Monday, March 10, 2014

Identity and the Writer

Who am I?

What do others think of me?

Identity is a very important, and terribly difficult, concept to grasp. What makes us who we are is fodder for philosophers, and perhaps biologists, not for this blog.

This blog is about publishing, and it is written for writers. But I'm going to take a stab at discussing identity anyway.

Lately I've seen a lot of stuff on the internet that falls under the umbrella of what I call "identity issues." There are a lot of writers, and a lot of people in the publishing industry, who believe they have clearly defined identities, and who believe they have the ability to understand the identities of others. Identities that may be embraced and accepted, or dismissed and derided.

Let's take a look at some of the things I'm referring to.

Years ago, Barry Eisler used the word legacy to describe traditional publishers. This word is apt because publishing fits the definition of a legacy system. Since Barry began using this, it has fallen into the common vernacular, but only in the shadow industry of self-publishing, used by self-published authors. Legacy publishers don't like to be thought of as "previous" or "outdated", even though they indeed are by any definition, so they reject the term because it conflicts with their personal identities. They believe they are relevant, forward-thinking, guardians of culture. They are wrong, but their identities are so entangled in these labels it may prevent them from doing things that could improve their bottom line, like treating authors better, innovating, and using new technology to reach more readers.

The media often uses the word legacy, but puts quotes around it. "So called 'legacy' publishers." The media sides with the publishers, so when they report, they want to downplay the growing usage of the term legacy.

The idea of "I am X, so I cannot be Y" is a powerful idea, and it is one of the reasons we won't see as many legacy publishers in the future. If any. At least, not in their current state. Because they don't recognize themselves as legacy publisher, because they choose to believe their identity is something different than legacy, they won't be able to fix themselves.

You won't see a doctor if you refuse to believe you're sick. And denying your diagnosis, or downplaying the threat, is stupid. That's what killed Steve Jobs. Smart guy. Innovator. Apparently didn't fear death enough to take appropriate measures. Jobs's understanding of himself--his identity--may have killed him.

But legacy publishers aren't the only ones with identity issues in this biz. Because legacy publishers recognize that writers are desperately searching for identity. And they have ways to prey upon, and exploit, that desperation.

I grew up with a whole generation of writers who understood the only way to get their work into bookstores was to:

1. Write a book.
2. Find an agent.
3. Find a publisher.
4. Sign whatever piece of shit contract they put in front of you, because you have no choice.

I'm simplifying things, and exaggerating a little. But the majority of working fiction writers became published following those four rules I listed.

An entire cottage industry sprang up around this. Books appeared on the market explaining how to write, how to find agents, how to get published. People taught at seminars and writing conferences. Vanity presses became huge industries. Some agents started charging reading fees, or referring work to book doctors.

Writers, who were doing work they hoped to someday be paid for, were paying others millions of dollars hoping for the opportunity to one day sell a book.


One could guess that it was a monetary decision. Writers figured they could pay experts to teach them how to break in, and then make that money back when they are able to write full time.

But history shows that very few writers among all of those chosen by the legacy industry actually make enough to quit their day jobs. So this has to be about more than money, or making a living.

I used to believe that simply finishing a book wasn't enough for a writer to feel like they are a writer. There also had to be some level of acceptance. If certain people accept the book, then the writer can accept they are, indeed, a writer.

But which people? If a renowned agent accepts a novel is that enough?

For me, it wasn't. I would tell people I had an agent, but I still didn't consider myself a writer until it was actually validated with a contract. I followed those four rules above, buying into it entirely.

I remember going to conferences back in 2003 and hearing unagented, unpubbed writers call themselves "pre-published'. If that's how they felt about their identity, good for them. But whenever anyone said that, there was much eye-rolling among others in the room.

We labeled ourselves, and each other, and often those identities were at odds.

In my early days, I'd tell people that I'd written a few books, and I'm trying to be a writer. Then I'd say I had an agent, who was trying to sell my book. But I didn't consider myself a real writer until I signed that first deal. It was how I felt. I was a nobody until someone invited me to be a somebody.

The funny thing is, the book hadn't changed. It hadn't gone from being a mess of jumbled words to being a good manuscript simply because it was accepted. Whiskey Sour would have been what it was whether a publisher accepted it or not. Some of my books that publishers rejected have made me more money than Whiskey Sour has, but when I wrote those I didn't feel like I was a real writer because they never got me a contract. Even though they were agented. Even though they have gone on to earn me hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I thought I knew a lot about writing, and publishing, before I was actually published. But I didn't teach, or blog, until I landed that first deal. Because I didn't feel like I was worthy to blog or teach until the industry validated me.

As if me signing my name to a piece of paper was akin to being bitten by a radioactive spider. Once I was ordinary. But once I signed the contract, I was a WRITER.

Hogwash. Bullshit. And I had bought into it, hook, line, and sinker. But that was the only way I knew where I could claim the true identity of writer.

Self-publishing has made writers reconsider what it is to be a writer. A writer can now form an identity without an agent or a legacy publisher. Readers can validate writers, and writers can reach those readers directly.

But there is still a whole lot of confusion. Some people don't believe self-publishing makes a person a writer.

Some writers are so worried about how they'll be thought of by others that they succumb to moral panic (they were concerned about John Locke buying reviews and corrupting the system.). Yet those same writers see no need for public outcry when publishers do things even worse than the things those writers promised to never do (publishers paying to get books on the NYT bestseller list).

That entire No Sock Puppets Here Please nonsense reminded me of those religious virgins who wear purity rings. It isn't enough for your own identity to simply remain chaste. You have to announce to the world that you're chaste as well, because your identity requires the knowledge and approval of others.

No one is immune to this. You'd think as prominent and rich an author as Anne Rice wouldn't feel the need to respond to critics, or worry what anonymous pinheads on the internets thought of her or her work. But you'd be wrong. Anne just signed a petition to require identity verification of commenters on Amazon.

As readers of this blog know, I encourage anonymous comments. I value freedom of speech, even if the anonymous commenter is a pinhead here to call me names. But what I find fascinating about this petition is how some people seem to care a whole lot about what strangers think of them.

Sort of like me in 2002. I didn't consider myself a writer, even though I'd written ten novels and had an agent, because the industry hadn't accepted me. The opinions of strangers clouded my opinion of myself. It seems that how we label ourselves often depends on how others label us. In some cases, it means getting their approval. In other cases, it means silencing the critics.

Some writers seem to have clear lines of what is acceptable and what isn't, what makes a writer and what doesn't. Publishers also have lines, but they don't seem to be as clear. Certainly publishers will pitch to newbies that the only real writers are those who publish with a legacy house, but there's that whole cottage industry I mentioned earlier, bilking writers out of big money via vanity presses. One of the worst violators is Author Solutions, a vanity outfit that preys on newbies. It's owned by Penguin Random House, a Big 5 legacy publisher.

Random Penguins knows people want to be published, because many authors will only believe they are writers if they have a book in print. Even if they have to spend $3999 for a book signing package at the LA Times Festival of Books. These people are paying a legacy publisher to sign books next to writers who are paid by the same legacy publisher. I'm not the only one who sees a conflict of interest her. Yet the media ignores it. When John Locke buys reviews, or Anne Rice bemoans anonymous comments, it's all over the publishing world. When Author Solutions continues to rip off authors, or it is discovered that publishers buy spots on the NYT Bestseller list, where's the moral outrage?

Oh, yeah. It's reserved for Amazon, who--as the largest bookseller in the world--had the audacity to become one of the sponsors for the LA Festival of Books.

Why is that the story? The same reason some authors supported the agency model and agents protested the DOJ's claims of collusion.

It's an identity thing. Amazon has done a whole lot to cause legacy publishing to question its identity of itself, and to cause writers to question their own identities.

This shadow industry of self-publishing is both threatening to the status quo, and empowering to anyone who wants to call themselves a writer.

Well, almost anyone.

Consider legacy pubbed authors who are openly pro-legacy. Many of them believe they deserve success, or earned their right to sit at the legacy table. It's natural to disparage self-published authors who didn't have to jump through the same hoops in order to be accepted. Admitting self-pub is a real, viable alternative to legacy publishing means admitting they were wrong to put so much faith, time, and effort into getting a legacy deal. To feel secure about their own identity, some authors have to belittle others.

Now I believe a writer is someone who writes. Maybe you get paid. Maybe you don't. Maybe people agree. Maybe they don't. You don't need anyone's approval or acceptance or imprimatur or validation to consider yourself a writer. But legacy pundits like agents and publishers don't want you to believe that. They want you to feel that the only way you can call yourself a writer is if they agree. And their approval comes at a high cost.

The legacy world doesn't want you to feel like you're a writer if all you do is self-publish. Because they need you to make money.

Your peers may not consider you a writer if all you do is self-publish. Because they need to protect their own identities, and that means dismissing yours.

You may not feel like a writer until you meet certain criteria. But consider this: who sets those criteria? You? Or an industry that wants to make money off of you?

Readers don't care. Readers just want a good book. Maybe we all should worry less about labeling, and more about writing.

I wish Kindle and KDP existed back in the 1990s. It would have saved me years of desperation, depression, and self-doubt.

And I wish all writers realized that agents, publishers, book doctors, vanity presses, and how-to seminars, have a cost attached to them--sometimes a very high cost--with zero guarantees. You can be a writer, and have writer be a part of your identity, without any of them.

It doesn't matter what anyone thinks about what you call yourself, and you shouldn't care what others call themselves.

There is no us vs them. There are only those who believe in choice, and those who do not. Those who are comfortable with their identity, and those who are not comfortable with your identity because it makes them rethink their own identity.

Writers write. Depending on your identity, that could empower you, or scare the crap out of you.

It's your choice if you prefer to be enlightened, or frightened.


Brett Battles said...

So very well said. I've felt the same as you along the way. Now, whenever I hear someone say they are and "aspiring" writer, I ask if they have written anything. If they say yes, then I say, then you're a writer. Own it.

Malcolm R. Campbell said...

This is a nice post because it makes us think about labels, self-imposed or bestowed by others.

I don't agree with anonymous comments because threats and libel can appear in those comments without (supposedly) the owner of the site being in danger for spreading the libel. So, there's no recourse to such comments that can and do damage a writer's reputation (whatever that might be) and sales (if any).


JA Konrath said...

I don't like trolls or stalkers or hate mongers or anonymous pinheads, Malcolm. That's why I always sign my name to my posts.

But anonymity is sometimes necessary to protect. Restricting it is akin to restricting speech. Remember the First amendment is to protect the things we don't like, not the things we like.

Anonymous said...

Aw, this was lovely, thank you. I don't always consider myself a writer because my self pubbed books don't sell well, but maybe I should. And to hell with reviews, they're meaningless.

Ken Lindsey said...

"Writers write."

Thanks, Joe. Really.

There are a lot of days in which I forget this and get down on myself because one jackass or another doesn't agree. But it's not for them to decide. I get to decide who and what I am in this new world of publishing, and that's pretty damn fantastic.

Larry Kollar said...

My own benchmark: a writer writes. An author has made a sale. Doesn't matter if that sale was to a publisher, or some random buyer on Amazon last year. Everyone else's benchmarks may vary, and that's cool with me. But in the end, I agree: it's more productive to write than to obsess about labels.

As for the other, I also allow anon comments on my blog, just because I want people to be able to comment more than I'm worried about trolls or flamers.

Anonymous said...

Amazon is effectively an author-mill. It's very nice that you can use 'my book is for sale' as a way to put a spine into your identity, but all this self-publishing positivity completely ignores how many people are getting crushed by it purely because the loudest voices are the ones making Amazon the most money.

Anonymous said...

So true. I used to think of myself as an aspiring writer or no writer at all, because I only finished one novel (and it's still in rough draft stage), but now I think of myself as pre-published writer. And you know what? It makes me want to write more. Because how we define ourselves matters. I am a writer, even if I haven't published anything yet, so I HAVE to apply butt to chair and write even on days when it feels like hard work (especially on those days).

Walter Knight said...

I eel there was a short window to be a 'successful indie or small press author' from 2010 to 2012. Now, the legacy publishers are wising up and catching up, profitably dumping their backlists on the Amazon catalogue.

Indies are being crowded out. Kindle eBooks are great for us new authors, but if we can't be seen anymore because we're under the pile of backlists, we're back to where we started.

I've gone from selling 2,500 books a month to maybe 100. So much for eBooks being forever. "Successful author" is the identity I seek, and my window of opportunity is slipping away.

Jill James said...

Writers write. I write, therefore, I'm a writer. Thankfully, now I'm one who gets paid for it too. :)

Edward G. Talbot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edward G. Talbot said...

Anon wrote:
"Amazon is effectively an author-mill. It's very nice that you can use 'my book is for sale' as a way to put a spine into your identity, but all this self-publishing positivity completely ignores how many people are getting crushed by it purely because the loudest voices are the ones making Amazon the most money."

It took less than ten posts for someone to prove Joe's point. Then again. . .
"Traditional publishing is effectively a con game. It's very nice that you can use 'my book was approved by an editor' as a way to put a spine into your identity, but all this traditional publishing positivity completely ignores how many people are getting crushed by it purely because the loudest voices are the ones with the most to lose."

J.E. Mullany said...

I set my benchmark by telling my wife that I would consider myself an author when I published my third book. I am now in the editing process for that 3rd book with great reviews for my first book in my back pocket.

Feels good.


Ripley King said...

@ anon 3:45 The crushing weight of what? Authors? Nope, a great story and marketing creativity lifts that weight. It just takes time, and a lot of direct-to-consumer marketing savvy.

Online has been a bust for me, but that doesn't mean I'll sit at home with my thumb up my butt. I'm going offline, and will do online when I can. The reaping of new eyes starts and ends with me, and the weight has been lifted.

Yes I saw the discussion over reviews, and if I have something good to say will use my own name. If other don't want to use their own names, I don't care. Rice wants publicity. That's it. All it is.

Author attack reviews can be removed by asking, bad reviews focused on the book's content or quality cannot.

For anyone feeling the weight of marketing your good books, think about pressing the flesh. Think of it as gathering new eyes, or new fans. I still can't afford online, but I did pick up three 12x20" full-color magnets for my truck, $45 USD for all three. One on each door, one on the tailgate. It finally got warm enough for me to glue them on. Just thinking about all them new eyes makes me smile.

So I make my own noise! I'll be pressing a lot of flesh, this spring summer and fall. I'm a rolling billboard. I'm whatever it takes.

I got racked by other authors for presenting this new offline outlook, but these same authors bitched about not getting picked up by Bookbub, over and over. Wow.

The magnets look great, btw. Me, where to get me, no problems with formats.

I'm a writer, editor, cover artist, publisher, marketeer. I love what I do.

Alan Spade said...

*Warning: spoilers of The Wheel of Time inside:* In Robert Jordan's (and Brandon Sanderson's) novel The Wheel of Time, a character named Aviendha is submitted to ordeals in order to become a Wise One. Some of them are pretty serious, but a time comes when the hoops become more and more stupid.

She accomplishes them... until she realizes her last trial is in fact her ability to claim, by herself, her rightful place among other Wise Ones. *End of the spoiler*.

This is, I think, a great metaphor of the publishing process. There's something so much atavistic, there, so ancestral. Writers anoint themselves to be part of their literary club through stupid trials. No matter how stupid these trials may be as long as the writers prove they want to be part of the club. No matter that, in the process, they give far too much power to the arbitrators, the publishers.

Fortunately, most readers now don't care so much about elitists clubs.

I call myself an author. If I'm in doubt and I want to confirm that I'm an author, I just have to read it into the eyes of my readers. Or/and to write.

Woelf Dietrich said...

I'm at a stage in my life where I'm not terribly concerned about labels. I think of myself as a writer because I write. I've self-published a book and so now I'm an author. But neither of the two, at the moment, provides for my family or allow me to write full-time (I love writing and I love people reading what I write--they go together for me). Thus, my self-worth (benchmark) is linked to achieving those goals. The only way to achieve those goals is to write and publish more books and to make sure it's entertaining as hell so that people want more. I suppose there lies my identity. At the moment, like Peter Pan's shadow, it's flat and tied down.

Unknown said...

Very nice post!

I am a writer. I used to teach too, but these days when asked what I do my response is always that I write. I have a column in a specialist weekly publication, have published over a million words in the past 10-12 years, and yet encounter a surprising number of people who try to tell me that I am not really a writer because I have not published novels.

Huh? I earn my income by writing so how can I not be a writer? Of course I am a writer.

I have published one non-fiction (academic) textbook, and my experience with the whole legacy publishing thing has put me off ever going that route again. Students who have read my book say it is of tremendous value and that every student (specific range of subjects) should know about it and use it. But it got a rubbish title and cover, no support, and remains largely unknown.

Self-publishing is the way to go, and so far I have four eBooks on Amazon, one of which was done for Joe's 8-hour challenge last summer, and which sold another copy a few weeks ago. I view those four short books as a learning experience that will help me when I finish the 'proper' books on which I am working.

I too wish that Kindle and KDP were around in the 1990s!

Suzan Harden said...

The need for acceptance/approval is deeply ingrained in all humans. In theory, acceptance/approval leads to love. It took me a long time to realize that the hoops my alcoholic mother made me jump through weren't healthy nor was I ever going to receive the love and affection I wanted from her. I walked away, and I got a lot of criticism for it. But I'm happier and healthier, and I can give my husband and son the emotional support they need, instead of acting like a crazy bitch, which was my example.

The realization helped me to understand that the problem wasn't me when it came to the publishing industry. And I think that's part of the reason I embraced indie publishing. Do I still want validation? Sure, I do, but I've learned to prefer internal validation, rather than external.

Though I have to adamit, e-mails from readers asking when the next book will be out does give me warm fuzzies. *grin*

Anonymous said...

Joe I just want to thank you so much. Your blog has been so helpful, so many times, that I've lost count. I hope you know how much you are helping others. Myself included.

Thank you and please keep writing.

Unknown said...

Another great post. One that will help writers becme real authors in their own minds, where it has to be. 54599849 31I, too, wish Amazon had come along in the 1990s, but I give thanks every day that it's here now and I'm still here to profit from it.

Jim Self said...


I think for legacy writers, it's about a sense of fairness. They had to toil or luck their way through the old system, and the only badge left to separate their success from ours is the 'title' associated with a contract.

You see it happen a lot in online gaming. If the game gets easier, veteran players whine that newer players ought to 'earn' their progress, and that making the game easier cheapens the meaning of their own progress. It's just a part of human psychology, I guess.

Richard Schiver said...

I've seen the posts about Anne Rice signing the petition you spoke of. I'm sorry, but if you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen. A writer has to have a thick skin, if they don't, maybe they need to reconsider their choice of profession. I have no problem with anonymous posts or reviews. As readers and writers we have the option to ignore anything posted by someone who doesn't want to have their name associated with their own words.

Unknown said...

I really, really, really love this. I don't comment - well, ever...but thank you for all the time you put in helping writers empower themselves.

"Writers write." Preach.

Brendan P. Myers said...

I might appreciate the defense of Amazon more if they weren't engaged in dangling their own baubles in front of starry-eyed writers in the form of "KDP Select" (which there is nothing "select" about except writers selecting to make their books exclusive to Amazon for whatever table scraps they're offering that month.)

Say what you want about brick and mortar days, but was there ever a book you could buy in only one bookstore? That's the world Amazon would have us live in, so they can gain hegemony in ereaders.

Ask yourself, as an aspiring author, who do you model yourself after? Which writer would you most like to be? Then ask yourself, are THEIR books available only at Amazon? Thought not.

If you are an independent author who has chosen to participate in "KDP Select," you are part of the problem.

Claire Chilton said...

This is a really good post, and when it comes to writer's identities, I think you're spot on. The stigmas about self-publishing all come from confused identity on some level. I know that I still don't consider myself to be an author, even though I'm a hybrid (indie and traditionally published). It's all a new concept to me, so I'm only just beginning to consider myself to be an author.

I'm not sure I agree on the trolls. I do see your point about people needing to remain anonymous for various reasons, and the protection of freedom of speech, but when that protects criminals--and there are criminals parading around Amazon, ripping people off and bullying people into never writing again--at what point do we say enough is enough?

For me, I had enough of it when I saw a 16 year old get told by a member of the Amazon Vine/An Expert Judge to 'Stop writing and kill herself' in her 'expert review' for ABNA 2010.

I don't know what happened to that girl, but I'm pretty sure she didn't write ever again. Should that troll have been allowed his anonymous status? Should he be permitted to continue doing that? I don't think he should.

If Amazon had a system in place for reporting actual crimes, such as: anti-social behaviour, libel, fraud, identity fraud, stalking etc. then I'd be fine with them keeping anonymous users, but they don't. It's the wild west out there, and there's no sheriff in town. In that situation, innocent people get hurt.

Perhaps the Anne Rice petition isn't the best solution, but it is the only peaceful solution that's being offered to us, so I signed it.

Amazon flat refuses to be the sheriff. They don't consider vicious attacks to be a crime. They don't consider crime to be a crime unless you can produce a court order to their legal department.

I've had a bad review removed on Amazon once, but it took a restraining order to do it.

How many victims fall into the shadows when they don't have the means to seek out a judge to protect themselves?

Most troll reviews are nothing to worry about. It's just some fiction written about some fiction, but what about criminal reviews, criminal attacks or criminal activity?

What about the lesbian fiction author who is actually a man that is cyber-raping his lesbian fans in their own chat rooms? He exists on Amazon. He's making a large chunk of cash and having sex with his fans online afterwards. But the fans don't know he's a man, so when they find out they end up in therapy for it, feeling as if they’ve been raped, but they're just stupid victims, right? At least that guy has freedom of speech...

Since I’m not a lesbian or a les-fic author, I guess I don’t need to worry about it, but it does worry me. In fact, it makes me very, very angry. No one should be a victim to that kind of person. Amazon sure as hell shouldn’t support that kind of person.

Why aren't Amazon stopping people like him? Instead they promote his books and let him troll other authors with bad reviews. That's a guy I'd expect to see arrested, and yet because he's an author on Amazon, he's allowed to keep his 'pen name'.

Sure, these criminals are a minority, and I love Amazon for the many things they do for us all, but they need to start looking at what certain individuals are doing in the dark corners of their systems.

I guess it depends on what the label troll means, but I think Amazon should take responsibility for what trolls do on their website. I think people should take responsibility for their actions online and offline.

Continued in part two...

Claire Chilton said...

Part two...

Which brings me back to identity: I actually wrote post about identity online recently that focused on the troll psychosis. The overall conclusion was that a lack of online identity is creating cyber-psychopaths.

Trolls have no identity, and in that case, freedom of speech becomes a tool for creating psychopathic tendencies in people online. Without identity online we lose all responsibility for what we do and say. At some point, we stop seeing other human beings at the end of our online activities. We only see ourselves. When we stop seeing human beings at the other side of the conversation, we venture into a psychopathic and sometimes sadistic state of mind. Without our identity online, we lose our humanity.

Is anonymous really that good a thing to have? I don’t think it is, but I’ll agree that some people need the option of being anonymous.

The point is that Amazon knows who every troll is. Their system records identities. You can’t post on Amazon without your real identity (a credit card). Victims report the crimes to Amazon, who have the ability to retain freedom of speech and remove the criminals, but they don’t use it. Amazon do nothing about these reports. They allow criminal activity to continue. I think that is something that Amazon need to change.

This is just my personal opinion on it all of course, but I think identity is just as important in our online activity as it is to writers. I think our identity retains our humanity.

Peter Spenser said...

To Claire Chilton: Well said!

Alexander Mori said...

Empowering post! Over the last few months I have worked hard on my first novel, which I plan to self publish. At my wife's recent birthday dinner I introduced myself to someone I'd not met before. When he asked me what I did, I said I was a writer. The entire table fell silent. Half the people there knew me well and it felt strange for them to hear that. The other half was impressed because I assume they do not know many writers. It felt good to own my identity, and since I have, my writing has been more confident than ever before!

Anonymous said...

Two things:

1. On Identity:

I've always thought that writers are those who write -- poems, short stories, articles, books, columns. Authors are those who have published their writing, either self or legacy. Professional authors make a living selling their writing.

It used to be that the path to being a professional author of novels and non-fiction books required an agent and book contract with legacy publishers -- or a vanity publisher. Now, anyone can be a published author if you have a manuscript. The reading public decides if you will be professional author or a hobbyist.

As it should be since they are the ones who buy books.

2. On the petition:

I saw the petition, but I felt it went too far, so I didn't sign it.

There are bullies in cyberspace as in the real world. We can't stop sociopaths and the mean-spirited completely from trying to hurt people without curtailing the rights of everyone else. I prefer to err on the side of freedom rather than eradicating anonymity. While anonymity allows people to lie and bully, it also allows people to be more honest and find community when doing so in real life might be harmful to them.

In the end, writers who put their work into the public sphere have to develop a thick skin when it comes to reviews and ignore bad ones, being thankful that at least people are reading their work. Most people who self-publish don't get many reviews if any at all.

As long as the review is about the work itself and not an attack on the author as a person, a reviewer has every right to give a negative review if they read the work. Truly abusive reviews should be removed by the website owner and criminal behaviour should be reported to the authorities. There are avenues to deal with them. Restricting freedom is not the way to go.

Yes, there are some flaws in the reviewing system, with people able to post reviews without even reading a book, giving a bad review for arbitrary reasons, etc. Someone left a 1-star review on one of my book because they couldn't find my book in another store. Doh.

Before I was a professional author, I once gave a very popular book a bad review. It was because I was in a pissy mood when I read the book. Only later, when I wasn't in such a pissy mood, I went back, re-read the book in question, and then changed my review.

Humans are biased beings. We are often tribal in our behaviours.

While it is true that some trolls have threatened authors, it works both ways -- I have heard of authors and their supporters trying to track down reviewers and threatening them. Bad behaviour on both parts, IMO.

I value anonymity for those who need it -- some people can't speak without it precisely because of bullies and threats from powerful forces. Since we are never going to eradicate trolls without seriously curtailing our freedoms, I am willing to risk the occasional troll and arbitrarily bad review to preserve that freedom.



Joseph said...

Claire you don't need to end anonymity to deal with the issues you've presented. I do agree that Amazon should be all over that shit, they just choose not to.

Claire Chilton said...

Thanks for getting back to me, Joe. I do agree with you about freedom of speech. I just feel that no one is doing anything about those issues at Amazon, and the Anne Rice petition is the closest thing to someone in power doing something about it all.

I do agree with the ability to be anonymous for the sake of freedom of speech. For example, I see why it's helpful for people to be anonymous on your blog. To speak freely, they need to hide their identity because of their public profile. I have no problem with people being anonymous on your blog, or on the internet as a whole.

But, I can't work out why someone needs to be anonymous on Amazon. Why would you ever need to write a 'secret' review? Even the forums, I can't fathom why someone would need to hide their identity there either. Perhaps it's just an area of Amazon that requires freedom of speech, rather than the entire website?

What's the argument for keeping anonymous on Amazon, beyond the freedom of speech generalisation? Is there a specific area of Amazon that protects people with their anonymity?

I really don't know the answer to that, which is why I'm asking. I haven't found a reason for me to be anonymous on Amazon in my four years using the website.

I did find a good reason to never speak to any other human being on the Amazon website though. Actually, I think is was a gang of around fifty reasons, sporting pitchforks and screaming 'burn the witch', but it was good learning experience. I haven't chatted in a forum since.

Anyway, hopefully Amazon sort it out one way or another, and thanks for the many great posts on your blog. I've been lurking and reading your blog for a while. I love how you stand up for the indies, and just wanted to add that you make a massive difference with your posts, so thanks for doing that.

Dougie Brimson said...

A really interesting article which makes some great points.

I've earned my living as a writer for 18 years now and have 15 books on my resume as well as one award winning feature film, another film due for release in a few weeks and a third due to film later this year. Yet to this day I baulk at calling myself a writer and for one simple reason.

You see in spite of my success, I don't enjoy writing. To be honest, I never have. But it just so happens that I'm apparently good at it and have a readership who like what I produce.

Yes, I am incredibly lucky and I'm the first to admit it and whilst everyone tells me I'm an author and screenwriter (and to be fair, that's what's on my business cards) I don't FEEL like a writer because I don't have that passion and drive behind me.

I wish I did, and envy those who do.

Iola said...

Claire says "I had enough of it when I saw a 16 year old get told by a member of the Amazon Vine/An Expert Judge to 'Stop writing and kill herself' in her 'expert review' for ABNA 2010."

Claire also says "Amazon knows who every troll is. Their system records identities."

So what difference would knowing the real identity of this person make? If the 16-year-old didn't report them under their user name, would they have reported them under their real name?

And it's not as though Anne Rice uses her real name on the Amazon forums. She uses the name Anne Rice, which is one of her pen names. You could argue that that's more honest than using her real name (which people might not recognise), but if it's OK for Anne to post under a fake name that people know her by, why isn't it OK for other Amazon reviewers?

If anyone is interested, here are a couple of good posts on the subject (no, I didn't write either of them. I write book reviews. Perhaps not as glamorous as writing a Real Novel, but you authors need people like me who love to read and actually do write reviews):

Claire Chilton said...

Hi Iola, on your comment:

"So what difference would knowing the real identity of this person make? If the 16-year-old didn't report them under their user name, would they have reported them under their real name?"

Over a hundred people reported that event to Amazon, not only naming the culprit, but providing evidence of the event too. Amazon did nothing. I think if Amazon had done something, it would have removed the culprit from their forums, putting an end to that person harming anyone else.

I don't think pen names make a massive difference. As you pointed out, everyone knows the identity of Anne Rice. If she acts badly, it will be public knowledge. She would face the consequences of her actions.

However Randomname465 can get away with murder and nothing is done about it.

Even if you are just linked to your pen name, then there will be consequences for your actions if you act criminally. I believe that is all the petition is asking for, people to be held accountable for their actions.

By reasoning that people need total anonymity, we might as well veto passports, drivers licenses and birth certificates too. Let's make everyone free to do whatever they want and trust that they are all good people who won't harm anyone...Or let's not imo.

But then, I suppose that is the argument here. Do you trust the world to act responsibly, or do you force them to show their true identity and take the consequences of their actions?

Anonymous said...

There’s another kind of identity, an indie ‘writer’ who spends good money on covers, proofing, ads here and there, and still doesn’t make any significant sales.

For one reason or another, not everyone can put out 4 books a year in high-selling genre. And from what I see there’s a growing number of ‘writers’ who are now in this category, without much chance of getting out - certainly, no legacy publisher would have them, and increasingly Bookbub wont either.

There used to be thousands of wannabes spending a few hundred dollars copying and mailing manuscripts to agents. Now the same people spend at least as much self-publishing. Difference?

I say this as a former legacy-published writer. I say it annonynously because I’m kind of ashamed. No offense meant. I ‘get’ that it’s all a carney game, but are the many, many losers in a carney game supposed to feel pround or somehow legitimate in having tossed their cash away? I duuno.

Steve Konkoly said...

Joe, I don't know how you continue to produce inspiring, nail on the head posts about this whole crazy gig. Thank you...again! Not as much for me, since I bought into your inspiration three years ago, but for the "frightened." We all know a few.

The lens you've provided (along with Barry), allows me to write without fear. I write to make an enjoyable, creative living. I quit a "great" job to write, because I had no preconceived notions of "writing success" beyond "doing this for a living." That's it for me. I frame every decision around this mantra and could care less about the eye rolls.

Thank you!

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." Albert Einstein.

Another fantastic post, Joe.

James Scott Bell said...

"A writer writes...."

I'd put it this way: a writer works. Jack Torrance writing "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" over and over wasn't writing OR working.

Unless one is content to journal and leave it behind to be found after death, a writer wants reader connection. Being intentional about growing in the craft is part of the work. Which doesn't make it mandatory, but does make it wise.

So I'd say, ID as a writer and then work at it...and never stop.

Rick G said...

Hey Joe,

I don't agree with everything you say (go figure, we all have opinions :), but have always respected that you walk the walk.

Anyway, happy to hear you're in favor of Amazon retaining the ability for their users to remain anonymous.

There are definitely trolls out there on both sides and anything that crosses the line into criminal harassment should be dealt with accordingly. At the same time there are very legitimate reasons for someone wanting to stay anonymous ranging from someone looking to avoid, say, an abusive ex to someone who may not want that prospective employer to judge them just because they liked 50 Shades.

Just because a few bad apples ruin it, doesn't mean the vast majority should need to suffer.

Pauline said...

A great post. Thank you. Like you, I struggled with what I was in the 90's. Thankfully, those days are behind us. I'm a writer. I'm an indie author and proud of it. :-)

Alan Tucker said...

@ Anon 5:53

You asked: "There used to be thousands of wannabes spending a few hundred dollars copying and mailing manuscripts to agents. Now the same people spend at least as much self-publishing. Difference?"

The difference is the self publishers reach readers. Now, maybe their work wasn't polished, or entertaining enough, but they at least got the chance to have some real eyeballs on their stories. In the old system, all they'd get would be silence or maybe some form rejection letters.

With self publishing, you can try and fail based largely on your own merit. On the query-go-round, you try and fail based on the capricious whims of an anonymous intern whose coffee and bagel didn't sit well with them the morning they spent fifteen seconds reading your query letter.

Yes, there are thousands of self publishing failures. But there are also thousands of successes. Many more, I believe, than pursuing the legacy route.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post. This is something I have been struggling with. Despite having a book reach the top 100 in my genera on amazon and making a profit form my books, I still feel like I'm not a real author, I a hack and no one should take me serious. I've been trying to convince myself that having readers makes me an author and that everyday readers are buying my books and reading them. My stories are out there and someone is imaging my characters, thinking about them. They are making my stories come alive. To me, having readers is what has made me an author. Maybe someone day, it will get through my thick skull and I squish this yearning for a legacy contract, so I can point my fingers at the naysayers and say see I'm legit. I don't need that. I'm legit now.

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

Joe-This post should be carved on an obelisk and mounted in the middle of Publisher's Row! We are programmed to undergo "rights of passage" to find acceptance in a community in which we wish to belong. Whether it's some tribal kid having to kill a lion to be accepted, or some preppy needing to be accepted to an Ivy school--we are trained for this. In my case, when I was in high school and landed a weekly column in a local newspaper--I thought of myself as a kid who could write. Not yet a writer. When I was working for a book packager turning out hack encyclopedia type stuff, I thought of myself as a hack writer. When I sold articles, I considered myself a freelance writer, but when I sold a book to St. Martins by my agent having three lunches with three of the (then) big six, hooboy! Then I was a writer. Of course, when I didn't sell out, and was making extra money ghosting term papers, I was no longer a writer, I was a schmuck. Now I am making cheap whiskey money self-pubbing, but once again, I feel like a writer. It takes a while to get over the authority figure thing in any endeavor. Obviously in a licensed profession, you have to have the license or you ain't a member of the club. But in the arts? You define yourself. Of course, people spending money on what you did helps the definition. But I believe the real growth of any writer/artist, is achieving the strength to believe in their own self-definition, their own self-acceptance. Van Gogh didn't make a whole bunch of sales while alive, but there's a bunch of collectors with deep pockets calling him an artist today. (Of course it is better to have that when you can still spend the money). Not every product has a ready market, but the maker of the product is still a manufacturer. Not every invention will be commercially successful, but the guy who came up with it and got the patent, is still an inventor. How about we writers giving ourselves the same leeway in defining ourselves?

T.R. Roach said...

Hey Joe. Once again you have chosen a topic that hits a lot of emotion in people. That is a good thing.

I agree with a lot of what you said, however, I do not understand the need to validate yourself with someone's opinion of whether you are a writer or not. Who cares!

I am a writer. I have always been since I was a kid. Have I written a bunch of novels and had big writing deals? No. But I have written many things successfully and even won some contests.

I do not seek validation from publishers who make the argument that self-publishing is still "vanity publishing." As a writer, I don't care which it is. I will put my work out there for myself and those who want to read it. That does not define my identity. Being a writer is so much more than that. It is the ability to express and invoke emotion through the written word.

Thank you for the post and giving all of us the ability to think about our identity as writers.

JA Konrath said...

Ask yourself, as an aspiring author, who do you model yourself after?

I don't model myself after anyone. I prefer to figure things out for myself, though I do watch what others are doing.

At this moment in history, KDP Select makes me the most money, and helps me reach the widest audience. When that changes, so will I.

Edmund de Wight said...

Good article as always.
As to the petition, I've been waffling about it. I personally can care less about bad reviews or nasty comments, as Joe likes to say - they're idiots. Hell I just want some of the people who downloaded my ebooks to comment, even if they think it sucked just to show proof that people are reading me.

I have always felt that if you're going to stand up and belittle someone who has put themselves out there, you should have the common decency to do so as yourself - but then a comment in this chain smacked me in the face; pen names. OMFG I use a pen name, sure you can identify me by it but it is an accepted fake identity, as bad as saying your name is lustychick6969 (sorry if your handle is actually lustychick6969, nothing personal) or anonymous. You are identified by that id. Sure it makes lawsuits harder but then again, I could kill my pen name and resurface as a new writer in a heartbeat so I have the recourse of escaping anything evil in my writing as well.

I think I now disagree with the petition. Who cares about the idiots, let them rave. I'll keep writing. Now I'm sorry I clicked on it without cogent musing.

Chris Redding said...

I've actually only truly considered myself a writer recently. Oh I told people I was, but now the answer to the question What do you do? I answer writer because I make more money doing that than anything else.

JA Konrath said...

I don't know what happened to that girl, but I'm pretty sure she didn't write ever again.

Claire, Google me. Read some of the hate, lies, and nonsense said about me (or falsely attributed to me). Then read a few hundred of my 1 star Amazon reviews.

Life is full of petty, mean-spirited people, and the Internet indeed allows cyber-psychos to get their jollies by flaming and trolling and acting badly.

But if a writer quits because someone says something mean, that mean person wasn't the cause. Because if that mean person never said anything at all, then some other mean person eventually would. Which means the writer would eventually quit, unless she was the only writer in history to never have anything mean said about her work.

I don't like bullies. But we walk a line between allowing all comments, and policing everything everyone says online.

I've kicked pinheads out of my comments when they started attacking other commenters, or became just a little too nuts. My house, my rules. The same goes for any forum, including Amazon.

Developing a thick skin is a lot like developing immunity to disease. The problem with developing immunity is it hurts--you have to get sick.

I had a long phone conversation a few years ago with a mega bestseller who didn't understand all the hate. I said to ignore it. This bestseller was afraid that by ignoring the hate, they would become callous. But that's not what happens. Ignoring mean people doesn't make you unfeeling. It simply allows you more time to interact with people who aren't mean.

I'm in no way defending trolls here. They're a disease.

But diseases can make you stronger.

JA Konrath said...

There used to be thousands of wannabes spending a few hundred dollars copying and mailing manuscripts to agents. Now the same people spend at least as much self-publishing. Difference?


You keep your rights, and have full control, if you self-publish.

If your books aren't selling, experiment.

No one owes us a living. There is no shame in failure. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Luck matters.

I've said these things over and over, because they're true.

If you aren't selling well, try something different. Because that's power you never had in the legacy world.

JA Konrath said...

We are programmed to undergo "rights of passage" to find acceptance in a community in which we wish to belong.

Indeed. There have been studies that show how people value things more when they are difficult to attain. It's why hazing exists, among many other odd traits of humanity.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

I got more rejections than anyone. I visited more bookstores than anyone. And I abandoned that system when I found something better.

We may always have publishers, because we'll probably always have insecure artists who crave validation and acceptance. Happily, though, we can now get that via readers, rather than gatekeepers.

But here's the thing; if you need the approval of strangers, you're doomed to be unhappy.

Anonymous said...

This makes me think of two recent documentaries I saw - on famously reclusive authors who had big successes (Salinger and Harper Lee).

There is something fascinating about writers like these that keep writing, but stop publishing and hold back works for after their death.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the idea I got from it is that the writer's fans can be as constraining as the critics.

T. R. Roach said...

No one owes us a living. There is no shame in failure. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Luck matters.

Absolutely true. We see this so much in society today. You control your future. If you don't like it, do something about it or stop complaining.

Another question to ask is, why do I write? Do you write to make money?

I am sure there will be different answers to that, but greed will not be fulfilling. If you are out for money you will be left with a hole that cannot be filled. If you thrive on creating worlds, sharing stories, and characters that people can envision......that is something that will live forever.

DGM said...

"if you need the approval of strangers, you're doomed to be unhappy."
-Well said.
It seems to me that in order to be our best work, the writing has to come from somewhere deeper than our often fragile egos. I can almost always spot it when a writer's ego peeks out at me from the page. As a reader, I want to forget the writer even exists until the story is done. I strive to disappear in my own writing as well, to get out of the way of the story.

What blows my mind more than anything is the fact that now, as I am writing a manuscript, I know that, one way or another, it is going to be published! That has never been true in history for any writers before this generation. It is an astounding new reality. I don't feel tempted to write for agents or editors anymore, the story itself can be paramount in all my thinking, without any thought to what a gatekeeper might think. I've never published, but the manuscript I'm working on now will be published. For me personally, this knowledge alone has improved my writing dramatically.

Whether or not it will sell is a different matter altogether. I've seen several books that trad publishers were fervently excited about, paid huge advances for, and sold horribly. Sales were never a guaranteed unless you were already hugely established. So we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the mean time, nothing I can imagine compares to the knowledge that my book will be available to readers.

Mark Young said...

Joe: You stirred up the ghosts in every writer’s soul—a desire to be accepted. Truly, one’s identity as a writer should not be defined by others. Thanks for this encouraging article

Patrice Fitzgerald said...

Joe Konrath, you've done it again. This post resonates strongly with something Hugh Howey just posted, which includes the admonition that what someone else thinks of you is none of your business. Check out his "Huggers gonna hug" post. Thanks for all you do to inform and inspire the indie community, Joe.

Claire Chilton said...

Hi Joe, You're absolutely right, and I love the disease analogy.

I too have a fan base--and by fan base I mean large group of trolls who follow me around throwing monkey poo at me--who are better left ignored. Luckily, I have an actual fan base who are amazing and make me forget all the poop flinging.

I actually invited poop throwers into my life on purpose (insane, I know). But I think I got sick in 2010, watching other people get attacked. This continued until 2012, where I decided there was only one solution to the problem. I put the trolls in my book and burned them all in hell. They didn't like it, but they did announce who they were. I thanked them.

I think it's fair to say that on a personal level, I usually take the comedy stance when dealing with trolls. I'm from Yorkshire. There aren't many insults that I haven't heard. I could probably teach them a few to be honest.

But, I'm also part of a private group that battered authors go to for support--not joking on that one--and there are so many of them that I think it's a bigger problem than most people realise.

The authors don't quit. They keep going and suffer in silence while feeling attacked and unsafe, which is why many of them benefit from the group. It's somewhere safe to discuss it, vent, and get over it.

I don't think we hear all the horror stories. A lot of people are scared to talk about the things that have been done to them for fear that it will happen again. When we talk about freedom of speech, I have to wonder about their freedom. Isn't being silenced by fear a form of oppression?

If nothing else, the petition gives people the chance to talk about what they've gone through in a safe environment, which I think a lot of them need.

Even I--someone that is immune to monkey poo--got silenced by them. I mean, it's been four years, and this is the first time I've publicly spoken about my experiences at Amazon without joking about it (okay, I joked a little bit). Hell, this is the first time I've publicly spoken in an author forum since then.

I do think something needs to be done, but I also agree that you need thick skin to be a writer. (Or you need a horror comedy series that is set in hell).

On one hand, I'd love to see Amazon have some kind of support for victims of crime on their site. I'd like to see Amazon put lifetime bans on users that repeatedly break the law on their website. I think that needs to happen. It'll put an end to all the complaints on Amazon too, bonus.

I don't know if anonymous reviewing is such a dramatic loss of freedom of speech. I can't see an oppressed minority fighting for their freedom by 1-starring Harry Potter on Amazon. I also can't see a guy at work getting busted for buying Fifty Shades of Grey. If you have a naughty pleasure, you're not likely to publicly review it.

I guess on the subject, I can't see what the big deal is about being anonymous on Amazon. What exactly do people need to be anonymous for when writing reviews?

But clearly, some people do think that it's necessary, so I guess they won't agree with the petition.

I'm probably going to stand by the petition, but that's just me :).

Anyway, I thank you for a really interesting and enjoyable first time out of my cave. It's nice to see that some author forums aren't scary troll places.

Unknown said...

Oddly, I find myself these days with great admiration for you and others who are breaking tradition. While I still respect all great authors, my conservative\libertarian leanings rejoice at the prospect of a true free market when it comes to writing and publishing. I'm 47 and have had a reasonably successful engineering career, but I'm more excited about my "second career" as a writer than ever before. The walls are coming down. The gatekeepers are being detoured around. There's never been a better time to be a writer. And yes, I am a writer, not just a guy with a nice Macbook.

Kit Power said...


Oh, hey, first up, bloody loved 'Whiskey Sour'. Scared the crap out of me. The bit with the bag of sweets still comes back to me with a 'that's-how-you-write-a-thriller-sequence' force. So thanks for that.

On the topic at hand, here's my basic problem/question: Where's the wholly indie/self-published path to substantial commercial success? What I mean by this is yes, Amazon has done for publishing what MySpace did for music - suddenly, anyone can put out a book/album. Anyone. And an awful lot of people are apparently prepared to give away that content for free.

Here's my problem: Your definition of a writer is fine, but what I want to be is a professional writer. I want my writing to be my primary means of income. I'm quite happy being a hobby musician, but the writing, that's something I think I could get really good at, and something I would like to be paid to do.

And what therefore causes me pause with the indie/self-published model is that I don't see a clear path from here to there that doesn't lead me through the 'legacy' route at some point. The reason for that is that I'm not a publicist. I'm not an agent. I'm not a book promoter and I'm not an advertising agent or artist and I'm not even much of a proof reader (as this post is likely to prove). I can write stories that I think are good enough that people will be happy to pay money to read them, but I don't have any of the dozen or so other skill sets needed to effectively professionally produce, market, promote, and sell this work.

You don't need to tell me that legacy publishing is no guarantee of financial success as a writer - I'm aware, and FWIW it's exactly the same in the music industry - getting signed is no guarantee of success either. I fully understand that.

But I don't see how I would have more chance as a self-published writer. I work full time. I write as often as I can - I carve out time every evening and I chip away a couple of thousand words at a time. But I don't have the time, or the knowledge, to market and network and plug my books the way they need to be plugged. I just don't have the hours in the day. I mean, I could, but then I'd never get anything new written, and also I'd still suck at it.

Kit Power said...

It seems to me that what legacy publishers have is the same thing major labels still have in the music biz, and that's the ability to get you exposure and professional polish. I don't think I've ever seen an independent music or book release reviewed by a major newspaper or magazine - never mind a half or full-page advert. I love indie book bloggers with all my heart, and they've turned me on to some great stuff, but the vast majority of people I talk to, all of whom read and use the internet, needed the concept of an indie book blogger explaining to them.

I agree completely with what you say about the false nature of identity. I want to believe that I (or, I guess other people too) can be professional self-published writers. But unless they have insane amounts of free time and huge talents not just at writing but at proof reading, art production, promotion and marketing, I'm not sure it's achievable. And that means that there will be many talented and skilled writers who don't make it because maybe writing is all they are good at. Seems to me like the legacy model might still have something to offer those folks.

Thanks for the great article, food for thought.

PS - Not for nothing, but the only reason I know about you or your writing is because Whiskey Sour was legacy published. A lot of musicians have figured out the 'pledge music' model now, whereby they can cut out the labels entirely, and instead get their fan base to effectively fund the album recording and production by 'per-ordering' CD's etc. - effectively the Kickstarter model. In each case though, it's artists who have previously had deals with traditional labels, and have built up a loyal following as a result. I'm not aware of anyone in music whose yet made it up 'from scratch' to making a decent living without going the label route at some point. I see similarities with your career trajectory. I read 'Whiskey Sour' - the fact that your other work is self-published won't stop me picking it up because I know you write quality. But without that initial legacy publication, the chances of me having discovered you are pretty small.

Again, I want to believe. I just don't think it's quite there yet, and as long as the gap exists, legacy will, I think, have something to offer some writers. Thanks again for the article and the opportunity to engage.

Merrill Heath said...

@ Brett: I ask if they have written anything. If they say yes, then I say, then you're a writer. Own it.


Elisabeth Zguta, Author said...

Excellent post. Fear of being successful, fear of not being good enough - that is an internal battle that needs to be won after the stereotyping. Writers face many obstacles from within the mind. I hope to be enlightened 😎

Caroline said...

Excellent. Well said. I'm a fairly newbie hybrid author; but I've never felt so liberated as when I went Indie.

JA Konrath said...

I don't know if anonymous reviewing is such a dramatic loss of freedom of speech.

Claire, I think trolls are scum, and they need to have someone knock on their front door and beat the shit out of them.

But I also believe restricting speech is a slippery slope.

Amazon can do whatever they want; they're a private company. You might not like some of their policies, but they aren't the government, and we don't get to vote to decide what they should and shouldn't do.

They have rules of conduct, and they probably can't police their entire site 24/7 because that would be impossible, but I don't believe they should do something like that. Amazon has changed its policy on erotica several times (probably in response to customer complaints) and I think overall that is a bad thing. If some readers want bigfoot porn, why not sell it? But people complained, and Amazon now restricts certain erotica. I don't like it, but they can do whatever they want to.

Sticks and stones still applies. Growing a thick skin also means ignoring those who intentionally try to provoke you. Don't engage them, ever.

Remember that living in a free society means putting up with things we don't like. I think Anne Rice's petition is silly, while I also support her right to sign that petition.

JA Konrath said...

I can write stories that I think are good enough that people will be happy to pay money to read them, but I don't have any of the dozen or so other skill sets needed to effectively professionally produce, market, promote, and sell this work.

And why do you believe legacy publishers can do this?

Holly Ward just had a great blog post about this.

Legacy is by no means a clear path to success, or even visibility. But it is a clear way to have your rights, your control, and your power taken away from you, forever.

JA Konrath said...

Not for nothing, but the only reason I know about you or your writing is because Whiskey Sour was legacy published.

I've made 8x as much money on Whiskey Sour after getting the rights back than I did when I was legacy published.

I wasn't a successful legacy author. I was midlist, and made a mediocre living, and I busted my ass to do so. The reason I had multiple printings is because I visited 1200 bookstores in 42 states.

There is no secret to success. You just have to keep at it until you get lucky.

Anonymous said...

Identity is not a simple question of whether you are a "writer" or not, or whether you are an "author" of not. Anyone can write something and thus proclaim "I am a writer," placing themselves in the same general category as Stephen King. That means nothing.

What does mean something is whether you are a "successful" author. In answering this, every person will have their own definition of "success." And, indeed, that definition will change as one goes up or down the ladder of success.

Early on, the bar is low. Getting that first good book review or first legacy deal or that first year of $100K income is a new high, a reason to tell yourself that you are actually successful and that you really are a "writer" or "author.". As the years pass, you now need to be on the first page of your category, otherwise you don't feel successful anymore.

Show me a man on the street with $1,000 and I may be able to show you a successful man. Show me another man with $1,000,000 and maybe all I'll be able to show you is a frustrated billionaire. It all depends on where you are and where you want to be.

It's all relative and it's always in transition, especially as the publishing landscape continues to change.

The good news is that definitions and labels don't matter, whether you put them on yourself of whether a 3d person puts them on you. What matters is that you allow yourself to be happy and take things in stride whether you're moving up or down the ladder at that particular point in time.


Alexander Mori said...

Kit Power,

I feel your pain. I tried for years to chip away at writing projects, all the while maintaining a full time career in advertising, working on major automotive and fast food brands. I discovered that when I spread myself too thin all my work suffered, and I was frustrated. I am not currently a selling writer, but I plan to be. My first novel is coming out within a month via the self published opportunity that is not available to me through the legacy route. I am excited my book will be out there. I do not expect overnight success. Like Joe says, it will take both work and luck, and I am ready to put the work in.

Like I said earlier, I am not a best-selling author or anything, so you can take my words with a grain of salt. In my limited "full-time" experience being a writer this process feels similar to getting a date in high school. There is no secret that works every time for everyone. You put yourself out there, you try to attract the audience you want and sometimes it works. Oftentimes it does not. The only time you fail is when you give up.

Man, I don't normally have this much positive energy so early in the day!


Alexander Mori said...

Reading over my last comment, my analogy may not be a good one. I'm not sure how many dates Stephen King got when he was in high school...

Anthea Lawson/Sharp said...

@ Kit Power:

When you indie publish, you retain control of the process, but you DON'T have to do all the work yourself! There are a growing number of service providers who will do everything except write your book. ;)
Content editors, copy editors, cover designers, formatters.

Joe lists all of his on the side of his blog. There are sites like Author EMS who have detailed lists of providers. Hang out at blogs like this one and The Passive Voice and you'll pick up some good info about who is doing what. Check out places like Lucky Bat Books, who offer a variety of flat-fee services to authors.

Marketing is a whole 'nother ball of wax. Nobody will ever care as much about your book as you do. But Kris Rusch has an excellent series going ( on Visibility, and there are books like David Gaughran's Let's Get Visible that can point you the way.

Don't feel daunted by thinking you have to do it all yourself. You don't. Hire flat-fee providers (never use people who want to keep a portion of your royalties, never!)

Best of luck~

michael kozlowski said...

Looks like Joe read my article that was republished on the passivevoice.

It comes down to the core issue that if you earn your primary income from writing you are a professional author. Everyone else is a mere writer.

Merrill Heath said...

T.R. Roach said: Do you write to make money?

I am sure there will be different answers to that, but greed will not be fulfilling. If you are out for money you will be left with a hole that cannot be filled. If you thrive on creating worlds, sharing stories, and characters that people can envision......that is something that will live forever.

I do love to write and create worlds and characters and all that. But I'm also in it for the money. And I'm not "left with a hole that cannont be filled." I'm left with a lot less debt, and that's a good thing. ;-)

JA Konrath said...

Everyone else is a mere writer.

I disagree, Michael. I wrote a book called ORIGIN in 1998. My agent couldn't sell it. It has since gone on to earn me over $100,000.

By your criteria, I wasn't an author before it sold enough for me to earn a living with, even though it is the exact same novel, word for word, in 1998 as it is in 2014.

That's silly, don't you think? Why should my identity change just because something sells? The book is the same.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but your article seems to propose that E=MC2 only if the equation passes peer review. Are you saying E=MC2 wasn't real or correct until Einstein's peers verified it? You can see the problem there, right?

I believe calling yourself a writer (or author) has nothing to do with who vets you, or how much you earn. These labels have been imposed upon us by those who want to make money off of us.

Why do you feel the need to draw a line between who you consider professional and who you don't?

What happens when someone who made money in a career loses their job? Are they no longer a professional?

Why do you feel the word "author" is devalued because anyone can now publish? How are you hurt by that?

Many people likened your idea of "standardizing terminology" to "labeling" or "stereotyping", which is why you garnered so much negative attention. Once you start dividing people into classes, or castes, it can be taken as discriminatory.

For the record, I don't think you were trolling with your article. I think you really believe that money is the deciding factor, and I believe I explained why I disagree with that.

Woelf Dietrich said...

"Everyone else is a mere writer"

You say it like it is a bad thing. Anyone who has written something is the author of that thing. It doesn't matter whether it's published or whether they're making little money or loads of money. By saying an author can only be someone who writes full-time and is making a living from writing, you are injecting an artificial meaning into the definition. Merriam-Webster agrees with me.

Elizabeth Lawson said...

Thank you for this post. It is so easy to forget the basics and look for external authentication. Writers write. Yes, it's important to reach a reader because writing is about communication, the spark, a form of electricity that generates movement and change. A letter to just one reader, or a blog to potentially many. These are all good things. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Using money as a measure eliminates a pretty huge number of our most-beloved writers and artists. Did Van Gogh ever make a living? Did Toole even sell a book in his lifetime?

Kit Power said...

Firstly, thanks to everyone for the replies, really appreciate it.
Joe, I read Holly Ward's post with interest. It seems like the music business analogy holds pretty well, based on that - I know all these horror stories from bands who got various versions of 'signed' over the years. I'm still left with the issue that those bands that I know that I first heard of or read about in the pages of Kerrrang! or wherever and now support in their indie endeavours had to build that fan base first, and being signed is how they managed it. Of course you made 8x more cash out of Whiskey Sour once you were self publishing it. But here's the thing - being a mid-list author means you make a crap wage with a publisher, and I'd guess a pretty goddamn comfortable one as an indie, but I'm not seeing how you build the audience as an indie. And if the profit margin is so awesome, how come the queen of the indie success stories, EL James, took the big trad publishing deal for '...Shades?'.
Again, with the music industry, basically if you're Madonna or Bowie or Springsteen, you'll make millions, but if you can 'only' shift 20 or 30K albums per release, all the profit will get hoovered up by the suits. It looks like you're saying it's the same with legacy publishing. Okay. But the big names are still making big bucks, and the biggest names aren't indie writers, and that's part of what I struggle with here. If indie publishing is so one sidedly awesome, why doesn't Stephen King do it? Why doesn't JK Rowling?
I'm really glad that you're a financially successful author - you deserve it, you're really f'in good (and clearly you work your ass off, too). I actually look at you even as model for one way to being successful. But for me, part of that success model is the initial legacy publishing deal. Because for all that you didn't see much cash from it, it's that trad deal that got Whiskey Sour in my hands, and the hands of however many thousand other people that picked that one up in Borders. Now I've read it, sure, I'll take whatever you got, and I couldn't care less who publishes it. But you had to get over my attention threshold first, and trad publishing is how you did it, and I'm yet to be convinced that the indie route makes that more likely than the trad route (accepting that neither offers any guarantees).

Kit Power said...

I know there's no secret to success. I'm just concerned that the same market fragmentation that's devastated the music industry and made being a professional musician harder than ever (whist admittedly undermining some pretty exploitative business practices) is doing the same to publishing, and as someone who wants to be paid for writing, it bothers me. I still see the primary role of major labels and the 'Big 5' as conduits between the author and trad media publicity, and I think trad media publicity still has juice (the way radio still has juice in the music industry).
Again, once you're established, sure, take that fan base and sell to them direct, reap 100% of profits, and enjoy. I'm still unconvinced that the indie route to that fan base is not considerably tougher and less likely to yield success than the trad route.

I can't tell you how much I want to be wrong about that, though. Again, thanks so much for taking the time to respond, these issues have been bugging me for a while now and it's such a gift to be able to talk it through with more experienced heads.

Alexander - thanks so much for your words. I'm not afraid of putting in the work. I am conscious that sending 100+ emails to book review blogs where I personalise each one to make sure I can show I've read the review policy and am not just copy-pasting is time I can't spend writing, and I only have so many hours in the day. All first world problems - my day job pays the mortgage, so wanting to write is definitely an indulgence. But, man, I WANT it. :)

Anthea - I hear you, but there comes a point for me where that starts to feel like digital vanity press. Maybe that's a hang up I need to get over. Of course you're right that I don't have to do it all, but again, it's part of the reality of indie publishing that if you can't do it yourself, you'll have to pay someone to do it for you, with no guarantee of return. Chicken and egg. Point taken about retaining the rights though.

iolanthe said...

I found this article fascinating, Joe, and so true. Your point was illustrated for me quite vividly when I went to the readings of two well-known literary novelists within a month of each other. Both of these novelists had been key inspirations for me. I was thrilled to be able to thank both of them for the years of reading pleasure they'd given me.

The first had a huge turn-out and a long book-signing line afterward. I stood in line and got the chance to speak with her for a few minutes. I told her what her book had meant to me, and why, and she thanked me for being an eloquent listener in the audience. I was surprised and said I thought she'd been looking at me, but wasn't sure. (It seems strange to be seen by one of your idols!) And that I felt like I knew her because I knew her book so well. She said, "You do know me." I told her I'd started my own little e-press business and published a couple of novels, after fifteen years of learning to be a novelist by writing novels. She responded positively and treated me as a respectful equal. It was an extraordinarily satisfying meeting.

The next was a very different experience. When it was my turn to speak to this author, I told her of a meeting we'd had years before when I'd been working as a bookseller at an event she attended. I had hand-sold many, many copies of one of her books and she wrote me a nice note in a copy at the time. This time I told her I'd self-published two novels since then. I was proud to tell her that. She looked at me with what I can only describe as pity. Her air was so superior it was deflating.

I've thought of the differences between these two encounters. Both very successful contemporaries of each other and both gifted writers. Yet such different reactions. The answer to why lies in your post, Joe.

K.D. Lovgren

Alan Spade said...

"Why do you feel the need to draw a line between who you consider professional and who you don't?"

Hey, Joe, so you have completely changed your mind about that! I remember a time when you said a writer who sold 5,000 books or wrote one million words could be considered as a pro.

@Kit Power: did you heard about James Patterson, when he was a nobody, spending a few hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a TV ad? And then, he sold by millions? Do you know he's regarded as an author/businessman/co-publisher of his own work?

Some self-published authors hire good publicists to do the marketing work, and seem to have good results.

You would be surprised to know the amount of promotion some legacy published authors do.

Besides, the bookshelves are shrinking these days. Electronic publishing levels the field. Yes, you have to get your work in fornt of the readers' eyes, but the reader's eyes are more and more on the internet, these days.

It's not because you and me are not very good at figuring how our work can be seen in this digital world that others smart self-published authors (or publicists) won't manage it.

Michael Kozlowski said...


There is nothing wrong with being a writer. Everyone gets their start somewhere. Occasionally with perseverance and a little bit of luck someone can make their livelihood from writing. In which case you are a professional author.

Writers/authors need labels. When left to your own devices you have terms like hybrid author, indie writer, self-published, self-published writer, self-pubd. digital author, digital writer, etc etc. It is too confusing with all of this jargon. You either make your money from your prose, in which case you are a professional, otherwise you are a amateur/writer.

See the original post that started this debate

as a bonus. I will say this, indie tittles are polluting all valid ecosystems, there needs to be segregation between traditionally published titles and self-published ones.

SM Barrett said...

Stephen King once said that is you've ever paid a bill from the profits of your writing, you're an author.
I get what he meant when he said that, and by that standard there are many thousands of self-published authors, but I have a simpler definition;
If I write with regularity, I'm a writer. If another human being I've never met reads that writing, I'm an author.
Everything else is icing.

I understand the need for validation and examining ones own self-worth. I don't have an issue with that.
The problem arises when that need becomes a burden to your own accomplishment, or a weapon you use against others.

Anonymous said...

Research has shown that humans are beset by confirmation bias -- even when confronted with contrary evidence, we tend to hold on to our preconceived opinions, sometimes even more tightly. For example, the AuthorEarnings data on how indie authors / self-published books have claimed a considerable portion of the eBestsellers at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. They have high ratings, indicating that readers are happy with the books. Yet, I still see people claim that indie books be segregated from trad pubbed books or that they are 'polluting' the shelves and that indie authors shouldn't be considered authors.

The evidence suggests that legacy publishers don't know what is good and/or what will sell. Great books critically acclaimed don't sell, books that go on to sell millions when self-pubbed got a pass by agents and publishers.

It was Snooki's deal that convinced me to go the self-pubbed route. That pretty much destroyed my view that trad publishers were the arbiters of what is good and worthy.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting topic. "Writers write"? Is that the definition you wholeheartedly ascribe to? So then, what about "writers" who, to put it generously "coordinate", eg James Patterson, (the late) Tom Clancy, and (as revealed on March 07, 2014) J.A. Konrath? Does having others compose sentences and paragraphs based on your ideas entitle you to claim the identity of writer erotica?

PS: Just being devil's advocate here. I actually relish your blog. Thanks for the insight and inspiration you offer.

P. S. Power said...

There is a point I noticed being stated earlier that I think is worthy of more discussion:

Joe said (this is paraphrased): Sometimes free speech hinges on anonymity. Without it, people would be afraid to speak up.

I at least took the words to mean that.

Now, here's my take on this: Anonymity is important, when speaking to power. A whistle blower, a person who's life, safety or even economic well being is at risk for speaking up and stating their opinion, might benefit from being unknown.

That isn't the situation here at all. Reviews aren't speaking to power, nor are responses to a blog. They are simple speech, and we know, from several different psychological studies, that people who are anonymous will often become more aggressive, cruel and malicious, than they would if their own name is attached to what they said.

More, there is a huge difference in the possible repercussions. If you call me names on line, the worst I can functionally do it return them. It isn't pleasant, but also not something that an aggressive person should be protected from. yes, being known opens people to lawsuits as well, but that's what the law is for. To settle disputes that might otherwise lead to a more negative and unjust society.

The problem with the basic idea that being anonymous is needed is a single incorrect idea then. It is important when dealing with an entity that can easily crush you, to be able to hide. The problem is that, we can't. You can hide from people that you're harassing, but not the government, large corporations and those with the resources to have you found out.

Being anonymous only lets you go after the other little guys. Those that have no power in the situation at all, not even the ability to point out that a single unknown person is following them around online.

What I'm getting at is that there is no virtue to be anonymous now. It leads to poor psychological states, and abuse, but doesn't have the needed upside to offset it that Joe suggested.

It isn't just about people calling names, but attacks that affect the lives and fortunes of others, so setting things up so that the "evil" are known for their actions isn't a bad idea. The cure for trolls is the light of day, and not letting them pretend that what they are saying is helpful or simply opinion, if they aren't willing to own it.

William Ockham said...

Removing anonymity from commenters will not solve the trolling issue. I say this based on over 30 years (off and on) of studying, observing, and participating in online discussions. Yes, I first studied the effects of online discussions before the Web existed (for a grad school internship). Trolling is enabled primarily by the lack of face to face feedback and can only be effectively ameliorated by strong community norms. Building those norms requires a continuous, relentless effort. The level of effort required grows geometrically with the size of the online community.

There is no silver bullet and it is unrealistic to expect a for-profit company to protect people from trolls. Even if they want to, it isn't within their power. Asking them to take an action that we know won't work is pointless.

Colin M said...

Hi Joe,

Another fantastic post -- a great topic and tie-in to self-publishing.

I've never posted a comment anonymously but still would rather not give up that freedom or take that freedom away from others. I believe that we followers benefit greatly from the anon. commenters on your blog. I must say I haven't been the victim of haters yet, but I'm sure my time will come.

I wanted to share a recent post on Sparring Mind called Don't Let Critics Pick You Apart.

It really helps put negative criticism in perspective, as well as helps explain why anon. online commenting tends to bring out the worst in people. At the very least, check out the cartoon. I Love it! I hope I'm not joining in too late, as this is a pretty cool and relevant article.

I am new to fiction writing and for me as soon as I finished my first book, (not even published yet) and my kids said "Hey, Dad's a writer now," the title writer had enough validity for me.

Thanks to Joe and all the great commentary on this blog. I continue to learn a ton.


Anonymous said...

The last words in my comment at 7:47 PM should have been "writer of erotica".

Hope we can get some debate on the topic, or maybe a full contemplation from you, Joe, in a blog post.

Is "branding" the path forward since it seems having a series is where the financial success lies?

Colin M said...

@ P.S.Power

There are circumstances where speaking ones well-intended comments could negatively effect the commenter. For example, a well respected health care professional who is respectful of all their patient's religious views, may wish to leave constructive input to an author of a book on atheism. I have no doubt that some of the religious right would choose to seek a health professional who they believe to at least be somewhat religious, thus it would be an unwanted possible side-effect of posting.

Just an example that came to mind.

But should that author not benefit from the well-meant criticism?

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Writer, author, paid, not paid. Who the fuck cares?

Just write your book or your story or your blog and don't let anyone else tell you who you are or how you should be defined. It's all bullshit.

Terms and definitions like these are created to exclude. To keep the riff-raff out of the club.

So form your own club and screw everybody else. It really doesn't matter what they think.

JA Konrath said...

Did Toole even sell a book in his lifetime?


JA Konrath said...

I remember a time when you said a writer who sold 5,000 books or wrote one million words could be considered as a pro.

Apparently I wasn't comfortable enough with my own identity when I said that. :)

JA Konrath said...

Does having others compose sentences and paragraphs based on your ideas entitle you to claim the identity of writer of erotica?

An interesting question.

On the Alice books, I wrote 50% of them. Much like I did with all of my previous collabs.

With my recent franchizes, I write between 25% and 60%, depending on what the stories need.

With DuChamp and Jezebel, I did about 40%, and on the Sexperts books about 15%, relying on my main co-writer.

I've yet to have someone fully take my universe and write something without some significant input from me. But I can foresee it happening. That would make me a brand, and if the writer is good enough, I'm okay with relinquishing the reigns. The point is to not disappoint longtime fans, and to find new ones because I can reach more people.

Certainly there are successful writing brands. Before Patterson and Clancy, there was the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

Very few TV series are written entirely by one writer. Ditto movie sequels.

My point? I don't think I'd call myself a writer of any genre I hadn't actually written in, but I'm okay with other writers using my universe, or with DuChamp, my pen name and tone (erotica for smart people who like to laugh).

This is perhaps where the concept of identity and the concept of labels get conflated. Every cell in your body has replaced itself after 7 years, so are you the same person you were in 2007? If you replace every single part on your car, is it the same car you bought? How much needs to be original in order to claim ownership? What even constitutes ownership in writing?

JA Konrath said...

Just write your book or your story or your blog and don't let anyone else tell you who you are or how you should be defined.

Agreed. But that's the catch, isn't it? If you seek to have others define you, you'll never accept your own definition, making it impossible to believe you're a writer.

I think I'm pretty smart, and I deluded myself into thinking I wasn't a real writer until I had a contract to prove it. In hindsight, that contract was a very empty bit of validation, because the book was the same book before and after I signed the deal.

The contract got me paid, but it didn't make me a writer. I already was a writer. And I'll call that pre-contract Joe a professional writer, because like all professionals I worked hard at it, learned all about my craft, and was deliberate in my execution.

That begs the question: is someone who finished a novel and knows nothing about rising action, conflict, or character arcs, a professional writer?

I'm apt to agree with you: who the fuck cares? If you write, you're a writer. Even if you are never read. Even if you never earn a dime.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Joe, for the response on the question of branding.

Personally, I am just coming to terms with it myself. As I move forward into the world of self-publishing, I am getting a better understanding that writing is not just about creativity; it's a business. Books are products and they sell according to how they are packaged and presented.

Today, the model for success seems to be having a series to which a reader can become loyal. However, one writer may take years to generate the required output, hence the need for collaborators.

Now, on the main subject of the discussion of your blog, I would say you are absolutely right: once a person writes, he or she is a writer, even if the material is drivel and no one else reads it.

Anonymous said...

"What I'm getting at is that there is no virtue to be anonymous now. It leads to poor psychological states, and abuse, but doesn't have the needed upside to offset it that Joe suggested."

I think you downplay the importance of anonymity for some people. For example, I like reading erotica but perhaps don't want to leave reviews using my actual name, in case my boss or children read them. ;) I'm sure you can understand that! When I worked for government, I blogged about a sensitive issue that ran contrary to the government's policy. If I wasn't able to be anonymous, I wouldn't have felt free to post about the issue, even though it had nothing to do with my job. Maybe that sounds paranoid to you, but it's a real concern, even when you aren't doing any whistle-blowing, but merely offering an opinion. A friend is transgender and is using a "pseudonym" to post online rather than her own name. Should that be denied? She could face real physical threats if she had to use her actual name.

So, yes, anonymity can lead to worse behaviour but it can also provide a voice to people who otherwise wouldn't have one or be afraid to use the one they do have.


P. S. Power said...

Colin M:

If you fear a third party disliking your response, then, yes, you can choose not to speak to protect yourself. Your freedom of speech was not guaranteed to be without personal risk. Legal repercussions can be lobbied against a person with an unpopular position.

The answer isn't to let people hide the things they want to say however. How many bigots, racists, and religiously intolerant people would suddenly be a lot more thoughtful, if they knew that their name was attached to what they said?

The problem there, in your example and no-doubt others like it, is not with the person that might be harassed or attacked, but the imagined response of others.

Is that a good enough reason to let there be a free for all?

As for the man above with his thirty years of web-chat experience.

Well, not to nay say, but the current studies seem to only half agree with you. Making people tag with their own, real name, does fix a lot of problems. Especially now that they know their record will always follow them around.

People really are still better behaved face to face, but that fact doesn't mean that it doesn't work to have them log a record of what they say.

Its a sand state, but the fact is, humans, many of them, aren't good and kind all the time. many would be worse, and are, if given the chance to hide their wrongdoing.

Anonymous said...

Why I like anonymity? As a woman, it can be important.

I used to participate on an SF forum and got into heated political debates. I love a good debate and can take my opinions being challenged or rejected. What I don't want is to be physically threatened for holding or voicing them.

On that forum, I used a pen name - luckily. One man in particular tried to track me down in person using my pen name and knowledge of the part of the country where I lived. He suggested I deserved to be fragged and have a grenade thrown at me, to name a couple of suggestions. Now, it was highly unlikely that he would track me down and actually throw a grenade at me, as much as it might have pleased him, but you can see that anonymity or using a pseudonym can be very useful to people at times. I wouldn't have felt free to voice my opinion if I thought anyone could find who I really was and where I lived...

Forcing people to use their real name could force them to shut up and not participate in controversial discussions or voice contentious opinions. There are some crazy people out there.


Claire Chilton said...

Hi Joe :)

I feel the same way about trolls, and I think that's why I put them in a book in the end, rather than engaging them online.

Their words will fade away. In a hundred years' time, those reviews will be gone, either buried under a pile of other reviews or perhaps completely gone because we no longer use websites, but mind-link to the internet. But my book will always be out there in some form or another. So I pulled a Chaucer on them, a timeless flipping off that will always remain, even after I am long gone.

Okay, I admit it was a bit provoking. But really, I just wanted to record the events of the book revolution. Trolls, for all their evil, are a part of our literary history now.

I don't really want to see any restrictions. My hope is that Amazon will alter the support side of the system. While it's true that they can't monitor everything, they could certainly put a bit more effort into responding to complaints, and investigating them properly.

I don't think the trolls would act out as badly as they do if one of them got a lifetime ban for repeated abuse. I don't think victims would feel like victims if their complaints were met with fair investigation and supportive responses. Instead they get an auto-email band-aid from a noreply address.

Make an example of a troll ringleader, and it'll take the fun right out of it for them all.

I do agree that erotica should be free to explore its genre, and if readers want to read bigfoot porn, then I have no problem with it. I think 'How to be a pedo' guides are a bit of different story. When it comes to non-fic guides on criminal activity, they legally need to draw the line. You don't want the Anarchists Handbook back out there, teaching people how to make bombs, which I surprised hasn't landed on Amazon yet.

Fiction doesn't have any rules. I don't believe they should ban porn without banning books about murder (so that's over 50% of literature that has murder in it, including half of my books).

If a fiction is so rude that people's eyes pop out of their heads, then stick an 18+ label on it, a nice big red star that will probably attract more of the right readers than it'll put off. It's fiction. It shouldn't be removed for any reason.

Non-fic is bit more of a grey area. But overall, I'm not a fan of witch hunts or book burning. The greatest books in history broke the rules, and in doing so they made the world a better place.

But the petition is just about reviews, as far as I know. And it's only focusing on criminal abuse. If someone threatens you in real life, you can report them to the police. If someone threatens you on Amazon, they're allowed to. No private company should be above the law.

'I'm going to kill your book.' Is a threat against your livelihood. It's the same as saying: 'I'm going to burn down your store.' It's a threat. Someone killing your book on Amazon, is someone burning down your business premises. It has the same effect on your business. It destroys your store front (product page). It's a vandal throwing a molotov cocktail through your store window.

Most people call the police in that situation, but in Amazon world, there are no police. There isn't even a decent insurance company to restore the damage.

And the vandals, they get sent some free stuff from the Vine that they can flog on Ebay for doing it, rather than a slap on the wrists and a day in court.

I don't agree that freedom of speech should be infringed upon. In an ideal world, I'd like to see Amazon go the way of Google in cleaning up their corner of the internet.

I babble too much. I must be the only person who pushes the limits of a 5k character limit on posts. Sorry for how long this is. Continued in part two…

Claire Chilton said...

Google put organised crime out of business on the internet with a clever use of their algorithm back in the late 90s. I guess I want to see Amazon step up to the plate and do the same. I want Amazon to be a company I look up to.

As solutions go, a big gag over the mouths of trolls might not be the best solution, but then neither is doing nothing.

But there are other ways. Amazon could use their own algorithm to make sure that troll-like activities have less power on their site. Investigating repetitive no-voters would be one way to find a troll. No one reasonable would no-vote a million times in a year.

Accounts with only one review that is a one star could be flagged. If they're fake, then busted--that person is breaking the TOS.

You can spot fake reviews. A real account has many reviews on many different things. A real account is used regularly. Sure, some clever people would slip through the net, but the majority would be landed with a lifetime ban for it, which would put off most people from trying it out.

Amazon need to do very little to put the fear of god into the trolls. One lifetime ban on a repeat offender, and it would echo through the community for years.

People often report things that are criminal or abusive. There's a big red flag right there.

Amazon have enough data to improve their systems. They just need to implement it.

I understand why Anne signed the petition. I don't think, from what I've read, that it's her petition. I think she was trolled for trying to help some young authors on the Amazon forums, and she found the petition shortly after. Then she signed it, and it became big news.

I signed it because I believe that Amazon needs to do something to change the way they handle trolls on their website. I don't think it will harm freedom of speech. If I'm honest, I don't think Jeff Bezos will remove anonymous from his site. Anonymous provides his company with more reviews. Amazon ranking in Google comes from its community and reviews. They'll lose money if they lose reviews.

There is a financial reason for everything Amazon do, and the community is a money cow for them. That's why they coddle trolls. 'Here's a free microwave, write us a hundred more reviews. Yippee, first in Google for Microwaves! Now everyone visits our website to buy them!' $.$

But, I do think that the petition will force them to improve their support against trolling.

If you could prove that trolls harmed Amazon's income, they'd kill them off in an instant. Bam, gone in a day.

But then, for a private company, they have some rules they have to follow. Google are their sheriff too. If they let it get too out of hand, the Google algorithm will punish them for it, just like it does every company that allows offensive content on their website.

I've seen the mighty fall for less in my fifteen years as an SEO. I don't think it would hurt Amazon to clean up their support systems in the long run, but it might hurt them if they don't.

God, I babble a lot, but in retrospect, perhaps the petition is a bit of a sledgehammer. On the other hand, I want to see something done about it, and it's the only game in town that's going after trolls. After four years, I'd rather support something that aims to highlight the issue rather than do nothing and keep watching people get hurt.

It's not an ideal solution, but it's the first time someone with a voice that can be heard has stepped up to do something about it all. I respect that. There may be better ways to do it, I agree. But I don't think Amazon will ban speech. They might listen though, which is more than they do right now.

Unknown said...

Another great post, thank you.

JA Konrath said...

I understand your position, Claire. And I empathize. And I dislike trolls.

I also dislike being policed. I lost a lot of Amazon reviews, both that I recieved and that I wrote, when Amazon deleted thousands of reviews because people complained. My reviews were legitimate, but as a result of Amazon's deletions I haven't reviewed a book since. A shame, because my reviews were honest and took time and thought to compose. But they lost me as a reviewer because they chose to police, and I'm not the only one they lost.

Is getting rid of trolls worth accidentally getting rid of even one conscienscious commenter? In more extreme terms, is the death penalty worth it if an innocent person dies?

You mentioned the Anarchist's Cookbook. I have a copy, along with a lot of the old Loompanics catalogue of subversive material. Burglary. Drugs. Lockpicking, How to escape from jail. How to be a hitman. The Turner Diaries. Hogg. Poor Man James Bond.

Giordano Bruno was tortured and burned at the stake in the sixteenth century for writing books about heliocentrism. Banning is bad, even if it is stuff we think is harmful.

I know trolls can cause pain. I just think policing words is potentially more painful than any words could be.

Claire Chilton said...

Hi Susan,

There are crazy people out there, and what that man did to you was a crime. He threatened you with physical harm. Whether he went through with it or not doesn't matter. The threat is harmful, and the intent is harmful. If he walked up to you on the street and said that, he would have been arrested by the police and--depending on the circumstances--he probably would have been prosecuted for it.

The point is that in the real world, that kind of behaviour is criminal, and with good reason. It leads to violence, fear or people being terrorised.

The only reason he got away with it online was because he was anonymous, and there was no system in place for you to report it to a law enforcement agency, even if you did know who he was.

I think the problem is that you shouldn't feel scared to be yourself on the internet. The people randomly threatening you for your opinion should feel scared to do that on the internet, but they don't.

I love freedom, and have enjoyed the internet since the day I first found it in 1998. There is a wild freedom online that we all enjoy. But there is a dark, criminal element in that freedom, which goes unchecked.

That you feel the need to be anonymous so that you don't get attacked is a sure sign that the internet is going to hell. You can't be yourself online without fearing being attacked. That's the same of fearing leaving your house for fear of being attacked. That's what's wrong with the internet.

I think you highlight the need for identity, rather than the need of anonymous. You should feel safe being yourself online. The people attacking you should be hiding in the shadows, feeling scared, not you!

The grenade thrower should have been caught and prosecuted for putting that fear in you. That's my problem with anonymous. The internet is not a fake world. It's the real world with real people at the end of every comment.

Those who use it to get a high from harming others are just as bad as those who get a high from harming others in the real world.

I see the internet as just as real as anywhere else. If someone issues me with a death threat online, I will send the police after them. I will hunt down their real identity and prosecute them to the full extent of the law.

It's not a game or something you brush off. It's a death threat, pure and simple. There's no excuse for that.

I know a lot of people think: Oh, it's just the internet. It's not real. But it is real. Every voice has a real person on the other side of the screen. Every threat is contain violent intent, every victim is damaged on an emotional level and every time someone forgets that they pick up psychopathic tendencies. They stop seeing people are human beings, and just start seeing names on a screen to tick off their kill list.

That guy was dangerous, but there because there is no law enforcement online, he's allowed to be, because he's anonymous, he's permitted to go forth and threaten someone else. Maybe next time it'll be child he threatens. Maybe next time he'll take it one step further in the real world.

You shouldn't be anonymous because of fear. You should feel safe on the internet to be yourself, and I'm sorry that you don't.

Anonymous said...

I like your thoughts, Joe, but I gotta say as a standby reading the comments here, Claire won my vote.

The sad thing is that trolls and fear of trolls shape EVERY part of the internet at this point.

I am afraid to sign my name here. I am afraid to sign the damn petition because I have to use my real name and they'd be able to find me.

Yes, talk about paranoid, right? But this is my livelihood (such as it is). I don't want any trouble.

But if things keep going like this--only the pigs who love to wrestle in the mud not being afraid to speak up and having free rein to bully -- how much worse is the internet going to be?

People are being prosecuted IRL for things done online (most notably bullying) but there's been no real effort to change the culture, or to enforce the TOS in many sites. brings fear! Anyone who is vulnerable on the internet learns to live afraid, to hide in corners, and not to provoke the bullies who get their sex-like charge out of hurting people anoymously.

Sorry, I'm going on and on. I generally agree with you, just think Claire made some awfully great points, and I think something does need to change.

But till it does? Yeah, I'll probably still be hiding. I have to protect my own life. :(

Claire Chilton said...

I do see what you mean about being over-policed, Joe. I certainly don't want to see the internet or Amazon become some kind of witch hunt.

Amazon did use a sledgehammer on reviews when they culled them, but then I do think it's better now than it was before.

In the past, I could expect hundreds of scathing reviews for no apparent reason. Someone was bored, so I got a molotov cocktail on my product page. I lost a few reviews from the culling too, but I also lost the constant fake reviews. I mean, it's much better now. There aren't as many. The trolls have to work harder to troll.

I didn't review much, so I didn't see that side of things.

I mean the culling was OTT, but the security after it was a great improvement. I think it was anyway. There was a big decline in troll reviews. People have to get a second credit card and a proxy to be a sock puppet now. It makes them work harder for it. Most don't bother.

You'll still get trolling from main accounts, but they're a lot more wary of what they do on those in terms of attacking people.

I don't believe in the death penalty, so no. I'd never condemn someone to death. I think that becoming a killer to punish a killer is not the act of a higher power. It's the act of a killer.

On Amazon, the punishment comes down to the level of the crime. Did someone just get their life threatened? Is that worth losing a reviewer over. Yep. I think it is. A book review is not worth someone's life or worth giving them emotional distress to a point of fear.

If someone get told their book sucks, is that worth losing a good reviewer over. Nope. It's some fiction about some fiction.

The answer seems to come back to support. There needs to be investigation into every case. You can't 'auto-judge' every case in the same light. Some are crimes. Others are angsty bits of fiction. No system is perfect, but I believe Amazon is deeply flawed in it's author support systems. They don't work at all. They judge a death threat the same as a fictional review. 'They're both okay. Here's a microwave.'

Didn't the Anarchists Handbook get banned by the FBI or something? I was told it did, but I wasn't sure I believed it because even to me it seemed like overkill. As a general rule, I don't agree with the banning of words, although the thought of Susan's grenade guy getting hold of a copy of the Anarchist's Handbooks is not a comforting one. But then, unless someone acts on a crime, one hasn't been committed.

The book isn't the criminal. The guy who makes the bomb is. And, yeah, okay you convinced me with that reason and logic of yours. I agree that no books should be banned, regardless of their content. Because a crime isn't committed by a book. It's committed by a person.

That being said, a troll review or a troll comment on the internet are the act of a person. Yes, they are words, but they are not innocent, informative words, like a book. They are words used for the express purpose of causing emotional damage to another human being. They are an attack. In that case, they need to be policed.

Perhaps the petition isn't a great idea, but I think there should be one to ask Amazon to create a police force within it's system. One that will deal with criminals on their website, and protect the innocent from harm.

Anonymous said...

Same anon as above. Just wanted to add that "where will it end?" isn't really an argument (when I use it or when anyone else does). It's emotion-based hyperbole.

Take gun control. For the purpose of this comment, I don't care if you have any strong beliefs on the topic, or none at all: both sides illustrate the "where will it end?" emotional nature of this. It's not an argument. It doesn't deal with the facts - the current situation or legislature under discussion.

The one side insists their opponents' policies will lead to a gun on every mantelpiece and a dead child in every home. The other insist it's the first step to the government taking over your home and a one-world government where we all become Cybermen. (Okay, probably not the Cybermen bit!)

My point is that the whole "any curtailing of any behavior will lead to" is a "where will it end??" argument. It's emotion-based. The merits of a discussion need to be on the issue at hand. The "where will it end??" for online bullying leads to the emotional feeling (on my side) that it will lead to every ordinary person living in terror. (I still lean towards that feeling, but it's not a real argument.) The "where will it end??" on the other side is the belief that ANY curtailed behavior online limits all free speech everywhere and will mean totalitarian control.

Neither is a true argument, because they're based on feelings.

So yeah everybody does it, but it's not a valid argument. Hyperbole gets emotion involved but doesn't really address the issues at hand, and people end up talking around each other. The issue at hand should be the basis of a discussion (in this case bullying & death threats), not "what might happen in the future if anything is/ isn't done." The matter at hand.

Sorry too many words lol.

Claire Chilton said...

Anon, I'm sorry that you've been tormented so much that you fear using your own name, but I totally understand the feeling.

I hope that the internet changes, but I also would say that surrounding yourself with supportive people is the best way to overcome that fear.

Although I'm quite outspoken as a person, I had countless trolls after me, and it is scary when that happens because you're isolated and outnumbered.

I got lucky, in that a few people--and it was a minority in a sea of sheep--stood behind me and still do. They were strangers then, but now are friends that I value very much.

There are great people out there, and there are a lot of them, but sometimes it's difficult to see them when all you see are threats from trolls.

It's horrible when you feel alone in it all, but if you ever need to talk, which I think is the best cure for abuse, being able to talk about it, I'm happy to listen. My contact info is on my website, so feel free to drop me a line anytime.

I've gotta go to work now, but I hope you get to be yourself online soon. I hope everyone does.

P.S. Thanks for the great for a discussion, Joe, and for a safe place to have it.

Alan Spade said...

I think Amazon should hire Claire Chilton as an accountant. And I mean that. She makes reasonable and well argumented points.

Amazon has grown on the geek culture, where freedom is everywhere on a virtual world. And I said that, being a geek myself and a past time video games reviewer.

But society has catched up the Internet. Society and reality are transforming the virtual into real. There are mothers on the internet. Children.

Amazon needs a little less algorithms and more persons to check the intent behind words. If the intent is to hurt or destroy, the law should apply.

I guess if Amazon hadn't used an algorithm to suppress the reviews, but people to check the contents, Joe would have kept his commentaries.

I'm sure there has to be means to regulate humanly the internet that are not too costly. The internet needs too grow more human, and a little less geek.

Alan Spade said...

Oops! has caught up.

JA Konrath said...

I like your thoughts, Joe, but I gotta say as a standby reading the comments here, Claire won my vote.

Disagreeing with me is fine, But because you posted anonymously, I have deleted your post.

I'm kidding, of course. But you certainly see my point, don't you?

We live in a time where anyone kicked off of a forum could get back on within minutes using a proxy. We also live in a time where due process in the USA seems to have become optional.

If everywhere public voices mingle is policed, some good voices will be silenced, good people will mingle less, and trolls will whine about their rights--and they may have a point becuase of that annoying due process/freedom of speech/constitution thing. And when trolls do get kicked off, they'll come right back.

That petition is moral panic. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Killing a gnat with an AK47. If Amazon listens, I can see more harm being done than good.

If you want to stop atracting trolls, stop feeding them. Then they'll go elsewhere.

Alan Spade said...

"If you want to stop atracting trolls, stop feeding them. Then they'll go elsewhere."

Not necessarily. Insane people don't always act in a logical way.

"Killing a gnat with an AK47. If Amazon listens, I can see more harm being done than good."

That's why the response should be a graduated one. That's why the solution has to be with humans, and not with algorithms.

You do a good job of moderating your blog, Joe, and if you didn't, there wouldn't be so much fine persons in the comments.

JA Konrath said...

Insane people don't always act in a logical way.

Have you read The Gift of Fear?

If someone is truly insane and wants you dead, they'll kill you. You can't protect yourself from a cunning maniac who doesn't mind taking his own life to get to you.

But most stalkers aren't insane. Neither are most trolls. The whole concept of trolling is to wait for a fish to bite. No bites, they fish elsewhere.

Never, ever, ever engage someone on the internet who is hateful or obviously looking for attention. If it isn't obvious at first, stop the conversation once it escalates. Let the fire go out by itself. Stop feeding it.

You do a good job of moderating your blog, Joe

Thanks, but it's easy to do. I have a limited number of comments that are simple to manage.

Look at the useless wasteland that is Absolute Write. Once, a place for people to go for information. Now, it's the punchline to the joke: "Where do disillusioned writers go to circle jerk?" It is a moderated forum, and the moderators are doing a great job removing anything substantive from the boards. So it has become a megaphone for legacy pundits, and useless to anyone with an open mind.

When the police are morons, or don't care, good places can become bad places.

If Amazon uses bots to kick out trolls, good people will be culled. If it hires police to look at comments, good people will be culled. If it only responds to complaints, trolls will complain about good people, who will be culled.

I've stopped dialogs with many people. I've blocked more than a few pinheads on my Twitter feed (and yet they still can't help but come back, read me, and then post anonymously hoping I don't notice). I've had to play cop a few times and delete posts, but that is really, really rare.

My point is that letting a few morons voice their opinion is the price to pay for public discourse and a free Internet. Sometimes they'll be hurtful. Ignore them. Sometimes they'll threaten you. Ignore them. Sometimes they'll frighten you.

I have three dogs, a .45 Glock 21, a FNS 9mm (17 rounds in the mag, one in the spout), and a .38 Colt, among other lethal methods of persuasion.

Living in a free society means some nuts will fuck with you. Ignore them until they pose a real threat. When they do start posing a real threat, act accordingly. Getting an actual maniac kicked out of a forum will likely enrage him, not make him leave you alone.

The Gift of Fear. Everyone should read it. Gavin de Becker.

Anonymous said...

His book about kids - Protecting the Gift - is also really great.

Anonymous said...

On the "Gift of Fear" tip, I would like to trot out my own anecdote. I saw him on Oprah and told my best friend all about the things he said.

Within a few weeks, she used his advice and very likely prevented herself from being a victim of violent crime. The advice she followed was "don't go to the second location". She was mugged at gunpoint. The mugger tried to get her to leave the sidewalk and go to the alley. Her response was "you have the purse, I'm leaving." And she walked away.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I'm apt to agree with you: who the fuck cares? If you write, you're a writer. Even if you are never read. Even if you never earn a dime.

There are plenty of artists throughout history who never got an ounce of respect or made a dime for their art, yet today are used as examples of the kind of genius that every artist needs to strive for.

There were street corner bluesmen who nobody's heard of that influenced a couple generations worth of musicians and fostered an entire artistic movement, but died in poverty. Could they not call themselves musicians?

This need to label people and legitimize them based on whether or not they earn a living at their craft is simply a way for the middle men to better position themselves to exploit these people for profit.

If you don't fit our definition of artistic merit, and we see no way of making money off you, then you aren't and shouldn't be part of our exclusive little club. We'll look down on you and call you a fraud or untalented or desperate or irrelevant and continue pushing others we've labeled acceptable—not necessarily on their ability to write or paint or sing, but on their ability to make us money.

If any of this was based simply on merit, the label makers might have an argument. But it never is. And if we waste our time paying any attention to what these self-appointed bastions of literature have to say about who and who shouldn't be calling themselves "authors," then we're allowing ourselves to be subjugated and dismissed.

Do not give these people that power. You are what you think you are.

Alan Spade said...

"Have you read The Gift of Fear?"

No. But I will. Thank you for the tip.

Anonymous said...

Claire, your rhetoric is very good, but the attempt to force people to use their real names in reviews on Amazon and on the internet in general, in order to prevent trolling and attacks on writers, books and reviewers suffers from one flaw - a serious one, IMO.

The very thing that allows trolls to troll also allows me to be honest and have my opinion expressed. It allows me to speak freely without fear of some nutjob coming after me because s/he doesn't like the fact that I have that idea or opinion contrary to his/her own.

By forcing me to use my real name in reviews and forums, you will effectively shut me up, preventing me from voicing my opinion. Yes, perhaps nutjobs won't feel comfortable threatening me with exploding grenades as a result, but no one can protect me from someone who doesn't agree with me, and who remains lurking in the background. No one can promise me that that silent whacko won't come after me, since they know who I am and where I live.

Freedom has to be weighed with responsibility, yes. I prefer to err on the side of more freedom than less.

For authors, when you get a bad review, don't respond. People are completely entitled to be wrong about the merits of your masterpiece. They have every right to say it stinks like pigslop. As soon as you respond to say it smells like roses and they obviously have no sense of smell, you open yourself to the wrath of the reviewer culture. Don't go there.

Better yet, if you don't have a thick skin, don't read your bad reviews. Everyone, even the most famous, most succesful, most award winning authors, get them.

Personally, I like to read my bad reviews, since I have learned a great deal about my writing from them and sometimes, they provide great comedic relief. If you never get a bad review, it means your work is not reaching a wider audience.

I followed the whole business around authors behaving badly and GR Bullies and to me the whole mess could have been avoided if authors were to accept that not everyone is going to like our work and leave it at that. Don't respond, however tempting. Don't sic your loyal fans on the reviewer. Don't complain.

It may irk an author to remain silent when some reader or reviewer got it all so very wrong about your book, but discretion is the better part of valour...


Julie said...

I agree that the anonymous identity has some credibility. But I will say this engaging people when they are at their sexist, racist, most ignorant and debased selves as anonymous does little to help your point. It just gives them an audience and a platform to spout their bile. I only go to blogs and forums where the blogger/monitor has control over the acrimony. There has to be a delete feature too otherwise the amount of hurt it can engender can become irreparable to a community.

Claire Chilton said...

Hi Susan,

I don't think bad reviews are even at question here. At least, not in the context that you use them. I have no complaints about someone giving me a bad review because they didn't like my book.

I take issue with someone giving me this review: 'I'm not reading it because your face is too ugly.' (Really? Well, I guess I could hire a plastic surgeon instead of an editor next time)

I also have a problem with: 'This author should be raped in prison.' (WTF?)

Those are reviews that are real, I might add.

I have a problem with people putting a book on Amazon with your title and cover on it that is actually badly written porn inside, and claiming you are the author. (Yes, I've seen that one happen too).

I have a problem with people committing fraud, libel, being so abusive that you require a restraining order against them.

What you're talking about is some newbie fluffy feelings about their first book love. I got over that twenty years ago when I got a rejection slip that said: 'Not a fucking chance!' on it.

I've never sic'd anyone on a reviewer. I think it's quite clear from my rather public refusal to back down to trolls that I don't need anyone to fight my battles for me.

My fans will write reviews, but I always ask them to be honest in them if they do. Since I have over 6k fans, some of them can be protective of their favourite books. Personally, I don't think I've seen any big battles over my books though.

Do you mean me or authors in general?

'Don't complain, remain silent'. By that do you mean stay oppressed and give up your basic human rights?

Sure thing, should I bend over and grab my ankles now, or...?

I agree on not commenting on a review. It's a pointless act. But remain silent? I don't think I will.

JA Konrath said...

I also have a problem with: 'This author should be raped in prison.' (WTF?)

Claire, can you link to that review? Or has it been taken down?

If it is on Amazon and still live, that should result in a call for reform. I know some Amazon folks. Point me to it and I'll run it up the chain of command. Also link to that Vine reviewer who said the 16 year old should kill herself, if you don't mind.

If they have already been removed, then the system doesn't need more policing or censoring. If they haven't, maybe I can help.

Anonymous said...

I made just north of $30K in my first 3 months of self-publishing, with 2 books that I never bothered to query agents/pub houses with. Am I a "real" writer? I dunno. And I don't care, either. They can call me whatever they want, as long as Amazon keeps depositing royalties into my bank account and I can buy a vacation house in a few years.

Anonymous said...

As RuPaul says, you can call me he, you can call me she, you can call me Regis and Kathy Lee - just call me!

Claire Chilton said...

That's not a review from my books, Joe. It's an infamous one from an author who was attacked by the GR Bullies rather famously a year or so ago if memory serves. I can't remember her name, but she was a young author that dared to ask a question on Goodreads, which resulted in her getting tags and reviews like that. I was using it as an example.

I got the face one last week on Wattpad though. I deleted it.

I really don't get that many bad reviews. My observations are based on what I see happening to other people, which I see a lot of because I'm in that support group.

I got trolled a bit in 2010, and had some trolling last month, but for the most part, I'm more concerned by what is happening out there to others than what is happening to me.

I can probably get some links to reviews that are worse, but they won't be on my books (unless some have appeared today).

Mit Sandru said...

You are who you believe you are. Readers will call you by what you call yourself.

Anonymous said...

Claire, I don't bend down for anything. Not using my real name is no skin off my back and using it could be a detriment, given the reality of our world. You don't need to know my real name to understand my argument or debate with me. It does not diminish me that you don't know my name. It doesn't lift you up for me to know yours. In the end, what matters is the strength of our arguments or the validity of our words, not our names.

Reviews that are abusive should be reported to Amazon / Goodreads and dealt with through those channels. If that process isn't effective enough, then the process needs to be improved. Forcing reviewers to use their real name is not the way to go IMO.

You may not be a newbie author with fluffy feelings who overreacts to bad reviews and starts a kerfuffle, but they are out there. I've seen newbie authors freak out because they get a bad review and want to convince the reviewer why they were wrong, complain to readers, and a kerfuffle starts. That can escalate into full out war wherein fans become involved, reviewers start protecting the sanctity of the review, threats are thrown that no one really means, and it devolves into a public -- and sometimes private -- mess.

Forcing people to use their real name isn't going to stop that because some people will still go all out regardless, but it will stop some people from being able to participate in forums and posting reviews.

What about pen names? Should I be forced to use my real name when I write? Maybe I wouldn't write erotica if I had to... I'm sure those who decry erotica for religious or moral reasons would be happy to see that as a means of reducing its existence. The use of a pen name allows me to write material I wouldn't want my teens or father to read but which I believe still has merit.

I value anonymity for those people who need it, for whatever reason, whether authors or reviewers. The solution is to put more effective processes in place to ensure abusive reviews and comments are dealt with, not forcing people to use their real names.


Claire Chilton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Claire Chilton said...

Susan, I understand the reason you prefer to remain anonymous, but I don't understand why newbie review reactions are relevant.

I haven't once commented about authors complaining over regular bad reviews. In fact, I thought I'd been quite clear that I was referring to criminal abuse, not story criticism in every post I've made.

I don't think authors should remain silent, but I understand why some do. I prefer not to because damn the trolls. I'm not going to stop living my life because of bullies, and if they want to attack me, they're gonna do it anyway.

If I can play a part in putting them out of action for good, then I sure as hell will. I think that's my overall stance.

And the problem with reporting abusive reviews or criminal acts are that Amazon support doesn't do anything. Or at least, it doesn't do enough to help authors.

I absolutely agree that a better abuse support system would benefit everyone. So that actual abuse would be removed, and freedom of speech would remain free. That's what I'd like to see happen. I agree with that more than removing anonymous.

I'd much prefer Amazon and GR to improve their reporting systems so that crime doesn't happen on their website, but since you end up talking to a member of the Amazon community rather than a paid member of staff when you make any kind of complaint about reviews or forums, you tend to only receive and auto-email response that boiled down to a simple point says: 'Oh well, get over it. Please rate my support or reply to'

I think pen names class as identity. I covered that too in my post earlier. If you build your empire of books around your pen name, then you have an identity that you are connected to. You wouldn't troll on that identity for fear of losing your books.

Claire Chilton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Claire, as a final comment from me, I think there are other ways of dealing with abusive comments on Amazon, on forums connected to Amazon and elsewhere besides forcing people to use their real names / identities.

The solution proposed in the petition is potentially worse than the problem it is supposed to solve therefore I think it is wrong-headed and an overreach. I want to protect anonymity on the internet as much as is possible, while at the same time ensuring there are mechanisms to address real abuse.

Strengthen the latter, don't diminish for former.

We will have to agree to disagree.


Unknown said...

> You won't see a doctor if you refuse to believe you're sick. And denying your diagnosis, or downplaying the threat, is stupid. That's what killed Steve Jobs. Smart guy. Innovator. Apparently didn't fear death enough to take appropriate measures. Jobs's understanding of himself--his identity--may have killed him.

There is a different view that I found interesting: Dr. John McDougall's video "Why Did Steve Jobs Die?" (


Claire Chilton said...

As I said earlier, Susan, I really don't disagree with you on that. I think if people feel strongly about being anonymous, then that's fine.

My only purpose of any of my comments was to say why I signed the petition, and to finally say hi to Joe, since I've been reading his blog for ages and have never thanked him for his advice and reports.

I guess I must have felt the urge to highlight that there is a need for change. Whether the petition is a solution to the problem is what has been under debate.

And, I think the general opinion is that something needs to be done, but perhaps not the removal of anonymous.

The interesting thing that came from it though is that people feel the need to be anonymous because they've been bullied by trolls. I mean that's kind of a 'What came first, the chicken or the egg?' social quandary right there.

For my part, I hope Amazon do something about abuse on their website. What they do, I don't mind as long as it works.

Anonymous said...

IIRC the comment "the author should be raped in prison" (or similar) never happened. The author in question later apologised and blamed her overreaction on PMT. Of course, her retraction didn't get nearly the level of attention of her earlier statements, but that's nothing new. See the update at the bottom of the Salon article on 21 August 2013 (sorry, can't link for some reason).

If you're trying to argue a point, facts are your friend.

Claire Chilton said...

Anon: No, I never met her. I just saw the story online ages ago and stuck in my head. I threw it out as an example to someone who was questioning why I was talking about author abuse. Then Joe asked about it, so I sent him a link.

Although, if she did it herself, why are trolls still tagging her book? Aren't they giving her more validity by doing that?

I mean, as an outsider who's read one story, about it, then seen the fake story today. I glanced at the first book tag on her GR preview, and what's the first tag I see about? Rape.

Tagging her book with rape again isn't really getting the truth out if she set it all up. Either she added it again (doubtful if she just confessed to doing it the first time) or someone else did to show what a bad person she is (which is totally counter-productive because it's someone adding a tag about rape to her book to troll her, something that apparently never happened before).

But then, I'm so not getting into that sticky situation. I don't know her, and I don't know the full story. But trolling someone who fake trolled herself, assuming she did, is not the best way for the review community to show that she did it.

Although, this whole anonymous thing is beginning to make some wild accusations about what I say now in a slightly defensive manner, but then that was kind of my point wasn't it? Anonymous does seem to bring out the beast in people.

P. S. Power said...

How is a person saying whatever they want, but knowing their real name will appear with it, censorship?

I get the idea of a quelling effect, that if a person must own their words, they are more likely not to say things that they can't back up, and that some will fear reprisal when speaking to power.

If a powerful dictator does it, that can be a form of censorship, but if Amazon says "post reviews, but own them" that isn't.

The only "problem" would be with people that post hateful or libelous things, that might then be (legally) sued for it.

And? Free speech doesn't mean you have the right to lie about others. Or threaten, attack or harass them outside of what is legally allowed.

That isn't and never will be, censorship. You have the ability to still say what you want, after all. You can just be called on it. Future employers will be able to see the support you gave to neo-Nazi causes and those racial slurs used will show up right next to your name in search engines.

Next to your Bronnie fan site slash fic.

Now, some will hear that and curtail what they say and do online, but no one is forcing them too and most won't. It's a choice, and if you have the ability to say what you want, then you aren't being censored.

JA Konrath said...

How is a person saying whatever they want, but knowing their real name will appear with it, censorship?

By definition, a private company can choose what it allows and doesn't allow. It isn't censorship.

In the case of a large public company like Amazon, removing all anonymity, or removing anonymous posts, will cause more harm than do good. That's what happened when the sock puppet moral panic led to thousands of legit reviews being removed. Now the moral panic of this petition could lead to thousands of legitimate comments being removed, and also an overall resentment of the system (as I said, I don't review books on Amazon anymore).

Where is libel or hate speech being protected on Amazon? Can anyone point to an active link?

It seems like Amazon is doing fine policing itself, yet there is a petition for them to do more policing. Which, I've pointed out, isn't wise.

Censorship comes into play further down the road. If we stop being tolerant of speech we don't like, what's to stop lawmakers from being elected who do with the government what the petition is asking Amazon to do? There are legitimate cases where anonymity can protect someone with noble intent. Cracking down on anonymity is a slippery slope.

My two cents.

Anonymous said...

How interesting. A few years ago Scott E over at Greyhaus headed a column responding to the possibility of self-publishing with the title, "Do you want to be published, or just printed?"

That said it all for me. His advice was to keep writing and endlessly querying overwhelmed agents. You can waste an entire adult life in this pointless venture. Just get out there and let the chips fall as they will. Don't die on a mountain of (unread) queries.

Claire Chilton said...

Well, since you asked Joe..

Alas, my personal links are old. The best I've got that's current is a fake 1-star from a guy who ripped off some customers in the past that reported him to He currently 1-stars other people's books while selling stories about kittens, puppies and porn on Amazon under a stolen identity (with evidence to back it all up of course.) (1 star landed this year)

Basically, *takes a deep breath*
This reviewer:

Who claims to be this girl:

Who wrote this book:

But was outed by this reviewer:

Leading to this guy:

For ripping people off and identity fraud on Amazon.

Prior to that I've got, the indie publisher who picks up innocent new authors on the ABNA forums, giving them to shaft (0% royalties forever) and installs them in a cult-like publishing company that will not only hold their books hostage, but will deface them if they try to leave. He's fun.

He also used to run a strip club and has a restraining order against him for attacking a female author (and it was 'I'll kill you bitch' style things) in front 5k people on Facebook. Currently, I guess he'll be recruiting at ABNA this year, and he does use Amazon to keep books hostage.

Amazon agree with the publisher, no matter what BS he told the authors or Amazon. (I'd have to email those files. I do have a copy of the restraining order. The guy;s crimes are circa 2010-present day that I know of).

Have you seen this site:
This site seems they believe there is abuse on Amazon. <-- Actually a guy who cyber-rapes lesbian fans in his spare time and slams all the other lesbian authors in scathing reviews. I will have to contact the lesbian fic authors for their evidence on that one. It happened a month ago.

I'm sure there will be more next week.

But, I suspect that a lot of people don't like to show their evidence publicly. It will probably mean they get abused more online.

I'm just a glutton for punishment though, so there you go.

Claire Chilton said...

Hi Joe,

I tried to email you, but I think Comcast hates me. It keeps sending it back. I don't suppose you have a gmail or something UK friendly? (I think that's why it's coming back)

Anonymous said...

Claire, that is one sorry tale your links have told. I saw a lot of accusations thrown around but little actual proof so that it smacks to me of a witch hunt. I don't know enough to pass judgement on the guilt or innocence of those accused, and feel quite tarnished having read them because there is little worse in our society than an innocent accused wrongly.

Perhaps I'm too old to get caught up in it all for I feel no moral outrage but instead, feel sorry for everyone involved. After reading everything, I feel this overwhelming need to be thankful my life is not filled with such needless drama... Some people seem to thrive on it.

I don't want to downplay the seriousness of actual abuse, but increasing age and the prospect of the inexorable approach of the grim reaper makes me want to focus on my writing and good friends and not internet drama.


Claire Chilton said...

Anonymous: Why do I need to prove anything to you? I'm just curious why my opinion, which is essentially all I have stated here, requires anyone's approval?

I did state a couple of things I've experienced, but I know what I've experienced, so I'm comfortable in the knowledge that it happened, because I was there.

I mean, approval is nice and all. There have been some lovely posts here tonight, but I don't see the need for evidence unless I'm trying to achieve something like a prosecution or to sway the masses. I'm really not. I'm just having a discussion. Those are allowed,right? I can never tell on the internet these days.

You go to a forum, you join in a conversation and then bam, someone starts making it into a competition for the winner. I'm not sure what you win, but I'm thinking it's giant fluffy toy or something. I'm okay, you can have it. I don't really want to win anything. I was just enjoying the conversation. It was interesting before the anony-crap began.

If you don't believe my words, that's fine. You don't have to. I don't mind.

I was sending Joe the files because he politely asked. I assume he's just curious. Unfortunately, his email won't work for me, so I'll have to see if I can find another way. Maybe if try using gmail...

But yes, I'm not quoting the scripture or anything. I'm just voicing my opinion, which to my knowledge, does not require evidence. It just kinda exists.

If you don't like my opinion, that is your right. Feel free to exercise it, and have your own. I like other people's opinions too sometimes.

On the evidence that Joe asked for, I have quite a lot more, but I won't be posting people's personal files online to satisfy anonymous curiosity. Sorry, that show is not playing tonight.

And yes, I do sense a witch-hunt, but it's not coming from me.

I'm sorry the abuse wasn't abusive enough for you.

Julie said...

Ok, this is an aside, but the guy who outted the Judy Holland-Vince Stead connection has some of the strangest tastes I have ever read. Funny reading.

Power to the freaks.

Venkatesh Iyer said...

There is a such a thing as a bad comment made with no malafide intentions and there is such a thing as a bad comment made out of pure meanness. Anne Rice does have a point.

mhmoore said...

I am gonna go out on a limb here and post...I don't usually post anywhere. Back in the 60's I made up a character based on my mother and grandmother's...I told my daughters stories about her. In the 90's I wanted to see if she would fly as a book so i put her in the fanfiction sections to see if people liked her. I got a lot of really fine reviews. Then I googled my own name on the WWW, 95 or 6 I think and found a paper written by someone getting their degree who ripped me a new one for my character. I was never asked if it was ok to use my piece or my name and if the author of the paper had read any of my other stuff I could see her point, apparently she only read one story and based her review on that. Today that paper is still on the WWW. But I googled my name and its down past the 4th page. Yes we do care what people say. I had an agent tell me she couldn't sell my character unless I changed a lot about her cause the big houses wouldn't buy it at was, (the traits, not writing). BTW, my character would make a nice sister for Jack Daniels. I've never been published, except on the WWW, I do not even try to self-publish. I think back in the day, with a little more encouragement, I might have. Be careful what you say onlnie cause this shit NEVER goes away, who knows you might be trashing the next Joe Konrath, though I doubt a trashing would affect anything he wanted to do. Love your blog Joe, read it everytime its published and somewhere along the line, even I might grow a spine.

Anonymous said...

"But yes, I'm not quoting the scripture or anything. I'm just voicing my opinion, which to my knowledge, does not require evidence. It just kinda exists."

Claire, there is a difference between voicing an opinion e.g. "I think people should be forced to use their real name on Amazon reviews." and making accusations e.g." Joe Blow is a serial eRapist and con-man."

I am all for you voicing your opinion even if I disagree with it. I do not feel comfortable when people make accusations that have not been proven and call someone a criminal when they have not been convicted of a crime. I don't know this person from a hole in the ground, but if I don't defend due process, who will?

As I said earlier, I think there is a way to deal with abusive reviews and comments in forums without forcing reviewers and commenters to use their real names. I believe people should focus on improving the existing processes to deal with abuse rather than restricting participation even more. That's my opinion.

To me, this current petition is an extension of the whole Authors Behaving Badly / Goodreads Bullies brouhaha. I followed this when it happened. Yes, there are bullies, and yes, some authors do behave badly, but I felt the whole thing was an example of everyone involved behaving badly. I thought it escalated far beyond what was necessary on everyone's part. It became a moral panic and the underlying truth got lost in the grandstanding that resulted. This petition is just more of the same.

That's my opinion of course.


Terri Herman-Ponce said...

It's wonderful to know that, these days, a writer has options for becoming published. Better yet, that there is no one way to achieve your goals or to have an identity. The identity comes from us and what we write. End of story.

Claire Chilton said...

Susan, You're welcome to your opinion, but I don't think that is what this is about.

I have noticed that you've accused me of something, incorrectly, in every post you've made to me on this thread. I'm not sure why you feel the need to do that, but clearly you do.

I've corrected you as politely as I could every single time.

Misquoting me because you feel it will prove a point doesn't make you correct, and sending me defensive posts because you disagree with me doesn't make you just or right.

I think I've been quite clear about the evidence, but to make sure that it's fair.

**Joe, could you delete my evidence posts please. I don't seem to be able to.**

There, problem solved. Hopefully that will make you happy, Susan.

Whatever is happening, you don’t seem to be happy with me, although I can't fathom where all the anger is coming from.

I originally posted here to speak about anonymous identity because I've been exploring the psychological and technological side to it for one of my books. Joe seemed like a good guy, with readers that would be up for a discussion. Because, identity is what this is all about.

Along the way, the petition became the focus, but it's really not that important. I think the subject of identity is probably the more important one on this thread, and I think--partly due to me--the conversation went off-topic. Abuse is bad. It happens. I've already said what I thought about that.

However, identity is at the heart of my argument. I questioned the use of anonymous in an Amazon review compared to the abusive, sadistic and psychotic tendencies that an anonymous profile is likely to bring out in people.

Those are scientifically proven theories, by the way. I find it interesting on a psychological level what happens to people when they become anonymous.

Right now, for all the snarky comments. I don't hate you. I feel a little bit attacked by you, but I sense that there is a person talking to me. I also am very aware that the world is watching me because of course, I'm posting under my real name. This means that everything I say will come back to me. These things, I believe, all make me act as I would in real life.

In fact, I think I'm acting a bit nicer than I would in real life. If someone walked up to me in real life and accused me of being a liar, a noob author, whining about reviews and a then proceeded to misquote me in a public venue, I'd probably tell them the F-off.

I don't know why you're defensive and disagreeing with me in every post. You seem to want to keep arguing. Even when I agree with you, you keep arguing back. I've come to the conclusion that you're arguing over something else.

Maybe you think I'm attacking Joe? I wasn't. Aside from the fact that I'm pretty certain he can defend himself quite well, I would never attack one of my indie heroes! If that's your gripe, then I think you have misunderstood me. Not to worry, it happens. No hard feelings.

Perhaps you are one of my own personal trolls. I mean, you do sound an awful lot like one of them by matching the word-for-word comments that I've seen many times before. If that is the case, then I'd greatly appreciate it if you could F-off because I don’t like trolls.

But then, maybe you just like being anonymous and missed the many, many, many times that I agreed the petition wasn't the perfect solution, At which point, hopefully you'll notice it this time.

As a case study on anonymous, you appear to be proving without a doubt that being anonymous can make people act unreasonably. I tried to understand why you feel the need to attack, and I think it's a form of dehumanizing me so the attacks can appear justified.

Even when I have held up my hands and said, 'okay, you win,' you have continued.

I'm not sure that responding to you is going to improve the situation, but you are kinda proving my point about anonymous identity.

P. S. Power said...


I hate to go against Joe in his own house, and don't mean this in any way to be impolite, but I have to disagree with him here, on part of what he's been saying.

There is no "slippery slope" to people using their real identities online.

This is way different than asking people to be banned forever. In fact, a lot of the trouble people are having with reviews would vanish, the second people knew that they, personally would need to be able to back up what they were saying and doing.

For instance, I have over 1,200 reviews on Amazon. I'm not a huge name, but I get around, and considering that I've only been around for two and a half years, that's a bit of notice.

About half my negative reviews would look hilarious, if you could see who put them up, I'm willing to bet.

People using sock-puppets and so on.

I'm not suggesting their efforts be removed, just put in the single hopper that is their place. If Tim Smith is writing half of the bad reviews for a single book, under different names, then it would be good for readers to be able to see that, wouldn't it?

Civility is good. Kindness is not weakness, and being anonymous pushes some people to forget those facts.

The idea that using your own name is somehow the same as sending people to a gulag is a bit... different.

Maybe I'm taking what you said the wrong way, Joe, but that seems the ultimate point. That free speech means letting people abuse you, because you write for a living.

You, the author, NEED thick skin. But it's skin, not armor. You having written a book doesn't mean someone else should comment on you, your supposed or imagined personal traits, or possible crimes that you may be guilty of.

Yes, you can't sue anyone for most of that, not legally. There is a difference between legal, and right, however. It may be legal to say that Joe must indulge in various crimes, since his books are about such people, but it isn't right. (Unless, like this, it's a joke. Even one not to funny.

This also isn't about Amazon. This is a social problem of western society. They might be pointed out, but the real call if for people to end bullying, not control free speech.

The problem there is that, when they can hide, the bullies are willing to keep on going after others, and won't stop.

It makes for a worse world, and we shouldn't let it happen.

Does that mean that my name might show up next to my comments? Yes, it does. The thing there is, I don't say or do things online that I can't back in real life.

If you live in fear of litigation, being called on your behavior, or having a kung-fu master actually show up at your house, to see if you really can kill him with one punch, being that he's a pussy, then perhaps changing what you do is a good idea?

No one is forcing that to happen, just trying to end some of the bad behavior.

Anonymous said...

Many of us writers have dual identities, especially if we have day jobs. As a private citizen and writer, I have one identity, my "real" one. As a worker trying to navigate the shoals of corporate America, where the prejudices of others can cost you your job, I have another. I do not let my co-workers or bosses know I self-publish, because the backlash and prejudice that would ensue would cost me my livelihood. Outside of work, I don't hide my self-publishing work. But as long as we live in a world where the vast majority of people define "published writer" as "published by a Big New York House", that's the game we have to live with.

JA Konrath said...

That free speech means letting people abuse you, because you write for a living.

Free speech means people have the right to say things you don't like.

Anonymity allows people to say things--in some cases positive things--that they wouldn't say otherwise. Writing a review of erotica without your children knowing it is you. Weighing in on a heated debate without making yourself a target. Whistle blowing.

A slipperly slope means there is no place to draw the line. If you demand soemthing be deleted from a forum because it offends you, where does that end? Amazon doesn't allow hate speech or threats. But calling someone names, even anonymously, has to be protected. If it isn't, watch how quickly you get hauled off to jail for criticizing a government, or a law. In countries without free speech, anonymity is the only way to voice opinions.

The group Anonymous needs to stay anonymous for their own protection, and IMO they do a lot of good in the world.

We have to let the pinheads spout thier nonsense in order to be truly free. Forcing manners on someone doesn't make for a polite socitety--it makes for a totilitarian society.

Ignore the trolls and cyber bullies, and when they break laws or terms of srvice, report them, Trolls only do it for attention. If everyone ignored them, as they should when ridiculous, thoughless comments are posted, the trolls would go elsewhere.

Civility is good. Teach your children cyber manners. Teach by example, and be civil online.

I can be very judgemental on this blog, but I'd never say something here I wouldn't say face to face.

Also remember that tone is hard to judge. Assume the other person had good intentions, not mean ones. Avoid escalation. Think before you respond, and if you're still emotional, don't respond at all.

Anonymous said...

Even when I have held up my hands and said, 'okay, you win,' you have continued.

I'm not sure that responding to you is going to improve the situation, but you are kinda proving my point about anonymous identity.

Claire, I don't know of you and outside of this thread, have never responded to a comment you have made anywhere else and frankly, don't remember ever hearing about you before this thread. Please, don't flatter yourself that I am one of "your personal trolls".

Finally, if you have interpreted what I have written in response to your comments as a personal attack or unreasonable in tone or content, I am beginning to see the problem. It seems to me that you are willing to put your opinions out there, but when pressed to defend them, you take offence and interpret as a personal attack rather than a legitimate challenge to your ideas.

Apologies to Joe for belabouring this.


Claire Chilton said...


you weren't addressing my ideas. You were commenting on me as a person.

"I am beginning to see the problem. It seems to me that YOU are willing to put your opinions out there, but when pressed to defend them, YOU take offence and interpret as a personal attack rather than a legitimate challenge to your ideas."

At what point in that quote do you discuss my opinions? None of that is a comment about my opinions. It is your opinion of me, which does seem a little biased.

Since I am not a topic of discussion here, that I know of, I don't see why there is a need to comment on the inner working of my psyche.

Much as I'm sure a discussion about the inner workings of my psyche would be an interesting topic to at least one person in the universe, I do have to question your expertise on the subject of me since you don't actually know me at all.

I'm tired of discussing me. I'm really not interesting enough to warrant this kind of attention.

So, okay, you win.

Claire Chilton said...

On a final note, I fully support and admire Anonymous, and Wikileaks for their ongoing work in making the world a better place and in exposing the truth.

I also admire Joe for doing the same thing.

I don't personally believe that members of Anonymous are writing bad reviews on Amazon to make the world a better place. I think they have bigger fish to fry than a helpless indie author. If they're in the mix, and they may be, I can't see an indie book being their target.

I tend to believe that the bullying on Amazon is largely due to skanky con men, trying to harm innocent authors for greed and profit, based on actual evidence.

I think that oppression is a dangerous thing, because if enough people are bullied into silence, you end up with a dictatorship.

Already, authors live in fear of speaking about bullies, reviews or trolls. Historically, authors have used literature to expose the truth about media BS and government coverups and crimes against mankind. When you silence authors, you're also silencing the truth.

I don't think it makes a difference if it is a massive corporation or a group of trolls silencing a group of people. The point is that many authors fear speaking out because of that group of trolls. The more power the trolls gain, the worse it is going to get until literature is dictated by anonymous hitmen.

But I do see the reason for concern over the petition. If it were to escalate, it could harm freedom of speech on a wider scale. Since no authors have died yet under the troll regime, I guess we'll let them stay in charge.

I do think the Amazon community environment is unbalanced in favour of trolling, which creates an oppressive environment for a lot of innocent people. I do think it could be done better than it is and that ignoring the issue isn't going to make it go away.

But, as always, that is just my opinion.

Zander Marks said...

While we're talking about labels, it's also worth giving some thought to what makes a publisher a publisher.

There is of course the myth that the purpose of a publisher is to curate for quality, refine the product, package the product, print the product, promote the product, and distribute the product. And of course publishers do all those things to varying degrees.

But what gets missed in the definition is _why_ they do all those things. Because the essential purpose of the publisher is to distribute the product. Everything else in the equation is just the result of the economics of what they do.

If a publisher could take on all comers, make no changes to the maunscript, print everything that comes over the transom, distribute it everywhere regardless of quality and appearance and still make money at it, they would do so in a heartbeat. The reason they do all that curating, packaging, editing, and so forth is that it lowers the odds that they'll lose money on the venture.

The central value is distribution. The other stuff is simply a way to reduce the risk inherent in distribution under the traditional model.

So now we have a distribution platform that we can access on our own. And good business sense tells us to make our products the best they can be to engender loyalty in readers, so we hire professional cover designers for the best cover art we can get. We hire editors. We use beta readers.

So while we are countering the notion that we are not "real" writers, we might as well also toss in the corollary:

Not only are we real writers; we are also real publishers.

Angela Drake said...

Although I'm seeing this post a month after the fact, the content is relevant to where my head has been the past few weeks. I can always count on your wisdom to pop up just when I need it. Blessings - Angela

Claire Chilton said...

Hi Joe,

Can you remove all my comments from your blog regarding the Ann Rice Petition please? (Barring this one. This one I'm happy to let stay because I think it's enlightened).

After misguidedly, believing in protecting young authors against trolls, I discovered that Ann Rice and her 'friends' at STGRB are attacking young authors like trolls would!

I alas couldn't unsign the petition when I realised it was all a sham, but I will not publicly defend it.

I think I might have seen the light. Well, it was more like blindness that I saw, but it had an enlightened effect on me.

My co-author (a sweet guy with Asperger's and ADD, who doesn't know how to use Goodreads) was attacked by STGRB for defending a 16 year old girl they had also attacked.

Since STGRB seem to attack anyone they like and that's okay by Ann Rice, then I say let freedom of speech be free. If the people who are attacking the innocent are the people pretending to defend against it, then I'd rather have all out slanging matches online than corrupted police in charge.

I will not be a defender for corrupt individuals who attack children or people with Aspergers.

Because Ann supports STGRB, my co-author asked her to stop supporting a site that harmed minors. She responded by accusing him of being a GR Bully, and supporting the libel that had been spread about him.


Kevin may have a mouth on him, but he doesn't even know how to use Goodreads. I know this because I helped him put his book on the site in the first place. He never visited it. He likes Wattpad and can't see the point in Goodreads.

He's a wonderfully funny, sometimes inappropriately outspoken guy with a ridiculous amount of talent, and not one bad bone in his entire body.

My debate on your blog may be a sound argument for another universe, but in this one the person I'm being supportive of is clearly not functioning in reality, especially if she is supporting a crazy internet stalker, who is harming innocents on Wattpad (the most PC, non-troll environment in the world!)

Anyway, I thought I'd drop by to eat some humble pie for being completely wrong, and also to ask that my stupidity be removed from your blog. I do appologise for the longest debate in history. Had I known how corrupt it all is, I would never have signed that petition.

I don't know if Ann is aware of the people she's associating with, but I want no association with a criminal that attacks children (or that attacks my co-author) without reason.

I think it's fair to say that next time someone brings up trolls, I'm just going to find one and give them a big hug instead.

It's true what they say. As a writer, you never stop learning. *wipes the egg off my face*

Still, at least I now know what calibre of people those crying out for justice really are, irrational, crazy fools.