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Flatbush Flashback

On Vicious Hacks and Conspiracy Theorists

Even more common than the practice of authors paying for rave reviews, which I discussed yesterday, is the practice of authors anonymously trashing competitors' books. My John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, seems to be a magnet for such attacks, probably because, for the most part, I'm competing with a collection of vicious hacks.

One such review, titled "Worst Book Ever!" was posted on Amazon U.K. soon after Nowhere Man was published. "This book is just a bunch of lies," the anonymous critic (whose identity is transparent) wrote. "If I could rate this book 0 stars I would, but the computer makes you rate it 1 star and up. I think Robert Rosen should read [name redacted]'s books. Maybe he will get some sense knoked (sic) into him." He then posted a similar review on Amazon U.S., this time referring to his own book as "masterful."

I learned a long time ago that such critiques can help sell a book, provided that there are enough positive reviews to balance them out. Hatchet jobs make books seem interesting and controversial. Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, has 3,800 one-star reviews to go along with its 4,700 five-star reviews.

Yesterday, I also said that I never have and never will pay for a review. On one occasion, though, I have gone over to the dark side and anonymously trashed another author’s book. But it wasn’t a competing author and it was a special case, the first of its kind: A high-profile conspiracy theorist published a book implicating me in a CIA-backed plot to murder John Lennon.

I remember standing in a bookstore in Chicago, the week that Nowhere Man was scheduled to be published, reading this book in a state of shock and horror, and wondering how anybody who called himself a journalist could a) believe such a thing, and b) publish it without speaking to me first.

A few months later I got the brilliant idea to post an anonymous one-star review of this book on Amazon. What I wrote, though, was completely true: “Not only is this book so murkily written that it borders on unreadable, but the author offers not a shred of concrete evidence to support his paranoid fantasy—that the CIA was behind the death of every one of the [10 rock stars mentioned in the subtitle]. This is trash fiction masquerading as investigative journalism.”

Naturally, the author guessed who was behind this review and accused me on his blog of viciously attacking and ridiculing him.

Beaver Street has yet to be anonymously trashed by a competing author. Perhaps that’s because it’s usually porn stars who write books about pornography, and your average porn star has more integrity than your average conspiracy theorist or Beatles biographer. Or maybe porn stars just have better things to do.
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