Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers and industry news and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

December 18, 2015

Almond Press Redux: Revenge-Rating a Critic

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week I wrote about Neoglyphic Entertainment, which responded to criticism of the rules of its Neoverse writing competition by engaging in productive dialogue and ultimately making the rules more author-friendly.

Not everyone in the small press world is so open to change. In my experience, and that of the countless authors who've contacted me about their publisher troubles, small presses are at least as likely to react to critiques of their contracts or business practices with defensiveness and anger. Or even, sometimes, attempts at retaliation.

Case in point: Almond Press, whose short story competition I featured here last July. Essentially, the competition was a way for Almond to gather free material for an anthology--the competition winner received a cash prize but none of the other entrants received any payment other than "exposure." (The anthology lineup can be seen here.) I wrote,
Even if Almond isn't reaping a secret profit from free stories, though, this is yet another example of the increasingly prevalent writing culture that urges authors to work for exposure, rather than for fair monetary compensation. Sometimes, exposure may be indeed be worth it--if Tor were to run a similar competition (not that it would), it might be worth entering. But where exposure is the main or only compensation for publication, you really need to parse its meaning. Does publication in an anthology from an obscure small press with Amazon sales rankings in the hundred thousands constitute "exposure?" If so, is it an equitable tradeoff for being paid for the exploitation of your intellectual property?
Well, Almond Press was not happy with that assessment, which is understandable. But did they change the competition rules? Did they decide to compensate all their authors? Did they contact me to discuss my post or even to threaten me with legal action?

No. Nothing that mature.

Last week I was checking my books on Goodreads, which I do sometimes to see if there've been any new reviews (yes, yes. I know). I noticed a brand-new one-star rating on one of them, from...could it be? Almond Press!


Interesting, I thought. So I clicked on Almond's profile...and what should I discover but this:


That's right. Almond Press had revenge-rated every single one of my books. Clearly, a small press staffed by grownups.

I contacted Goodreads, which told me that everyone is entitled to an opinion--which is certainly true, if it's actually an opinion and not a childish attempt at retaliation. So it would appear that Almond's revenge-ratings are there to stay. Not that big of a deal, really--unless, of course, you think that publishers should respond to criticism in a forthright and professional manner.

Hmm. Maybe I should check Amazon.

27 comments :

Mike Mullin said...

That is so annoying and petty. I'm sorry you've been targeted this way for the outstanding work you do on Writer Beware. I thought about logging on to Goodreads and giving all your books five stars, but really, that would be just as dishonest as what Almond Press did. Instead, I'd like to order a couple of them. What should a reader new to your work start with? (I haven't read you yet outside of Writer Beware, I'm sorry. I read a lot, but I'll die with a long TBR list.)

Victoria Strauss said...

Thank you, Mike! I don't take this kind of stuff too seriously--it's so petty. The lawsuits, on the other hand...

If you want print, I'd suggest starting with my Stone duology (The Arm of the Stone and The Garden of the Stone)--they're out of print but still available on Amazon (sorry, no ebooks yet--I'm working on that). If you want ebooks, you could try my Way of Arata duology (The Burning Land and The Awakened City), available in both e- and print.

I hear you about the TBR list. Me too. Thanks so much for your interest!

Anonymous said...

That is so childish. It really does show what type of person/people are running the show there.

Carol Garvin said...

How very childish! Unfortunately they aren't the only small press that operate in a less than ethical manner, but the word eventually gets around and it's their own reputation that ends up tarnished.

annettecboehm said...

Wow, how ridiculous! And sad.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Amazon OWNS Goodreads, so no, maybe not. And this revenge rating thing is well known and common. Nobody takes it too seriously, only it lowers your ratings, and people do take that seriously. And you, as an author, aren't allowed to respond to nasty people on Goodreads.

I'd just like to say that my own experience with small press has been very good, better, in general, than large press. I guess there are more of them in a country as large as the U.S. so more chance to find bad ones.

Anonymous said...

How petty and childish.As with any business,Almond Press should be able to take criticism without reacting in such a immature way.They should take criticism and use it to provide their customers better service.It's too bad they decided to go the opposite way.Shame on Almond Press.

Rakhi Jayashankar said...

Isn't there anything we could do about it?
I mean if its done by a person we can let go. But a responsible publishing firm did this! So mean. What credibility will the authors have once they gets published through a sleazy firm like this?
Well, does that mean you should keep mum if you are planning to publish your books

Karl said...

This is the sort of behavior for which the term "beneath contempt" was coined.

Shala Howell said...

So that's terrible. Sort of, because reading about it prompted me to finally order a few of your books. I've been meaning to do it for a while, because your blog has been profoundly helpful to me, but I suppose I needed a dose of righteous outrage to prompt me to finally do it. Looking forward to reading your debut novel, Passion Blue & Color Song over the holidays.

Anonymous said...

They may have changed things since, but some years back I asked Amazon to remove a 1-star review. I mentioned the reviewer was known to me and that the review itself was not about the book, but a personal attack against me. (Hooboy, was it ever!) The review vanished soon after.

I'm sorry this bunch is behaving in such a childish, unprofessional manner and will be mentioning them by name at an upcoming conference. I'm speaking there about predatory publishers and the need to do at least basic background research before doing business.

Thanks to WB, this incident will be forever attached to Almond in the search engines. They shot themselves in the foot.

Unless Almond Press would care to reconsider and join us at the grownup's table?

Anonymous said...

How irritating for you. I recently had someone go through my 3 books on Goodreads and mark each one with a 1 star also. But the kicker? 2 OF THE BOOKS HADN'T BEEN RELEASED YET! Though I'm sure it won't affect my sales--as it probably won't yours, either--I just don't understand the pettiness of some people.

I'm so glad you wrote this post on this company, and I hope lots of authors read it and avoid them!

mad said...

This is the sort of behaviour that terrifies authors. It's so hard to stand out from the pile, to earn a living, that authors are being threatened into silence. How ironic is that?

I was the target of such revenge ratings -- and the poster was clever enough to post the one-star rating not on Amazon but on Google Books, knowing that Google gives primacy to its own sites in search returns. It took me months to get Google to remove the rating, upon which the OP just opened a new Google account and put up another one-star rating under a different pseudonym. That rating, posted shortly after the book came out, did in fact kill sales: I noticed an immediate drop after it was posted.

I'll do my part by advertising this post on Twitter and Facebook. As a previous poster said, Almond Press shot themselves in the foot. Their behaviour also shows a real lack of intelligence: they used their own name.

Marcia said...

Why is Goodreads allowing reviews on unreleased books?

It's disgusting how people can throw together a business and treat people like sh*t. Leeches!

Thank you for everything you do on behalf of writers. So much is accomplished by who you know, but if you're starting out and don't know any influential people, you feel lost. This blog helps to fill that gap in a big way.

I'm still not comfortable with Goodreads after the debacle of petty writers and readers doing that massive one-star revenge thing. And frankly they're not doing a whole lot to regain my trust.

widdershins said...

How laughably ridiculous. I'm sure they clenched their little fists and stamped their little feet as well.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Marcia, Goodreads has allowed ratings in unreleased books for some time. In some cases, it's readers who have received Netgalley copies, but quite often there are ratings on books NOBODY has read, with fans giving five star ratings to books they haven't read and may never read because the author has never got around to finishing them. But yes, that's a good question - why?

JohnDopp said...

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised when an unprofessional, exploitative operation shows their true colors, but this behavior is still appalling.

Kudos to you, Victoria, for your calm in this situation.

I can't do anything about the one-star reviews, but I'll do my best to alert other authors.

Frances Grimble said...

Very childish behavior, but far too common. I'm a self-publisher. People bully me online and threaten to put me out of business all the time, for things like disagreeing with them in online discussions (especially when I defend copyright law), for marketing my books, and just for grade-school-level fun. I ignore them. People like this are not my real customers, at least I sincerely hope not.

Jackie Weger said...

Victoria: I subscribe to your blog because you tell it like it is, but always even handed. It is sad beyond measure when a publisher or an individual engages in retaliation. Such behavior shows a lack of professionalism. It won't happen in my lifetime, but I expect that one day an indie author with the money and moxie will file suit against people, individuals or online publishers who engage in malicious conduct for interfering in e-commerce. The laws are already on the books. "The internet is a tempting forum for employees and competitors to get revenge by posting negative reviews." e-commerce laws address situations in which a malicious negative review interferes with income. And those laws are now going Global. I often come across starts ups in online publishers and promoters who have an idea and an agenda, but often do not explore or research the FTC laws governing an ecommerce business or how the indie universe works. I recently came across a consortium of promoters who were 'fixing' the price of a certain book promotion. Once I blogged the connection, the owner of one of the promo sites dropped out and the outrageous 'fixed price' went back to normal on two sites. One of the promo site owners is an attorney. The publisher you speak of is in Scotland. One wonders if Scotland has a Better Business Bureau. Appreciate your courage and moxie to speak out.

Christine Tripp said...

This pathetic behaviour recently happened to my vet, on the businesses Facebook site. Some dope came into their office on a Sat afternoon, no appointment, with his dog who was sick. Not dying, just coughing. He demanded an appt and when the staff said that wasn't possible, he should take his dog to emergency clinic, he was livid. He then went on his Facebook page and asked that all his friends give this vet a one star rating... and these yahoo's did. Of course a goon has goon friends. The vet ignored but in the end got his lawyer involved, who sent a letter which shut them up. But, the one star reviews are still there. Luckily, if one really looks, all have a same date posted and all have no comment, just the star. Most people would figure out that looks pretty darn suspicious, against roughly 50 5 star ratings with comments.
I am assuming the folks on Goodreads will see the "drive by" ratings for what they are, a goon's revenge and nothing more! Unfortunately this person (I will not call them a publisher because they are clearly not) will continue to find writers willing to give away their work and on top of it buy the book because they are in it. This is where you can only hope that Karma is real and is a bit..:)

Stephen Morrill said...

I'll have to mention this on my WritersCollege.com web site and newsletter. Maybe I can get a one-star revenge rating too! Badge of honor.

Jeffrey Batchelder said...

I work in reputation management and unfortunately, this is the way of things. If you act professional and honest in reviews, tiny minded bottom feeders will find a way to counter attack. This is of course not what anyone who needs their service will appreciate and it will slowly destroy them, but like nuisance lawsuits, it wastefully eats your time and resources. A simple post in response or a counter article in a different venue would serve them better, but that is a level of understanding they do not have.

NewAuthor947 said...

If Amazon can block paid for reviews, surely it's time organisations like themselves and Goodreads recognised and did something about 'revenge reviews' and the bad review bullies out there? If a writer can prove they are being targeted, they should be able to request these psychos get deleted and blocked? It's long overdue.

Thanks for the info, I'll avoid these people in future.

I think we should all be aware that some of these sites are often small concerns, even single people posing as a legitimate, larger organisation. We'll never know till we fall foul of such lack of professionalism.

thedevilcorp said...

Good post.

Laurence Brothers said...

Wow. It never ceases to amaze that these supposed professionals (ha) don't understand the status and trust you've won in the field. I wonder if they have any idea that writers share information? That writing forums and professional societies react to such monstrous behavior? That this infantile and negligible revenge will rebound and tarnish them forever? Boggles the mind.

Roslyn Reid said...

I've been an Amazon seller for years, & other sellers, in addition to Amazon themselves, have told me that ratings dont mean too much. Apparently Amazon values dependability, & they let sales speak for themselves.

Jenny Q said...

How petty and unprofessional, and how stupid of them to do it under their business name for everyone to see. Who wants to work with a press that behaves like that? Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

 
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