (although not to Goodreads), that this person was just assigning one-star ratings to trash the authors. These ratings couldn’t possibly be realistic assessments of those books. I hope these one-star ratings were random—I’d hate to think someone specifically targeted me, as well as the other authors who received these malicious ratings.
But that experience isn’t what this blog is about. The worst is yet to come.
I was the victim of an elaborate and malicious hoax recently, which also utilized Goodreads (amazing how that web site keeps popping up in a negative way!) The perpetrator called it a “prank” when he sent me an email apology. Prank? Perhaps…if the perpetrator was a 12-year-old boy. Not when the actions are carried out by an adult.
Here’s what happened in a nutshell. Someone, whose initials are AS, left a one-star rating on Goodreads for one of my books on April 25th. No author likes to see that, but I accepted it and moved on. As I said in the first paragraph, not everyone will like what I write, and I’m okay with that.
On May 2nd I received a Facebook friend request on my author page from AS. The name sounded familiar, and after a moment’s reflection I realized this was the same name as the person who’d given my book a one-star rating on Goodreads. I visited his Facebook page, and what I saw there convinced me the two people were one and the same. That worried me. Was I being cyber-stalked? Why would someone who didn’t like my book ask to be friends with me on Facebook?
So I blocked AS and posted about it on Facebook, as a cautionary tale for others who might have a similar experience. I didn’t name AS. I didn’t use his initials. I didn’t even say it was a man. I merely ended my post by saying, “I fear I was being targeted...but I have no idea why.”
Then on May 5th AS changed his one-star rating to five stars and left a review that included a profuse apology for having “accidentally” posted the one-star rating. Because of his reference to being so worried about his mother he hadn’t realized his mistake, and because my own mother is in the hospital recovering from a stroke that left her unable to use her right arm and leg, I totally bought what AS wrote, even though some of what he said was a little over the top. I also unblocked him on Facebook, although I didn’t send him a friend request. But by unblocking him that meant he could see my public posts on my author page.
Later in the day AS changed his rating on Goodreads from five stars to three stars. He also completely revised his review, saying the book was a five-star read but because I’d blocked him on Facebook and “bragged” about it, he could only give me three stars. He was so “crushed” (his word, not mine) he didn’t think he could ever read another book by me. There was a lot more to his rant, but I really didn’t read more than that.
Here’s where his actions became unpardonable—I cared.
I cared that he’d misunderstood my post about blocking him. I cared that I’d somehow inadvertently hurt him, something I would never do deliberately.
So I posted some comments on his Goodreads review, explaining that authors get cyber-stalked a lot, especially women authors. And that I hadn’t been bragging about blocking him, I’d been worried by what I thought was a case of cyber-stalking. I wasted several hours on this, hours I didn’t really have to spare because I had a deadline the next day. But I cared. More fool me.
I eventually connected with AS via a Facebook chat. His first words were “I just sent you an email to your aol account. Sorry about the hubub (sic). It’s all explained in that email.”
I quickly logged into my author email account and saw the email from him with the subject line, “Apology. it was a prank. Let me explain.”
It turns out AS is a comedian who picked my book at random and merely read it in order to mock it in his comedy act. That stung a little since all my books are like my children and I love them, flaws and all. But that was just the beginning.
AS laid out the whole sorry tale in great detail. How he’d read my book for his mock-academic comedy routine; how he’d given it a one-star rating because he’s working on a Goodreads challenge and figured my book counted even though romance isn’t something he normally reads; how he went to my author web site so he could include some stuff about me in his comedy act; how he sent me a Facebook friend request as a joke because I mention on my web site that readers can “friend” me.
When AS found himself blocked from seeing my author page on Facebook, he asked a friend to visit it. His friend told him about my cautionary post about blocking AS. That’s when he decided to “have a little fun” (again, his words, not mine). He wrote the five-star review as a joke, hoping for a reaction from me, which he got (“(which thanks for doing by the way!)” he had the gall to write in his email). Then he wrote the three-star review. Again, “just for fun.”
I don’t know about you, but this kind of fun completely escapes me. He deliberately manipulated my emotions as a “prank.” Yes, that five-star review was a little over the top, and yes, reading it now I see all the red flags I should have seen at the time.
I think I was particularly susceptible because of the situation with my mother and the fact that my father lost part of his leg to diabetes before he passed away a few years ago (neither of which AS could have known, but still…) So when AS wrote, “This book was JUST the thing I needed to take my mind off of all my troubles, what with my mom becoming the families (sic) latest diagnosed diabetic and all,” I fell for it. Again, more fool me.
I guess I should be grateful AS sent me that email, so I could stop feeling bad about blocking him on Facebook. And I guess I should be grateful he deleted his review from Goodreads (he offered to restore the five-star review, but I declined). And maybe I would be grateful for the explanation and apology…if he hadn’t thanked me in our Facebook chat for “being a good sport,” then asking if I wanted to watch his live-stream show.
I get that some people think it’s okay to make fun of romance novels. I don’t think so, but that’s just me. And if I’d happened to come across AS’s live-stream show mocking my book, I might have just shrugged my shoulders and moved on. I might even have chuckled a time or two—who knows? Stranger things have happened.
But I can’t forgive the emotional seesaw to which AS subjected me, which he thinks was nothing more than a “prank.” I guess he sees it as “no harm, no foul.” But there was harm. I have been changed by this experience. Just as you can’t un-see something or un-read something, you can’t completely block an experience like this out of your mind going forward. So I’ll be a little less trusting in the future. And possibly a little less caring. I’ll try not to let it affect me, but…I’m only human. And it’s basic human instinct to protect oneself from being hurt a second time. “Once bitten, twice shy,” comes to mind, as well as, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Now that a few days have passed and the initial pain has lessened, all I can say is I hope no one else ever has their emotions manipulated this way. No one. Not even AS.
It’s ironic, because AS says he reads mostly classic literature. Apparently he hasn’t learned much from it (Charles Dickens’ Sydney Carton or Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean he is not!) So maybe he should switch to something else—romances, for instance. He could learn a lot from reading romances with an open mind.
So what are the takeaways from this whole experience? Damned if I know. Except maybe…just maybe…I should pity AS because he is who he is. What do you think? Is that a fitting end to the story?
Amelia Autin is the author of nine novels for Silhouette and Harlequin. Her most recent book is Her Colton P.I., a Harlequin Romantic Suspense, released May 2016. You can find her on Facebook or at www.AmeliaAutin.com.