Micheal Cobley

Interstellar Tactics




Arrogance & Pigheadedness: The Slings And Arrows Of Amazon Comments

Yes, I did it. I made the mistake a few months ago of actually responding to reader comments to a couple of my books on Amazon.  I suppose I felt so appalled at being doled out a 1-star review that I let my natural combativeness get the better of me and…off I went, bringing to bear a modicum of wit (though not malice) in defence of the book which I had worked very hard over, and which I knew with the certainty of past experience (of truly bad writing) that Seeds Of Earth is not a 1-star book.

Three sentences were what I wrote in framing a mild rebuttal of the review’s wholesale condemnation of SOE. And wow! – the responses it provoked.

Tell you what Mr Cobley, I’ve been using Amazon since it started and never felt the need to post before either. You appear to have created an exceptional case.” – was one, followed by;

His recommendation to avoid it has been taken up by me – you’re sheer arrogance and pig-headedness is clearly hiding a lot of insecurities about your writing. What a spectacular way to alienate your once and potential future audience.

If you had never replied you might have earned more respect and income from this. Because you’ve been a fool, you’ve lost both.”

Now, I have to keep reminding myself that, as other writer colleagues have impressed upon me, that the reading experience is very personal, with personal taste playing a large role. Which is fair enough. But I’m surprised by the anger I provoked – as if it somehow goes against some kind of cultural taboo for a writer to respond in defence of his own work. And the second comment’s conclusion begs the question – why would I earn respect by keeping my mouth shut? In what other field of human endeavour is respect earned by the gagging of the artist?

Going back to the original review, I think that if it bestowed 2-stars I would have gritted my teeth and got past it. But to be consigned to the bottom of the heap, along with the John Normans and the Lin Carters and other scarcely workmanlike writers, just stuck in my craw. Getting 1 star and a dismissive review did not needle any insecurities about my writing, rather it felt like bullying, it felt unnecessarily crushing (particularly in the context of a lack of other reviews by the same commentator). And if there is one thing that makes me take up the cudgels its an unfair, unjust judgement.

Hindsight is always 20-20 and I can see now that I should have just averted my eyes and moved on down the road. But I thought I would share this experience with you, partly to lay bare the oddness of the resentment some people clearly feel when a writer disagrees with criticism, but mainly as a rueful warning to my writer buddies – just don’t go there, guys, okay?

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Other Posts of Potential Interest:

  1. Reviews, Rebuttals and Other Interactions
  2. Got Them Ol` Magazine Rejection Blues
  3. Primeval: S3 Ep7 – Updated Pondering
  4. Ascendant Stars Review – The Guardian, Friday Nov 4th
  5. Odyssey Eastercon – After The Hurly-Burly part 2

20 Comments already, do join in...

  1. Jon Says:

    May 11th, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Not taking criticisms of the masses personal when you’ve written a book must be hard. But engaging stupid mobs of people, especially on the internet, is a gamble usually not worth the effort whether it’s book reviews or just regular internet forums. We all learn it at some point :)

    “Arguing on the internet is like running in the special olympics…” ;-)

  2. Kev B Says:

    May 15th, 2012 at 7:24 am

    I was searching for a new ‘space opera’ to read when I caught your comments on Amazon. I did think they were ill-conceived at the time, but they showed a passion so I bought Seeds of Earth anyway. I’m now halfway through Orphaned Worlds and loving it!

  3. rockitboy Says:

    May 15th, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Heh, I get the point, Jon – but there is an aspect to Amazon customer reviews/comments which militates against an author entering the fray, which is the whole seller-buyer foundation of the site itself. People who buy books and cds etc have a right to voice their opinion of it, and in the main dont expect to have their opinions called into question by the creator of said cultural artefacts. Arguing on the internet, though, might at times seem like a lost cause, but for me its one of life’s pleasures ;-) aye, I know…

  4. rockitboy Says:

    May 15th, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Kev, so glad to know that my intemperate remarks didn’t entirely put you off trying out my stuff. Guess I am one of life’s compulsive arguers, altho as you say venturing forth with a broadside in Amazon comments was indeed ill-conceived.

  5. 2theD Says:

    May 25th, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Yeah, that DC comment was a bit brutal. Though I gave Ascendant Stars a 2-star rating, I pretty much enjoyed Seeds of Earth and Orphaned Worlds. Most of the negative reviews on Amazon are just rushed, knee-jerk slop… like that defaming remark about plagiarism in Seeds of Earth.

  6. rockitboy Says:

    May 25th, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    2/5, eh? Oh well, my bad. On reflection, I could have used fewer characters, and maybe brought in less concepts and locales. But I was aiming for a kind of phantasmagoria of heady dashing here and there, as well as space battles that got bigger and bigger, along with an immensity of the arena of the struggle, and a double climax ending….but it all seems to have got lost in the frenetic dance of the characters. But I hope to learn from my mistakes…

  7. Alex Says:

    June 8th, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Interesting. The crux of it appears to be that the purchaser of a book, having parted with £5 or so of their hard-earned cash, thus feels empowered as a result to make whatever statements they wish regarding the item in question.

    I can see from a pragmatic perspective that there is a certain sense to that viewpoint within our capitalist societal model, and that a writer who needs an income from his writing would do well not to alienate his audience.

    However I do find myself wondering, how many writers actually chose their profession as as a path to untold riches (Jeremy Archer, perhaps, aside) ?

    Most writers, I would think, necessarily have to generate income from their books to support themselves – unless from the asset holding classes or unless willing to pursue writing as hobby rather than profession.

    Is it reasonable for a literate public, and Science Fiction readers in particular – the thinking people of our society – to take a view that their relationship with the author of a book is much the same as their relationship with the butcher or the local supermarket?

    (Plus – simpler maths questions please Mr. Cobley!)


  8. Alex Says:

    June 8th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    *Jeffrey, dear oh me, mind is going.

    (btw. I enjoyed Seeds. Just about to get going on Orphaned Worlds)

  9. rockitboy Says:

    June 8th, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    There are various ways in which SF writers (and writers in general) have to accomodate themselves to a) the commercial requirements of an SF publisher, b) the editorial instincts of a commissioning editor working within those requirements, c) the perceptions of the marketing department, and d) the actual conventions of the reading public. Ultimately, there is an element of rhetoric to our craft – whatever meaning or message we want to get across to the reader, we have to keep them turning the pages, which means producing what Damon Knight called ‘pleasures like beads on a string’, which is the ideal experience most writers want their readers to have.

    There’s also the down and dirty economics of it all – in the near future I hope to finalise getting my old Shadowkings fantasy trilogy prepared for the ebook market, which may provide another source of income. BTW, I happened across an excellent view on the Amazon matter which certainly put it in perspective for me –


  10. Robert Grimm Says:

    June 9th, 2012 at 2:31 am

    Loved Seeds of Earth when I got it two years ago. I’m just reading it again now as I’ve finally got around to getting Orphaned Worlds.
    Dont worry about what anyone says. If you do what what you are passionate about then you will succeed. Personally I love it if you wrote another book or series along similar lines. There is not enough SF that is not so fantastic that it is a turnoff…. for me anyhow.


  11. rockitboy Says:

    June 9th, 2012 at 9:45 am

    Many thanks for the kind words Robert – and I shall be interested to know what you think of the succeeding volumes. As for future projects, I want to write stories right across the genre spectrum, from steampunk to cyberpunk, from Indiana-Jones-style capers to heroic fantasy. But dont think that I’m done with the Humanitys Fire universe – I have more ideas for other novels in that setting. So I should be busy for a while yet.

  12. Stewart R Says:

    July 21st, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Dear Mr Cobley (old friend and lifelong buddy), all opinions are equally valid, even the ones founded upon little or no substance or education. We are probably wise to embrace our critics equally, be they for or agin, because they are telling us something worth knowing. There are people out there who love your books, and people who hate them. Those who hate will tend not to leave criticism, unless they REALLY hate. That you are not comfortable with such extremes of negative feedback is interesting, and may speak to hidden anxieties that you perhaps have not dealt with? I don’t know, but it seems to me there is something stirring deep beneath the still waters. Or something.

  13. rockitboy Says:

    July 24th, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Ah, me old mucker – well, we had a chat about this, no? I suppose there are always anxieties about the worth of what I’m writing, but it was less that than the feeling that I was being made the focus of an unjust and ill-considered, off-the-cuff put-down. I guess.

  14. RAW0540 Says:

    August 29th, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    5 star all the way! in my opinion mate, love your books very much enjoyed listening to humanity’s fire, the audio books. keep up the great work :) reader and listener for life o7

  15. rockitboy Says:

    September 2nd, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Thanks, Rick – kind words, m’man!

  16. Robert Grimm Says:

    September 3rd, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Just finnished the Humanities Fire series over the weekend and loved it. We need more SF like that, lots of races, big ship battles, many plots. I note you mention that you have not finnished with that particular universe yet. You have certainly left plenty to play with for another book or three… legion survivors, Tygran identity revelations, embarrassed and blunted (but still pre-emminent) Hegemony, earth and Vox getting on again and throwing off the Hedge. I’m military and can think of a few plot lines.

    Once again, love it. Many thanks.


  17. Tim Lieder Says:

    September 24th, 2012 at 6:26 am

    Is it reasonable for a literate public, and Science Fiction readers in particular – the thinking people of our society – to take a view that their relationship with the author of a book is much the same as their relationship with the butcher or the local supermarket?

    Yes. Yes it is. The writer is offering a product. It’s a product that the person can buy or the person can not buy in favor of meat.

    In fact writers should be treated worse than butchers at the local supermarket since the butchers actually give you meat. A writer gives you a lot of prose that may add up to something that you quite enjoy and may add up to a whole lot of cliches, bad characters and turgid plotting.

    Blather all you want about capitalism, but there’s no reason why Anne Rice deserves to make a living or deserves anyone’s good opinion of her (especially after memnoch the devil).

  18. rockitboy Says:

    September 24th, 2012 at 9:41 am

    My my, Tim, old bean, 2 posts in the one day. Heck, I have a fan in NY! Anyway, seems to me that the substance of your mikeybashing is that the writer should just resign themselves to being a punchbag, a pinata for any disgruntled reader to have a go at. Well, sorry but no – having endured various forms of bullying at certain points in my earlier years that is just not an option. However, it became abundantly clear to me that the Amazon comments threads is precisely the wrong venue in which to duke it out with one’s detractors since, as you pointed out, in a marketplace things are commodities and there’s no point arguing over a market transaction.

    Further to your comment above, I went looking for your blog and found that entry about my bitchy whining, which I found fairly amusing, must say. I especially like this bit –

    “But anyhow, having read Michael Cobley’s blog, found him to be an irritating fat British Leftist who is quite content to point out hypocrisy of people condemning dictators but quite happy to give Israel bashers a free pass.”

    Shit, only irritating? I’m gonna have to up my game.

    Oh, and that’s Mr Fat British Leftist to you.

  19. Kevin B Says:

    November 6th, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Well I’m about 6 chapters in to Ascendant Stars after a post-Orphaned Worlds hiatus (probably a touch too much plot for my little brain in that one) when I stumbled across Robert Grimm’s spoilers in the comments above!

    AS has kicked off fantastically well and I’m still glad I took a chance on Humanity’s Fire. I just hope he’s not given away all the best bits.

    Kev B, Fife.

  20. rockitboy Says:

    November 14th, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Gah, sorry about delay in getting this up – clearly had a brainfail somewhere. Anyway, thanks for the kind words and hope you made it to the end without a dose of the hi-octane plot twist-itis!

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