Authors Should Not Profit From Their Own Shitty Behavior

There’s another story going around of an author behaving badly, and this time, it’s a doozy: the author in question confesses to having developed an unhealthy obsession with a reviewer who 1-starred her YA novel on Goodreads, and ultimately went so far as to show up on the reviewer’s doorstep. Her actual, physical doorstep.

This story is out in circulation because the author in question wrote an article about her experiences in stalking the reviewer, and a certain major online publication ran the article. The article itself is less a confessional of the author’s unwise choices, much less her learning from those choices, and more an attempt at analysis of the pathologies in online book-reviewing culture and investigation of whether the 1-star reviewer is who she says she is. The author admits that she was warned not to engage with the reviewer, and makes a show of declaring that she, the author, is not entirely stable and that her stalking the reviewer was an inappropriate thing to do, but the substance of her piece is more an argument that her writing was treated unfairly and that she had no other recourse than to engage with the reviewer. If we take her story at face-value, we might ultimately conclude that the reviewer is more of a problem than the author, and that the author’s obsession, while regrettable, was an understandable response to the reviewer’s apparent determination to ruin her career.

The response to this author’s story of diving too far down the rabbit hole has been less about sympathy with her insanity and more about raking her over the coals for losing her shit over a negative review. Which is fine. Given the author’s inability to walk away from a 1-star review (out of many 1-star reviews for her book, oddly enough), and her willingness to fall in with the crowd that characterizes negative reviewing as “bullying,” I don’t trust this author’s analysis of the supposed perfidies of the Goodreads community. I don’t even trust her version of events. Her article gestures at being self-critical, but it’s ultimately self-serving more than anything else, and for that reason, all her commentary on the alleged toxicity of book-reviewing culture is suspect.

You may have noticed that I’ve written all this blog entry so far without naming anyone or anything except Goodreads? If you haven’t seen the story already, I’ve probably given you enough information to find the author’s name through Google, but here’s what I realized in reading another analysis of this author’s behavior on another, very high-traffic site:

We’re giving her what she wants.

What a brand-new novelist needs more than anything else is to be talked about. She needs people to read her book, and pay for it, but if she gets enough people talking about her, even if the talk is overwhelmingly negative, the readers and paying customers will follow.

I never heard of this author until today. Without her getting her bad behavior attached to her name on major websites, I probably would have never heard of her.

As we speak, there are plenty of Goodreads members adding the author’s name to their Will Not Read No Not Ever lists, but I’m sure there are many more people looking up her name on Amazon just to see what all the fuss is about, and many of those people are paying for her novel.

She’s profiting from her bad behavior. She’s using her unhealthy response to criticism to build notoriety, and she’s able to do this because of the copious amounts of critical analysis of her reviewer-stalking with her name and face attached. The major online publication rewarded her bad behavior by running her article. “Some names have been changed,” it says at the bottom, but the author’s name is very much intact. All the other websites weighing in on the inappropriateness of her actions are also rewarding her, because they are very much using her name. That sends a bad message to other (unknown, ethics-impaired) authors, and it makes more reviewers unsafe.

I’ve written about other badly-behaved authors before, though none of them went as far as showing up on someone’s doorstep. I’m starting to think maybe I shouldn’t have used their names. I’m starting to think the most radical way we can handle stories like this one is to refuse to name the author. Don’t add to their Google results. Don’t help them build name recognition. Don’t send new readers their way.

No, author, you do not review your own books.

No, this is not another sockpuppeteer causing embarrassment to indie authors. I don’t know whether it’s an indie author, but someone doesn’t even have the sense to set up a sockpuppet account.

This came from a fellow author on Facebook today:

Wow, just got this in a review request from an author, talk about unethical…

“I will even write the review for you (so that you can then edit and post) or give you some bullet points to work off or ‘completely in your words, without any help or hindrance’, the choice is yours.”

Oh, for the love of Pete, authors, does this really need to be said?

BOOK REVIEWING DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY.

First, you read the blogger’s guidelines. Look at the types of books she will accept for reviewing, and the types of post she will run on her blog. She might be open to your type of work, and she might be interested in guest posts. If so, you can offer her a guest post about your work! Here is an example of a guest post, and notice that it does not say anything about how much you will like the book. The blogger might also do author interviews, with or without having read the book. If that’s in her guidelines, you can offer yourself up for an interview! Here is an interview I did with someone who had clearly read my book, and here is one I did with someone who hadn’t.

There are acceptable ways to create your own content for other people to post on their blogs in order to promote your work. Offering to write a review of your own book for someone else to “edit and post” is not one of them. Offering a set of “bullet points” is equally dishonest. You’re not being helpful by telling someone else what to say about your book. You’re being incredibly arrogant.

Think of your own rational self-interest here. If readers keep seeing your book get reviewed with the same set of talking points in each post, someone is going to notice, and the reviews will not seem credible. Furthermore, book blogging is an inherently social activity; bloggers are not interchangeable and they do not march in perfect lockstep on any issue, but neither do they blog in isolation. If you offer your self-written review to ten different bloggers, who actually read your type of work, chances are very good that two or more of them know one another, and they will communicate. There are people with “will never read” lists on Goodreads precisely because the authors show zero respect for the people whom they expect to help promote their work. There actually is such a thing as bad publicity for an indie author self-promoting through social media. Don’t be that author.

If criticism is bullying, then all writers choose to be victims.

About last night? Okay! So, Rhiannon Frater tells us about how authors continue to be assholes who react inappropriately to negative reviews on Goodreads. She focuses on this one indie author, who threw a ridiculous shit-fit over what was actually quite a mild, even-tempered DNF (Did Not Finish) note. Rhiannon says:

It went off when Indie Author Heather White responded nastily to reviewer Andrea Thompson’s review of the novel WHEN DESTINY KNOCKS.  You can read the initial review here and then dive into the comments to see where it all goes horribly wrong.  This is the perfect lesson of what not to do if you are an author.  Don’t call reviewers douches and morons. It’s just a really bad idea.

The author’s epic meltdown got a lot of attention. I watched it in real time, hoping to God she would see sense and stop the madness. It didn’t happen.  She started going off on another reviewer, Kara of Great Imaginations Book Reviews, for stating she would NOT be reading the book after seeing how the author was behaving. You can see how it gets really bad by reading here.

By the end of the night, the writer had deleted her Goodreads account, deleted her blog, and Twitter.  All of this could have been avoided if she had just realized that Andrea’s review was her own personal viewpoint and not said a word. In fact, I thought Andrea’s review was pretty fair.

But that explosion has been just one of many in recent history. Now a new blog has started up to attack reviewers on Goodreads for posting negative reviews. It’s pretty nasty. You can see it here.  I want to state openly that I do NOT support in any way shape or form authors going after reviewers for negative reviews.  It’s childish and bullying.

Let’s go see Heather White’s meltdown on Goodreads, shall we? This is the criticism from Andrea Thompson:

As bad as I hate to, I’m calling a DNF on When Destiny Knocks.

I have a couple different reasons. First, the premise. An almost-17yo girl moves to a new town(more about that in a minute), new school. She’s not happy about this move. She meets a new guy. They have an instant connection, there are sparks when they touch. She finds out that she has a secret destiny and the boy plays a part. They are on opposite sides. He is willing to sacrifice his family (offering, with a smile, to kill his dad). And here is where I stopped.

Second, about the town. The story is set in Jonesboro, Arkansas. I used to live there, so perhaps I’m a bit (okay, a lot)biased. Jonesboro is actually a great place. I know compared to Manhattan, that’s like one city block, but it does have over 65,000+ people, not exactly a hole in the wall.

Lastly,I had an issue with something mentioned about the high school. The main character enrolls at West Side, and made a snarky internal remark about the school having a metal detector. As if she couldn’t believe people in Arkansas needed it. And this did not sit well with me. For starters, a lot of guys in Arkansas carry pocket knives. All the guys I knew carried them to school. Not a big deal in 1996 (gasp!I’m old) but a huge deal now.

But here’s the big deal with that statement. A lot of people may not remember the March 1998 West Side Middle School Massacre. It got overshadowed by the Columbine shooting in 1999.(Here’s a great article about the story,http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net…, where I got all my facts because my brain was fuzzy on the subject.) Anyway, two students pulled a fire alarm and murdered one teacher and four students as they evacuated. One other teacher and nine more students were injured. It was devastating, to say the least. I guess what I’m saying is: Either have another student explain to the mc about the shooting or pick another school (there are a lot to choose from in Jonesboro) to set it at because honestly, I couldn’t concentrate on the story after that remark.

I will say,if the subject is further addressed and explained later in the story, then I apologize and would happily add that to my review.

No matter what I’ve said, my feelings are my own. There are a lot of people who’ve enjoyed the story. I encourage you to check out their reviews as well.

In the grand scheme of negative reactions to books posted on public forums, this one is very gentle. We can’t see Heather White’s comments directly because she has since deleted her Goodreads account, but we can gather what she said from other comments, and it seems this is what happened:

Heather wrote: “I don’t know if you realize, but I AM FROM ARKANSAS. I have family that goes to that school, and what you said was very unkind. I remember the school shooting! I will NEVER forget the day it happen…”

Wow. I stated my thoughts in a very kind,honest way. I actually did know you live in Arkansas, but I honestly didn’t care and dont know what that has to do w/anything.

I did not attack you. I stated my honest feelings. I think the only person coming out of this looking like a douche is you.

Similar to our old friend Julie Halpern, Heather White is making the mistake of confusing an assessment of storytelling ability with an assumption about the author’s life. The fact that she is from Arkansas does not change the fact that she presented the setting in a way that seemed ignorant about the reality of life in Jonesboro. If anything (I agree with Giselle in the Goodreads thread), it makes the criticism even more relevant. If you’re FROM ARKANSAS then you’d better damn well DO A GOOD JOB OF WRITING ABOUT ARKANSAS. If I wrote a book that presented Prince George’s County, Maryland as a stronghold of sheltered Republicans, I would richly deserve the thrashing that would inevitably ensue, doubly so because I live here and I should know better.

Now, aside from the fact that the author actually made it worse for herself by raising a stink over where she’s from, there’s the bigger issue of how she made it worse for herself by losing her temper at a reviewer when no one would have thought any less of her for acting like the review didn’t exist. If you read the comments on Andrea Thompson’s review, you see a lot of other people declaring that they have decided NEVER to read Heather White’s book, not because it obviously sucks, but because they are not interested in supporting an author who behaves like an asshole to anyone who dares offer a criticism.

The reasons why it is stupid and counter-productive for an author to pick a fight with a critical reviewer include, but are not limited to:

A negative reaction can still make a book seem interesting. For a personal example, I would like you to see the Audacious Reader’s review of my novel, Charlinder’s Walk, which is not entirely positive. Specifically, note this comment here:

Often, I prefer my pleasure reading to be “light and fluffy.” BUT, when I pick up a post-apocalyptic title, like The Stand, The Road, or World War Z, I don’t really expect lightweight reading!

If a criticism is specific, it can actually get some readers more interested in a book. I don’t know that anyone decided to buy Charlinder’s Walk after reading Evangeline’s review, but I also don’t know that anyone decided against it because of her reaction. Readers can usually tell when their taste is not quite the same as that of the reviewer, and what one person frames as a negative, someone else might view as a positive.

You will never please everyone. Honesty is the engine that keeps the book blogosphere running. Book bloggers help authors not by stroking their egos, but by telling their blog readers about books they’ve read. If those book bloggers gave every single book a purely positive write-up, their readers would not be able to trust them, and thus their book blogs would be useless at getting people to buy and read books. Notice, also, the disclosure at the bottom of Evangeline’s post:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

You heard the lady. I sent her a copy of my book for free because I wanted her honesty, not her unqualified praise. If I wanted a guaranteed 100% positive review, I probably would’ve had to find someone who’d accept money. I’m sure it would be nice if you, the author, could line up a set of bloggers who were honest about everyone else’s books but nothing but had nothing but praise for yours, but you are not entitled to game the system like that, and I hope you don’t find a way.

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If you don’t want to be called out for plagiarism, then don’t plagiarize.

Twitter, Y U DO THIS? I come home thinking I’ll just wash some dishes, de-grunge my hair, and work on a little urban fantasy. The Internet had other plans.

Sarah at Smart Bitches Trashy Books gives us the scoop on how prominent YA book blogger The Story Siren got caught copy/pasting other bloggers’ posts and passing them off as her own writing. The Story Siren doesn’t appear to have grasped the “got caught” part on the first try.

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I suppose Caitlin Flanagan might like some aloe for that BURN.

Folks, this is not a vicious negative review. Blogger Allison Dayle is gentle as a pussycat compared to Irin Carmon at Slate, reviewing Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan:

Of the many questions formed while reading Caitlin Flanagan’s “Girl Land,” most pressing is why it was written at all.

That’s just the very beginning.

But this is not a memoir, or it rarely is, and it’s not clear why. After all, a memoir might conveniently free Flanagan from one of her fiercest hostilities — her resistance to empirical data or any evidence at all.

Fellow writers, THAT is what it looks like when a reviewer trashes your work. Granted, Carmon is reviewing non-fiction, which makes her criticism quite a different animal from Dayle’s unimpressed reaction to Halpern’s book. But still. You want to talk about “DISCOURAGING PEOPLE FROM READING” a given book? Carmon will show you how it’s done.