Friday, November 9, 2012

Harriet's Defenders, Part One

People from all walks of life have banded together to fight the juggernaut that is Harriet Klausner.  But there are a lot of people who, for lack of a better phrase, just don't get it.

Those of us who fight the good fight know that Hattie doesn't read the books she "reviews," has persistent problems with grammar and punctuation (including a lack of familiarity with the comma and a belief that "her 3 years old daughter" is a grammatical construction), plagiarizes publicity materials and/or other reviews, gets key details wrong, divulges spoilers, uses vulgar and offensive language in some reviews, has financial links to the publishing industry, doesn't disclose that she gets free advance copies from publishers (in violation of FTC guidelines), sells said free advance copies on half.com in her son's name, and insults the intelligence of every member of the reading public with her claims to have read over 28,000 books in the last twelve years.

But Hattie has her defenders, and in this series of posts, we'll be taking a look at what makes them tick.

Publicity Hounds

New authors (and sometimes established authors, as well) have vested interests in promoting their books.  One way to do so is to seek online reviews.  Paid reviews have recently received negative attention, "friends and family" reviews are easy to spot, and newspaper book sections seem to be going the way of the dinosaurs, so authors and publishers often turn to bloggers, prolific Amazon reviewers, and other online presences for reviews.  When a rave review gets posted (and here, a "rave review" means 5 stars, regardless of the words that accompany said stars), the authors publicize it on Twitter, on their blogs, and elsewhere.

Quality doesn't matter for publicity hounds, it's all about quantity, about getting one more item in a list.  Hattie is fairly reliable about "reviewing" the books she receives, and of the 28,256 books she's reviewed as of this writing, only 0.3% have rated fewer than four stars, so she's a safe bet, if all you're doing is playing the numbers game.  Here are a few people who have played (or who recommend playing) the numbers game; my comments are in bold:
  • Tad Williams/Mrs. Tad (blogging and/or tweeting about HK's 5-star review for Tad's latest book)
  • Author Michele Shriver (suggests targeting HK with review copies
  • A publisher of romance novels: "As the publisher of this book, I know for a fact that she was not paid to do this review. When you have proof that she was paid, please post it. Until then, you are wrong for misleading people. She is sent galleys for review just like every other reviewer but has NEVER been paid for any review on any Strebor title."  FYI: Hattie violated FTC disclosure guidelines by failing to report that she received an advance copy of the book in exchange for a review.
  • Author Linda Lafferty: "Thank you for your review, Harriet--the first on the date of publication."  The problem is that Harriet Klausner's reviews are nearly always the first ones on the date of publication, if not before.  Sometimes they're even for sale on half.com before the date of pubication.
Clueless Readers

If you don't spend a lot of time reading Amazon reviews,  maybe you haven't encountered too many of Hattie's.  At first, they don't seem to be much of an issue.  All the references to "over the top of" this or that mountain, "lower heads," "still fans," "relish," and "[age] years old [name]" seem inane, but innocuous.  I ignored Harriet Klausner at first, too.  But as I read more reviews, I kept seeing her name.  And I wasn't impressed with the quality of the reviews she was posting out there.  I Googled her, and learned I wasn't the only person who took note.  However, some people who are not aware, still feel the need to comment.  Some examples (again, my comments are in bold):
  • Amazon comment: "Yes! This review is unique in identifying the theme of this book as the myriad complications of all the characters' misunderstanding one another's actions and motivations. The complications brought about by such presumptions--and by their further failure to understand themselves--lead to incredible chaos and plot development. Wonderful, but flawed, people throughout contribute to a delightful portrayal of social, cultural and personal differences. Klausner has it right. The author has produced a modern-day shakespearean comedy. (I write this with still 100 pages to go. Those who complain that it is not a " fast read" are right--but looking for the wrong values. I wanted to make sure I was on the right track before I finished.)"  Note: Check out the publisher's book description, Publishers Weekly review, and Booklist review for the title (click the link).  Many of the key points from Hattie's review can be found in those.  There's nothing new or original in what HK wrote.
  • Amazon comment: "I actually read the book and loved it - and reviewed it. Despite what some may say, there are real people who post real reviews and this happens to be one of them. You won't be disappointed in this book, especially if you like the older, first person style - I had a hard time putting this one down. Don't let comments by some who may not know the whole story ruin things for you."  This comment is a little confusing but appears to be a reaction to a comment someone posted on one of Harriet's reviews.  Those of us here at HKAS are well aware that there ARE real people who post real reviews -- including many of us, for books we paid for out of our own pockets.  We just know that Hattie is not one such person.
  • Amazon comment: "I do not understand all you people!!! Maybe this person actually liked the book! To each their own. Just becuase you guys did not like the book... doesn't mean that nobody does! I love this series... and I look forward to reading this new addition! Thanks Harriet!"  One commenter in this thread mentioned not caring for the book.  Most of the rest commented on the fact that there was yet another fake review by Harriet.  Listen, Hattie didn't really like the book because she didn't read it.  The person quoted here is clearly not acquainted with Hattie's work.
  • Amazon comment: "I've read all of Stuart Woods' Stone Barrington's books except the last one, DC Dead, solely based upon the reviews of Amazon (and my rather lackluster reading of Son of Stone). It's very nice to read such a through and knowledgeable review. Thank you, Harriet. And kudos for referencing Luther, an excellent but little known series."  Hattie is actually known for making random pop culture references.  She's quoted the Lovin' Spoonful no fewer than 22 times.  Including in a review of a book for middle schoolers who would totally not get the reference.
  • Amazon comment: "Simon Davis: What did you mean by your post? I am not sure I understand why Harriet is a fraud or why you take offense to "fast paced fans of the Malory brood"? What am I missing here???"  This was, sadly, in response to a comment that later got deleted.  However, I am proud to say this user stuck around to read further comments and learned the truth.
  • Amazon comment: "I don't get it...are there people out there who leave reviews just to be a "hall of fame reviewer"? So she didn't really read this? This is sincerely the first I've ever heard of anything like this."  Well, I'm sure Hattie likes the attention.  But she also likes the money she gets from selling books on half.com (books that publishers sent her for free).  
  • Amazon comment: "Hello Harriet! I always look for your reviews first! Thank you!"  Well, you will never be disappointed because Harriet's reviews always appear first.  
Failed Socratic Elenchi

I learned a new word today.  I love you, MacBook Dictionary App!
  • Amazon comment: "To Embee: If she gets all these review copies as you say, why accept them if she will never read them?"  Answer: She sells them.
  • Amazon comment: "Why do they continue employing her knowing everyone knows she does this for a job and doesn't actually read the books she doesn't actually review? So therefore, people won't believe her and will not buy the book based on her supposed recommendation."  I wish you were right.  I do.  But there are clearly a lot of people who have no idea.  (See the "Clueless Readers" section above.)
  • Amazon comment: "I think the argument here misses the point. Ms Klausner reviews HUGE numbers of books.....maybe she's a fast reader? She is also known to have a mailing list of "friends" who "yes" vote her reviews, giving her a very high "rating" as an Amazon reviewer. (NOTE: in her profile, note that she is the #1 rated reviewer on Amazon, a "Hall of Fame" reviewer".)
    Also, some of her reviews are SAID to be taken directly from the blurbs on the back covers of the books being reviewed...or from the editorial review of the book....maybe she thought they just "said it best" ? There is probably no single more contraversial reviewer on Amazon due to these reasons, and the people who've watched her career as a reviewer (whom I paraphrase) feel she is entirely bogus, and reads maybe a small portion of what she reviews......Not MY opinion, I'm neutral, just repeating what is widely said on Amazon among circles who discuss reviews and reviewing in a serious manner."  First of all, we know Hattie takes reviews from the cover blurbs and/or publicity material.  Second of all, she's averaged something like seven books a day in the last twelve years.  Some days, she posts 20, 30, 40, or more reviews -- many for books on the day of their release.  She's not a fast reader.  And if another review (PW, book jacket copy, etc.) said it best?  Well, there's a way to handle that without plagiarizing.
  • Amazon comment: "You people realize there are such things called ARCs, right? And people read them, and post reviews on the release day? Just an FYI!"  Oh, we know.  We also know she sells them, which is a no-no.  We also know she doesn't disclose that she received them, which is also a no-no.   
  • Amazon comment: "Is somebody forcing you to read Ms Klausner's reviews?"  Well, it's a little bit like rubbernecking at a car accident, truthfully.  That being said, sometimes Hattie's reviews are the only reviews available.  And they're EVERYWHERE.
A Few That Defy Categorization
  • Amazon comment: "I think you should leave her alone. Many people have disabilities. She has done nothing wrong. I believe this is harassment."  Later, from the same person: "Thanks, Harriet. I always enjoy your reviews. You seem like a very nice person."  So yeah, it wouldn't be very nice to make fun of someone with disabilities.  But, um, no one mentioned anything about disabilities.  You're the one who threw that term into the discussion. 
  • Amazon comment: "I understand people's annoyance with phony reviews and other forms of shilling. But I'm not sure about the obsession with them -- the blogs and counter-blogs. It's really a bit out of control. Then again, as a reader I've never bought a book based only on a stranger/customer review (or even a lot of them). As a writer, I move on quickly from negative reviews -- especially the ones that seem the most baseless. (It's the kind that seem really legit that sting.)"  Well, I could write an entire manifesto on this.  But here are a few thoughts, stated as succinctly as possible: Lots of honest reviewers exist.  But they actually read the books they review.  If you actually read the books, you just can't produce anywhere near the volume Hattie does.  Her reviews saturate the market, they take attention away from legitimate reviews that might actually help someone make a purchasing decision.  Hattie's reviews are often the only ones there for new books.  The presence of an HK review has been known to deter people from buying books.  This hurts the authors, who miss out on sales, but it also hurts the readers, who might actually enjoy the books.   Look, I could go on.  But take a look around at HKAS, check out the links in my second paragraph.  See what exactly it is that she's done, that we find so reprehensible.  (I suppose that wasn't too succinct.  But thinking about Hattie just makes me want to rant.)
I want to end by saying thanks to everyone affiliated with the HKAS; although my screen name appears at the bottom of this post, it was truly a collective effort.  All the links and e-mail texts and research and suggestions you provided are greatly appreciated.

5 comments:

Sara said...

Excellent! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! I've been an Amazon customer for nearly 10 years and like you, I ran into her reviews A LOT! Even back then, I never thought her reviews were particularly helpful. I was a bit annoyed that she simply gave summaries (which is one of my pet peeves when it comes to reviews), but I never thought that she was a fake reviewer. I began to avoid her reviews out of fear of reading spoilers. I never really paid attention to the number of reviews she's posted (which I think is what most customers do). If customers are aware of the sheer volume of her "reviews", then they'd think first before they mindlessly rush to defend her.

Beachmama said...

Well done! I love the way you have linked to the various comments posted on Amazon and many of the previous investigations here.

This isn't just a trail of breadcrumbs; it’s a years’ long trench of bad behavior on both Amazon’s and Harriet’s part. One they both profit from at the expense of Amazon’s loyal customers and Harriet’s clueless followers.

It’s apparent that The World’s Largest Bookseller values Harriet over the customers who spend their hard earned money buying books based on the recommendations of a well known fraud. While they delete comments posted by their own members, who are the source of their bottom line, they support a woman who breaks all their own publically stated rules and who’s only interest is her bottom line. What kind of a whacked out business model is that? Both Amazon and Harriet need a crash course in ethics, honesty and the concept of fair play

Sneaky Burrito said...

Thanks.

And, oh, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I've got at least four more posts in this series.

Got diverted by something this morning that I'll post in a few days.

Embee said...

Sneaky,

I finally got to read this. Stellar work, again!

You are so easy to read and enjoy. Beautifully done!

Sneaky Burrito said...

Embee: If I could only convince publishers of that...