On September 28th, purely by chance, I discovered the case of TV and film actor-turned-writer, Dylan Saccoccio. I can’t say that I am overly-fond of the man. He comes across as a human time bomb waiting to explode at any moment. I can’t really judge him for that because it’s impossible to know what circumstances gave rise to such characteristics. I’m fairly confident he didn’t wake up one lazy Sunday morning thinking “Today, I’ll start a war with the world just for the fun of it.” However, I have found connecting with him to be utterly impossible, even when offering the hand of friendship.
On June 5th, Mr. Saccoccio entered into a dispute with a Goodreads member named Cait. His ratings had been impressive up unto that point when, after Cait gave him a one-star review, he went into a type of ‘meltdown’. It was clearly an overreaction on his part, I’m not disputing that. Conversely, I can understand his feelings of panic and threat, given that most promotion sites won’t even take an author’s money if their overall rating falls below an average of four stars on Amazon. Negative reviews can seriously impair authors’ options for peddling their wares. It’s a harsh and arguably unreasonable system. However, it’s the nature of the beast, and Mr. Saccoccio committed career suicide as the dispute escalated into a drama of epic proportions, with a huge cast of characters.
What happened next was my reason for stepping in. The story spread throughout the internet, and a legion of Goodreads members banded together like a pack of wolves to issue a slew of false negative reviews against his book on both Goodreads and Amazon. They effectively knocked him out of the game, conclusively. When I saw this, it chilled me to the bone. Goodreads members instantly became a lynch mob, forcing me to question what kind of a nightmare I had found myself in by entering the writing world. It was not only sadistic and savage, but it also made a mockery of the rating system, which has far-reaching implications for all authors.
In an effort to gain a deeper understanding of the incident, I went onto Cait’s review thread, and questioned their justification for what they had done. Immediately, I fell afoul of exactly the same kind of wolf-pack behavior, with implied threats that they were going to do the same to me. (“You brought this on yourself.”) None of the points I raised were addressed. They continually defaulted to their pre-conceived idea that I was condemning their right to leave a negative review, which was simply not true. I stated I would defend their right to air genuine opinions, but I could not condone a cavalcade of bearing false witness. There was absolutely no reasoning with them. Finally, I was blocked from the thread, and I had no choice but to remove my titles from Amazon in order that they might ‘live another day’.
Deeply disturbed by the experience, I proposed my position on Book Riot, a blog site of which I was a member. The thread I posted on was directly concerned with the story of Dylan Saccoccio. Immediately, my post was deleted, although I had managed to salvage it in my hard drive:
“I'm currently working on an editorial about this case. I admit, Dylan Saccoccio did not do himself any favors with his response, but he was, in no way, threatening or abusive. Perhaps a little overly-poetic and wordy, but I implore you all to understand, it was a human reaction to shock and pain. The end result of this is that a sadistic wolf pack of readers went onto to Amazon and Goodreads and 'one starred' him out of existence overnight. His website has since been taken down. Did he really deserve that? And how do fake negative reviews serve the experience of legitimate readers? When I raised this issue with those responsible, they attacked me in like fashion, threatened to do the same to my own books giving me no choice but to take them down. They seemed to be more concerned with me raising the issue two months after it began. Of course, if someone gets murdered and they catch the guy two months later, they can let him go because - hey - it was two months ago. How these characters can think that two months negates the evil that they do is beyond me. What I bore witness to was the very worst in humanity, and an example of wanton savagery. If we wish to call ourselves a civilization, this kind of brutality has to be addressed.”
The moderator of Book Riot then attacked me:
Amanda Nelson Mod Guest • an hour ago
You don't get to decide for someone else whether the abusive or threats they've received are valid, and you certainly don't get to come here and compare readers to murderers. I'm deleting your comment.
Peter Darley Amanda Nelson • an hour ago
Thank you, Amanda. I will be using your comment and your name in the article as an example of the totalitarian nature of the writing world. You're basically saying I have no right to address, what I consider to be an atrocity. And for what it's worth, I wasn't comparing readers to murderers. I was simply using it as an example to illustrate the illogical nature of discrediting a comment purely on the basis of the brief time span between comment and incident.
Amanda Nelson Mod Peter Darley • an hour ago
I'm certainly not--you have every right to say whatever you want on your own blog or in your own space. You don't, however, have the *right* to use our platform, and you're not entitled to our readers' attention. Meanwhile, I'll be over here awaiting the what I'm sure will be drastic and horrific affect your article will have on my life.
Peter Darley Amanda Nelson • an hour ago
Amanda, I was already a member of this blog, so I already had implied consent to comment - just like everyone else here. Are you actually stating that unless my views mirror yours perfectly, I have no right to comment? Where does the First Amendment fit into all this? I would be very interested to learn your views on this because it is a serious societal issue you've raised.
After that, I was blocked from Book Riot.
So, where do we go from here? This is now way beyond writing, ratings, or Dylan Saccoccio. This is the totalitarian suppression of free expression, in what is supposed to be a civilized democracy. It was for the cause of that ‘civilized democracy’ that I stepped into this hornet’s nest in the first place. I am hopeful that someone will, at least, be able to recognize the venom and absence of reason in Amanda Nelson’s words. They reflect those of most of the others I have encountered in connection with this. The question remains – why?
Writing is beautiful. It is one of the primary staples of our culture. It is our language and our ability to communicate. So how did it fall prey to a mindless lynch mob? Is this truly what the writing world has become? And what does it say about us a civilization?