Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Bought Sylvia Massara's Book

Hey, it was $0.99 for the Kindle.  But you can be sure I wouldn't even have known to look for it if her recent blog post about a review (and the reviewer) hadn't stirred up a mini-controversy in the larger literary blogosphere.  (And, no, I'm not linking to it -- go Google her.)

I have no idea how much money she makes on my measly sale -- 50¢ perhaps? -- but whatever the amount, score that much for Authors Behaving Badly.

Did I buy the book (Like Casablanca) to support Massara or because I agree with her?  No.  Did I buy the book as a put-down to the forces that believe she's a troll or a cow?  No.

I bought it because it sounded interesting enough to justify the price.  (She also has a $2.99 book, but that was too much money for me.  And one's enough to find out if she's any good.)  But I wouldn't have known it existed if it hadn't been for the kerfuffle.

By buying her book, I undoubtedly put myself in the minority (story of my life) among those who read her blog post.  I think it's safe to assume that most of the people who read her screed decided on the spot that they would never buy one of her books, not ever.

Fair enough.  I recently divested myself of the backlist of an author whom I discovered I didn't like much in person.  That's just market forces.  Undoubtedly some people already swear blind they won't read anything by Magdalen Braden, assuming there will ever be anything for them to eschew.  Perhaps there are people who read my blog and want to read a book of mine.  Still just market forces.

Being active on the Internet is now standard operating practice for writers and authors.  We're supposed to have a "platform" and a presence in the online worlds frequented by people who might read our books.  We are supposed to present ourselves as nicer, cooler, smarter, funnier, more interesting versions of our real selves.  These airbrushed versions are supposed to reward fans and attract new readers.  We can't be too bland, but we need to be careful not to ruffle too many feathers.  And absolutely we shouldn't flame out in public.  All sound advice.  Not always easy to do.  (Except for that last bit -- it's really easy to avoid flaming out in public.  It's called email.  Email is still private.)

Here's what I don't get about all this.  Massara's screed against "unprofessional" reviewers was aimed at - whom, exactly?  Other authors?  Did she worry that it might piss off some readers and potential readers?  Or was it just a flare in the shape of an extended middle finger, sent up into the sky with the hope of -- what?  Pissing off the reviewers in question?  (In which case, it worked.)  Garnering name awareness?  (Worked -- whether in a good or bad way rather depends on whether you believe that there's no such thing as bad publicity.)  Laying entire villages of bloggers and book reviewers to waste?  (Not even close.)

But to read the comment threads and meta-comment threads, you'd think it was time to stage an Egyptian-level protest!

This reminds me of the concept of standing in the law.  Not everyone can sue; a litigant has to establish an injury, causation and the possibility of redress, or risk getting thrown out of court.  So who really has the standing to say they were injured by Massara's post?  The reviewers in question.  No argument there.  But who else?  Can all other book reviewers say they were injured by Massara's diatribe against "unprofessional" reviewers?  Where's the harm?

Of course everyone's entitled to her or his opinion -- that's just basic free speech, limited by the common law torts of libel, slander and defamation generally.  So all the people who commented anywhere yesterday on this issue (I was one) are entitled to their (non-defamatory) opinion.

But moral outrage -- the sort of moral outrage you express when you believe harm has occurred -- is blunted when the harm could have been prevented.  Just don't go there, and once you're there, remember you came of your own free will.

When you read a post like Massara's, you can see it as an uncensored rant by a petty person who thinks -- probably erroneously -- that she got hosed.  Or you can see it as a Massive Injustice Against All Bloggers and Further Evidence that Authors are Cows and Shouldn't Be Allowed to Comment on Reviews and Book Discussions.  Your choice.  No matter how outraged you are, I doubt you'd have standing to sue.

Jane (of Dear Author fame) quite presciently tweeted on Monday (before the Massara kerfuffle, I believe):
as a general rule do not read author blogs. Too afraid of running into a blow job post

Smart woman.