*And author marketing stupidity and why you should think twice before joining groups, a false statement about me in print and subsequent review conflict of interest issue for me.
MySpace. Facebook. Library Thing. Forums galore – author forums, general discussion forums… too many to name.
On the one hand, the internet serves the purpose of freeing us from the confines of our locale. I am not limited to discussing books with my neighbours, thankfully. The world is at my fingertips, and I can connect with people in Austria, Germany, France, Indonesia, Australia, Holland… wherever… who share my interests.
However, much of our contact with others isn’t substantive. It’s superficial. On average, people write and mail fewer actual letters, settling for the quick and easy convenience of e-mails. The problem is, the communication is usually reduced to the form, being brief and superficial, or addressing one specific reason that prompted the contact. We no longer enjoy the pages filled with the latest news and thoughts of the sender – something I greatly enjoyed with people for many years (ahem) 20 or so years ago. In fact, I still have a box of those letters.
I haven’t signed up for MySpace or Facebook. I can’t stomach the idea of being poked or tickled for hours on end online.
And the other thing is, I actually want to have meaningful contact with people. I don’t feel most of these venues allow for it. Authors go on, sign up, do the standard polite-face-mask thing and friend people with one end in mind – selling books. This is all part of the growing “us and them” rift in the business. More and more authors are adopting the celebrity attitude – set apart. Some are downright exclusive.
You can drop by the blogs and see them at work. They only respond to comments posted by authors. Not the rest of you lowly people.
I hate that.
Yes, I can be totally tongue-tied and awe-struck in the presence of someone I admire, but that’s on me. I’m always taken back when someone responds to me that way. I mean, I’m just me.
Part of the reason I’ve kept this blog. Part of the reason I try to keep it conversational. Part of the reason I try 90% of the time 8 times out of 10 to respond to everyone who comments in the first several hours of shelf life of a new post.
If I ever become one of those snooty authors with my head stuck up my ass, I certainly hope Bunny, or someone, will give me a good spanking.
The problem is, it all ties to a culture of marketing that’s becoming more prevalent amongst authors.
Over the past year, I learned a lot. I learned a lot about who would sell their baby and their soul to succeed in their career, so sticking a knife in someone’s back didn’t even cause them to blink an eye. I learned that the culture now is more toward being a celebrity than actually being a writer.
Blogs for instant gratification. Post your short story, post the latest news about what’s happening to you and collect those comments, wear them on your sleeve like badges. Join MySpace and enter the competition to have the most friends. It doesn’t matter that what it really means is you have the most superficial acquaintances you call friends in the hope that you’ll make money off them. Sell sell sell.
Me, I’ve always been big on heart, and sincerity. You couldn’t keep me from talking up a book I liked. I’ve truly lost count of the number of e-mails from people who’ve said, I bought my first Rankin book because of you… which usually leads to some commentary about being hooked. I’m a natural evangelist for what I believe in.
But not for a fee.
Some things you start, you believe have a level of sincerity to them. A group of authors band together as they approach first publication, to mutually support each other through the process, to make it a little less scary.
Until it becomes an extension of an organization, with a heavy marketing emphasis and instead of it being about a group supporting each other it becomes a promotional tool with little to no camaraderie and just a regular checklist of things to do and more requests for money to spend on promotion.
I encourage anyone who’s thinking about joining forces with a group of others to seriously consider the long-term vision and goals and know about the costs and what everyone wants out of it in the end. If your vision isn’t compatible, don’t get involved.
And if the group vision shifts and it isn’t for you anymore, get out.
It bears being said, because I know authors who spend in excess of $600 annually on group memberships. Add in your own promotional expenses, costs of websites (at the very least domain registry and hosting, if not design and maintenance costs) travel to a con, to do bookstore signings… well, it starts to become ridiculous. And I see no reason for authors to spend twice as much money duplicating the same efforts.
Plus, if you’re in a group, the behaviour of one reflects on everyone.
It isn’t because I’m a snob that I’m flying solo. It’s more because I want to limit the scope of my potential conflicts of interest, to keep doing what’s important to me.
I have a real appreciation for authors who give back to the community, not just take. This is why I decided to continue reviewing. It may not be my personal passion, and I may feel the conflict every time I sit down to write a review, the weight of responsibility of setting myself up as judge and jury over another author’s work, but I think that’s a good thing, because it means I always carefully consider what I’m going to say.
And it is important. We’re constantly being inundated with news about declining review coverage. The result? Publicists turn to amazon reviewers in order to get coverage for books, and I don’t need to rehash all the reasons I have concerns about that. These days, it seems what it takes to make you a credible reviewer is whether or not you receive free ARCs.
I can give a little more than that. Yes, it’s time-consuming. Yes, it’s work. Yes, there are times people won’t agree with my conclusions, but that’s okay.
Now that I’m reviewing for multiple online venues, as well as in print for Crimespree, I’ll be considering every book choice more carefully. This doesn’t involve not reviewing books that don’t work for me so that I don’t piss anyone off. I’ve already dealt with what will probably be the toughest review ever for me to produce, one I lost sleep over. (here)
But in the end, we know two things. Bad reviews sell as many copies as good reviews. And if a reviewer is caught in a lie about a book, their credibility on every review is destroyed.
Remember what I said earlier, about being about heart and sincerity? Consequences… well… whatever. I’d rather stop attending conventions than sell my soul for a lie of convenience. And more about lies of convenience in a moment, but I’m serious on this point. Even staying silent sometimes is a lie. I’d rather switch gears and start reviewing outside the crime fiction community if people are going to treat reviews like something they should dictate, even if the reviewer is an author.
I’m already in a situation that seems like an apparent conflict of interest. In 88 days What Burns Within will come out, and on the back cover, along with blurbs from Ken Bruen and Crimespree Magazine, there’s a blurb from Brian Lindenmuth at Mystery Bookspot. Brian had the book before there was a deal on it. He blurbed it before the deal was made public.
In other words, months ago.
My awareness of Mystery Bookspot had come via his review of my first book, and an interview he did with Ken Bruen. I didn’t know him then.
But last week, I joined the team at Mystery Bookspot, so by the time my book comes out, it will look like a group I’m involved with endorsed me.
Although that certainly wasn’t how it happened, and there was no conflict of interest at the time, well, some people won’t look for answers and just see that and make a judgment.
I’m prepared to live with it, because I know it was an honest endorsement, and genuine. I did ask Brian not to run the review now. I’m more concerned with his reputation than mine at this point.
I know for myself, sometimes I look through books now and I know certain blurbs deserve to have a great big black marker line drawn over them. They aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Same with some reviews. Every reviewer and blurber creates their own standard of integrity, and people will believe their recommendations or not based on how they handle themselves.
I don’t give credit to a blurb from anyone who says they’ll blurb anybody who asks, or treats it like their own marketing tool. Another reason to review instead of blurbing. I’m quoted as Spinetingler Magazine. That’s not specifically good for me – it’s good for every single writer we’ve published work by as it brings people to Spinetingler. I can live with that. It isn’t so self absorbed.
But there are reviewing conundrums that come up for me, from time to time. For example, originally I was part of Killer Year. So were two other authors who left the group for various reasons. However, in the article on Killer Year published in the latest Crimespree, those authors aren’t mentioned.
I’m not sure why they just couldn’t leave me out of the whole thing. At the end of the article is the line:
“Due to other commitments, Ruttan was unable to continue her affiliation with the group.”
sell my soul for a lie of convenience…
That statement is absolutely false. I was removed/kicked out of Killer Year because my publisher was not approved by the ITW and I wouldn’t join as a reviewer.
Really, that’s the end of the discussion. I could get into a long, drawn-out discussion about whether or not it was fair. I could bring up all of the e-mails – I keep all my e-mails – from ITW people and certain Killer Year people that, in my opinion, make their ultimate act reflect badly on them.
Although a similar lie was posted on their website last year, I only took the action necessary to get it off. If anyone has asked me why I didn’t continue with the group, I haven’t lied.
But I didn’t make a public declaration about it, until now. Was it a lie of silence?
I don’t know. That’s for all of you to decide. Honestly, originally I’d decided not to review KY books last year because I was part of the group, and I felt that wasn’t appropriate.
I didn’t want to hurt Sean and Gregg, both of whom I consider friends, and if I had a problem and needed to talk I know I could pick up the phone and call either of them – and I certainly hope they feel likewise.
There are others I don’t know well and have nothing against.
Frankly, I really don’t want to be embroiled in an argument or controversy. But because someone felt it was acceptable to put a lie in print, I’m saying something now. In the spirit of The Wire, I’m not carrying water for them.
And I think it’s unfortunate that in producing this article, the author never fact-checked with me.
Now, this leads me to a renewed dilemma. After spending my hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars, and feeling lied to by certain people, and being given the boot I was no longer part of the group but still didn’t review the books because of the bad feelings between myself and a few certain people. I felt that even if I was completely objective about the book, unless it was a primarily positive/glowing review, people would dismiss it as sour grapes.
And I didn’t want my credibility tainted.
Enough time and distance and healing for me with most of them brought me to the point where I recently accepted review copies of The Deceived by Brett Battles and The Guilty by Jason Pinter.
I know for myself that I’m capable of picking up a book written by someone I dislike as a person and reviewing it fairly. I learned a standard of objectivity in journalism, and I’ve been a supervisor and had to discipline staff I personally liked, even fire them. And I’m not saying I dislike either of those two authors. If people spam me (as one person did over the KY anthology) I’ll definitely lose their book in my pile for a while. Few grudges are ones I carry eternally (although I might make an exception soon enough).
But I don’t want to produce reviews that lead to people questioning whether or not they're sincere. Okay, people may question any of my reviews. Let me rephrase. I don’t want to produce reviews that I know people have a legitimate reason for being suspicious of – I need to be able to look myself in the eye and be okay with it.
Which doesn’t mean I’m always perfect about everything, have never done a petty thing in my life – I’ve done plenty. All it really means is, I’m trying to be a sincere, honest person. And I have always, for four years now, given generously of my time to support this industry and other authors.
I rather resent that although it was made clear a year ago that I would not tolerate them publicly lying about the reasons I didn’t continue with Killer Year, someone felt it was okay to stab me in the back one last time. Well, probably not the last time…
They’ve done an enormous disservice to the other authors in their group.
Which brings me back to the point – the actions of others you join forces with will reflect on you.
And that illusion of intimacy is just that. Repackage it, rename it… a marketing scam is a marketing scam.
Maybe I’m beginning to understand why some readers don’t want to meet authors.
Just remember, there's a whole big world out there beyond the internet, and the person you piss on today may be a person you need tomorrow.