Monday, July 23, 2012

Authors Behaving Badly

(Originally Posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

Goodreads exploded in another of its periodic conflagrations this weekend. This time it was a self-published author whining in disturbing terms about bloggers who allegedly promised reviews in return for free e-books and allegedly failed to deliver. He even went so far as to post a list of said bloggers, describing them as "liars and thieves." In fact, one of the bloggers in question had never even heard of the author before the kerfuffle this weekend. If you'd like a more thorough review of this author's meltdown, Evie at Bookish has a recap.

As I've said before in other terms, 98% of authors are not cocoa-loco crazy like this guy. (We are, however, cocoa-loco crazy in more socially acceptable ways. We'll lock ourselves away with a computer on a perfectly nice day when we could be riding a bike, for example. Like today. Sigh.) Here's what I'd like to say to the other 2%: Book bloggers are not your prison bitches. They don't owe you anything. Not even if you send them a free book. Not even if you spend time doing an interview for them. They are doing a service to the literary community, promoting books, and in most cases they get paid absolutely nothing for that service.

We should nurture and thank book bloggers, not publicly call out their alleged failings or create lists of disfavored bloggers. They are helping to grow and support our industry, providing some of the milk we all suckle. They succeed or fail based on the services they provide to their readers, and their obligation is to their readers, not to authors.

Look, I like the current trend of inexpensive e-book self-publishing. One of the glories of it is that anyone can do it without being taken for ride on the multi-thousand dollar Ferris wheel of vanity presses. I'm on record saying that I would consider self-publishing at some point in my career. But one of the problems with it is also that anyone can do it, some of whom clearly aren't emotionally prepared for the considerable stress of publishing a book. If a traditionally published author behaved like this chap, he'd hear from his literary agent and editor tuit de suite, and soon join the ranks of self-publishers if he didn't get his behavior under control.

I also think this spat demonstrates something about the costs of cheap ebooks. The author in question was whinging over supplying a free e-book that retails for $2.99. His lost profit on that ebook (assuming the bloggers bought it instead of getting it free--an unlikely assumption, since I started the free sample of one of the fellow's books and put it down after the second sentence--yes, it was that bad) would have been $2.09. But the average person requires about 5 hours to read a 300 page book--even at minimum wage, that time is worth $36.25.

Cheap e-books are not cheap for the reader. You're investing at least $40 worth of time every time you pick up a book. Would you rather spend $42.99 on 5 hours of crappy reading or, say, $54.99 on five hours of thought-provoking entertainment? I prefer the latter.

The last thing I want to say is congratulations to Goodreads. They banned the badly behaving author fairly promptly. That bodes well for Goodreads--civility requires rules and an enforcement mechanism, and I applaud Goodreads for supplying both.

What do you think? Have you seen any other examples of authors behaving badly? Let me know in the comments, please.