Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Authors Behaving Badly #10

Authors Behaving Badly: When 
Authors React Badly to Negative Reviews and Criticism!

Or: How NOT to Handle Bad Reviews!

When an author puts a book out into the world they must know it's not going to get completely positive feedback. All books, throughout history, from Hamlet to The Da Vinci Code, have people who love them and people who hate them. And most authors handle the negative reviews pretty well (even if they're crying inside).

However, some authors decide that they want to fight their critics. Some get personal. Some get downright nasty. Did someone say car crash?

I was originally going to post one article on this but so many authors have behaved badly that I thought I would make it a weekly feature! I bringz you all the drama every Thursday from authors who have been a little naughty.

10. Chris McGrath Attempts to sue an Amazon Reviewer for Libel!

Who Is He: Chris McGrath, self-published author of 'The Attempted Murder of God'.

What He Responded Badly To: Reviews and postings about 'The Attempted Murder of God' left on Amazon by Vaughan Jones.

What Made the Fur Fly: Right, this is a strange one with blame on both sides. Chris McGrath, 'an entrepreneur from Milton Keynes' tried to sue Vaughan Jones over postings and reviews made about his book on Amazon.  

The first event in this strange saga, is that Chris McGrath used the customer review section on the new Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow book ‘The Grand Design’ to spam about his book to try and drum up some sales. Vaughan Jones noticed this spamming by McGrath, and decided to do something about it. 

First, Vaughan wrote a short, uncomplimentary review of McGrath’s book on Amazon. Next, he 'ran a few background checks' on McGrath’s alias ‘Scrooby’, suspecting that he may have linked back to a UK-based creationist/fundamentalist organisation. What he found instead appeared, as he saw it’ to be little more than a vanity publishing operation, outing ‘Scrooby’ as McGrath in the process.' (Source)
He also, somewhat misguidedly, outed the names of McGrath's children to prove it was the same person, which was most definitely frowned upon:
'He also named Mr McGrath’s two children, something Judge Maloney described as “nasty”. (Source)
The 'Judge Maloney' is a character in the next part of this strange tale. After Mr Jones had published a series of negative reviews McGrath's books and an article of his was published by the Richard Dawkins Foundation on its website, McGrath decided to take legal action. According to The Telegraph:

'The details of the reviews and the article are not known because they were taken down once legal proceedings began. But they prompted Mr McGrath to sue Mr Jones, Mr Dawkins, his foundation and Amazon.' (Source)

The Telegraph goes on to say: 'Mr Jones, 28, a father of three from the West Midlands, cannot afford representation and is having to defend himself alongside barristers acting on behalf of co-defendants Amazon and Richard Dawkins.' (Source)

To me, this all sounds very strange. Suing Amazon because you have received bad reviews and your online alias has been overturned? Apparently, the whole case has been picked up by libel reformers in the UK who are arguing that libel laws favour the claimant too much and leave the defendant with a big fat legal bill which they don't deserve. I feel sorry for both parties to some extent in this case, but I think taking this matter to court is beyond ridiculous.

Do you think that outing an author's identity warrants being sued for libel or do you think the suing is justified in this instance?


  1. Yay Milton Keynes!

  2. Well, this one is not clear-cut. Why did Jones decide that McGrath is a member of creationist/fundamentalist organisation? Why did he decide to investigate it? How did he manage to "out" him in the process of investigating? He could have only "outed" him in the process of sharing information about his investigation to others. Did Jones report McGrath's spamming to Amazon or did he decide to play vigilante detective from the onset?

    But while it might have remained ambiguous if it was left at that, there was absolutely no call for Jones to out McGrath's children, particularly if they had no ties to the whole affair. And why did he see fit to publish a series of negative review of books which we don't even know if he read?

    And yet McGrath is going too far as well. What does Amazon have to do with it?

    The potential punishment might be unfair, but letting Jones get scot-free might set a bad precendent. Complete libel might be too far a stretch. I'd rather he get sued on behalf of McGrath's children for...whatever would be applicable.

  3. Both of them were wrong. I am curious about why McGrath was spamming, though. That's definitely not cool and can get you into hot water. Hot water called Mr Jones in this case.

  4. This is one of the reasons why authors use pen names. We want to protect our family against crazy people.

  5. For this one, I'm more on the side of the author. The reader sounded a little obsessed and tried to create as much issues for the author as they personally could. Don't think there should be a lawsuit, and certainly not a win, but the reader seems to be crossing all sorts of lines, some of them slanderous. This isn't about a book review.