Debra Coleman Jeter
On the evening of my book launch for Joy After Noon, a one-star review appeared on my Amazon page. Because it was the only review and had appeared so quickly, it caught my attention at once. I read:
Total waste of time. “Wish I could recommend this book; but it was a waste of time to read. Author needs to consider another line of work.”
I lay awake that night, unsettled by a head full of swirling thoughts. Was I so horrible a writer as to deserve a review of this nature? I knew, of course, that not everyone would love my books. I’d read some pretty harsh reviews of books by other authors I admired, books I cherished. So I was prepared for criticism. But not for abuse. Did I have an enemy; and if so, who? The review felt too personal to be from a stranger. As a teacher for over twenty years, I’d given more than a few poor grades. Could the review be from a former student?
When I posted a statement on my launch website (seeking other reviews to balance this one), I was introduced to a new term. New to me, that is, but not to those more savvy in the ways of the internet. Troll. An internet troll.
This led me to do a bit more investigating, and here’s what I found:
I discovered that internet trolls often review products or books they have not even tried. They trash the creative efforts of others without giving them a fair chance.
In my case, the troll/reviewer identified herself on Feb. 28, 2019, when the review was initially posted, as “Marie.” My new novel had only been made available a day or so before, and Amazon takes up to 48 hours to approve a new review. Not a verified purchaser, she subsequently changed her name twice in the first week of March, first to Joan and then to Sammie. I found a similar review from the same “Marie” (subsequently showing up as Sammie) on my first novel, The Ticket: one star review with the heading “Save time, and toss it!”
Then, on the same day that Joan became Sammie, I discovered that my nonfiction book “Pshaw, It’s Me Grandson” had just received a new one-star review in March of 2019 from the same reviewer though the book was published 13 years earlier: “Blah … you will be glad you didn’t buy it.” Because this book had not been rated often (only 4 reviews, all 5 star), the 1-star review from Sammie dropped my average from 5 to 2.5 because Amazon weights recent reviews more heavily than older ones.
If she really dislikes my books so much, why would she keep reading them—and rush to obtain a copy of Joy After Noon as soon as it came out (although Amazon doesn’t list her as a verified purchaser)? I have no idea who she is or why she has singled me out.
Having submitted countless academic papers over the years and having received my fair share of rejection letters, I believed I’d grown a thick skin. I have advised junior faculty I mentored on multiple occasions not to have thin skin when submitting their research to journals. Yet, here I was, lying awake over a sentence or two dashed out by someone who, most likely, had never seen—much less read—my books.
As frustrating as this is for the writer or seller or artist, I also have to wonder what experiences in the trolls’ past motivates them to do such a thing—to waste precious moments of life that could be spent in a hundred more productive ways in an effort to get a reaction or cause pain. In the end, you have to feel sorry for the troll.