Was this a massive mistake?
I've been incredibly lucky with reviews of my book The Maya Papyrus so far. Out of a hundred or so reviews it averages around 4.5 stars. It's something I never dared to dream of.
That said, the odd bad review - and there have been a couple - still sticks in my throat. I deal with bad reviews the same way I assume everybody else does; I get dangerously drunk for three or four days until I regain consciousness in a ditch in Swansea wearing nothing but a pair of slingbacks and a policeman's helmet.
But whatever I do, I don't reply to them. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and if someone writes a review that they think my book's rubbish, that's their prerogative.
I expect a certain number of bad reviews. I'm delighted that they're in the minority, but any book that enchanted every single reader would have to be the greatest book ever written, and I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that mine isn't, in the same way that I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that maybe - just maybe - I'm not going to play for England in the next World Cup.
All of this held true until my last bad review on Amazon. It was, I thought, unfair. It didn't just express an opinion - which I restate I'm absolutely fine with - it wrote about how my book was historically inaccurate, and then went on to illustrate this with some examples which were, well, completely wrong. It also made comments about the book as facts, athough they too were completely wrong.
I reported the review to Amazon because I thought it treated the book unfairly and would give prospective readers the wrong impression. Amazon ignored me. So I did what I always swore I wouldn't. I replied. And it's been bugging me ever since.
So my question to you good people is this; was my reply a stupid thing to do? Should I have just let it lie? Have I embarrassed myself? Am I just being petulant?
Here's the review, and my reply:
The worst Ankhenaten book ever!
I did not care for this book for many reasons due to being inaccurate in many ways. Anyone who knows Eqyptian history can pick out the glaring errors. It isn't for me to pick it apart but there are lots of errors, obvious additions and just pure nonsense. He was an nine year old when his father Amenhotep died and this writer has him planning cities, throwing his weight around and saying things that only a grown man would say. Just plain silly. Plus, this is Coady's first book and maybe that is why it's so bad. This is a difficult subject and one really needs to know who is who and can't simply make history up out of thin air.
Much cruel, graphic violence that did not help its appeal. I got truly sick when an Amun priest was horribly tortured and killed and had to jump ten pages to escape it. A missing brother, Smenkhare, gave it a truly fictional feeling plus many more problems. There are enough Egyptian history web sites one can go to and find as much ancient history information to base their novels on. The research just wasn't done well and I, for one, did not like this book and got a refund. I don't recommend it to anyone who knows their Egyptian history.
It's not usually a good idea for an author to comment on reviews. Indeed, until now, I never have. It benefits nobody to get into a shouting match about how good or bad a book is, especially when an author decides to get precious about it. However, on this occasion I'm going to make an exception, for reasons I'll explain below.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to review my book, and thank you for buying it in the first place. I'm sorry it didn't work out, but such is life. Customer reviews are the lifeblood of books and writers and it's important that they get written, whether I happen to agree with them or not. Obviously, it's impossible to please everyone so, while I'm saddened that you so vehemently disliked the book, I accept the fact that you did so.
That said, I feel the need to address one or two of the things in your review which you state as fact which are, at best, contested. I feel that while your opinions are your own and your right, factual inaccuracies in your review reflect unfairly on the book.
The first of my glaring errors that you point out is the fact that Akhenaten was only 9 when his father died. Many people would disagree with this. A number of respected Egyptologists put the Amenhotep/Akhenaten co-regency at over 12 years. Given that this co-regency could not have started until a certain event occurred while Akhenaten was a child (I'm kind of hampered by not wanting to give away any spoilers here), this makes Akhenaten much older than 9 when Amenhotep dies. Nicholas Reeves, for example, puts his age at 16.
Similarly, the issue with the 'missing' brother Smenkhare isn't, on closer look, such an issue. Nobody is 100% certain who Smenkhare was, and there are Egyptologists who make a very convincing argument that Smenkhare wasn't Tutankhamun's brother at all but was in fact someone else entirely. Again, I can't give too much away here, but suffice it to say that The Maya Papyrus addresses the identity of Smenkhare later on in the book in a way that is consistent with these theories.
As for the torture scene... well, there isn't a torture scene. While the reader sees the effects of the torture, the torture itself takes place off stage. The description of the aftermath of the torture takes 4 lines, not 10 pages. The execution, I grant you, is unpleasant, but then that's how traitors were executed in this period. I think I would be doing a much greater disservice to history by diluting it to make it more palatable to 21st Century readers than I ever could by allegedly misjudging Akhenaten's age or omitting Tutankhamun's brother.
Finally, and most importantly, The Maya Papyrus is a novel. It makes no claims to being a history book. Many of the 'facts' concerning ancient Egypt are disputed theories and, exactly because The Maya Papyrus is a novel, I have the advantage picking and choosing which of these theories I want to include. I make no bones about using the theories that make the best story. And, for that matter, embellishing them, because I wouldn't be doing my job as a fiction writer if I didn't write thoughts, motivations, conversations and actions for my characters about which, through the fog of millennia, we have no real knowledge. Sometimes, for the sake of pace, plot or drama, I've twisted these theories and histories to my own ends (you fail to mention, for example, that the real Maya wasn't actually Aye's son). In a historian this would be inexcusable. In a novelist, not so much.
If you'd like more factual information about this period please feel free to visit my website, www.richardcoady.com, which lists some of the more helpful books I used to research The Maya Papyrus over a period of about 18 months.