This rant has been a long time coming. It’s been boiling in me for well over a year. I’ve come close to writing this rant several times before, but always decided not to because I didn’t want to call undue attention to an accusation of my involvement in a scandal. However, recently, I’ve had several people contact me about this, and so I’ve decided to address it, not because of the accusation, but because the accusers will not post proof, allow anyone to refute the accusations on the websites, and also for the massive hypocrisy behind these accusations.
Several websites have accused me of being an unethical author. Mostly, that reviews on my books are fake…but I’m also being lumped in with other authors accused of various other unethical behaviors. All without citing proof or listing which of these “crimes” I’ve actually committed.
The web page Thumbs Down Author List claims that I have “been identified as using many of the following unethical practices:”
Sockpuppets – including fake users and identities created by the author, friends of author, or associates of the author for the purpose of promoting the author through reviews, discussions, and other commentary.
Paid reviews – including reviews purchased from paid review companies, such as Fiverr.com, GettingBookReviews, Craigslist, and others.
Paid endorsements – including endorsements and celebrity endorsements bought from Buysellads.com and others.
Traded reviews – including reviews traded between authors whether as favors, kickbacks, referrals, or otherwise.
Swapped endorsements – including endorsements swapped between authors whether as favors, kickbacks, referrals, or otherwise.
Compensated reviews – including reviews bought with promises of remuneration or gifts, such as gift cards given to readers for reviews or merchandise give to readers for reviews, including free kindles.
Fake fans or street teams – including paid promoters, friends, family and acquaintances who act as fans and are used to create fake buzz for the author.
Misrepresented associations – including authors who repeatedly and habitually misrepresent their associations with author friends they praise publicly.
Three other sites have lumped me in with a bunch of other authors, again, not stating what I have specifically done, nor have they provided any proof. They also ignore all communication to provide an explanation as to why I’m on any of these sites. For the sake of transparency, here they are:
So… Now that the cat is out of the bag, and all my fans and readers are aware of these accusation, allow me to address them one by one. Oh, and I’ll chime in on how I feel about authors being singled out about some of these things.
Sockpuppets: Nope. Not me. I have enough problems keeping track of one identity online, much less multiple identities. Now, it might be possible that they are trying to pass off my little project called the Genre Underground is a “sock puppet.” However, right from the very start of the GU, I’ve had been pretty clear and upfront that I’m the “mastermind” behind the whole thing. Not only that, I’ve been very careful to use the GU to promote other authors I feel readers would enjoy far more than myself using that platform. Personally, I think sockpuppeting is a cheesy thing for a writer to do, and their time would be better spent writing their next book.
Paid reviews: Firstly: I have NEVER paid for a review. If I was willing to go that route, I’d probably have a crapton more reviews than I do. I even wrote a blog post wherein I condemn John Locke, one of the first break-out superstars, of doing this. (Though really it’s more about him being a lying SOB in his book than it is about buying reviews.) You can read that post, here. Secondly: Guess what! The entire publishing industry buys reviews. Back at the 2013 World Science Fiction Convention, this was one of the first topics that came up any time I got together with one or more other writers. For the next few months after that, I took great joy in posting about reviews my books received, by saying something like, “Look at this nice review I received that I proudly did not pay for.” On the otherhand, if I ever want my self-published work reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly, I gotta shell out money for it. Publisher pay into a pool for that privilege, so fair is fair. My big problem with the accusation is, none of these sites are going after the traditional publisher en mass for the same “unethical” behavior.
Paid endorsements: Just like with reviews, this is a big fat NOPE. I’m not as opposed to this one, as I am to paid reviews. See. Pretty much all major corporations pay for endorsements when they hire celebrities to appear in commercials for their products. It’s part of business.
Traded reviews: Complete disclosure:Two of the reviews on First Chosen are due to trades with other indie authors. I agreed to traded reviews twice within the first few months of publishing First Chosen. I could not manage to finish either of those two books, and because of that decided to never trade reviews again. Further disclosure: I have read and reviewed books by other author friends of mine, not because they asked me to, but because I like to support my friends, no matter what their business is. I’ve also had writer friends write reviews for my books, not because I asked them, but because they read and enjoyed my books. In two cases, I’ve made very good friends with writers because these writers reviewed my books and I reached out to thank them for saying such nice things. Further disclosure: When I finished the first installment of Dead Weight, I spread the word that I was looking for author blurbs. I had about half a dozen writer pals offer to read the book, and they all gave me very nice quotes for the book. Some of them even went on to write very nice reviews on Amazon and/or Goodreads. With that being said, here’s a huge news flash for the hypocritical operators of above websites: in traditional publishing, authors give blurbs out all the time because it’s part of the business.. You know those quotes on the front of all those books. Those are all their because it’s part of how the publishing machine works.
Swapped endorsements: See my commentary on “Traded reviews.” It happens. It’s part of the business. I recently had very close friend who owns a small press ask me to read and give a quote for one of the press’s newest releases. This friend is also one of the writers who has said some nice things about my work. In the business world, especially in sales and marketing, this is what we call a “referal.” It’s a standard part of doing business. In any other industry, it’s not really that big a deal, yet these sites are making it out to be more like, “Oh my Lord! They dared to say they liked something a friend of theirs did. BURN THEM!!!” This is probably the most “get a life” worthy of all their charges.
Compensated reviews: Full disclosure: I have compensated readers for reviews. I gave out a bunch of copies of DEAD WEIGHT: The Tombs to readers in exchange for those readers posting honest reviews to Amazon and/or Goodreads. I also gave any of my readers free ebook copies of the forth Tears of Rage books if they reviewed the first three. I’ve done a couple of other things like that, but nothing besides promotional copies of materials. No giftcards. No free kindles. No swag of any kind. Here’s another news flash: Publishers give out free promotional copies to reviewers ALL THE FUCKING TIME! It’s part of the publishing game. Hell, most reviewers expect free copies. So, what the hell is wrong with it anyway? Yeah, I can see where offering free stuff like gift cards or kindles or other swag is a little wonky, but I’ve never done it.
Fake fans or street teams: This one makes me laugh most of all. It’s also the one that pisses me off the most. Would someone please tell me why it’s so wrong that friends and family should support a writer? Like, if it was any other industry, it wouldn’t be any kind of a big deal. Having care problems? My son is a mechanic. Getting married? My cousin has a bakery for your cake; or my brother has a catering business. New Year’s resolution to loose weight? My buddy is a personal trainer. This kind of thing happens all the time in the world outside of publishing. So, full disclosure: I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who like to help promote my books. Many of them I know from my storytelling show at renaissance faires. Also, almost everywhere I go to eat with my father, he likes to say to people, “have you met my son, the author?” He and many of my friends are proud of my success and that they were there as I took my first steps down the road to being an author. Why is it wrong that they want to help me succeed? Why is it wrong that anyone’s friends and family want to help someone succeed, no matter what business they are in?
A special note about, “street teams”: I don’t know where they came up with that term, but in science fiction and fantasy circles, we call those “fans.” Most writers and traditional publishers consider those a good thing, not something to be scorned. And who the hell do you think you are to determine when a writer’s fans are fake or not? Is the Brotherhood without Banners a “street team?” They do a hell of a lot of promoting for George RR Marin? Or do they not count as a street team because George is a “legit” author? How do you differentiate between “street team” or a real fan base. Is it based on fans actually knowing the writer? Hell, in that case, tons of science fiction and fantasy readers don’t count, because they go to conventions all throughout the year to meet the writers that they love. Or They meet writers and think, hey, he/she seems pretty cool, I’ll check out his/her books. Maybe it’s because the people who run these sites aren’t actively reading in genres that have serious levels of fandom, and so they don’t get the whole fan thing to begin with.
Finally, Misrepresented associations: I go to a lot of conventions. I meet a lot of my fellow writers.Hell, I was going to conventions and meeting writers long before I published anything. When writers I know are on tour in my neck of the woods, I do my best to go to their appearances/signings. I would invite them back to my place for a home-cooked meal as a change of pace from all the restaurants they eat in while on tour. I’ve had several take me up on the offer. When I go to places where my writer pals live, I try and hook up with them, because we’re pals. I talk a lot about the writers that I know, mostly in praise of their work, because, as the point above, I want my friends to succeed. I am also a huge fanboy, and like most fanboys, I like to talk about the times I meet the writers that I enjoy reading. I understand that misrepresenting one’s association with anyone famous is a no-no, but I’ve never uttered or written a false word about my association with other authors. Hell, because of my time as a swing dance instructor during the swing craze of the late ’90’s, I do my best to make sure I don’t even imply any kind of association that isn’t there.
So… now that I’ve given full-disclosure and explanation as to the crimes I’ve been accused of, I will now offer some comments directed at the owners of these sites, mostly because I suspect that most of the writers listed on your sites are not the terrible, ethic-less creatures you make them out to be:
Why don’t you offer case-by-case proof of the accusations you are leveling at authors on your sites? Maybe they are posting based on rumor, hearsay, or just suspicion. Maybe it’s because they are too lazy to actually do due diligence. Maybe because if they did, it might mean admitting an error. Maybe it might mean that someone could poke holes in some of their faulty logic concerning several points on their list of grievances. I have no idea, because…
Why don’t you have any contact info posted on your sites? If they have any contact info, I missed it. If they do, someone please let me know. I’d love to reach out to them.
Why don’t you allow comments posted on your sites? One has a comments box active, but they will not approve comments, because I know at least two people who have attempted comments only to have them denied. I suspect they don’t allow comments because they don’t want to have to engage in critical discourse with those they accuse. I’m sure they also get a fair amount of hate posts, because that stuff happens on the internet when you post volatile stuff on the internet.
Why don’t you own you posts and put your names behind your accusations? If your crusade is so worthy a cause that you can make accusations that intended to damage multiple writers’ careers, why not own your cause?
Here’s what I think every time someone sends me a link and asks if I know about one of your sites: I think you are all bullies. I don’t know what your deal is. I don’t know why you are singling out indie/self-published authors over those who are traditionally published. Frankly, I don’t care. Your are slinging mud around, trying to damage writers’ good names, without offering proof, or even allowing them to refute the claims, all while hiding in anonymity. I challenge you to do as I have done: Offer full disclosure about yourselves and every single author you’ve listed.
Until such time as you do, I will share this post anytime and anywhere I see one of your sites mentioned, and I will call you out for what you truly are: cowards and bullies.
All that being said: What do you guys think? Are these sites justified in what they are posting? Is their list of reverences legit? Do you agree on some points and not others? Which ones? Do you have anything to add? Want to call me out on anything you’ve seen me do? Let me know in the comments.