With reference to the previous two posts, it’s probably worth pointing out that the notorious panel in question is now available to buy and download online. It costs £3, and you can acquire it here.
Here are some initial thoughts about it on listening again.
If you weren’t there – and given the way the online coverage has reported the whole thing – you’ll probably find it sounds quite tame and restrained. If you’ve read some of the articles, you’ll probably be expecting to hear something close to people storming the stage with pitchforks. Well, you won’t hear that. Although the recording doesn’t entirely capture the crowd’s reaction or the overall atmosphere, you’ll mostly hear the event for what it was: a fascinating, slightly fragmented and occasionally heated discussion about ebooks.
While I don’t want to get into point-scoring or pettiness, I think it’s worth taking another look at Stephen Leather’s blogpost about the event. He may have changed it by now, but here is one thing he initially said, which has been reproduced carelessly elsewhere:
“So I explain to Ursula – and the audience – that I can write a short story in five days and am happy to sell that at the Amazon minimum of 72p which generates me an income of 25p. At this point Ursula – who runs one of the biggest publishing houses in the UK – asked me “so you’re happy to work for 5p a day, are you?” The audience laughed and clapped, and I was frankly gob-smacked. I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t seen the fallacy in her comment. She was assuming that I spent five days writing a story and then sold one copy. She can’t possibly have believed that, could she? Of course I don’t work for 5p a day. My Inspector Zhang stories sell about five or six hundred copies a month. Each. So one story sells 6,000 copies a year. So over the next ten years it could sell 60,000 copies which means I’d get £15,000, which is £3,000 a day and that’s probably more than she gets paid.
It was all very strange and I wasn’t sure what to do. Part of me wanted to go all Jeremy Kyle and leap across the stage and shake some sense into her but I just smiled and listened to the audience applaud her. I did find it all very worrying.”
Right, but if you listen to the recording, you’ll hear that it was Mark Lawson who made the 5p comment, and very obviously as a quick throwaway joke. So that vividly described little memory is entirely fabricated. Because people aren’t that stupid.
Here is a quick transcript of the sockpuppetry admission:
SL: I’ll go onto several forums, from the well-known forums, and post there, under my own name and under various other names and various other characters. You build this whole network of characters who talk about your books and sometimes have conversations with yourself. And then I’ve got enough fans…
Me: So you use sockpuppet accounts basically?
SL: I think everyone does. Everyone does. Or I have friends who are sockpuppets, who might be real, but they might pick a fight with me.
Me: Are your readers aware of this, or…?
SL: Well, I think that everyone … well, are the readers aware of it? No … But they’re not buying it because of the sockpuppet. What you’re trying to do is create a buzz. And it’s very hard, one person, surrounded by a hundred thousand other writers, to create a buzz. I mean, that’s one of the things that publishers do. They create a buzz. One person on their own, difficult to create a buzz. If you’ve got ten friends, and they’ve got friends, and you can get them all as one creating a buzz, then hopefully you’ll be all right.
Stephen has since claimed that I misunderstood him, and that sockpuppet was my phrase not his, so I think it would be enormously useful for him to expand. Since it’s against UK law for a vendor to pretend to be a consumer, it also seems like he should want to do that. The English language is a flexible thing, after all, so it’s theoretically possible he could twist the above statements into some acceptable if as yet unfathomable contortion.
If not, then perhaps – assuming such a thing is logistically possible – he could supply a list of the forums and accounts he’s used, and the kinds of things he’s said. And maybe say sorry for it?
If that’s too difficult, here are a few easier questions. We can limit the scope to start with. Maybe Stephen would be prepared to state publicly that he has definitely never promoted his books in the way he describes above on, say, Amazon? If he hasn’t done so, then given what he’s admitted above, why did he not do so on Amazon?
And if he can’t bring himself to say anything at all, why not?