Authors Behaving Badly

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.

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.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. James Oswald says:

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with leaving a one star review if you feel the work being reviewed justifies it and you’re prepared to put your name to that. I can’t see the point in attacking the person rather than the work, and I’m not a big fan of internet anonimity (despite my less-than-transparent Twitter handle.) Personally, I stand by the old saw ‘if you can’t think of anything good to say, say nothing’ but I have occasionally broken that rule.

    As for asking friends to review you, again I think there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but then I’m blessed with friends who wouldn’t pull their punches if they felt they were justified – one of my beta readers gave me four stars on Amazon, bless him. Writing reviews for you net-naive granny and aunts to post under their names is dishonest, obviously, as is asking someone to review a book they’ve not read. Otherwise I think it’s fair game. My attitude towards on-line reviews has always been to look at the trend in a large number, so if something has only half a dozen reviews I’m automatically sceptical. Of course if you’re prepared to spend a lot of money on buying hundreds of fake reviews then that approach rather breaks down.

    The positive spin on all this nastiness is that at least people are talking about it now.

  2. J says:

    Love the last comment!

  3. I would also add:
    -hassling people to give you RTs, when they haven’t even read your book
    -hassling people to review you

  4. Tomcat says:

    I once wrote a so-so review of a new book by a famous, well-established writer for my blog. I wasn’t especially negative, and indeed I praised many aspects of the writing. But a couple of days later I received a pretty savage and rude e-mail from said writer. He insisted that it was the first time he’d felt compelled to e-mail a reviewer (which I don’t believe for a second): and he suggested that my entire review was disingenuous and snide, as if I was just trolling him for a laugh rather than writing my real, heart-felt impressions of the book. I was, suffice to say, quite shocked. Especially when he sent a follow-up e-mail the next day. All very weird. I don’t benefit financially from writing my blog – I’ve never been paid or been offered money by anyone to write a review -, and I don’t work for any individual or organisation that might benefit from me writing negative (or positive) reviews of books. I write it in my spare time because I enjoy sharing my thoughts with friends and being part of the (largely very friendly) book blogosphere.

    So you could add ‘hassling genuine reviewers’ to the list, maybe?

  5. katelaity says:

    Reblogged this on A Knife And A Quill and commented:
    And here’s a slightly different approach that takes a less strident approach and acknowledges there are a lot of grey areas.

  6. katelaity says:

    Thanks for one of the more reasoned responses I’ve seen. I think there’s a lot more grey areas than are being acknowledged: writers often become friends through reading and reviews of one another’s books. Also as a writer with two pen names (clearly indicated as pen names with no attempt to hide my true identity) I find some of the rhetoric around the sock puppet controversy disturbing. And word on the pushy writers I don’t know: auto-DM me and I will unfollow, message me and I will unfriend you.

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed your post. I can’t help but to sit here, in front of the keyboard, hesitant of which way to go. And I guess it’s like that for most. Or at least it should be. Its a touchy subject to bring up, so I respect the fact that you did. No one wants a bad review. That’s obvious. In a field of work which deals with artists, I think it’s safe to say we are going to have temperaments feelings and defensive responses. But as Artists, we must learn to accept good and BAD! It will help to mold us into the writers we dream of becoming. I work in a writing team with my daughter. I’m 45 she’s 26. I’m more patient and take all criticism to heart but try to learn from it. She can be more hurt by it. I think the problem is going to have to be solved with both parties. Those reviewing as well as the writers themselves. The idea of someone giving bad reviews merely to take the spotlight off of someone else and possibly weasle it onto there’s. How desperate does one have to be to find success! Chances are, if your that hungry to step on anothers back on your way up, then you won’t find your spot at the top anyway. I made a comment a while back to a young girl who has just finished her first book, telling her that I worked in law enforcement most of my life. And that the people there were great. But that I had never met a more honorable and supportive community of people as those we have met in the literary world. We need to remember that! Not all of us are bad, and though it is a very competitive business, there is room for many to grow and find success! When will there ever be a time, when a great story isn’t in demand. Let’s all of us remember that on our drive to the top, the top isn’t a 1×1 platform that can only hold one! It’s a sea of room for all to stand in.

  8. Finally! The voice of reason. Most of us have the opportunity to sample a portion of a book online before buying so enough with the hysteria.

  9. Andy Rivers says:

    Good points well made. I’ve got a day job as well where sitting in the wrong chair in the canteen can result in something rather worse than a one-star review so I’m tending to view all of this rather dispassionately. Having said that I don’t believe I know any of you so if you’d like to review my books… 😉

  10. rashkae says:


    I think authors reviewing other books (even negatively, if honest) is a good thing. There are too many reviews that are just 1 star from people who didn’t like the book and 5 stars from those who did, basically turning the 5 star review system in to a binary average.

    I would even say it’s perfectly acceptible to use a fake name/account, if someone would rather review discussions not be attached to their public ‘writing’ profile. I hail from the days when annonimity on the Internet was the assumed default, not the exception.

    I would only consider this behaving badly if the fake accounts were used to multiply reviews on the same book, or reviews were just perfuctuary 1 star across the board.

  11. Basia Rose says:

    You get so many bonus points for the Men Behaving Badly picture!
    It’s got to the point where innocent authors are being suspected of bad behaviour these days. There’re so many authors doing the wrong thing that readers distrust everyone – and I don’t blame them.
    I’ve given a bad review online: for Fifty Shades of Grey. I won’t apologise for it, because I am offended by the misrepresentation of BDSM in that book (and possible plagiarism issues).
    But if I dislike other books I try to keep it secret!

  12. Ann Mullen says:

    I agree with you. Take it like a man… as they say. Write, publish, and let the readers decide whether or not they like your books. It’s just plain bad if you post fake reviews or bad reviews on books by an author you want to hurt (and nothing hurts worse than a bad review). I’ve just started reading books on Kindle, and once I found out how important it was to an author, I started posting reviews. However, I refuse to post a bad review. I figure writers have a hard enough time as it is.

    About being skeptical of a book with only a few reviews—to me, that would depend on how long the book had been on Kindle. If a book has been up for a year and only has one (5 star) review, I’ve have to scratch my head at that. My books are fairly new on Kindle and have few reviews, but at least they’re honest reviews—good or bad—and I didn’t have to chase anyone down to get them. Sometimes people just don’t put up a review. They move on.

    Enjoyed your post!

  13. The dawn of self-published authors having to learn the ropes of marketing and publicity management has not been a clear, bright morning! What was always at least one-arm’s length away from authors, left to the devices and machinations of the publicist is now right in your face. I suppose like pen names, sock puppets were devised, first, not to throw off one’s career by being honest online or writing outside one’s anointed genre, but snarks abound, so the puppetry found other uses. The whole thing needs to grow up and grow a set. If we write terrible, derivative (can one even use that word now as a derisive comment?) sophomoric drivel, and put it out there, we need to expect hoots and jeers.

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