Readers and blogs are finally getting wise to the trading of “likes” that goes on in the writers’ community, and the selling of reviews. Some of my best friends are doing it. I don’t.
That means I lose out on sales. Enough “likes” will get you to the top of the lists and noticed, and, above all, an author these days needs to be noticed. There are a few famous examples of authors who’ve made a killing that way with less-than-perfect books. There are an awful lot more who are too busy “liking” to write. A lot of five-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads will do the same. Bring the book up to the top of the lists. So that means the lists are no longer, if they ever were, judged on merit. And some people are desperate to get noticed. Others just want to make a living. I know writers who have done it with nothing at all except real word of mouth. Ideally, that’s how the system should always work. A pity it doesn’t.
I think it depends on what you want to achieve as a writer. Me, I want to write. Always have. Sounds idealistic. I’ve had jobs where I’ve played the game and won, but in the end, I couldn’t feel comfortable with myself. I’ve lost as well, and had the considerable compensation of knowing that at least I didn’t betray myself.
The culture is all about winning, and at the moment, winning is about making as much money and shifting as many units as possible. It drives people crazy, and once they’ve sold a million copies, they’re admired and emulated.
It’s a bubble. It happens. But it does get very hard to stick to your chosen course. I want to write great books that people enjoy reading. I’m solidly midlist, and one day I like to think that one of my books will catch the public’s imagination by selling a bundle. I need that lift, I really do, and then, when people have bought my books and enjoyed them, they can go back and have a look at my backlist. That’s the joy of digital publishing. The backlist is always available.
As I said in a previous post, I won’t game, and that includes reciprocal “likes,” if I haven’t read and enjoyed the book in question. When I buy something from Amazon, I read the reviews. They’re important to me. I need to know that I’m shelling out for something worthwhile, something I have a chance of enjoying. The fake reviews from friends and family, the paid reviews, they just get in the way.
Personally, I look on fake reviews, paid reviews, reciprocal “likes” and so on as cheating. I want people to love my books for what they are, not because of the antics I get up to outside. I know I have to do a few things. But behaving ethically, dressing professionally and making an effort for the people who make an effort to buy my books all come way before other things. I’m not perfect, I’ve probably done things I shouldn’t, and, as I said, I like and respect a lot of people who are engaging in the practices I refuse to do. They’re getting ahead by doing it. I can’t blame them. Writers are increasingly desperate for sales, for attention, and publishers, especially the bigger ones, are concentrating on the one author who rises out of the morass, the one who manages to game and finagle his or her way to the top, often at the expense of the other authors on their lists. If I’m ever selected for that kind of treatment, will I protest, will I say “look at her, her books are as good as mine, pick her instead”? Dear God, no! I’ll say “Thank you” and work hard to earn the buckets of money they’ll spend on me. But I won’t knowingly take part in certain practices to get there.
Let’s not kid ourselves that this hasn’t always gone on. Some authors will give a quote to anyone, because it leads to reciprocal publicity. Some authors take the view that you have to “be nice” to all other authors, because being less than nice will lose friends and networking. It can, that’s very true. I know I’m persona non grata in some circles because of the reviews and views I do here.
I’ve worked in industries that make publishing look like amateurs. I’ve worked for some of the biggest finance and marketing companies out there, and a lot of them have gone under, especially in recent years. Nothing lasts forever. I lost one job at a company called General Foods because I was gamed out of the job. I was good at what I did, but an unguarded remark from me led to a game of rumors, and it became untenable for me to stay. I ended up with a great payoff and a good reference, but the experience sickened me. What happened to General Foods, who owned Birdseye and Maxwell House? Part of Kraft Foods now. I saw it, and like Cassandra, opened my mouth and said so. Not done in that particular corporate culture. I knew, as soon as I got the reception to my remark, that I was gone. It took six months.
Do I despair? Sometimes. But I’ll keep writing, whatever, whenever. And I can, with a whole heart, congratulate people who’ve done well. Sometimes it’s because the book is genuinely brilliantly written (Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall – read it, it’s superb). Sometimes it’s because the author worked hard on promotion and did all she could to bump her book up the lists. It’s her choice. Mine is to work on the book. I’m not jealous, because I’ve chosen my course, and I know what I want. It isn’t always money. Would I say no to a million seller? Don’t be daft, of course I wouldn’t. Would I do anything to get one? No.
Buy my books. There, I said it. If you like them, you can do me a favor by reviewing them on Amazon and other places. If you don’t like them, feel free to say so. And don’t, whatever you do, feel obliged to do anything other than read as much as you want to. Thanks for doing that. It’s much appreciated.
Now all I need is a snappy slogan and a million seller. Easy peasy.