Wednesday, March 30, 2011

When Life Seems Like A Cruel Social Psych Experiment

By now, you've all heard about it. About two weeks ago, a self-published author named Jacqueline got her book reviewed on an obscure book blog. The reviewer, Big Al, gave a mixed review. He said the story was good, but the grammar, punctuation, and phrasing made it difficult to get through.

Jacqueline didn't take it well.

Monday (completely coincidentally, the day I posted about the dangers of aggressive venting to cope with anger), things got wild. The author's comments got strident and then offensive. She attacked the reviewer and some of the folks who defended him. And was the writing community going to stand for that? Oh HELLS no.

It went viral. I watched it go down. Dozens of Tweets flew through my feed, all linking to Big Al's blog. After seeing several, I bit. I went over there to see what was happening.

Whoa. Over the next few hours, I witnessed an amazing live demonstration of several psychological concepts. It was so extreme that it left me with the feeling I have if I find a $20 on the sidewalk. All right, where's the camera and the psych undergrad? This must be an experiment.

Sadly, I don't think it was. So, here's your social psychology refresher:

The Bandwagon Effect: When something's popular, people tend to go along with it for social reasons. We jump on.
  • When I first checked Big Al's blog, he had 75 followers (I'd bet a lot that was double what he had first thing Monday morning). At the writing of this post, less than 48 hours later, he has 614.
  • Monday morning, he had less than 10 comments on that review post. By the time he closed comments late Monday afternoon (less than 8 hours later), there were 307. But that didn't stop anyone. In another of his posts, there are now 85 comments, most of which were left after the other thread was closed.
  • At Absolute Write, the thread started to discuss the debacle has over 250 responses now.
  • The book in question had exactly 3 reviews Monday morning. Last I checked, there were 68 reviews, and 54 of them were 1 star. Most of those folks had never read the book.
SO there you go. Bandwagon Effect. Most (but definitely not all) of the comments were very disdainful of the author and her behavior (and I would say this is a demonstration of another concept called "natural consequences"). After a very short while, few people had new things to say, but that didn't stop them from saying something. They were adding their voices to the deafening chorus of disapproval. I believe they did so in part because it was the popular thing to do, but I also think they did it because of:

The Downward Comparison: We feel good when we compare ourselves to less fortunate, less talented, less well-behaved, less shiny others. The concept of schadenfreude is closely related--taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. This could also be called the *points and laughs* phenomenon.
  • There were several gleeful responses in the comment stream, heaping insults and ridicule, discussing how the author had committed "career suicide."
  • The reviews at Amazon were full of harsh pronouncements such as "I know pre-school children with better grammar", "would make good toilet paper if it was printed", "semi-illiterate author", and on and on. Several reviews make fun in different ways, from making crude jokes based on the title of the book (which, unfortunately, lends itself to such things) to mocking the author's various grammatical errors in her comments and the book.
I think some of these reviews and comments were influenced by another phenomenon:

Group Polarization: The tendency of people to make decisions that are more extreme when they're in a group compared to when they're alone. I really think many of the people who added their two cents would not have said things in quite the same way if so many others hadn't fanned the flames, so to speak. It sort of pushed the limit, made more extreme speech acceptable.

But wait, there's more!

Online Disinhibition Effect: This is a newer term, coined within the last ten years, that refers to how some people disclose or act out more intensely online than they would in person. I believe (hope), to some extent, the author herself was influenced by this phenomenon. It's clear many of the commenters, including the hundreds of anonymous commenters, were. There are a host of variables that influence the strength of online disinhibition effect, and I'll definitely talk about them in a separate post.

A minority of commenters raised concerns for the author, especially in light of the sheer volume of negativity crashing over her. I believe what they've had to say has tempered the bandwagon/schadenfreude to some extent. Yesterday evening, at least 10 of the Amazon reviews had been deleted (but as of this morning, they have been replaced by others). The rate of the comments has slowed to a trickle. Part of it is that our attention spans are short. Part of it is that I think some folks, once they removed themselves from the frothy feeding frenzy, realized a more measured response might be called for.

Briefly (I know this is long and I'm sorry), here's how I feel about the whole thing.

As an author, I was shocked at the author's behavior. In my opinion, it was unacceptable by any standard. I thought she deserved to hear that her hostile behavior was unacceptable.

As a psychologist, I wanted people to take a step back and ask themselves WHY? Why would this author act out like that? What could be driving her? This book obviously means the world to her; it's an extension of her. And perhaps there are other things going on in her life. Perhaps she was thinking of this as her big chance to make a name for herself. Perhaps it was the one thing in her life over which she felt control. Perhaps it was the only thing she felt good about, proud of. Perhaps it was the slim thread that kept her attached to her self-worth.

I won't be doing any armchair diagnostic evaluation here. I have no idea who this woman is. But when clients come to me or any other mental health professional, there are often regrettable behaviors in their pasts. There are always reasons for it. And if we figure out what those reasons are, we might be able to change things to keep the past from repeating.

I am in no way excusing Jacqueline's behavior. She made a big mistake, and man, is she paying for it. But if we step back and wonder why she behaved that way, we might feel more compassion for her, and maybe that compassion will stay our fleet fingers, for a moment at least, before we press the Post Comment button.

How did you find out about this incident? How did you feel about it? Do you think the behavior justified the response? Do you follow Big Al now (he seems like a fair, thoughtful reviewer, by the way)? Were you like me--a riveted spectator? Or did you comment (it's ok to admit)? If so, what got you going? If not, what held you back? Do you have any other easy examples of The Bandwagon Effect, or any of these other concepts?


  1. No, I wasn't even aware of the debacle and though you've given enough details to pique interest, I'm not curious enough to check it out. Other people's drama is always time consuming. What is curious to me though is your comment that when clients come to you they have regrettable behavior in their past. Always? Or have some had regrettable behavior done to them?

  2. Em--GREAT question. It's usually both. The bad things that have been done to them are often one of the major contributing factors to the regrettable behavior or whatever impairment is causing them to seek treatment. And like I said--"often" there's regrettable behavior (implying: not always). But who doesn't have at least some regrettable behavior in their pasts?

  3. I've said it elsewhere on a blog concerning this, but I think the writer in question was (is) extremely naive about the way on-line reviews work.

    It was a solicited review, so she asked for Al's opinion, but she seemed confused as to why he'd post something less than stellar. (Many self-published authors have a "network" of positive reviewers in an effort to push their star-rating up. You see it a lot with vanity sites - they ask the other vanity published authors to do reciprocal - GOOD - reviews. Bad reviews aren't even a consideration.)

    She also didn't seem to understand how a review site works period. She was surprised, confused, and then angered when others got into the conversation on the comment thread (and I'm talking about the first few, non-venomous, comments). She acted as though the comment thread was a private conversation between her and the reviewer that others were eavesdropping on.

    And, she was obviously holding onto the idea that the "errors" mentioned were formatting mistakes. This also upset her, because she apparently knew there were mistakes and had taken measures to correct them with a clean upload she offered for free for those who had purchased the book in its flawed form. She held onto that belief to the exclusion of every other possibility.

    Like others, I assumed she wasn't a native speaker, until I listened to her reading (and honestly, I'm not convinced that accent is authentic. It sounds put on, but that's beside the point)

    As to the vitriol from commenters - someone, elsewhere, made a good point about that. Toward the middle-to-end of the thread, the comments turned toward two main ideas: 1 - that the author was representative of ALL self-published writers and 2 - other self-published writers imploring people NOT to think she was representative of all self-published writers.

    A good bit of the anger and frustration was likely spurred on by people who have been trying to shake the stigma of self-publishing = bad writing. This melt-down came on the heels of some good news for self-publishers (successes like A. Hocking and J Konrath), so it could have been taken as tarnishing that new shine.

    And lastly (as this is a long post... sorry...) the author in question did something that many find reprehensible (beyond her tirade). She professed to be commercially published through a small, independent e-press, and gave said press' name, only... she's not. The "press" was just a name she stuck on her book so it wouldn't look self-published. That tends to rub people the wrong way, especially those making a real go of self-publishing.

  4. Sarah,

    I'll also try to keep it brief (though my thoughts on this subject are anything but).

    Firstly: thank you for dissecting everything in a way which is far more intellectual than any I could have come up with.

    Secondly: thank you for being one of the few people to call people out on their behaviour. I would have liked to see more posts from people of your ilk mid-trainwreck, but alas, we can't always get what we want. :-D

    I brought up a real life example of how someone can lose their cool and why, mid-blog. Sad to say, I am not as certain as you are that this, or anyone else's pleas, had, or will have, stemmed the bandwagon effect.

    As of this morning, people are still re-tweeting and linking to this car crash. We are now so far beyond any justified backlash, that we are about to lap it.

    A couple of the more famous individuals have lost my business (and respect) over their retweets of this. They won't miss it, I am sure. It has also made me reconsider purchasing from the lesser known individuals. They might very well miss my business. Who knows. But they, just as this author, have made their bed...

    The whole fiasco has been pretty painful to watch. In general, the internet makes me habitually lose faith in humanity. This is who a lot of us are when people aren't looking. It isn't pretty.

    One last thing, and it's pretty shocking when you think about it. Not one single person has publicly asked: is Jacqueline, whoever she is, actually (physically, mentally, etc) okay? Instead everyone wants to be the 3rd, 30th, 3000th person to say, "Can you believe this? Don't ever do it!" as if this advice is some great to surprise to individuals in a rational frame of mind.

  5. I followed the story when it happened because like so many, I was in SHOCK an author would act that way. I didn't comment but I did follow along and read the first page or so of them. It's unfortunate in these situations that people start getting catty, name calling, and acting childish themselves. Commenting on someone's grammar or saying the book should be printed on toilet paper makes those commenters as childish as the author telling everyone to f*ck off. That said, we writers like to *cough, procrastinate, cough* a lot online and when things like this happen, I for one can't help but read along. Mostly, I think in our community, we are pretty close-knit for a big group and there are certain behavior and ethics that are acceptable. Basics things like don't argue with betas, don't argue with a reviewer, don't tell potential readers to f off, that sort of thing. So I think seeing that was just shocking to so many authors. I really do love your breakdown of the psychological aspects, however. It's interesting to see the "group thought" dynamics behind the response.

    Okay. I've babbled on enough. Hope this makes sense, I'm only sipping my first cup of coffee.:D

  6. I was a riveted spectator, mostly because others had already said what I was thinking. But, if I HAD commented, I would have added:

    1. Jacqueline, stop commenting!
    2. Move on. Write more novels.
    3. Join a critique group (although, I'm not sure how that would go, given her inability to accept criticism).

    Honestly, though, toward the end I was more annoyed with those confusing indie publishing with self-publishing! :P

  7. Josin--yes, it was also my impression that she was unaware of the public nature of her discourse with the reviewer and her misunderstanding of the nature of a review site. I suspect that contributed to the extreme nature of her comments. But I suspect there are other things going on for her as well.

    Selene--if you are the Selene who commented on Al's blog, I want to tell you I admired your compassion. Perhaps I should have said something. My hesitation came from concern that any comment might fan the flame war. Nevertheless, more compassionate responses were probably called for.

    Jenn--you're right, the writing community is just that, and comes with its own socialization process. And as a group, we react to those who violate our mores. That's why group dynamics were so relevant here.

    Jaime--yes, many people said those things, and the indie/self-publishing thing did complicate matters. There's really no way to simplify this incident, is there?

  8. I missed this in my little corner of the blogosphere. It's too bad it all had to break down that way. I'm sure Jacqueline will never write another book. And has probably drunk herself into a stupor.

    And obviously she hasn't been around the blogs long enough to know if you ask for a review/crit, you get what you get so shut up and deal.

    I'm sure there's more, like you say, underlying her background that we don't know about. It's just a shame she probably won't learn and grow from this experience.

  9. ohman. this is so sad! i just heard about it this morning from another blog and then here... but man! it just makes you want to run away doesn't it!?! blech!
    bandwagon effect/ group think stuff is FrEaKy!!!

  10. I just love your blog, Sarah. Seriously. LOVE.

  11. Sarah -- just a clarification: I wasn't implying you, specifically, should have stepped in. I just meant it would have been nice if some professional had. (and very possibly the person who reminded Al that people have killed themselves over less might have been one)

    A great (and very dour) man once told a 'trigger happy' 27 year old, who had messed up very badly in front of important clients, "I can be the guy who says 'evaluate, learn, don't do it again, and move on'. Or I can be the guy who kicks you when you are down. Which one would you prefer?"

    Since then I try to pass on that message. It only needs to stick the once. :-)

  12. Just discovered your blog via Twitter (Lydia Sharp's tweet) and I LOVE it!

    I saw the train wreck in the beginning and didn't stick around to see how huge it ended up being - I knew it was going to be a sad and frustrating time suck... but so very interesting!

  13. I found out about it from a tweet. I don't recall whose it was.

    I just have to say that I find the whole thing despicable. You can't really blame Al, although I do think he could have closed the comments sooner, and would have done better to stay out of them himself. You can, however, blame the author and the people who sunk to her level by leaving comments full of vitriol.

    I understand the anger, she pissed me off too. She was rude, she was ignorant, she was stubborn. But my whole thing is, there is plenty of hate in the world, it takes a lot of energy to sustain it. I'm too damn lazy for that.

    Why try to lift yourself up by tearing others down, when you can lift yourself up, by lifting others up?

    I don't know. As you saw from my own post I had a strong emotional reaction to this. I'm not saying the author wasn't completely out of line, but I'm actually more disappointed by all the comments.

  14. Heard about it in multiple places. Purposely avoided the train-wreck. As I said on Matt's blog (who pointed me here via Twitter), I believe in celebrating niceness - positive reinforcement of the things I like, steadfastly ignoring (if at all possible) the behavior I don't.

    But that's just me. :)

  15. Found the review through a Tweet by agent Mandy Hubbard! The minute I read Jacqueline's first comment, this was my face: O_O

    It pretty much stayed like that throughout the whole comment thread.

    I <3 so much for this post, Sarah. My B.A. in Psych will not let me stop FANGIRLING everything you've written.

    I agree 100% that the commenters went below the belt. I also agree 100% that Jacqueline needed to take a step back and a deep breath. Of course negative reviews must hurt, but she seemed to take it way too personal, which (as you said) suggests something else was going on in her life/state of mind. I guess we should all remind ourselves that, no matter how much a person sucks, he or she is still a person. Just like us. With feelings and dreams. Being respectful is our best bet.

  16. This is the first I heard of this situation. Wow, talk about a meltdown. Interesting to read your psychological assessment. When I got to Online Disinhibiition it made me smile and think, 'of course!' Similar to what I always think of (very unscientifically) as the 'What Happens to a Person's Vocabulary While Driving in Bad Traffic." Amazing the epithets that burst forth when we're safe from retaliation inside our vehicles. The internet has definitely changed the way we communicate on many levels. Thanks for this thought-provoking post and, for what it's worth, I'm sending best wishes for Jacqueline to find a way to put this in some kind of helpful perspective that's not too painful.

  17. I have nothing to add. You said it all perfectly.

  18. I haven't followed the debacle, but I knew one was occuring. Sometimes it's too painful to watch someone implode, so I avoided it, LOL!

    I do feel bad for the sense that her behavior (to presumably "right" the situation) only made it avalanche out of control.

    I love all the concepts that you highlight here with this incident--applying knowledge to real life situation is UBER-COOL!

  19. I was a stunned spectator, like you. I was torn between disgust at her behavior and horror at the reaction of the crowd. Great analysis of the situation! I'm going to link to this post on my blog. :)

  20. Wow, I have to admit I heard nothing about this until today. I think all of your theories are spot-on. And sadly, this kind of behavior is happening all over the internet.

  21. You know how I feel about this woman and was transpired that day. I thin I was even one of the people who say she'd commited career suicide (but not on the blog ... I didn't comment there).

    Anyhoo, I can understand the concept of "not knowing what she was going through", and I know how close-to-heart stories can be. I myself would probably defend a story I wrote, but not in the manner she did. Professionalism is everything in this business and no matter how hurt and offended she was, telling people to f*** off is not okay.

    I feel bad for her, but I also know she brought it on herself. I don't think the interwebs will ever figure out exactly what happened and why it blew up like that, but I understand the watching-the-train-wreck phenom. Like that "Friday" song thing going on. Crazies.

    I just cross my finger in hopes that I don't ever do this.

    Oh, and that book Al reviewed wasn't her first. She had two other previous ebooks, too. And the pre-rant reviews of them comment on the grammar and typos.

    Oh, sorry this is so long. At any rate, excellent post Dr. B! Excellent indeed!


  22. Hmm ... speaking of typos ... lol ... that's what I get for not thinking (and re-reading) before pressing "comment". Teehee.

  23. Yeah, I heard about this whole train wreck, read a little, and stayed out of it.

    I didn't agree with the writer's decision to tell the reviewer he was wrong and a liar, and then told people to f-off. But none of those who chastised her, for whatever reasons you mentioned in your thoughtful post above, exhibited the kind of self-control so many of them were flaming her for.

    Thanks for your analysis. I agree, it would make a good case study!

  24. I hadn't heard of this. Loved your analysis. Man things blow up so quick on the internet. The bandwagon is easier than ever before!

  25. Heard about this from various sources, and just wanted to thank you for you thoughtful analysis.

    There are clearly many things to be learned here, and compassion is necessary--I agree with you on that point. Why the author felt compelled in that downward direction is sad, but hopefully something good will come out of it, for her sake. The reviewer was just being honest, I got that feeling, too.

    Your analysis was enlightening, and hopefully more people will read it so this does not happen to someone else. Thanks again!

  26. It sounds like a feeding frenzy once the author showed her blood.

  27. Sigh.

    My Women's National Book Association meeting this month is about social media. "Topics for discussion will include: How social media affects how you market yourself or your business or events, Identifying and growing target audiences and Using Online Influencers." Think I'll be forwarding this to the moderator.

    Thanks for an amazing post...

  28. hi miss sarah! i read bout all this stuff on mr matthews blog. on your post i just learned soooo much bout how people could act. i didnt ever hear of that bandwagon stuff but i could see how it happens. mostly for me all this is just real sad.
    ...hugs from lenny

  29. I had not heard this, but my heart breaks for Jacqueline. I mean, to respond that way was definitely wrong and uncalled for. But our response should still be kindness, not mean comments in return.

  30. Also a psych type degree sorta person. (not a psychologist yet, though.)

    This isn't cyber bullying, in my opinion. I take bullying very seriously, but in this case she is a professional, putting out a product and asking for money in return. That puts her in a different sphere, as far as acceptable criticism.

    It helps us as compassionate people to try and think about the things you mention--life place, feelings of control, etc--but I don't think that excuses bad behavior, either. We could debate that on several levels, I know, but I just mean to say that at its most basic, mental illness/bad life situation does not equal the right to be so shockingly rude. I think if those kinds of circumstances are contributing to her attitude, it would behoove her to post an apology. We're all allowed our meltdowns. But I don't think we're allowed to flounce all over the internet like she is, with seemingly no attempt to take responsibility for her behavior.

    On a purely writing level I think this is why even I, a believer in indie publishing, am wary of self publishing. So often it seems there is no one nearby to say no, stop. Take a breath. Remember your book is not your child. Do not respond to reviews. The internet sees all.

    A little more personal responsibility wouldn't hurt any of us. Some people have conditions/disorders/etc where they aren't capable of taking that kind if responsibility past a certain point, but we're all obligated to work with what we have. So is she.

  31. It appeared several times on my Twitter feed and I eventually decided to click on it. I read, initially feeling a little sorry for the author - until she swore at respondents. That put me off. I was also surprised that in her capacity as a writer she wasn't taking more care with the grammar and word choice of her responses. I still, however, feel sorry for her. It was an ill-judged decision which will haunt her. Isn't that enough? Do people have to bombard her Amazon page with negative reviews? Unlike most people, this makes me WANT to read the book, so I can say something good and constructive about it.

  32. Whew! That is freaky. I've been in my own little bubble apparently. I'm just now catching up and reading. Just shows with the advent of the internet and social networking how we must always watch what we say!

  33. I found the commenters' responses utterly disturbing. How can we berate a woman for being unprofessional by being unprofessional ourselves? I don't know about you, but I'm getting very tired of this She Had It Coming society. This mentality seems to give people an excuse to do pretty much anything -- often with disastrous results. And people wonder where kids learn to bully.

    This is a great post. Thank you for writing it.

  34. Great post, thanks!

    I found out about this through twitter, and I did do a partial download of the author's book. Regardless of the quality of her work or the fairness or unfairness of the review, the situation should be a cautionary tale for what can happen on the internet.

    I think you have correctly analyzed the principles that led to the events of the past days. At this point, we need to note the difference between criticism and bullying. There is no need to decimate anyone here. Let the book and the review speak for themselves, and let's try a little kindness.

    Thanks again for the great post.

  35. When I was twenty I screamed and swore at an Air Force contractor because he taped a note to my door that asked me to mow the lawn. It is the most awful, humiliating thing I have ever done and I wish to this day I could apologize to that man. It was the week my daughter died. I, also, am a writer, and if someone had given me a two-star review that week I would have melted. Down.

    I am not trying to blame Big Al. By no means am I. I read his post and he was right to give an honest review to a book he was asked to read. But as I read Jacqueline's repeated fury I was forced to think, what's happening here? Sure, she messed up. She was rude. No doubt. But so have I been rude. So have we all. What I was really apalled about was the fact that more than three hundred people refused to let this go. The fact that I heard about this from four different tweets amazes me.

    I did not comment on that feed because it was closed by the time I saw it, and I didn't want my name associated with that mess. But I'm glad you gave me the chance to comment here.
    Thanks also for your kind and thoughtful breakdown of this situation. I really hope this monster goes to sleep soon.

  36. I watched as the whole thing unfolded and was totally aghast. Jacqueline Howett came across to me as a very young person -- I'm thinking she's probably in her 20's or 30's, but she came across as 15. The swearing bothered me, but by that point, I think she had given up. She couldn't think clearly because she was so angry. I'm not sure who she is angriest with, but there was anger. The thing that bothered me the most was the downright cruelty of the "anonymous" comments. Maybe not at first, but as time went on they became more cruel. That was uncalled for. Yes, she did something terribly stupid, but by the time the real nastiness started, she wasn't posting any more. Kicking her when she was down was really not cool.

  37. I only saw a bit of the debacle, and then I had to look away. Why that author behaved the way she did -- I cannot say. She's not the first author (self-published or otherwise) to show poor judgment, poor manners, and a poor understanding of what it means to be published. She won't be the last.

    However, the bandwagon effect is even more disturbing. You get the feeling that if there'd been a pile of rocks handy, hundreds of people would have been happy to pick them up and stone her to death. Online aggression is, thankfully, less physically dangerous than rocks, but it still does show the capacity of the general (and anonymous) public to enjoy being mean and downright cruel.

    And that's not only sad, it's frightening.

  38. I didn't know this happened until I read your post. The comments on the post were hard to read. I'm sad do see this happen. That's all I have to say.

  39. Social psych was my favorite back in the day. I saw the tweet. Retweeted it even. But I did not comment, nor did I visit after the initial jaw-dropping scan. I have no desire to watch anyone crash and burn. I cringed for her. But she's a big girl and she made her own decision. Maybe it will stop someone else from following in her footsteps.

  40. I'm in two minds about this. After reading the initial review (which I thought was fair and well-rounded) and then Jacqueline's responses, I thought she deserved as good as she gave. Someone needed to put her in her place because it would be a disservice to her and the community as a whole for a writer to go around thinking that was appropriate behaviour.

    As the comments went on, and deteriorated from constructive feedback, criticism and righteous anger, my thoughts on the situation changed. People were just being nasty and it was unnecessary.

    I don't think anything excuses her actions, no matter the situation. People need to live with the consequences of what they do, and she made a huge mistake. She needed to be admonished, but not torn to shreds.

    Just a note, I disagree that she wasn't aware of the public nature of blog comments, as she has her own blog so must know at least the basics of how a blog works.

  41. This is a brilliant post and thanks for coming by my blog to direct me to it. I hope you don't mind if I share it? Add the link to the bottom of mine?

  42. I really hate seeing things like this. All in all, the whole thing was a sad representation of human behavior.

  43. It sounds like it's easily done. Years ago I ranted on emails and regretted it. I now take my time to digest what has been said before responding and avoid ranting. Yes when someone is going through a sterssful situation they can have a short fuse and if they have a mefical condition, while as you say with many it's a low self esteem thing. It's a shame people are so keen to join in the fray too.
    All I can say is she can always write under a psuedonymn in future. :O)

  44. You brought up so many valid points. I met Big Al on his Amazon forum. So I was already a follower before this, though I rarely make it over to his blog. I learned of his review through a writers group and read it. I think I made a comment about the need to hire an editor. This was before the author said anything, or maybe not. I didn't see her comments.

    What I can say to this from my own experience is; there are people who enjoy hurting others. I don't think Big Al is one of them, but clearly there are some among the commenters. I know an author who is currently slamming new published authors before anyone else has a chance to review their book. He did it to me. Fortunately, though I suffered many sleepless nights, I didn't respond to him in a negative way. After he repeatedly contacted me with an apology, I became curious and looked him up. His own book was slammed big time by numerous people. I didn't say anything.

    I think controlling ourselves in the mists of such a frenzy is very hard. But I value my name and where I leave it. I like helping people, not destroying them.

  45. *pats own head* I saw it and waved as it went by. I generally try to keep out of situations where I'm asked to judge someone in a situation I have not faced, but will one day.

    Because who knows how I would react in that situation?

    Still, it is amazing how fast people jump to proverbially slit others' throats.

  46. Excellent post!

    I've been really wrapped up with this situation for some reason. I even blogged about it, and wrote Amazon an angry letter.

    I guess I live in a very happy, supportive bubble (even on the internet,) and I've been shocked and disturbed to see people behave this way.

  47. When I heard about the debacle, I went to see what it was about. (I consider myself a "writing therapist," and this is precisely the kind of behavior I deal with regularly.

    When I saw the piling on, I wanted to write a comment asking the commentors to stop. Enough was enough for this poor woman, who might well be mentally ill, or become so from the bombardment of negative, even hateful, remarks. If she didn't "get it" after the first, say, 20 comments, she was never going to get it.

    Like you, my interest switched from the victim to the attackers. I'm not proud of my fellow authors (if that's what they were) for their behavior. A few of them seemed generally trying to be helpful to an obviously naive would-be author, but the rest seemed to be working out some issues of their own.

    I'm guessing that with the web we have, we can expect more of such behavior in the future. Fortunately, virtual stones do not draw real blood, but they could lead to irreparable harm, both mental and physical.

    So, shame on us.

    And thank you, Sarah Fine.

  48. Hi Sarah!

    Oh wow! This is the first I'd heard of this (but then again, I have been lost in the cave of research paper composition for the past week).

    I find it sad that things got so crazy. I don't agree with the way she handled herself, but nor do I agree with the way people seem to have lashed out towards her and her lashing.

    Interesting breakdown on the social psychology. I always find things like this- the postulating of "why did they do it"-fascinating.

    Have a great weekend!

  49. I only just now found out about this incident tonight, through the A-Z Challenge. It's definitely giving me something to think about as I progress further in my writing career.

  50. Great post. Great breakdown of how things progressed.

    I heard about this on Monday through Twitter, and went over to check it out and see what was going on. I was shocked by the author's behaviour, and I find it inexcusable, under all circumstances. However, I didn't comment on the thread, because it was already long, everything had been said, and I didn't feel I had anything new to contribute there.

    I did post about it on my blog on Wednesday, though. I didn't mention the name of the author or the reviewer, because I think it is possible that she has some kind of problem, and I didn't think it was necessary to call her out (again) and possibly humiliate her (again), but I wanted to open a discussion about what constitutes appropriate behaviour, and how we can best deal with the feelings we have when we face rejection/bad reviews/etc.

    If she needs help, I hope she gets it.

  51. I first heard about this on Matt Rush's blog. I did not investigate further, though the nasty little "let's watch the trainwreck" voice in my head is urging me to do so. ("Down, boy!")

    I happened upon your post after seeing your comment on Matt's post today, critiquing a query. ("We are all connected.")

    You've done a great job "deconstructing" this event. I like your writing/thought processes. I became a follower. (Bandwagon effect?)

    I think the time is right to also put your blog on my blogroll (for me, much more important than just clicking the follow button.) I had visited once before, when your agent did a post about her clients' blogs.

    As for comments, call me Pollyanna, but I try zealously not to say anything negative in the blogosphere. It tests my pursuit of 'the golden rule' of doing unto others, but I believe in karma also.

  52. Sarah, I'm glad to hear a psychologists's take on this post. I was actually worried about the author's mental health. Was she just reacting in the heat of the moment or was something deeper going on? And how is she now after her book was unfairly trashed by non-readers on Amazon?

    I didn't know about this until Saturday. But it bothered me for a variety of reasons, so I wrote a post related to it yesterday.

  53. I found this through Goodreads and refrained from making comments on the review site (or Amazon), although I did make a joke about the book title (largely because I have a dirty mind and I'd do that with just about any title, given the opportunity, including my own. Seriously--try adding 'in my pants' to just about any title). Personally, I find myself instinctively having little sympathy for the author in terms of her behaviour, but I am finding it equally difficult to respect those who are now attacking her work without doing her the courtesy of reading the work first. I don't see how their behaviour is any better than her outburst. In essence, they're doing exactly what she did--flaming another person unreasonably based on a perceived slight. Big Al didn't ask them to defend him, didn't encourage attacks against Jacqueline, and saying 'well she did it first' isn't really much of an excuse.

    I also didn't comment because I'm not in the market for Jacqueline's writing, so I didn't think any commentary I could make on the work itself would have any validity or meaningfully contribute to the less-than-healthy debate.

    Reading your comments were thought provoking, and from a mental health perspective I can see where you're coming from--although I must say, part of me finds it difficult to reconcile that against my conviction that someone with the (possible) mental health issues you raise should not be self-publishing work and casting it out to the world. If you're sending art out there into the world, you should be prepared for not everyone to love it, and behave in a professional manner (and an apology for a faux pas can go a long way). One of the funny things that has happened since I got published is people asking me for advice on writing (because obviously I have some amazing insight, as opposed to being slightly bewildered, scared as all hell and wondering how I got lucky enough to get to here in the first place), and one of the few things I feel I can really say to them is 'Ask yourself if this is something that should be written and published professionally?' by which I mean either via a traditional publisher or the more recent mass market self-publishing route. Is the writing really strong enough and if other people don't think it is, can you live with that without taking it personally? If the answer to any of those questions is 'no' or 'yes, unless I have a bad day or go off my meds or start feeling sorry for myself' I honestly believe that individual should probably do something more forgiving--chemical engineering perhaps, or crime scene investigation perhaps. Something where rejection and dealing with the faceless masses won't be a constant professional hazard at least. Not that they can't put their work out there for everyone to read, but there's a different set of expectations around a free net story and a book that's been paid for (99 cent kindle books potentially notwithstanding).

    Of course, that doesn't really address the situation as it stands, which is something I feel ill-equipped to deal with. I suppose I find myself more disappointed that it's gone this far than anything else.