The Bullies Win: Authors Abandoning Publishing Over Online Behaviors

10 April 2014

From Good Ereader:

Good e-Reader has given extensive coverage to a situation plaguing the publishing industry, both from a self-publishing standpoint and a traditional one: author bullying. While information has come out that some authors have engaged in less-than-professional tactics, particularly where book reviews are concerned, the situation has escalated to the point that some well-known authors like Anne Rice have lent their support to calling for a change in how online platforms allow anonymous “trolling” of authors and their works.

News has come out this week of at least two authors who have declared that they will no longer write and publish their works due to the behaviors of a handful of people. Authors Sarah Daltry and Nadine Christian, independently of each other, have announced on their blogs and social media that they will be closing their accounts and removing all of their self-published works, although they will be unable to do anything to remove their contracted titles.

. . . .

In Christian’s case, the aggressive behavior was never in the form of book reviews, but rather in personal and anonymous contacts in the form of harassing emails and messages. She spoke with Good e-Reader about the behavior and her decision to discontinue her work as a writer.

“If being in the public eye led to that sort of vicious — and obvious stalking — was it worth continuing? I love to write, but would putting my work out there be worth the heart ache? The reaction I feel deep down every time I open an email from someone I’m not sure of was starting to give me stomach pains.”

In this age of online anonymity that allows small people to behave this way towards authors, why couldn’t Christian simply change her online name and start over, building a new brand and readership?

“It had run through my mind. Starting over, becoming Joe Bloggs, Jane Doe. But what if it’s me? What if I’ve done something to someone and not realised it? What if it’s my location, personality, even writing style that’s insulted so many? I love to write, even if it’s not published.”

Link to the rest at Good Ereader and thanks to Barbra for the tip.

PG doesn’t do litigation any more, but in the days when he did, he made some enemies by beating them in court. In certain business and family and social groups, it would have been difficult to find anyone who had anything good to say about PG.

Perhaps it’s these experiences or just PG’s obstinate nature, but he thinks it’s crazy to give up on writing because of a bunch of online jerks. PG quit going to Goodreads eons ago (not because of bullying, but rather because it was so terribly designed) and he has never missed it a bit.

He would have the same response to any online location frequented by nasty people. The world-wide web is a huge and wondrous place and PG can be perfectly happy spending his time in the countless useful and courteous parts for the remainder of his surfing days.

PG says write your books and put them out there. Use your own name or a pen name or a boatload of pen names if you like. If a single person buys one of your books and enjoys it, you’ve done a good thing for them.

And steer clear of jerks in both meatspace and cyberspace. Don’t go where they display their jerkitude. Life is too short to spend any of it with jerks.

Yelp Reviews Brew a Fight Over Free Speech vs. Fairness

4 April 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

A closely watched Internet free-speech case is headed to the Virginia Supreme Court this month, with many businesses that live and die by online reviews rooting for the owner of a small, suburban carpet cleaner.

In early 2012, Joe Hadeed, owner of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning Inc., arrived at his office atop a 70,000-square-foot warehouse in Springfield, Va., to discover a critique posted on Yelp.  com: “Lots of hype, a mediocre cleaning and a hassle at the end. Don’t go with Joe!” wrote a “Mike M.” A few days later, another review, by “M.P.” popped up: “I will never use them again and advise others to proceed with caution!” it said.

Over the next several weeks, a string of similarly harsh reviews replaced more-favorable comments “as if someone had flipped a switch,” said the 47-year-old Mr. Hadeed, in an interview last month at his offices, where trucks drop off carpets to be washed, rinsed and dried.

Following the rash of negative Yelp reviews, business sank 30% in 2012, Mr. Hadeed says. Last year, Hadeed cleaned just 20,000 carpets, down from 29,000 in 2011.

. . . .

The Federal Trade Commission has received more than 2,046 complaints filed about Yelp from 2008 through March 4.

. . . .

Most of the complaints are from small businesses that claim to have received unfair or fraudulent reviews, often after turning down a pitch to advertise on the site, according to a separate spreadsheet of complaints to the FTC about Yelp.

. . . .

For instance, a business owner in Montclair, N.J., whose name was redacted said: “I was contacted by a Yelp salesperson to advertise, which I declined, and since have only had negative posts on their site.”

Yelp denies any connection between reviews and advertising on the site. “Our recommendation software doesn’t punish people who don’t advertise,” Yelp spokeswoman Kristen Whisenand said, adding, “There has never been any amount of money you can pay Yelp to manipulate reviews.”

. . . .

In July 2012, Hadeed sued the seven reviewers for defamation, and demanded that Yelp turn over their true identities. So far, both the Alexandria Circuit Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals have sided with Mr. Hadeed, holding Yelp in contempt for not turning over the names. Yelp in January appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the reviews are protected under the First Amendment and that Mr. Hadeed offered scant evidence that they were fakes.

. . . .

“They say they have a right to put this information out there. But where’s my right to defend my business?” said Mr. Hadeed, in the interview.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

The Price of Popularity: Lower Ratings

1 April 2014

From a forthcoming paper to be published in Administrative Science Quarterly:

Although increases in status often lead to more favorable inferences about quality in subsequent evaluations, in this paper, we examine a setting in which an increase to an actor’s status results in less favorable quality evaluations, contrary to what much of sociological and management theory would predict.

Comparing thousands of reader reviews on of 64 English-language books that either won or were short-listed for prestigious book awards between 2007 and 2011, we find that prizewinning books tend to attract more readers following the announcement of an award and that readers’ ratings of award-winning books tend to decline more precipitously following the announcement of an award relative to books that were named as finalists but did not win.

We explain this surprising result, focusing on two mechanisms whereby signals of quality that tend to promote adoption can subsequently have a negative impact on evaluation.

First, we propose that the audience evaluating a high-status actor or object tends to shift as a result of a public status shock, like an award, increasing in number but also in diverse tastes. We outline how this shift might translate into less favorable evaluations of quality.

Second, we show that the increase in popularity that tends to follow a status shock is off-putting to some, also resulting in more negative evaluations. We show that our proposed mechanisms together explain the negative effect of status on evaluations in the context of the literary world.

Link to the rest at Social Science Research Network where you can download the entire paper

PG added some paragraph breaks to the abstract to enhance readability.

Anne Rice signs petition to protest bullying of authors on Amazon

5 March 2014

From The Guardian:

Anne Rice has tackled vampires, werewolves and witches in her fiction, but now the bestselling novelist is taking on a real-life enemy: the anonymous “anti-author gangsters” who attack and threaten writers online.

The Interview with the Vampire author is a signatory to a new petition, which is rapidly gathering steam, calling on Amazon to remove anonymity from its reviewers in order to prevent the “bullying and harassment” it says is rife on the site. “They’ve worked their way into the Amazon system as parasites, posting largely under pseudonyms, lecturing, bullying, seeking to discipline authors whom they see as their special prey,” Rice told the Guardian. “They’re all about power. They clearly organise, use multiple identities and brag about their ability to down vote an author’s works if the author doesn’t ‘behave’ as they dictate.”

Rice herself was a victim of the Amazon “bullies”, when earlier this year she began to give advice to would-be writers on the retailer’s message boards. “The discourse was meaningful and productive, questions asked and answered, and it was generally very enlightening,” said Todd Barselow, the freelance editor who launched the petition to try to convince Amazon to change its policies. “Then the bullies, trolls, jerks, whatever you want to call them, found the thread. That’s when the attacks started happening. It got very ugly very fast … With each attack, Anne tried to diffuse the situation and out these people for what they are: bullies. Well, that just made them frenzy even more. Eventually, I left the thread. It got too ugly for me. Anne stuck it out for a while, but finally she called it quits, too.”

. . . .

She told the Guardian that “it’s an obsession with them, a sport, a full time hobby”. “I think the anti-author gangster bully culture is made up of individuals who desperately want a place at the table in the world of books and readers,” she said. “I hope Amazon and other book websites do eventually clean them out. They certainly don’t serve the true book buyers and readers of this world. And they are gratuitously destructive towards the creative community. They are like termites in a beautiful wooden building, there for what they can get for themselves, quite oblivious to the building’s purpose or beauty.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Nick for the tip.

When It Comes To Women’s Writing, How Do Publications Stack Up?

28 February 2014

From National Public Radio:

If it seems like male authors get more attention, there are hard numbers to back that up: The VIDA count.

VIDA is a women’s literary organization, and the “count” is the result of eight months spent tracking gender disparity in leading publications. VIDA tallies the gender of authors whose books are being reviewed as well as the gender of those doing the reviewing.

The VIDA numbers have changed very little over the last four years. The Atlantic, The London Review of Books, The New Republic and The Nation have all had an overall ratio of 75 men to 25 women, including both reviewers and those reviewed. At The New York Review of Books, it’s 80-20. VIDA’s count director Jen Fitzgerald says the numbers are so clear that they’re starting to change the conversation.

. . . .

“I don’t know the numbers in terms of what’s being published, how many books are by women and how many books are by men,” says Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review. The Timesshowed improvement in this year’s VIDA count: In 2013, the number of male and female book reviewers was almost equal, and they reviewed 332 books written by women and 482 by men. Paul took over as editor during that time, and she says diversifying the book review section was a priority for her.

“It is not hard work at all. That’s the big secret — it’s not hard,” Paul says. “There are so many good books out there by women, and there are so many incredibly good book critics out there who are women. So I actually have to say that I didn’t find it to be an incredible strain. I don’t think any of our editors at the Book Review felt that we were unduly burdened.”

. . . .

But Beha says other changes are needed too. He contends men and women approach the magazine differently with ideas and that may also affect the numbers.

“Speaking broadly, of course, a male writer comes to you with an idea and you say ‘This isn’t quite right for us, try us again.’ If I say that ‘try us again’ in the email, I may get a response the next day with three new ideas,” Beha says. “And there is a tendency, I think, among female writers to emphasize the ‘this isn’t right for us’ part, rather than the ‘try us again’ part.”

Link to the rest at NPR and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Books reviewed more harshly after winning awards

17 February 2014

From CBC Books:

Authors, be careful what you wish for.

New research out of the University of Chicago suggests that books are consistently reviewed more harshly if read after winning a prestigious literary prize than before.

. . . .

A research team led by economic sociologist Amanda Sharkey analyzed thousands of reader reviews of 32 pairs of books. One book from each pair had won a major award — such as Man Booker Prize or the PEN/Faulkner Award — while the other book had received a nomination but didn’t win.

. . . .

“We found that winning a prestigious prize in the literary world seems to go hand-in-hand with a particularly sharp reduction in ratings of perceived quality,” Sharkey said.

Link to the rest at CBC Books

We Loved The Journey But Compulsion Reads Is Closing

2 February 2014

Wolf, who submitted this item, says:

Compulsion Reads was a sincere attempt of two indie writers, Jessica Bennett and Leslie Ramey, to solve the discoverability problem by recognizing good, independently published work. Anyone could submit a book–the fee started at around $20 and was based on word count. The money paid the evaluators and covered publicity costs and did not guarantee approval. CR’s closure is an apparent case of burnout, and leaves one wondering about the viability of similar endeavors–Brag and Awesome Indies come to mind–which are an alternative to vanity reviewers such as Kirkus.

From Compulsion Reads:

Leslie and I first conceived of what would eventually become Compulsion Reads over two years ago. We were two self-published authors looking for some sort of quality standard to help distinguish our novels from the massive flood of books hitting the market. Our search led us to a startling conclusion. No one was endorsing self-published  books based on a standard set of criteria.

We started talking and hatching. The result would become Compulsion Reads, a quality endorsement for indie and self-published books that met a basic quality standard. When Leslie and I first rolled out our idea, we had no idea of the reception that we would receive, but were thrilled that it was mostly positive. Books started flowing in, and we got to meet many amazing, talented, hard-working and creative self-published and indie authors. The need is clear.

. . . .

Our plan for Compulsion Reads was good, perhaps a little too good. After two years of reading furiously, writing reviews, blogging, attending events, posting on Facebook and constantly thinking about how to continue to support our authors, Leslie and I are feeling the strain. Somewhere in our efforts to grow Compulsion Reads, our own writing began to suffer.

As much as we both love Compulsion Reads, our first love and first obligation has always been to our own writing. With this in mind, we have decided to close the doors of Compulsion Reads effective February 1, 2014.

Link to the rest at Compulsion Reads


Kirkus Reviews: A Disparity Apparent

1 February 2014

From Indies Unlimited:

I think folks need to remember that Kirkus Reviews came into existence as a periodical way back in the 1930s as an aid for librarians to make book purchases. When you think about it, to get included in something like that was a pretty big deal. Having your book in the library is some of the cheapest, most repetitive advertising that an author can get for his or her book. You get a long string of readers and potential customers for that and future work. Kirkus was pretty much the standard for the followers of the Dewey Decimal system until the eighties, when budgets cut-backs started to hit libraries in ways they weren’t used to being attacked. Many libraries were forced to curtail their purchasing of actual books.

. . . .

The company was given a brief respite with the advent and popularization of that selfsame Internet when started using Kirkus Reviews for their book listings. Unfortunately for Kirkus, that revenue stream dried up in the early years of the 21st century. From what I can determine, Kirkus had a penchant for making bad reviews for books. And I don’t mean “bad” as in “Your book bites so hard that it makes Twilight look like A Farewell to Arms!” The problem was that many of the reviews were barely more than plot summaries with a line of two of somewhat vague praise or condemnation – not much for anyone to use for promotion and hardly anything for a reader to use to when thinking about purchasing a book.

. . . .

The company struggled along with fading ad revenues until 2009, when with some fanfare,Kirkus Reviews closed their doors. That’s an important point to consider: Kirkus Reviews, as it exists now in this space-time continuum, is not really the 80-year-old entity that it claims to be on its website. The current Kirkus Reviews rose from the ashes like a cash-hopeful phoenix in 2010. The company’s barely four years old.

Kirkus’ rates for reviews of independently/self-published books are what usually have people up in arms. We all know now, from that li’l talk a few weeks ago with Ms. Schechner, that Kirkus does NOT charge traditional publishers for reviews. Ms. Schechner said that they get free reviews because of their subscriptions to, and the advertising they purchase in, the Kirkus Reviews magazine.

. . . .

A subscription to the digital and print editions of Kirkus Reviews magazine for US publishers runs $199 a year. The magazine currently comes out twice a month.

Kirkus has stated that it reviews around 7,000 traditionally published books and about 3,000 self-published books annually.

. . . .

So 3,000 [self-published] books get reviewed, at a cost of $425 for each review (for this example, we’re not going to worry about the expedited costs). That means from self-published books, Kirkus has made $1,275,000.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

PG says Old Kirkus had some credibility. In his unflinchingly humble opinion, for indies, New Kirkus is pretty much a vanity review publisher.

The article in Indies Unlimited estimates Kirkus has a circulation of about 3,000. That’s fewer people than come to The Passive Voice on most days.

Maybe PG needs to start a vanity snark service.

No, he’s not sure exactly how it would work.

But prices would start at a very reasonable $2500 for the bronze package.

Court to Yelp: Reveal names of negative reviewers

11 January 2014

From The Washington Times:

In a decision that could reshape the rules for online consumer reviews, a Virginia court has ruled that the popular website Yelp must turn over the names of seven reviewers who anonymously criticized a prominent local carpet cleaning business.

The case revolves around negative feedback against Virginia-based Hadeed Carpet Cleaning. The owner, Joe Hadeed, said the users leaving bad reviews were not real customers of the cleaning service — something that would violate Yelp’s terms of service. His attorneys issued a subpoena demanding the names of seven anonymous reviewers, and a judge in Alexandria ruled that Yelp had to comply.

. . . .

The Virginia Court of Appeals agreed this week, ruling that the comments were not protected First Amendment opinions if the Yelp users were not customers and thus were making false claims.

. . . .

Mr. Hadeed, who deferred comment to his attorney, said in court documents that he believed most of the critiques — many of which complained about unfair business practices and deceptive advertising — were coming from a small number of users who were creating fake accounts to post multiple reviews.

. . . .

In a 25-page majority opinion, Judge William G. Petty said, “Generally, a Yelp review is entitled to First Amendment protection because it is a person’s opinion about a business that they patronized.

“The anonymous speaker has the right to express himself on the Internet without the fear that his veil of anonymity will be pierced for no other reason than because another person disagrees with him,” Judge Petty wrote.

However, the court said that First Amendment rights do not cover deliberately false statements and agreed that Mr. Hadeed provided sufficient reason to think the users might not have been customers.

If “the reviewer was never a customer of the business, then the review is not an opinion; instead, the review is based on a false statement” and not subject to First Amendment protection, the opinion stated.

Link to the rest at The Washington Times and thanks to Barb for the tip.

Is reading reviews a huge mistake?

6 January 2014

From Venture Galleries:

I’m reading 419 by Will Ferguson—a powerful story, well told, with turns of phrase that delight.

Storms without rain. Winds without water. She woke, and when she sat up, the dust fountained off her and the voice that accompanied her once again stirred, once again whispered, “Get up. Keep walking. Don’t stop.

Vivid imagery abounds.

Zuma rock denoted not only the traditional geographical centre of Nigeria-the “navel of the nation” as it was known-but also the border between the sha’ria states of the north and the Christian states of the sough. Zuma rose up, rounded and sudden, on striated cliffs etched by a thousand years of rainfall and erosion. The ridges carved down its sides were the sort of lines that might be left by acid or tears.”

. . . .

The narrative makes me cringe and cry. I know this is a book I will read more than once.

I email my young Nigerian friend to tell him about the novel. He responds:

“ 419 – an internet scam organized by Nigerian scammers (aliases: Yahoo Boys, G-Boys). 419 is an alias that dates back to the past (I believe 1994-1997) in Nigeria, when innocent people, mainly teenagers, were repeatedly abducted and killed.

. . . .

I’m about three quarters of the way through the book at this point and the urge to learn more about Ferguson’s research can no longer be ignored. Googling proves to be a huge mistake. The first items that come up are reviews from highly respected sources, and while they have some good things to say and certainly don’t lambaste the book, they do contain enough negative comments to diminish my pleasure in the reading and cause a rather sour feeling.

. . . .

Sitting now, writing this, I wonder if I should stop writing reviews. Am I guilty of spoiling another’s enjoyment, of perhaps causing someone, because of my arrogance, to dismiss a novel without even giving it a chance? Conversely, does a review I write of a book I love convince a reader to pick up that book only to find that it doesn’t work for them? What makes me think I can or should pass judgment for another reader?

But the author in me craves reviews. They’re our “word of mouth” and vital to marketing. If we’re to have sales at all, we need people talking about our books, reviewing them, recommending them to fellow readers.

Link to the rest at Venture Galleries and thanks to Randall for the tip.

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