Dagestan is a province in the Northern Caucasus of Russia. (Don’t let the “Northern” in its name fool you. By Russian standards, that’s in the south.) It is known as the site of some terrorist activity, as well as corruption. According to the Library of Congress web site, it is also the site of the latest book review controversy. A novelist in Dagestan sued a book reviewer over a negative review that appeared in the local press. The author complained that the review gave him medical symptoms such as chest pains, as well as causing both himself and his family to undergo “severe mental suffering.”

The author won the suit and was granted the equivalent of $1,000. However, he is still unhappy with the result because he was looking for about $150,000. The reviewer is, of course, also unhappy over the result. In other words, this suit looks like it could drag on and on, in Bleak House fashion. Well, let’s not get too worried yet. Dagestan is not like the U.S. or most parts of Europe. Still, when it came to authors responding to negative reviews, I thought I’d seen everything. Authors calling on their fans to report negative reviews to Amazon? Been there. Authors calling reviewers names for daring to have opinions? Seen that. Authors creating false identities to post on boards or lists? Got the T-shirt. There are writers who think sites such as AAR should be shunned, if not strapped into a dunking stool. On AARlist2, an author once admitted that she clicked “Not Helpful” on all negative reviews on Amazon, even if she hadn’t read the book, because those were “mean”.

Luckily, those authors are outliers and most authors “get” the point of reviews. Let’s take Susan Lyons, who blogged about this case on the Aphrodisia Authors blog. She realizes that reviews are written for the readers, not the authors, and that not every review is going to be glowing, just as not every book is going to be great. However, she did qualify that with “Now, if a review is a deliberate, mean attempt to sabotage an author’s career, and that can be proved, then maybe an author ought to be able to sue the reviewer.”

But how do you define “mean”? Heck, how do you define “deliberate”? Almost since I first got on-line, I’ve seen authors have meltdowns over negative reviews. Some authors seem to believe that every negative (in other words, three stars or below) review on Amazon was placed by a rival author using a false identity. As if those authors had the time to write all those reviews. As if the negative reviews made that much of an impact in sales. Will this law suit give those writers any ideas? Let’s hope not. Let’s hope that outside of Dagestan, most lawyers would refuse to take a case such as this.

Still, this case got me thinking. Maybe there are cases where a review can cross a line. What if the review was defamatory, wrongfully accusing the author of being a pedophile or a plagiarist? What if the review posted private information about the author? Then what recourse does the author have? The author may be able to get the review removed, but what if the damage is already done? In that case, do you think that a law suit might be the only way the author can be vindicated? Is there ever a circumstance in which you think a reviewer can become open to being sued? I’m leaning toward “Hell no.” After all, most pros believe that responding to a negative review is one of the biggest mistakes an author can make and that advice makes sense because responding to a review often reflects badly on the author.

-Anne Marble