Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I talk about books because books are my life. Pardon the F**K outa me. (Rant Alert)

Something that really got under my skin this week: an author friend of mine was erased from Facebook. Both her personal account and author page were yanked without warning and apparently without an opportunity to appeal.

Facebook has yet to offer any explanation, but there's been speculation that it had something to do with her being an author who uses FB and Twitter to network with readers and fellow authors -- just as we've all been trained to do, whether we're mainstream, indie or hybrid.

[Update: FB eventually responded that my friend, author Jessica Bell, had identified herself as "Author Jessica Bell" and "author" is not her real name. Here's her new FB author page.]

Facebook played the perfect crack dealer, luring us in with the free sample, and now that we're hooked, they want us to pay. Over the past 18 months or so, they've made dramatic changes to the way posts are seen on your timeline, and if it smacks of self-promotion, they want to force it into an arena where the poster pays for every eyeball. And that's fair. That's their bag. Facebook is not a charity for artists or anyone else. What isn't fair is the jackbooted way they've gone about it, especially if that includes the instant elimination of a network the author built over five years of following the rules.

That network is not all about self-promotion. Writing is, of necessity, a lonely profession. Online networking gives authors more than a place to advertise. It gives us a community, colleagues, a worldwide water cooler we can gather around. Yes, we talk about our work, because our work consumes us a lot of the time. Our work is important to us. Not every word we say about it should be cast as "self-promotion," but authors seem to be subjected to some heightened sense of propriety in this area.

A few years ago, I did a self-actualization/empowerment meditation thing via Oprah.com. I enjoyed getting all thinky thoughtsy and participated in various discussions about it until there was a call for everyone to post something about a moment when she felt empowered and specifically listed "starting your own small business" as an example. Many posts were about women selling arts and crafts, catering, consulting and breaking away from a big company to freelance in one way or another.

So I posted something about stepping outside the mainstream publishing arena, recovering rights to my backlist books and starting my own indie imprint. I did not mention any book titles or offer a link to my website, even though all the freshly empowered cupcake caterers, jewelery distributors, handbag refurbishers, etc offered links to Etsy and other sales venues. Within hours, my account was shut down and I received a brusque email scolding me about "our policy against self-promotion" but not offering any insight into why my small business endeavor was any different from the other artists and entrepreneurs whose posts remained.

When Amazon instituted new censorship algorithms into their review system, they deleted many of the book reviews I'd posted along with many reviews posted on my books. Only positive reviews, of course. Reviews by people who state right up front they haven't read the book and the lady who gave my book one star because her credit card wouldn't go through -- oh, those stay put, because Amazon is all about "preserving the integrity" of their review system.

I know there have been a lot of authors who paid for or bartered reviews on Amazon and abused publishing etiquette in general, but I have never been one of those authors. I came up in old school publishing, which is positively Lutheran in its sense of propriety. I have yet to receive any explanation of this supposedly incestuous relationship I have with the reviewers who gave me positive reviews or the authors I've reviewed positively, most of whom were total strangers to me. Meanwhile, among the reviews I posted that stayed intact are several for authors with whom I do have relationships. But those three authors are published by Amazon's own imprints. The kindest word to describe Amazon's integrity is "selective".

The net result is that my books have very few reviews, and those are mostly from the old hardcover and paperback editions. It's hard to quantify how damaging that's been to my book sales, but I have no doubt it's hurt me financially. It's prevented me from participating in certain promotions, and it's made me afraid to post reviews supporting books I love because I don't want to risk damaging other authors by association.

The time-honored incestuous blurbing and reviewing that goes on every day in the legacy publishing world makes Amazon's integrity algorithm even more infuriating/laughable, but beyond that is the general web-wide lack of concern about people in any other industry talking about their businesses. Disdain for the crass stench of self-promotion seems to be reserved for authors. People who talk about plumbing, law, medicine, basket weaving and teaching are somehow immune.

I talk about the books I'm reading a lot more than I talk about the books I'm writing. I do far more to promote others than I do to promote myself, and I'm sick of being scolded, censored and shamed because I happen to speak about books -- or about my life -- from the perspective of a writer and editor. It reminds me of high school, when I was called "Miss Dictionary" and told I might get asked out on dates if I wasn't always reading.

Yes, my Facebook page has a lot of posts about books. I eat, sleep and breathe the art of setting words in rows. Books are a huge chunk of my life, on and off the social network. That's not me bragging or hyping or advertising. That's me being passionate about what I do and advocating for other passionately creative people.

So Facebook: 1) Thank you for the opportunity to engage online with folks who share common interests, because I go for many days -- most days, in fact -- without talking to anyone but myself, my husband and my office mascots, Venus and Data.

And 2) Pardon the f**k outa me if us and our durn literacy occupy valuable space that could have been devoted to another cat video.

That is all.




1 comment:

Brenda Lee said...

Grrr... so not cool in my book.

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