*Yes, I KNOW the correct grammar for that sentence. But if I used it, I’d sound like a stuffy elitist dinosaur. So if you hopped onto this page to correct me, I hope you’ll read on.
All kinds of crazy
There’s all kinds of crazy going on in the book world right now. Huge corporations engaged in battles with other huge corporations about who controls book prices. Publishers suing book bloggers. Mud-slinging of all kinds between authors of different stripes who have a problem with authors whose stripes go the other way. Frenzied accusations of bullying. All these kerfuffles lead to avalanches of tweets and forum posts where the argument gets increasingly off-topic, people get increasingly upset and very few people seem to understand either the original issue or what the last poster just said.
I don’t generally talk about specific instances of kerfuffling, a) because I want to be a writer not a campaigner, b) because in order to deliver a considered opinion I’d have to get the facts right and facts tend to get a bit slippery during a media storm, and c) because all of these matters are generally trivial and icky when you sit down and think about them. But I do note them and occasionally chat about them online with a friend or two, until I reach the point where I start having half-baked opinions of my own and then I try to shut myself up.
Some crazy is more deliberate than other crazy
BUT this week I want to talk about some specific instances that might be evidence of a growing trend. They are, in chronological (I think) order:
- The Anne Rice petition crazy (multi-published author about to launch her latest book—the first in some time—lends very well-publicized support to a petition asking Amazon to ban book reviewers from using pseudonyms)
- The Margo Howard crazy (multi-published author complains that Amazon Vine reviewers sabotaged her latest book which, by the way, was just published)
- The Kathleen Hale crazy (debut author with first book launched this year writes at length about her reaction to a one-star review, which included obsessive tracking of the reviewer both online and in real life)
I deliberately haven’t inserted any links in the above, because frankly, most of you who are going to go on and read this article know what I’m talking about. I would advise the rest of you not to go there, but if you do, try and read several posts/articles/roundups to get a balanced view. If that’s possible.
What I want you to notice is the fact that all of these authors are published by major traditional publishing houses, and all of them have a new book out.
Not all train wrecks are accidents
This is a different kind of crazy from the typical self-publisher/minor traditional author crazy, which usually starts with an author doing some dumb thing like suggesting a review ring or rigged voting in a forum or on Facebook, leaving nasty comments on a review, or having a good whine on his/her blog or a Facebook page. In those cases, a rookie (usually) mistake from which the author could have easily recovered by backing down and apologizing turns into a big mess of recriminations and denial because the author won’t back down, and usually ends with the author becoming an adherent of a certain discredited website.
In some ways I’m a little more sympathetic to this frequently reenacted scenario, because it stems from an ignorance of basic business principles, an uncertain grasp of ethics and a culture that regards humility and backing down from an asserted position as weakness.
The pattern I’m seeing above is more disturbing. This is not the case of an author putting her foot in her mouth in a spur-of-the-moment blog post or comment. The Howard and Hale articles were published on major media sites, New Republic in Howard’s case and The Guardian in Hale’s. Rice’s petition effort and the articles it generated received widespread coverage.
In Rice’s case, the coverage didn’t just happen—it would have been the result of a press release written by the author or her publicist or assistant, and brought to the attention of the right editors. In Howard’s and Hale’s case, the articles would have been pitched to an editor and a date chosen for their release—I’m not altogether familiar with the process, but I’m guessing a substantial exchange of emails would have taken place over, say, two weeks.
And—worse still—my guess (and, remember, it’s only a guess) is that this wasn’t a case of either Howard or Hale going rogue and agreeing to those articles behind their agents’ or publishers’ backs. (In Rice’s case, who knows—the Queen of the Vampires doesn't seem to mind what anybody else thinks.)
You want visibility? Get the bait out
As all authors know, writing the book is one thing and getting people to notice it is another. Visibility is the key to success, particularly online—with co-op space in bookstores shrinking, achieving that all-important initial burst of sales through online marketing could be what propels a book into the sweet spot in terms of Amazon algorithms and bestseller lists. Marketing ploys for authors around the time of their book launch include author interviews (yawn), giveaways (overdone), blog tours (uh-huh) and heck, if you have a great story to tell about yourself, now’s the time to pitch it to a features editor or two.
And if you REALLY want to get your name around, attack the book blogging/reviewing community. There’s a culture of loyalty among book bloggers and top reviewers that pretty much guarantees a nice fizzy reaction to any post that directly attempt to discredit or demean any one of them. The right of reviewers to anonymity is a hot-button issue, as is their right to state a negative opinion about a book (I support both rights, incidentally, as long as the underlying purpose is to provide an honest review.) Push those buttons, and you get a reaction that spreads like a wildfire in the community of avid readers most likely to influence other readers. Visibility problem? Solved.
I'm a media what?
But who wants that kind of publicity? I hear you ask. Who wants a reputation as one of THOSE authors? Well, I certainly don’t—I don’t necessarily need people to love ME rather than my writing, but I’d rather my writing came with a reputation for professionalism attached to it. And yet in terms of sales, visibility trumps professionalism. Completely hypothetically, let’s say you wrote a book you might expect 1,000 people (bloggers, media reviewers, etc.) to notice. If you can create a kerfuffle that gets your name, and your book’s, before 100,000 people instead, perhaps 70% or 70,000 might be turned off by your behavior and swear off ever reading any of your books ever again. But the other 30% or 30,000 who feel neutral or favorable toward you will boost your visibility immensely and could result in sales that will kick your books up the Amazon charts and the bestseller lists.
From a purely business viewpoint, it’s hard to argue against the power of any publicity that’ll get you into major media outlets. Furthermore, both Howard and Hale had an ‘angle’ that makes them more attractive to the news media than the average author—Howard is the daughter of Chicago advice columnist legend Ann Landers, while Hale has had success documenting some pretty bizarre episodes in her personal life. Anne Rice is, well, Anne Rice. Do I need to elaborate?
Their edge makes it easier for all three of these ladies to get a story into the news media than it would be for most writers, as most writers are pretty boring. Ergo, this is a marketing ploy that looks like a slam dunk in the short term for any one of them. It may not work as well for all authors.
Hard to ignore, aren't they?
My original title for this post was going to be something like Walk Away From The Crazy, and I was going to attempt to persuade the book-loving community to ignore the next author who goes on the attack in an attempt to drag their name (and their latest book) into the spotlight. But I don’t think I’ve got a snowball’s chance of achieving that, especially when said authors launch their missiles from highly respected media outlets with a large circulation. Instead, I’m going to end by asking those authors and readers who’ve supported Rice, Howard and Hale to think, really think, about who benefits from this kind of media kerfuffle, and analyze exactly what these authors—and, possibly, their publishers—are doing.