Haven’t been to church recently but it seemed apt.
Huzzah! The stultifying Ancien Régime of traditional publishing is in collapse and its gatekeepers diminishing into shrill irrelevancy. (The Old Order never goes quietly.) Building a following and making money from writing no longer requires obeisance to a publisher.
Replacing the gatekeepers’ judgment though, came the Pollyannaish notion that readers’ opinions would reliably inform book buying decisions. Perhaps this sprang from the Romantic ideal that people are fundamentally good and freed of law and rules, will flourish in a state of nature. As we’ve seen yet again, this is not true.
If you’ve been in a cave or sitting atop a column of late, you may be unaware that some bestselling authors on both sides of the Pond were outted for either commissioning fake book reviews or for covertly writing reviews trashing the books of their perceived competitors. It’s probably but the tip of the iceberg, as anyone with some money can cobble together a book and use Paypal to garner gobs of rave reviews. And anyone with time, energy and pathological anger issues can unleash a zombie army of sock puppets upon their unsuspecting fellow authors.
The fake-review mountebanks game the on-line review systems, and by extension the ebook listing algorithms, to climb the best seller charts. Millionaire author John Locke, in an unblushing interview in The New York Times worthy of a Marcus Licinius Crassus, said “It’s a lot easier to buy them [reviews] than cultivat[e] an audience.” Apparently $1,000 gets you into the game, according to The Times.
The floodgates of mistrust being opened, the next question would logically be, “Do they write their own stuff?” Certainly if your books are similar and you’re enjoying the fruits of your deception, ghostwriters are the next step. Why make extra work for yourself, as contemptuous as you are of your readers’ intelligence and judgment?
The commodity is books but the attitude that of any cheap huckster.
Creating a system of reader reviews that can’t be gamed is an ongoing challenge. Most of my books are from my Berkley and Macmillan back lists. Some of my reviews even date from my books’ days as trade paperbacks.
I’ll keep writing until I drop—it’s what I do, it’s what I am. It’s art—commercial art, but still art. Good art requires working hard and and hard work requires personal integrity.
Being somewhat of a Romantic myself, I believe that over time good books will garner an audience and continue to be enjoyed long after the author’s gone. Such is my hope and so I write on.