Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Harriet Klausner under seige

It has just been pointed out to me that Harriet the Prolific is being gunned down big time over on the Amazon.com site. [see here]

It seems a group of disparate people have got together to disparage and shatter the "HK" myth (I kept reading that as Hong Kong which was a bit disconcerting.) They are posting their opinions on the comments section of the latest reviews done by the redoutable Harriet. She did, after all, post 44 reviews for March 11th which does seem, um, a little on the prolific side. And that's not apparently unusual for her. Gives a new definition to speed reading, doesn't it? As one of the commentators points out, it would take her a whole day just to pen the reviews - and that's without reading the books.

Outsourcing (perhaps HK really does mean Hong Kong?) by publishers trying to boost sales seems to be the explanation put forward.

What does disconcert me a bit is that the commentators are extraordinarily vitriolic in their comments about the thousands of books "HK" is supposedly reviewing - they are all trash. I am not sure how they come to that amazing conclusion (unless they can do a Harriet and read tens of books a day). Perhaps it is merely the process of being read by Harriet that is sufficient to condemn a book as worthy only of being consigned to a third world loo?

I guess there are just too many supposedly literary types out there to whom the word "genre" implies "evilly bad", and in this case it means science fiction, fantasy, vampires, thrillers, romances, chick lit, detective tales, erotica, police procedurals, media tie-ins, historical novels, family sagas, mysteries, comic novels - in fact everything from "An Irish Country Doctor" to "Speed Dating". Harriet, after all, reads them all...

Quite obviously, there is no single Harriet Klausner doing all this. Which raises the question: who's paying? Would any publisher bother? Why? Does a Harriet Klausner review carry such weight that it would boost sales? Are they kidding? (The average author reaction to any Amazon review, let alone Harriet's, is that they make very little difference one way or another.)

There is one thing the commentators have got right, though. This shouldn't happen.

This kind of "reviewing" is dishonest, it devalues all reader reviews and makes a mockery of the whole process. Every genuine reader reviewer out there should be up in arms - it insults them. The whole thing is unworthy of Amazon or anyone else involved.

{My theory, btw, is that there was once a real Harriet Klausner...}

12 comments:

KarenEMiller said...

I read an interview with her at some point, via the Locus webpage I think. Anyhow. I think it has reached the point where there are serious questions raised about the legitimacy of the reviews.

But it's offensive to me that other people would trash a book just because she reviewed it, whoever she is these days. It's not the writer's fault. We have no say over who passes a public opinion about our work.

Sigh.

Everywhere you look, a bloody controversy!

Kendall said...

I think she's real and even posts the "reviews," which are only useful to me as the plot summaries they are. There's no value to me in reviews from someone who gives everything 4-5 stars on Amazon. To me this implies (a) has no opinion, (b) doesn't know how to use a 5-point scale, or (c) dishonesty. I always figured she "likes/loves" all books to keep getting free review copies from publishers. I remember reading a blog from someone who was let go from a publisher; the blogger complained that HK called her up solely to find out how she'd keep getting free books! How thoughtful of HK.

Sadly, TIME Magazine has confused prolific with influential in an article I somehow overlooked (I subscribe to TIME) back in December.

The Guardian seems more skeptical, but not enough. I'm baffled the author of that article went to Amazon just to see who was a top reviewer (again, prolific--not necessarily useful!) just to find out what book to buy a friend. It reads like fake backstory to bolster a weak article.

Glenda Larke said...

I'm pretty sure she's real too, Kendall, and I think she started out reading the books she "reviewed" as well. But I doubt that is still true. She even seems to have widened the types of genre she reviews, and the writing style of the review seems to fluctuate widely.

For February she reviewed 202 books. That's 7.2 a day for 28 days. Plus writing the review. Hmm. Even in her interviews she never claimed that many.

She seems to be doing even better for March In the first 11 days she put up reviews of 168 books. That's 15.2 books a day.

I was actually more disturbed by the strange vitriol of the commentators towards the books that she reviewed...especially as I have also been reviewed by the incredible Harriet!

hrugaar said...

Perhaps Harriet has set up an atelier where she has hack reviewers perched at Dickensian desks all scribbling or typing away, and she just puts her name to the finished product and collects her fee. Though I suppose she might call it a 'school' of reviewing. :oD

Why jo pleb should be reviling the books that get reviewed makes no sense to me at all. I mean, were there evidence that authors actually did pay to have 'Harriet' grind out a review for them, it might be grounds for wondering what drove them to such a desperate measure (heh) - but that doesn't rule out the possibility that the book itself might still be an unrecognised masterpiece.

I'm assuming you didn't pay to have your book reviewed, glenda. :o)

Glenda Larke said...

No Hrugaar, I am a poverty-stricken author!

Back on the thread about paying for reviews, an author who did pay a reviewer did put up a reply, though...

See January 23rd '07.

hrugaar said...

Poverty-stricken - but hey, what's money compared to having the rain forest for your back yard. :o)

Kendall said...

Woah, she's more prolific than ever? I had wondered if she just posted what she was told to, without actually reading -- that would explain different writing styles. ;-)

I'm not so worried about vitriol aimed at an obvious scam....

Lonnie E. Holder said...

I am one of those individuals who has posted numerous comments regarding Harriet's reviews. Hopefully I have not thrashed the books themselves.

My most recent comments are focused strictly on the quality of her reviews rather than the books. My comments are becoming more constructive rather than destructive.

I agree with all the comments here. It is impossible for any one person to read that many books and post reviews for them. I do not think Harriet is a plot by publishers. On the other hand, I could see Harriet posting a summary written by a publisher, but her reviews are so awful that that explanation seems unlikely too. I think it is more likely that "Harriet" is actually multiple reviewers working together. Some of "Harriet's" reviews seem very different in style than others. Some are absolutely horrendous and others are readable. I am guessing that "Harriet" is actually up to ten people, possibly all women, working together.

In any case, Harriet is an embarrassment to all top reviewers.

Anonymous said...

Glenda Larke said:
What does disconcert me a bit is that the commentators are extraordinarily vitriolic in their comments about the thousands of books "HK" is supposedly reviewing - they are all trash.

Could you point to a specific occurrence of this please?

Anonymous said...

No specific cases given, just as I thought. That is because the following: "commentators are extraordinarily vitriolic in their comments about the thousands of books "HK" is supposedly reviewing" simply isn't true.

Barbara Delaney said...

I have posted many comments on Harriet Klausner's reviews. I've never confused the review with the book under review. On three different review comment sites authors weighed in with their opinions on HK's authenticity.

What led me to her reviews initially is because she was reviewing some of my favorite authors, and doing a poor job of it, in my estimation. She has reviewed Gail Godwin, Paul Auster, M.C. Beaton,and many, many others whose writing I enjoy tremendously.

Not all of Harriet Klausner's critics have pure motives, however.
Some are there to attempt to bring her down so that they may rise in the rankings. They are some of her most vitriolic critics.

Lonnie E. Holder said...

Barbara:

Can you point to a particular person who is trying to bring Harriet down so that they might rise in the ranks?