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The Resurgence of Sock Puppetry and How History Repeats itself.

I honestly didn’t realize how long I’d been in the world of self-publishing until recently. I hadn’t realized exactly how much craziness I’ve witnessed, or what I thought I’d missed during my absence the last few years. But, here we are again. The fight against sock puppets, book stuffing, and scams has come flooding back. It’s the same old game, just with better graphics.

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When I first joined the community towards the end of 2012, all of this craziness seemed so new and intense. I worked with authors and bloggers, and posted about everything from piracy, to bullying, and everything else that felt so immediate at the time.

In February of 2013, I have my first exposure to an author that took bad reviews as bullying and I blogged about it here. That author went on to create 2 sock puppet accounts using the exact same email username just on different platforms (Gmail and Yahoo) and proceeded to accuse me of making fun of the author in question. You can read the whole thing in the comments section of that post. Long story short, she ended up emailing me on my personal, private email rather than my author email and it was a whole thing.

At the end of March of that same year, I talked about people signing up to beta read an author’s book, only to come back to the author and tell them that the book was unreadable. However, if the author was willing to pay the beta reader to edit the book, the beta reader would leave a 5 star review on Amazon. That post is here. Because I spoke out, the beta reader in question (who read my book but hadn’t yet propositioned me) gave me a 1 star review and the author friend that was approached a 3 star review, but the text of said review made no sense. I can show you those reviews if you ask, but it’s 5 year old news at this point. Of course, I did make a follow up post in 2014 about how to handle scammers in those situation.

I’ve seen authors get upset about the success of people like J.K. Rowlingauthors stalking actual bully reviewers, authors telling readers the “correct” way to review books (and the backlash that typically ensues in that situation), the book stuffing scam that caused the KU changes that are the center of the current problem, and the list goes on and on.

The reason I’m posting my “credits” is because the sad fact of the matter is that I’ve seen it all. People get riled up over a situation only to let it die away when it’s no longer interesting, or progressing. Accusations of sock puppetry fly around (and I’m not innocent from pointing at people that are very obviously operating those accounts), but ultimately they die.

dsppntmnt

Enter into the ring Suzan Tisdale. She is the self-publishing author who writes Scottish historical romance novels, along with a pen name that publishes romance novels of the more erotic variety. Through her charismatic coverage of #cockygate, Suzan has garnered a following of fellow authors and readers who are tired of the system gaming, review scamming, and reader trickery. And just like in many situations before, because Suzan has garnered such an audience, there are people that are trying to “prove” that she is scamming, herself.

nw

(insert sarcastic tone)

While I don’t necessarily agree with absolutely everything Suzan says, and I think that there are some times that she doesn’t gather all of the information she needs before she makes a post or does a live video, she has a charm that continues to bring focus to the problems that we as self-published authors face and will readily correct herself if she does share information that isn’t correct in the moment. I think one thing that we haven’t had before in these situations is someone like Suzan that can hold an audience’s attention, approach things from a stern yet understanding place, and knows how to capitalize on her platform.

Suzan first gained attention due to her coverage of #cockygate. Her audience appreciated the even handed way she spoke directly to Faleena. Of course, Faleena spiraled, #cockygate blew up, but Suzan has not stopped leading the charge against the wrongs that have plagued the self-publishing community.

Because there are people standing up for what’s right, the people that are being called out decided to strike back. Since the theme of this post is history repeating itself, wouldn’t you know that Suzan and other authors standing up for these scammers are being “called out” as it were. Twitter sock accounts are springing up all over the place, attempting to call these authors “scammers” themselves, and accusing them of starting witch hunts.

Can I just point out that I absolutely despise use of the phrase “witch hunt” in situations like this. It’s not a witch hunt. No one is going to die. The people getting called out for scamming are losing their scam accounts. As far as I’m aware there has been no doxing of anyone’s information, no one has been crushed to death, hung, drowned, burned or any other form of torture that the victims of the actual witch hunts had to go through.

Anyway, I do hope that there is change for the better, and history does not repeat itself. I hope that we see the changes that are so desperately needed in the self-publishing world, and I hope that we continue to see the voices of those people fighting for us getting louder.

Keep on fighting!

 

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Excuses, Whiskey, and Pending Cancellation Review: An Update on #cockygate

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of #cockygate. Even people outside the writing community are hearing about it thanks to coverage from the New York Daily News (even though it was biased, rude, and full on inaccuracies), Slate, Vox, and so many other outlets.

In case you did actually miss it, here is the basic summary: Self-published author, Faleena Hopkins, under her production company Hop Hop Productions filed 3 separate trademarks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. 2 of those trademarked the word “cocky”, and the third trademarking “Cocker Brothers.” Many have theorized that this is in anticipation of an upcoming film that Ms. Hopkins is directing. What started as a slow build of tension and anger due to Ms. Hopkins deciding to contact other self-published authors using the word “cocky” in their book title saying they no longer had right to use the word. She even went as far as to contact Amazon, which resulted in tons of books and reviews using the word “cocky” in their title or review. The shit hit the fan after a 90 minute Facebook Live session Ms. Hopkins decided was a good idea chastising everyone that voiced their opposition to her actions. She claims that she had been drinking whiskey prior to the stream, which many people theorized was the case based on her circular speech and lack of reasoning.

For a more in depth review of the whole situation, I recommend checking out those articles and watching some of the Youtube responses from fellow authors, even a few that knew her and considered her a colleague before this whole situation. I don’t want to take up too much time rehashing all of it.

Thanks to amazing coverage from Euna Park on Twitter, there are now screen caps and updates to the situation, although I’m only going to share the one that I feel is the most prevalent to the situation:

Screen capture from @eunapark on Twitter

While Ms. Hopkins has deleted her author Facebook page, as well as her Instagram, and stated that she is getting off of social media to work on her latest book (which will hastily be released in a month), it’s fairly obvious that she is waiting and hoping for the whole situation to blow over. Of course, that’s pure speculation, but given the current situation and her propensity to pass the blame on to others and view herself as the innocent victim of the situation, it’s most likely not too far off from the truth.

I have to say that while this situation has been the most ridiculous and troubling that the self-publishing world has seen in quite some time, I am happy to see that this has not fallen to the wayside. Like so many horrible situations before, this is getting the focus it deserves.

What do you think? Do you have anything to add to the situation? Leave a comment below!

Common ground, common sense, and one view of self-publishing

I recently read a blog post by Tahlia Newland entitled “Opinion: The Core Problem with Self-Publishing is Quality Assurance.” The post was well thought out, actually, and there was a lot that I agreed with her about. However, my one big issue was her solution: having self-published authors submit their work to big publishing houses for their opinions before publishing to determine whether the book is “good enough.”

Ms. Newland suggests that every self-publishing author submit their book to publishers and await feed back before deciding whether to publish or not. Her reasoning is that 10% of books submitted to publishers were well written, but not good enough for the publisher to sell, so if you’re lucky enough to have your book fall under that category, then you “deserve” to self-publish.  I have a problem with that.

When did self-publishing become about who deserves to be out on the market and who doesn’t? I mean, let’s take a look at E.L. James. Her books are laughably terrible, poorly constructed, and worse than a majority of what is on the self-publishing market. However, E.L. James has become an international best seller and she was deemed good enough to fall in to the 5% of authors worthy of being picked up by a publisher. Just looking at her, do we really want to allow the traditional publishing houses to dictate the self-publishing market? Are their opinions really gospel? Hell no.

There are tons and tons of self-publishing authors who probably shouldn’t be releasing their material. First drafts and hack jobs that certainly need to be revised are more than common. But who are we to tell these people to stop doing what they love? Is crap work saturating the market? Sure! But it is not my place, it is not anyone’s place, to tell these people to stop. There are a few exceptions to this rule (hate books being towards the top of that list), but there is not a self-publishing police, nor should there be.

My friend Tricia always says that regardless of how crappy a book is, we should respect the fact that that author had the courage to share a part of their inner being with the world. Being mentally prepared to take people’s negative opinions and get over the fear of being a failure takes a lot of moxie that many people don’t have. They fear rejection. We all do. But when you are self-publishing, you’re saying to the world that you don’t accept that fear. That’s really something.

I have found several rotten books in the self-publish bunch, and that sucks, but if we continue to further the “all self-published books are terrible” ideal, we are not doing ourselves any favors. By relying on the opinions of traditional publishing houses, we are telling all of those people that think self-publishing is a joke that they’re right. I’m sorry, but I don’t want to validate an opinion like that.

 

Does @Amazon Really Have the Self-Publishing Author’s Best Interest in Mind?

We’ve all had that one author friend that has had trouble with Amazon, and thought that maybe their issue was just a fluke. Then we hear about it from another author, and another. How can Amazon be affecting so many authors? Surely, we‘ll be okay. Then it happens to us.

I am hearing more and more lately about authors having one issue, or another with the Distribution King of the self-publishing industry. They know that as self-publishing authors, we come to them because ewveryone uses Amazon, the biggest ereader is the Kindle, and we rely on them to cover the bulk of our distribution. We could rely on the other platforms, but we know that we won’t get near the exposure. They use those facts to toy with not only us as authors, but our livelihood as well.

Personally, my biggest issue with Amazon has been pricing. I have two permanently free short stories that have had their prices changed 3 different times now. The stories are free on every other platform, including Barnes and Noble. The first (and second) time the prices were modified, Amazon’s excuse was that they reevaluate the price every so often to ensure accuracy. Um, really? If the stories are free literally everywhere else, then your price is not accurate. The third time, however, I had to write them and get serious. I was (surprisingly) responded to pretty quickly and the issue was resolved. But how long before it happens again?

I have to, of course, go back to my feud with a certain ertoica self-pub author. I don’t like to dwell on it, but I honestly learned a lot from that situation. During the worst of our fight, she had the nerve to use my name and my first novel as tags on her books. Whenever you searched “Maegan Provan” or “The Night Touched Chronicles” her name and that book came up. If you searched for her, my book came up. I spent almost two weeks on the phone with Amazon fighting about it. They said that she needed to call in and tell them why she had used me and my work as tags, and it became a huge mess. Now it’s resolved, but they made it a lot harder than it should have been.

The worst horror story from the crypts of Amazon comes from author Elaine Raco Chase. She recently had a flood of new reviews for her book appear on Amazon. 148 new reviews to be exact. Like any author, to see a sudden intake of reviews is thrilling. Once Ms. Chase started looking at the reviews, she saw that all of her new fans weren’t really her’s at all. The new reviews were actually for a non-fiction work that happened to have its wires crossed with her book. She contacted Amazon and they were quick to help her. Except, of course, that they took 10 legitimate reviews when they cleaned house, leaving Ms. Chase short and those readers without an opinion on her book. She has attempted to contact Amazon multiple times to resolve the issue, and now they’re basically refusing to help. In fact, they’re threatening her. The latest communication from Amazon was this:

If you can’t supply us with the direct link to the missing 10 reviews we can’t help you. Please do not contact us about this problem again.

What the hell, Amazon? I do not know  a single author (at least not personally) that would sit and bookmark their reviews. How the hell is she supposed to directly link them to something when she doesn’t know where they moved it to? It is not the author’s responsibility to ensure that Amazon’s website functions the way that their coders wrote it to function. It is not the author’s responsibility to bookmark every single review they get. Please name one author, game developer, clothing designer (etc.) selling on Amazon today that does that. And how dare their customer service talk to an author like that. Do you know what would happen to a customer service rep that spoke to someone with Harper Collins, or Penguin, or Random House (etc.) like that? They would be fired!!

Just because we do the work ourselves does not make us any lesser than the big houses. To be completely honest, I think that we’re a lot more important than those companies. That might be a bold statement, but hear me out. Those big publishing houses have departments for marketing, cover design, editing, and even the actual process of publishing. We do all of that ourselves. We do not, and cannot rely on anyone else or nothing would get done because we are self published. I think that makes us pretty damn important.

So what can we do? Too many of our readers are comfortable and familiar with Amazon. If we cut ties, we would be alienating a whole group of readers. Amazon is close to running a monopoly on the self-publishing industry and they know it. Barnes & Noble can’t really provide too much of a competition because the Nook is not widely used. They don’t have a stable footing in the ereader field. As long as we continue to self-publish, even directing people to other sites like Smashwords, Kobo, and the others, there is still a Kindle format, which means that Amazon is still getting some cut of the profits. A good portion of self-publishing authors offer print books, which can be created and distributed at no upfront cost through Createspace, which is owned by Amazon. We’re kind of stuck. We can’t exactly stop publishing our books, that would be counterproductive.

It would be nice to see at least one big name company have some level of concern or care for self-published authors. It would be nice to know that we are not considered second rate authors that only self-publish because we can’t get picked up by a traditional publishing company. We are just as valuable as the big wigs, like Laurell K. Hamilton, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling (etc.) and we deserved to be treated a lot better than we are.

 

Do you have an Amazon self-publishing horror story? What are your thoughts? Comment below. Don’t forget to like and reblog, because I would greatly appreciate it!

“Big time authors” vs. “Indie authors”

The line between self published authors (SPA) and traditionally published authors (TPA) also called “big time authors” is as solid as ever. Bloggers have visibly taken sides and things are getting messier than we’ve ever seen before. Authors on both sides of the fence are picking up pitch forks and sock accounts, attempting to ruin any author they see fit.

I was told this morning about another situation that involved a TPA taking it upon herself to trash an indie erotica author’s book because she found the idea of the book offensive. If you’re familiar with the story, please keep the major details to yourself. I am trying not to draw too much attention to the specifics of the matter. Any way, the TPA took to her blog to blast the book and its contents without even reading a single page. She decided that it was awful because the blurb sounded offensive to her. The TPA went even further to encourage her followers to pirate the book if they “simply ha[d] to read it” but that they should not pay a single penny for it. She acted as though her “big time” status gave her the right to pass judgement on others.

Now, the SPA did do something a bit offensive in reaction to the matter. She took to Facebook to say that her book should be in a national museum or something. I am positive that that was done in jest, but when emotions are running high, you don’t poke the bear. The TPA went back to her blog to share the post from the SPA and then encouraged her readers to attack the SPA further by saying “you know what to do.”

This scenario isn’t the first, and definitely won’t be the last. And of course, there are SPAs turning on SPAs. We should be trying to create a unified front by encouraging people to read, regardless of how we publish. However, I think there is a obvious reason for the dividing line. By referring to TPAs as “big time authors” is like giving them an open invitation to get a big head. And before anyone decides to go off on me, I’m not saying that this is an all encompassing sentiment, because it isn’t. My paternal grandmother was a TPA but she was the most down to earth person when it came to that sort of thing. She encouraged my writing. She wanted me to have those same literary opportunities that she had, but you know something? She never once spat on SPAs and I guarantee you that she would be proud that I took the initiative and got published.

The discussion of self-publishing came up between a friend and I recently and she said some pretty insightful things. [She knows who she is, but out of respect for her in this post, I won’t use her name.] She said that you can bash SPAs, even the ones that are prone to editing issues, but at least they did it. At least they took the initiative to put themselves out there… And she’s right.

All authors put their heart and soul into their work. One should not discount the other simply because of the means in which their work is published. But by calling TPAs “big time”,we are all further perpetuating the divide.

Anyway, sorry if this is rambly, but I wanted to say something. We are all working towards a common goal. We shouldn’t go out of our way to perpetuate this fight.

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