By February 12, 2007 7 Comments Read More →

OK, I Admit It: I'm Harriet Klausner

A news item from Times Online (“Fake bloggers soon to be ‘named and shamed’,” by Sam Coates), brought to my attention by the ever-attentive Frank Sennett, promises an end to a time-honored practice, at least in Europe:

Hotels, restaurants and online shops that post glowing reviews about themselves under false identities could face criminal prosecution under new rules that come into force next year.

Businesses which write fake blog entries or create whole wesbites purporting to be from customers will fall foul of a European directive banning them from "falsely representing oneself as a consumer".

From December 31, when the change becomes law in the UK, they can be named and shamed by trading standards or taken to court.

The Times has learnt that the new regulations also will apply to authors who praise their own books under a fake identity on websites such as Amazon.

It reminded me of the brouhaha in 2004, when accidentally outed Dave Eggers as “a reader from St. Louis” (“Amazon reviewers brought to book,” by David Smith, The Observer International):

Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, also admitted writing a review last year praising the work of his friend Heidi Julavits as ‘one of the best books of the year’. He posted it as ‘a reader from St Louis’. But the review appeared under ‘David K Eggers’ on Amazon’s Canadian site last week.

Yeah, it’s kind of a sleazy practice, I suppose, but anyone who expects the customer reviews to be fair, impartial, and professional is missing the point. Hell, a lot of professional reviews aren’t fair and impartial — but because professional reviewers can be held more accountable (at least those of us who sign our reviews), that’s why there’s a distinction made between them. On, you’ll find Booklist reviews under “Editorial Reviews.”

Under “Customer Reviews,” even if it’s not Dave Eggers defending his friend’s book, the reviewers may have uncountable causes, grudges, or friendships informing their opinions. But that’s kind of the point. A customer review should be written by anyone who calls himself a customer. And if you let average people hide behind fake names, why hold writers to a different standard? And even then, what’s to keep Eggers from recruiting the McSweeney’s gang — or even those adorable kids at 826 Valencia — to review on his buccaneering behalf?

Now that I think of it, this new law doesn’t go nearly far enough. I hope that, when U.S. lawmakers find themselves considering similar legislation, they go for the jugular, eliminating the scourge of the customer review altogether. Only when all reviews are written by professionals will we find ourselves safe from the dreaded scourge of bias.

Seriously, I do think that pseudonymously praising your own work or friends’ work is kind of lame, but it hardly seems worth policing. It puts a curious amount of worth on reader feedback options — treating them the same as editorially vetted content just seems misguided.

Ultimately, it would have been cooler if Eggers would have just plugged Julavits’ book under his own name. Not only would he have been safe from future prosecution, I think the bias angle would have been overcome by the “Wow, Dave Eggers writes customer reviews!” angle.

(Did you find this review helpful? Click here to rate this review!)



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

7 Comments on "OK, I Admit It: I'm Harriet Klausner"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

Inbound Links

  1. Likely Stories » Blog Archive » Blogrolling | July 18, 2007
  1.' maggie says:

    Well, don’t look at me! I’m as UnKnown as they get! I may reside in Mississippi, and I may have my father’s Irish/Scots gift-o-gab, but I’m no Faulkner, Wright, Taylor, Welty, Harris, Young, Iles, Grisham, etc. Although, I wish I was… ;D

    Power to the UnKnown blogger People!

  2. I’m an reviewer – books, Slim-Fast, envelopes, things of the deepest importance. No machine is behind me. All my words are my own, for better and for worse. Too bad this is not true categorically. Better there be a bad review by an honest reviewer.

    The authors writing their own reviews, but signing it with another name are not much worth respecting. Clearly, they have no confidence a legit reviewer will address their books favorably.

    Should cheating be illegal. I don’t know if I think so. The cheaters, when caught, should have their books removed by Amazon, but I doubt they will. They are not in the publishing business, but in the bookselling business.

    I do believe Harriet Klausner is completely real, and is a long way from the real concerns the publishing industry should have. The victim of a campaign against her, I hope she stands tall, and does her thing.

    Brockeimia – The Absurd World of Brockeim

  3.' THKAS says:

    Brockeim, _you_ are the victim of a campaign against Harriet Klausner?

  4.' Brockeim says:

    Am I the victim of a campaign again Harriet Klausner?

    Not so far as I know. She should not be either. The petty games involving those who think they’ve a need to campaign against her disappoint me, though. I guess people go with whatever is the most important issue in their lives.

    While those blogging against are free to speak, and some are even making careers of it, much the same way some complain about politics, world peace, the eating of ketchup or the hatred of plant life. What a country. That’s not my issue.

    Even I’ve made fun of the issue:

    Where I am disappointed are those people who vote against her reviews even though they never would buy the buy, or not buy the book based on any review.

    For example, if I am not going to buy an iPod, voting on Amazon against (or for) and iPod review abuses the point of the voting system. The point (as I understand it) is to answer the question, “Did the review help me make a purchasing decision?”

    Apparently when Time Magazine and others interviewed her, despite (hopefully) doing some basic research on her, they would have asked the questions about her. Imagine what a coup it would be for an investigative reporter to uncover the real Harriet Klausner, the one with eight arms and 100 eyes being scandalized across the web.

    When authors have been busted writing their own reviews, or slamming the books of their competition, it makes news. Uncovering some scandal about HK has yet to happen, even though conspiracies are abound.

    No reporter has determined this.

    Reporters have come into the Amazon reviewers DB and surely have seen the various threads on HK. They have plenty to look at. Her writing quality is easily criticized, as is her review structure, book choice, and so on. But not one feather of evidence has been shown to show she is more than person.

    I do not know her, have not met her, and am not in the market for the books she typically reviews.

    Brockeimia – The Absurd World of Brockeim

  5.' Malleus says:

    Brockheim said:
    :: Am I the victim of a campaign again Harriet
    :: Klausner? Not so far as I know.
    Well, that’s what you said in your previous note, genius. Clearly you’re so smart, your opinion’s worth a lot.

  6.' Brockeim says:


    I just answered what I was asked, but your adept literacy is noted. See THKAS’ previous post.

    In all seriousness, there is a strange group of anti-Amazonians, who, from various blogs and sites, seem to carry the same swagger and attitude as anti-Microsoft, anti-Starbucks, and anti-Walmart types. At best, they are all bluster and noise, with the occasional silliness of negative voting on her reviews.

    Since I buy more classic literature and not much scifi and pop romance, Klausner’s reviews are not a big concern for me.

    –Brockeim the Genius

Post a Comment