Social Media

Small Empires: can Wattpad’s DIY writing empire survive an invasion by Amazon?

19 November 2014

From The Verge:

When venture capitalists are considering whether or not to invest in a startup, there’s a stock question many will ask the founder: What would you do if Google decided to enter your business? You could swap the name of any tech titan — Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon — into that query. The bigger picture is figuring out whether the thing you’re building is a unique and defensible business or just a cool feature these companies haven’t bothered to focus on yet.

This hypothetical challenge has just become a reality for Wattpad, a Toronto startup that has built a community of writers and readers creating millions of new stories each month. Amazon jumped into the game last month with the debut of WriteOn, a service offering the same mix of author tools and a readership composed of the huge audience already using Amazon for ebooks.

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Facebook to Clean Up News Feeds

17 November 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

Facebook Inc. users can expect fewer marketing pitches in their news feed next year.

The social network said Friday it is changing the formula that controls the news feed to reduce advertising-like promotional material from companies.

The changes will take effect in early January. The new formula won’t reduce the number of paid advertisements users see.

. . . .

Facebook has long offered corporations with Facebook pages an opportunity to create the equivalent of free ads, through promotional posts that would be seen by the company’s Facebook fans.

For the past several years, some companies have complained that fewer fans are seeing these posts. Until now, Facebook has said it favors “high-quality” content in the news feed, but denied specifically altering the news-feed algorithm to downplay promotional posts. Facebook also said users’ news feeds have become more crowded as more users create more posts.

Friday’s announcement means companies will get even less mileage from unpaid Facebook posts. Organizations that post promotional messages “should expect their organic distribution to fall significantly over time,” Facebook said in a statement.

Facebook is telling companies, “if you really, really want to reach these people you have to pay for it,” said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at research firm Altimeter Group.

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

Amazon Won’t Be Earth’s Biggest Bookstore. Facebook Will.

17 November 2014

From Bloomberg:

The Amazon-Hachette battle is over, to what seems like relief for publishers. Hachette seems to have gotten its most important demand: Keeping Amazon from sending prices of all its books down to $9.99. Hachette’s victory looked to be in the cards for a while. Amazon.com had a corporate blog making its case. Hachette had its writers. Wars of words are pretty much the only conflicts in which writers shine.

The conventional take on this war is that publishers are fighting for their lives in the face of Amazon’s relentless drive to cut prices. First, the thinking goes, Amazon cuts the prices. Then it cuts the publishers’ share. Next it cuts the publisher.

Only problem here: It doesn’t look so certain now that the publisher gets cut out of the equation. Consider whether, not immediately but five or 10 years from now, the one who gets cut out is … Amazon.

. . . .

Now the number of e-books sold is up while the total revenue has stayed flat — exactly the price squeeze scenario that folks worried about. So the old book business is well and truly disrupted as they say in Silicon Valley, and Apple still sits atop the heap as a hugely dominant player.

So what’s left to disrupt here? Oh, right: The e-book business. In seven years e-books have gone from essentially zero to a $3 billion business. In that time we’ve gone from dedicated reading devices, to iPad, to reading apps on every phone.

. . . .

Meanwhile the media business is now getting turned upside down by social media. News sites used to think they were competing to be your morning first-read front page. That competition is largely over. The Internet’s front-page, at least for a huge number of people is Facebook. That’s where information and entertainment gets advertised, talked about, and passed around.

The natural evolution of this is that Facebook and any social platforms that succeed it are where books ultimately will be sold. All the barriers to that are quickly falling down. At the beginning of the e-book era, e-books were tied to a specific device, your Kindle. Now they are tied to a retailer, Amazon. It’s become more and more clear that neither of those is really necessary. Lots of companies now can easily create the infrastructure to store, sell and deliver books to your app.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg and thanks to Caro for the tip.

PG says Facebook tends to evolve in a manner that chases him away. Amazon has never done that.

A good subscription for the ebook industry: Making books social

3 November 2014

From IT ProPortal:

The music, film and TV industries have all undergone radical transformations over the last fifteen years. In contrast, the publishing industry is only now feeling the full force of technological change.

Ebooks and ereaders are changing consumers’ reading habits and throwing up serious questions about how the industry can go forward on a sustainable footing. Major players in the music industry eventually solved their own sustainability issues by embracing change and incorporating subscription-based services in their business models. However, ebooks pose different problems. Subscription services alone particularly in emerging markets where content piracy is rife, do not seem viable. The magic bullet could be ‘social’.

In emerging markets subscription-based, or indeed any form of payment model has struggled to take off for companies producing media-rich content. Piracy is rife and compounded by cultural attitudes that generally regard content as something that should be free. Put simply, many people in countries like Russia don’t feel like they should pay for ebooks, digital music or TV media. This was the acute challenge that faced us when we started Bookmate in Moscow. Our solution was to build a sticky social layer with features like author pages and book playlists, coupled with access to ebooks via subscription on their phones. We found consumers became much more willing to pay as they came in search of a book on Bookmate but stayed for the all the other features.

But why are social features so appealing to ebook consumers? By integrating a user’s social network accounts, their reading is shared through several different and complimentary networks. This leads to exponential growth, as a book is shared, commented upon and recommended across several networks all at once. Research by Shoutly, a monetisation platform for the social web, revealed that a friend’s recommendation on social media is the most influential factor when buying software or ebooks, much more influential than an advert on TV or in online search results.

Link to the rest at IT ProPortal

Facebook Offers Life Raft, but Publishers Are Wary

28 October 2014

From The New York Times:

For publishers, Facebook is a bit like that big dog galloping toward you in the park. More often than not, it’s hard to tell whether he wants to play with you or eat you.

The social network now has over 1.3 billion users — a fifth of the planet’s population and has become a force in publishing because of its News Feed, which has been increasingly fine-tuned to feature high-quality content, the kind media companies produce.

. . . .

For traditional publishers, the home page may soon become akin to the print edition — nice to have, but not the primary attraction. In the last few months, more than half the visitors to The New York Times have come via mobile — the figure increases with each passing month — and that percentage is higher for many other publishers.

. . . .

Loading publishers’ web pages on a mobile device can be maddening, slowed by advertising that goes out for auction when readers click. So while Facebook loves the content, it hates the clunky technology many publishers use for mobile. When it comes to the impatient hordes on phones, speed matters above all else.

I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago and bumped into an executive who works in mobile at Facebook. He wasn’t speaking for attribution, but he derided the approach that traditional publishers take to mobile devices, saying it made for an unpleasant user experience, hurt user engagement and crippled their efforts to make money in a smartphone world.

Facebook hopes it has a fix for all that. The company has been on something of a listening tour with publishers, discussing better ways to collaborate. The social network has been eager to help publishers do a better job of servicing readers in the News Feed, including improving their approach to mobile in a variety of ways. One possibility it mentioned was for publishers to simply send pages to Facebook that would live inside the social network’s mobile app and be hosted by its servers; that way, they would load quickly with ads that Facebook sells. The revenue would be shared.

That kind of wholesale transfer of content sends a cold, dark chill down the collective spine of publishers, both traditional and digital insurgents alike. If Facebook’s mobile app hosted publishers’ pages, the relationship with customers, most of the data about what they did and the reading experience would all belong to the platform. Media companies would essentially be serfs in a kingdom that Facebook owns.

. . . .

It’s not that Facebook has a reputation for extracting vengeance, so far as I know; it’s just that the company has become the No. 1 source of traffic for many digital publishers. Yes, search from Google still creates inbound interest, and Twitter can spark attention, especially among media types, but when it comes to sheer tonnage of eyeballs, nothing rivals Facebook.

“The traffic they send is astounding and it’s been great that they have made an effort to reach out and boost quality content,” said one digital publishing executive, who declined to be identified so as not to ruffle the feathers of the golden goose. “But all any of us are talking about is when the other shoe might drop.”

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

PG says it’s not just book publishers that are concerned with tech giants. New York content vs. West Coast tech is a recurring story. Since Bezos owns The Washington Post maybe Mark Zuckerberg should buy The New York Times.

Websites with reader inputs offer new ways for writers to get their works out

28 October 2014

From The Straits Times:

I recently read an article in The Financial Times in which a columnist lamented how the half-year royalties of his book amounted to only £257.20 (S$528), or 39p a book.

“Only fools ever wrote books to get rich, but today very few authors can even live off them,” Simon Kuper added.

I consider myself forewarned. After all, the bad news has been steadily trickling in since I started working on a collection of short stories earlier this year: Too many writers are scrabbling for too few slices of the same pie, locked in battle with Amazon.com and unable to afford their proverbial wood sheds any more with sky-rocketing rents.

Yet, call me an optimistic egghead, but I feel that these are exciting times to be an aspiring author. Consider these attempts to break out of the traditional author-literary agent-publisher road to getting your book into stores:

  • Earlier this month, not-every-author’s-favourite online retail giant Amazon officially announced Kindle Scout, which allows writers of science fiction, mystery, thriller or romance to submit their completed manuscripts, which are then rated by Amazon customers. Top-rated authors chosen by Kindle Press for publication receive a US$1,500 (S$1,900) advance and 50 per cent of e-book royalties in five-year renewable terms.

. . . .

  • This year, English author Paul Kingsnorth’s debut novel The Wake became the first crowdfunded novel to make it onto the Man Booker longlist. He had posted his book project on the Unbound literary crowdfunding website, where supporters pledged sums varying from £5 to £300 to get the manuscript published, marketed and distributed. Launched in 2011, Unbound has successfully funded more than 65 books and published about 40. Investors in book projects can get returns ranging from first editions to the right to name characters to champagne lunches with the author. The hook? That the book you read would not have existed without you.

. . . .

In Singapore, publisher Edmund Wee notes, it remains a big question “whether online support from potential readers will translate into sales”. Wee, who is the managing and creative director of indie publisher Epigram, cites the example of a Singapore writer who garnered more than 1,700 “Likes” on Facebook for a short story collection, but did not see similar brisk demand for a 1,000 print run.

. . . .

Singaporean author Felix Cheong says he crowdsourced for opinions while writing his upcoming second volume of Singapore Siu Dai stories, slated to launch next month. He posted the stories as flash fiction on his Facebook status updates and used “Likes” and comments to gauge if they worked. “But I also know when a story has a message to convey, but may not resonate with people,” says the 49-year-old.

“I will still include it in my book because it’s creatively what I have to say and not because I want to please my reader.”

Admittedly, it took me a while to wrap my head around literature without professional editors as bastions of good taste and gatekeepers of the slush pile, but as a democratic product. Would an increasing reliance on crowdsourcing in publishing lead to an American Idol effect, in which the true geniuses are weeded out, leaving us with popular mediocrity?

. . . .

What the crowdsourcing trend means is that readers can stop relying on bestseller lists to tell them what to read.

. . . .

Why should selecting a book remain such a prosaic process? With the music industry already embracing the fact that traditional talent-scouting, production and delivery methods no longer cut it in a world of YouTube and Spotify, it is high time the book trade and readers throw themselves into this adventure too.

Link to the rest at The Straits Times and thanks to Eustacia for the tip.

Over the past few months, PG has noted an uptick in the number of non-US stories about authors bypassing publishers.

Don’t Attack Reviewers

28 October 2014

From Ruthless Culture:

Last weekend, the Guardian published an astonishing piece by Kathleen Hale about her experiences tracking down someone who spoke ill of her and her books online. According to Hale, the negative reviews spiralled out into a more generalised form of online vitriol that motivated Hale to trace her reviewer’s real identity, travel to confront them and then write an article about it in the Guardian that paints Hale as the (moderately self-critical) victim of things like ‘trolling’ and ‘catfishing’ rather than a petulant and intimidating online presence. Anyone who has published a negative review online will read this article and shiver, particularly at the manner in which Hale presents the silencing of her critic as a signifier for personal growth:

I’m told Blythe still blogs and posts on Goodreads; Patricia tells me she still live    tweets Gossip Girl. In some ways I’m grateful to Judy, or whoever is posing as Blythe, for making her Twitter and Instagram private, because it has helped me drop that obsessive part of my daily routine. Although, like anyone with a tendency for low-grade insanity, I occasionally grow nostalgic for the thing that makes me nuts.

It’s nice that Kale was afforded the privilege of writing about her experiences in a venue as visible and respected as the Guardian and it’s nice that she was able to transform her defeated and diminished critics into stepping-stones on the road to personal self-improvement. I am genuinely glad that she is feeling better but the bulk of my sympathies still lie with her critic.

I feel quite close to this issue because, for the past ten years, I have been hanging out on the margins of science fiction fandom occasionally writing about books and commenting on the state of the field. In that time I have seen a partisan dislike for negative reviews of favourite books broaden into a more generalised taboo against negative reviewing and a related dissolution of the taboo against authors confronting their critics and responding to reviews. Given that Hale frames her encounters with critics in strictly psychological terms, I think it appropriate that I should begin by doing the same.

The first time I took a step back from genre culture was as a result of being stalked for daring to publish negative reviews. The stalking was limited to some creepy comments and a rather cack-handed attempt to run me out of town on a rail by posting a long diatribe in the comments of a number of widely-read blogs but It did give me pause for thought and a reason for cutting back on my reviewing.

. . . .

In February 2009, I reviewed Ellen Datlow’s anthology Poe for Strange Horizons. I liked some of the stories but not all of them and was largely unimpressed by the anthology as a whole. A few days later, the Hugo-winning editor Ellen Datlow appeared in the comments to take issue with things that I had said. She was later joined by the author Anna Tambour whose contributions make little sense even upon re-examination. Curious as to where these authors and editors were coming from, I backtracked and came across a discussion of the review on Datlow’s blog. I later commented in public about Datlow’s willingness to go after her critics and she responded by saying that she didn’t believe that I had actually read her work.

In hindsight, this type of stuff seems like weak beer. In the past five years, online discussion has grown considerably more hyperbolic and an editor linking to a negative review on their blog would most likely result in 110 comments rather than 11. However, I started reviewing under the principle that a reviewer’s right to express their opinion about a book was sacrosanct and when you realise that this right has suddenly been taken away it cannot help but make you feel alienated from your culture (am I *that* out of touch?) and just that little bit more careful when choosing which books to review (does this author have a history of going after their critics and do I think that my review might prompt such a response?).

. . . .

The changes in the social protocols surrounding reviewing show how the lack of distance between authors and fans has put fan spaces under pressure to conform to the requirements of the modern publishing industry: A literary culture built to meet the needs of fans naturally encourages robust criticism because robust criticism encourages fans to talk amongst themselves and a negative review is no bad thing (whether you agree with it or not) because it aims to prevent fans from spending money on books they won’t enjoy. Conversely, a literary culture built to meet the needs of literary professionals has no interest in protecting people from bad purchasing decisions. This type of literary culture emphasises not only positive reviews that help to sell (sometimes terrible and offensive) books but also coverage of the types of things that publishers want. Why encourage fans to find their own areas of interest when you can drive them towards the blogs of people who review the right type of book in the right type of way and at the right time? A literary culture built to suit the needs of literary professionals has no need for independent or idiosyncratic voices and absolutely no need for reviewers who dare to point out that the hot novel of the moment is a waste of money. However, a literary culture built to suit to needs of its bourgeois professionals may feel the need to set out a set of rules that the lower classes would be wise to follow, hence Robert Jackson Bennett laying down the law as to where and when it is acceptable for critics to express their own opinions:

In other words, when you leave your platform, your own personal space of the internet, and go to someone else’s, or even to a community platform, it requires a different code of behavior. This isn’t your space anymore, so you need to act differently. And remember, you’ve had your say back on your own platform. That’s the place to speak your mind.

What has changed in the last generation is that the book publishing industry has been bought out by corporations who see the literary world as nothing more than another domain from which to extract money. Thus, the infamously sloppy and old-fashioned publishing industry was put under pressure to perform and in order to perform, belts had to be tightened and resources squeezed including authors who could no longer be allowed to sit around writing when there was marketing to be done. I understand when people like Robert Jackson Bennett say that they’re feeling vulnerable and exposed but it is capitalism and not fans who put them in this position.

Many of the writers who are now compelled to interact with fans in fannish spaces were not members of those spaces prior to becoming authors. Having been told by agents and publishers to set up a Twitter account and get branding, they arrive in fannish spaces expecting the cultural equivalent of an eBay account: Put effort in here, extract money there. Brought to these spaces for entirely selfish reasons, it is not surprising that these authors should find themselves alienated from a set of cultural values devised and maintained by people intent upon using those spaces for different reasons. Faced with a disconnect from the cultural values they have and the cultural values that benefit them financially, some authors choose to either lobby for a new set of rules (as in the case of Robert Jackson Bennett) or lash out at reviewers (as in the case of Kathleen Hale and Ben Aaronovitch) who refuse to act according to the rules that many new authors were lead to expect by publishers who don’t have the time to promote the books they themselves chose to publish.

Link to the rest at Ruthless Culture and thanks to Laura for the tip.

#HaleNo, Blogger Blackout and the Non-Existent War

26 October 2014

From Bibliodaze:

A week has passed since author Kathleen Hale revealed her exploits as a stalker in the Guardian, misrepresenting crucial facts and painting a narrative that smeared a blogger who gave her a bad review as a notorious troll, and a lot has happened in the interim period. If you’re unfamiliar with what happened, our open letter to Hale and Guardian Books is here, but so much has been uncovered since then.

Details of Hale’s previous stalking became common knowledge thanks to an article she’d written detailing her sustained attack against a young woman who accused Hale’s mother of molestation. Said attack climaxed with Hale pouring peroxide over the young woman’s head.

. . . .

We also have tweets showing Hale’s excitement over getting the reviewer’s address from YA Reads, who organised the debut author tour both participated in. Screencaps show the full passive aggressive attacks she sent on Twitter regarding a 3 star review of the book that called out some problematic word choice. That 3 star review wasn’t by the woman she stalked (these screencaps can be found in Hurst’s post, linked above). We have a myriad of evidence that refutes Hale’s claim that Blythe Harris launched some kind of extensive bully blogger attack of her as well as a glaring lack of evidence that such attacks ever took place.

. . . .

Bloggers were justifiably angry, but they were also scared witless. This incident opened up the possibility that not only were we unsafe for participating in a mere hobby but that publishers may be complicit in these attacks. Harper Teen and Hale have since come out and said the publisher did not give out anyone’s address (Hale procured it through dishonest means by way of a blog tour, claiming she wanted to send Blythe a present) but the lack of action and condemnation from HarperCollins, especially with the revelation that Hale’s future mother-in-law is an executive editor there, did nothing to calm anyone’s concerns.

Hence #HaleNo.

The hashtag started shortly after HarperTeen tweeted Dear Author to comment that they had not given Harris’s address to Hale (the tag’s name was by Cuddlebuggery). Its aim was simple – book bloggers, a crucial part of marketing in the publishing ecosystem, would refuse to give Kathleen Hale any space on their respective sites. No book tours, no reviews, no cover reveals, to interviews, nothing that would benefit her. She didn’t respect bloggers and saw stalking as ‘investigative journalism’ so why should she be welcome on the blogs we’ve all worked so hard on? It quickly gained steam and even trended on Twitter for a short time. #AuthorYes quickly followed, allowing bloggers to express their gratitude to the authors who have condemned Hale’s actions, and there are many authors who have done so. Bloggers wanted action from HarperTeen, and so far none seems to have taken place, although we have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes.

The next step was the blogger blackout, which followed a similar pattern to #HaleNo. Many blogs will black out for a chosen period of time to take a stand. Some will black out entirely, others will simply show no content related to new releases. Much space will be given to pieces on blogger safety and issues crucial to the community. Every blogger participating, ourselves included, has taken the step they have deemed to be the right one for them. For us, that also included a full boycott of HarperTeen releases. We understand that this is a drastic step and we also fully understand why others are not going as far. It could be seen as unfair to other HarperTeen authors who have condemned Hale, and we are sympathetic to them. However, this is the right step for us. This is one small but active step we can make in order to take a stand. Only a handful of bloggers are doing this and we do not condemn those who are taking smaller steps. We’re all doing what we have to do.

Link to the rest at Bibliodaze

Since The Passive Voice doesn’t do book reviews, the Blogger Blackout won’t be relevant here.

However, PG suspects Ms. Hale did not give a thought to how social media works when she wrote her stalking article for The Guardian. Tweets come and goes, but a simple Google search on her name will turn up HaleNo mentions for a very long time.

Online Harassment

22 October 2014

Nothing to do with books, but something to do with online discussions that sometimes surround books.

From The Pew Internet Research Project:

Harassment—from garden-variety name calling to more threatening behavior— is a common part of online life that colors the experiences of many web users. Fully 73% of adult internet users have seen someone be harassed in some way online and 40% have personally experienced it, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

Pew Research asked respondents about six different forms of online harassment. Those who witnessed harassment said they had seen at least one of the following occur to others online:

  • 60% of internet users said they had witnessed someone being called offensive names
  • 53% had seen efforts to purposefully embarrass someone
  • 25% had seen someone being physically threatened
  • 24% witnessed someone being harassed for a sustained period of time
  • 19% said they witnessed someone being sexually harassed
  • 18% said they had seen someone be stalked

Those who have personally experienced online harassment said they were the target of at least one of the following online:

  • 27% of internet users have been called offensive names
  • 22% have had someone try to purposefully embarrass them
  • 8% have been physically threatened
  • 8% have been stalked
  • 7% have been harassed for a sustained period
  • 6% have been sexually harassed

In Pew Research Center’s first survey devoted to the subject, two distinct but overlapping categories of online harassment occur to internet users. The first set of experiences is somewhat less severe: it includes name-calling and embarrassment. It is a layer of annoyance so common that those who see or experience it say they often ignore it.

The second category of harassment targets a smaller segment of the online public, but involves more severe experiences such as being the target of physical threats, harassment over a sustained period of time, stalking, and sexual harassment.

Link to the rest at The Pew Internet Research Project

‘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.

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