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Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Industry That Ate Itself

There's been a lot of hysteria in both the standard media and all over the interwebz the last week or so about Authors Behaving Badly, or at least, Not Up To The Standard Distinguished Gentlefolk Should Maintain.

We had the John Locke issue, where it was revealed that the author paid for reviews. Shock! Horror! (Explanation for sarcasm slightly further down this post. Pace yourselves, folks, I'll get there.)

Stephen Leather came under fire for daring to thumb his nose at people who were doing the same to him, and using fake accounts to do so. The cheek of it! How dare he not simply bend over and ask for more KY? It's really not done, old boy.

And R.J. Ellory got busted leaving somewhat lavish reviews of his own books and firing what would appear to be small nuclear devices consisting of 1 star reviews at his competition. Out of the three, this one puzzled me the most, but let's look at them in order, shall we?

Locke paid for reviews. I have a couple of responses to the outrage over this one, and the first is: if you think that he is the only author ever to do so, I got a bridge I'd like to sell you. It's all purty and old and stuff. Londoner's have thrown up on it for several hundred years, but they cleaned it up for the Olympics so it smells a bit better than it used to.
Furthermore, if you think that standard publishers never paid for reviews, whether through advertising in the media that employed their reviewers, or by funding things, or even directly (book reviewers need to eat too; I'm fairly sure they don't eat the pages of books they dislike so real food is probably welcome), you've passed the world of naivety and shouldn't be allowed to play with any money that doesn't belong on a Monopoly board.

What Locke did, despite the howls of outrage blowing through the internet, makes sense from a business point of view, and what Locke is, before he ever decided to write, is a pretty successful businessman. It's also worth pointing out that he could afford to pay for these reviews, and a large amount of said howling comes from folks who cannot. (Personally, I looked at the price it's claimed he paid and just about choked. That's a whole bunch of coffee and rent money right there.)

About the only grumble I have is that he never offered it as full disclosure in the book he published about how he achieved his sales. That said, although the reviews might have helped him, I doubt they were 100% the reason for his success; folks read his books, liked them, and carried on buying his stuff.
Screaming about Locke's sales being unfair because he bought reviews is about as useful as a toddler sticking grapes up his nose. It makes you look stupid, and eventually it's going to hurt you.

As for Leather - dear internet, for the love of green cheese, grow up. That news is old. It's also been pretty much an open secret for years; there was chatter about him doing this before I published WolfSong, and that's going on almost two years now. And some of his chirps are pretty damn funny, but maybe that's just me.
Also, dear screaming indignant fans, you can't have it both ways. If an author responds to anything remotely negative, with anything no matter how polite, they'd have a slighter better life expectancy if you strapped a raw steak to their back and dropped them in a shark tank. They'd probably also having a slightly better quality of life at that point in time.

Unfortunately, since authors are not emotionless robots that only live on your bookshelf or in your kindle, and since most of them like other humans don't always have the maybe-I'd-better-not-do-that filter on permanently, sometimes they respond like humans. The danger of the mob-the-author mentality is that it gets to the point where authors cannot say or do anything that might be slightly controversial once they reach a certain visibility, and that is dangerous. That's the whole stick-em-under-the-stairs-so-respectable-folks-don't-see-em vibe that pushes all my alert buttons, and it needs to stop. Don't ask me how - humans sometimes seem very good at tearing others down, and then standing around shuffling their feet and wondering why they don't have anyone left to play with - and I have no idea how to change that mentality. I don't understand it, and all I can do is try to avoid it.

Then there's Ellory, and as I mentioned earlier, this one had me scratching my head a bit. He's not the first author to be busted this way, but he is one of the biggest. That's not what has me puzzled, though, as I mentioned on twitter last week. What does confuse me is this : where did he find the time to do this? And why did he do it?  This isn't the standard jealous indy author with an axe to grind - this is a respected, traditionally published, award winner author, with multiple books to his name. (M&S, eat your heart out.) I have no idea why he did this, and of the three, it's the only one that really irks me, because leaving nasty reviews simply to disrupt someone else's sales is a shoddy move. It's something I associate with people who think pulling the wings off of flies as being high entertainment. Leaving love-letters to ones self in the form of an Amazon review, while cringeworthy if caught is one thing. It's embarrassing, and the authorial equivalent to that scene from American Pie, but it's not quite as, well, dickish as trying to hurt fellow writers and being too cowardly to use your own name.

And for all my points on that, he is still entitled to free speech. The one star review system is abused by people with their own agenda on every site that uses it. I'm not saying what he did is nice, but he is as entitled to do so as everyone else. Case in point - there are now a couple of 1 star reviews against his books by people who posted them because of him being exposed. So what makes any 1 star vendetta more righteous than another? To me it just highlights the fact that review sites and the internet makes it very easy for mob wars to start, for people to be vindictive for whatever weird sense of satisfaction they get from being pretty dickish themselves.

But I really want to know how he found the time. Writing a review takes a bit of thought and effort. Writing multiple reviews using multiple accounts (at this point my mind always starts wailing "How? How do they set up multiple accounts when I can hardly get one to work? Whah!" and then goes and sulks in a corner) and jumping onto the forum boards using those same accounts? While still writing books and living life and getting awards and stuff? My only explanation is that he has access to a real-life version of the Tardis.

Dear Mr. Ellory:

I'd really, really, like to take a ride in your time-space bending machine. I  promise not to ding it too badly and will bring it back once I've sorted out the lottery and kicked my high-school nemesis in the soft parts.