Authors who bite back

Over at the website Dear Author, there’s a lot of tut-tutting about author Deborah McGillivray (whom I don’t know, and don’t believe I’ve ever met) and how she handled certain nasty reader reviews on  This topic has also been mentioned over at Galleycat, where the story is summed up as follows:

Highland Press co-publisher and Kensington author Deborah MacGillivray is evidently harassing an Amazon reviewer that goes by the handle Reba. reprinted an email from Macgillivray to Reba (who gave her book a 3 star review) and admonishing her for not getting it right. According to Reba “has since deleted the review, but not before it came to light that MacGillivray uses yahoogroups and author groups to encourage, browbeat, or by other means, individuals into taking down negative reviews by reporting that the review is a) not helpful and b) abuse. MacGillivray also appears to have taken even further steps to ascertain personal information about Reba.” In an frightening amazon romance forum post by MacGillivray entitled “vote down this bitch please” she states “Well, thanks to XXXXXX our PI , we now have her name, her husband’s name, her chidrens’ names, her grannies and great grannies name. Her address phone number and email lol… quite interesting.” (and in my opinion, quite creepy!)
Her actions have led to a
Backlash on the Amazon romance forum with many readers stating outright that they’ll never read her works.

The responses in the comments section at Dear Author have tended to be along the lines of “What a dumb thing to do,” “What was she thinking?” and “I am so angry about this, I’ll never buy another one of her books.”  The comments come from both readers and writers.  Everyone seems to agree that the author should know better and of course they themselves would never stoop so low as to hunt down the identities of people who’ve posted bad reviews of their books and harass them.

My first reaction to this story was: “What?  I can get the bad reviews taken off my Amazon pages?  How do I do that?”  Because I didn’t know an author could do that.  I thought you just had to live with them and suffer heartburn every time you scroll past them.

My second reaction was: “There but for the grace of better self-control go I.”

Because, let’s be honest here.  Really.  Is there an author alive who hasn’t wanted to hunt down the identities of those who’ve written bad Amazon reviews of our books?  Is there an author alive who hasn’t harbored fantasies of revenge, even if it only involves sticking a few pins in a voodoo doll?  Is there an author alive who hasn’t wanted to fire back a response along the lines of “what could you possibly know about good writing, you illiterate slut?” (helpful link for those who don’t understand the cultural reference behind this wordplay)

 If you haven’t harbored such fantasies, then you’re a far better person than I am.

Now, I’m not saying that Ms. MacGillivray wasn’t out of line here.  But her (other) major foolishness was that she got caught at it. 

(editorial changes)

24 replies
  1. bob k
    bob k says:

    I guess I would argue that her “major foolishness” wasn’t in getting caught – because that implies her actions would have been OK if she hadn’t been caught. I would argue that her problem is that she crossed the line of what most people believe is acceptable behavior in our society.

    Different people will draw that line in different places – I don’t personally have a problem with trying to get someone to remove or alter a bad review…but when you get nasty and start the name-calling…you’re starting to lose me. When you let it be known you hired a private investigator to find out about this person…you are so far past the line, you can’t even turn around and see it.

    But, you know…I’d like to think in that situation I would have acted differently – but I can’t really be sure.

  2. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    ps:Tess-Zimmern’s latest trip to Guangzhou(sp?)was a don’t miss-especially the part about making noodles

  3. Nonny
    Nonny says:

    I don’t agree that her “major foolishness” was in getting caught, because the implication is that her actions would be otherwise okay. They’re not. It’s not okay to round up a gang of your “friends” on an e-group and ask them to get rid of reviews you don’t like by rating them down. It’s certainly not okay to threaten/stalk a reviewer. Flat-out, plain and simple: Not Okay.

    I’ve had bad reviews to my work before. Some of it quite nasty. Yeah, it hurt. That’s only natural. But I wouldn’t want to censor a reader’s right to their opinion of my work. There have been plenty enough books that I’ve read and hated, but a lot of people apparently love them because they sell quite well. (Laurell K. Hamilton, anyone?)

    There is a situation in which I would request people to “vote down” a review, and that is when it crosses the line into personal attack. You’re welcome to say all the nasty things about my book that you like, but if you start calling me names or degrading my character? Sorry, but no. That’s not okay, either.

  4. Doug Riddle
    Doug Riddle says:

    Wow, Tess your reaction to this story is really surprising. Sure a negative review by a reader hurts, but this is insane, probably criminal.

    First, just because a reader doesn’t like a book doesn’t make them illiterate.

    Second, to say Ms.McGillivray’s “major foolishness was that she got caught at it”….Are you kidding me? To hire a PI to find out information on the reviwer’s family…the name’s of her children and her home address…this is called cyber terrorism/stalking and if a felony. Reba should be looking for a good lawyer and a restraining order. Personally I wouldn’t be that calm when she starts talking about my kids.

    Third, I have to ask…Sweet Jesus, how did this woman ever get a book deal when she can’t even write a coherent rant in the English language. Last I heard, English was the mother tongue of Scotland.

    Oh, maybe she got her book deal because she is the co-publisher of Highland Press, which produces her book which are then distributed by Kensington Books. Sometimes it is about who you know.

    And judging from the comments on Dear Author, I think we just saw a career self destruct.

    Tess, love the books, but I think you are wrong on this matter.

  5. Ann Woodburn
    Ann Woodburn says:

    Hi Tess:
    I don’t think I would bother paying too much attention to anyone who didn’t like my book. I expect my book to stir up some controversy anyway. I am so used to being criticised in the job I just left that it would not affect me. I might go to her book site and write a bad review for her. I would never hire a PI etc that is giving the reviewer too much power.
    I would just be happy to be published.

  6. Patricia Wood
    Patricia Wood says:

    You pay attention to those reviewers who either rant about how awful your book is or totally miss the point. I’ve even had reviewers who didn’t read my book review it.
    Too bad so sad (as I used to tell my students LOL)
    An author can’t react to it — it’s a waste of time. Ultimately it doesn’t matter– a reader will read your book based on things other than a good or bad review…I love this blog because Tess is honest about how she gets bummed about unfair reviews — like us all–
    I get bummed too- but yanno– most authors just put it behind them and move on…

  7. Patricia Wood
    Patricia Wood says:

    but…I still fantasize about keying their car…taking the air out of their tires and sending an anonymous report to the police about their suspected drug dealings…
    My bad.

  8. Anne Germain
    Anne Germain says:

    Am I getting it all wrong???

    I laughed when I read your post and I found your reaction was only normal, or at least human and I never got the feeling that you were saying that what that woman did was OK (she did what some people dream to do but would never do – if all the people who fantasized about killing someone actually did it, there would probably be more people in than out of jail!) but when I see the comments above, I wonder if I got it right ? Am I the only one seeing some kind of “second-degree” here?

    I don’t know that Mc Gillivray person : she’s probably a woman of extremes and I haven’t had time to read the whole story –other than what you included in your blog- but from what you report I’m not sure either that she really did use a PI.

    Well maybe my English is just not good enough to get all the subtleties of the language…

  9. ec
    ec says:

    I’ve heard about this from several sources, but I haven’t read Ms. McGillivray’s posts or the reviews that prompted them, so I’m not going to give an opinion about that situation. But I DO have an general observation about reader review anonymity on

    A couple years back, a computer glitch led to the posting of reviewer names and cities of origin on the Canadian site. Suddenly, anonymous posters were publically accountable for their words. Gasp. Clutch the pearls.

    I think that anyone who’s willing to comment on another person’s work should be willing to sign their name to their review. Chances are, if you are posting something you are ashamed to own up to, you shouldn’t be posing it. That includes writers who praise their own work or get friends to write multiple five-star reviews under various cute internet names. That includes writers who anonymously dump on other writers’ books. If you’re going to post something that can effect someone else’s life and livlihood, have the balls to put your name to it.

  10. Randy Johnson
    Randy Johnson says:

    The author seems a bit harsh in her pursuit of the reviewer. I dare say no one in history has ever written a book that everyone likes. I have reviewed books on Amazon. But I never review a book I didn’t like. Why? Because like as not, the problem with the book was probably myself. It may have been the state of my health, the mood I was in, or I was pissed off at someone. If I don’t like a book, it doesn’t automatically follow that it was bad. Just not for me.

  11. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    Well, there are always going to be people we will meet in our life journey who will not like us, for any number of reasons.

    Same thing (I should think) goes for books.

    There are some writers who I like though I don’t buy everything they write simply because I don’t like the plots of some of their books.

    There are other writers who simply don’t write often enough to satisfy my literary needs.

    But to actually post someone’s personal info…well, that’s just wrong.

    In the end, it’s JUST a book.

  12. drosdelnoch
    drosdelnoch says:

    To be honest as a person who reads a lot and writes reviews can I just say that I find this abhorrent.

    Firstly as an author youre aware that theres going to be some who like your work and others who down right hate it. Its fact of life. You cant please everyone. You have to take the rough with the smooth. Ive read books I havent liked however I have also sat down and written a review that states the problems that I had with the tale from things such as being unable to get a hook into the character though to pace etc.

    Its just something that an author has to accept. To get into a war with a reviewer who doesnt like your work is basically lowering yourself down to an idiots level and losing the fight to thier experience. Theres no point it will only reflect badly on yourself and hurt you in the long run. Due to her reaction and ranting she has now lost innumerable fans, opened herself up for more people to attack (and believe me, theres some people who Troll the net just looking for a fight) and has now shown herself to be an insecure author. Showing weakness like this is like throwing chum in the sea where youre going to go swimming. Really not a good idea.

    What is the point in having reviews if youre only going to accept the positive? Its difficult enough to make a decision on a book with so many on offer but if people offer a reasonable review as well as listing what worked or didnt then you get to know them and care to trust their judgement. Having a rant is one thing on your own site but to near enough assassinate someone for having an opinion would mean that at least everyone who’s ever expressed an opinion will either go into hiding or have to face the assassin at some time in thier life.

    Then look at the fact that it still got a three star review. I hate to think what she would do if it was a one. LOL

    Whilst emotions rule everyone there has to be a time and place where things have to be looked at fairly and honestly and as an author you have to rise above pettiness that others may exhibit. You cant afford to take a grudge out as its a career that depends on public opinion, they made you, they can break you just as easily. Often discretion is the better part of valour and you’ll come off better if you can make a joke about it. For example Dave Gemmell used to bring out his rejection letters and read from them. He said they kept him grounded and in later years allowed him to laugh as they claimed he’d never get anywhere, he proved them wrong. Thats what the author concerned should have done, found a way to laugh it off and prove the reviewer wrong with her next book.

    The other thing that I would point people to is to read how Tess has phrased that one particular point closely. “Now, I’m not saying that Ms. MacGillivray wasn’t out of line here. But her major foolishness was that she got caught at it.”

    Tess is being ambiguous about the whole thing, she found it an interesting subject to blog about and brought it to her fans forum to discuss. Her own opinion is tightly guarded as she wants honest responses to the situation. The final line is just pointing out that it was majorly foolish that the author put herself in the situation. Its not supporting her for her actions, its just stating in a shorter form how foolish it is. Perhaps it could have been phrased a bit more succinctly however everyones guilty of putting things down and not checking a double meaning can be taken from it. It happens.

    Mucho love,


  13. Abe
    Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    Is the old saying true that “it’s ok as long as you don’t get caught?” So someone doesn’t like your book. So what? Like you said, there will be some controversy in all authors’ works.
    It’s just like watching tv. You don’t like what’s on? Change the damn channel!
    But to hunt someone’s identity down, how low can you go? I won’t be surprised if Deborah McGillivray doesn’t find that she’s being sued by Reba for harrassment (or maybe stalking).
    Tess, thanks for being the type of author where you can encourage your readers to express themselves more freely. No wonder we love ya!

  14. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    “Is there an author alive who hasn’t wanted to fire back a response along the lines of “what could you possibly know about good writing, you illiterate slut?” LOL, very funny, Tess.

  15. ec
    ec says:

    “Courtesy of Saturday Night Live”–I like it. As signifiers of humor go, it beats the hell out of an emoticon. 🙂 (heh…)

  16. Tess
    Tess says:

    As I get older, I realize that a lot of the cultural references I make are no longer familiar to a lot of people. To them, the old SNL phrase “you ignorant slut!” probably sounds really rude, and doesn’t make them laugh the way it makes me laugh every time I hear it.

  17. Tess
    Tess says:

    And here’s another disturbing trend: I’m encountering a number of young people who don’t get the significance of my donkeys’ names (Spock and Scotty.) Oh, my.

  18. Craig
    Craig says:

    The problem with “you ignorant slut” is that no one remembers James Kilpatrick and Shayna (sp?) Alexander from 60 minutes and that has been quite a while but not knowing the significance of Spock and Scotty? MERCY!!!

  19. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    Tess-we are getting old-the other daay I was given a senior discount without asking 🙂

  20. bob k
    bob k says:

    Oh Tess…I am with you on the kids not getting our cultural references. I work as an analyst – and am training a junior analyst who both my boss and I occasionally call “Grasshopper”…we had to explain it…

    We have tendency to actually say good night to the people in the office when we leave before they do…one night it was “Good night Bob, good night Julie…” and soon went into “Good night Mary Ellen, Good night John Boy”…he had no clue…

    Get Smart references…no clue…Cousin Itt…no clue…

  21. bob k
    bob k says:

    Oh…and I did have one more comment on the original post…

    I wasn’t clear, I think, in that I certainly understand the URGE to act as she did. It is the acting part that is the problem in my mind. As part of society, we do sometimes have to restrain ourselves for the greater good. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Who said that?

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