When authors attack

Candace Sams's decision to report bad Amazon reviewers to the FBI is further proof why it's best not to respond publicly to your critics
Voodoo doll pen holder
Be careful where you write ... Voodoo doll pen holder by Dead Fred

This year has seen its fair share of authors kicking off about poor reviews, from Alice Hoffman, who called a Boston Globe critic a "moron" on Twitter following a negative review of her novel The Story Sisters, to Alain de Botton, who posted an excoriating comment on a reviewer's blog after a poor write-up for The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work in the New York Times. But the latest upset, played out on the pages of Amazon, is possibly the weirdest.

Not only does it centre on the dire-sounding romance novel, Electra Galaxy's Mr Interstellar Feller (product description: "When a handsome yet stuffy intergalactic cop is forced to enter the Electra Galaxy's Mr Interstellar Feller competition, and is partnered with an Earth cop as his manager and overseer, hilarity and romance ensue"), but it takes the bizarro quotient to new levels.

After Amazon reviewer LB Taylor gave the novel one star, calling it "a sad excuse for romance, mystery, and humor", she found herself attacked online by one NiteflyrOne – shortly outed by commentors as Candace Sams, author of the novel. With the discussion numbering almost 400 posts, Sams has now deleted her posts. Fortunately, they've been saved for posterity by a host of sites.

"Authors," she wrote, "rarely have full editorial control; rarely do they have even 'scant' control over their covers or the language used in dialogue or even sequencing of scenes: love scenes, kissing scenes, scenes of violence, etc. These are ultimately controlled by editorial staff…very rarely the author alone." Oh I see – blame the editor.

And later, in response to another (also negative) review: "It might behoove them to understand that all romances will not read they way they think they should; romances should 'not' be cookie-cutters of one another. This has been the biggest complaint about romance on the whole - that they all sound alike. Apparently 'some' reviewers 'want' them to sound alike. When they don't, they aren't able to handle the material."

She then tells the thread that she's reporting naysayers to the FBI.

This is wonderfully batty stuff – on a par, I'd say, with Anne Rice's 2004 outburst on Amazon when she told negative reviewers they were "interrogating this text from the wrong perspective". "Your stupid, arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander," she wrote. "You have used the site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies."

And I have to say, while I agree with Neil Gaiman's point that the Sams affair is "a horrible car crash [and] if any of you are ever tempted to respond to bad reviews or internet trolls etc, it's a salutary reminder of why some things are better written in anger and deleted in the morning", I find angry author responses strangely compelling. I like seeing flashes of the person behind the book, and while responding may do the author's reputation no good at all – turning the other cheek being the best way to deal with negative reviews - I can see why they might do it anyway. Yes, it's a car crash, but I can't stop rubber-necking.