Sunday, October 19, 2014

Catfish, anyone?

We'll get to our top story in a moment. But first, the news!

The Land Sea Sky Trilogy is free through tomorrow at Amazon. Thanks to everybody who has downloaded it already -- you're all my new best friends. And a note to those who don't have a Kindle: if you'd like to read the series, drop me an email or leave a comment here at the blog, and I'll do my best to fix you up.

Also, watch this space next week for some very interesting news about Seasons of the Fool. I'd tell you now, but...well...aieee...no. No. Next week. Come back then.

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Since becoming an indie author, I have learned many new things. One of them is a new definition for catfish.

Back when I lived in Huntington, WV, the only kind of catfish I knew about was the kind that lives deep in rivers and streams. They eat the junk on the bottoms of such waterways (which is not always the healthiest stuff -- hence, the term bottom-feeder). Catfish also taste good, or so I've been told. I don't think I've ever tried one.

Anyway, thanks to the advent of teh intarwebz, catfishing has taken on a whole new definition. According to the Urban Dictionary: "A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances." Or, apparently, to post book reviews.

This is not to be confused with an internet troll, who purposely posts incendiary statements to get people riled up. And it's also not the same as a stalker, which is defined, in internet terms, pretty much the way it is in real life.

I'm making the distinction among these terms for a reason. This week, an article popped up in the book section at The Guardian by a trad-pubbed YA author named Kathleen Hale. In her article, Hale admits to stalking a reader who left her a one-star review. At first, she simply checked her Twitter feed obsessively for tweets from the woman. But eventually Hale went so far as to contact the woman repeatedly by phone, and even -- creeper alert! -- traveled to her house to confront her. (The confrontation apparently didn't happen; no one answered the door, so Hale left a book on her doorstep. The book was Anna Quindlen's A Short Guide to a Happy Life, a copy of which, Hale said, she just happened to have in her purse.)

The story takes a side trip to "Stop the Goodreads Bullies" Land. Hale says she landed on their list of Badly Behaving Authors simply by writing about tough subjects in her book. But she also makes an oblique reference to having responded to the one-star review, and to being attacked online thereafter. She appears to use this as justification for her subsequent behavior.

I was not involved in any way, shape, or form with any of this; I am simply an outside observer who is coming to the whole thing very late in the game. But these, for me, are the takeaway points:

1. Reviews are for readers. Reviewers are (ideally) giving their honest opinion of the book. Some readers look at the one-star ratings first, because the reviewer's deal-breaker might be a deal-maker for the reader. As the author, yes, it sucks to get a one-star review. But the smart author either reads them, takes any honest criticism to heart, and uses it to do better next time; or doesn't read them at all. The last thing an author should do is respond to a bad review. (In fact, I make a point of not responding to reviews at all. It's not that I don't love the good ones -- I do! and I'm grateful for them! -- but I just think it's best to leave the reviewers to their reviewing and to keep my mouth shut.)

2. Using an alias online is not a crime. In some instances, it's necessary -- just as it's prudent for some authors to use a pen name. The use of an alias doesn't make you a catfish, even if you use that alias to post pictures of pets you don't actually own and vacations you haven't actually taken.

3. Stalking is never okay. No justification for it will ever pass muster.

4. Maybe I'm cynical. But it occurs to me that Hale writes fiction -- dark comedy, according to the blurb for her novel -- and so there's an outside chance that she meant for her tale to be darkly humorous, and perhaps not completely factual.

Moreover, her article appeared just as we're beginning the run-up to the big holiday book-buying season. Coincidence?

I really hope that's what's behind this -- that it's either an attempt at humor that fell flat, or a bald grab for eyeballs for Hale and her book. Because the only other alternative I can think of is that the author has some personal issues. And if that's the case, then I hope her publisher is getting her some help.

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This moment of bloggy definition has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.
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