There's a lot of depressing stuff going on out there with respect to Anne Rice and her most favorite Amazon-related petition. So many supposedly reputable news sites jumping to spread the story of how she was bullied on Amazon, as if there's even the slightest chance of that actually happening. What's next? Will Sean Connery be driven off IMDb in tears?
While I don't see that there's much I can do about this spread of misinformation, I can at least debunk one story making the rounds thanks to Ms. Rice's pet reporter, Nola Cancel. For those unaware, Ms. Cancel is the completely objective reporter who came to the Amazon Top Reviewers Forum in order to see what readers thought of the anti-anonymity petition, and then went and wrote a piece that was about as objective as you'd expect from someone who claims everything she does is for Anne Rice.
Which is to say: not at all. Despite reassuring everyone multiple times that she was not a sycophant, and would not take sides.
However, her failure to report either objectively or accurately was already apparent in the first half of the article, in which she investigated what authors thought about the petition. One of the authors she interviewed was Wendy Corsi Staub, whose account of being bullied on Amazon is quoted verbatim, without benefit of any of that tedious fact checking stuff I'm fairly certain is taught in journalism school. Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't consider that either "objective" or responsible reporting. It's just... spreading rumors and feeding the flames of contention.
After insisting that she can handle negative reviews, Staub went on to state:
I do, however, have a huge problem with Amazon providing a public forum to people--note that I don't refer to them as readers--whose mission is purely to attack the author/publisher and hinder sales. This isn't about growing a thick skin; it's about slander and defamation, which should be taken seriously. Like all bullies, the people in question seek power by undermining others, and that power is only enhanced when they're cloaked in anonymity. I don't know of many--if any--established authors who haven't been targeted at one point or another by anonymous trolls and bullies on Amazon. I've had the despicable bandwagon descend en masse to post spoilers for kicks, because they can. I've had them bestow a bevy of one-star reviews meant to diminish my book's overall ratings, because they can. Most often, these reviews are peppered with smug proclamations that they've never heard of me, never read any of my books including the one they're "reviewing," but are encouraging Amazon customers to boycott me because my book was reviewed by a certain Amazon reviewer they dislike, or because they have some beef with my publisher or genre, or because it's Wednesday and the sky is blue... Even more frustrating, it's nearly impossible, once the damage is done and reviews are posted, to have them removed because as it stands now, they don't violate Amazon's terms of service.
Please note the bolded portions (emphasis mine). These are things Staub is claiming have happened to her on Amazon, along with her statement that it is virtually impossible to get them removed. Surely, then, there should be some evidence of this "bullying". We should be able to go look at Staub's books and find groups of one-star reviews that were left on or around the same time--for how else could reviewers descend "en masse"? We should be able to find groups of such reviews in which people state that they've never read the book in question. Groups of such reviews urging readers to boycott Staub.
Now, before I go further, I want to be absolutely clear here: finding such reviews would not, in fact, be proof that the author had been "bullied" by anyone, much less "anti-author gangsters". It would simply lend a certain amount of credence to the idea that something more might be going on. On the other hand, an absolute lack of such reviews is pretty solid evidence that the story was fabricated.
And in this case, that's what we have: a whole lot of nothing.
Staub has 7 pages worth of books on Amazon, and I've read or skimmed the one-star reviews for every single one of them. I also skimmed all of the reviews for about half of her books, looking for those with comments, under the assumption that a spoilery review generally draws backlash. Just in case those horrible people leaving spoilers "for kicks" did so without one-starring the book. And I found nothing that constitutes a pattern of behavior at all, much less one that seems to be out to get the author.
Shadowkiller, for example, has a whopping three one-star reviews, all of which were written at completely different times. Of those, one is perhaps a first-time reader of this author; one is a long-time yet disappointed fan; and one is a reader who willingly admits they made a mistake and confused this book with another. Why the reviewer didn't just delete the review is beyond me, but they just as clearly are not a troll. Their action was not prompted by some sort of gang mentality, nor were they part of any active campaign to destroy the author's rating. It's just one person who made a mistake.
Nightwatcher has five one-star reviews. They were, again, posted at different times, ranging from just over a week to several months apart. Three are by people claiming to be long-term fans who are just greatly disappointed. One is a mistake--it's someone who clearly misunderstood the star system and gave the book one star when they meant to give it five. The final reviewer did not finish the book, but certainly tried. To sum up: no group activity here, either.
The Good Sister? Three one-star reviews, all published months apart, none engaging in anything even the touchiest of people should construe as attacking, trolling, or bullying. One is from a long-time yet disappointed fan.
And so it goes through Staub's entire oeuvre. Many of her books have no one-star reviews at all. Of the one-star reviews she does receive, a fair number are from people who state they have happily read all of her other books, and are thus both disappointed and stunned that the latest offering didn't live up to expectations--the exact opposite of what she claims. From a cursory check, the one-star reviews appear to be by different people on different books--i.e. she can't even complain that one person has one-starred everything she wrote. (Which admittedly she didn't, but I tried to cover all the bases, just in case.)
There were no reviews which made a point of flaunting the fact that the reviewer didn't actually read the book, or at least none that I would consider such. There was one which stated that she hadn't read the book, but that the blurb sounded familiar so it was clearly repetitive. That was left anonymously (by "A Customer") back in 2003--clearly a very pressing problem. There was another which said the reader hadn't read the book, but when you check her reviews it's clear that she is simply very confused. For example, one of her reviews is: "don't care to have to write a review on every book that I get. how do you get them removed so you don't have to do this 20 word-----.". I have no idea what's going on there, but it doesn't sound like trolling to me. Otherwise, there were maybe a handful of reviews in which the reader stated they gave up, sometimes after only ten or twenty pages. Not being able to finish a book is not the same thing as never having read it, however, and it's blatant misrepresentation to claim it is. Furthermore, the reviews were on different books, so even if one is inclined to think not finishing is the same as not reading, we're still missing any evidence that a group of people targeted anything.
As for spoilers, after looking through roughly half her books, I found three. They were left by different people, on different books, and at different times. Only one was a one-star, and it's the only one-star review she received that mentioned anything remotely spoiler-like. And truthfully, since the "spoiler" was that the book was "suspiciously similar" to one of Jude Devereaux's novels, the spoiler should be the least of Staub's issues. (And judging by her comment, that's exactly the case.)
In short, I'm forced to conclude that Staub--to put it as kindly as possible--is over-reacting to her negative reviews. Either that, or despite claiming it was almost impossible to get her "bully" reviews removed, she managed to do just that. Because they don't exist. The closest she comes to having a "group" of reviewers attack her is when her novel The Best Gift was released on kindle with the editing marks intact. Eight people left one star reviews to complain about it being unreadable, and rightly so. That, however, was the only show of solidarity I could find.
I hesitate, however, to say Staub is deliberately lying. I think it's entirely possible that she truly believes what she's saying. She doesn't recall what actually happened, she recalls how it made her feel. That doesn't make her account accurate or acceptable, of course, but it is a different problem than someone just spreading tales. It's the problem that reviewers tried, more than once, to explain to Ms. Cancel: readers are not attacking authors. We're giving them honest reviews of their work, and they can't handle it. Because they can't handle it, they feel like they're being picked on and harassed.
As I final note, while I didn't find any cases of Staub being attacked (at least not in my opinion) I did find some reviews where Staub commented to argue with or castigate a reviewer. This one, for example, where she takes offense to being told her book is "suspiciously similar" to someone else's. Or this one where she comments to say she reported a spoilery review to both Amazon and her publisher. She is clearly an author who pays far too much attention to her reviews.
ETC: rather important typo