What does it take to be called an ‘Amazon Fora Troll’?

Posted: April 9, 2013 in Trivialities, rants & other ephemera

Nothing, apparently.

Yet, there’s my name, on the STGB list. Click on it, and you’ll find two reviews. (That’s two reviews.) Mind you, it wouldn’t matter if I’d posted 100 reviews, still wouldn’t make me a troll. And if I’m not a troll, how can anyone trust that the other people listed are trolls? Like Kathryn Warner, who writes the best Edward II blog in the universe. She knows her stuff and she reviewed a book. Yep, that’s what she did – she reviewed a book. (I might say this a little more slowly so you can fully understand the horror. She. Reviewed. A. Book.) Some other people reviewed the same book and suggested that if you want to read about that particular time in history, two other writers had written better books. Yep, that’s right. In reviewing a product, two people thought that someone else’s product was better. Kathryn didn’t. She reviewed the book on its (lack of) historical accuracy and, for that, she’s named in a whole STGB post about the (non-existent) conspiracy to do Author A down in favour of Author B…

Oh, stuff it, I’m already on their ‘trolls’ list, so what more can they do? (I’m sure they believe this will damage my ‘brand’, this organisation that is so up in arms about the Amazon/Goodreads review process damaging writer’s brands. But if you’re not prepared to try and inflict actual damage on the people your (alleged) crazed fantasies insist are causing imaginary damage, then what’s the point of your existence? Actually, STGB, you might just want to answer that anyway – what’s the point in your existence?  (See what I did there? I used the word ‘alleged’ which means I can say anything I like.)

So, back to the story… There’s been an ongoing saga – two sagas, actually, that seem to have morphed into one, both bleated about in blogs, on facebook and in other internet fora. Both are about ‘nasty’ reviewers destroying the good names of the (sarcasm alert) World’s Best Writers. One involved a writer phoning the place of work of an Amazon commenter in an attempt to get them sacked. (Yes, that’s right. That’s what you do when someone annoys you. You phone their workplace and try to get them sacked.) The other involved some pretty nasty things being said about another writer. (Yes, that’s what some writers do – they attack other writers. Then, when they read a review of their work that doesn’t gush and fawn, they cry “I’ve been attacked!” Self-awareness much?) I’ve been on the periphery of these two sagas, attempting (in my capacity as occasional Voice of Reason) to get both these writers (who I don’t know well but share a couple of fora with) to stop getting involved in the Amazon/Goodreads review process because the only people they will hurt are themselves. And guess what? Their ‘brands’ have been damaged by all this. Which feeds their (alleged) paranoia even more.

I’m going to post a couple of links so that anyone who isn’t already aware of all this can see for themselves. I’ve alluded to these two stoushes before but, being well brought up, I mentioned no names. Well, the time for that is over. Linking Kathryn Warner and Sharon Penman (yes, that’s right – Sharon Penman) in a sordid little bit of ‘subterfuge’ and ‘sabotage’. So that Sharon Penman (I might just say that again – Sharon Penman) might sell more books than Katherine Ashe… Because, as we all know, Sharon Penman (not sure you heard me the first time – that’s Sharon Penman) is so desperately in need of sales and readers that she has no choice but to sabotage the practically unknown Katherine Ashe. FFS, STGB, sprinkle a bit of Lots-O-Logic onto your blog posts and it makes this kind of nonsense vanish clean away!

So Katherine Ashe self-immolates on the twin altars of Trashing Another Writer and Refusing to Accept She’s Not Infallible When It Comes to History (ok, not so snappy, but I try) and instead of taking a step back and saying “What could I have done to prevent this? Ah, I know! Maybe I shouldn’t have trashed that other writer! Perhaps I could have engaged my critics in an intelligent and reasonable way!” retreats farther and farther into (alleged) paranoia and calls in the STGB bullies. Because they are bullies. Worse than anything they imagine the people on their little list are. Some people read your book and didn’t like it, Katherine. Learn something from it. Get over it. Move on. Just don’t drag the good names of Kathryn Warner and Sharon Penman (*sigh*) into your (alleged) fevered imaginings. If you don’t fancy reading the ‘lost in a rainforest’ blog, here’s a couple of things Katherine Ashe has to say about fellow (and more successful) writer, Katharine Ashe: she writes ‘trash’; she’s the ‘mistress of the bodice ripper’; she ‘churns out’ books. Charming! And this is the writer who (according to one STGB commenter) doesn’t “ruin the reputation of another author for her profit”. Right. Oh, and while we’re about it, there’s a clear accusation in that comment that Sharon Penman (that’s THE Sharon Penman, in case you’re wondering) is somehow involved in this sordid little conspiracy.

And what does this conspiracy consist of? Three 1 star reviews for a book. Dated (respectively) 8 April 2010; 2 July 2012; and 16 February 2013. Two of them suggest that two other writers (not just Sharon Penman (no, there isn’t another, less well known Sharon Penman this refers to)) have written better books than the one in question. So a very small conspiracy that moves at the speed of pitch. You need to grit your teeth and think really hard to turn these three, unconnected, comments into ‘subterfuge’. But one bunch of people can do it – STGB! They can turn any review or comment into just about anything they fancy. And, while they’re about it, they can (ominous music) Put Your Name on a List!

Then there’s the other story. Of the writer who (ill-advisedly) launched himself into an Amazon flame war because a friend of his received a fairly unintelligible negative review. “What do I do?” the friend said. “Stand back,” ex-marine Lloyd Lofthouse said. “I’ll deal with this!” Which led to him phoning an Amazon commenter’s place of work and (allegedly) trying to get them fired. Which, further, has led to post after post after post about the ‘nasty trolls’ out there who just don’t have the sense to recognise (alleged) literary genius when they see it. And about how being involved in an Amazon flame war is just exactly the same, in every way, as being raped.

Katherine, Lloyd, please listen to me. People are going to read your books and maybe not like them. They’re going to tell other people that they don’t like them. Get over it.

And then there’s the petition. Yes, that’s right. Some writers believe that they should be able to decide who comments on their work and who doesn’t. They want the right to block commenters and reviewers from having their say on Amazon. They really do. They want to control what is said about their books. But they want to be able to say what they like about other people’s books. The other day, in a review written by one of the most (alleged) fervent STGB bullies, I found this: “I’ll tell you, I couldn’t even get through Twilight.” Yes! That’s one of the (alleged) leading lights in STGB – the How Dare You Say Something Negative About a Book What I Wrote! people – putting down in black and white that they failed to enjoy a book so much they didn’t finish it. Why isn’t this name (“Chris”. though there is some question as to whether it’s the writer’s real name) on the STGB ‘Amazon Fora Trolls’ list? I mean, that’s a really nasty thing to say about someone’s book! How dare “Chris” be so unkind! It’s probably a conspiracy. She’s suggesting, after all, that people shouldn’t read Twilight (whatever that is) but some other book by another author instead. SUBTERFUGE!!!

Also mentioned (and linked to) is the Don’t Defame the Dead ‘campaign’ and facebook group. The implication here is that it’s targeted at particular writers. It isn’t. It came from something that Sharon Penman once said, that Kathryn Warner thoroughly agreed with (she’s up to her eyeballs in nonsense about Edward II et al) and that a couple of us ran with. Here’s my DDTD contribution, with the link to Kathryn’s at the end. There’s nothing sinister in it and nothing to suggest that there’s any great conspiracy lurking behind the plaintive plea.

Here’s Kathryn Warner’s review of Montfort. This is, apparently, all the evidence anyone requires that she (and the other reviewers ‘outed’ by STGB) is in cahoots with Sharon Penman (sorry, I’m still trying to process that in my head – Sharon Penman!) to boost Penman’s sales at the expense of Ashe. I’d be ashamed of myself if I tried to blame slow (or non-existent) sales on (imaginary) fans of Genuine Great Author being out to get me. I’d call in the favour I asked some time ago and get a very good friend of mine to bitch slap me till I started talking sense again.

Kathryn Warner is highly knowledgeable in her field. If I need to know anything about any of the Three Edwards, their lives and times, I go to Kathryn. She is the furthest thing from a troll or a bully that anyone could wish to meet. There’s nonsense that needs to be stopped; heads than need to be pulled in and egos that need to be deflated. I don’t call for STGB to be silenced. They have the right to talk whatever nonsense they like; anything else would require me to sink to their level and I have this thing called dignity that prevents that. But they need to be very careful about who they make allegations about. I’m expecting a retraction in their next blog – apologising to both Kathryn and Sharon Penman. It might be a false hope, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

The entertainment business – music; books; films; tv; sport &c – is not for the thin skinned or the fainthearted. If you aren’t prepared to take criticism (and yes, sulk a bit if you get a bad review; drink a bottle of wine; vent to your husband/wife/best friend, but don’t take it to Amazon or facebook or Goodreads) then don’t get into it. And “I didn’t like this book much” however its worded doesn’t give any writer, or their friends, the right to go after the reviewer. Suck it up and move on.

As for me being an Amazon troll… I’m expecting someone to try and start a flamewar on one of my two reviews. They may be disappointed.

UPDATE: Two comments left on the STGB blog by people named in their ‘Amazon Fora Trolls’ list have not only not been published, they’ve been removed from the moderation queue. That’s two people who have been labelled ‘trolls’ by this group and not given the right of reply. Not the actions of a group that wants to be seen as aboveboard and honest. You want to call someone a troll without a shred of evidence and then not give them the right of reply? Or is it just difficult to pretend that someone’s evil when others can read their words?


Rather than actually approving either of the comments, this was posted on the STGB site overnight. Further evidence of their methods. If you have nothing to fear, STGB, let your critics speak for themselves. And Katherine Ashe did call Katharine Ashe’s books ‘trash’. Just click on the link to the ‘lost in the rainforest’ story and you’ll see it right there.

UPDATE: I’ve been given permission to include this screenshot of one of the ‘snobby’ comments that got deleted and (incorrectly) ‘summarised’ by STGB.

Is it because this comment gives the correct version of the story that it was deleted? It’s certainly not because it was ‘snobby’ or ‘self-righteous’, ‘self-important’ or any of the other adjectives used. It quoted Katherine Ashe’s own words (as I have above). And any writer who feels they’re entitled to call another writer’s work ‘trash’ really shouldn’t be complaining about three 1 star reviews! And this ‘we can say what we like about you but we will NOT publish any of your comments’ policy is a sign of cowardice and firm entrenchment in the moral low ground. If you want to hand out crap, you have got to be prepared to take it.


old woman

This is the level of debate these people are capable of. Never mind Kathryn’s research experience or the respect in which she’s held in the history community (article published in English Historical Review, among other things), if she’s not an ‘adolescent’ she’s an ‘old woman’.



… don’t look now, but you’re the ones ‘getting exposed’.

AND… UPDATE: Here’s another blog on the same subject.

ONE MORE UPDATE: Some chap who’s got his knickers in a twist about Amazon’s review policy (I really don’t care, and neither should you) has taken the STGRB ‘trolls’ list and posted it whole (without checking for himself to see whether any of those named are actually trolls or not) on facebook. So, someone who has posted two reviews to Amazon (and some who have posted none – yes, that’s right, no reviews at all!) are enshrined in some petty, opinionated writer’s facebook page as  evil trolls. “Rumor has it that some of these troll have up to 6 sock-puppets,” he says. Maybe he could introduce me to mine, we could all go out for lunch.

  1. Feud_writer says:

    Sometimes I wonder about people, I really do…

    • anevillfeast says:

      The thing that astounds me the most is that I’ve not taken part in one single Amazon flamewar and have been quite vocal in my advice to writers not to get involved in Amazon flamewars.

  2. Rachel says:

    I couldn’t have put it better myself. Thank you. Just … thank you.

  3. Karen, thank you so much for writing this post and for your support. It means so much to me. Thank you.

  4. chris y says:

    I would refer these thin skinned nuisances to the Wise Words posted here:


  5. She. Reviewed. A. Book.
    *needs that t-shirt

  6. I’ve come late to all this and am shocked by what is going on. Good post Karen – you can guess where I stand. Right behind the likes of you, Kathryn, Sharon and Susan! There are still some posts etc relating to this that I need to read, but I will happily stand up and agree that Kathryn’s knowledge is second to none in her field! And long may she correct others who are in error on these subjects!

  7. Esther says:

    Pity that there is no way to get Ms. Ashe and her ilk the mental health treatment they seem to need –desperately. Please keep us posted … I’m a little worried about both you, Karen, and Kathryn.

  8. I LOVE THIS, Karen. Thank you.

  9. ginmar says:

    Interestingly enough, Lofthouse feels no need to wade into battle to defend the literary honor of the woman he’s married to. Also, I have to say, I have no idea how he got through Basic, given his tendency to…er….be tediously creative in his invention of grievances. Though the movies apparently find it difficult to portray service members as people with complicated personalities, the reality is that I know of Marines who were tormented by the danger to civilian lives that their actions might cause, even while they were dodging rounds in a ditch. Lofthouse defines as a bully anyone who refuses to follow the bread loaves , not crumbs, he scatters behind him in a vain attempt to lure more people to one of his blogs. He claims he only called that person’s boss for various things he defines in his own, er, unique way. But, again, how did he make it through the crucible in this manner? Can you concieve of hus grievances?

    • anevillfeast says:

      I’ve lost count of the number of times I said to Lloyd that if he kept interfering in the reader review process the only one he’d hurt was himself. He didn’t listen. And I’m much too classy to do an I Told You So! dance.

  10. Marina says:

    I don’t know what’s worse – readers in a snit about historical accuracy in a work of historical *fiction* or authors of said fiction that only accept favourable reviews?
    No, I do – the latter’s much worse. Once one decides to put once work out there, there’ll be people who find it to be all kinds of things, not just lovely and magical.
    Also, a historical fiction author who hasn’t learned by heart this phrase, to use in every reply to some accusation about accuracy …
    “True, I have raped history, but it has produced some beautiful offsprings.”
    …. shouldn’t be in the buisiness.

    • anevillfeast says:

      Marina, it’s the historical novels that claim accuracy and don’t deliver that get up my nose.

      • Marina says:

        Those are the worse, truly.
        “After years of research blah blah blah…”, “As an acclaimed historian yada yada….”.
        Why do they even bother? To make themselves sound intellectual? Why not just trust in a readers’ ability to separate truth from fiction on their own?

      • anevillfeast says:

        Because a lot of readers don’t know the history before they read the novel. An author’s note really should make it clear which bits are fair representations of actual events and actual people and which are made up, for whatever reason (to fill gaps, to flesh out the story, to sex it up, whatever). Claiming ‘accuracy’ and changing events and people out of all recognition is dishonest.

      • Derek Birks says:

        Well folks, I know this is a little off piste but, since it’s been mentioned, historical accuracy sounds like an absolute but it isn’t. It is a slightly more movable feast than some people imagine. It rather depends on what sort of accuracy you’re trying to achieve. It’s not actually possible for a reader – including me – to know whether most things are accurate or not at a detailed level. It is only glaring inaccuracies that one can see: a moped in Elizabethan England perhaps. I have known a reader comment that a particular feature is historically inaccurate when it isn’t. For a writer that can be especially irritating. As a writer of historical fiction all you can do is strive to achieve accuracy – most of us miss something!

      • ginmar says:

        Well, she said “years of research,”—-but did she specify in history? Maybe she…oh, I don’t know.

  11. anevillfeast says:

    Derek, there’s also the matter of different things coming under the heading ‘historical accuracy’ for different people. Often, the details pass me by – things like fashion or whether a house has a chimney when it shouldn’t – but irritate other readers to distraction. What bothers me more is when things are messed with. People put where the record shows they weren’t; events moved in time or changed; improbable events interpolated into the story; character assassination (the classic here is turning a man into a rapist when history shows him to be nothing of the sort); careless research (I read one book (labelled ‘historically accurate’) where a woman announced loudly and excitedly to an old friend that she’d recently remarried, when extant records clearly show that this marriage was kept secret for two years and both parties were arrested and fined when it came to light). Apart from anything else, the ‘truth’ is quite often a far better story than fiction. And, yes, readers who are new to a time in history haven’t got the background to say whether something really is ‘accurate’ or not. That’s why writers should be cautious about using the word to describe their work, as well as noting down changes, gap filling and the like in an author’s note. In my current wip, for example, there are whole stretches of time when I don’t know exactly where my protagonists are. I can make educated guesses based on scant clues, and let readers know that (eg) it’s logical for them to be in, say, Carlisle around this time but I’ve found no record that definitively puts them there. Another difficulty is working out just when and where two particular people met, or (more accurately) became reacquainted and, given the circumstances, how they came to marry. I have to work out what’s plausible and logical and, because none of this was recorded, I’m pretty much guaranteed to be wrong! A best guess is sometimes all a writer has to go on.
    All I can do is strive to achieve accuracy, as you say, to not deviate from known ‘fact’ (and that, in itself, is sometimes a difficult matter because what we know is large filtered through other people, even the more clearly ‘factual’ sources, such as court documents and rolls of parliament). I’ve worked extremely hard, for instance, to try and find out when my protagonists took possession of a particular property. I know they had possession in 1459 (and that she’d previously lost possession of it in 1452) but that’s as far as I can get. I have records from 1453 granting her possession, but there’s no guarantee that was honoured at the time or even in the next few years. I also know she was briefly turfed out in 1460, but can only guess (again) where she might have gone after that. Within such parameters, the writer has to work out the most logical solution.
    I appreciate being told I’ve got something wrong, btw. Anything that helps me learn more is a good thing. If I have the sources to back up what I’ve said, I’m happy to cite them. Otherwise, if someone else has sources that show me where I’ve gone wrong, I can correct it. Precious is the last thing I want to be.
    And this reply was a lot longer than I’d anticipated!

    • Derek Birks says:

      We are, as they say, on exactly the same page. I agree with everything you’ve said – and I don’t say that every day! By making my leading characters fictional I’ve helped myself a little but then I have to dovetail their activities into the actual life thread of say, Edward IV or William Hastings. As you say, it’s difficult to pin down where exactly actual people were. I included an historical note and found that I kept thinking of things to add to it all the time!

  12. sonetka says:

    I, um … this is amazing, and not in a good way. Surely anyone who’s published a book has experienced enough rejection beforehand not to be too bothered when some readers take issue with it? I have no problem with *some* deviation or creativity in service of a good, tight plot, but not to the extent that it’s seriously defaming the dead (rape! Stop turning men into rapists to make their deaths acceptable! Yes, I’m looking at you, Alison Weir!) or becoming something that couldn’t possibly have happened in that time period. I will say that the phrase “meticulously researched” is often a warning bell for a book that is nothing of the kind. (I should ask my two Marine brothers about some of the more, shall we say, demanding personalities they encountered and if any were like this … they have some stories).

    • anevillfeast says:

      Hi, Sonetka. You make an interesting point that I’d entirely missed – re: rejection. A lot (not all, some are ‘trad’ published) of the authors prone to Review Hysteria are independently published and may never have submitted a book to an agent or publisher. That doesn’t excuse this kind of behaviour at all, but it does mean that many writers have zero experience with rejection.
      Yes the ‘rape’ theme is more than a little annoying, and it’s not just Weir! It’s ‘rape’ for male characters and ‘passing my lover’s child off as my husband’s’ for female characters. That’s partly why the whole DDtD thing sprang up in the first place.

      • sonetka says:

        You’re right — I hadn’t thought about the self-publishing aspect, though I thought most people would at least take a try or two at traditional publishing before deciding to go that route. And Weir is far from the only offender, she just sprang to mind because both in fiction and nonfiction, she’s named three men as likely/actual rapists (George Boleyn, Guildford Dudley, and Hugh le Despenser).

  13. Anerje says:

    I’m a bit late responding to this – but can hardly believe what I’m reading! You couldn’t make it up, could you? Thank you for posting this in support of Kathryn – she really doesn’t deserve this at all! and dragging Sharon Penman – yes, the Sharon Penman – beggars belief!

    • anevillfeast says:

      I know, Anerje! Word of mouth is such an important part of sales – for anyone, any product – and nothing spreads faster than stories about authors behaving like this. The negative reviews aren’t what sinks them, but their crazed response to them will. Someone says “I didn’t like this book and here’s the reason why” and they believe a reasonable response is to trash them all over the internet and *not let them have a right of reply*. Every comment on that STGRB post putting the other side of the story was not only deleted but ‘summarised’ in a deeply untruthful way.

  14. Rick Carufel says:

    STGRB is a website started by a failed writer. The Amazon target list originally was all people who thought the authors poorly written books were poorly written. It was later expanded to include critics of STGRB. That’s how the list was made.

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