- September 12, 2012
After leaving cards in the chainstore promoting his novel, novelist finds staff member leaving malicious reviews of it on Amazon
A self-published author has spoken out against Waterstones after a bookseller at the chain store posted pseudonymous, malicious reviews of his novel on Amazon.
David Eckhoff left cards advertising his novel The Royal Factor, which he self-published with Amazon, in Waterstones’ Bluewater branch. The cards directed readers to buy the novel, in which the prime minister decides to replace the royal family with one chosen through a televised talent show, from Amazon, and Eckhoff was quick to receive a response from Waterstones telling him the cards had been thrown away.
He then started to notice new reviews of his novel appearing on Amazon. “One majored on The Royal Factor being ‘complete inane rubbish’ and ‘xenophobic’ and the other accusing me of plagiarising John Steinbeck! I was expecting some people not to like it, it’s a first novel – but two ‘troll’ reviews, on the same day when all previous reviews had been positive?” said Eckhoff. “Both reviews were long, rambling and vitriolic but neither contained any examples from the book, as if they had been written without having read it … I put one of the reviewers’ Amazon names into Google. It turned out also to be a Twitter ‘handle’ … The person’s name was easy to track down from there, and it became clear that she was a bookseller at Waterstones, Bluewater.”
He complained to Waterstones, and the review was removed. Another “troll review” then appeared, which Eckhoff said appeared to be from the bookseller’s only friend on Goodreads. He complained again; the review was withdrawn, and Eckhoff says Waterstones offered to carry his novel on its ebook site by way of apology.
“I was happy about this but asked that if I accepted, would there be any promotion?” said Eckhoff, a PR consultant who wrote his novel on his two-hour commute to work. “I made it clear that I was not expecting the JK Rowling treatment but the odd mention on Waterstones’ site and a few tweets would be welcome, otherwise the book would be as safe on Waterstones [site] as it is on my PC; no one would know it was there apart from the limited marketing a lone author can do, which I already do for The Royal Factor on Amazon. I also asked that it be ready in time for the Diamond Jubilee, a fantastic opportunity for this book.”
It wasn’t, and in the meantime a further “troll” review was posted of the novel, which was also found to be linked to the bookseller, and subsequently removed after Eckhoff complained. “It’s difficult to get sales [as a self-published author], you do your own publicity, so any reviews you do get are extremely valuable. So for someone to make a determined and concerted effort to rubbish something they haven’t read, who is in the book trade … it’s a really damaging thing,” he said. “I’m not a professional author, I’m just someone who enjoyed writing a book.”
Although the book is now on Waterstones site, it has not sold a single copy, and Eckhoff says he is “no better off than when I started, and potentially worse off, because [the bookseller] has pushed the ‘unhelpful’ button on some of my positive reviews”.
“Waterstones are not at all interested in self-published books [and] of course they are missing out as there is potentially great stuff out there. It just seems to be something they are completely ignoring,” said Eckhoff, who has sold around 150 copies of his book in total. “They viewed me as a bit of a pain in the neck they had to deal with for a while because of the issue with one of their staff members.”
A spokesman for Waterstones said that the leaflets Eckhoff distributed in the Bluewater branch were encouraging customers to order his book from “a major competitor” – Amazon. “If the leaflets had just been about his book, then obviously they would still have been looked for and removed (not a great use of staff’s time…) and we’d put it down to an over-enthusiastic new author. But including the encouragement to use a major competitor is just rude and surely obviously inappropriate, which is what prompted a polite email to the author asking him not to use our shops in such a way,” said the spokesman.
“Unfortunately, it subsequently emerged that staff at the shop had taken matters into their own hands and indulged in some completely inappropriate behaviour, as pointed out to us by the author. We took action to identify those involved and have the offending material removed, and dealt with the situation accordingly, and of course we are sorry that members of our staff acted in such a fashion.”
Waterstones added that it worked with many small independent publishers. “We are happy to help independent and self-publishers with advice on getting their books onto our systems and therefore available from our shops and websites. There is online advice and real people they can talk to at head office as well,” said the spokesman. “Plenty of small indy publishers work with us so it can be and is done.”