Author of “The Ladyboy & The Tramp” Unhappy With Amazon Reviews.

By Cliff Joanna

There was a time not so long ago when book reviews were found mostly in the broadsheets, the Sunday supplements, BBC Arts shows and Literary Review. The success or failure of a newly-released book was often left to critics and journalists and their opinions often influenced public opinion directly – a bad review would almost inevitably lead to poor sales while a good review could mean money, respect and even awards. However, in the same way that iTunes changed the way many people bought and listened to music, so Amazon’s Kindle changed the way people bought and read books. While many authors bemoaned the move from paper to digital, the service allowed practically anyone to self-publish and meant that aspiring writers could get their work into the public domain without having to rely on publishers or book deals, thus blowing the market for readers wide open and leaving traditional book shops fighting to stay afloat.

While the High Street retailers noticed a dramatic decline in sales, digital book providers found themselves enjoying a sharp upturn in sales, resulting in many books being converted to a digital format and even audio books. For authors, especially those who were previously unpublished, the Kindle was an opportunity not to be missed. Suddenly the opinions of critics in newspapers mattered far less as social media provided free advertising and word-of-mouth meant far less than a series of good reviews online. For 45 year old Graham Wilson this meant a lifelong ambition became a reality; he published his first book, “Jesus of Peckham” via Amazon in 2011 some 13 years after he wrote it, having tried in vain to get a publisher interested in it. Backed by favourable reviews on Amazon the book sold 45,000 copies in six months, eventually reaching 75,000 by the end of 2012. Graham’s life was changed forever and he gave up his day job, teaching pottery, to become a full-time author. In 2013 he released his second book, “Married To The Allotment” which didn’t sell quite as well as his debut but was reviewed favourably by The Telegraph. It also led to him selling the rights to turn the book into a TV movie, which Channel Five did at the end of 2014. The Amazon Marketplace was proving to be the making of Graham Wilson the author and when he tweeted in March 2016 that he had a brand new book coming out in June, fans couldn’t tweet their responses quickly enough, resulting in thousands of new followers and a sharp upturn in reviews on Amazon of his previous two digital books. “I felt like I was becoming a real author, and people were saying the nicest things about my books. I was so happy I’d taken the Kindle route and not spent months trying to secure a publishing deal” Graham explained to me when I spoke to him. The internet had spoken, and Graham was dreaming of reaching the bestsellers list and maybe even topping the download chart for the first time.

bookOn Monday June 6th Graham released “The Ladyboy and the Tramp”, a semi-autobiographical story set in Earls Court, London, an area Graham regularly visited after his marriage collapsed in 2006. Where “Jesus of Peckham” and “Married To The Allotment” were both urban fairytales, “The Ladyboy and the Tramp” was an unconventional love story with science-fiction elements; the story’s protagonist was Clive Warderton, a poor and lonely forty-something who had an unexpected change of fortune when he won a competition to have a month’s free trial of an artificially intelligent sex robot. Due to a mix-up at the factory he received a prototype Ladyboy robot instead of the female robot he’d requested but after initially contacting the company to complain he decided to keep “Veronica” after their first night together. They quickly fall in love after a lust-filled first week together and they decide to elope just hours before he was due to return Veronica for memory-wiping and cleansing. The story mirrors an experience Graham had with an escort after his now ex-wife asked him to move out of their flat and he found himself living in a bedsit next door to a Malaysian Ladyboy who was working as an escort to pay her rent. He told me “I was living in this horrible little room with just a couple of hobs to cook on. Next door I heard sex noises for most of the day and eventually I went round to complain, which is when I met Sapphire. She explained that she was escorting to pay her rent so she could study at University here. Hers was a sad story of rejection and disenfranchisement, disowned by her family because she was born into the wrong body. We became friends eventually I fell in love with her, but it was not to be“. Graham was certain that his futuristic love story would be a huge hit at a time when LGBT people were enjoying greater recognition and acceptance in society but sales were slow, most likely due to the subject matter Graham thought. However, after two weeks of poor sales he decided to see if the book had been reviewed on Amazon…

Graham was shocked to see that there had been over 300 reviews in the first couple of days after the book’s release, and some 800 at the time he checked. While usually that would’ve been encouraging he saw that there was just one 3-star review, a few dozen 2-star reviews but the rest were 1-star reviews. “I was absolutely stunned by the reaction, quite beside myself, really depressed” he told me. Graham read each and every one of them and was, to quote the man himself, “crestfallen, absolutely gutted“. It seemed that the world was not ready for a love story between a poor man and an intelligent Ladyboy robot and the reviews were scathing at best, the vast majority being filled with homophobic and transphobic insults, not to mention death threats. By the time Graham contacted Amazon requesting them to remove the book and all reviews of it, it was too late – they’d found their way onto Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Instagram, among others. To date only 1302 copies have been sold and there are almost as many bad reviews for it…

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If you thought that was bad, take a look at these…

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After reading a few of the reviews Graham wrote a post on his blog, explaining how disappointed he was with the reaction of fans to a book that he believed was about how love can creep up on you in the most unexpected of ways and can transcend all commonly-accepted rules. He also explained how disgusted he was at the level of homophobia and prejudice among his readers, something he feels very strongly about as an advocate of both gay marriage and equal rights for all. Sadly, his words only encouraged more bad reviews…

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Graham resisted the urge to comment directly, especially to those who attacked the book from a theistic point of view, but was aware that by allowing the book to remain available to purchase he was also allowing the bad reviews to harm any potential future sales which is why he requested the book be removed. Unfortunately for Graham, his request to Amazon was only partially successful – the book was marked as “Unavailable at this time” but remained in the store which meant the bad reviews kept coming…

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review

The only comment Graham felt worthy of listening to came from a reviewer called Leroy who, like him, had spent time with a Ladyboy.

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When I spoke to Graham he was particularly upset about this review, specifically the suggestion that a fetish was behind the story. “I wrote a response to Leroy’s comments on my blog and put the link in my comment to his review. I had hoped he’d get back to me but he didn’t. Instead I started receiving some fairly unkind comments on my blog and was forced to prevent readers from commenting on it” Graham explained. He felt thoroughly let-down by his readers, people who’d helped him become a bona-fide author but were now turning on him. “The people who’d bought my previous books on Amazon had helped me reach a place I never thought I’d be able to and then suddenly they were destroying my career. This is the problem with the internet; they can make you and then break you just as quickly and they are relentless when they do. I had to leave Twitter because I was getting hundreds of offensive comments, death threats, other threats like burning my house down or injecting me with dog poison, whatever that is. I think people should have a voice but if all they’re going to do is use the internet to destroy peoples’ careers then I think we’ve reached the limit of freedom of speech – nobody should be allowed to say something negative for the sake of it, especially where a person’s financial future might depend on it. If you having nothing good to say you shouldn’t be allowed to say anything.”

For Graham the only good thing to have come out of the experience is a sense of urgency to address the issue directly and he’s already begun work on his fourth book, tentatively titled “To Kill A Troll” which will deal with the issue of freedom of speech online, something Graham now firmly believes should be taken away from people who, in his words, “…cannot be trusted to behave responsibly online and need regulating…”

Personally, I think that as a writer you live and die by the quality of your work, not the reviews you get for it. The suggestion that negative comments should be banned is not healthy and you need to be able to take criticism in order to improve as a writer. I have read the book and in my honest opinion what starts out as a curious exploration of the possibilities AI could bring to the world quickly descends into little more than a series of graphic accounts about sex with a machine, an artificial intelligence that is given little or no opportunity to grow. “Veronica” becomes an efficient sex machine but little more, and the notion of love that leads the two to run away together before he had to return her for the sci-fi cliché of having her memory wiped, is flawed at best. The book fails to explore anything other than sex with a robot that learns how to please her lover and nothing more. It’s not erotic, it’s not sensual and it’s not love as we know it. Graham insists that it’s a futuristic love story, one that perhaps the world was not ready for. If you’ve not read his book, and there’s a very good chance you haven’t, perhaps the following extract might help you decide for yourself whether or not Graham succeeded and, more aptly, whether or not negative reviews should be banned online.

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This entry was posted in Books & Authors, Gender Roles, Ladyboys, Relationships and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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