Torching the Network: Foul Play in the Indie World
A recent blog post by Beth Elisa Harris has me pretty upset. In this post, which you should read, she outlines a shameful incident on Smashwords that lowers the trust of an otherwise supportive Indie writing community. Though my publishing company does not utilize Smashwords, I still network with people who do, and the incident still effects Indie publishers because it will have a ripple effect.
Edit: This link has been removed as the author has since closed her blog and opened a professional site.
To sum it up for people who are allergic to links, a few people on Smashwords used a free demo download as reference to post abysmal reviews on other authors’ work so that they could move their own Indie works up the ranks. It’s evil and it’s potential damaging for every Indie book out there.
Regularly Indie Authors are supportive of each other. Amanda Hocking, the queen of Indie writing (who made 2 million dollars between 4/10 and 4/11 by publishing her own books) is an incredibly social person online. I’m friends with her on Goodreads and I watch as she adds more and more friends– both fans and other writers. She tweets back and forth with her followers and seems genuine and ready to chat. Most of the Indie Writers I have had the pleasure to connect with on social networks are very nice people and we try not to discourage each other. Like good artists, we give constructive criticism without breaking anyone’s spirit.
If we start spitting on each other’s work and feuding online, we’re all doomed. Indie books rely on reviews and word of mouth to spread. We don’t have big advertising budgets or shelf space at Target. We can’t use a connection in the New York Times to get a review. Buyers on Amazon aren’t going to risk their dollar on an author who isn’t famous, on a book they haven’t passed by on shelves fifty times already, if it has a 2-star rating and a bunch of bickering on its wall.
This kind of bickering spreads. It’s drama and it doesn’t just happen and settle like a grenade with a few shrapnel casualties. It’s a dirty bomb. It explodes and infects with disease and toxins. It causes a ripple of ill-will. In retaliation more bad reviews are thrown back.
But Amy, you say, what if the books are really bad? Is it fair to buy a book and review it with the intention to hate it already? I say no.
Amy, I don’t think you understand how business works. No. I do. Business in America is sick. We’ve set up a system where CEOs fail, tank their companies, and make off with a BONUS for failure. That doesn’t mean that we can’t correct it. The Indie Publishing scene, the main concentrate of it, was doing it right. If Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who built a multi-million dollar company, sold it, and created another multi-billion dollar company, believes we can do it with cooperation and kindess, then we can! Business can be mutually beneficial. Nobody reads just one book in their whole life. Indie books can open doors for other Indie writers. We can network and cooperate and form relationships with our customers rather than beat each other up for their dollar.
Independent Publishing has GROWN immensely in the last few years. Major publishing houses are afraid of what this will do to their bottom line. Clearly there is a mighty large pie that is only growing and we can all, with hard work, carve out a slice. If we make enemies, this will only make it that much harder for us.
Well, don’t worry. Those people who did that were banned. I am very relieved that Smashwords took a stand and banned the users who did this, but the fact that it happened is still unsettling. If someone tried it, they might try it elsewhere (somewhere, perhaps, that non-writer customers will see like Goodreads or Amazon). There is also the likelihood that it already did damage to those writers they trashed by shaking their ratings, their trust, and their confidence.