My first negative review on Amazon.com felt like a dagger to the heart. As the author of nine books, I was used to letters from readers who said nice things like, "Your book saved my life," or "Thank you for writing this."
Now, with the advent of Amazon.com, I now get something else as well: Insults!
Before Amazon, those who didn't take a fancy to something you said didn't go to the trouble of putting pen to paper and stamp to envelope to tell you so.
The ease of firing off a sentence or two on the Web has spawned a new species of vilipendious critics just itching to skewer your ten-year authorial effort in five seconds.
I'm not alone. Not even bestselling authors can escape being maligned by amateur critics whose time has come.
Tom Clancy's 168 Amazon reviews for Patriot Games fairly explode with enthusiasm: "one of Clancy's best"; "an intense thrill ride"; "this book will keep you at the edge of your seat."
Then a reviewer named Mr. Druitt, of Munfordville, Ky., weighed in: "I have never expected too much from Tom Clancy.... Patriot Games is surely the most ridiculous novel written in many years, but its unintended hilarity almost redeems the insipid dialogue and flat characters."
Thank you for sharing, Mr. Druitt! Thanks to Amazon, everybody sees themselves as bona fide literary critics – whether they've read the book or not. Here's P. Burke's review of my book, "Depression is a Choice": "First off, since I haven't READ the book (I refuse to pay for something that I can't even stand the title to), my review may be off-base." You think?
I'm a board-certified cognitive behavioral therapist. I wrote the book to help people get out of depression without drugs. It doesn't have the greatest title, I admit. (It was my publishers' choice.)
"Depression is a Choice" received rave reviews such as "brilliant and insightful"; "a great book on overcoming depression"; "forever indebted and grateful to the author"; "life saving"; and even, "this book is the culminating healer of my lifelong depression."
It also got "rancid"; "dangerously imbalanced"; and "ignorant premise" – all of which I tried not to take personally. Actually, it became easier not to take bad reviews personally after I read a review by Crystal Sparks, from Oklahoma, of "The Holy Bible: New International Version." "I hate to say it, but I was rather disappointed with the storyline of this book."
Even Pulitzer Prize winners get their fair share of grief. "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas Hofstadter had 231 reviews: "Exceptional"; "...A mental high as you cannot yet imagine"; "You will come away with an understanding of the underlying principles of intelligence, beauty, craft, logic, and universal principles of creation."
Can there be a negative review on such greatness of thought? Yes: "A mishmash of unrelated ideas. A waste of time. I read this book ... about 15 years ago. And just remembering makes me nauseous, for the amount of time and effort it took me.... I had the time back then, I guess.... Suffice to say I was a nerd with a lot of time in my hands."
Still, I'm warming up to the bad reviews on Amazon, even my own. Especially my own! It's actually fun to read the ridiculous ones aloud to disbelieving friends. Positive reviews alone, unleavened by a little dissenting vitriol, are really rather boring. Imagine "American Idol" without Simon Cowell.
Most important, bad reviews help draw would-be readers' attention to a book's distinguishing parts.
In my own case, incessant attacks on the idea of conquering depression without drugs just goes to prove the importance of my work. The very thing that turns a naysayer off is just the kind of help a lot of people are looking for, and the naysayer spotlights it.
Eagerly anticipating one's next bad Amazon review may be an acquired taste. But I can hardly wait. Go ahead, make my day!
• A.B. Curtiss is the author of "Depression is a Choice: Winning the Battle without Drugs" and "Brainswitch out of Depression."