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.
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 darkandtemperateclimates.bloggerspots.net 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 darkandtemperateclimates.bloggerspots.net 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?