Social Media

‘Am I being catfished?’ An author confronts her number one online critic

18 October 2014

From The Guardian:

In the months before my first novel came out, I was a charmless lunatic – the type that other lunatics cross the street to avoid. I fidgeted and talked to myself, rewriting passages of a book that had already gone to print. I remember when my editor handed me the final copy: I held the book in my hands for a millisecond before grabbing a pen and scribbling edits in the margins.

“No,” she said firmly, taking the pen away. “Kathleen, you understand we can’t make any more changes, right?”

“I was just kidding,” I lied. Eventually she had to physically prise the book from my hands.

A lot of authors call this “the post-partum stage”, as if the book is a baby they struggle to feel happy about. But for me, it felt more like one of my body parts was about to be showcased.

“Are you excited about your novel?” my mom asked, repeatedly, often in singsong.

“I’m scared,” I said. Anxious and inexperienced, I began checkinggoodreads.com, a social reviewing site owned by Amazon. My publisher HarperTeen had sent advance copies of my book to bloggers and I wanted to see what they thought. Other authors warned me not to do this, but I didn’t listen. Soon, my daily visits tallied somewhere between “slightly-more-than-is-attractive-to-admit-here” and “infinity”.

For the most part, I found Goodreaders were awarding my novel one star or five stars, with nothing in between. “Well, it’s a weird book,” I reminded myself. “It’s about a girl with PTSD teaming up with a veteran to fight crime.” Mostly I was relieved they weren’t all one-star reviews.

One day, while deleting and rewriting the same tweet over and over (my editors had urged me to build a “web presence”), a tiny avatar popped up on my screen. She was young, tanned and attractive, with dark hair and a bright smile. Her Twitter profile said she was a book blogger who tweeted nonstop between 6pm and midnight, usually about the TV show Gossip Girl. According to her blogger profile, she was a 10th-grade teacher, wife and mother of two. Her name was Blythe Harris. She had tweeted me saying she had some ideas for my next book.

. . . .

Curious to see if Blythe had read my book, I clicked from her Twitter through her blog and her Goodreads page. She had given it one star. “Meh,” I thought. I scrolled down her review.

. . . .

“I think this book is awfully written and offensive; its execution in regards to all aspects is horrible and honestly, nonexistent.”

Blythe went on to warn other readers that my characters were rape apologists and slut-shamers. She accused my book of mocking everything from domestic abuse to PTSD. “I can say with utmost certainty that this is one of the worst books I’ve read this year,” she said, “maybe my life.”

Other commenters joined in to say they’d been thinking of reading my book, but now wouldn’t. Or they’d liked it, but could see where Blythe was coming from, and would reduce their ratings.

“Rape is brushed off as if it is nothing,” Blythe explained to one commenter. “PTSD is referred to insensitively; domestic abuse is the punch line of a joke, as is mental illness.”

“But there isn’t rape in my book,” I thought. I racked my brain, trying to see where I had gone wrong.

. . . .

After listening to me yammer on about the Goodreads review, my mother sent me a link to a website called stopthegrbullies.com, or STGRB. Blythe appeared on a page called Badly Behaving Goodreaders, an allusion to Badly Behaving Authors. BBAs, Athena Parker, a co-founder of STGRB, told me, are “usually authors who [have] unknowingly broken some ‘rule’”. Once an author is labelled a BBA, his or her book is unofficially blacklisted by the book-blogging community.

. . . .

“Blythe was involved in an [online] attack on a 14-year-old girl back in May 2012,” Parker said. The teenager had written a glowing review of a book Blythe hated, obliquely referencing Blythe’s hatred for it: “Dear Haters,” the review read. “Everyone has his or her own personal opinion, but expressing that through profanity is not the answer. Supposedly, this person is an English teacher at a middle school near where I lived… People can get hurt,” the review concluded.

In response, Blythe rallied her followers.

. . . .

It turned out that Parker and her co-founders were not the only ones to have run into trouble with Blythe. An editor friend encouraged me to get in touch with other authors she knew who had been negatively reviewed by her. Only one agreed to talk, under condition of anonymity.

I’ll call her Patricia Winston.

“You know her, too?” I Gchatted Patricia.

She responded – “Omg” – and immediately took our conversation off the record.

“DO NOT ENGAGE,” she implored me. “You’ll make yourself look bad, and she’ll ruin you.”

. . . .

In the following weeks, Blythe’s vitriol continued to create a ripple effect: every time someone admitted to having liked my book on Goodreads, they included a caveat that referenced her review. The ones who truly loathed it tweeted reviews at me. It got to the point where my mild-mannered mother (also checking on my book’s status) wanted to run a background check on Blythe. “Who are these people?” she asked. She had accidentally followed one of my detractors on Twitter – “I didn’t know the button!” she yelled down the phone – and was now having to deal with cyberbullying of her own. (“Fine, I’ll get off the Twitter,” she said. “But I really don’t like these people.”)

That same day, Blythe began tweeting in tandem with me, ridiculing everything I said.

. . . .

Why do hecklers heckle? Recent studies have had dark things to say about abusive internet commenters – a University of Manitoba report suggested they share traits with child molesters and serial killers. The more I wondered about Blythe, the more I was reminded of something Sarah Silverman said in an article for Entertainment Weekly: “A guy once just yelled, ‘Me!’ in the middle of my set. It was amazing. This guy’s heckle directly equalled its heartbreaking subtext – ‘Me!’” Silverman, an avid fan of Howard Stern, went on to describe a poignant moment she remembers from listening to his radio show: one of the many callers who turns out to be an a******* is about to be hung up on when, just before the line goes dead, he blurts out, in a crazed, stuttering voice, “I exist!”

. . . .

Over the next few months, my book came out, I got distracted by life and managed to stay off Goodreads. Then a book club wanted an interview, and suggested I pick a blogger to do it.

“Blythe Harris,” I wrote back. I knew tons of nice bloggers, but I still longed to engage with Blythe directly.

The book club explained that it was common for authors to do “giveaways” in conjunction with the interview, and asked if I could sign some books. I agreed, and they forwarded me Blythe’s address.

The exterior of the house that showed up on Google maps looked thousands of square feet too small for the interiors Blythe had posted on Instagram. According to the telephone directory and recent census reports, nobody named Blythe Harris lived there. The address belonged to someone I’ll call Judy Donofrio who, according to an internet background check ($19), was 46 – not 27, as Blythe was – and worked as vice-president of a company that authorises disability claims.

It looked as if I had been taken in by someone using a fake identity. I Gchatted Patricia: “I think we’ve been catfished?”

Patricia asked how I could be sure Judy D wasn’t merely renting to Blythe H? I had to admit it seemed unlikely that I might be right: why would someone who sells disability insurance pose as a teacher online?

“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Sarah said, sending me a car rental link. “Go talk to her.”

“DO NOT DO THIS,” Patricia cautioned me.

“You don’t want to talk to her?” I responded.

“NO STOP IT HOW DO YOU EVEN KNOW YOU’RE RIGHT?”

“I don’t.” I opened a new tab to book a car.

. . . .

As my car rental date approached, I thought it might be helpful to get some expert advice about meeting a catfish in person. So I telephoned Nev Schulman, subject of the 2010 hit Catfish, the documentary that coined the term. He now hosts and produces the MTV programme Catfish, in which he helps people confront their long-distance internet boyfriends, girlfriends and enemies – almost 100% of whom end up being fakes. Maybe, I thought, he could help me, too.

“Of all the catfish I’ve confronted, there was only one I didn’t tell I was coming,” Schulman said cagily, apparently shocked by my plan to go unannounced. Nonetheless, he had some tips: “This is a woman who is used to sitting behind her computer and saying whatever she wants with very little accountability. Even if she hears from people she criticises, she doesn’t have to look them in the face. She doesn’t know she hurt your feelings, and she doesn’t really care.”

“How did you know that she hurt my feelings?”

“Because you’re going to her house.”

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

The World of Publishing: 1991 vs. 2014

17 October 2014

From author Karen Karbo via PowellsBooks.Blog:

The Diamond Lane, published in May 1991, was my second novel, and what is most striking about the difference between the publishing process 23 years ago and now is not that the book was written on a Kaypro, Xeroxed at Kinko’s, and sent overnight in a FedEx box to G. P. Putnam’s Sons, but that after the manuscript was accepted and given a pub date, I asked my esteemed editor, “What should I do now?” and she said, “Just write the next one.”

. . . .

That said, in 1991, the main job of a writer was to just write the next one. Publicity-wise, you were expected to be able to show up to a reading (arranged by your more charming publicist) and read from your own work in a manner that didn’t put people to sleep. You were expected to be socially awkward, possibly unkempt, and a little wild-eyed — bonus points awarded for not being falling down drunk.You were expected to be socially awkward, possibly unkempt, and a little wild-eyed — bonus points awarded for not being falling down drunk. After your book tour, whether large or small, you were expected to disappear into your scribe-cave.

. . . .

[W]riters are outsiders, and usually not by their own choosing. It’s whythey’re writers. If they didn’t feel alienated from human experience, they wouldn’t feel so drawn to writing to make sense of their lives. It’s not the outsider’s facility for language that makes her a writer — many a student body president or homecoming queen can turn a phrase — but her ability to howl at the moon, on the page. To bring all his anguish, anger, sense of injustice, and loneliness to his work. This is true even for those of us who’ve been accused of being funny; in my case I wasn’t invited to the party, and was also the smart aleck at the back of the classroom.

In 2014, the landscape of a writer’s life is so different as to be unrecognizable. Every writer, whether legacy or self-published, is expected to be capable of launching a sophisticated, far-ranging, full-throttle, buzz-generating, platform-building, unending branding extravaganza. To do this, you must be charismatic, witty, attractive, selfiegenic, while also possessing the marketing chops of the team who rolled out the iPod, thus saving Apple from impending bankruptcy.

That the time-consuming, solitary indwelling required to build a world in your head and put it on paper and the zippity-do-dah extroverted glad-handing required to be a successful promoter of, well, anything rarely exist inside the same human being is immaterial. Publishers have always wanted to sell books, but historically they’ve tended to acquire books they believed they could sell; now we’ve entered an age where they acquire books which they believe the writer can sell. It’s a little like signing a player to the NBA based on his marketing plan to boost concession stand sales during half-time, and incidentally, his field goal percentage.

Link to the rest at PowellsBooks.Blog and thanks to Ron for the tip.

Here’s a link to Karen Karbo’s books

It’s the post-season. Baseball is everything.

7 October 2014

Good for future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter:

Derek Jeter is among the most media-savvy athletes on the planet, but he says it came through trial and error.

“I think you learn through experience,” he told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday, three days after he finished his 20th and final season with the New York Yankees. “I’ve made my fair share of mistakes with the media.”

Jeter is hoping to help other athletes avoid those mistakes — and get out their own “unfiltered” stories — with the launch of The Players Tribune website (www.theplayerstribune.com). His site, which went live Wednesday, promises unique access to top athletes in every sport — from videos to photos to podcasts and more — in their own words.

“You want players to feel like this is a safe place where they can get their message across how they want to portray it,” the former shortstop said.

Thursday morning, the Players Tribune introduced Seatlle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson as its new senior editor.

Read the rest here: ESPN

By the way, a most magnificent cover:

Jeter

Julia

150,000 Comments

29 September 2014

The Passive Voice has passed an important milestone today. As of a few minutes ago, visitors to the blog have contributed 150,000 comments.

Passive Guy has often said that the comments are the best part of the blog and he thanks each and every person who has contributed a thought, a question, a bit of snark, etc.

Crowdsourced editing: e-publishing’s next frontier

29 September 2014

From The Guardian:

Publishing is an increasingly crowded field. This summer Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake became the first crowdfunded book to make it, via Unbound, on to the Booker longlist. Some publishers are crowdsourcing their slush piles: Swoon Reads, a YA imprint, lets readers vote on which manuscripts should get book deals.

Now, a publishing startup has entered a new frontier: crowdsourced editing. Advance Editions aims to “make good books better” by drawing on the wisdom, knowledge and proofreading skills of readers around the world.

An Advance Editions title is professionally edited before being soft-launched as a low-cost ebook, with the first half available to download free. Readers are then invited to suggest ways the author could improve the book, before it is finally published a few months later in ebook and print versions.

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

When Blogging Becomes a Slog

25 September 2014

From The New York Times:

It started so innocently.

Earlier this month, John and Sherry Petersik, the husband-and-wife duo behind the hugely popular home-renovation blog Young House Love, apologized to their readers for not writing their regular Thursday post, and asked how they felt about shorter posts when “we can’t write something juicy.”

The casual visitor to Young House Love would hardly have noticed a lack of industriousness. The Petersiks, who are in their early 30s and live in Richmond, Va., have bought and renovated three homes in the last eight years, each project bigger than the last, while also publishing a best-selling how-to book, designing a line of wall hooks sold by Target, decorating an entire show house, having two children and blogging, tweeting and Instagramming every last detail of it.

. . . .

 But some loyal readers had lately noticed a decrease in quantity and quality. There were more product giveaways, fewer in-depth tutorials. The Petersiks’ trademark gung-ho enthusiasm seemed forced. And since the birth of their second child, Teddy, in April, they were increasingly voicing their difficulty in balancing work and family.

. . . .

 After absorbing the criticism, the couple responded in a post titled “Feeeeeelings,” in which they confessed to “feeling off for a while” and missing the days when “we did this for the love.” Although they had scaled back outside projects to recommit to the blog, they were unable to shake the sense of “letting you guys down repeatedly.” They had decided to step away from Young House Love for an indeterminate period and explore other career options. The unexpected announcement has generated more than 4,000 comments so far.

The Petersiks declined to be interviewed for this article; Ms. Petersik responded in an email that “we really would like to clear our heads and refocus.” But they are not alone in their experience. Blogger burnout seems to be something that many of their colleagues in the world of home and D.I.Y. blogs, most of them in their 20s and early 30s, can relate to as well.

Is the first generation of design bloggers aging out of the blogosphere? Or is this just a new twist on an old business story, updated for the Internet age?

Pam Kueber, the midcentury design expert behind the blog Retro Renovation, is 55, and she sees the Petersiks’ escalating stress levels and unhappiness simply as evidence of the latter: A passion turns into a hobby, which becomes a full-time career. “And in some predictable period of time, it consumes your life and sucks the joy out if it,” said Ms. Kueber, finishing the arc. “That last part of the Shakespearean tragedy is what you have to be mindful of not letting happen.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Des for the tip.

Should any have a question in their minds, PG doesn’t feel burned out or close to it. He thinks his style of blogging is less taxing than running a blog with nothing but original content.

Blessing Or Curse? The Modern Writer’s Dilemma

25 September 2014

From Janice Hardy’s Fiction University:

The conventional wisdom today is that every author—and especially the self-published author— needs a strong social media presence.

This core assumption is reinforced by agents, publishers, publicists, and other authors. Some agents won’t even take on a new client unless that writer has a Facebook following of at least 500 and a Twitter following in excess of 5,000. At minimum, you also need a website; but you should also blog, guest blog, and have a Pinterest page for your each of your books, right?

And of course you need to interact with your readers, even if they’re onlypotential readers, and respond to them on each of the platforms you’re active on. Even if it takes time—hours every day—away from your writing, maintaining a strong online presence is something no writer can ignore. Because it’s all about community, right?

I’m not convinced. In fact, I think it’s hogwash.

. . . .

I submit that what a writer actually needs is:

  • To write more
  • Readers
  • A way to let that readership know what books they’ve written and where to find them in the reader’s preferred format
  • The ability to let readers know about new or upcoming releases

Look at your own reading habits. Like me, you probably have favorite authors whose new novels you buy as soon as they release, right? But do you feel a burning need to interact with each of those authors? Would you stop reading them if they didn’t have a Facebook page or Twitter feed you could follow? If you didn’t know about their cats, their family life, and their thoughts on the state of the world?

. . . .

But you do want your readers to know the moment your next book appears.

Link to the rest at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University and thanks to Deb for the tip.

The Hardest Post… As goes the publishing world, so goes the blog

22 September 2014

From author and TPV regular Julia Barrett:

After six years, I’m done. The publishing world has changed, we all know it. So has the world of blogging.

Once upon a time, as recently as 2-3 years ago, a blog was crucial for outreach, for getting to know readers and other authors. Blogging meant putting oneself out there. No more.

Readers find books and authors via other algorithms. Via Amazon and Goodreads and who knows where. There is far less interest in the individual thoughts of individual authors like me.

I’ve loved this blog. It is precious to me. I’ve loved interacting with my readers and my friends. I will miss writing posts and reading your comments. But it’s time to make a change. And change is good. I’ll have more time to write regular old books.

Link to the rest at Julia Barrett

Here’s a link to Julia Barrett’s books

Image Management

21 September 2014

From author Drew Hayes:

The simple truth of the digital age is that, when you create and exist online, you are a persona that is tied to your work. I’ve had several fellow authors bemoan the fact that they had to manage so many social media accounts (a lot of writers are introverts, so interaction tires them out), but the fact of the matter is it’s necessary. It’s become the expectation for us to interact, to put ourselves out there, no matter how small of potatoes we may be. I’m as guilty of it as any of us, I’ve found myself genuinely confused when authors I liked weren’t on twitter, and I’ve written whole blogs about the importance of making yourself reachable as an author.

So, what does all of this really mean? It means that once you put work out there: books, art, comics, videos, any of it; you have reached a point where you need to be at least vaguely aware of image management.

. . . .

Be Honest

This is the most basic, core tenant I think I can pass on. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not, or your social media existence will turn into another job. No one can fake being anything for that long without getting drained, and honestly there’s no reason you should.

I’m not saying you have to talk about everything (we’ll cover that in a moment) but you should at least feel comfortable being you.

. . . .

Be Discreet

Here is where I flip things over slightly. Being on the internet is like baking, you want to be really careful what you add, because once it’s in you can never truly take it out. You should certainly be honest online, I still stand by that, but that doesn’t mean you need to put out every part of your life for public consumption.

. . . .

Be A Person

I’ll be honest; I’ve unfollowed/hidden other writers, even ones I was partial to, because all they did was post links to their work. I’m not alone in that, either. Many of my net-friends have expressed similar sentiments. More than anything, it’s disappointing when you see someone whose entire image is just their body of work. It feels like trying to shake the hand of a cardboard cutout.

Link to the rest at Drew Hayes and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Here’s a link to Drew Hayes’ books

It’s not just journalists — for better or worse, design plays a key role in how we get our news

15 September 2014

From GigaOm:

Among its other disruptive influences, the rise of the web has caused journalism to become detached from the physical objects it used to be embedded in, whether that was a newspaper, magazine or book. Information flows over us like a river now, instead of being chopped up and frozen in time. And that means more than just an aesthetic change in how we consume the news — it means that the apps and devices and platforms we use play an increasingly large role in how we get our information, and therefore so does the design of those services.

. . . .

[J]ournalists definitely have an obligation or a duty to choose and tell stories ethically, but they are no longer the only ones that have that responsibility:

Today, press ethics are intertwined with platform design ethics, and press freedom is shared with software designers. The people at Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, Pulse and elsewhere have a new and significant role in how news circulates and what we see on our screens. We’re only just beginning to understand how these companies’ algorithms work and why they matter to the editorial calculations shaping today’s news.

. . . .

[O]ne of the players at the center of this debate is Facebook, since the massive social platform is a source of news for a large number of users — and therefore the algorithms it uses, and the design choices it makes, have a powerful influence on what news users either see or don’t see. The contrast between a filtered and an unfiltered view of the world was brought home during the recent civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo., when Twitter users got a real-time flow of news that many users of Facebook missed out on completely.

Is that Facebook’s fault? Does it have some duty or obligation to deliver the news in an ethical or responsible way, like the newspapers it has said it wants to emulate?

Link to the rest at GigaOm and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

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