If there was ever any doubt that the literary world is every bit as rude and contentious as the society it pretends to be a refuge from, sites like Amazon and Goodreads have put it to rest. Especially in the cutthroat alleys self-publishing, where an author by necessity has to directly engage an audience without a real PR team, diplomatic relationships sour rather quickly—and the threats can begin to fly before you even put out a book.
In the case of author Rick Carufel, a Minnesota-based indie writer in his early 60s who found he had the time to follow his literary aspirations after a diagnosis left him disabled more than 10 years ago, the threats go both ways. Carufel evidently took umbrage at the reviews for his latest release, a 16-page Kindle essay titled “Stephen King Don’t Know Shit,” and eventually posted calls for mercenary hackers to harass the “cyber-terrorists” who had maligned his work.
Carufel warned readers of his intentions on Aug. 27, when he posted in an Amazon forum ostensibly geared toward romance fiction. The first of the thread’s more than 5,000 posts explains that this is a place in which to discuss the tactics of “badly behaving authors,” or BBAs, who openly retaliate for any negative “but honest” reviews, undermining the very idea of customer feedback.
In typical fashion, both the readers and the authors label the other side “bullies,” with each thinking they are entitled to their criticisms, or in-good-faith ratings, respectively. But Carufel may have opened Pandora’s box by trying to amass troops for war:
Fear not my trolls, I haven't been talking to you, but I've been talking. Here's an open letter I've sent to every hacker website I could find. Since you are so fond of calling me a criminal I figured I wouldn't disappoint.
This is an appeal for help. There is a group of stalker trolls who stalk, bully, harass, defame and libel fledgling indie writers with the sole intent of destroying the reputations, careers, livelihood, and dreams of young indie writers.
They reside on Goodreads.com and Amazon.com forums. Neither site will do a thing to stop them, they actually shelter, defend and protect these criminals. Law enforcement will do nothing, the ISPs will do nothing.I am not talking about bad reviews for poorly written books, I am talking about the relentless, serial personal attacks and persecution of indie writers.All these trolls hide behind aliases and that give them the advantage over their victims. To legally go after these destroyers of dreams would be far beyond the fiscal means of most authors. Just the cost of discovering who these people really are is staggering. So I and many other victims of these vicious attack appeal to the hacking community for help.
The trolls use any means possible to destroy young writers and we as writers are forced to do the same. So we need to do to the trolls what they do to us, destroy them. You can go to stopthegrbullies .com and read the horror stories. Please help before these vermin cause a suicide as other bullies have done online.
Breaking Bad Santa
Carufel has actually had a bee in his bonnet about the state of online book reviews since before his latest essay (which argued against Stephen King’s own Kindle offering, “Guns,” an essay urging gun control reform). In fact, he was commended back in May by Stop The Goodreads Bullies for “taking a stand” in the matter of review-bombing. Protesting Amazon’s policy of letting users review books without reading them—presumably because there is no plausible way to confirm that they have—Carufel left one-star revenge reviews on bestsellers. In his complaints to Amazon, he says he has been targeted by the site’s forums since 2004 (click to enlarge):
Since I was first called a child molester because of the content of a story, where triplet elves who were trapped in a looking glass for 10,000 years when they were 15 or so and were about to literally explode from raging hormones are released and have only thoughts of men. The fact that the story clearly say the age of the elfish maidens was actually 10,015 years old, The trolls labeled me a child pornographer and pederast. Then as now Amazon did nothing.
So what were these alleged “serial personal attacks”? Over on Amazon, Carufel’s sci-fi and fantasy works have pretty solid ratings. It’s only the attack on Stephen King that’s cramping his average. He’s fared worse at Goodreads, where his books have been placed on shelves like “insulting clueless author,” “not getting my money,” and “fuck no.” On the other side are five-star reviews that note how Carufel has been the “victim” of Goodreads trolls.
As with most of these sprawling disputes, the question of blame is a chicken-or-the-egg sort of quandary. All it takes is two people pissing each other off to ignite a firestorm in which everyone is forced to take sides, burying any true critical discussion of the author’s work even deeper below an impenetrable muck of Internet politics. Suddenly the writers, the readers, and above all, the text itself are mere symbols in a larger (and insoluble) debate. And nearly everyone, in the process, is accused of “stalking” or “abusing” someone else.
Still, most of the negative Amazon reviews for “Stephen King Don’t Know Shit” do suggest that the reader has digested Carufel’s opinions and arguments. Meanwhile, Carufel has repeatedly revealed himself to be less than a nuanced thinker: He linked to a Huffington Post interview with author T.C. Boyle with the hashtag “#maliciousdefamation” because Boyle jokingly stated that all writers, himself included, “are egomaniacal, manic-depressive, drug-addicted alcoholics.”
That drug remark may have struck a particular chord with Carufel due to another ugly aspect of his ongoing martyrdom. More than once, he says, his attackers have produced what appears to be evidence of a 2010 conviction on six counts for selling cocaine in a Minnesota park. The respondent in the case is listed as a “Ricky J. Carufel.” Carufel has called the connection “false” and in his most recent blog post showed that at least one Amazon user was also mulling the possibility of getting his Social Security Disability payments cut off.
While no hackers have offered their services yet, Carufel said he has been “contacted by a professional investigator who specializes is [sic] digging out the identities of cyber criminals and she has agreed to track down who these vicious stalkers are.” What is such an investigator likely to find in unraveling the itchy wool sweater that is the unregulated online reading and writing community? That few get out unscathed.
Editor's note: The original headline of this story has been updated for clarity.
Photo by Jodi/Flickr