Thursday, October 21, 2010

Darian Ray, Who Are You?

I recently needed to track down the ISBN for September Fair. high res september fairAmazon.com seemed the quickest route, so I logged on, searched for my book, scrolled down, highlighted the ISBN, pasted it where I needed it, and went on with my life.

If you’re an author, you’ve already caught the lie in the above paragraph. It’s in the last phrase: “went on with my life.” You’d have to be a superhero to leave your Amazon book page without at least skimming the reader reviews.

My self-involvement is not the point of this post, though. It’s the springboard. You see, in my skimming, I found six generous reviews and one slam. The slam was by a reviewer named Darian Ray. Stick with me. I’m going somewhere with this, and it’s not where you think.

I clicked on Darian Ray’s name to be brought to his/her other reviews. Curiosity, let’s call it, because we’re polite and don’t want to draw attention to my insecure defensiveness. What I found was that Darian is a self-proclaimed mystery author with no publications who has reviewed at least four mysteries a week since 2006 and not liked a one of them.

(Let’s take a break to acknowledge that there are legitimate reasons to post a critical review of a book, including one I’ve written. Now back to the interesting stuff.)

That’s over a thousand mysteries Darian Ray has reviewed, and image apparently every one of them, from Laura Lippman’s bestseller to the little POD author trying to make a go of it, stunk to high heaven. And Ray went to Amazon.com to tell the world, sometimes daily.

I considered that maybe Ray really was a mystery author and, under a pseudonym, a mystery reviewer who thought the best way to raise his/her boat was by sinking everyone else’s. I quickly discarded that notion, though. If you’ve spent ten seconds in the mystery community, you know there is no match for its supportiveness (check out this recent article by Harlen Coben for a roundabout example of that: “Return of the Class of ‘80”).

But what explanation does that leave? Why would someone who apparently liked mysteries only slightly more than heart attacks spend so much time reading and reviewing them? (And I really think this person read them, based on the facts s/he dropped in her reviews.) image And what does this say about reader reviews in general? I take them to heart when online shopping, but can they deliberately be used to harm a product or person? Are there similar stories out there, or was this an isolated case?

I appreciate your input on this because I really have spent some brain hours on it, and just can’t find a logical explanation. And as an update, I recently contacted Amazon.com to suss out the story on Darian Ray. They removed all of his/her reviews a week later, on what grounds I’m not sure.

31 comments:

Jessie Chandler said...

Jess,

I think you did a great job sniffing out this mysterious non-reviewer. How interesting Amazon took all the posts off by this person...hmmm..I think I smell the makings of a little murder mystery here.

Bad reviews can indeed sink ships,(or feel like they can) and it sucks eggs that there are bad bad peeps out there that will drop a negative review as easily as they drink their daily coffee.

Good for you for pursuing this!!

Jessie

Shel said...

Wow. That really does sound fishy.
I read a lot, but I usually don't write reviews. That's because while I know what I like, I usually don't know why I like it! It's only recently that I've started adding short tags to my books on Shelfari to go with the stars I give; and I only do that so that books I enjoy will get some positive feedback. I don't write negative things, EVER. I can't imagine being mean enough to review thousands of mysteries and hate every single one of them.

paullamb said...

Maybe Darian Ray is a composite of a half dozen reviewers. That could explain the frequency of the reviews.

What you don't address is whether the complains Ray raises are valid or not. Does he/she had some legitimate gripes, or is it sour grapes.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Jess, a couple of years ago this Darian Ray posted a scathing review for my Odelia book "The Curse of the Holy Pail." Bad reviews are a part of writing, but when a bad review is vicious in nature, I dig into the reviewer to see what's going on. Like you, I found this Darian Ray to be highly suspicious and posted a comment on the review. I just checked and that review is now gone (THANKS!). My guess is Amazon has received a lot of complaints about that reviewer and finally looked into the nature of his/her reviews and found them as suspicious as we did.

Jess Lourey said...

Thanks, Jessie! I wish I knew the real story behind this reviewer. It's got the makings of a murder mystery indeed.

Jess Lourey said...

Shel, thanks for posting. I wouldn't post a negative review either--there's too much negative energy out in the world already--but I do appreciate those reviewers who give an honest criticism. For example, in May Day, my first book, someone posted a really balanced review that included some positives and some negatives. One of the negatives was that the accent I'd given one of my supporting characters was grating and unnecessary. She was right. I toned it down in future books.

Jess Lourey said...

That is a possibility I hadn't considered, Paul.

I would have to say that Darian Ray's complaints appeared legitimate, in that s/he seemed to have read most of the books s/he was commenting on. So yeah, any opinion a person has after reading a book is their legitimate opinion, but for me, that wasn't the issue. What I was curious about was why someone would keep reading mysteries when the genre seemed to disappoint them every single time.

I envisioned a cranky old man going to the same McDonald's every day at the same time, ordering the same hamburger, and then shuffling back to his table, muttering just loudly enough for everybody to hear how awful McDonald's hamburgers were.

Jess Lourey said...

Sue Ann, "The Curse of the Holy Pail" was a hoot. We've definitively established that Darian Ray either did not read the books s/he reviewed or had a hidden agenda.

Alan Orloff said...

I must be a real loser then. Mr./Ms. Ray didn't even bother to review my book!

On behalf of authors everywhere, thanks for your diligence, Jess.

Beth Groundwater said...

All I can say, Jess, is that I'm glad you nudged Amazon into taking this reviewer's universally negative comments off the website before he got around to dissing any of my books!

Jess Lourey said...

Alan, if you'd like, I could post my favorite negative review of all time to your book:

"The covers of this book are too far apart."

Of course, I'd be a liar on two counts because 1) I didn't think up that review and 2) nobody would complain if your books were longer.

Jess Lourey said...

You may still have your chance, Beth. I can't imagine someone who put that much energy into posting negative reviews of mystery under a (apparent) pseudonym wouldn't just come up with a new pseudonym and go right back to it. The question is, why do it in the first place? I just can't imagine, and my mind hates an unsolved puzzle.

michael said...

First, I think you writers worry way too much about Amazon's reviews. Word of mouth is vital to any book's success but the Amazon forums seem to be more helpful for word of mouth than the reviews. I think it is because we rather listen to someone we know, a friend or even a e-friend, than a critic we never heard off.

Currently I am just a reader working on a book but I have written professionally (in film), been an editor (web comics) and a TV critic for print (please forgive me for the last one there).

I miss the power I had as a critic. TV shows exist today based totally on critics opinions. I am sure it is your experience that it has to be Amazon four stars or you won't read it.

Jess, you had six positive and one negative, Why do you think any reader would ignore the positive half a dozen and listen only to the bad review?

I wish more readers would post comments on writers' blogs and let all of you know things will be ok. You don't have to worry about what every Amazon critic writes, the real killer is if my best friend, neighbor or co-worker hated your book.

Jess Lourey said...

Welcome to the discussion, Michael!

First, this is a good life (and not just writing) perspective, so thank you for talking me off the ledge:

"Jess, you had six positive and one negative, Why do you think any reader would ignore the positive half a dozen and listen only to the bad review?"

Second, this is the crux, isn't it?

"You don't have to worry about what every Amazon critic writes, the real killer is if my best friend, neighbor or co-worker hated your book."

Because while true, I'm willing to bet my Minnesota driver's license that your friend, neighbor, or co-worker hasn't heard of my books. They, however, might like funny mysteries and so search for them on Amazon or some other site with reader reviews, be brought to a review of one of mine, and not like the general scent of the feedback and so move on.

This refines my original question: how much power do/should reader reviews have? Is the internet the great equalizer, in that everyone can be a critic and so everyone's opinion has weight, or does it make it so no one's opinion has weight?

We can speak anecdotally or bring in research, but I really am curious what people think about this.

Dana Fredsti said...

Well, first of all, Jess, anyone who posted a uniformly negative review about any of your books would get my auto-stink eye since I love them so much. Like you, I don't mind genuine critiques of my books, but when the reviews are just 'this is shit, your book is a BASTARD book and I hate its ass face!' then I have to go beyond the fact that some people don't like my writing and wonder about the reviewer's agenda. and in this case, it sounds like Darien Ray hates anything he/she did not write him/herself. There's such a difference between a thoughtful review, be it positive, negative or mixed, and a shred-job.

Michael, I actually wrote a post on why writers tend to focus on the one negative out of many positives because I found myself doing the same thing. It sparked much discussion. But it was definitely a common theme amongst the writers who weighed in!

Jess Lourey said...

Hahah! Your post made me laugh out loud, Dana Fredsti, and yes, I'm 40 and so don't abbreviate my physical reactions.

Check out Dana's compellingly honest post here:

http://www.danafredsti.com/blog/?p=509

Dana Fredsti said...

hee hee... No LOL for our Jess!

How the heck did you find my post so quickly? Dang, you're good...

Mark said...

I'd actually run across Darian before, and its reviews confused me. Why keep reading something you obviously hate? What's in it for you?

I write reviews. Used to write a ton at Amazon, now post a few there but mainly post at a site called Epinions. I will tell you that if I don't like something, I don't go back for seconds. I have no need to be a reviewer who gives out all stars equally. Reading is still a hobby, not a job. I want to spend my time reading what I enjoy.

Having said that, I do have some negative reviews when the book was truly bad.

As you have said, negative reviews do happen. Not every book is to every person's tastes. However, I just don't get someone who is constantly negative. How can you hate everything?

Stephen Parrish said...

Hi Jess. I'm proud to be one of the six. I think readers who habitually write bad reviews are compensating for something. I don't want to speculate on exactly what, but this might help them.

Jess Lourey said...

I'm with you, Mark. It defies logic why a person who clearly doesn't like mysteries would read hundreds of them. Maybe we can springboard off this situation to add a new word to the lexicon?

"I don't know how he can complain about the quality of football today but watch every single game. He's such a Darian Ray."

Speaking of, as of yesterday, I've turned "Favre" into a verb. As in, "I miss you, so please send me a photo, but don't Favre it." This is what I, a longtime Packers fan, have been reduced to.

Jess Lourey said...

Hee hee, Stephen. I'd remove your post if you weren't one of six people in the whole wide world who like my books. The funny thing is, I assumed Darian Ray was a woman. Weird. I wonder what stereotypes drove us to our different conclusions?

Darian Ray said...

After reading both this blog and the ensuing commentary, I reiterate that there is no writing talent in this genre besides me.

I strike again!

Jess Lourey said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!!

Talk about a hypothesis that disproves itself. :)

Just one question, Darian--are you a man or a woman?

Darian Ray said...

[Building suspense]

Darian Ray said...

It's a plot building tool. You should try it sometime.

Darian Ray said...

Today's mini-mystery:

An aspiring high school track star opts to ride atop a large stack of Port-O-Pits in the back of a moving pick-up truck.

Suddenly a jolt and a free-fall! Wrists are broken. Mayhem ensues.

Questions, oh questions! Was she pushed? Was it merely a poor decision to be up there in the first place? Who can get to the bottom of this?

Jess Lourey said...

Unless being dumb is a mystery, I don't think that one's going to sell any books. I've been wrong before, though.

Peter?

Darian Ray said...

Okay, you caught me.

What gave it away (other than the poor punctuation)?

Thanks for the chuckles.

michael said...

Jess, you asked me what is the power of the review. So I thought you might enjoy reading why I purchase "May Day" for my Kindle awhile ago.

I read many blogs such as this one and when a book is mentioned or a writer blogs something interesting I often will visit Amazon to check out the author and book. If the author has more than one book I will check the synopsis to see which title interests me most to check first. I ignore the stars. I then check the first line and last line in Publishers Weekly review. I do not care if the reviewer liked it (though it helps) I am looking for key words. I bought "May Day" during a period I was reading many modern cozy (aka romantic comedy mysteries). Now I am in a thriller period. Of the many key words only one must appear, humor. I enjoy reading comedy genre books.

Next step (this is where "May Day" caught my eye) I look at the scrolling lists Amazons has of other books bought by people who bought this book. There is my word of mouth.

If I need more information about the books, such as the entire list of authors in an collection, I will check the reviews. For products such as an office chair or clothing I will read the reviews for what experiences the customers had with the product. For books, I really do not care if the reviewer liked it or not.

I spotted your book as I was looking at a similar book by another author. I click to yours, found it was available for Kindle at a price that was fair. Now after all this you still have not made a sale. I downloaded a sample and read your writing.

All this stuff that brought me to your book was nice, but the real deal maker was I liked the way you write. And all the Darian Rays, all the other trolls, and all the other people using the review page for personal reasons including the one star silliness mean nothing to me. All that mattered with "May Day" was I read the sample of the book and wanted to read more.

Jess Lourey said...

Sigh. Who knew it could be so fun to be proven wrong? Thanks, Michael.

Shel said...

I forgot to mention: I don't READ reviews, either, LOL. Jess, I found you (and a lot of the other authors of Midnight Ink), through this blog, and then checked out the blurbs for your books at Fantastic Fiction's site. I refuse to read Amazon reviews, because of people like Darian Ray, and dare I say it, Harriet what's her face...whom in my opinion ought to be banned from reviewing anything, ever again, in any public venue.
Anyway, I don't read them anywhere else, either.
I am, however, what the folks over at Killer Characters call a "book booster". If I like it, I'll put a short description and a link on my Facebook, I'll talk it up to my friends, I'll post about it on my blog. The only problem with that is, my blog and Facebook don't get as many hits as Amazon; so it doesn't do y'all as much good.
The problem I'm having at the moment isn't "Did I like it or not", it's "How many books can I afford to buy this week?" I wish I could afford to buy every single one of y'all's back titles, but to give you an idea..I put everything Midnight Ink had up on Books on Board on m Wishlist there. My Wishlist there now totals 36 titles at a grand total of $380.12. Not all of those are Midnight Ink authors but I'd say about 75% of that list is. I'll chisel it down eventually, but it's not easy, considering the 20 or so new releases each month to add to what I've already got on that wishlist. The FIRST thing I'll do if I ever win the lottery is buy every ebook I want...