This past few weeks I’ve been looking at the business practices of many of our authors and felt pretty overwhelmed by just how nasty things have gotten. As a reader, I’ve always been careful about what I buy, but so many authors are misrepresenting their own works, that lately I’ve been considering whether I should stop reading or promoting indie works at all.
I ask myself, “If it is any good, then why doesn’t the author send it out to agents and editors the way that I did when I got my start?”
Well, times have changed, and there are genuinely fine authors who are taking the indie route, and I applaud them.
But there are still some huge problems with the way that some authors are promoting themselves. The problem hit the spotlight with the nastiest case of plagiarism that I’ve ever seen. The author Rachel Ann Nunes, whom I’ve known for at least a dozen years, had her work plagiarized by an indie author who then proceeded to try to bully her and attack her reputation online, using fake identities to leave a string of negative reviews not only of Rachel’s work, but attacking her personally as someone who was “self-righteous,” saying that all of her books were trash.
As a result, I decided to put my foot down—right on this plagiarist’s head. We started a fundraiser, got enough money to begin uncovering her many fake identities, and we’re going to sue her. This troubles me. In this case, it appears that the plagiarist is a schoolteacher with three children of her own. Lots of people are going to get hurt. She should have thought about that at some time in her criminal career.
There are plenty of ways for authors to promote themselves that are both legal and ethical. I’ll be talking about those in the next few weeks. But first I think that we need to delineate the problems.
Here are some things that you should never do, and if you do see other authors doing them, let them know that they are wrong.
1) Thou shalt not plagiarize. It used to be that I would see a case of plagiarism every couple of years. Now it seems to be happening online every day. If we’re going to stem the tide, we need to hold plagiarists accountable. That means that when they put things for sale online, then try to slink away when caught, we need to uncover their identities and hit them with the full penalties of the law.
Don’t just report plagiarized works online—attack the thieves who are doing it.
The worst of the plagiarists are creating “Frankensteins,” books cobbled together from one chapter here, another chapter there, so that technically the author can’t be held accountable for breaking copyright laws. The reader doesn’t know that he has been swindled until he gets a few chapters into the book.
We need to figure out how to catch and prosecute these kinds of criminals.
2) Thou shalt not create sock puppets. A sock puppet is an online identity devised so that an author can promote his or her own work, often by blogging. Authors who do this are guilty of false advertising, whether they are promoting their own work by giving themselves great reviews, or going online to attack the work of their rivals.
Some authors create dozens of sock puppets in an effort to promote their work. Let me give you a clue: spend your time writing better books, and I think it will help more in the long run.
3) Thou shalt not buy favorable reviews. There have been some online businesses where you can buy positive reviews for your books, getting dozens of them for a small fee. In one case, an author purchased a thousand. These businesses are illegal. If you find out about one of them operating, report the criminal who runs it.
However, in a related practice, some of the big traditional reviewers will now review your work—for a fee. While the reviewers that they use are pretty good at trying to be even-handed, the truth is that when a reviewer is being paid by an author, he is put in an untenable situation. He wants to say nice things that maybe he wouldn’t say otherwise.
I have never paid for a review from a major reviewer, nor will I. It’s just a tad too desperate.
4) Thou shalt not “trade” reviews. Now many people are getting positive reviews by giving positive reviews. I’ve seen them swapping openly on Facebook. This is just as illegal as buying reviews any other way, and it’s just as bad.
Some authors are even doing it in groups called “author rings,” where each author is sworn to promote the works of other authors in the group. Now, there is nothing wrong with promoting the work of an author that you really know and admire.
But even reliable authors on occasion produce works that stink. Don’t promote them. Don’t ask other people to promote your stinkers. A real friend will tell you when you have B.O.
5) Thou shalt not disparage the work of other writers for gain. A few years ago, we heard about a mainstream author who had gone online and attacked well over a hundred other writers, giving their novels lukewarm reviews, then telling the readers that the books were nowhere near as great as his own. I see this happening in reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.com. You don’t need to do it.
Now, if a book really is a piece of crap, you can be honest about it, just don’t sing your own praises at the same time.
I’m sure that there are plenty of other practices that I could warn you against, but my point is this: If we’re going to clean up this industry, we need to start with ourselves. We need to examine our own standards and practices. If you’ve done any of these things in the past, resolve to go clean. If someone suggests a course of action that you find questionable, don’t say “Yes” immediately. Take some time, think about it, and resolve to do the right thing.