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Flatbush Flashback

Intellectual Masturbation Fodder

It was inevitable. After 18 months of positive reviews, including some of the best reviews I’ve ever received for anything I’ve ever written, a critic has come along and trashed Beaver Street.

As a rule, I don’t argue with critics, because there’s no winning. Everybody is entitled to his or her opinion. However, in my opinion, if you’re going to trash a book, then stick to the facts. Do not make up shit that’s demonstrably false, and then base your opinion on these misrepresentations. Because, inevitably, somebody’s going to call you on it. And when your misrepresentations or “lies,” as some might describe them, are brought to light, it’s going to undercut the credibility of the review, the publication it ran in, and you, the critic. This is especially true if you’re writing for a publication that’s generally perceived as “credible.”

The review in question, “Masturbation Fodder,” was posted this weekend on a British site called Review 31, which describes itself as a provider of “intelligent, nuanced reviews of the most interesting new books,” and describes its contributors as “a diverse mix of accomplished intellectuals.”

The intellectual in question, Kate Gould, of Edinburgh, Scotland, is the author of a book on flashers. This is what she said about Beaver Street: “Rosen excluded female pornographers entirely from his history. I suspect he was too caught up in his own juvenile dabbling to notice their existence.”

That’s quite a blurb! But anybody who has read Beaver Street in its entirety (rather than, say, select portions of two or three chapters) is aware that “female pornographers” are one of the book’s main subjects. I pointed this out on the Review 31 site, where another critic, Rich Flannagan, agreed that Gould “could have gotten her facts right” and suggested that she should have read the book thoroughly. But he also said that, in his opinion, the subtitle, A History of Modern Pornography, was “a little misleading.” He thought Beaver Street was more of a memoir.

“That’s why I called it ‘A History’ rather than ‘The History,’” I told Flannagan.

This was Gould’s response to the above comments: “I did read the book thoroughly. A very small number of female pornographers were listed in the index and a few made brief appearances in the book. That doesn’t come close to a representation of the work done by female pornographers even for ‘A’ history.”

To which I said: “Kate, you wrote that ‘Rosen excluded female pornographers entirely.’ Now you’re saying ‘a very small number of female pornographers were listed in the index.’ There are approximately a dozen female pornographers listed in the index, both by real name and pseudonym. In the High Society chapters, I describe in detail both Gloria Leonard’s and ‘Maria Belanari’s’ work. In the Swank chapters I talk about Dian Hanson and describe in detail the work of ‘Pam Katz’ (real name Joyce Snyder), who wrote and produced 4 classic X-rated films, and ‘Georgina Kelly.’ I could go on, but my point is that in your review you misrepresented an important aspect of the book.”

And that is where the first international Beaver Street literary dustup stands as of this morning. May I encourage you to go to Review 31, and weigh in with your opinion. In my opinion, the critic in question is crying out for attention. Read More 
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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. Read More 
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My Book Promotion Philosophy

It happens to the best of them. Herman Melville, for example. Moby Dick, published to mixed reviews in 1851, didn't find a lot of readers in Melville's lifetime and wasn't recognized as a great book till long after Melville was dead. I've heard writers say (though not recently) that they're writing for future generations.

I was never much into the idea of "making it big" after I was dead. I mean really, what's the point in spending years writing a book that nobody reads when you're alive? Yes, I write for money, but the thing that keeps me going day after day, especially during those long stretches between fat (and not so fat) paychecks, is a primal need to communicate, which I'm not counting on being able to do from beyond the grave.

That's why I've always done everything possible to bring my books to the attention of people who might enjoy reading them while I’m still here. My philosophy has always been: Talk to anybody who wants to talk to you about your book for as long as they want to talk about it, and go anywhere people are interested in your work. I’m the only American writer I know who’s traveled to Chile to do book promotion, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself.

Since 2000, when my John Lennon bio, Nowhere Man, was published, I’ve done more than 300 interviews, treating journalists from the most obscure websites as if they were Oprah. Cause you just never know. In fact, I’ve turned down only one interview request ever—from a Holocaust-denying conspiracy theorist who believes I’m the Zionist-funded CIA spymaster who gave the order to whack Lennon.

But there’s one thing I’ve never done and never will do to sell books: Pay for a positive review. A recent article in The New York Times pointed out that Amazon has been flooded with bogus five-star reviews written by critics who don’t read the books they’re reviewing and which authors are paying for: one review for $99, 50 for $999.

I wouldn’t do it because fake reviews sound fake; few people believe the reviews they read on Amazon; and even real five-star reviews (or rave reviews anywhere) don’t help much when it comes to selling books. (If they did, Beaver Street would be selling a lot better than it is.)

Which is to say, if I’m going to get more people to read Beaver Street while I’m alive, then I’m going to continue doing it the old fashion way—speak to anybody who wants to speak to me and go anywhere I’m invited.

So, I hope to see you next week on Talk Story TV and in the Book House in Albany, NY. Read More 
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On Raves and Hatchet Jobs

The best lesson I've learned about reviews since the publication of Nowhere Man in 2000 is that a vicious review will sell as many books as a rave review. And, God knows, I've gotten enough of both to speak with authority on the subject. In fact, since Nowhere Man was published in Italy this week, two more reviews of the book have been posted--a five-star rave on Amazon Italy (in Italian) and a one-star hatchet job on Amazon Germany (in English). These critiques serve as a microcosm of what Nowhere Man has been subjected to for the past 11 years.

What I find fascinating about such divergent opinions is that the reviewers appear to be talking about two entirely different books. It’s a perfect illustration of the Oscar Wilde quote from the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray: “Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.”

Antony, the Italian reviewer, described Nowhere Man as an “excellent” book, and a narrative that “portrays a rock star as very sensitive and vulnerable.” He also said that the author and Paolo Palmieri, the translator, “have made John Lennon one of us,” and that it’s “a book to always have on hand, and occasionally to open and read a few lines to understand the simplicity” of life.

Dulce Erdt, the German reviewer, however, said that Nowhere Man is “confusing” and “revolting,” lacks “sensitivity” and “respect,” paints a “too negative” portrait of Lennon, and then insists, “We all know that John Lennon was not a ‘nowhere’ man, why is this author trying to tell the world the contrary?”

The other good lesson I learned about reviews is to never argue with critics, especially ignorant ones, like Dulce Erdt. But sometimes their ignorance is just too overwhelming to ignore. Which is why I will take this opportunity to point out to Fraulein Erdt that some of us are aware that Lennon’s song “Nowhere Man” is autobiographical. In other words, I didn’t have to tell the world about Lennon’s “Nowhere Man” status. He beat me to it by 34 years. Read More 
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The Profanity Problem on Amazon US

Yesterday I wrote about the problems readers were having posting Beaver Street reviews on Amazon UK—a computer was flagging sexually explicit keywords, and rejecting the reviews. But when a fellow author and professional critic, David Comfort, wrote to Amazon UK to ask why his review wasn’t posted, a human being read the computer-rejected review and posted it exactly as Comfort had originally written it.

After his review was posted in the UK, Comfort then contacted Amazon US to ask the same question: Why wasn’t my Beaver Street review posted?

Here is Amazon’s response:

Hello David,
I read your recent review of “Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography” and found it violated our guidelines. I did notice that it has been approved on the Amazon UK site, but we don’t allow profanity in our US Customer Reviews.
Your review couldn’t be posted on Amazon.com as written. I would recommend revising your review and submitting it again. Specifically, the following parts cannot be posted on Amazon.com:
”cocksmen,” “blowjob,” and “newcummer”
Please take a look at our Review Guidelines for information about acceptable review content.


Comfort censored his review and Amazon US posted it. Cocksmen became studs. Blowjob became fellatio. Newcummer became freshman.

Dear readers, keep in mind that Amazon reviews are vital to the success of Beaver Street. If you’ve read the book and have something to say about it, please post a review—but watch your language, especially in the US. If Amazon doesn’t post it, ask them why and they will tell you, just as they told Comfort.

Though Beaver Street has not yet been published here, it is available through marketplace sellers on Amazon US, or through me. (Click on “Contact,” above, and send me an e-mail. I’ll send you the details.)

And thanks for reading (and writing)! Read More 
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A Note to My Readers About Amazon UK Reviews

Fortunately, I’m not the only person who’s been wondering why, up to a few days ago, no reader reviews of Beaver Street had appeared on Amazon UK, where the book is readily available.

David Comfort, author of The Rock & Roll Book of the Dead, and a professional critic, looked into the matter after he submitted a review to Amazon UK—similar to his review that ran on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website—which was not posted. He wrote to Amazon to ask what was going on and received the following response:

Hello Mr. Comfort,
We encourage all feedback on the Amazon.co.uk website, both positive and negative.
However, it has come to our attention that your review of “Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography” does not comply with our customer reviews guidelines as:
We don’t allow obscene or distasteful content including sexually explicit or sexually gratuitous comments in Customer Reviews.
It is focused on the author and their life rather than reviewing the book itself.


Comfort then sent the following letter to Amazon UK:

Amazon UK Editors:
Are you still in the Victorian Age, or the 21st Century? If the latter, you should find nothing sexually explicit or gratuitous in my review of “Beaver Street.” Please point out the four letter words.
As for your objection that the piece is focused on the author, not the book itself—if you READ the book, rather than blindly pontificate, you will discover that it is AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL and all about the author and his experiences.
If you fancy yourselves as a moral police—not a Free Speech protective bookseller as your customers imagine—please let us know so we can take our business and reviews elsewhere.
David Comfort


The result: Comfort’s review was read by a human, rather than scanned by a computer for objectionable language, and posted exactly as he’d originally written it.

So, a word of warning to future readers of Beaver Street who will be submitting reviews to Amazon UK: Be careful with your language. Read the Amazon customer review guidelines. And if you submit a review that’s not posted, then write to Amazon to find out why. You may get an Amazon human to read it and post it.

Tomorrow: David Comfort corresponds with the good people at Amazon US. Read More 
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The Pornography Explained

It’s not in my nature to complain about any publicity that I get for Beaver Street. As I’ve found out time and again, a vicious review can sell as many books as a good one. What’s important is that people are reading my books, and care enough to write something about them.

But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon: A series of Beaver Street reviews has gone viral, and they’re all mash-ups of blurbs, press material, and previously published reviews, with an occasional dash of original thought thrown in for good measure. And they’re all written in a weird kind of subliterate English that sounds as if it were partially computer-translated, perhaps from Bengali.

In one review, titled “Beaver Street: The Pornography Explained,” the writer says, “The real actors behind the scene had to sweat for long hours to fetch something ever new so that the consumers could satisfy their ‘affluent’ needs.”

That’s the strangest metaphor for masturbation I’ve ever heard.

In a microblog titled “Beaver Street By Robert Rosen: Entertaining and Insightful,” the author refers to “X-male” and “Spider-Male.” (X-Men and Spider-Man, if you haven’t figured it out.)

I pictured a guy in India, who speaks English, but not well enough to express complex thoughts, and who doesn’t quite understand American pop culture, writing these reviews for 25 cents each.

Other people have pointed out that you don’t have to go to India to find writers willing to crank out articles for 25 cents, or less. You can find them here, in America, working on content farms, like Demand Media—21st-century digital sweatshops where, in some cases, writers are required to produce an “article” every 25 minutes over the course of a 70-hour workweek.

The purpose of these articles is to generate page views and advertising revenue by placing “high demand” search terms in their headlines. And they’ve changed the classic rules of publicity. No longer is it all good, even if they do spell your name right. In some cases, publicity is just bizarre. Though I suppose it is good that “Beaver Street” has been identified as a high-demand search term. Read More 
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