What an angry shouty weekend it was. I’d planned to relax, do some writing, work on preparing some workshops that I have coming up. Instead I spent the whole time fielding phone calls, emails, and angry online comments. I’m sure you’ve all seen the allegations (and admissions) that several authors have used fake accounts to promote their own work and give bad reviews to the work of others. There has been outrage at this. It is seen as unequivocal Bad Author Behaviour. Having been put in the middle of it, I want to unpick some of what may or may not be seen as bad behaviour (all in an entirely personal capacity).
Using a fake name to review your own books – whether on Twitter, Amazon, or blogs. To me this is straightforwardly BAD. It misleads readers and is just a bit pathetic.
But how far does this go? Is it wrong if friends and family review your book? Should you ask them specifically not to? I currently have 33 5* reviews on Amazon. As far as I know about five of those are from actual friends of mine, all of whom have read and I believe enjoyed the book. I was quite proud of that number until all this broke. It’s easy for bigger-name authors not to care about online reviews, but for some these are the only reviews they get. Great Amazon support can make the career of an author with not much publicity behind them. Surely that’s not wrong.
Nepotism – an extension of the above, and arguably also misleading the reader to an extent if you don’t declare an interest. But the practice is totally endemic. Authors review each other’s books. They provide blurbs, sometimes to their friends. They may suggest their friends for events, or other opportunities. Usually this stems from a genuine admiration for the person’s work. We’re all readers first, writers second.
Similarly, in print reviews, most reviewers and authors are known to each other to some degree. It’s a small world. Reviewers of integrity would never promote a book they didn’t like – are we saying they also can’t review the work of people they’re friendly with? Maybe we need a register of interests: ‘On the 25th of July 2012, I was bought a gin and tonic by AN Other author in The Olde Kindlemaker’s Arms, London’. I think this one can be BAD but is not at all straightforward.
Dissing the work of other authors – we’ve all done this at one point or another, but usually in private. I occasionally will say online if I’ve not liked a book, but usually only if the author is very famous and unlikely to give two hoots what I think. Maybe I shouldn’t even do that. Are we saying authors are not allowed to comment on the work of other authors, at all? Or is it only if they’ve used a fake name? But then lots of people use nicknames on Amazon. Is every 1* star review suspect? Or only those from authors? I think this one needs unpicking a bit to see what it we truly consider BAD. Is there a difference between one bad review, given as a reader, and a sustained attacked on people (eg lots of reviews under different names, getting your supporters to attack the other writer, etc). I personally would never give anyone a 1* star review, whether I knew them or not (cos it hurts, man) but I don’t think the issue is quite as cut-and-dried as it may appear.
Responding to bad reviews – that way madness lies. I’ve had my share and I haven’t responded to any (even the one that said ‘this is a terrible mix of chick lit and crime, and it works as neither’). People are entitled to give bad reviews, and as the writer you just have to take them. Authors such as chick-lit writer Emily Griffin have really damaged their reputations by feeding the trolls. http://mybookgoggles.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/author-behaving-badly-emily-giffin.html
Becoming furious and demanding instant action on an issue that hasn’t been properly looked into – as I’ve said, I personally would never do any of the actions people have been accused of. But there are such things as due process, right to reply, and legal obligations not to react in a knee-jerk fashion. Unfortunately, trying to respond in a measured way can lead to accusations of ‘fence-sitting’ and ‘having no balls’. (It’s always about balls…)
Forgetting that no one died – I’m always amazed at how strongly people in the writing world can respond to seemingly trivial issues (I don’t include the current issue in this). Maybe because we’re a bunch of highly strung, twitchy artists. Or maybe because people often haven’t had to go out to work for many years, and forget how to behave in a professional environment. Books are important, sure, but we’re lucky to work in a industry which rarely kills anyone. Maybe we should remember this more and try to be a bit less petty.
Attacking other authors online– we’re all upset about this being done under fake names. However, I feel I’ve been attacked myself, and sworn at, and harassed, because I work (freelance, part-time) for an organisation where one of the authors in question is a member and long before all this broke was on the board. It’s absolutely fair to be angry because someone has acted in a way that’s underhand and unsupportive of other authors. It’s absolutely fair to expect a response. It’s absolutely fair to put your opinions to the board (even if you have never actually joined said organisation yourself). It is not fair at all to attack and swear at people who’ve done nothing wrong.
What would be helpful would be actually join such organisations and try through them to combat dishonest and unfair practices. So I think attacking people online, whether in your own name or a sockpuppet’s, counts as BAD.
Once again I say all this in a totally personal capacity – because I think once people have directed criticism to you personally, it becomes personal.
What else do you think is Bad Author Behaviour? How about:
Getting embroiled in online arguments when we should all be working on our books? I bet our editors would like to give us a rap on the knuckles for that.