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Jeff Jacobson

Harriet Klausner: A Review

I blog about as often as Halley’s Comet comes around to visit.  Sometimes though, a question sticks in my head and usually, I can’t figure out an answer until I start writing about the issue.
So, my new novel was just released.  And sure, I checked out the reviews.  My fingers were crossed, not only for positive reviews, but I was also hoping that one specific reviewer would post something about my book. 
The reviewer?  Harriet Klausner.
Some of you might be familiar with Harriet.  Hell, a lot of you might know of her.
If you’re not, here’s a short, half-assed introduction:  Harriet’s a reading machine.  I’m not kidding.  She’s a speed-reader, and claims to read about two books a day.  Other reports say it’s more like four or five.  She doesn’t simply read the books, she also posts reviews all over the Internet.  Some estimates say she’s written over 25,000 reviews. 
I had never heard of her until she reviewed my first novel, WORMFOOD, back in 2010.  It was one of the first reviews I’d ever gotten, so naturally I curious.  To be honest, the review left me scratching my head a little.  I mean, it had sentences like, “From within the coffin come worms a foot long who occupy the insides of living species while eating their way out of their mortal dining facility.”  Technically, it’s accurate.  The language just seemed a little… off.  Still, it was a five-star review. 
I proudly called the sales and marketing guy at Medallion, Paul Ohlson.  “Oh Harriet Klausner, sure.”  He gave a tired sigh.  “Umm… yeah.  She reviews a lot of books.  A lot.  She gives everybody five stars.  I think Amazon changed its reviewing rules because of her.”
The impression I got was not to put too much stock in Harriet’s reviews. 
Still, she reviewed my next book, FOODCHAIN.  Another five star review, so I wasn’t gonna complain. 
So when SLEEP TIGHT came out, I was looking for her name.  It felt like a milestone, a rite-of-passage. Sure enough, less than a week later, there it was.  Only four stars this time though.  I guess Harriet had to vary her reviews up a bit, so now everything either gets four or five stars.  To be honest, this new review probably makes even less sense than her other reviews of my books; parts of it read like some kind of sadistic math word problem. 
But you know what?  To the best of my knowledge, she’s the only person that’s ever written reviews for all three of my novels.  And that’s cool with me.
Then I noticed that her Amazon review suddenly had seven comments.  Seven!  I clicked on them, thinking, “All right!  That’s a lot of attention over my book.”
I read the actual comments and realized that nobody was paying much attention to SLEEP TIGHT.  Instead, they were going after Harriet.  A typical comment: “I too would appreciate a real review by someone who actually read this book. I kind of like end of the world books, I just wish Ms. Klausner hadn't 'reviewed' it.”
I guess you don’t write that many reviews without making a few enemies.  People are downright pissed that she is posted these reviews when they don’t believe she’s actually reading the books.  Even after a cursory glance at some of her other reviews, I have to say that she basically regurgitates the back cover copy.  It’s hard to tell if she actually finishes the books or not.  Judging from her review of SLEEP TIGHT, I’m guessing she didn’t finish. 
Then again, if she is actually reading to the end of the books, at least she’s not spoiling the entire plot, something that doesn’t seem to trouble other reviewers. 
So a lot of people have problems with Harriet.  They accuse her of accepting free books, writing misleading reviews, then profiting from reselling the books.  I suppose that could add up to a lot of money over the years, considering how many books she’s going through, but I hate to break it to everybody:  Used books aren’t exactly gold bricks.  If this is what she’s doing, I don’t know if people realize how much work is involved.  And believe me, she’s sure as hell not the first book reviewer to sell their free copies.
The ultimate question is whether her reviews are useful to someone considering buying the book.  I don’t have an answer for that; mostly because it’s gonna be different for everyone.  Harriet’s not the only one out there who probably shouldn’t be providing reviews for public consumption.  Sometimes I’ll read reviews and wonder how the reviewer actually managed to read the book in question, considering the review’s grammar, spelling, and even the opinions expressed would indicate that the reviewer is functionally brain dead. 
So, from a purely selfish standpoint, I wrestled with the question of whether Harriet’s reviews helped or hindered my sales.  I couldn’t decide how I felt about her unique “career.”  I mean, it certainly does appear that her reviews are, at best, misleading, and at worst, dishonest.
Trying to get a better understanding, I went back through and read a bunch of her reviews.  I noticed several patterns.  Her reviews are typically composed of three paragraphs; the first two describe the plot, while the final sounds like something marketing would write in an effort to sell the book.  In that sense I found it somewhat refreshing that, when so much material online is either bitterly snarky or full of hate, Harriet’s positive comments are kinda sweet. 
The other thing I noticed is that Harriet has a knack for finding a striking image from the first few chapters and uses these moments to start her reviews.  Take her review for my novel, FOODCHAIN, for example:  “He was distracted by the blood he saw his mom cough up while attending a racing horse at Arlington.”  Ignore the clunky grammar that makes it sound like both the son and mother are at a horse race.  Harriet found a relatively quiet moment in the second chapter that I hadn’t thought much about.  It was a simply a plot point I was trying to sketch in quickly and keep things moving.  That scene was not described in the jacket copy, so I know that Harriet at least read through Chapter Two. 
Here’s another one, from a book called READY TO DIE, by Lisa Jackson.  “In Grizzly Falls, Montana the sniper waited impatiently for the right moment to kill the female on skis.”  Now, I hadn’t really heard of this book, but that image grabbed me.  Or this one:  “In 1838, teenager Julia Elliston learns her mom committed suicide and with her abusive father already dead she is now the property of a guardian who plans to sequester her as a companion to an ailing woman in Scotland.”  That’s from BORN OF PERSUASION, by Jessica Dotta.  It looks like some kind of romance, which admittedly isn’t my cup of tea, but damn if it doesn’t catch my attention. 
As an author, I can’t ask for much more than a review that grabs a potential reader’s interest.  And hell, I’ll take Harriet’s reviews over the guy who said, “somebody really, really deserves to be waterboarded for publishing this turd,” any day of the week.
So Harriet, I understand the haters, but you’re okay in my book.  I hope you get to review my next one.