Dec 6


Posted by A Writer


I hate to go back to l33tspeak/cat photos for a post title, but at least I didn't write this one.  No, this is taken from a comment in a thread about Ravenous Romance, a new E-publishing venture about chefs in love.  No, sorry, it's actually an erotic romance publisher–I assume the ravenous part comes from how quickly people devour the books, chain-reading the works like nicotine addicts left alone in a cigarette factory, which will be useful since Ravenous promises to publish "a-book-a-day." (This must be true, since they've trademarked the phrase.)  Ravenous makes lots and lots of claims, in fact–"great stories, well told," audiobooks for every novel it publishes, cheap prices, etc., etc.  (I felt a bit let down that I wasn't offered a free book light or one of those cool pairs of folding reading glasses, actually, but I digress.)

But this isn't a post about whether or not Ravenous can deliver on its claims (I'm not exactly into the romance scene in any case, particularly on the erotica side).  Because the thread I got the post title from stretches to 289 comments before petering out, and most of it isn't overly positive.  The initial post in the thread, entitled "Start Up Press Sending Lots of Unsolicited Emails to Authors and Readers," has some, well, concerns about Ravenous's business model.  But the fun really starts when Jamaica Layne gets involved.  Now Layne, a pseudonym for Jill Elaine Hughes (hey, I've got no problems with the whole "second name" stuff), has been waving the pom poms for RR for a while–a quick tour of Absolute Write and a number of romance sites shows Ms. Layne/Hughes has been quite the busy bee.  In this particular thread, she starts innocently enough:

"In regards to authors being qualified to edit, please note that I worked professionally as an editor for several years before becoming a novelist."

Hughes, you see, is both an editor and author for RR.  A little odd, but certainly not unprecedented…and hey, it's not like her agent is one of the cofounders of the press or anything…

"Lori Perkins, a New York-based literary agent, and Holly Schmidt and Allan Penn, owners of book packager Hollan Publishing, decided to join forces to create a new kind of genre fiction publishing company."  

Lori Perkins, Hughes' agent.  Oh. 

But fine; even though we're already into pretty sketchy territory, these people are professionals, and this has to be on the up and up.  Perkins has a serious track record.  Simply respond nicely and professionally and everything should be fine, right?

"If you have a personal vendetta against me or RR, then don’t read my books or don’t buy books from the publisher. But continuing to turn this board into your own personal version of Lord of the Flies does nothing for the flamers’ reputations."

Hmm.  What would Piggy say?

"I have received many supportive emails from very, very reputable authors and editors asking me 'what the deal' is with some of you people on here, and all I can do is throw up my hands and say 'I have no idea.'"

Ah, yes, the "many anonymous people, who won't say it publicly, have contacted me to say…" tack.  Always effective.  And finally:

"Online behavior can and does come back to bite people in the career."

The old crowd pleaser–not so thinly veiled threats against people with negative things to say about your press (not about you personally, though Hughes tends to get this distinction confused a lot).  In fairness, this was a response to other comments made…but again, they were comments made about the press, not Hughes herself.  Hughes goes on to say she was not blacklisting anyone–but editors and agents might choose "of their own accord not to work with certain authors based on flame wars in public forums.  Always something to keep in mind." By Hughes, one would hope, insofar as she's throwing as many fireballs as anyone else.  But as the thread continues, other RR authors decide to jump in the pool too:

"You're an idiot, plain and simple.  A bigoted, stupid, backwoods idiot in triple WHO DOES NOT HAVE A LIFE…"

I think a bigoted, stupid and backwoods idiot probably doesn't need to have the effect tripled to NOT HAVE A LIFE, but maybe I shouldn't deduct for "ladyslipper's" style.  Either way, we finally get to the money quote: 

"Why did I respond? Because when you read such stupid, unfounded opinions such as these journalists must.  Sort of reminds me of the Salem witch trials or better yet a lynch mob, drooling blood."

Hurrah–and the ridiculous analogy arrives!  I think I was more reminded of a group of authors having a heated argument on the Internet, but different strokes, as they say.  But in any case, the reason this is the most important part of the thread is the answer our wanna-be Cinderella gives to her rhetorical question–she must respond (whatever kind of journalist she may or may not be) when she reads "such stupid, unfounded opinions."  Has to. She is required to reply and prove, through the force of her rhetoric, that the people reading this thread–the romance readers to which she and other RR authors must presumably appeal–are members of a lynch mob engaged in a witch hunt, a hunt begun, in this odd formulation, by the witches themselves who I guess were interested in selling some eyes of newt.

What I'm left wondering is what must make these people, Hughes and ladyslipper and every other overly defensive author tilting at the windmills of non-personalized criticism, respond.  I presume they mean they must seek out and fight injustice wherever it stands, and perhaps save the reputation of their startup E-press while they're at it…but of course that's not really it, is it?  They must respond because they're insulted.  They must respond because people are suggesting, and thinking, that they are somehow lesser authors than others. 

They must respond because they're pissed off.

And it's that last reason–the "I'm angry and you're going to know it"–which is the most counterproductive.  Let's be clear–attacking one's readers ala Anne Rice isn't the smartest business decision, and doing PR by hammering every other E-press isn't much better.  This isn't a witch trial, or a lynch mob, or a bunch of stupid backwoods idiots.  It's a group of skeptical readers to whom you either will or won't cater–either you'll decide that they have a point, and your press will need to adjust its business practices accordingly, or you'll decide they don't and will ignore them.  But attacking them, going on to Internet boards to fight the slings and arrows of outrageous romance readers, is the worst thing you can do, because it confirms what they already believed to be the case–you're low-rent and thin-skinned.  Not a good combination.

So, fellow authors, take the lesson of RR to heart.  You don't have to respond.  Really.  This isn't a war crime, or a false accusation of treason, or even an attack on your public image.  It's a criticism on a random Internet blog, and you don't have to say anything in response to that.  You can simply smile, nod, and log off.  There's a big world out there, and lots of books to write for the people who live in it.

Please stop the madness.  Because when it comes to public relations, you really don't want to be DOIN IT RONG.

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