Angry Authors. Tar and Feathers.

I’m an independently published author, or if you like, an Indie author, a self-published author. I don’t brag about it, I’m not egotistically proud to be self-published and very definitely not ashamed, because in my mind I’m just a writer who publishes her books and offers them for sale with on-line retailers. I do believe self-publishing can – for many – be more profitable than going the traditional route, and I don’t have to deal with the restrictions, lack of control and lack of disclosure from editors and publishing houses that traditionally published authors must deal with. But this year, I often cringe when I read a new blog post, article or reader’s comment about self-publishing. This year I’m ashamed of, and embarrassed by, the actions of a few Indie authors.

Authors publicly reacting badly to negative reviews. Authors verbally abusing, threatening and stalking reviewers and book bloggers. Public flame wars.

I’m not going to add links. If you Google “Authors Behaving Badly,” you’ll find enough to keep you reading for the rest of the day.

These authors are so self-centered, they don’t comprehend the damage their rants do to their careers, or care about how their behavior influences readers’ opinion of other self-publishers. Unfortunately, we are all tarred with the same brush. People like to generalize, so when the shit hits the fan, it sprays in everyone’s face. The shenanigans of a few can have the power to besmirch an entire industry.

Some book bloggers will no longer review a self-published work. Reader forums warn readers to not buy any self-published books.

Recently on the scene, the revelation that successful self-published author John Locke, the guy who wrote “How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months,” paid a service to write hundreds of reviews for his books, and he’s not the only one. Locke’s (apparent) belief he did nothing wrong saddens and disgusts me. Paid-for reviews are nothing new, but Locke bought 300 reviews from Todd Rutherford, whose stable of reviewers were paid only for 5 star reviews. Locke gamed Amazon. Now the legitimacy of the review system is in doubt and Indie authors are being targeted, although  it’s likely a number of Big 6 authors, or their publishers, also buy reviews and have for a long time.

Indie authors are not the only ones behaving badly.

Traditionally published authors are actively telling writers to not self-publish. I can’t label them “authors behaving badly,” but certainly authors behaving inanely, because they don’t know what they’re talking about. They know little or nothing of the self-publishing industry. Authors, editors, journalists have taken up a kind of mantra: “most self-publishers only sell 100-150 books.” No data or research is ever presented to back this up. Perhaps an editor said it five or ten years ago, it certainly does not apply now. They say self-publishers pay tens of thousands of dollars to publish, and some go on to cite rip-off agencies such Author Solutions (xLibris, AuthorHouse, iUniverse,) that profit more from the services they sell to aspiring authors than actual book sales. And, of course, the old refrain: Indie books are poorly written and poorly edited, by which they mean all self-published works. These trad published authors are totally misinformed on many aspects of self-publishing, and gleefully spread the misinformation.

Indie authors are no different when it comes to propagating fallacies instead of taking the time to research. Hundred of authors mistook a legitimate service that linked readers to books available on Amazon’s book lending program for a piracy site. The site was overloaded with complaints and the host could not cope. The site went down. Readers reacted by publishing the names of offending authors and threatening to give their books one-star reviews.

All this depresses me. Traditionally published, self-published – we should concentrate on one thing and one thing only: putting out a good product for those who spend their hard-earned money on our books. We’re writers, so instead of obsessing about what other people do, how about we channel our energy into writing?

11 responses to “Angry Authors. Tar and Feathers.

  1. Thank you for this. I was doing some reading yesterday about one of the recent cases of authors behaving badly, namely literally stalking someone who had given them a bad review and the discussion by some that maybe it was okay because the reviewer was a “bad person.”

    Obviously this is ridiculous. Reviewers are golden, and are allowed to share their opinion on a book, even if they think it’s mindless drivel. Understandably some authors are uncomfortable with bad reviews, after all it is criticism of your work, but I think all writers, by the time they get to publication, should have gone through a series of critiques of their work and learned how to take criticism as a tool for bettering writing.

    I also think there is a lot of fear in the publishing world about independent publishing. There are definite pluses to either route. Some books can certainly benefit from the power of a big publishing house who can market and promote a book that can reach a huge audience, but some books don’t fit the usual mold, and these are the ones that generally do well independently.

    Personally, I have three books published independently, and I have an agent for my next book, which I think will do better with a publisher. I don’t believe either route is “better,” it just depends on the book. I know my experimental surrealist horror isn’t for a publishing house. Each of my careful queries of that book had the same response: “It’s too literary for us.” That was enough for me to see where it fit in the market and make my decision from there.

    I think in the next few years independent writers will face less of a stigma, just like independent music. The biggest problem I think we deal with right now are the hordes of writers who spam self-promote. I had begun a website a few years ago dedicated to promoting great indie books, but time was not on my side and I ended up shutting it down. Perhaps in the future I will bring it back from the ashes. Hmm. Ideas!

    Anyway, thanks for this. I think it’s a great discussion point on writers acting professionally.

    • Hello Lindsay,

      Thank you for stopping by. I’m always a little surprised when someone finds and comments on one of my old posts and I thoroughly enjoyed your articulate response. I do think the stigma of self-publishing is already fading and the gap between it and trade published is closing. Self-published authors have and continue to hit the New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly best sellers list; successful trade published authors are self-publishing their back lists and novels their publishers are not interested in, and many authors – like you – calculate which route is best for a particular work. As you say, there are pluses and minuses to either route, which is taken depends on the book.

      Good luck with your next book! I hope one day you find the time to open up your promotion site again (and don’t get deluged with spammers!) :p

      Linda

  2. I can’t help but notice that none of my reviews have been removed from indie authors with whom Amazon has publishing deals, and that raises some very troubling questions about the appropriateness of the world’s largest bookselling entity censoring reviews on publishing brands that could be perceived to be in competition with its own. The potential for abuse of that power is staggering in the context of past to-the-mattress conflicts between Amazon and mainstream publishers. Imagine the outcry if targeted Penguin or FSG titles were suddenly stripped of favorable reviews. Amazon could do this with ease and impunity, the same way they disabled buy buttons on over 5,000 titles earlier this year during a dispute with IPG.

  3. I am quite saddened by Locke’s method of paying for reviews because it is an area where indies take a drubbing even without a paid service. If an indie author has great reviews numbering between 20-40 that are primarily 4 & 5 stars, then the comment is that they must have called upon all their friends and family to give them reviews. That may be true, but it isn’t true for all. Just as the same exact behavior can be true of someone who published via the traditional channels. When it comes to “gaming” the system, it is not one side or the other of the publishing platforms, but rather divided by scrupulous and unscrupulous and the various shades of grey between.

    And when it comes to authors behaving badly, my Google search number one result happens to be a big six, NYTBS author behaving badly. So there is definitely bad behavior on both sides of the divide.

    I will continue to focus on what I think is important, which is putting out the best books I can, whether indie, small press, or big six. Because depending on the book itself, I believe the best publishing process may be different – it doesn’t mean I think the book is less than another, it is simply different because not all readers like the same thing… and THAT is a good thing.

    *folds up soapbox and quietly slopes away*

  4. well said. We are going to see more trad. pub authors going the self pub route for spin off series and experiment with new genre. I think self pub will eventually get back its good name. With the self pub option so easy we have seen a massive influx of inexperienced writers putting their work out there. Eventually the novelty will die down a little as writers realize you can’t just type up a story and sell it on amazon.Things will balance out. How long this will take…who knows

    • A lot of trad pubbed authors are already publishing their back lists, etc, and good on them! They see both sides. And you’re right, Sharon, a lot of newby writers slap anything up, but unfortunately they don’t know their work is poorly done. No doubt it’ll all sort itself out in the end. :)

  5. Well said, Lin. There is unprofessionalism in every industry. Some people would rather cheat the system than follow basic ethical guidelines.

    Like you, I work hard at my craft, and I get reviews the old-fashioned way: I earn them.

    It is distressing to see all this misbehavior, but I believe most readers will continue to buy books they love and reward authors they trust.

    The only thing I can do about any of this is to write great books and let the chips fall where they may.

    • You’re absolutely right, Mike. I believe readers are the new gatekeepers, they decide which books rise above the rest – they should be able to trust reviews to help them decide what to purchase, and they should not see disgraceful behavior by anyone in the writing profession. But as you say, we’ll just carry doing what we love and “let the chips fall where they may.”

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