Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Google Alerts Make Authors Jerkfaces

By Steve Weddle

Kids, gather ‘round. I’m going to tell you how it was when your grandma and I were your age.

See, we didn’t have all of this Twitter and Facebook. We grew up in East Bumfart. We had a weekly paper called The East Bumfart Beacon-Eagle. On Sundays, I’d drive up to Fartopolis and pick up the Sunday paper. They had a couple reviews of books. You know, a cookbook, maybe. Or something they got from one of those New York papers from a week before. Anyway, that was how we found out about books. And we talked to Gladys down at the county library. You probably don’t remember her. She was Berta Mae’s great-aunt. Anyway, she’d tell us about a book we should read and then she’d order for us from that Inter-Library Loan thing they got going down there. Then she’d give us a call on the telephone the next month and tell us the book was there.

Anyhoo, we didn’t always find out about books and such. Now that brings me to what I wanted to talk about: you and these author friends of yours.

See, now you have this terrible, awful weapon called GOOGLE ALERTS. And I know damn well what you use it for. See, you and your author friends put your names in there.

Holy shit, I’m tired of this grandpa voice. Hang on.

Barumph. Barumph.

OK. That’s better.

So last week I blathered about the Terry Goodkind loyalty thing and at the end there I mentioned the Terry Goodkind piracy thing.

He had been blogging about releasing his book as an ebook and had engaged his audience about pirates. He’d said, as best I can tell, that he knows piracy exists and what should be done about it and why do pirates pirate and all. One of the big reasons was convenience. So he set about making the book available in all platforms. Seems that, in this Age of the Internet and all, engaging with readers is easier and, you know, kind of expected. So, that's what Mr. Goodkind did and good on him.

Then a dude pirated the book.

So, as the story goes, Goodkind contacts the dude and doesn’t like the response, so Goodkind then publishes the guy’s personal information.

I mentioned this on Twitter, and Mr. Goodkind tweeted back at me to say that he had most certainly not released personal information.

Really? Personal information was never posted. Geez. Sorry. Don't I feel like an asshole for suggesting that you posted the guy's personal info. I didn't know that you just said, "Hey. Someone pirated my book." I thought you had used information to personally identify him. I'm really sorr---- wait. hang on. What, ho! To the Internet, ye searchers for Truthinesses. This is from Mr. Goodkind's post on Facebook

By the way, I've blurred the particulars.

Goodkind posted the guy's name. He posted country of residence. OK. He posted the guy's date of birth. Why would you post the guy's date of birth? What could people on the Internet do with a guy's name and date of birth? Oh, and his Sony PSN usertag. And his website. And his Twitter handle.

Piracy is bad. Ebook pirates take money from authors, take food from the mouths of the author's children. Yes. We can have that discussion anytime you'd like. I'm not interested in discussion the particulars of Mr. Goodkind's response. Others have done that. He has done that. Fine. I've read as much of Mr. Goodkind's books as he's read of mine, which is to say diddly-squat. Let his fans and his h8ters hash it out.

But let's use what Mr. Goodkind did as a jumping-off point here to talk about the larger issue.

The Google Alerts system is turning authors into assholes.

You make a Google Alert with your name. Why wouldn't you? Of course you should. I do. When someone posts something on the Internet with my name (or the name of defensive back Eric Weddle), then I get an email and a link to that post.

This is quite important for authors. As you'll recall from what Grandpa said earlier, back in the olden days, you never really got news about books. Maybe in the Sunday paper, back when daily newspapers covered books.

So if you were an author in 1975 and someone in The East Bumfart Beacon-Eagle said your book was "an inane collection of seven stories, without much point or purpose" then you probably didn't hear about it. Unless your agent or editor or a cousin near East Bumfart happened to see it. Then maybe you read that. But they probably just kept that from you. Because authors tend to be big wussies when it comes to criticism. 

(Yes. I know this, because if someone says something critical about something I've written, then I cry for a while. Not right away, of course. I'll glare. Then when that singer who used to be famous comes on TV to say "help the puppies" I will cry for three hours because I'd been saving it up without knowing it. Look, I am a complicated and delicate flower. I realize this.)

But now, if someone at posts a review of your book, you know within 24 hours.
I will never understand how a book like this gets published. I have written five novels vastly better than this, and I can't find an agent. Yet here is this book, about a crime family of dragon breeders taking over San Francisco in the 1850s, and this book is now part of a trilogy? The writing is childish, the characters shallow, and the cover seems to have been scraped together by a diuretic rhinoceros. 

So, that pops up in your inbox that afternoon. Years ago, you'd have never known. Maybe that would have been in a local newspaper. Maybe it would have been on a Geocities site. 

Now you've seen it. You can't unsee the thing. So what do you do?

Many authors just laugh. Some tell their spouses. Their editors or agents.

More and more, it seems, authors post to Facebook and Twitter. They blog about it -- sometimes go great and glorious result. They spread the word around about a negative review on Amazon.

Of course, sometimes the hoped-for response seems to be, "Oh, that sucks." Sometimes, it's something else.

Look, I'm not about to say how someone should or shouldn't respond to negative comments on their work. Whatever you do is your own business.

But I will say that things seem to be getting nastier now that authors can find all the bad reviews and send their fans after the reviewer.

What was Mr. Goodkind trying to accomplish by posting the pirate's website address and Twitter handle and birthdate and PSN user ID?

What are authors hoping to accomplish when they link to a nasty review of their books? Are they trying to send their fans out on the attack? Is this wrong?

Is it OK to vote down a bad review on Amazon?

Is it different to comment on that review by posting, "Yeah. You're an idiot reader and don't deserve to read this piece of beauty"?

When does this become Inciting To Riot?

What about 200 commenters showing up at a reader's to personally attack the reviewer?

In the age of Google Alerts and constant Internet access, is it just easier to find the bad reviews and respond to them? 

Is it just easier to be an asshole?


Charmaine Clancy said...

I'm a bit conflicted here. While I think authors need to beware naming and shaming those that strike against them, I'm not sure it's any better naming and shaming authors who slip up in this area.

Ron Earl Phillips said...


Goodkind lied in a public forum about information he posted in a public forum, denying a claim that wasn't made by Steve but by another party, but Steve's the one who got the retort.

The naming and shaming has already been done, this is about clarity and the self-subjecting evil that is Google Alerts, having a pulse on every mention of your name and how you respond to same said information.

If someone lied and tried to turn it around on me, I'm sure I'd behave very badly. Steve on the other hand has made it an interesting talking point and a broader discussion.

Dan_Luft said...

I have only been on facebook a year and I am shocked to see authors play coy posting their bad reviews "in the interest of being honest" with their fans and friends. This is a sad way get your ego stroked by a choir of admirers.

I've seen a mid list author who hauled a bad review from an obscure website only to encourage bad responses to the review that would've been read by far less people without the author's finger pointing.

I've seen an author belittle the day job of a reviewer. I can't believe he took the time to find the reviewer's biography.

I've also followed a link to a negative review that was more perceptive and thoughtful than the author's Facebook posts so I decided to not read that novel or probably any book by that whining author.

It is a sadder habit than berating the books on the best seller list (the other bad habit of authors online).

Shoryland said...

Writers sending their pals to gang up on a negative reviewer is one of the most childish things I've ever seen. Talk about insecurities! Plus, it's counterproductive--how many people would have seen the nobody blogger's review without you pointing it out? And you look like a damn crybaby fool when you tweet the link along with how you're "not going to let it get you down"--often more than once.

As for Goodkind, I don't know the whole story, but I thought I had read that he had approached the party in question several times privately. Again, I'm not in favor of mob tactics, but there's a significant degree of difference between this and being a crybaby about a negative review.

Kent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kent said...

Not too long ago, an author who I like and whose work I've enjoyed for many years pulled a bad review stunt. While it doesn't lessen my past enjoyment, and probably won't keep me from buying future work, I do now know the author in question as someone who can't take it on the chin which is a horrible character flaw.

Bill Cameron said...

Thing about Goodkind is he’s just behaving like a guy who believe the crazy shit Goodkind believes. Even the lie is consistent with his fucked up worldview. Meh.

When my first book came out, I was so crazy grateful for even a bad review I wanted to walk on my knees to the reviewer’s house with a sacrifice of chocolate, bacon, and beer in gratitude. I even wrote a guy a letter thanking him for his review, even though he hated it.

My agent said, “Don’t do that.” But I thought I was being nice. “Whatever. Still don’t do it. A review is not an opening of dialog with an author. The BEST thing that can come of you responding is they think you’re annoying but harmless. It goes downhill from there.”

It’s an important lesson. No matter how mean a review may be, responding in any way is a bad bet.

What’s harder for me is when a review is inaccurate. I’ve seen “a police officer would never…” comments aplenty, and while I am far from an expert I’m pretty careful on my research and even have cops vet my procedure. Mistakes slip through, but it seems like the review which trashes my book because of an “error” almost always is wrong about the error. At that point, the urge to say, “I’m not telling you to like the book, but you’re mistaken” is all but overwhelming.

There was one review which took me to task for my error’s in police procedure. To make their case, the reviewer pointed out they had just attended Lee Lofland’s Forensics University and so they had a pretty good idea what was wrong. As it happened, Lee Lofland himself had graciously read the manuscript and helped me correct a few errors, and even complimented on how well I’d done.

Oooo, I so wanted to shout “In your FACE, reviewer!”

But, “don’t do that.” I kept my mouth (and email client) shut.

In the end, it’s all about not going public when our tender fee-fees get hurt. Yes, it hurts, but pitching a fit in public is so unseemly and just makes you look like an idiot.

Good lord, do I never shut up? I’ll be quiet now.

John McFetridge said...

Like we need help to be assholes...

The thing that always bothered me about pirating were the bold-face lies used to justify it - I'm not sure if I would have felt better if people had just said, "I'm getting it for free because I can," but all those lame arguments to justify it got tiresome fast.

We're at the point now, though, where it seems like online piracy is about the same as shoplifting so, yeah, there's going to be some.

And maybe we're at the point where people don't often look at online reviews as critical appraisals but more like one person's opinion. I've received a lot of negative reviews and also had people tell me that the things those reviews complained about made them want to read the books.

I did see today a new site that is kind of like the Rotten Tomatoes of books, a kind of clearing house for "professional" book reviews that might turn into something:

Patricia JL said...

I am still a newbie in terms of publishing, but even then, I quickly became aware that not everyone would enjoy my writing. People would hate it and bash it publicly. I knew it would happen just like I knew good reviews would happen. I accepted that fact and when I started seeing cases of authors having melt downs, I vowed not to be one of them. To me, it was common sense. Bad review? Find hubby and friends and cry to them. Offline.

As for books getting pirating, I see no reason to bemoan that either. Yeah, it sucks, but chances are those people weren't going to buy the book in the first place so it never had a chance of being a sale to begin with. Plus, pirating is like bad reviews, it's going to happen whether you like it or not.

Hopefully, these mentalities I have will keep me from behaving badly and doing more hurt than good.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

The anonymity of the Web (unless someone posts your personal info, as in this case) definitely leads to more assholery.

Sean Ferrell said...

Obviously the key is to only write books that get good reviews.

What? Why are you looking at me like that?

Dave White said...

The worst experience I ever had with this was when I showed a friend of mine a bad review. Without me telling him to, in fact, with me asking him not too, he went on a 7 comment rant defending me. Yeah, that was embarrassing.

Laura Benedict said...

Which is why I turned off Google Alerts two years ago. If I want to read unpleasant things about myself and my work--which I rarely want to do--it's much more fun to go out and dig them up like the little chestnuts of poop that they are.

Life's too damn short as it is.

That said, book pirates are among the biggest assholes on the planet. I say, round 'em up and drop them in a big, boiling pot of ink.

Stacey Cochran said...

I swear to Christ I just want to move to a deserted island and write novels that no one will ever give a flying fuck about.

Lesley McDowell said...

Liked this very much - I'm a literary critic for a number of newspapers and had a book out in 2010. It got 27 print reviews, 6 really, really nasty ones. Couldn't comfort myself that critics know nothing the same way other writers do, alas! So I wrote a piece for The Guardian about it. Will try to post up link to it.

Sarah McCanless said...

Just have to echo what Bill Cameron (or his agent) said: "A review is not an opening of dialog with an author."

I don't generally post negative reviews, but if I see an author responding to reviews, I'm going to be less inclined to post anything. When you publish a book, you don't get to tell readers what to do with it. You can tell them to pay for it, of course, but not how to interpret it or whether their judgments are fair or accurate. You've given this gift of story (well hopefully SOLD it) to the unwashed masses and we will do what we will do.

After all, if I love your characters, they become a part of me. But you don't. Just the characters. I don't really want you in the picture. No offense ;)

Anonymous said...

Regarding what Bill Cameron's agent said... I think it depends. There are two literary critics who I became friends with after I contacted them when they gave me bad reviews - but I didn't contact them to argue, but to say thanks for taking the time to read me, and that I liked their work.