Writers are used to bad reviews. Even the most beloved bestsellers have a parade of one-star reviews on Amazon. Look up your favorite book, or an all-time classic, and you’ll find readers who trashed it.
And in this era of digital road rage, anyone can anonymously launch an attack on a writer. It can get vicious and personal. Reviews used to focus on things like plot and character development. Not anymore. Because now there are people I call “grievance collectors” who look for ways to be offended.
I started writing novels in 1998 and have written two dozen since, under a couple of pen names. You’ve probably never heard of them. I write political thrillers as Nick Harlow and rom-coms as Nic Tatano. My first professional sale was a Star Trek short story. I’ve never had a best seller. Like the majority of authors, I’m not getting rich. I’ve been fortunate to have a major publisher, HarperCollins, publish 10 of my books.
Still, like every writer, I always hope the stars will align and lightning will strike, landing me on the bestseller list. That said, every so often I run a promotion.
Amazon has a program in which authors can make an e-book free for a few days. The idea is to introduce readers to your work, hoping they might buy your other books, get some buzz going, etc. I’ve used this several times over the years and it has resulted in a spike in sales. You get a few thousand downloads on the free days, then wait a week or so to give people a chance to actually read the book.
So in December of 2020, I decided to schedule one of the regular promotions for my new novel, titled The Third Trump. It’s set a few hundred years in the future, in which America has become a socialist country. In this dystopian setting, a man discovers he’s a descendant of Donald Trump and sets about trying to save the country. Remember, this is fiction. These characters and this setting do not exist.
I work with a promotional company that gets the word out about free books. So I looked at their calendar for available dates, and, in one of the worst cases of bad timing, picked one that was open.
For a novel with “Trump” in the title.
You can probably guess where this is going.
So that day arrives. I checked my account and saw about three thousand people had downloaded the book. Terrific. Hopefully, I’d see some good reviews in a week.
But not on this day. Not in this polarized political environment. If I could have looked out a virtual window, I would have seen torches and pitchforks headed my way.
Within hours, one-star reviews hit Amazon. And these weren’t real reviews of the book, since no one could possibly read a three-hundred-page novel that fast.
These were personal attacks with phrases like “barely literate” “shame on the author” “poorly written” “for the uneducated masses.” Did any of these people actually read the novel? Of course not. They probably read the synopsis and saw that it was a book that looked favorably on a fictional character living a few hundred years in the future whose last name was Trump.
About a week later the real reviews started showing up. Today the book is rated 4.5 out of 5 on Amazon and 4.75 out of 5 on Goodreads (a book review site owned by Amazon.) It would be a lot higher without those one-star reviews. But the point of those leaving the first reviews was to hurt the sales of this book before it even had a chance to gain traction, and hurt me. How dare I write a positive book about a Republican - who doesn’t even exist except in my own head!
By the way, I’ve written political thrillers in which Democrats are the main characters. But those rarely sell, so I stopped writing them. For whatever reason, the books with conservatives as main characters outsell the ones with liberals about 50 to one.
Look, I’m used to getting a bad review from time to time. The taste in fiction is subjective. But if I was “barely literate” as one reviewer stated, I dare say HarperCollins would not have published my books. I’m not the best writer in the world and not the worst. People seem to enjoy my books. I consider myself a storyteller. I enjoy creating characters and putting them in entertaining stories. Probably because the books I like to read are entertaining. I’m not trying to make a point and don’t hide an agenda inside the plot. I don’t want a lecture when I’m reading, and don’t want to give one to readers.
And, bottom line, there’s this thing in the Constitution called free speech that allows authors to write whatever they want.
But this is apparently the world in which we live. A world in which people are so offended by fiction, they launch an attack. I’ve had people trash me because of the way a character looks and even about my choice of a character’s last name. Cancel culture took a shot at me even though I’m not a famous author, which proves no one is safe. But I’m still here and will continue writing.
I still don’t have a best seller, but these reviews didn’t hurt me at all. In fact, I sold twice as many books in 2021 than I did in 2020. I’m not apologizing for anything I’ve written unlike many who cave to the demands of the cancel mob. In fact, my latest book which will be out in about a month titled “Payback” is one that will probably make those same heads explode. My liberal friends realize what I write is fiction, and I’m just trying to give people a good story to read. If fictional characters offend people and cause them to run around with their hair on fire, those people need to get a life.
So, I’m ready for the vicious reviews when my new book is released.
Because that free speech thing applies to everyone. If you choose to use yours to launch a personal attack on someone you’ve never met, I guess that says more about you than anything I could write.
Randy Tatano lives in Brewton and is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow, and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer.. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.