Archive for September, 2012

Off the record 2 – now available

Posted by on September 26th, 2012

I was enormously pleased to be a part of the first Off The Record (details here, but basically it was an anthology of short stories based around song titles, where all the profits went to charities connected to children’s literacy). I’m just as pleased to have a story in Off The Record 2, which has launched today.

You can find more details here.

Basically, the second anthology is also for charity, but the difference this time is that the story titles are taken from movies instead of songs. There are a lot of great writers involved, and it’s dead cheap, so you should definitely pick up a copy. My own story is called “9 Songs”. It’s not remotely crime, but is based on an idea I’ve tried to make work a few times as a short and always had trouble with. The anthology gave me the incentive to work on it properly and get it into a shape I’m happy with (as happy as I ever am, at least).

Huge thanks – and congratulations – to Luca Veste and Paul Brazill for pulling this collection together. I think it’s amazing that two writers could put so much personal effort into collecting original stories for such a good cause, all at no benefit to themselves. They are gentlemen and scholars, and I raise a glass to them. Please do consider supporting their efforts. You get some great stories (and mine); you get them cheap; and you get to contribute to something worthwhile.

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?”

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.