Sunday, September 23, 2012

Konrath Posts Fake Amazon Reviews!

I was recently asked in an email, "Joe, I don't get why you aren't angry about fake Amazon reviews. All they do is cause harm."

Fake reviews, like sock puppets and trolling and flame wars, will always be part of the Internet and are no big deal. They are better than the alternative; Amazon policing reviews and deciding which are legitimate and/or have value.

But the email question intrigued me. Is it true that all fake reviews are harmful?

I believe being able to post anonymously, or to post reviews, is an extension of free speech. I may not like what some people say, but I feel the need to protect their right to say it. Even if they use sock puppets. Even if they have agendas.

But in the case of fake reviews, am I trying to protect something with absolutely no redeeming value? Would Amazon be better if there weren't any fake reviews at all?

I don't think so. I think some fake reviews have merit.

In fact, I just spent two hours on Amazon, being wildly entertained by fake reviews.

I was so entertained, I wrote some fake reviews myself. 

Go read them now, before some pinhead complains to Amazon and they get removed.

After reading my reviews, take some time to read other reviews of those same products. Look at the pics customers have uploaded as well. You'll probably enjoy it as much as I did. Come back here when you've finished.


All done? Here are my thoughts.

Some of those reviews made me laugh out loud, and I wanted to add mine to their growing number. It is a uniquely Internet phenomenon for complete strangers to try to amuse one another, and one I fully support. I think it's also a fascinating, and worthwhile, by-product of the Amazon customer review system that people are using it for more than its intended purpose. As I mention previously, Amazon didn't create a system of  customer reviews to level the playing field for all products in a fair and unbiased way. They did it to sell stuff, because they are smart and understand how user aggregated content works.

But I don't think Amazon could have guessed how much reviews could amuse browsers. I think it's a very cool thing that they can be used in such a way. A weird, funny, human, cool thing.

Now I'm not comparing the intent of a satiric review with that of a shill 5 star review, or a 1 star review intended to hurt. One is meant to make a reader laugh. The other is intended to influence buying decisions. But if we start trying to eliminate all fake reviews, and if we start letting others decide what is worthwhile and what isn't, we're going to wind up worse off. Fake doesn't equal bad, especially when not a single person bitching about fake reviews can prove harm was caused.

The opinions of some shouldn't be forced upon everyone. We can, and should, be able to make up our own minds without others dictating what should and shouldn't be allowed. People aren't as stupid as the witch hunters want us to think. We don't automatically believe everything we read online. We can decide for ourselves what has merit. Amazon isn't the Kansas City Schoolboard, trying to teach Intelligent Design to our children. Stuff like that needs to be stopped. Fake reviews, not so much.

In some cases, like The Mountain Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee, the 2000+ funny reviews have obviously helped the sales. It's #154 in clothing. I just ordered one.

In other cases, like the Playmobil Security Checkpoint, the manufacturer obviously wasn't amused, because it seems like Amazon won't allow any more reviews for that item. I tried twice, and it kept denying me.

Here's the page, and my rejected review, for those interested.

So what's my point, here? Am I saying it's okay for authors to anonymously bash other authors, and buy reviews, because some fake reviews are funny?

Nope. Though I don't care if authors buy reviews or bash each other. I don't do it myself, but I don't see the harm.

Am I saying writers are taking Amazon reviews way too seriously, putting more importance on them that they deserve?

Maybe a little, but that's not my main point.

Am I saying we shouldn't judge others?

Not quite. We all judge others. That's impossible to stop. I think moral panic is a bad thing, and caution against it, but that isn't why I blogged today.

So why did I blog today?

Because I can. 

I don't want to live in a world where I wouldn't be allowed to say what I want, or where my words are censored or forbidden. And I don't like self-righteous pinheads who believe they are morally superior and want to make me abide by their ethics.

Before today, I've never written a fake review. Never even considered it.

Today, I've written ten of them. And it feels awesome.

Now let's see how long it takes for the pinheads to whine to Amazon to take them down because they're fake and unhelpful. If they do, here are the screenshots for posterity:

BTW, I expect some people won't get the joke. I expect some people to get angry at my attitude, and my fake reviews, and get on their moral high horses to soundly condemn me for my bad behavior.

Please do. That's the highest praise you can give me.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Konrath's Sales

So I'm working with an incredible woman who is an MS Office tutor. She knows Excel like she wrote it herself.

Over the past few weeks she's been compiling my sales data. ALL of my sales data.

For the very first time, I have total counts of all my sales from every platform. My legacy titles, Amazon published titles, and everything I have on KDP, Nook, Smashwords, Overdrive, Createspace, Kobo, Sony, and Apple.

And now I'm going to share those numbers with you.

These are based on my 8 legacy titles (the Jack Daniels books, Afraid, Timecaster) and my 40+ self-pubbed titles (which include 6 solo novels, 3 collaborative novels--Flee, Draculas, and Serial Killers Uncut, and the rest shorts and compilations and collaborations).

So what are these numbers? (For fun, compare them to my numbers from 2009.)


Since 2004, I've sold 126,366 legacy ebooks, earning me $130,916 (prior to 15% to my agent.)

Since 2009, I've sold 632,501 self-pubbed ebooks, earning me $912,138. Some of that is shared with my collaborators, but not the lion's share by a longshot.

The majority of the money I've made on ebooks are on six of my novels, The List, Origin, Disturb, Shot of Tequila, Endurance, and Trapped. These six novels--all rejected by legacy publishers, have sold 362,783 copies, earning me $600,501.

I'm not at liberty to discuss the sales of my Amazon published books, Shaken and Stirred, because Amazon prefers I don't. But I'll say that I've sold more ebook copies of Shaken and Stirred in less than three years than my eight legacy titles of sold in ebooks in eight years.


My eight legacy titles have sold 60,993 hardcovers, 190,213 paperbacks, and 9828 trade paper since 2004, earning me a total of $264,527.

I've used Createspace to make my self-pubbed books available in print. Since 2010 I've sold 12,711 self-pubbed paper books and made $37,519.

Again, can't talk about Shaken and Stirred. Shaken, released first, did pretty well in print, as this was when Borders and B&N carried copies. Now Borders is gone, and no brick and mortar bookstore will touch Amazon pubbed paper books, so Stirred didn't do as well.


Since 2004, I've sold a combined ebook/paper total of 387,400 legacy books, earning $395,443, or $336,126 after my agent's commission. This includes all advances. That's $42,015 per year. Not bad, but anyone who is a longtime reader of this blog knows how much I busted my ass to sell that many, and how much I spent on promotion and travel. If I took home $30k any given year, I'd be very surprised. It was usually less than that.

Since 2009, I've sold a combined ebook.paper total of 645,212 self-pubbed legacy books, earning $949,657. That's $730,282 on my own, and another $109,687 for my share of my collaborations, for a total of  $839,969. That's $210,000 a year, average.

Stirred has made a little more money than Shaken, due to Blake Crouch's brand, but I had to split that money with him. Again, I'm not disclosing how much I've made, but I've made more on Shaken than I have on any one of my legacy titles. This is the reason I continue to sign with Amazon publishing, and why at the end of this year I'll release three books with them, co-written with Ann Voss Peterson, Flee, Spree, and Three.


Some of my self-pubbed novels have made more money than Shaken.

Now my calculations don't take certain things into account, including:

1. I don't have 2012 legacy sales figures yet, thanks to publishing's reporting system being back-asswards and archaic.
2. I'm counting 2012 as a full year, even though it is only September.
3. My averages aren't fully accurate. For my first year of legacy pubbing I only had one book out, and my first year of self-pubbing I had less than ten. Obviously I didn't sell many legacy ebooks before 2007, when the Kindle was invented.
4. The vast majority of my sales have been in the last 22 months, as ebooks have really taken off, so averaging out over four years isn't accurate. In 2011 and the first months of 2012 I've made $791k, or an average of $37,000 a month. To put this in perspective, I got a $33,000 advance for Whiskey Sour, and a $20k advance for Afraid.
5. My legacy paper sales have dwindled dramatically, partially because of bookstores closing, partly because bookstores hate me and won't carry me, partly because I haven't had a new legacy book in years. So again, averages aren't the best way to view the data.

Because this isn't a true science experiment with a control, any conclusions I draw will be speculative. But my data is solid, and I'm confident enough to make a few observations.

1. Ebooks are the future.

I've been saying this for years, but my data bears it out. I'm betting, when I get my next legacy royalty statement, my ebooks will have outsold my mass market paperbacks. Paper sales are dwindling, ebooks are taking over, in a big way.

2. Amazon is the big dog.

Not only is Amazon Publishing (Encore, Thomas & Mercer, etc.) a smart and lucrative way to diversify from self-pubbing, but Amazon is where most of the money is made.

I hear some of you asking: Joe, can you break down the numbers?

Absolutely. One of the wonderful things about my new spreadsheet is it uses pivot tables. In other words, I can sort my data however I wish. If I want to know how many $2.99 titles I sold on Nook in June 2011, I can sort it. If I want to know how many Kindle Owner Lends I've had, I can to it in a few clicks.

And yes, in an upcoming blog I will be interviewing the woman who did this for me. So if you're like me, and have too much data to compile into one spreadsheet, let alone analyze, you'll be able to hire her.

Let's look at my numbers broken down by platform:

Apple (via Smashwords) 6356 sold, $10,446 earned
Kobo (via Smashwords) 2229 sold, $3040 earned. But I recently signed on with Kobo directly, and in August 2012 made $1033. So Kobo is shaping up to be a player.
Sony (via Smashwords) 3882 sold, $6047 earned.
Nook (via Smashwords) 5769 sold, $7524 earned
Nook Pubit 16,727 sold $29,300 earned
Amazon KOLL 20,179 shared, $35,015 earned

According to my numbers, my Amazon titles have earned $885,452 and other platforms combined have earned just $64,204. Amazon is the clear winner by almost 14 to 1 against its competition.

But what interests me most is KOLL. I made $35,015 KOLL on select titles, for a three month period. I currently have a handful of titles in KOLL for another three months, but I'd opted out the majority of my work in order to make it available on other platforms.

Granted, the majority of my KOLL profits came around the holidays, and I had to opt out of the other platforms to do so. Perhaps I could have made good money on Apple and Nook during the holidays if I'd been live, but would it have been comparable to what I made via KOLL? It doesn't seem likely.

I've been urging Amazon at every opportunity to make KDP Select non-exclusive. I've also been urging them to sell epub format, something I've been urging since 2009.

Amazon still demands KDP Select be exclusive, and recently offered a 70% royalty in India for KDP Select titles. They seem to like the exclusivity of it, even though their customers get fewer titles, and Amazon scares away many authors from the Select program.

Kobo is on the rise. Nook seems to be holding steady. The same with Apple.

So what is an author to do? Pull all titles and go all-in with Amazon, to hopefully make more money? Or self-publish on multiple platforms, encouraging competition, and perhaps earning less?

I want to hear from writers on this issue. Do you go with Amazon Select or not, and why?

I'm going to remain on multiple platforms for the time being. But come the holidays, I'm not sure what I'll do. A lot of my KOLL earnings, and KDP earnings, were the result of the Select freebie program and resulting bounceback to the paid bestseller lists. But all signs point to the bounceback being not as effective as it once was. I want to hear from writers on this issue as well.

3. Amazon and Createspace have impressed me.

I've made over $37k on my self pubbed paper books. Since 2010, that's $12,500 a year. My legacy books have averaged $33,065 a year.

In other words, even with major publishers behind me, four book tours where I went to 42 states, and signing at over 1200 bookstores, I only made $33k a year selling legacy-pubbed paper. Doing absolutely nothing, with a minimal investment per title (cover art, formatting) I'm making $12,500 a year selling self-pubbed paper.

Obviously, as with all of my numbers, your mileage may vary. But this shows me what an utter failure legacy publishers have been with me, and I bet my data can be extrapolated to dozens, if not hundreds, of other midlist authors. I may be among the better selling indie writers, but as more and more midlist authors leave legacy, more and more of them will have success that mirrors mine.

Paper isn't going away. But it isn't going to be the preferred method of reading in the future. For millions of people, it is already passe.

I just got a blurb request from a Big 6 author whose novel is being released ebook-only.

WTF?!? Publishers are actually signing authors and not even putting out a paper version? Why would any author take 14.9% of a legacy pubbed ebook that sells for $9.99 (hint: by "sells" I mean "won't sell") instead of 70% (or 80% via Kobo) of a self-pubbed ebook where they control the price and the rights?

Publishing can survive using this strategy, if authors are gullible enough to keep signing these one-sided contracts. Here's how.

On a $6.99 paperback, the author makes about 56 cents. That's close to what the publisher makes, after all expenses. While it is possible for publishers to get into the black before an author earns out her advance, earning out the advance is usually a good indicator the book is making money.

On a $6.99 legacy ebook, the author makes $1.04 after agent commission. The publisher makes $3.67. So let's play the advance game.

A publisher pays an author $20,000 advance. Author keeps $17,000 after the agent is paid. There is no paper version. The ebook, priced at $6.99, sells 12,000 ebooks in five years, which is what my legacy ebook Dirty Martini has sold.

The author would still owe $7520 on the advance before earning another nickel. In the meantime, the publisher has made $44,000. Minus the $20k advance, the publisher has pocketed $24,000, and still will make money for a few more years without paying the author any more.

If the author self-pubbed his own book at $6.99, and sold 12,000 copies, he would have made $58,880.

If publishers keep signing authors for ebook-only deals, at the current royalty rates, they'll get richer than they ever have, at the expense of authors. Authors will still be living advance to advance, never earning out, and publishers will be printing money by doing nothing more than providing cover art, proofreading, and editing services--all jobs that can be freelanced for fixed costs.

If you are thinking about signing an ebook-only deal with a publisher, crunch the numbers first.


As I've said ad nauseum, ebooks are forever. And they are going global. We're going to be able to reach readers worldwide, with a combination of POD, ebook retailers, and libraries. But in order to exploit this market, we need to hold onto our rights and get the highest royalties possible.

As always, I encourage authors to figure out what they want out of their career, and set appropriate goals. Experiment, share your results with others, and keep trying new things. Before you sign any contract, understand what it means, what you're getting, and what you're giving up.

There are no sure things. I've never said there were. No path you take in publishing is a quick-rich scheme. Talent and hard work can help you get lucky, but it still all comes down to luck. Keep at it until luck strikes.

If you want to take a legacy deal, know what it means. I was recently talking with a peer--the first time we ever spoke--who has done just as well as I have with self-pubbing. She told me she was interested in pursuing a legacy contract, and I agreed that for her it made sense. She has a lot of titles, and this could be a chance for her to make a seven figure advance while still controlling the majority of her self-pub empire. She has nothing to lose by trying. But I do want to share part of our conversation, because I think it's telling.

Author: I was recently in a Barnes & Noble, my first time in years, and I saw huge display tables for EL James and Amanda Hocking. Legacy publishers really are good at getting the books they push onto the bookstore shelves.

Joe: For certain titles, yes they are. But how many customers in the bookstore did you see buying those books? How many customers were in the bookstore at all?

Ask yourself that. When was the last time you were in a bookstore? How many customers were there, buying books?

I've heard that 7 out of 10 books shipped get returned. I've seen bookstores close, and I've noticed space within the bookstores increasingly devoted to non-book items. And now publishers aren't even printing books anymore, they're signing ebook-only deals.

Tread lightly. There's a big difference between taking $1,000,000 because a publisher thinks you're the next James or Hocking, and taking $20,000 that you'll never earn out. If you're holding out for that million dollar deal without a track record to back it up, you might as well go buy a bunch of lottery tickets. And if you do have the track record to back it up, you have the power to negotiate a better deal, or to walk away and keep your rights.

A few weeks ago, I declared myself independent of legacy publishers. I'm reposting that here, for newbie authors to read, because whenever I post my numbers I get a whole bunch of new readers, and they need to see this.

The Declaration of Independence for Writers

When in the Course of publishing events, it becomes necessary for writers to sever their ties with the industry that is supposed to have "nurtured" them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that we should declare the causes which impel those writers to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all writers should have an equal chance to find readers. That their successes or failures should be dependent upon their own actions and their own choices. That they should be paid fairly for their work. That they should have control over the works they produce. That they should have immediate and accurate access to their sales data. That they should be paid promptly. That they should not be restricted from reaching those who may enjoy their work. That whenever a publisher becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of Authors to abolish all connections with the offending parties.

The history of the legacy publishing industry is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over writers. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

They have given us take-it-or-leave-it, one-sided, unconscionable contracts.
They have failed to adequately market works they have acquired.
They have artificially inflated the price of ebooks.
They have refused to negotiate better ebook royalties for authors.
They have forced unnecessary editing changes on authors.
They have forced unnecessary title changes on authors.
They have forced crappy covers on authors.
They have refused to exploit rights they own.
They have refused to return rights they aren't properly exploiting.
They take far too long to bring acquired works to market.
They take far too long to pay writers advances and royalties.
Their royalty statements are opaque, out-of-date, and inaccurate.
They orphan authors.
They orphan books.
They refuse to treat authors as equals, let alone with a reasonable measure of fairness.
They make mistakes and take no responsibility for those mistakes.
For every hope they nurture, they unnecessarily neglect and destroy countless others.
They have made accessories of the authors' ostensible representative organization, the quisling Authors Guild, and are served, too, by the misleadingly named Association of Authors' Representatives.
They have failed to honor promises made.
They have failed to honor their own onerous contract terms.
They've failed the vast majority of authors, period.

This blog has documented nearly every stage of these Oppressions, and in many cases offered solutions to publishers, and has been answered with only silence and derision.

But that's okay. Because now authors have a choice.

I don't need legacy publishing, and I will never be taken advantage of again. I declare myself independent of the entire archaic, broken, corrupt system.

And I won't be the last to do so.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Interview with Marcus Sakey

Joe sez: I've known Marcus Sakey for years. He's a great guy, a great writer, and is currently doing something very worthwhile with his re-release of his ebook short story collection, Scar Tissue, now available on Kindle for $2.99.

One of the reasons I still blog is for occasions like this. A terrific book, and a terrific cause.

Joe Konrath: Scar Tissue contains some stellar short stories--stuff that really sticks with the reader months later. How did it come about?

Marcus Sakey:  It came about because I find writing short stories brutal.  They need to be so damn perfect.

With a novel, there’s a certain freedom to play.  You can try things: flirt with a style, dance with a quirk, toy with a notion.  Now, understand, I’m tenured faculty in the Kill Your Darlings School of Writing, so I believe that ultimately an experiment has to succeed to survive, and that failed attempts should be shot in the head and dumped in the garbage.  It’s just that the breadth of a novel gives you room to maneuver.

Short stories, on the other hand, are themselves an experiment.  By definition they are almost certain to leave a reader wanting.  They’re one night stands.  And so they have to be stellar, or all you’ll be left with is annoyance and regret and in the worst cases, blue balls.

I’ve written dozens of short stories.  There are exactly seven that I’m satisfied with.

And that’s ScarTissue.

Joe:  You’re doing something unusual with this release.  What is the Team Julian Foundation?

Marcus:  In 2010, two of the best people I know got unimaginable news: their four-year-old son had an incurable brain tumor. 

Julian Boivin was a superhero in training.  He was sweet and bright and joyful and incredibly tough.  He and his parents fought an epic battle: surgery, radiation, chemo, things no child should have to experience.  But in the end, cancer stole this beautiful boy.

Founded in his honor, the Team Julian Foundation is trying to give other kids a fighting chance. To help, I’m donating 50% of the proceeds from every copy of Scar Tissue sold to pediatric cancer research. 

Joe:  But that’s not all…

Marcus:  No.  For the next two weeks, I’m going to donate 100% of the profit.  Every cent from every sale.  The reason is simple: your blog.

I’ve been reading A Newbie’s Guide for six years.  I know how many readers you have, and how influential they are.  If we all pitch in, we’ll not only raise a lot of desperately needed funds, but hopefully build momentum that will encourage others to help.

So please,  if you’re reading this, consider buying the anthology.  It’s $3.  It’s not even a latte.  But every bit of the profit will go to helping kids like Julian.

Joe: And besides doing good, you get the book.  I’ve read it, and it gets my highest recommendation.  And others agree.

Marcus:  First off, thanks.  I’d say the check was in the mail, but I know you prefer payment in beer.  Which I admire.

The stories have been well-received, with a lot of critical praise and some Hollywood interest.  The most successful, “The Desert Here and the Desert Far Away,” was nominated for the Macavity and the Lovey, as well as being shortlisted as the best short story of 2009 by the International Thriller Writers.

But I think one of the most memorable honors I’ve received was for my shortest story ever, the 25-word tale “The Time Before the Last.”  The anthology that published it was used as source material for an artists’ competition, with individual painters choosing the story that moved them most.

Several people selected my story, and it was just the coolest thing to see artists take inspiration from a story I wrote and then go on to create something completely different. 

I tried to buy one the pieces, but they’d sold the opening night.  Which is pretty cool too.

Joe: What's your writing background?

Marcus:  Lying to people. 

For me specifically, it was advertising.  There’s no better way to prepare for writing about criminals and thieves than a job in advertising.

I enjoyed it for awhile, but the business eats its young, and one day I realized I was at best an appetizer.  So I decided to quit, and the next morning, I went to see my boss.  Before I could get a word in edgewise, he fired me.  With severance. 

Talk about a karmic kick in the pants.

Anyway, I threw myself into writing short stories—the fact that they need to be perfect is the exact reason you should start with them; you’ll miss more than you hit, but you’ll learn from the swing, and you can swing a lot—while taking classes towards an MFA.  My plan being that if I failed as a writer, I could become a teacher.

Then this hot-shit newcomer spoke to my class.  He was all fire and energy and system-breaking, and he laid some serious business on us: how the industry worked, the truth about money, the need for focus, the idea that you can either talk about wanting to be a writer or you can write.  After class, I asked if I could buy him a beer. 

Our bar tab, five hours later, was $96.  Joe let me pay.  Bastard. 

It was worth it.  I dropped out of my program and wrote my first novel.  The Blade Itself sold at auction, won some awards, and was bought for film by Ben Affleck.

Joe: I hope you wrote that off on your taxes. :)

Besides buying Scar Tissue, how can people contribute to the Team Julian Foundation?

There are a hundred ways.  For a checkbook liberal like me, the easiest is just that: write a check.  Team Julian is completely volunteer managed—Julian’s parents Brad and Nettie, along with their amazing friends, handle everything—so your money goes pretty much directly to pediatric cancer research.

But there are lots of other things you can do to help as well.  Check out for more details.

Joe: I already have the ebook (hell, I wrote the foreword for it) so I just donated directly to Team Julian. If you have Scar Tissue, I invite you to do the same. If you don't have Scar Tissue, get it for $2.99 and as previously stated, Marcus will donate all profits to the foundation for two weeks, and after that half the profits, forever. Marcus's short fiction is every bit as good as his novels, which is to say it's spectacular.

Spread the word.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Get Over Yourselves

Updated below.

I had a long talk with a friend last night, and we realized something obvious.

Amazon allows one star reviews. 

In other words, the existing system allows and encourages people to publicly trash books. 

Reread that sentence. Just about every book has one star reviews. So there are, quite literally, MILLIONS of one star reviews.

Every one of those millions of reviewers who trashed a book deliberately did it to harm that book's sales. That's the whole point of a one star review. Someone yelling to the world "Don't buy this!"

This is why I don't leave one star reviews. I think it is a shitty, mean thing to do.

But it's allowed.

If it was wrong to trash a book, it wouldn't be allowed. Like murder isn't allowed. Our society doesn't allow murder.

But society does allow people freedom of speech. And that includes the right for people to offer their opinions. Even anonymously. Even stupid opinions. Even biased opinions. Even opinions with agendas.

Recently, three authors were exposed using an existing system--one built upon the very principle of people voicing their opinions--to their advantage, and they're branded immoral and beyond reproach.

Sorry, no.

Ellory did a shitty thing, and because he didn't sign his name to his reviews he was also cowardly, but what he did wasn't any different than what millions of other one star reviewers did and continue to do.

Ellory didn't want people to buy his rivals' books. He wanted them to buy his books. That was his agenda.

He's allowed his agenda. And I'll defend his right to do things like that, even if I wouldn't do it.

If I have a bad meal at a restaurant, I'd warn my friends not to go there. I'm deliberately preventing that restaurant from making money. That is my agenda.

And if I warned my friends to avoid a restaurant I never ate at, I'd be doing the same thing, except I'd be a dick.

And if I owned a restaurant, and publicly denounced other restaurants, I'd also be a dick. (Or an advertiser using Pepsi Challenge rules.)

There are dicks on the Internet! Gasp! Circle the wagons, Pa!

As I said, I don't leave one star reviews. I think trashing books is shitty. That's my personal opinion.

But if you want to throw Ellory under the bus, you need to condemn the millions of others who give malicious one star reviews, and then condemn the system for allowing it.

If you want to throw Locke under the bus, you need to condemn the millions of others who give unsubstantiated five star reviews, and then condemn the system for allowing it.

If you want to throw Leather under the bus, you need to condemn the millions of others who use sock puppets and post anonymously, and then condemn the system for allowing it.

And if that's what you're trying to do, condemn the entire system, then you are a pinhead condemning what comes down to personal freedoms, and showing you have zero faith in writers or readers.

No reader automatically believes every review they come across. Before all this uproar, there have always been fishy one star and suspect five star reviews. Reviews are a tool readers use, and Amazon has done all it can to give readers more tools to judge their veracity--comments, likes, verified purchases, etc.

We may not approve of an author leaving one star reviews, or buying reviews, or using fake names. Personally, I don't approve of authors trashing me on Twitter, posting anonymously on my blog, or getting a ton of coop money and front page NYT ads while I get none.

I don't think it's fair.

Boo hoo, poor me.

That's the sum total of this scandal. Some authors bitching that other authors aren't playing fair.


Let's all gather together in self-righteous solidarity and change Amazon, then change the whole Internet, then change the behavior of every single person on the planet, so everyone plays fair!

Good luck with that. Especially since everyone's definition of "fair" is different.

It is my opinion that 95% of one star reviews are shitty. But because I don't like something, or because I wouldn't personally do something, doesn't mean I need to go on a holy quest to punish those who displease me, and gather up a lynch mob of like-minded hysterics.

Reviews and the reviewing system have never been some sacred act beyond reproach.

Pinheads have dumb opinions, and the Internet lets them shout their dumb opinions without any fear of repercussion. We're all free to condemn whoever we want to condemn, and be outraged by whatever gets us off.

Right now I'm outraged at all the unwarranted outrage.

Locke didn't hold the world hostage by threatening it with nuclear annihilation to get people to buy his books. He bought reviews which MAY have lead more people to buy his books.

Leather didn't put on a mask to hide his identity and then go on a bank robbing spree. He used a fake identity to make fun of people who were making fun of him.

Ellory didn't go into a rival's house and beat him to death with a hammer. He left one star reviews, which MILLIONS OF OTHERS DO.

But Joe! If this kind of behavior is allowed, the system will devolve into chaos and madness! Madness I say! MADNESS!!!!

Don't be a pinhead. This kind of behavior IS ALLOWED RIGHT NOW, and has been allowed for decades. Every book has one star reviews. There are millions of one star reviews. I'd bet there are also millions of fake reviews. And millions using sock puppets. Just because three authors were discovered doing what millions already do, within a few days of each other, doesn't mean the system is going to hell.

The system works fine. We're all able to sell books, even when some pinhead gives us one star reviews.

We're all not in danger of losing our morals. But we are in danger of losing our perspective.

Amazon, and the Internet, and the Bill Of Rights, allow free speech. Even anonymous free speech. Even speech we don't like.

That petition was stupid. This whole issue is stupid. The hysteria is unwarranted. This is just a self-righteous mob who feels the need to jerk off in public by pointing fingers and declaring themselves superior.

This sums it up:


I published an earlier version of this blog inadvertently while I was still tweaking it. The previous opening was:

Buying reviews isn't wrong. Using sock puppets isn't wrong. Leaving fake one star reviews isn't wrong.

It's shitty, and I wouldn't do it. And that's how I'm able to prove I'm right.

Amazon allows one star reviews. In other words, the existing system allows and encourages people to publicly trash books. 

Here's a snapshot of that earlier version.

I don't believe that was as strong an opening as my current one, but I still stand by those words.

You either believe in freedom of speech, and allow people to say things within a system where freedom is allowed, or you try to police the system, which is impossible and also very wrong.

Get it? It isn't wrong to speak your mind. It's wrong to not allow people to speak their mind.

That's the problem with democracy. People do things we don't like them doing. But it beats the alternative, doesn't it?

Calling an action wrong because you wouldn't do it is bad logic. There are certain legal sex acts I wouldn't do. I don't condemn them as being wrong. It just isn't my thing.

In the comments, people are trying to say that fraud was involved.

They're wrong.

Fraud involves damages. No one was damaged here. Amazon allows one star reviews, so that doesn't count as damage. Amazon allows book returns for full refunds. So again, no damage. People call each other names all the time on the internet. That's allowed.

Show me every paid review is a lie. Hint: they aren't.

Show me people bought books based on lies. Hint: people buy books for lots of reasons.

Show me that people who felt duped were prevented from getting full refunds and then leaving negative reviews of their own. Hint: Anyone can do this.

Show me one star reviews harm authors. Hint: Amazon allows one star reviews.

In the comments one of the authors who created the petition is insisting it isn't a mob action. Here is my reply:

When there is a call for many to condemn the behavior of three, I am comfortable calling that a mob.

When that call for action has media coverage, it makes me even more suspect.

When that call to action involves moral superiority, it clinches the deal.

You're part of a mob, whether you intended it or not.

You're signaling out three people for scorn and ridicule and humiliation, whether you intended it or not.

The wording of your petition sucks, whether you intended it or not.

I pick on groups. Big groups who do authors harm.

I don't pick on authors behaving badly.

I'm fine with going against a mob of 400 even though it is an incredibly unfair, one-sided fight. (Hint: you'll need at least 500 more signatures before I'd consider us evenly matched.)

But I'm not okay picking on individual writers.

Say I took every negative thing you've ever said on the Internet, strung it all together in a blog post, then rallied my large readership to publicly condemn you, then called my vast media contacts to join in the excoriation.

That's what your mob is doing. And it doesn't matter if that wasn't your intent.

Update #2

So let me sum this up, because I seem to be getting misunderstood a lot.

If someone buys reviews, I don't care. I don't value reviews enough to pay for them, so I wouldn't do this. I see a very thin line between asking for honest reviews with the reviewer disclosing they'd been paid, and a review where the reviewer discloses nothing, doesn't even read the book, and gives it five stars. I believe readers are savvy enough to figure out which reviews are worth listening to, and how much they affect their buying decision. Considering that readers can download free samples, return the book for a refund, and post reviews of their own (along with comments and like/dislike buttons), I think Amazon is doing all it can to make the system fair. They don't police reviews, and that's a good thing.

If someone gives me a one star review, I don't care. Doesn't matter if they read the book or not, or use a fake name or not. All one star reviews intend to hurt sales. Amazon allows them, and there are millions of them, yet people still buy books.

If someone posts anonymously or uses false names, I don't care. Anyone who has been on the Internet for more than ten minutes soon learns to distrust everyone and everything. The web, by its very nature, is much different than communicating face to face. People say and do things on the net they'd never do in person. Reasonable people understand this, and are automatically wary.

I don't give one star reviews, use sock puppets, or pay for reviews. I understand how my peers might think these things are unfair. They may be unfair. But they aren't serious, and they aren't automatically morally wrong, because they are a by product of free speech. Just because I wouldn't do them doesn't mean I have the right to prevent all others form doing them. That road is a dangerous one to walk, because it leads to sanctimony, witch hunts, censorship, overreacting, hate groups, and mobbing.

Everyone is allowed to be upset about whatever they want to be upset about. But publicly humiliating these three for their minor transgressions is silly. The press covering this is no different than the tabloids printing pictures of drunk celebrities.

I think witch hunters and muck rakers are scum. Humiliating a peer so you can get your name in the paper is pathetic. Exposing author dishonesty, when dishonesty abounds in the publishing industry, is hypocritical. My previous posts have shown that there is no such thing as universal morality, and we all do various questionable things in our careers.

Last, and certainly least, I do finally understand why some authors are so pissed off. Someone just emailed me Nielsen Bookscan number scans of several authors who signed the petition. Wow. I've sold more books in a week than they've sold in years. No wonder they're upset at me, Locke, and Leather.

I'm sorry, guys. I really am. I'm sure your books are good, and I say that with utmost sincerity even though (full disclosure) I haven't read them. But maybe you guys should stop spending so much time on social networks spewing hateful nonsense, and more time on your careers.

I've heard that self-publishing pays 70% royalties and you can set your own prices. If you need pointers, I have a lot of them on my blog. If you have any specific questions, email me. I get a lot of email, but I am being completely honest when I say I'll help you if I can. Seriously. The legacy system is screwing you, just like it screwed me, and you have my sympathy. And you can go right on hating me even though I'll help you.

Ebooks aren't a zero sum game. I wish you nothing but success. 

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Ethical Roulette

Let's play a game.

There has been a lot of talk about ethics and morals around the Internets lately. A lot of name calling. A lot of shaming. A lot of sanctimony. 

Writers are quick to proclaim they'd never pay for reviews, or use sock puppets to promote their own work, or to denounce someone else's work.

This has generated a lot of discussion within my peer network. It's a nice excuse to test our morals, fine tune our sense of right and wrong, and work harder to understand human behavior.

But I don't see a lot of level-headed discussion on the web. I see hysterics, mob behavior, and action motivated by fear or righteous indignation.

I get angry when groups begin acting badly. The AAR. The Authors Guild. Harlequin. The Big 6. When I see this happening, I take them to task for it, using logic and facts and arguments to show how they are wrong.

I recently did this with the NSPHP petition. A petition that named and accused three writers of "damaging publishing", using "underhanded tactics", and stating other authors are doing it as well.

The NSPHP built a carefully constructed case showing how these writers damaged publishing.

Oh, wait. No they didn't. They simply accused and denounced.

But at least they clearly defined "underhanded tactics" and explained in detail how they are illegal and immoral.

Oh, wait. What the trio did wasn't illegal. And there was no posted debate, no public discussion whatsoever of their actions (in fact, discussion in the comments is discouraged and comments encouraging debate have been removed).

But surely they have proof that many other authors are doing this as well. I mean, you don't suddenly post a call to arms unless this is a deeply rooted, widespread problem, right?

Oh, wait. There is no proof. Only assumptions.

Welcome to the wonderful world of moral panic.

So the NSPHP judged three authors, convicted them without any trial or allowing the authors any defense, and then took the moral high ground by shaming them publicly, denouncing their acts without any attempt to dissect or understand those acts, and then shamelessly begged readers for reviews.


In fact, if anyone reading this edits Wikipedia, they need to add the NSPHP petition to the moral panic examples. Feel free to use my blog as a citation.

I much prefer debate to name calling. And when someone is accused of something, I try to put myself in their shoes, and wonder if I'd act the same way. If I don't think I'd do those same things, does that make me morally superior? Or am I just lying to myself? 

Has anyone, while witnessing all the vitriol going on right now, asked themselves, "There but for luck go I?"

I have.

We all have morals. Having morals doesn't mean we're always able to follow our own moral code. We're human. We make mistakes. We have moments of weakness. We're also uncannily good at justifying our actions.

I'd never kill another human being. 

But what if your family is being threatened?

I'd never steal. 

But what if you're starving?

I'd never pay for reviews or use sock puppets online. 

Really? Are you sure?

Unless I missed some link or secret page on their website, no one signing the NSPHP petition has proven that what the three accused have done are crimes, or how they are even morally wrong. No one has clearly demonstrated how other writers or readers have been hurt. No one has tried to explain or discuss motive.

There has been no talking about the issues whatsoever. Only assumption, finger pointing, condemnation, and a growing list of author signatures that methinks is growing so fast because innocent writers don't want the mob to turn on them.

Isn't it more productive to have a discussion about the ethics of reviewing than rushing to a snap judgement and joining a mob?

I think these things should be discussed. I think the accused should be considered innocent before proven guilty.

Hence this blog post.

I like John Locke. I've spoken with him at length in the past. I believe he's done a great deal of good for the indie movement. I've found him to be personable, gracious, and good-natured.

I like Stephen Leather. I've only traded emails with him, but I've found him to be personable, gracious, and good-natured. Last year we discussed collaborating on a horror novel together; something I still plan on doing. What kind of man would I be to back out of working with someone because they're currently controversial?

Do I agree or disagree with what they've admitted to doing? Would I do those same things? Have I done similar things?

Ask yourself those same questions. But before you answer, try to open your mind and be honest with yourself.

That won't be easy. It's much easier to express moral outrage. It feels good to see the mighty fall, an unfortunate trait of human nature called Schadenfreude. It feels especially good when people more successful than we are get publicly thrashed. If we can convince ourselves Locke and Leather sold so many books because they are cheaters, we can point to that as the reason why they outsold us, and boldly state, "They sold more than me because they cheated, while I would never stoop so low!"

Actually, they sold more than us because they write books people like, are savvy marketers, and got lucky.

Hard to admit that to ourselves, though. Knee-jerk condemnation and public chastisement is much more pleasurable.

So let's take a little morality test. You can post your answers in the comments, or keep them to yourself. I'm not writing this post to make you feel ashamed, or make you feel morally superior. If you feel the need to post your answers and take the moral high ground on every question I'm about to ask, that doesn't mean much. Being asked something on a blog is not the same as actually being confronted with the issue in real life.

We can all be pious in our minds, and we can proclaim our piety in public. But actions are the real indicator of morals.

So let's begin.

1. Would you accept a glowing blurb from Stephen King (or insert your author of choice) even if he only read 3/4 of your book? 

How about only half of your book? 

Just the first chapter?

What if he didn't read it at all?

2. Would you give someone a free book to review it?

What if instead of a book, you gave them the cash to buy the book with?

Would you hire a publicist to send out books you paid for to reviewers?

Is it ethical to have your book reviewed in a periodical that you write articles for? One that you buy ads in?

3. If your mother wrote a book and wanted you to honestly review it on Amazon, would you? 

Would you give Mom one star if it were bad?

If Mom asked you specifically for a five star review, would you do it?

4. Would you ever review or blurb a book you haven't read? 

What if it was for someone you were friends with? 

What if it was a family member?

What if you were paid $5000 for it? How about $50,000?

5. If your book was getting one star reviews from a fellow writer, would you give their book one star in retaliation?

If that competitor used sock puppets to trash your book, and Amazon didn't remove the phony reviews, would you ask for reviews from family and friends to counter the damage?

Would you post phony five star reviews of your book to counter the damage? 

Would you use sock puppets to trash your competitor's books in retaliation?

6. If spending $5000 on paid reviews guaranteed you'd sell 2 million ebooks, would you do it? 

Would it matter if you publicly disclosed it or not?

What if the reviews were honest reactions from people who read the whole book? 

What if they were written by spambots who automatically gave you five stars? Is their a difference?

Would you pay $1000 to guarantee a front page review of your book in a major periodical? How about $500? Or $50? What if it also guaranteed a place on the periodical's Bestseller list? Does that make it more or less appealing?

7. Would you ever review a book for money? 

Would you ever take a job as a reviewer for Kirkus and PW (two periodicals who charge authors for reviews)?

Would you review books on Amazon for $50 per book?  What if you swore to yourself you'd be impartial?

Would you do so without disclosing the review was paid for? Would you do it and not read the book?

8. Would you ever trade reviews with your fellow authors?

Would you ever ask friends for reviews? Family? Fans? Strangers?

9. Would you ever promote your books on forums, blogs, or social networks?

If you were being trashed on forums, blogs, or social networks, would you defend yourself? And if defending yourself just brought more vitriol, would you consider defending yourself anonymously?

How about under a fake identity? Would you ever use a sock puppet to defend yourself from mob behavior?

Would you use a sock puppet to praise your own work? Denounce the work of others?

10. Would you ever give a one star review to a book you haven't read?

Would you give a one star review to a book because you disapprove of something the author did?

I've seen lots of recent one star reviews for Locke's How I Sold a Million Ebooks in Five Months, and lots of people chiming on on the Locke Hate Parade, and I really have to wonder how these people think they're any better than what they're accusing Locke of.

11. Would you ever trash someone on the Internet? 

What's the minimum a person must have done in order to deserve your trashing them? Must they have done something specifically to you or someone you care about? Or simply something you don't agree with?

Would you do this anonymously?

Is there a difference between criticizing someone on the Internet, and criticizing their books on the Internet? If so, why is one okay and the other not?

And finally...

12. Would you ever sign a petition denouncing authors for buying reviews without closely examining the issue, and in the same breath begging readers to give you reviews?

Here are my answers. As I said, I don't expect people to post their answers in the comments. And some that do, no doubt will be lying to the world and to themselves. I don't think I'm any more honest than anyone else, but I'm going to try my best to answer these as truthfully as I can. I'm sure if I fall short, there will be plenty of people eager to pounce on me.

1. Years ago, I would have loved for Stephen King to blurb me, even if he didn't read the book. I agreed with my publishers that blurbs were an important and essential marketing tool.

Today, I don't feel the need for anyone to blurb me.

Blurbs have always had an element of corruption to them. I blogged about this years ago. So did Barry Eisler. I was more comfortable with it than he was, but I believe we both had sound arguments, and we both agreed there was some shadiness going on.

2. I've never paid for reviews, or a publicist. But I've given out hundreds of my books, both paper and ebooks, in order to get reviews. I've always been upfront that I wanted honest reviews, and have gotten my share of negative reviews from people I've sent books to. 

I still solicit reviews. On my blog. Through my website and newsletter. Whenever I get fan mail, I thank them and ask them to post it as a review.

But I don't read my reviews anymore. Except for a close circle of friends and family, I'm not interested in the opinions of others, either about me or about my work. If I ever become so jaded or self-important that I start writing crap, I expect my support network to bring me back down to earth, just as I'd do for them.

3. Mom would get five stars from me, even if her book was terrible, and I'd help her promote it any way I could. If that reflects badly on me, so be it.

4. Every book I've ever reviewed or blurbed I have read, and I did my best to review it honestly, though I focused on the good and downplayed or ignored the bad.

However, in some rare circumstances, I would review or blurb a book I haven't read for someone I liked. I wouldn't do it for money, because I'm not motivated by money. (I'm serious, I just turned down a speaking gig for $20k) But if an author I respected needed a blurb right away, and I didn't have time to read his book, I'd do something generic such as, "Author X is one of my all time favorites, and he never disappoints."

Actually, it's wrong of me to say I'd blurb a book I haven't read, because I'd actually be reviewing the author instead the book.

So I'd have to say no, I wouldn't review a specific book I haven't read, but I would endorse an author via review or blurb if I'd read them before.

5. I've got lots of one star reviews, lots of haters, and I don't care. I don't give out one star reviews, under my name or via sock puppets. Not because I love everything, but because I don't feel right trashing other people's hard work.

I don't use sock puppets, or post anonymously. But would I ever?

I don't know. My ego is healthy. I don't care if people trash me, so I don't feel the need to defend myself, anonymously or otherwise.

The right to anonymous free speech is protected under the First Amendment. As for sock puppets, check out how Benjamin Franklin used them.

I remember an incident years back, where a comment thread about Stephen Leather was deleted by, or comments were deleted, or something similar. I'm not bringing this up to dredge up old controversies, but because I remember reading the thread.

Commenters were absolutely viscous toward Leather. I remember being surprised at how nasty it got. I also remember Leather's attitude as bemused more than anything.

Would I create sock puppets to defend myself in a situation like that? I don't think so, because I really don't care. But I also can't condemn someone who does. While deceptive, that doesn't mean it is illegal or immoral.

Publishing is full of deceptive practices. Bestseller lists. Coop. Reviewing. Blurbing. Is a celebrity endorsing a product deceptive? I believe it is, to a degree.

We place a lot of value on honesty and integrity. I think that's good. But judging people who fail to live up to your ideals? That's a problem with the judge, not with the judged.

In other words, it isn't my fault I don't live up to your standards. And there's only one reason you would feel the need to judge me: moral masturbation.

6. If spending $5k on reviews guaranteed I'd sell two million books, hell yeah I'd do it. And I wouldn't care if those reviews were honest or not. I would admit to doing it, and probably encourage others to as well, if selling books were as simple as that. 

But selling books isn't as simple as that.

There's a lot of bad logic floating around about buying reviews. Namely:

a) There is no real guarantee buying reviews, even a lot of them, will lead to sales. It's a risk, and a potentially expense one, both in terms of money and in terms of the disapproval of peers.

b) I don't believe reviews influence buyers very much. I've bought books with one star reviews, and passed on books with hundreds of five star reviews.

c) A paid for review doesn't automatically mean it is disingenuous. I was a judge, several times, for the Writer's Digest short story contest. I was essentially a paid reviewer. And I worked my ass off to be as good a judge as possible. I believe that many paid reviewers have integrity and follow a code of ethics, no matter who pays them.

I've yet to see a single decent argument that explains how buying reviews hurts other authors. Some include:

It isn't fair to game the system!

Joe sez: All systems are gamed, and none are fair. Amazon didn't institute a user review system to make sure all authors had a fair and balanced playfield. They did it to encourage user participation and sell more books. Someone else doing well doesn't hurt you in the slightest.

Lots of reviews lead to higher Amazon ranks! 

Joe sez: Someone prove this. 

If someone has more reviews than me, customers might buy their book over mine! 

Joe sez: Ebooks aren't zero sum. No author makes money at the expense of another author. 

Reviews lead to bestseller lists, which pushes off the honest books and makes them less visable!

Joe sez: There is no proof a lot of good reviews leads to increased sales. In fact, I have ebooks with a few reviews that outsell ebooks with a lot of reviews. Also, ebooks are forever. If you feel you missed a shot at the Top 100 because someone else bought reviews, you can always have another shot later. My ebook The List has been in the Top 100 on four different occasions spanning three years.

Bad reviews hurt authors!

Joe sez: My ebook SERIAL has 156 one star reviews. People have been absolutely virulent in their hatred of that story. Sales remain steady.

All books eventually get one star reviews. Bestsellers. Beloved classics. Award winners. It's one of the hazards of being an artist. I talk more about one star reviews, and why I don't leave them or care about them, in my controversial post Be Deliberate.

I would not pay $1000, or any amount, for a front page review in a periodical, for the same reason I wouldn't pay any amount of money for any reviews. I don't believe reviews are worth paying for. I have more than enough fans who are eager to review me for free.

But if I were a new author, just starting out?

I once used a service called Book Rooster, which connected authors with reviewers. The reviewers weren't paid--they were avid readers who agreed to do reviews in exchange for free copies, and disclosed in their reviews that the copies were free. The website running the service charged $49. I didn't pay--I was given a chance to try it for free. Details on my blog here. The comments are also worth reading, because they discuss ethics.

I wouldn't use the service John Locke did. I also refuse to condemn him for using that service, especially since he is on record as saying he asked for honest reviews.

So why wouldn't I do it?

I'm really trying to be honest when I answer this. Bear with me.

I wouldn't go into a store and steal something because I don't feel it is fair to the shop owner, because they would lose inventory and money.

But I have used file sharing, mostly to get things that are no longer available to buy, such as old TV shows never released on DVD, or out of print music. In that case, no one is losing money, because no one is selling it.

I consider buying reviews to be victimless. Any reader who felt duped because they bought a book based on phony five star reviews could return the book for a full refund, then leave their own one star review.

I have seen ZERO compelling arguments that false reviews or bad reviews hurt other authors. As I've said many times, ebooks are not a zero sum game.

So why wouldn't I buy reviews?

Because I think it would eventually be discovered, and people would judge me and attack me, just as Locke is being attacked right now.

I don't feel the amount of anger leveled against him is worth the benefit he received from paying for those reviews. In fact, I don't think he received much benefit from paying for reviews at all.

I'm not morally superior to Locke. What he did just isn't worth it to me.

7. I would review for money, if I needed money. As I said, I've been a paid judge for writing contests, and I feel it is the same principle. 

But I have little respect for paid critics, and there are many things I'd rather do than be a paid reviewer. Such as clean sewers.

Seriously. Judge a writing contest. It's hell. 

I wouldn't work for Kirkus or PW, because I don't like either publication. I think their programs charging self-pubbed authors for reviews are sleazy.

Not because paid reviews are bad. Not because paid reviews besmirch the integrity of unpaid reviews. But because Kirkus and PW charge a lot of money, and the author won't get their money's worth because Kirkus and PW reviews aren't important or necessary. They just seem important and necessary to newbie authors just starting out.

8. I don't trade reviews with authors. But I do review friends' books, because I truly like their writing.

Anyone looking at the Amazon reviews I've written (I'm also a Vine Reviewer, which I'll get to in a moment) will see I've reviewed almost every one of Robert W. Walker's books with the same review.

I was a big fan of Rob growing up, and meeting him for the first time in person was a rare and memorable treat. A few years ago, Rob hit a patch of very bad luck and was broke. I was just getting started with self-pubbing ebooks, and I predicted this would be a boon for writers. So I paid Book Leaf to scan every one of Rob's books (about 40) and then went through each one to correct typos (book scanning produces lots of errors) and then formatted each one for Kindle and uploaded them with product descriptions. Then I posted the same 5 star review under each of his books, because it applied to all of them, as I'd read all of them.

It was a labor of love for a dear friend whose writing I enjoy. I'm thrilled Rob is doing well with these ebooks. I'd do it again.

I'm not posting this story so the world sees what a swell guy I am. I'm posting it because there are pinheads on the Internet looking for dirt on me, and I don't want Rob or I to get accused of sock-puppetry or shilling or trading favors.

I help my friends. That's part of who I am.

As for Vine Reviews, I'm part of the Amazon Vine Program, which means Amazon regularly sends me free stuff in exchange for a review. In the program I received a free $600 espresso maker. I did my best to review it honestly, and 25 out of 25 people found my review helpful.

That said, aren't I essentially a paid reviewer? The machine costs $600, and I got it for free. It was like the ultimate bribe, especially for a coffee lover like me. But I still wrote what I believe is an honest review, and I stand by that review.

In a discussion of ethics and deception and buying reviews, I'm not comfortable using black and white terminology. I think there are lots of shades of gray. Condemning behavior without discussing it or analyzing it or even asking the offending parties for their side of the story is, in my humble opinion, bullshit.

9. This one baffles me. There are authors who are chastising other authors for buying reviews or using sock puppets by leaving one star reviews on those offending author's books.

How can anyone leave a one star review for a book they haven't read? How can they use reviews as a platform to attack the author? Especially when they're trying to take the moral high ground?

I'm especially baffled because one of the authors doing this had once emailed me, and others, asking us to leave positive reviews of his books.

Notice I'm not naming names, publicly shaming, or preaching sanctimoniously. That's because:

10. I don't trash people on the Internet. I think it's cheap, and petty, and cowardly. Every so often, some pinhead gets chastised in my blog comments, after fair warning. But I don't go on Twitter calling other writers names, I don't dedicate blog posts to their stupidity, and I don't hurl insults that might be read by their family, or their fans, because I think that sucks.

I speak my mind when I see groups of people behaving badly. The Big 6. The Authors Guild. The AAR. Harlequin. The latest group to have a circle-jerk Konrath hatefest on Twitter are some authors who didn't like my opinion of the NSPHP petition. Which brings us to...

11. I would not sign a petition denouncing authors for paying for reviews, while at the same time pleading for readers to review them.

I haven't ever paid for a review. But I think I've shown in this blog post how slippery ethics can be, and I'm not going to jump on the hate wagon to denounce others.

Plus, I'd never ask readers to review me with a line like: Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess? It makes me wince just reading it. It smacks of hypocrisy and neediness, and is beneath them.

Four hundred plus authors needed to band together to urge readers to review them to "drown out the phoney voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance." 


Those "phoney voices" are three people! Three people have harmed those four hundred plus so heinously that only readers can step in and correct this terrible injustice?! Three people have caused so much mayhem they must be drowned out?!

Much as I weep for those poor four hundred authors and how they were irrevocably damaged (hint: they weren't)--especially those mega bestsellers whose get full page New York Times ads (hint: that their publishers paid for)--and much as I'm swayed by their persuasive arguments explaining how three people harmed them and the entire system (hint: they have no arguments, persuasive or otherwise), I'm going to have to say a petition that denounces unseemly reviewing methods that ends with an unseemly plea for reviews is very, very, very silly. And I'm being very, very, very kind.

The world doesn't  know, or care, about the problems in the publishing industry. The average reader doesn't care about the DOJ suit, or the AAR and Authors Guild selling us out, or Harlequin screwing writers, or authors behaving badly.

They simply want good books to read.

Those books won't get written if we're all on Twitter 24/7 condemning on another, or blogging incessantly, or spending all of our time pouring over Amazon reviews trying to uncover which are legit and which aren't (seriously, how fucking pathetic is that?)

Now I'm going to unplug for a bit and get some writing done. Which is what we all should be doing.


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Guest Post by Summer Daniels

Joe sez: Summer Daniels is the pen name of an erotica author who hosts a Facebook page called What to Read After Fifty Shades of Grey.

The page is a terrific example of what Bob Mayer calls the Discoverability Wars. To quote Bob:

"In the past the competition was for an agent, a book deal, distribution, placement, etc. Now it's all for Discoverability. And there's only so much of it to go around."

I agree that Discoverability (I love that term) is the newest challenge for authors. I disagree a bit with Bob in that there is only so much to go around. As we enter a global market place (someday I'll have readers in China who haven't even been born yet) I think there will be more than enough of the pie available for all authors to share, especially since publishing isn't a zero sum game.

Authors will still require Discoverability, but that is only limited by our imaginations. Summer imagined a spot on the web where fans of Fifty Shades could recommend similar books to each other. A smart idea. But is is a successful one?

Here's Summer to talk about it...

Summer: Joe has been kind enough to allow me to do a guest blog about my journey as an author and why I started the WTRAFSOG (What to Read After Fifty Shades of Grey) reader recommendation / author promotion page.

It is fitting that Joe will post this here, because my journey as an author begins with this blog.  The countless hours I spent reading through old blog posts and thousands of comments was absolutely riveting for someone that was eager to learn about the new publishing world.  The blog was the impetus for me to stop procrastinating and actually start writing.  Joe is very modest about accepting praise, but in this case (unless he heavily edits my blog post) he will have to accept my thanks.

My journey as an author really parallels my real life journey so it is hard to discuss one without the other.  Quick background: Almost 20 years of marriage dissolves suddenly, and I was lonely.  Come to think of it - I was pretty lonely for much of my marriage as well.  That's about it for the background.  I never intended to write erotica, I had all these other stories in my head (and I still do), but the intriguing nature of what was going on in my personal life led me to create my Summer's Journey series.  I call it "True Romance / Erotica" because it is based very closely on my real life, I only changed enough details to protect the guilty.  I figured exposing my personal life in public might be a bit rough on my family and my career.

So I wrote about what was going on in my life, finished Summer's Journey: Volume One - Losing Control (FREE now on Kindle) which is the first of my series, and after about forty-seven rounds of editing, decided to publish it.  I was one of those new authors who knew just enough to know that they knew nothing.  I cannot speak warmly enough about the indie author community and how it embraced me as a new fledgling author.  Many authors, bloggers and readers took valuable time to share insights, show me how to do certain things, offer advice, etc.

Of course I eschewed some of that advice from the very beginning and published the first volume of a new erotic series without any SEX in it.  Volume One is all character development and back story about how I met Mark and his unusual method of courtship.  Authors of erotica that I spoke to were united in their advice that this was not a good idea.  Surprisingly however, it worked.  The series found readers right away that were eager to see what was going to happen next, after that little black dress hit the hotel room floor in Volume One.  That was back in August of 2011 and it has been a very interesting ride since then.

I wish I could speak of having encountered the same level of success as many of the authors who have been guests here, but my sales have been fairly slow, despite some really great reviews.  It was not until quite recently that I really started to take to heart Joe's advice about the best marketing you can do for your current book - is to write your next one.  For a long time I was having entirely too much fun utilizing social media to introduce myself and my story to readers, authors, bloggers, etc.  What I was not doing was writing the next book.  For a series that lends itself to short volumes, I was taking much too long to produce the next one.

It is about this time that I came across this particular nugget of wisdom on Joe's blog:

"One hand should always be reaching up for your next goal. The other should be reaching down to help others get where you're at. We're all in the same boat. Start passing out oars."

Given how I was embraced as a new author, this one really resonated with me.  I began to be more active in the community, taking what I had learned through others or by my own trial and error, and passing it along.  I helped by being a beta reader, doing reviews of books I had read and enjoyed, sharing others promotional efforts to get the word out about new releases, etc.

Then at the end of April this year, I had an idea.  I think Melinda DuChamp recently said in her first guest post here that she was "not above riding on coattails."  The same can be said of myself, although I had another ulterior motive as well.  My intent in setting up the What To Read After Fifty Shades of Grey page was to take advantage of the influx of new readers to the erotica genre and point them towards other talented authors (including myself).  Call it a matter of inspiration (or should that be sin-spiration?), good timing, good luck, etc. - whatever it was - the page has taken off.

I set up the page 4 months ago.  132 days to be exact.  As of this morning, the page has resulted in over 16,250 book sales from the links and averaged over 200 books sold a day during August.  The number of fans of the page just topped 10,800 yesterday and continues to grow at the rate of 100 or so a day.  The number of authors who have messaged me about the uptick in their sales across all platforms after being mentioned on the page is truly unbelievable.  As an author who knows just how hard it can be (pun intended) to market erotica, this warms my heart to be able to give back in some small way to the very community that has supported me from the beginning.

I welcome all authors to post their works on the page.  I will throw out the caveat that the vast majority of books being sold as a result of the WTRAFSOG page are indeed erotic in nature, but if you write a good blurb and grab the reader's attention, you never know.

As a side note, I find it interesting that so many authors speak poorly of the Fifty Shades of Grey series and bemoan her success.  I know that E.L. James herself has admitted that the books are not very well-written, but for the sheer fact that they have gotten so immensely popular, other erotica authors should be grateful.  In a lot of ways, Fifty Shades has peeled back the curtain and exposed erotica to more mainstream attention.  The number of erotica (or erotic romance) authors now making a very good living and being offered traditional publishing deals is increasing daily.  Awhile back on my blog I compared this effect to Tiger Woods.  At the height of his popularity, Tiger brought so many new fans to the game of golf that no matter what you think of him as a competitor, a person or a husband - you cannot deny the positive influence he has had on the sport.  The same is true of Fifty Shades of Grey.  I cannot begin to tell you how many new fans of the Facebook page have introduced themselves starting out with the words, "I am a new reader."   Many authors I have spoken to lately have started to realize that anything that gets people reading again is truly a wonderful thing, because once these readers are done with the Fifty Shades trilogy, they are looking for something else to read.  And they are voracious readers.

As for my Summer's Journey series, I just released Summer's Journey: Volume Four - Corporal Coupling two weeks ago.  After a six month hiatus between volumes, I have my work cut out for me in terms of reestablishing some of the momentum from earlier books.  Balancing time between my full time job, the Facebook promotion page and my own writing has been difficult, but as with all the other tasks involved in self-publishing, I welcome the challenge.

Joe sez: When Summer posted in my comments section a few weeks ago, I was intrigued. Not only by her Facebook page (which I discovered via Ruth Cardello) but by the premise of her series. So I went to Amazon, read Volume One, and then immediately purchased her Summer's Journey: Collection One which compiles volumes 1 -3.

Erotica isn't my thing, but I found the books to be well written, fun, and sexy. As did Mrs. Konrath. I also think the main idea behind them is smart--two divorced people embark on a kinky sexual journey together that is new for both of them--and that releasing them as chapbooks is a clever way to go about it. As Summer hoped, after reading the first 3 parts, I also bought part 4 to see what happens next. That it may actually be true adds to the fun.

Right now, Summer's Journey Volume One: Losing Control  is free in the US and UK, and I recommend people pick it up and help to spread the word. If you can stop reading after the first installment, you have more self-control than I do.

I have some unsolicited advice for Summer, which is par for the course whenever I have a guest.

1. While her chapbooks are fun and make me want to find out what happens next, I'd like them to have a bit more conflict. Summer assured me that future volumes will indeed address this, and told me about some terrific ideas she had.

Conflict is something that a lot of authors tend to downplay, when it should be ratcheted up.

2. I'm not sure Summer is pricing these correctly. I'd recommend Volume One be perma-free (a neat term to describe the act of making it free on Smashwords and waiting for Amazon to price match. That's what Barry Eisler and I have done with Be the Monkey.) Then, because the volumes are short (around 20 pages), I'd charge 99 cents for each. As more and more volumes are added, and the page length goes up, they can be combined and Summer can charge more. 

Maybe Summer has already experimented with price and has proven me wrong, but I do think she'd sell more ebooks, and widen her fanbase, with lower prices.

3. I haven't seen any authors use the chapbook format successfully. Summer is doing what Sue Grafton did (not dissing indies, she's titling her books by following the alphabet) so there will be at least 26 volumes to this series, which should result in a 500 page book when finished. But more than that, it will result in 26 volumes for 99 cents each, and many compilations for $2.99 or more.

I'm intrigued by this idea, to the point where I'm considering doing something similar. Readers may dislike having to wait for installments, but the more Summer writes, the less this becomes a concern. Which leads to...

4. Summer needs to write faster. She should be putting out a new volume every two weeks, at least. I understand that real life intrudes, and that she's doing a lot with her Facebook page, but I think her series has potential, and she should prioritize her writing.

5. If Summer's blog is doing so well, why not turn it into an ebook? There is a perma-free ebook on Amazon called Ten Shades of Sexy which features sex scenes from ten different novels. It has been on the Top 100 Free List for many weeks, and I can't help but assume that readers who read it and like one of the excerpts go on to buy that author's ebook. Not that I advocate Summer take time away from her writing to to make an ebook compendium of books she has featured on her blog, but this is thinking outside the Discoverability box, and could lead to sales. I'm sure many authors would happily donate a sex scene to a compilation called What to Read After Fifty Shades of Grey: Kinky Excerpts from Fifty Top Erotica Authors.

Summer could put one of her own scenes in there (first chapter, naturally) and then ask authors who have appeared on her Facebook page if they'd like to participate, gratis.

I believe erotica is perfectly suited to this type of collection, since the sex scenes are the main reason people read these books.

6. I like the woman on Summer's covers with the lace blindfold, but I'm not keen on the font or the layout.

I realize professional covers are often costly (though right now my cover artist Carl Graves is having another $200 sale on some premade covers that are fabulous) but I think, with minor tweaks, Summer's covers could look more professional and less indie.

7. While my advice is for Summer, it applies to everyone. So does her advice. Summer encouraged user-aggregated content to create a billboard. Where there was once nothing, there is now something, and people are visiting and helping her make it larger while also spreading the word. She's using Facebook much more effectively than a simple author or fan page, and she's gotten good results.

That's all I've got. I wish Summer success, and look forward to Volume Five, which is letter D. I hope it has to do with domination and discipline, and not dirty diapers. :)