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.

 

 

Anyway.

 

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.

 

My reply:

 

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.

Comments

  • I am impressed.

     

    Your response was well reasoned and portrayed, giving anyone reading it a solid answer to the allegations made by the troll.

     

    That said.

     

    Your fans, the people that have read and enjoy your book will ignore the troll as will many of the review readers.  Having just exhaustively read every review I could find on publishers to decide who I wanted to work with for my first book I know that the more popular anything is, the stronger the call for trolls to slither out of their holes to destroy it.  For some reason the faceless culture of the internet has developed a cadre of people that spenf their days being as obnoxious as they possibly can.  The tools trolls use can be seen by understanding reasoned arguement.

     

    Your troll used misrepresentation of facts to make his mark upon you. Spinning his own tale of cutting attacks he developed his review specifically to get to you.  From the outside the review can be see for what it is, another facet of cyber bullying.  In a few minutes he cut your confidence in a work you spent months creating and developing.  

     

    If you can, be glad that your work has drawn the attention of these vile creatures for they normally target only the places where they can recieve the most attention.  Should you have written a response?  I don't know, that is a question onlyyou can answer, sometimes you have to stand against these people instead of letting them have their way with others feelings becauseyou know he/she went back as much as possible to see if their vitreol had a response.

     

    Take heart my friend, no one of character is immune to the barbed thrusts of internet malfeasance.

     

    Perhaps one day you will be popular enough to have your very own creepy stalker.

     

  •  

    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.

     


    Agreeing with WW here, that your reply was well-stated and gave a reasonable and unemotional rebuttal.

     

    Well stated. Sorry, you didn't agree, here's why I believe you're wrong, and anyway, it's a story, not a textbook. Good form, good facts, good statement. No yelling, no screaming, no expletives. Well-done.

     

    Now, looking at the troll -- I mean, reader's comments:

     

    "Worst ... Ever!" is an internet meme which immediately renders the review ridiculous. The only time we can truly say that something is "the worst" is when we're speaking of German Sausages. (I know, that's wurst, but work with me here, okay?)

     

    Now look at the passage I've marked in blue. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the reader has undermined his own credibility by saying that anyone who knows Egyptian history can easily pick it apart, but it's not for him to do so... Implying that he doesn't know Egyptian History. Smiley Very Happy    Unintentional irony is so lovely, isn't it?

     

    The green is almost as ridiculous, simply on the face of it. How does it matter if this is your first or seventeenth or two millionth book? Harper Lee's first book TKAM, is one of the all-time greats of American Literature, so clearly, the order of the book is not relevant to any objective measure of its quality. It is true that writers and artists tend to improve over time, but that is only relative to their own writing or art, and cannot be considered an objective measurement -- and it is possible that your worst effort is better than many best efforts, especially those of, for example, internet troills who trash books on Amazon, sometimes even before they're published.

     

    In all, this troll reads like ... well, I know a professor who teaches astrophysics, and he has a term, "Indoctrinated Sophmore." It's a person who, having been exposed to a little bit of knowledge, comes to believe that he knows all knowledge on that subject. He is certain that he is right, because he is reciting what he has been told. "Magister Dixit, therefore I'm right!!!"

     

    In red, this fool -- er, reader -- is suggesting that Egyptian History can be learned from websites... No need to actually check the sources or crack any books;Someone else will have already done that on some website. And you can't put anything onto the internet unless it's true, right?

     

    Of course, the truly seasoned student of history understands that we never see history directly. We can only study the reflections of history in the mirrors offered by contemporary writers, and artifacts, and histories written about those times -- we are forever studying Logia, stories told to us about what happened, and never directly studying what actually happened. -- What actually happened we can only extrapolate from the reflections we see in the evidence.

     

    So, listen, Richard, here's my advice: Take this review with a grain of salt and laugh it off. Trolls are out there. It happens.

     

    But your rebuttal was excellent.

  • Em_PressEm_Press Professor

    It's unprofessional to reply and makes you look small. Delete it quickly -- find a way.

     

    BUT -- what you can do is respond, indirectly, to the accusations of that review in your description (edit at lulu and send -- no cost). Add extra details and credentials discrediting the false review.

     

    I do not even look at my reviews now. I do the best I can do then leave it alone. If I accidentally see an average review, I am ill for days and want to stop publishing. So, I do not look. That is my advice. Edit description, remove your answer and never look again.

     A citizen of the world.

  • Thanks for your opinions, guys. 

     

    I can see both sides, hence my question. I'm going to do something a bit unexpected at this point, though, and actually defend the reviewer. I could be wrong, but the impression I get isn't one of trollishness. I certainly wouldn't want to give the impression that I classed her as a troll.

     

    Out of interest today I had a look at some of her other reviews and while I obviously think she's wrong, I don't think she's malicious. She has a bias towards Christian and Biblical literature and seems to dislike the ancient Egyptians because of their idol worship. She makes comments in her reviews of ancient Egyptian novels which I would regard as a little odd ("Khu was a boy I wanted to take home and teach him about the One True and Living God so that he had true hope for eternal life...I am very happy and so blessed to know the true God of heaven and earth, Yeshua. Reading this book made me feel hopeful and thankful for knowing that I am not lost forever without God like other idol worshipper on the planet."). As she seems to have a dislike for immoral characters, pre-Christian societies and violence, she really isn't in my target demographic. I think her review of my book contained what she believed to be true. Even though it wasn't.

     

    @Em_Press

    Unfortunately, changing the book description in the manner you describe isn't really an option. The description is something I worked a long time on before I was happy with it. Adding historical details and credentials wouldn't really fit. It's more something that you would do in the description in a non-fiction book.

     

    I don't really mind bad reviews. Like I say, I (obviously) think my book's good - and the vast majority of reviews bear this out - but I'm under no illusion that it's going to please everyone. People are free to dislike it, but I'd rather they didn't criticise it for things that aren't in it. The reason I wrote the reply was because I didn't want potential readers being put off by an inaccurate review. 

  • Em_PressEm_Press Professor

    A classy approach, Richard. You came up with the best solution.

     A citizen of the world.

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