Money & Business

Horror Writers Association Calls for End to Author Bullying

By / Apr 2, 2014 Horror writers say Amazon's book reviews can be out of line. (iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the association is asking the online retailer to update its customer review policy to protect authors and publishers from harassment.

To help protect authors and publishers from online bullying, the Horror Writers Association is asking Amazon to strengthen its customer review policy.

Readers and purchasers are Amazon’s market but, if content is king and if Amazon’s published policies are to mean anything, then the authors who create the content have a right to be protected from bullying and abuse by generally anonymous trolls.

“Currently, the Amazon policy protects authors and publishers from ‘profanity or spiteful remarks,’ though it’s not clear what would be considered ‘spiteful,’ and this rule appears not to be strictly enforced,” HWA President Rocky Wood wrote in a public letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Wood explained that the online retailer’s policy should reinforced to prevent what HWA describes as inappropriate reviews, or those that

  • indicate the customer has not read the book, but only a small portion of it, such as a free electronic sample.
  • include spoilers that, once revealed, could significantly reduce interest in the work.
  • include negative personal remarks about the author.
  •  are focused on the work’s price rather than its content.

The letter comes after some of the association’s members raised the issue of the impact that commenting abuse can have on authors and publishers selling their work on Amazon.

“As a member-based writers association representing the horror genre, our board felt it was time to bring the issue to Amazon’s attention in a professional and nonconfrontational manner,” Wood said. “Readers and purchasers are Amazon’s market but, if content is king and if Amazon’s published policies are to mean anything, then the authors who create the content have a right to be protected from bullying and abuse by generally anonymous trolls.”

Abusive comments are not relegated to the horror genre. Last fall, Salon reported on the abusive comments one author received on the “social cataloging” site Goodreads after self-publishing her debut novel, Learning to Love. The author’s questioning of Goodreads’ review policy only incited more negative comments, such as this one: “Reviewers have the right to rate a book however they feel like, with absolutely no justification what so ever. Get over it princess.”

HWA, meanwhile, is specifically engaging Amazon on the issue, as opposed to  other online book retailers, because of the company’s influence on book sales.

“Amazon can seriously affect a writer’s career,” said Lisa Morton, HWA vice president. “Sales are so prominent in terms of coming in through Amazon, and a lot of authors now will self-publish strictly at Amazon. Obviously it’s something we’d like to address everywhere, but I think this is a good start.”

The association is not the only group taking up the issue with Amazon. Author Ann Rice is one of the latest people to sign a Change.org petition calling on the online retailer to update its review policy, according to MediaBistro.

Specifically, the petition calls on Amazon to put an end to anonymous commenting.

“By removing [commenters’] anonymity and forcing them to display their real, verified identities, I believe that much of the harassment and bullying will cease,” wrote petition organizer Todd Barselow. “It may continue elsewhere on the web, but not on Amazon, the largest online retail marketplace in the world, where it really counts.”

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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