Nice Guys Finish Last … by Josh Lanyon

 Not a day goes by that my dear former Facebook friend Jamie LeBoink doesn’t send an invitation out asking peopleeveryone, anyone–to “like” her and her writing. I think she was up to about 1500 friends at the point I disengaged. And three of those 1500 folks might actually, eventually buy Jamie’s writing, assuming she ever gets around to doing any.

 My point is not that LeBoink is an idiot and that we should all boycott her. My point is that we all do stupid stuff when we’re starting out in this business. We spam our friends and family. We write reviews for ourselves. We argue with reviewers. Just like a baby sucking his toes, we don’t know any better.

 Nobody is born knowing the ins and outs of publishing and promotion. Having that first book come out is sort of like landing on a planet in outer space. Is there any other life here? Are the natives friendly? Do they eat little boys and girls like you for lunch? You watch, you follow, you learn. And often how you learn is by making mistakes.

 Those of us who have been stranded here a while will watch, struggling to keep a straight face, as you stagger around the dunes and fall into the very same quicksand pit we did. And some of us will offer a helping hand. And some of us won’t. But very few of us will change the sign on the path leading to the quicksand so as to guarantee you fall in.

 While we may not start out knowing that it’s not kosher — no, not even if you go months without a single review on Amazon — to write reviews of our own work (or even tell your mom what to write), we do all know it’s not okay to hurt someone else. We do all know that actions motivated by spite and jealousy and pettiness are not okay. We certainly have the survival smarts to know that if it’s something we’d be embarrassed about having made public, it’s Not Okay.

 That’s the topic of today’s post. The fallacious and ultimately self-destructive idea that you have to play dirty tricks on other authors in order to get ahead in this business. The mistaken notion that Everyone is Doing It.

 Yeah. Right. And nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquisition.

 Imagine if you will, Robert Crais and Michael Connelly putting their heads together and writing a bunch of one star reviews of all Robert Parker’s books as part of some misguided strategy for success.

 I know. I can hear the snickers from here. Not because we’ve all been there and done that, but because it’s so…lame. That behavior is pathetic and we don’t think of real professionals, and definitely not successful professionals, having to resort to that kind of thing. Successful is not desperate, and trying to blackball the competition is desperate.  

 So when we snicker as we hear of authors in our genre writing bad reviews of other authors (and, yes, we do hear this because it’s a very small fishbowl) whom they believe are too popular for their own good, we’re not laughing with you. We’re laughing at you.

 It’s so…Snidely Whiplash trying to sabotage Dudley Do-Right’s jalopy.

 Part of why we laugh is because we all recognize the feeling. The frustration that others are getting an unfair amount of attention or help, the secret belief that somehow our act of spite will help even the score. Literary types though we are, a lot of us are also ambitious and competitive and it’s hard not to view our publishing success as some kind of race, even though logic tells us this is not so. Someone else’s failure does not equal our success — or vice versa.

 Never mind the fact that it’s bad for your soul when you give into the temptation to act on your jealousy and fear and insecurity, never mind the karmic backlash — maybe you don’t believe in souls or karma or practicing random acts of kindness. The main reason you don’t want to give into practicing Stupid Author Tricks is because they don’t work.

 That’s the other reason most of us laugh at the idea of Messrs. Connelly and Crais ganging up on the competition. It’s a dumb idea. It’s Wile E. Coyote brooding over his new Acme DIY kit.

 And the reason that I keep bringing up cartoon analogies is because if you think, for example, nominating yourself for an award and then voting repeatedly through anonymous hotmail accounts is a great idea, you’ve got the tactical smarts of a ten year old.  

 I’m not going to pretend that success in publishing is all fairness and equality and only the good shall triumph in the end. Yes, the two key ingredients are skill/talent and hard work, but promotion is a big part of success in this game. So is luck. I won’t lie to you. I’ve had a lot of luck. But I’ve also worked my ass off — and I’ve been doing it for many years. You want to know the secret to my success? Two things. Focus and Sustained Effort.

 So let’s talk about the most popular dirty tricks that naughty authors play on their colleagues, and I’ll explain why they don’t work and why you want to steer clear of the authors who practice this crap.

 Now the overarching reason you want to run a mile if someone suggests you engage in things like stuffing ballot boxes is, if you’re going to do something unethical and embarrassing, you don’t want witnesses — and you sure as hell don’t want accomplices.

 People have big mouths in this business — in any business — and friends come and go. You want to be careful who you trust, and I would suggest that you not place a lot of trust in someone who is urging you to do unethical and underhanded things. The true test of character is not how we treat our friends, it’s how we treat our enemies.

Okay? Pretty obvious, right? Let’s move on to the actual charges against the accused.

 1 – Writing reviews for your own books.

 I’m trying to look severe here, but this is really kid stuff. I’ll settle for putting a frowny face on your chart and benching you at recess. Come on. Yes, it is bad news not to have a single review on Amazon — or worse, a sole three-star (or lower) — but faking reviews doesn’t change the fact that no one has read your book and been moved to comment. So you writing a review — even if you try to be honest in your “review” — doesn’t change that.

 You want to treat the disease, not the symptom. You want people to read your book and write reviews. How do you do that? You offer books for review. You stipulate that the reviewer must promise to review, but that you want an honest review. You assure them you will not ask to see the review first, etc.

 I know. You’re thinking…what if someone writes a negative review? That’s still better than no review and everybody won’t write a negative review. Most people write positive reviews. In fact, most people think they’re writing positive reviews even when they’re writing negative reviews. Relax about the whole review thing. You just need enough of them so that other readers can see that pioneers have safely crossed the no man’s land of your pages.

 Again, offer books. If you’re a new author, give away a lot of books — try and give them to people in exchange for fair and honest reviews. Look at the cost of these giveaways as advertising.

 2 – Writing reviews for friends’ books.

 There isn’t a problem with this unless you’re trying to pretend that you’re an objective reviewer — or you haven’t actually read the book. I write reviews for my friends and I don’t hide the fact that they are my friends.

 One friend writing numerous reviews of the same book on the same site? See #1 above. Stacking the deck doesn’t help the fact that no one is sitting in on your card game. If you want to help your friend — really help her — look up review sites for her and help her send copies of her book out.

 Generally when authors write “reviews” for friends, they’re called blurbs. They go on the cover of the book, and the reader can take them with a grain of salt or not. Sometimes friends do interpretative dances for friends, but that’s another post.

 Note to professional reviewers: Friends do not review friends. Why? Because you will either be too harsh in an attempt to appear unbiased or you will be biased by friendship. Or maybe you honestly hate your best friend’s book and you’re dumb enough to say so. A true friend puts her friend’s ego before her own.

3 – Exchanging reviews with other writers.

 This isn’t a problem if the books are really read and if there was not an unspoken (sometimes spoken) understanding that only positive reviews will be exchanged. Is it unethical? Maybe mildly so in some Utopian author universe. I will say it’s a fairly common, if essentially useless, practice.

 Why is it useless? Because it’s always the same circle of people reviewing each other in pretty much the same places, and so if their other promotional efforts are paying off, they’re all recognized to be other writers. Today’s readers are much savvier and they spend a lot more time socializing with us on the net, so they basically recognize the maneuver for what it is.

 Reviewing books you haven’t read? Just say no.

 4 – Amazon tagging more popular authors with your name or your book title.

 This can be a solo operation or a number of authors banding together to target and tag. The theory behind it is a sort of roughneck Readers Who Like This Might Also Like That.

 At one time the Adrien English books had something like 47 tags for a new mystery release by a then-unknown (and still largely unknown) m/m author. My own titles at that time only averaged about 12 tags, so it was obvious something was up. Most readers don’t bother to review, let alone tag, yet here was an author with a new release that more people thought was like the Adrien English books than the other Adrien English books!?

 Although this is an essentially harmless move, the gall of it irritated me enough that I complained to Amazon, and the tags were removed, which I think explains why it’s not a useful tactic. It also had the effect of turning me off this author’s work — and that distaste lingers to this day.

 5 – Writing negative and hostile reviews of other authors as part of your strategic plan. Or playing the ubiquitous Goodreads star system.

 Usually under anonymous or a fake name, right?

 Peek-a-boo! I seeeee you! Where do I start?  Never mind the fact that this is neurotic and negative behavior and you probably want to get that looked at, these reviews always have that…whiff of sour grapes to them. Which means readers automatically, if unconsciously, discount them.

 But the main reason why this is a mistake is because once again you’re treating the symptom and not the disease. The problem is you feel like here’s new author Angelika Mouse getting all this attention and help and she’s dangling her prepositions all over the place while you, YOU, who have been slogging away since the Ice Age, can’t get arrested if you ran naked through the halls of GayRomLit. You address that by taking Ms. Mouse down a couple of stars on Goodreads and maybe writing an anonymous nasty review or two instead of analyzing why she’s getting the response she’s getting.

 What you ought to be asking yourself is not how can I destroy her, but rather, what is she doing that I’m not — and is there anything I can learn from her success?

 Maybe yes, maybe no. One thing for sure, if your attention is focused on another writer’s popularity instead of your own writing, you’re looking in the wrong place. Removing Ms. Mouse from the equation will change nothing for you. Not one single damned thing. Didn’t you read any Grimm’s fairytales when you were growing up? Quit carrying on like the ugly elder step-sister.

 6 – Force-feeding your Goodreads groups and Facebook pages to anyone who’ll bite.

 This is on a par with culling names from discussion lists you belong to and force-subscribing them to your author mailing list. I don’t know if it’s unethical so much as bad manners — the latter’s even worse, to my way of thinking.

 Most of us are using Facebook in a way it was not originally intended. We’re using it as a promotional tool. A reader “friends” me, I “friend” the reader back. It’s reciprocal. A lot of this friending is author-to-author, and that’s great. We’re networking. That’s part of the job — in fact, that interaction is one of the perks of the job — but there’s a fine line in social media and it’s easy for newbies (in particular) to trip over it.

 You invite people to join your mailing list and your Goodreads groups and your Facebook Fan Pages. Now, I don’t know about you, but where I come from an invitation is generally not a fist wrapped in my collar and someone yanking me across the threshold and locking the door behind me. I think of that as more like abduction…or maybe holidays at my Aunt Marie’s, but either way, not something I’m going to put up with from a fellow author.

 I think there is a misconception that being able to show a lot of “friends” on Facebook will make you look popular and so people will pay more attention to your posts. When I see an m/m writer with 2000+ friends gained within a month I see someone who did mass invites. That’s what we all see because we all know how it works.

 There’s no harm in this, but there isn’t a lot of use either. You want your mailing list to be made up of readers and friends who are genuinely interested in you and your work. That way there’s a much better chance that they’ll read your posts and check out your books than if they just automatically friend everyone who friends them.

 You invite people and if they don’t accept the invitation, you let it go. Maybe you wait a few months and invite people again, but you don’t, day after day, keep asking the same people to like your page. Oh, you’ll get 1500 people to “like” your page but they’ll never read the damn thing or comment on any of your posts or buy anything you write. They’re not there for you. They’re there because it’s polite to friend people back.

 That politeness thing? Brush up on it.

 7 – Nominating yourself for awards

 See also Voting for Yourself and Judging Your Own Work under Publishing No-Nos.

 In fairness, there are some awards you have to nominate yourself for. If you’re self-published you’ll have to nominate yourself for stuff like the Eppies and the Lammies. You don’t nominate yourself for reader awards. End of story.

 Yeah, I can hear the whining now. But it’s always the same people getting nominated!  No. It’s not. Sure some of the same people get nominated every year, but the winners are just as often newbies. Why? Because of the very thing you’re crying about.

 Trying to rig reader awards requires the investment of anonymous votes and haranguing friends and strangers on lists you frequent. That’s a lot of work. You’re probably turning off as many people as you are earning votes. Plus, winning by such means doesn’t change the fact that you are not a reader favorite. And trying to convince readers they love you when they don’t, is not only self-defeating, it’s self-destructive.

 Yes. Self-destructive. Because you’re the one and only person who believes that win should mean something. You are destined to be disappointed. Why? Let’s say you rig the Golden Café Speckled Trout award and you win. YAY!!! Now you go around announcing that win everywhere, and maybe a couple of readers decide to give your work a try based on you winning that award. YAY!! And the readers like your book. YAY! And…so what?

 There are now dozens of these little awards and they all work to one end — and it’s the same exact end that all promotion aims for — to get people to try your work. Once they try your work, they either like it or they don’t. That’s the same result you’d have had if one of your banner ads or one of your excerpts had moved a reader to buy your book. And you wouldn’t have had to sell your soul for it. Winning these awards, while lovely for the ego, will not change the course of your publishing career. I know mainstream authors who’ve won major genre awards — and they were still dropped by their publishers. So do you honestly think winning the Golden Café Speckled Trout award is going to put you on the map? Or that it was worth cheating to win?

 Promotion does make a difference, but if you think all publishing success is strictly about promotion, you are both sadly cynical and ridiculously naïve.

 8 – Bullying, brow-beating, or otherwise coercing another author to engage in any of the above behavior.

 If we want this genre to be taken seriously, we need to stop conducting business in the playground. If you’ve been around long enough to pick up some of these tricks, you’ve been around long enough to know better. Trying to force other authors into joining you in your bad behavior doesn’t legitimize the bad behavior. It means you’re a fascist on top of everything else.

 If you want to make bad choices for yourself and your career, go ahead, but don’t drag others down with you. And you young’uns, don’t let yourselves be badgered into doing things that make you uncomfortable. I guarantee you that Everybody is NOT Doing It.

Can you damage your career by being caught engaging in any of this behaviour? Um…honestly? Probably not irretrievably in this particular very young, very brash publishing niche. But if your literary aspirations stretch beyond getting published with Big O Press, yeah. You do not want your prospective editor at HarperCollins reading the five-year-old thread where you get called out for backstabbing other authors. Very few people find cutthroat behavior appealing, and the competition for mainstream publishers is much, much stiffer. You don’t want to get nixed because you look like a whack job.

 When it comes to how you conduct yourself in this genre, always try to behave as though you already were the big name you plan to be.  Don’t give into jealousy, insecurity, frustration.You honestly think Robert Parker nominated himself for awards or sat around checking and re-checking the competition’s Amazon stats or wrote nasty anonymous remarks in the comment sections of online articles about other authors? I don’t think so. Ask anyone who knew him. They’ll tell you he was one hell of a writer and a very nice guy.

 Take the high road. The trip may be a little longer, but the scenery is nicer and the air is a lot fresher.

Josh Lanyon’s Contact Information



  • Great post, Josh, as usual. These are some of the topics I’ve been writing about and discussing recently with readers and other authors on my LiveJournal and Facebook, so it’s nice to see them addressed so well and in such detail by an author whose opinion is well respected.

    With so many books published each day now, reviews from people one trusts are the main source of book recommendations, according a poll I did last year. Knowing which reviews are real is now more important than ever. Whether it’s one author putting down another, or reviewers who revel in the nasty put-down, I’m appalled at the direction many reviews are going. I see even readers taking pot-shots at authors, rather than just saying “not my cup of tea,” and being mean almost for the sake of it.

    Some reviewers do it for the audience and attention, not for the joy of reading and sharing a review and their opinions. I do think some readers can end up shunning a book unnecessarily because of overly harsh and sarcastic reviews. That’s great power for the reviewer but it can really hurt an author who may not deserve. Some do, but even 3-star reviews are getting nasty. If you hate a book, just give it 1 star and leave it at that. No need to make personal jabs at the writer, publisher or editor.

    I’ve also written recently about other bad promo behavior by authors, not all of them newbies, and I still stand by my observation that readers buy books of authors who they can like and respect based on online presence and interaction. The easiest way to kill sales is to act like a d-bag in public, especially to readers or other writers. The golden rule is alive and well, and as you say, it may take time, but good writing and being nice say a lot more about you than any review or bogus award.

    Thanks for starting a great dialogue on the issues!

    • Hi EM

      You make an excellent point about bad behaviour turning off readers. As you may know, we do surveys on the site and one that was done over a year ago was on whether an author’s bad behaviour affected the buying patterns of readers. When the results were tabluated –

      46% of those surveyed said that they had dropped an author and stopped reading their books due to rudeness or other unacceptable behaviour.

      37% of the group surveyed said they were more likely to try new authors based on how they interacted with them.

      Only 15% said that an author’s online interaction didn’t affect them.

      So how an author conducts himself or herself does have an effect on book sales and negates all of the time and effort spent on online promos.

    • Excellent comment, EM.

      Reviewers like all writers, build a following, and inevitably they feel the same pressure we all do to perform.

      They want to keep it lively, fresh, original — I mean, that’s the content that keeps readers coming back for more — and so some of them succumb to the temptation of cheap shots and unfair conclusions.

      Once upon a time, and not in this genre, I used to write the funniest, snarkiest, and (I think) brutally accurate reviews around.

      I wasn’t doing it for promotion because I didn’t intend to publish under my name. I had been published years before but I’d quit writing. I see now that I was reviewing as many frustrated writers do–in an unconscious gestation period of analysis and criticism.

      Anyway, I developed a nice little following, and I would stretch to be funnier, cleverer, more insightful — but it’s easier to be all those things in a critical review than a positive review, and so I wrote a lot more scathing reviews than I did gushing.

      Well, heck, I did want to be taken seriously! And I did very much value my opinion. (And God knows I still do.)

      One day I got a letter from a quite well-known writer who I’d taken to task in a very funny (if I do say so myself) review. I brushed it off, wrote him a patronizing little note to the effect of if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

      I was working for the good of my genre!!!


      All I can say is time and experience have tempered my views. And I do, very frankly, value the feelings of people — especially those I consider friends — over my own exalted opinions.

  • Josh, you are the voice of sanity and reason (and a wonderful writer too). :)

    I’m a newbie author (so new my first book is still at the proofreading stage) and I’ve only been exposed to other authors and various forums for a couple of months.

    At first I was excited to be published but as time wore on I found some of the forums and the comments and apparent practices to be a little disillusioning. It kind of spoiled things for me for a while.

    Now I’ve stepped back. I’ve stopped reading the forums every day which has funnily enough, given me time to write again. I couldn’t seem to manage both, yet I felt that I should be able to do it. All the other writers seemed to manage.

    I have your book on writing m/m fiction and whenever I start to panic I go back to it. It’s full of excellent advice on writing AND how to stay sane once published.

    Thanks for that.

    • Congratulations on your impending first publication! You made a great point about having more time to write when you aren’t all over the networking sites.

      You’ll discover that the most prolific and more-established writers aren’t online that much, except in a few meaningful ways. They are busy writing, not talking about writing or reading other people talking about writing. It’s a bit more important when you’re starting out to make some friends and give people a chance to get to know you, but overall, spending time writing is the best investment in your future. I say that as someone who has learned the hard way that you can’t really do it all unless you don’t sleep. 😀

    • Hi Pender!

      Congratulations on your upcoming book!

      One of the most difficult aspects of a writing career is finding the balance of promotion and writing. And things like Twitter (which I love though I can’t seem to find time to post right now) and Facebook can easily eat up hours and hours of your day and your writing.

      I wish I could say that promotion wasn’t necessary, but it is. But the single best promotion for any author is a brilliant backlist. Some authors misunderstand that advice and set about cranking out books as fast as possible. What you need to do is crank out QUALITY books as fast as possible, and fast and quality are not always a harmonious mix.

      My rule of thumb for new authors is 3 things of promotion a day. Maybe you post to Facebook, maybe you do a guest blog, maybe you comment here at Wave’s (which is a high visibility site) and then you spend the rest of your time working on your writing and building that backlist.

      That keeps you clear of trouble while building the best promo tool known to man: a quality backlist.

      Thanks for commenting — I’m glad the book has proved useful!

      • Thanks, Josh. I was worried about the writing/promo ratio dilemma, wondering how I could manage both while working full time.

        Then I realized if I don’t take the time to write I won’t have anything to promote. :)

        Thanks for your comments it’s good to know I’m on the right track.

  • Wow – I had suspicions that some of this sort of thing must be going on, but I find myself wondering how on earth other writers find the time? I find it hard enough to make time for the writing bit, which has got to be far more important.

    I have had other newbie writers offer me free copies of their stories – possibly because I review stories I enjoy. After one bad experience I decided to turn them down. I’m not going to write a glowing review for something I didn’t really enjoy, just because a friend wrote it. I need my self respect…

    • The time to give friends your forthright and honest opinion is BEFORE the book comes out. Once the book is out, there’s nothing your friend can do but weather the reaction. The role of a friend–I’ve always thought–is that of loyalty and support.

      Honesty when and where it will do some good, yes, but if it’s past the point of rescue, then my job is to be there to offer the shoulder to cry on.

      • JL– The time to give friends your forthright and honest opinion is BEFORE the book comes out. Once the book is out, there’s nothing your friend can do but weather the reaction. The role of a friend–I’ve always thought–is that of loyalty and support.

        NK– Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. But that gets into the synergistic interaction between writers, which, I think, is motivated from some different place than reviews–maybe compassion combined with intellectual curiosity. Possibly a compunction for compulsive problem solving as well. But mostly from the genuine desire for your friend to do well.

        • Yes, and if someone asks for my honest opinion, they’re always going to get it.

          Nor do I pull punches with the books sent to me for evaluation — I hope I’m not unkind, but the point is to help the writer write the best possible book and get it published.

          Sometimes, though, you don’t want honesty, you just want someone to share a bottle of wine and make sympathetic noises at all the right times.

  • I say that as someone who has learned the hard way that you can’t really do it all unless you don’t sleep.

    This becomes my new – and heartfelt – strap line :). Thanks for the great article and discussion, Josh!

    • Clare, as you may recall (from a discussion on a publishers author group), you were one of my “role models” for how to balance writing with online time. I noticed new writers spending hours there chatting with each other, while the well-known and well-respected authors spent their time writing or interacting with readers in public fora, with their few posts being particularly useful and relevant.

      I’m not saying to not interact with other writers, but the key to a wide readership is writing more. Readers can’t read it if you haven’t written it yet.

      • I honestly think that one reason new authors spend so much time talking to each other is because it’s safer. It’s sticking to your little clique.

        We talk about how readers are intimidated by authors, but authors are equally nervous about readers. After all, we’re trying to sell our most precious commodity to you. This isn’t like selling a pair of shoes, this is personal, private stuff…even if it’s written for public consumption it’s part of us in a way selling you a car can’t be.

        And while you readers see one author, we see a wall of mostly unknown READERS. (That should be in squiggly letters.)

      • Good point EM (and thanks for the compliment, though nowadays I’m dropping more spinning plates than I used to…:)).

        But it’s true – there’s only a finite amount of time in the day (except in fiction) and it’s a continuing challenge to get the balance right. It depends to what extent you’re looking for friendship or approbation or sales – or all of them :).

        Spending some of this precious writing time in haranguing others in the community seems a horrible waste, if you ask me.

  • And now we have proof as to why your inner 4 year old and your work shouldn’t mix.
    As a (naive I guess) reader I have to admit that I’m still staring stupidly at the monitor thinking authors REALLY do that. For real? In real life, not in a comedy fiction novel?
    That sounds scary. Especially since I tend to relay on reviews for choosing what to buy. I guess I’ll have to read the really great ones, and the awful ones twice from now on.
    Also, the Golden Café Speckled Trout award? LOL How did you come up with that one? It’s a good thing I’m not an author because I’d be embarrassed to admit I won a speckled trout for my literary efforts.

    • Hey, I treasure my speckled trout! 😀

      As a matter of fact, I treasure any and all reader awards because I know they’re the real thing. That’s the satisfaction of not trying to manipulate the ratings.

  • One other thought on why I love Amazon reviews is because they are informal reviews, you’ll sometimes get a reviwer who has spoken to the author and relates that information, or the author or someone who knows the author will even comment on a review to clarify a point — or there are discussions of the books on the book page at the bottom — so all those things are unique and make for an added element to those informal reviews that you just couldn’t get from a formal review.

    My point being that you need BOTH.

  • hey. need to up my stalker points. 😀

    there are so many pitfalls… oh god yes. i think you got to all of them. and god, what about the… as an author, can you have an opinion about another’s book (bad or good) and say it out loud?

    and yes, i need to find the shift key. i do.

  • Hi Josh (and Wave),

    I was very fortunate in finding a couple of really class acts in the genre who took me under their wing prior to my even being published. While I haven’t had a completely trip-free path, I’ve managed to avoid most of the pitfalls of promo and networking over the past couple years due either to them sending a quick “um, don’t go there” email to me, or to playing by the Golden Rule.

    I’m trying at this point in my career to now do the same for a few other newish authors, as well as for “my” authors in my job as editor.

    Pay it forward. :)

    Thanks for the great article, Josh. You are also a true class act.

    • Thanks for commenting, Devon. I think your experience is far more likely to be the norm. I think most writers are willing to help someone new to the ranks.

      I think most of us see ourselves as part of a community rather than competitors in a race to the death.

  • (scrapes jaw off floor) That was an eye-opener, Josh! Crikey. As you know, I’m way too thick to conduct my own promo even along ethical lines, so I don’t think I’ll ever tumble into into the dreadful Grimpen Mire you’ve just opened up to me, but… Gosh. That was horribly, horribly interesting. Thank you, I think. 😀 xxx

  • Excellent post, as usual. Sorry I’m late. I’ve been thinking a lot about reviewing recently because I think there might be among new writers a fundamental confusion between reviewing and literary criticism. The way I see it, the purpose of a review is advertising–fundamentally a Consumer Reports-style product overview that helps people decide how to spend their moneys, whereas literary criticism seeks to explore an authors work as a piece of art.

    I think when new writers have the urge to review other writers (especially critically) they might be thinking that they are participating in a kind of open intellectual critical discourse and while that does occur between writers it doesn’t occur on public forums, but in private emails… or in the bar, over drinks, possibly with tissues handy.

    I fully understand the hunger to talk writing–to say to an author, “Hey, I know where that story is weak and here’s one suggestion on how to fix it,” but that’s only really useful before said story is published as you pointed out earlier.

    I realize this is a little sidestep from Authors Behaving Badly, but I do think that some bad behavior might actually be motivated by a genuine, though perhaps ill-conceived, desire to connect.

    As an editor, though, I can confirm that I do, in fact, googlestalk potential authors to see how they behave online. Partially I do this to see if they have any kind of tact or promotional savvy, but mostly I do it to see how they react to criticism in order to try and predict what it might be like to work with them. If an author posts crazy screeds or badmouths her peers it’s a good bet that she’ll probably badmouth me too and I kinda don’t need that–not even if she’s a total genius with a book that will sell zillions. There’s just not enough mylanta in the world to convince me to endure that kind of stress.

    • That’s a great point. As an editor, I also cyber-screen potential authors before offering them a contract, and I know many other editors who do so as well. Something else to keep in mind when putting yourself out there. And even established authors can eventually be in the position of looking for a new pub house, so this is not just for the newbies to consider.

      • As a matter of fact, experienced authors are far more likely to be the ones looking for new publishers.

        Meaning newbie authors are usually just abjectly grateful to be published.

        It’s more likely the old pro who’ll be getting restless and start looking to upgrade. And, as Nikki said, troubled geniuses are equally likely to end in ulcers and $$$$. Who wants to take a chance on crazy when it could just as easily come stalking after you. :-)

      • devonrhodes: “cyber-screen”

        NK: Yeah, that’s definitely a better term to use than “googlestalk.” I’m going to add it to my vocabulary. :)

    • Yes! Absolutely. I do think this is true. And I agree with your comparison of review versus literary criticism.

      You can’t ever underestimate the power of fiction and storytelling — disappointed readers do often react in anger just as delighted readers react with those heart-warming effusions. In most cases it’s simply an expression of the power of fiction in our lives.

      And, yes, I’ve read reviews that felt to me like an attempt to open a dialog with an author…it would be good to know what Author X meant by…or If author X is listening maybe she can answer…

      The problem there, as you point out, is the choice of venue. I’ll answer anything (writing-related) in a private email or in an Amazon discussion thread or on my personal Goodreads discussion list, but I’m not going to debate the merits of my work with a reviewer in an open forum. Because that’s what it feels like: debate.

      Even if the reviewer does truly hope for some kind of open exchange, as so many here have reiterated, responding to reviews is always a mistake. I don’t even like to see those gracious-thru-gritted-teeth thank yous from authors to reviewers who’ve shredded them. The longer I go in this business, the more convinced I am that there needs to be a friendly but professional distance between reviewers and authors.

      Just healthier for all concerned.

      And I do agree that a good many writers reviewing other writers do NOT intend to hurt, they even hope to be helpful. I certainly think all my advice is helpful. ;-P

  • Josh
    This post is so revealing on all levels. I am learning more and more every day. Don’t know what I’ll do with all this knowledge but I’m sure I’ll come up with a way to use it. :) Did I pay you for being our Contributing Author? If not, the cheque is in the mail.

    I’m so glad I’m not an author – I couldn’t stand the stress.

    • Well, it’s not like it doesn’t have its perks, Wave.

      I guess what it gets down to is it’s a job just like any other. It has its stresses and strains and it has its Employee of the Month days complete with paper crown.

      We don’t always get paid commensurate with the work with put in, others are sometimes promoted over our heads, our performance review is not always fair, and office politics are alive and well.

      But we get paid for doing what we love, we generally make our own hours, we’re told by strangers that our work helps get them through their bad days, we make intense and lasting friendships–and sometimes we do get paid quite well.

      In fact, somehow getting paid to write always feels like getting paid well.

  • This has been a fascinating discussion all round. I know when I first sold, I was writing reviews and was disappointed to realize I was going to have to stop. Not because anyone told me to, but because it felt uncomfortable to continue.

    I, well, my alter ego, still writes about books, but they’re not reviews as such. I write about books I’ve enjoyed reading and try to persuade others to try them because I think the books were really good. But I don’t write about every such book, because sometimes I can’t convey what I liked in an interesting way.

    And I focus on what worked for me. I don’t say that despite workmanlike, almost clunky prose the story rose above that with its fresh ideas and world-building. I don’t say the book’s ending was a hot mess but the first two thirds were worth the price of admission. When I reviewed, I would have.

    I remain scared of Facebook (as an author, I have a personal page) so I haven’t been able to forcefeed my page on anyone. Yet.

    • This sort of thing can be a good compromise for a writer who loves to review but is no longer comfortable doing so.

      And it’s a wonderfully effective promotional and networking tool because it’s unsolicited and sincere.

      When two authors get together to write each other glowing reviews…that’s cynical. It’s not *always* a cardinal sin and I don’t want to make too much of what is sometimes a couple of authors just fooling around and having fun. I’m not trying to turn into the Review Police here. But as an ongoing strategy for success–you write me a rave review and I write you a rave review–it’s cynical in its attempt to manipulate the system.

      But an appreciation from one author to another — very often an author who doesn’t know and has never spoken to the other–is a different thing altogether.

      We authors are readers too. We’re fans of other authors. So writing something sincere and complimentary about another author’s work gives you something to talk about, tells YOUR readers something about your thoughts on writing and gives them insight into you from another angle, and should that other author come across your kind words, sometimes lead to friendships or at least add someone to your network.

      A great deal of a successful writing career comes down to networking. Which is why you don’t want to burn bridges you don’t have to burn. And you want to establish connections beyond your own tight little circle.

      Anyway, Joley first came to my attention with a nice review she’d written. After that I remembered her name and whenever I saw her mentioned I put in a good word. Did any of that do her any good? I have no idea, but my own experience is I’d rather people think positive thoughts when they see my name than think…oh, THAT asshole.

Comments are closed.