How NOT to Help Your Favorite Author - Leverett Butts

A couple of months ago, I wrote a charming article about how you can help your favorite author. It was a nice little piece, and I'm very proud of it, but almost immediately after posting it, I began thinking of different ways the desire to help can backfire.

Sometimes people can take their love of an author a bit too far. I'm looking at you, Fifty Shades of Grey folks out there with your handcuffs and metal beads. This can, in turn, cause an unfortunate backlash onto the work you are trying to promote (I'm looking at you, Trekkies who are overly contentious of the new movies because they are action-packed and all non-talky).

And don't get me started on this abomination.
Who knew the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse would be riding My Little Ponies?

However, intense fan reaction, though it can seem silly and many may consider it demeaning to the original source of the fandom, ultimately helps that original source. If you're already a national author, there is very little a fan can do to harm the success of your work. Don't believe me? Ask Paul McCartney how much Charles Manson's love of The White Album hurt his sales.

Hell, ask John Lennon how much Mark David Chapman hurt sales of his largely panned final album. Ask J. D. Salinger how much Chapman hurt sales of Catcher in the Rye. Oh wait...well...just take my word for it. The answer to both cases is "not at all." In fact after Lennon's murder, negative reviews of Double Fantasy disappeared, and it won the Grammy's Album of the Year for 1981. Sales of Salinger's novel, which Chapman claimed as his inspiration for the murder, climbed in the years following the shooting.

All this to say, there is very little you can do to harm the success of an author who is already famous. If you like a lesser known and/or independent author, though, here are three things you may wish to avoid in trying to help them out:

3. Do Not Review Books Inaccurately

I hate romance novels. Not just Harlequin Romances or Fifty Shades of Whatever, I especially hate romance novels that pretend to be hi-falutin' literature. If I ever have to read anything by Austen Bronte Wharton again it will be too soon.

This is why I do not buy such books: I may never get to it, but I certainly hope to read everything I buy one day. I'm not wasting money on something I will never open.

I am not saying romance is less of a legitimate fiction genre than what I write (weird little mash-ups of literary fiction and fantasy, horror, or other pop-genres). I'm sure there are quite a few romance novels out there that are true credits to their genre: full of masterful prose and page-turning plots.

I just don't want to read them.

Since I buy most of my books from Amazon, though, it can sometimes happen that such a book slips through my intense selection process because it looked like something else. When this happens, I usually pass it on to a friend who digs romance novels, or I recoup some of my lost money by trading it in at the used books store.

What I don't do is review it poorly because its genre wasn't my cup of tea.

In my earlier post, I mentioned that both positive and negative reviews can help the author because the number of reviews often dictates how the webpage will promote the book to new audiences. However, when writing a negative review, be sure you are critiquing the book on merits it has control over.

I am not going to give The Leatherstocking Tales a bad review because I was expecting racy kinky sex and got instead an 18th century redneck who hates book-learning and loves Indians. If I give it a bad review for anything, it'll be because for an adventure story, it's about as exciting as watching someone else watch paint dry and only half as interesting.

Spoiler Alert: No kinky frontier sex here.

By the same token, if you're going to write a bad review, make sure you're not holding it responsible to your own political, religious, or moral beliefs.

Matthew Baldwin has collected a list of the worst one-star reviews on; in it he provides a review of Gone With the Wind:

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)

“Well, it’s a girl’s world. The world of Gloria Steinem and the popular feminism, as distilled on TV (including CBC shows, not all fundamentalist Hollywood garbage) of my youth is GONE. Now the girls run the show. You’re not allowed to call them sluts. And it’s impossible to call them virgins. They’re all doing Rhett Butler. So what are they? Idiots… Hope you like the Gangstas. It’s what you deserve.”
Don't be that guy.

Also, don't review something well for no other reason than that you know the author. Nobody cares that you know the author. Stephen King has plenty of friends. This is not the reason I buy his books.

I am friends with Caitlin Kiernan. She writes award-winning, terrifically atmospheric supernatural fiction, and I recommend her to anyone who thinks weird fiction or horror cannot also be literary. (Seriously, check out her novel The Drowning Girl, if you don't believe me.) If you like Kiernan's work, though, please don't buy my books just because I know her. You will be sorely disappointed as my work has about as much in common with hers as a duck has with a '59 Ford Fairlane.

I hated this book. I thought this guy was supposed be good friends with Stephen King,but there wasn't a single vampire, ghost, or gunslinger in the whole damned thing.

Basically, know what you are reviewing. If you simply must review a genre you are not a fan of, know what fans expect from it, and review on those qualities.

Also, while we're talking about reviews, many websites offer a "vote up or down" option in which readers can choose whether a review was helpful in their decision. If so, the review gets highlighted on the site by either special backgrounds or, more frequently, simply being listed first.

The temptation here, may be to "vote up" favorable reviews and/or "vote down" unfavorable ones. This can be problematic if you find yourself so tempted as it can actually have the opposite effect to the one you hope for. If only positive reviews get highlighted, then it may seem suspicious that all the negative reviews are downplayed. Potential buyers or professional critics may be leery of reviewing or purchasing a book if it looks like a fix is in.

2. Do Not Give Your Author's Books to Someone You Know Won't Enjoy Them

Besides romances, I'm also not a big fan of military novels. I'm not talking about books like M*A*S*H or Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse-Five. I'm talking about things like Echo Six: Black Ops 5 - Strikeforce Syria or Sniper Elite: One-Way Trip: A Novel. Again just not my bag, I've never been into big ol' testosteroney guns and tanks and city blowin' up adventure. I'm sure there's some good stuff out there, too; I'm just not going to read it.

I am not asking Santa for this. Ever.

I have a friend, though, who buys me such novels every single year for my birthday and Christmas. I have told him I'm not a fan, and he reacts in the same way: he first gets upset that I don't appreciate his gift (I do appreciate it, I reallyreally do; I'm just probably not going to read the book), then convinces himself that if I just give this one a try, I'll be converted. 

I never am.

If you buy copies of your favorite author's books for your gift lists, you are not doing anyone (your friends, family, or the author) any good if the recipient has no interest in the book to begin with.

Such readers are not likely to read the book or write a review unless its a negative review because My Year in Ethiopia was not a fantasy novel, and they really wanted to read about orcs.

There is something to be said about broadening your friend's horizons and introducing them to new authors, but find an author in a genre your intended recipient enjoys. If they like horror, but have never read Lovecraft, there you go. If they like Southern lit and/or short stories, buy them my book. If they hate Southern lit with white hot intensity bordering on the religious and find short stories frustrating, please, for the love of God and all that is holy, do not give them my book. 

1. Do Not Expect Free Books

Maybe if you are BFF's with Neil Gaiman or Stephen King or Dan Brown, this one doesn't apply to you. If such is the case, you go right ahead and demand a free book from them. I'm sure they can afford it.

However, as nice as it would be to think so, most authors are not multimillion-dollar earners. Nor are most of them published through Random House, Simon and Schuster, or any of the other major publishing houses.  If, as is most likely the case, you are friends with an independant writer, especially one who self publishes or has signed on with a small press, chances are that he or she has had to purchase review copies out of pocket since there is no publishing house to provide comp copies. 

A good rule of thumb: if the author is personally selling the books (not just signing them, but actually taking your money and writing receipts), chances are he or she has had to pay for the copy you just got.  

Expecting a free copy of an author's book is like expecting a friend who works in construction to give you a free shed for Christmas. 

If your author does provide you with a free copy, the least you can do, though, is to review the book online and, if you liked it, recommend it to your friends and family by encouraging them to buy a copy for themseves.

2 days to Christmas! -
And the  start of
The Authors Electric
Christmas Book Sale!


Lydia Bennet said…
Another stonking post! great stuff. I have mixed feelings about voting duff reviews down and good ones up - I do this for authors when the bad reviews are unfair or clearly written by trolls or sock-puppets and it's basically usually fans who do this so it's not automatically suspicious to see more 'no' votes on bad reviews. It's writing/righting a wrong, like on those old Quantum Leap progs.
madwippitt said…
Who's dissing Owen Meany?!!!! Let me administer an e-slap!!!!!!

But yes! Although if you want to give a book as a gift why not try an e-book gift via the 'give a gift card' button on Amazon. You can suggest the book you'd like the recipient to buy, but it leaves the ultimate choice to them. :-)
Lee said…
What's the difference between 'romance novels that pretend to be hi-falutin' literature' and 'weird little mash-ups of literary fiction and fantasy, horror, or other pop genres'? I certainly don't mind what you read or don't read, but it sounds as though what in one genre is pretention, in another -- i.e. in your own hands -- is Literature. And yes, you do admit that there could be decent reomance novels, but rather grudgingly. Why do I get the feeling that there's a hefty dose of sexist arrogance in all of this? And why do I suspect that if Neil Gaiman wrote his version of a romance, you might in fact read it?
Chris Longmuir said…
I entirely get the meaning of that paragraph, and I don't think it is pretentious. People are entitled to likes and dislikes, and to their opinion. I sometimes think that if anyone admits to disliking Austen they're regarded as weird, and personally I don't like Austen, plus a lot of the classics send me to sleep.

A less contentious comment is that I don't know any publisher who hands out free copies of their books to the author, apart from the initial 5 copies (and that's your lot). I actually pay more for my author's copies from a traditional publisher than I do for my self-published paperbacks!

Great post, Lev.
Leverett Butts said…
I'm not entirely sure I consider my weird little mash-ups as "Literature" any more than romances (Well, maybe Emily's Stitches). However, as I say in the paragraph, both are equally valid fiction genres.
glitter noir said…
Well done again, Lev. Entertaining and provocative.

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