Archive for the ‘Stephen Leather’ Category

fuckstevemosby.com

Posted by on January 4th, 2016

In the weeks before Christmas, this site about me finally went live.

I say finally because the web address was bought some time ago, but the site itself has only just been populated. It’s a site dedicated to exposing my bad language on Twitter, and encouraging people not to buy my books on that basis. I am “a vile and unpleasant little man”, apparently. To which I can only say: look – vile and unpleasant I may well be but, at six foot three and over fifteen stone, you’ll forgive me for taking umbrage at that “little”.

But no, seriously, I swear a bit on social media (although not nearly as much as that site implies; it’s all been culled – amazingly; almost psychotically flatteringly – from tweets going back to 2009), and I make no apologies for my language. Picture me shrugging right now – it’s a fucking enormous shrug, trust me. I swear. You swear. He, she or it swears.

Anyway. It’s reasonably clear that bestselling author, ebook superstar and fellow Hachette author Stephen Leather is responsible for this website. I won’t say how I know that; I’ll save all the screenshotted internet incompetence for later potential laughs. But I’m amused that, following his vague baseball bat threat last May, he promised to ignore me (as I then did him) and yet, clearly, he can’t. I’m also amused that he still doesn’t have the courage to attach his name to his activities. How pathetic. Three and a half fucking years ago, it was revealed how he cyberbullied a writer named Steve Roach into submission. Three and a half fucking years later, he’s still imagining the same tactics will work on me. They won’t. When I saw the obsessive content of the site, I laughed. When it was briefly replaced by an advert for acne cream, I laughed even harder.

It was actually a wonderful Christmas present. I’m looking forward to a lot more laughter in 2016.

How quickly love can turn to hate. Less than three years ago, bestselling Hodder & Stoughton author and “eBook superstar” Stephen Leather was admiringly telling me “you’ve a lot going for you … you could be selling tens of thousands a month”, and now … well, we all know where we are. In addition to bragging foolishly on stage about using sock puppet accounts to promote his books, Mr Leather has been revealed as a bully and a creepy stalker, and oooh, he has not liked being called out on it. There are numerous accounts detailing his behaviour. Here’s one, by Nick Cohen, which also includes the Press Complaints Commission’s outright rejection of the objections Mr Leather raised to a previous article.

I actually had no intention of blogging about Mr Leather again – it’s very boring; he’s very boring – but circumstances compel me slightly, as we shall see at the end. In the comments below that two year old Nick Cohen article, I noticed he had recently replied to an ancient comment of mine. Here are both:

2015Leather1

Which is interesting on a few levels. If anybody’s interested, the interview where Leather talks about the Thai bar girls he was meeting not being as pretty anymore, it’s here; it quite clearly makes no sense for him to be referring to my mother in the reply he made, although I’m genuinely not sure why he would consider that any better. I’ll just note that he accepts his own ‘Tick tock’ comment is a direct reference to me, or at least some member of my family.

Most bizarre of all, of course, is the time lag, which I was surprised enough by to mention it on Twitter:

2015Leather2

Well. He did not like this.

2015Leather3

This may be entirely coincidental, of course; he may not be meaning it in connection to me and my tweet. But it does tie in with the content of comment on the Cohen piece, and it’s difficult to imagine who else he might be replying to.

It’s an interesting approach, incidentally. One of the things that narcissists find difficult to do is to avoid personal projection in their attacks on others. In terms of the overall argument, what has been in dispute is Leather’s personal and professional behaviour. His sales, looks, writing talent and the number and quality of his sexual partnerships have never had any bearing on the matter. But it is reasonably clear from his attacks on myself and others that he cares very deeply about these things. A psychologist I am not. But: he is vain and insecure about his looks; he worries about his status, particularly with regard to other men; he views women as objects and trophies; he derives self-esteem from external and often random means of validation rather than any sense of inner confidence. And because the comments he makes would hurt him, he assumes they will hurt others. Even after numerous failed attempts, he remains unable to understand that I am completely oblivious to these lines of attack. He simply can’t comprehend it.

2015Leather4

Because I directly name and link to people, I am somehow passive aggressive. And because he subtweets snide little asides without mentioning names, he is not. Which is obviously nonsense – it’s the opposite of the truth – and again, it’s likely projection. He associates passive aggression, correctly, with cowardice, and so is unable to accept he is guilty of it, whereas I very clearly am not. I have never written anything I would not say to his face. He barely dares to write my name.

Anyway. He did not like this. Read from the bottom up.

2015Leather5

To which I responded:

2015Leather6

As you can probably guess, he did not like this.

2015Leather7

That’s a link to a website for acne cream … oh, please don’t look at me with those eyes – I’ll survive. But it ties back to his initial comment below Nick Cohen’s article. Despite still being too afraid to mention me by name, it is perfectly clear that he is directing these tweets at me. Which makes the follow up, a few hours later, all the more disturbing:

2015Leather8

From the chronology above, and the correlation of the “you” in his various tweets with the comment on the Cohen piece (amongst others), and the direct reference to “Tick tock” (which he has admitted is a specific response to me, and which he may well be regretting placing on the end of that tweet), his tweet is clearly directed at me. It very likely falls foul of Section 16 of the Offences Against the Person Act:

“A person who without lawful excuse makes to another a threat, intending that that other would fear it would be carried out, to kill that other or a third person shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.”

While I highly doubt that Mr Leather is physically capable of carrying out such a threat in person, Steve Roach made reference to Mr Leather’s powerful friends, and Mr Leather is certainly both a very strange and a very wealthy man, and apparently very proud of both things. So yes, I absolutely believe he intends me to “fear it would be carried out”. For what other reason would he say it? And so I shall be considering my legal options with care. In the meantime, I’m still not so much of a coward as to avoid naming Mr Leather and calling him out for what he is.

pulling teeth

Posted by on December 6th, 2013

I discovered this article today, written by everyone’s favourite Creepy Old Rich White Man Living in Thailand, in which I am name-checked. Here are a few choice quotes:

“Writing should be fun. If it isn’t fun, you really shouldn’t be doing it. A horror writer by the name of Steve Mosby recently complained on Twitter that he found writing like pulling teeth.  My reaction to that – if it’s that painful, you shouldn’t be doing it. Mosby spends a lot of time tweeting about how hard he finds it to write his books, and how much effort he has to put into rewriting them.”

and

“I have enjoyed writing every single Spider Shepherd book – not one of them has been the equivalent of pulling teeth.”

Well, bully for you, sunshine. Let’s leave aside the obvious retort – that just because writing them wasn’t the equivalent of pulling teeth doesn’t mean reading them won’t be – and move onto the meat of the issue. Did I say that I found writing to be like pulling teeth? Yes and no. I actually remember this, as I noticed Mr Leather making one of his standard passive-aggressive references to it shortly afterwards, and what I actually said was that writing on that particular day had been like pulling teeth. An exaggeration, of course, but not a massive one.

And that happens quite a lot for me. I imagine it’s the same for many writers (certainly, anecdotally, I believe that to be true). After all, writing is not just typing, not if you care about it. You’re trying to convey the idea of what you have in your head through words, and that’s not always the easiest thing to do. That applies not just at the level of sentences and scenes, but across the entire story, which at book length is likely to be structurally complicated, thematically intricate and difficult to hold in your head as a whole and coherent narrative. There are going to be good days and bad days. I have far more of the latter, especially in the end stages where the slightest tug on one narrative strand can dislodge another from the knot.

All writers have different approaches – and congratulations to Mr Leather for enjoying his work so much, as nobody would wish him ill – but mine is a more complicated affair. As I’ve said before, I usually write with a vague outline, and at the end of my first draft I realise what the book should have been about all along. So I rewrite, and I refine. The book goes through various iterations as I add, delete and shift scenes about. Characters vanish and reappear. Things get dropped and things get added. Other writers are more straightforward, but that’s the way I work: my books tend to begin as exceptionally blurry photographs, and then every draft sharpens the image a little more. For me, this tends to exacerbate the good day/bad day problem I mentioned above, but the bad days don’t make me any more unhappy than the good ones. That’s because I know they’re both equally important to the process. I work hard at my writing because I care about it.

So, do I spend “a lot of time tweeting about how hard [I find] it to write [my] books, and how much effort [I have] to put into rewriting them”? Well, not really (although I wouldn’t be ashamed if I did). My tweets are generally about my mundane life and opinions, mixed in with retweets to left-leaning articles and dick jokes. I don’t tweet about writing much, but it’s a social media channel, and I am honest when I’m using it. If I’m having a good day, I say so. If I’m having a bad one, likewise. Because I’m a writer, writing will crop up. I don’t tweet because I’m trying to build up a false image of myself, or sell things to people. Although obviously – in social media as in writing books – other authors will have very different approaches.

“I think the fact that I enjoy writing so much is reflected in the quality of my work – I do very little rewriting and my publisher generally has little to do in the way of editing.”

And this is interesting, simply because it seems so obviously, palpably false. It’s not even the faux machismo (“I don’t need any editing! I’m a machine!”) but the general thesis. I would actually say the opposite is true in my experience: that the enjoyment I take from a writing day is utterly unconnected to how good the work that day really is. How egotistical and solipsistic to think otherwise. I’ve done good work on subjectively bad days and vice versa. Why should my enjoyment in writing a passage necessarily translate to someone else’s pleasure in reading it? How naive and self-centred to imagine that might be true. And I welcome editorial input and suggestion, as it has – with no exceptions – improved all my books, and caused me to raise my game. But then, as we’ve probably realised by now, other authors have very different approaches. So it goes.

1. http://jerermyduns-watch.blogspot.co.uk/

The original, and still the most revealing. Its profile claims the author is Maria James, and yet the initial post begins thus:

“Dear Jeremy,

My name is Emily James, and I am a human rights lawyer who campaigns against the surveillance society.”

Its initial focus is on Jeremy’s taping of a conversation with the author Steve Roach (made without informing him) about Roach’s experiences of being bullied by bestselling author Stephen Leather. You can read a storify about that here.

[It’s worth noting that Roach did feel maligned by the attention, not least because, at this point, he felt he had buried the hatchet with Leather. Leather’s own attitude to that rapprochement was to publish a private email from Steve Roach on his Facebook page, and make fun of him.]

Regardless, this is a blog that was clearly created in haste – hence the spelling error in the title – and one which was then swiftly, even cruelly, abandoned, like a wretch.

2. http://jeremyduns-watch.blogspot.co.uk/

Also alleged to be by Maria James. Maria James 2. Ma2ia James.

[Actually, as a brief aside, no record appears to exist to support Maria’s existence as a human rights lawyer – or, indeed, as a human being. She does have a twitter account – here – which alternates between tweeting links to blogs about Jeremy Duns, and retweets of messages with feminist content. The feminist retweets may well be automated, based on keywords, as Maria has had at least one terrible misfire, involving posting an image of a blowjob. Another author who uses automated tweets is Stephen Leather.]

The content here reiterates some of the concerns of the previous blog, before evolving into accusations of misogyny, the main evidence for which appears to be that Jeremy admires the novel Casino Royale. It also has a pop at me, and others. Logic is tortured; facts, brushed aside. This is not a blog prepared or fit for discourse; it will not survive well. And indeed, it appears to have fallen into a state of decomposition, with its penultimate flail at life an almost incomprehensible attack on David Hewson for writing adaptations of the (very famous) TV series The Killing:

“Note the use of the description of a ‘gaping wound’ that is ‘like a second sick smile’. I can assume that Hewson is trying to compare it to a vagina. Sick. Just a one off? Before that Hewson published ‘The Killing I’”.

Another writer that has criticised David Hewson is Stephen Leather.

David 1

3. http://jeremydunsjournalist.blogspot.co.uk/

It is an anonymous blog, and the content is mainly concerned with whether Jeremy is a journalist or not. (Spoiler: he is a journalist).

There is some junk DNA in this thing about Jeremy editing his own wikipedia page. Which, as I check it, yes, he appears to have done – openly, under his own name, with limited success, and with the aim of correcting the malicious attentions of numerous anonymous editors. For a while, the entry was mostly focused on his altercations with other authors and journalists: R J Ellory; Q R Markham; Lenore Hart; Nate Thayer. The present version – hard-fought-for; wrangled over – now also includes mention of an author named Stephen Leather.

4. http://jeremydunsjournalist.wordpress.com/

More of the same, more-or-less. We look at these things and yawn, after a while, don’t we? The same dead eyes; a similar path worn in the dirt as the useless fucking thing circles, then circles again. But we press on. This blog is distinguished for two reasons. The first is its almost incoherent howl of plagiarism, which is based on the notion that the Telegraph republishing an article previously published (by them) by Jeremy constitutes self-plagiarism. Well, it doesn’t, obviously, but this is a blog, and it cannot possibly understand. Take this thing out back and put it out of its suffering. Wait, sorry. I get ahead of myself.

The second is this post, which is interesting only in terms of the screengrabs it uses to illustrate its points. At least two of them are clearly screengrabs made by Stephen Leather (they’re amongst the motley collection visible here). Perhaps these images have been absorbed by osmosis and incorporated into the whole of this blog-thing, this thing that not even a mother would love, and which should, undeniably, die. Leather should sue. But then, most of these blogs use photos and images they have no right to use, so perhaps he should not.

5. http://jeremydunsauthor.blogspot.se/

This ostensibly puny creation is a clone of the following .co.uk site – but dislocated to a Swedish address – so we’ll just move swiftly on to that instead, and speak of it no longer.

6. http://jeremydunsauthor.blogspot.co.uk/

Most notable for its false accusations of sockpuppetry. As any fule kno, it’s not sockpuppetry to use a pseudonym or an elaborate username online – and many people log into forums with names that differ from their given ones. The important thing is what you’re using that false name for, and whether you’re pretending to lack an interest while you do so.

For example, Stephen Leather admitted creating accounts to promote his work – accounts that readers might assume were other disinterested readers like themselves. They had no idea that the individual recommending Stephen Leather’s books was Stephen Leather himself. That’s sockpuppetry. Whereas, while Jeremy initially seems to be promoting his work under an alias, it’s clear upon reading the screengrabs that he has self-identified as the author of the book he’s discussing. He’s not being a conman. He’s not misleading anyone. He’s not using a sockpuppet.

This blog is also notable on a teeny, tiny level for using the same screengrabs of Jeremy’s reviews as the final blog to be discussed, but honestly, this blog would take anything at this point, and it’s best not to indulge it.

7. http://authorjeremyduns.wordpress.com/

This stumbling, crawling one is notable for two primary reasons. There are two posts. The first attacks Jeremy’s sales figures, using a screengrab that resembles one Stephen Leather took to misrepresent my own. (Leather is obsessed with sales figures, by the way. See the comment thread here, and likely a zillion other places). You’re tempted to say “and how many books have you sold, anonymous blog?” and also “what does it matter, anyway?”, but to do so would only encourage the thing, and it’s better to leave it be.

The second – and come on, now; we’re nearly done – is the accusation that Jeremy exchanged reviews with another writer. The evidence is that they have both favourably reviewed each other’s books. There is zero evidence – as things stand, on the basis of that – that this is a “review swap”, rather than one writer honestly admiring another that works in the same genre. And the names are not hidden. And where is my shotgun, and where is the back of the motherfucking barn?

where am I?

Posted by on April 2nd, 2013

Where am I? It’s a reasonable question, although perhaps one I ask myself on an existential basis more often than anyone else asks it after visiting here. But still. It’s been a while since the last proper post, so I figured it was worth sticking my head above the parapet and explaining what I’ve been up to.

Which is easy: I’ve been knee deep in the next book. Or possibly shin deep. But working hard at it, at any rate. It’s been an interesting process. This book is, basically, a replacement for the one I turned in at the end of last year, which I mentioned in an earlier post didn’t work. So that book is on the shelf, awaiting attention at some point (which it will receive), and what I’m working on now is something entirely new.

When I took the idea for it to Orion, the plot was more-or-less fully formed, in that I had the skeleton: the basic bones of structure on which a meaty final product would hang. I got the go-ahead, with a certain amendment, which I’ll go into more at some point, but which I was happy to make. But that amendment has required a slight rethink, and, while I’m doing well in terms of word count, a lot of the past month has been spent adjusting the original structure and exploring different ideas: writing my way, basically, into the story and the characters. The burgeoning first draft has therefore thrown up lots of new ideas – elements and connections I didn’t know about until I brainstormed particular passages. Hopefully, that draft will be finished by the middle of May, and I’ll then have a handful of weeks to order and edit. That’s the plan anyway. It’s a June delivery. Eek.

Anyway, it’s untitled (as yet), but slated for a May 2014 release. I’ll post more information as and when.

The other thing that I really need to mention is the handful of events I’ve got planned for this year, as one of them is next week. I’ve added them to the events page (see right), but I’ll also simply paste them in below. Hope to see as many of you there as possible. In the meantime, back to work…

12 April 2013
Scarborough Literature Festival
Delighted to be appearing at the Festival for the first time. More details here.

30 May – 2 June 2013
CrimeFest
I’ll be attending the annual CrimeFest in Bristol, there for the whole weekend, but appearing on panels on the Friday and Saturday. More details here.

18-21 July 2013
Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival
I’m pleased to have been invited back to participate in this year’s festival. The full programme’s not been announced yet, but I can promise you it is stellar. More details here – and I’ll add more when they’ve been officially released.

_____________________________________

AMENDED TO ADD

After publishing today’s post, I see that Stephen Leather almost immediately tweeted this:

Steve 8

Leaving aside the fact that Mr Leather feigns total disinterest in my comings and goings – yawn, etc – his tweet is clearly directed at me, and it does raise interesting questions. As a writer, how should you behave, and how much should you share about it?

If I didn’t submit a manuscript when I was unsure about it, I’d never submit a manuscript. I generally have no idea whether something’s good or not (the author has little insight or influence when it comes to how others will experience their writing), so I’m used to relying on the opinions of others. In the case of the original Book 8, I suspected there were problems – and yes, there were. But I had a deadline, and the conversation, as unhappy as it might have been, needed to be had. It’s actually far less professional  to say “to hell with the deadline, you can’t have it, and we can’t talk about it.” That’s genuinely not how professionals operate. What you do is have the conversation.

As to whether I should talk about it on twitter … well. I suppose it’s about your approach to social media and how you use it. I prefer to act like a human being on it. I’ve published seven books and I’ve made a living solely from writing for over five years – but there’s little real difference between me and a first time writer trying to break through. We both face many of the same obstacles and difficulties, while attempting the same things. If you care about your writing, you always will face those things. And I think maybe it’s better to say “look, we all find it hard, and we’re all in the same boat, and it doesn’t get any easier,” than pretend that being published gives you superpowers. Occasionally, people will approach me at events and say “I’m trying to be a writer”, and my response is always the same: “Me too.”

Put bluntly, I would rather be honest about my failings than pretend to be an invulnerable sales machine. This may not sit well with certain people, whose tweets amount to little more than self-aggrandising rhetoric with links to places their books may be bought, but never mind. I don’t care about such people. I use social media as a human being, not as a brand, and I care deeply enough about my writing for it to be worth discussing – on good days and bad – as part of my feed. And so it will continue.

Where am I at, politically?

I’d hesitate to call myself a feminist, not because I wouldn’t personally identify as such, but because I know it can piss some women off to have a man do so. At the same time, I wouldn’t call myself a “feminist ally” either, as that sounds absurdly subservient, and also implies a degree of activism I don’t really partake in. I’d say that I’m interested in feminism, see things generally from a feminist point of view, and think concepts like patriarchy are enormously useful and revealing ways of looking at the world.

None of which I want a cookie for, incidentally; I’m just trying to explain. Basically, it’s why I feel slightly awkward being a man writing in defence of a woman, when no defence is, really, required. And yet here we are.

What happened recently is this. A site was set up attacking Jeremy Duns. (There have been two sites, actually, but the person couldn’t spell Jeremy right the first time they tried). Jeremy spends a lot of time chasing people online, so it’s natural he makes enemies, and since he’s generally right, it’s also natural that those enemies manifest themselves in fairly pathetic ways. This particular one focused on the allegations around Stephen Leather, although it’s hard to say whether that was the real motivation behind it, or who might be responsible. Jeremy responded in the comments, linking to an interview Leather gave about his attitude to Thai bar girls. Fairly unpleasant stuff, albeit typical. I hadn’t read it before, so – bored – I randomly tweeted the link to it, along with a quote from him about how the girls these days weren’t as pretty as they used to be.

In reply, Leather tweeted three times, the last of which was this:

A few people were shocked by this, and I understand. But it’s basically just bargain-basement misogyny – depressing and depressingly familiar. Let’s look at it.

First, there’s the implication that a woman can “improve with age”. This is basically saying that your partner is there to look good: as a trophy on your arm; as a prize; as an object. The idea is that women should be valued solely by the way they look, not who they are, and that if they fail to meet a particular man’s criteria, they must be judged on that. They must be made to feel unworthy. Because that is all women are.

Second, there is an implicit attack on what is clearly seen as property. Leather has no interest in engaging in argument, but seeks to win a point with a spurious trump card. He might as well have said “your house is run down”. He is seeking to diminish me, or make me feel diminished, by attacking something he sees as belonging to me and which is somehow depreciating in value. Of course, my wife does not belong to me, but it speaks very clearly to how he sees women (and also, ironically, to the views expressed in the interview I linked to). Women are currency to him, and he is showing his wallet, and thinks it is impressive. He thinks insinuating “your wife is ugly” is a reflection on me, not on her – and more to the point, not on him for doing so in the first place.

Those two points tie together. What is made clear by this (as well as the otherwise irrelevant “I sell x number of books and they’re just envious!” comments he’s scattered across the internet) is that Leather requires the admiration of other men. I sell this many books! My woman looks like this! Admire me! It would be offensive if it wasn’t so risible and pathetic. Or perhaps, vice versa.

___________________________

Just quickly: one keen memory I have is of the birth of my son.

It was a difficult birth; afterwards, more than one midwife would tell us that if we’d asked for the worst birth possible, well, we got it. It was a bad and busy forty-eight hours, and I don’t remember a lot of it. But I do remember that my wife, throughout it all, kept apologising to the doctors for putting them out. With everything that she was going through, she was still thinking of them, and how she was making things harder for them. Because that’s the kind of person she is.

Listen: she doesn’t need to improve with age (whatever that even fucking means) and she doesn’t need to be or become anybody apart from who she is. If that’s your argument, then sorry, you’ve lost.

But you know what? It wouldn’t matter anyway, what she was like. You don’t win arguments by doing that. You don’t do anything except make yourself look bad. If you have something intelligent to say to me, about what I’ve said and what you think about it, then just be brave and say it. To me. I’m not fucking hard to find.

 

Earlier this week, I was one of several people involved in drafting the open letter in the previous post, to which I also added my signature. Since then, the letter has been posted online (here), where others are welcome to add their signatures as well.

At the time of writing this, nearly 400 people have done so. Naturally, there has also been a degree of discussion and criticism of the letter from others, including (but not limited to) Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath. This post is not addressed to either of those critics in particular, but I wanted to mention a few points of criticism and clarify where I stand. It should go without saying that the opinions below are mine, and do not represent any of the other signatories to the letter.

1. It’s a witch-hunt, specifically of the three writers named.

Well, not in my eyes, it’s not. As you can imagine, one of the lengthiest discussions had while drafting the letter was whether to mention the three writers by name. Arguments were made on both sides.

My view was that the focus of the letter should be on the behaviour itself rather than the individuals, but that there was no reason not to name them. For readers unfamiliar with what had taken place, it explained the context for writing the letter in the first place; for readers familiar with events, the names were known anyway. And all three writers were already in the news, frequently mentioned in the same major articles.

As long as the focus of the letter was on condemning the behaviour rather than the writers, I felt it was okay – and I think that was achieved. There is no baying mob. There is no moral panic. There are simply objections to specific types of behaviour. In a piece of advice that will be quoted again shortly, if you don’t like the letter, you don’t have to sign it. You can always write your own, or not, or whatever.

2. It’s badly worded. You should have said this or that instead of this and that.

The writers who signed the letter were happy with the wording, as were the people who signed it online afterwards. If you don’t like the letter, you don’t have to sign it. You can always write your own, or not, or whatever.

3. You don’t say what’s wrong with the activities / don’t differentiate between them in terms of badness / don’t invent and define morality from first principles in front of my eyes.

No, indeed. I suppose there was a general consensus that it was fairly obvious that these activities were wrong. Many people seem to agree. However, we can have a quick run through this.

Four behaviours were referred to:

a) Using sock puppet accounts to create buzz;

b) Leaving positive self-reviews under assumed names;

c) Leaving negative other-reviews under assumed names;

d) Paying others to purchase and review one’s own work.

Behaviours a) and b) are arguably illegal (the vendor posing as a consumer), but here is why I believe these things are wrong: they are attempts to deceive the reader of the review or comment to procure an advantage at their expense. In each case, there is a relevant piece of information obscured from the reader that would change the reader’s perception of the review or comment, and therefore its impact upon the reader.

Barry Eisler brings Kant into it, but only quotes the first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, which feeds into the fairly obvious idea that this behaviour is wrong because if everyone behaved like this then the review system would collapse. But the second formulation (roughly “Treat others not merely as means, but as ends in themselves”) speaks more appropriately to intent. Readers were in those places to find information that would help them choose whether to buy a book. The writers in question disregarded the ends of the readers, treating them merely as means to further their own. And they directly intended to do so.

With each behaviour, there are individual wrinkles. So, does the letter differentiate between the four types? Well, it lists them separately. Does it condemn them all? Yes, it does. Does it argue that they are all equally wrong, or wrong in the same ways? No, it does not.

It’s worth pointing out again that other signatories may feel differently from me; they may explain their objections in other ways entirely. But you know what? They all signed the letter. And they don’t have to show you their working. If you don’t like the letter, you don’t have to sign it. You can always write your own, or not, or whatever.

4. Other activities are just as bad.

They may be. One example that keeps being raised is blurbing. My feeling is that this is very different, as the blurber generally receives no direct material advantage from the blurb, and is putting their name to their opinion. (In fact, they’re risking their name).

That’s a separate argument. The letter condemns the behaviours mentioned – it says nothing about other behaviours. From my point of view, the behaviours listed are all clearly wrong. They are definitely over the line. It may be that others are too, in certain circumstances, but that would require an argument from someone as to why. You can always write that letter instead, or not, or whatever, and it’s possible I’d sign that too.

5. Comments were deleted from the blog post.

Yes, they were. That website is set up with the intention of allowing people to sign it if they wish, not to debate its merits or self-promote in the thread below. If you don’t like the letter, you don’t have to sign it. You can always discuss and debate it on your own website, or not, or whatever.

6. Worse things happen at sea! It’s not that bad!

Indeed, they do. You can always write about the worse things that happen at sea, or not, or whatever

7. You’re sanctimonious, smug etc.

Possibly. But look. In the past month, I’ve been called ugly and told that I only have tattoos because of a lack of self-esteem. I’ve been accused of envy, had (inaccurate) sales figures posted in various places, and been told I have no future as a writer. I’ve been a thinly disguised character in a terribly written short story, where I’m described as looking like I’ve just come out of prison and being a ”wimp at heart”. People who have reviewed me in good faith have had their reviews voted down. I’ve had defamatory lies posted about me by a friend of Stephen Leather who publishes daddy-daughter incest porn. I’ve had people attempt to organise online campaigns targeting me for abuse. And so on.

In short, you’re going to have to try harder to upset me.

8. I have another point to make.

The floor is open. I’ve been a bit slack, last week or so, replying to stuff. I have a book to write – I really do! – but if you want to comment below then I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.

Statement on author behaviour

Posted by on September 3rd, 2012

I’m pleased to be one of the authors putting their name to the statement below.

These days more and more books are bought, sold, and recommended on-line, and the health of this exciting new ecosystem depends entirely on free and honest conversation among readers. But some writers are misusing these new channels in ways that are fraudulent and damaging to publishing at large. British author Stephen Leather recently admitted that he used fake identities online to promote his work. The American bestseller John Locke has revealed he has paid for reviews of his books. The British author RJ Ellory has now confessed to posting flattering reviews of his own work and to using assumed names to attack other authors perceived to be his rivals.

These are just three cases of abuse we know about. Few in publishing believe they are unique. It is likely that other authors are pursuing these underhand tactics as well.

We the undersigned unreservedly condemn this behaviour, and commit never to use such tactics.

But the only lasting solution is for readers to take possession of the process. The internet belongs to us all. Your honest and heartfelt reviews, good or bad, enthusiastic or disapproving, can drown out the phoney voices, and the underhanded tactics will be marginalized to the point of irrelevance. No single author, however devious, can compete with the whole community. Will you use your voice to help us clean up this mess?”

Signed:
Linwood Barclay, Tom Bale, Mark Billingham, Declan Burke, Ramsey Campbell, Tania Carver, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, N.J. Cooper, David Corbett, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Stella Duffy, Jeremy Duns, Mark Edwards, Chris Ewan, Helen FitzGerald, Meg Gardiner, Adèle Geras, Gordon Harries, Joanne Harris, Mo Hayder, David Hewson, Charlie Higson, Peter James, Graham Joyce, Laura Lippman, Stuart MacBride, Val McDermid, Roger McGough, Denise Mina, Steve Mosby, Stuart Neville, Jo Nesbo, Ayo Onatade, SJ Parris, Tony Parsons, Sarah Pinborough, Ian Rankin, Shoo Rayner, John Rickards, Stav Sherez, Karin Slaughter, Andrew Taylor, Luca Veste, Louise Voss, Martyn Waites, Neil White, Laura Wilson.

 

what to do?

Posted by on August 26th, 2012

It’s not an unreasonable question.

The past few weeks have seen a lot of posts, here and elsewhere, around the behaviour of Stephen Leather, all of which have touched at least peripherally on the subject of the ethics of marketing techniques, especially given the constantly changing digital environment. These techniques (some, but not all, of which can be attributed to Leather; all of which can be attributed to various authors across the board) include:

1. Using sock puppet accounts to talk up one’s own book;
2. Giving positive reviews to one’s own book under a sock puppet account;
3. Giving negative reviews to a “competing” author’s book under a sock puppet account;
4. Spreading lies about “competing” authors online;
5. Bullying and harrassing other authors;
6. Shilling – ie talking up the book of a friend without disclosing a personal interest;
7. Astroturfing – ie the overall cumulative effect of the above. Artificial buzz.
8. Attacking reviewers for negative but honest reviews, and/or encouraging their readers to do so.

To which, we can also add this: paying (substantial amounts of money) for reviews. The successful ebook writer John Locke is named in that article. To quote:

“Mr. Locke is unwilling to say that paying for reviews made a big difference. “Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful,” he said.”

Well, that may be true. But ordering 300 reviews will have set him back $6000. At the 0.99 he charges, for which he would receive around 0.30, those reviews would need to have generated him 20,000 book sales just to break even. That is not an insignificant number. You assume it was worth it, but prospective self-publishers may wish to consider their disposable income first – and also have a good, long look at themselves in the mirror.

And I’m sure there are countless other activities as well.

Why  does any of this matter? Well, a lot of this behaviour is technically illegal (a vendor pretending to be a consumer, etc), but all of it is dodgy and what I, at least, would consider to be unethical behaviour for an author to be involved in or encouraging. The online review system (along with other online feedback systems) is imperfect, but it exists, and people use it. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t be worth authors gaming it in these underhand ways, often at great expense. So these are acts of deception that betray both the reader and other writers. They are acts of selfishness. They are attempts to grab as much of the “open ground” of self-publishing for themselves as possible, by whatever means possible.

It’s possible you don’t care. Well, if so, move on. But if you feel strongly about these issues, what can you do? Here are some quick, initial thoughts. They’re mostly obvious. Please feel free to add other ideas in the comments.

1. Readers

The oddest thing about the Leather business is that, really, I’ve just been reacting to stuff and posting on topics that have arisen. I never had any endgame in mind; I wasn’t trying to achieve anything. When Leather accuses me of being jealous (sic) of his sales, or wanting to harm them, that’s absolutely not the case. I couldn’t give two fucks if he sells a million books in the next day, or none ever again. It has no impact on me. More to the point, a lot of writers over the years have been vile individuals; the books stand alone, their merits independent (for the most part) from the character of the writers.

That said, numerous people have contacted me, either publicly or privately, to say they won’t be buying Leather’s books again. That’s fine. Voting with your feet is a time-honoured tradition. One obvious way you can react to an author behaving in ways you disapprove of is to not support them anymore. That aside, you could also let them know what you think, or engage them in conversation around issues that concern you. And do you know what? The forums and channels these writers are hijacking to promote themselves, however imperfect they are, they belong to you. They are meant for you. Your voice matters more than theirs, so you should use it. And at the absolute least, you can be aware enough of these authors to treat future “buzz” around their books with whatever scepticism you conclude it deserves.

2. Organisations

There have been a few suggestions that organisations such as the CWA could introduce a charter of some kind – listing behaviour they expect their members to refrain from, and so on. I have some sympathy with this as a symbolic gesture, but I don’t think it would make much difference for a number of reasons. I doubt someone like Stephen Leather or John Locke cares very much about being a member. I also doubt – with the greatest respect for the organisations in question – that the reading public would pay much attention either. It wouldn’t be awful for it to happen anyway though.

3. Publishers

It’s far more likely that wayward authors would take notice of publishers condemning these activities, but there are numerous problems with this as well. For one thing, obviously a proportion of this activity is by authors who are self-published, so it wouldn’t matter. For another, I expect most publishers would condemn this sort of behaviour anyway. Because, in my experience, most people who work in publishing are nice and decent and working in publishing in the first place because they love books.

The issue here is that publishing is a business, but the people who work in it are individuals. Those individuals have their opinions, but it’s often difficult politically to voice them. I think it’s a truism that most editors will have writers they like and want to publish but, for various reasons, it can’t happen, while also having authors they dislike intensely but are stuck with. But at the end of the day, it’s a business – it has to be, and it should be. That’s not to say they should turn a blind eye.

4. Writers

It’s much the same as readers, I think, with some additional caveats. Obviously, regardless of your profile, you can use whatever social media platforms you have to express your opinion. You can refuse to blurb or share a platform with people who engage in this kind of behaviour. You can put forward your point of view; you can let readers know what’s going on. If you think someone’s attacking you, say so.

So. That’s just some initial thoughts and ideas. Feel free to chip in below the line with others…

Just a quick note

Posted by on August 17th, 2012

My attention was drawn to a post on Facebook today, which reads as follows:

“So, it looks like a guy named Steve Mosby is so insecure about his own book sales that he is deliberately and covertly going to Smashwords and using troll tactics to squash the sales of fellow Brit author Stephen Leather. Let Mosby know your views on his dirty tactics by visiting his page at: https://www.facebook.com/theleftroom?ref=ts

There’s a screenshot of it here.

Given it’s likely this rubbish will crop up again at some point, let’s make a few things clear.

1.
The accusation above is utter bullshit. Unlike some people, I don’t even bother giving myself good reviews covertly, never mind bad reviews to others. If I was going to do the latter, I’d do so under my own name, and I would likely do so here. I think I’ve made it pretty clear that my objections to Leather centre on his marketing techniques and – in terms of some of the comments he’s made subsequent to Harrogate – his personality. I have no opinion on his writing. I went onto Smashwords today, for what may be the first time ever, curious to see what was behind this accusation. I see that Leather has a small handful of reviews (four and five star), so presumably very few people there have an opinion on his writing either. Since Mr Drake (above) doesn’t clarify what on earth he’s fucking talking about, it is both difficult and unnecessary to respond in greater depth.

2.
Frankly, I  couldn’t care less if Leather’s the bestselling writer in the history of the world. This keeps coming up: people – including Leather himself – suggesting that the motive of his critics must be jealousy of his sales. (Although they mean envy). Firstly, this is what happens when all you have intellectually is a hammer: everything looks like a nail. If all you care about is sales, then you assume that’s all anyone else cares about as well. Secondly – and this is nobody’s business but my own – I do okay, actually. If you don’t know me, you’ll just have to take my word for this: insecure, I am not.

3.
Unless you send a friend request, I’m afraid you can’t let me know your views on my “dirty tactics” by visiting my Facebook page. It’s set to private. However, it’s possible you might find your way here. If so, the comment thread below this post is open, so feel free to present your fascinating opinions on my “dirty tactics” there. Please be aware that without corroborating evidence (of which there is none, because the above statement is a lie), you will be soundly and viciously mocked. At a bare minimum.

**UPDATE – 19 August 2012**

Okay, I sent a message on Facebook to Jake Drake, explaining that his post was defamatory and untrue, and inviting him to reply either by return of message or in the comments below to attempt to justify and provide evidence for his accusations. Needless to say, I didn’t receive a reply. My understanding is that, instead of doing so, he posted my message on his Facebook page, along with a similar message from Jeremy Duns.

Since then, it has emerged that Jake also writes erotica under the pseudonym “Whiskey McNaughton”. His favourite subgenre of erotica is “family relationships, if you know what I mean”, which – yes – is exactly what you imagine it to be. His Amazon page is here, but basically he writes explicit pornography about men having sex with their own daughters.

(It goes without saying that you should exercise caution clicking on these links. All are technically SFW – Amazon, Goodreads, etc – but if incest is a trigger for you then please, please be careful).

Many of Whiskey’s stories have a five-star review from the same reviewer. Of one of his stories, this reviewer writes:

“This author seems to like stories involving older men and younger women barely old enough to enjoy sexually. I think Whiskey either fantasizes a lot on this topic or he gets a lot of side action from girls he knows. I hope it’s the latter and wish I was one of them, though i might be just a bit too old for him. Love this story.”

All of which is – fairly obviously – stick-your-fingers-down-your-fucking-throat stuff. I would hesitate to suggest that’s Jake himself there, but he certainly does review the Whiskey McNaughton books under his own name, for example “Night Swims With Daddy”, which you can see here.

Now, there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the acceptability or otherwise of this kind of horrendous fucking shite, but that’s for another day. For now, let’s just note that, under his McNaughton twitter identity, Drake posts that he’s just finished editing one of Stephen Leather’s stories for him. So there’s the connection. That’s likely the only relevant evidence you’re ever going to see in connection with the original accusation.

You may recall, from Jeremy Duns’s original investigation, that the writer Steve Roach advised against crossing Stephen Leather because of his “powerful friends”. And now we begin to meet them.