Journalist-turned-author Rana Ayyub recently released her self-published book Gujarat Files - Anatomy of a Cover-Up and like most authors, she put the copies for sale on e-retailer sites. The book deals with the outcome of her undercover investigation into the 2002 riots.
Just six days into its online presence on Amazon.in, the book received over 600 reviews and the majority of them gave her a poor ranking: one star. Only 48 of the review were by verified buyers. By May 30, the number of reviews grew to 1170 reviews; 820 people gave it one star and 325 five stars. Among the lot, 92 were by verified buyers.
Ayyub, who is currently at the receiving end of the online trolls, said, "Content triumps censorship of any kind." Ayyub, who was rejected by at least seven publishers, also mentions that the stringent censorship by the mainstream media has piqued the interest of the public, which in turn has boosted the sales of her book, making to second bestseller in website Amazon.in.
About 7,000 copies of Gujarat Files have already been sold (figures on Kindle sales are yet to be ascertained), with the author looking at more orders. "Every e-retailer should have a filter in place that separates the reviews posted by the people who have read the book and the ones who haven't. The surprising fact is that people started posting reviews on my book, even before it's official release," Ayyub said.
Most of the 'reviews' were mere comments. The non-verified comments were scathing. Here's a selection: 'Anti National Rana Ayyub wrote a garbage and called it a book'; 'Gujarat Lies by Rana Ayyub'; 'Each and every word written by writer Rana Ayyub are against PM Modi'; 'Very clear that so called writer of this lies shows her hatred toward Hindus and the nation as whole'; 'Author is jihadist'.
Some tried to be comical: 'Boring book, I am trying to sell it on OLX, still no luck.'
New platform for trolls
Ayyub is not the first author to face such a situation. Last year, it was TV anchorwoman Barkha Dutt whose book 'This Unquiet Land -- Stories from India's Fault Lines' was trolled similarly in the reviews section of Amazon.
Currently, Dutt's book has over 4000 reviews, only 87 of them by verified purchasers. Here too, the reviews have a similar tone of name calling and accusing the author of being anti-national. After Facebook and Twitter, book reviews sections on e-retailer sites are clearly becoming a platform for trolls out to bully authors.
But then, are all authors trolled?
Well, no. Even when famous authors who attempt controversial subjects are considered, not all of them are trolled. For example, Taslima Nasreen is known for her bold subjects but her controversial book Lajja has only 16 reviews and 82 ratings on Flipkart.
The God of Small Things, writer-activist Arundhati Roy's book which stirred up a hornet's nest in the late nineties, has about 97 customer reviews. Among them 82 are from verified purchasers, and over 51 of them gave the book one star.
M.M. Kalburgi, the Kannada scholar and rationalist thinker was shot dead in August 2015 allegedly for his comments on idol worship, has no reviews for his books Fall Of Kalyana and Vachana.