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One Reason We "Hate" Self-Publishing

I had an interesting moment last night while browsing through one of the book-tracking sites. (Not LibraryThing, but one of its cousins...) Being the egotistical author I am, I naturally checked out my books, and I found a user named Jig.

This user owned a single book, Goblin Quest. He had given it five stars, and had posted one comment on another user's review of Goblin Quest, saying how wonderful the book is.

Which is great! I like fans. I like people to give me lots of stars* and say nice things about my work. But I looked at this entry and thought to myself, How many people are going to assume this is a sock-puppet created by the author?

For those who don't know, a sock-puppet is a fake profile. I've seen authors create extra Amazon accounts, for example. Those Amazon accounts then pop up in the forums, directing everyone to go read, "Mary Sue's Pizza Monster: A Novel, which is the very best book in the world. I just happened to stumble across it and boy I'm glad I did!" They post reviews of other books saying, "This is okay, but you should really go read Mary Sue's Pizza Monster: A Novel!" It's annoying, and most of the time it's blatantly obvious.

There's a school of thought out there which says anything you can do to sell books is fair game. Create fake accounts! Sneak them onto the bookstore shelves, because if someone buys it, the bookstore has to enter the book into their computer! Spam message boards! Raise hell in bookstores until someone agrees to restock your book!

These same authors are often the ones grumbling online about how the corporate publishing world is against them, and there's a bias against the small press and self-published authors, and so on.

You know what? I've got no problem with small press (says the guy who first sold Goblin Quest to Five Star). I've got no problem with self-publishing, either. But yeah, I do have a problem with the all-out, no-holds-barred promotional approach. Not only is it obnoxious and tacky, but it screws the rest of us. I've gone into bookstores and gotten receptions that range from lukewarm to frigid. Usually, once I tell them about my publisher and my books, they warm up a bit. When I ask what's going on, they generally explain that they've had too many problems with authors trying to bully the store into stocking non-returnable book or holding a huge booksigning for a $30 PublishAmerica title. I've been told that 10 years ago, before there were so many self-publishing and Print-on-Demand houses out there, an author would have gotten a much warmer welcome.

That's why I have a problem with the all-out, no-holds-barred self-promotion. Sure, it might sell a few books. It also alienates a lot of readers and messes things up for the rest of us. And the places I see these tactics being encouraged tend to be the micropresses and vanity presses, along with the scams like PublishAmerica. To be clear, I'm not saying all micropresses encourage their authors to be pains in the ass. But I don't think I've ever seen an author from Baen, Tor, DAW, Ace, etc. creating a fake profile to give themselves a better Amazon review. (I'm sure it happens, and I suspect someone will immediately point me to an example, but I also suspect those are the exceptions, not the rule.)

It's not fair to blame all self-published and small press authors for this, and it pisses me off when I see those generalizations. But it also pisses me off when I see individual or groups of self-published or small press authors advocating tactics which are going to hurt my own ability to promote and sell my work. I definitely believe in self-promotion. I do the conventions, introduce myself to bookstore staff, hand out bookmarks and tattoos, make funky goblin icons for LiveJournal, and so on.

But I also believe that the first rule of self-promotion should be, "Don't be a dick."** So do me and the rest of our fellow authors a favor and knock it off, okay?

*Like Dora the Explorer, I have my own star-catching pocket. But rather than using my hands, I carry a taser to catch those suckers.
**Blatantly stolen borrowed from John Scalzi.



Dec. 21st, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC)
It's a shame how little pride people take in their work these days...
Dec. 21st, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC)
Who is that writer who's in Wikipedia because of his sock-puppetry rather than his books?
Dec. 21st, 2007 04:45 pm (UTC)
Robert Stanek? The guy who Photoshopped himself into a picture with Brian Jacques? :-)
Dec. 21st, 2007 04:55 pm (UTC)
Yep, that's the one! Now, no one can accuse him of being lazy.
Dec. 21st, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
*Snort* True enough.

I'm told he keeps an eye out when his name is mentioned ... kind of like Superman and his super-hearing. I wonder if he'll be nice enough to visit me here :-)
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 21st, 2007 08:31 pm (UTC)
I don't think so. His web site, painful as it is to try to browse, doesn't mention anything about computer/software books.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 22nd, 2007 01:31 am (UTC)
Whoa. That's ... disturbing.

Can you imagine what would happen if Microsoft decided to go into publishing? For one thing, say goodbye to copy-editors. Every book would have an e-mail address to report typos, which could be fixed in the next print run.
Dec. 24th, 2007 03:12 pm (UTC)
Lol, now I want to see a spoof post expanding on this idea. Microsoft is a bad word in our household (my hubbie is a former programer), so you'll have an audience with us, at least!


Jim C. Hines


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