Responding to a Reader on Ellory and Anonymous Commenting

From time to time, particularly when readers have a different (more nuanced? more interesting?) take on a topic than I did, I post their comments (and any response from me) as a standalone. This post is an example of that practice, as a reader recently took me down the rabbit-hole on the issue of author RJ Ellory and his anonymous reviews of his, and his competitor's, books. Where do our readers come in on this issue? Was Ellory wrong or not? Might you be swayed by our Anonymous reader or myself on the topic? Find out below...

Anonymous Comment

I have to say that even anonymous attacks on his rivals do not bother me. What does bother me is the pseudonymous reviews of his own work.

It's hard to say why. But we tolerate anonymous reviews of work of others all the time; I suppose any of those reviews could be rival authors. That seems fair game.

But it seems unfair when you praise your own work anonymously or pseudonymously. Why? The positive review is no more a "lie" than the negative review of another author. Ellory may genuinely think, as I do, that James Patterson write absolute dreck; he may also think he, Ellory, is a genius whose writing is superb (I haven't read Ellory so I won't opine).

I think the reason the positive review bothers me more is that I think it IS a lie. I think Ellory does not really believe his work was as good as his reviews; even those not given to humility rarely identify their own works with as many superlatives as Ellory described his own ("surpassing genius," et al). Not liking someone else's work seems genuine, anonymous or not. But praising your own work seems fake; I suspect it to be an outright lie.

And even if true, it remains an implicit lie because any review implicitly promises that someone ELSE liked (or disliked) the book, other than the author her/himself. That's satisfied when you trash other people's books, but not when you praise your own.

At bottom, it feels wrong to me to say that you lose the right to anonymously trash an author just because you've written a book yourself. But it doesn't feel wrong to me to say that when you write a book, you shouldn't praise it and pretend to be someone else. Ellory is being criticized for both, but only the latter is objectionable. Asking myself if he had done only the former, what would there be to condemn? That he wrote negative reviews of books he didn't like? But if he did only the latter, I would be as disgusted as I am now, because only the latter tactic is disgusting.

My Response

Apologies for the delay in responding, it has been a busy few weeks. As I noted above, I appreciate your thoughtful response.

In reading your reponse, it occurs to me that I may not have been entirely clear that I found both practices to be condemnable in nearly equal part. While I see your viewpoint on this, I think we will have to agree to disagree with respect to Ellory's anonymous reviews of the work of others.

I think we can dispense without too much detail on the self-praise issue as we seem to agree 100% on that.

However, I think you go too easy on Ellory for criticizing others anonymously. Perhaps writing shouldn't remove one's right to critique as you duly note, but surely the bigger picture comes into play here.

In your own analysis, you note that his own praise comes across as a lie because of the superlative nature of the praise. This is a bit of an assumption based on a theory that Ellory isn't a megalomaniac. Isn't it equally as true that Ellory might not think the authors he criticized are as bad as he suggested? Doesn't his pattern of behavior in this respect need to be taken into account?

While I am not 100% sure how he did the deeds, here is a likely hypothetical which could help shape your view. What if his critiques and praise were posted under the same psuedonym? Potential buyers would surely see both posts in many cases, if for no other reason than it is nearly impossible not to on Amazon. Maybe coupling the negative lie (which you accept) with the praise lie (which you don't accept) under the same name gets you a little closer to my view?

Maybe it doesn't. In any case, while I definitely see your point, and might even change my own to be a more nuanced 'self promotion is slightly worse than anonymous bashing' I still think there is a problem with what Ellory did in both cases.

And, in any case, I personally dock him points for cowardice. He could easily have used his own name in the negative reviews, and perhaps garnered even more attention for them. If he was truly interested in critiquing, he could have done so under his name.

This isn't to say I am right. Fighting to the death in a matter of web-based moral equivalency just seems to beg for karmic retribution. And I already got swayed to the 'one might be worse than the other' position. Maybe more time would get me all the way to your position. Maybe a few more years of numbing at the hands of the faceless, nameless commentariat of the web will make me accept these actions for what they are without the romanticism. Maybe I am just plain wrong about this issue.

However, for now, I see reason to criticize Ellory for both of his actions.

Thanks again for reading-


  1. Anonymous25/9/12 10:25

    "We have been toiling to meet this goal in virtual obscurity since 2009." And long may that obscurity continue, Josh!

    1. Mr. Ellory I presume? Thanks for stopping by!

      For future reference, there is no need to worry, its safe to use your real name here!