Oh boy… you can’t swing a dead cat in the indie community without coming across this one! Or maybe it is my proximity to those speaking out that has this dominating my newsfeed, I don’t know. Anyway, I have a lot to say in comments and messages so I figured, why not just throw it all out here.
Everybody else is doing it! How could this possibly go wrong?
Some of you may have missed it, though… so, to catch you all up in the quickest way possible: my co-author made a blog post about shady publicity tactics. Several authors made posts in support of this, as this particular thing has been the topic of discussion for a few of us since what is starting to feel like the beginning of time. There were some responses, rebuttal blog posts… some who disagreed, and many who agreed. Hey, we’re all different, we all have different opinions, and humans LOVE drama… so that’s understood. I’d like to point out several things, however, to keep in mind… no matter which side of this fence you are on:
The article states, several times, and Kyle has repeatedly said that this is not about pen names. I don’t know why this became the topic of discussion, other than people didn’t read the article, or misunderstood it, or understood it but chose to deflect. There is a difference between using a pseudonym, and manipulating people by pretending to be someone extremely attractive in order to get fans. Fans that will not bat an eyelash as they bury legitimate, newbie authors to gain brownie points from their fantasy beaus.
Authors using pen names don’t have to explain why, and they shouldn’t have to. Most will. Just because they don’t give you a reason, does not make them shady. Kyle never said that. He just wanted to give a little PSA to the indie community that if someone is using a photo of an unbelievably attractive person as their photo, one that generates all kinds of hits under a reverse-image search, then they are likely not the person in the photo. That’s all.
Pretending to be that person is a marketing tactic, plain and simple, and he has his opinions on that (which many of us share)… but you can take it or leave it. I doubt there are two people in the entire world who agree on everything.
The rest of this lengthy post will kind of explain why so many of us feel this is wrong, and will also point out a couple of things that I think are just kind of shitty.
“I don’t care what an author looks like and that has nothing to do with why they are successful, it is about the writing.” I wish this were true for everyone. It should be. But when an author who uses fake model photos – pretending to be that person – has a legion of thousands of fans before they have published a single word… how is it just about the writing, then? There is no writing to back it up.
Kyle’s post was not a spur of the moment thing, it is a problem that several of us have seen over and over and over again in this community. Some seem to think this is an attack on one or two particular authors, and it isn’t. This happens a lot, and the success of these kinds of authors will only generate more of their kind. Is the fantasy of who is behind the keyboard more appealing than the actual words on the pages? Not for me… but judging by the repeated success of these types of authors, it is for many. Maybe this is the new game, maybe just as “Video killed the radio star” and turned music into 90% looks and marketing and 10% talent, the same is happening to books. I hope not.
Anyway, it sends a disheartening message to budding indie authors – what you write is not nearly as important as who you pretend to be.
How did you notice this was an issue? Why is it disheartening? I LOVE when other indie authors are successful! I know my co-author and several of the authors who have stood in support of his stance on this matter do, too. It gives me hope for my own goals, and I am genuinely happy for them. If I like their books, I will sing their praises to anyone who will listen. In fact, the reason a particular author(s) came to our attention was because we were seeing them EVERYWHERE. I am a reader first and also a new author, so when someone is generating that much buzz, I check them out! Because: 1) I think, damn, if people are this stoked about it, then maybe I have found a new favorite book/author! Hell yeah! and 2) I want to see what they are doing, so that I can learn from that. Are they just doing takeovers all day, every day? Did they pay a promo company? If so, maybe I should look into them! Lots of giveaways? How can I do better to achieve that kind of success?
Self-publishing is a long road full of cracks and potholes, twists and turns… if somebody is doing something right, I want to learn from them, not tear them down! I’m all yours, sensei!
Anyhow, imagine the confusion when I saw that this particular author was just as new as I and several of my fellow indie authors were, but they had no books out. They did takeovers, but no more than we did and I would say they actually seemed to do far less, though I can’t say for sure as some events are private. I thought, maybe it’s a genre thing, but did not see any hype even remotely close to what these authors were generating within their genre, for any other authors – even veterans who had been around much longer than any of us. A quick evaluation of the situation showed one key difference – they were presenting themselves as the attractive male models in their photos, and the women they were flirting with were promoing them like crazy. I wish a wink got me that far.
Is it working??? No? Shit! Back to the drawing board…
I couldn’t look at their work and say “Yeah, okay, this is excellent. I see why they have so many devoted fans and now I am one as well.” because it didn’t exist. I couldn’t say, “Okay, they just grind out events all day, I get it.” because they didn’t. It was all just women remarking on how hot their new photo was, and them replying with a “Thanks ;)”. A fan asks, “Is this you?” They respond, “Maybe ;)”.
Technically, that isn’t a lie, but it’s evasive as fuck. Could you imagine the shitstorm if a politician or even celebrity responded to a direct question with “Maybe ;)”? Sure, these are people we hold to a higher standard than just everyday indie authors, but you get my drift. I don’t know, maybe some people don’t see that as wrong, but it skeeves me out. Not to mention, it feels a bit like theft of artistic property. A model works hard to maintain their body, a photographer works hard to get that perfect shot… and here comes Jane Doe who wants to pony off of their hard work in order to make sales instead of relying on their gift with words to stand on its own.
On the off chance that the model(s) they use all consented to having their images used in such a manner, it’s still morally ambiguous. There’s a reason people lost their minds over Milli Vanilli, or basically any time a singer gets busted using a backing track. It just feels deceitful.
When you strip away what makes the indie community so great – the authenticity that comes from that direct connection between author and reader, the chance to get to know who they really are because they don’t have a marketing and PR rep like some of the big name authors – a bit of the beauty and magic of this community is lost. You don’t have to know my real name, or even what I look like, to know who I am. I am myself, just under a different name. But, if I were pretending to BE someone else, there wouldn’t really be anything authentic about those interactions because I would be playing a character.
You may disagree, and that is totally fine. I love and am dear friends with so many people I don’t agree with on particular issues. Life would be boring as fuck if we all held the same opinions.
Okay, so that might be disheartening, but why do you care? True, this is not a unique incident – people presenting themselves as something they aren’t is as old a story as the internet, itself. Unfortunately, people who prey on the escapism and fantasy of the book world are abundant. It is heartbreaking to see fans get bamboozled. It is heartbreaking to read an amazing book, and no matter how loud you shout it from the rooftops, nobody can hear you because a mob has formed and they are chanting too loud about (insert generic ab photo author). I’m not talking about my books, like I said I am new and have a long way to go – they are far from perfect, though I am proud of them. I don’t even know how mine compare to these other authors, it’s impossible to evaluate your own work fairly. This is commentary as a reader and a lifelong book lover. I’m talking about fantastic authors that I have no connection to, other than I love their books, who I see getting buried repeatedly by the hysteria surrounding an author who is using, what I consider to be, a manipulative gimmick to sell their books. A book and author hyped so hard before anyone has read anything from them.
I don’t like to see people being punished for being real, and people being idolized for selling a lie.
This kind of stuff can be more harmful than just a group of people crushing on an idea of a person. Hell, I am in love with half the male characters I read about and I KNOW they are entirely fictitious. But when one side is not completely up-front about the fact that they are playing a role, there’s an imbalance. People can get hurt. Some of you may recall a certain Jin Alee, who was using the photos of a male model to extort personal information from women by flirting with them. There were hundreds he interacted with daily, many who said they had disclosed personal info to him and some had even sent him money after he gave them a sob story about the orphaned children he was caring for.
We saw the receipts. It was fucked up.
Does this mean that all people using an aesthetically appealing persona to market their work are predators? No, absolutely not. But, some are. Some do. When I see a fake-account author post a seemingly innocuous game in a takeover like, “Tell me your deepest secret.” and a fan responds, “You already know all of mine ;)”… I get worried for the fan. It could be paranoia, I don’t know them or their story… Maybe that fan personally knows the human behind the faux-model account, so it’s no big deal. But, maybe they don’t. Maybe they talk to this person daily and, under the impression that they are talking to an actual real person, have told their deepest secrets to them. The indie community is no stranger to drama… what if someone tells this fake account something personal, and the wizard behind the curtain is actually a peer that they have beef with, who can use that information against them?
What if they sent them unsolicited (or solicited) nudes? It does happen to male authors just as often as females receive dick pics. Sure, you might want to jump on the “Well, maybe people should be more careful.” train… and I agree, to an extent, but I’m not going to victim blame people who are not the ones being deceitful. I also am not going to say that all these authors are doing this kind of sheisty stuff. Chances are, they aren’t. Chances are, they are people who just wanted to get their work noticed and thought this image would help them do that. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but always sleep with one eye open.
At its heart, the takeaway from the original post was 1) be more careful and 2) here are the tools to use if you think the person you follow may be representing themselves as something they are not. Here’s my opinion on it, but you can do with that information what you want.
Most people, I would think, could get behind the first part. The second part… well, many don’t give a shit if the character is real or not, and they want to indulge in that fantasy… believe me, I get it. I’d be thrilled to have a conversation with my favorite characters and don’t you dare pull that curtain back and spoil my fun! But, deep down, I will know it isn’t real and I will know not to tell Ragnar Lothbrok my most personal secrets. I will know that no amount of unquestioning loyalty I give him will buy me a ticket into his bed, because he isn’t real.
It would be difficult. Just look at that face! Looks trustworthy to me!
Problem is, some people actually believe that these personas are real because the puppeteer is not up front. Some will wade through hell and high water to do things for these characters with that carrot of affection dangling in front of them. To not be up front about it, and to capitalize on someone’s affection for a fabricated persona… That – to me and the others who have spoken out on our side of the fence – is taking advantage of your fans and their trust in you. Be a fake hottie, to each their own… but, be up front about it.
Is this blog post over yet? Christ almighty. ALMOST! I have a couple more points.
- Kyle and those of us concerned with this behavior never publicly named any of the authors in question, because despite what some seem to think, this is not solely about one or two individuals. The beginning of this post was just an example of why this kind of stuff might bother an indie author. We also do not want to steal fans or money from anyone. If you like someone’s books, that is awesome! You can be a fan of more than one author, you can be a fan of fake-model-photo authors, you do not have to choose sides and you don’t have to assume someone is being shady just because they want to be anonymous. Just be careful if you’re the type of fan that wants to get personal with your authors. If it seems too good to be true… well, you take what you want from that old saying.
- A conversation in a private group, which was in response to a blog post that a fan of one of these kinds of authors made, was blasted publicly today. I can’t speak for them, but I think those involved stand behind most of what was said aside from the more colorful language used (apologies to specific people have been issued. We’re human and sometimes in the heat of the moment, we choose regrettable words), it was only a small glimpse of an ongoing conversation. With no link to the original article, and with so much misinformation flying around about what everyone is up in arms about and why… it was a bit out of context and of course the villagers are ready with pitchforks to burn everyone at the stake for a conversation between like-minded people in a private group. They felt attacked, they felt their authors were attacked… I get it. But, sharing only a piece of the story only inflames the situation and it did something that none of us on this side ever wanted to do – it named a particular set of authors that we never intended to publicly shame or call out. Even though we disagree with their methods, we are not in the business of targeting and tearing down specific authors. This is a marketing strategy that, even if those authors were gone tomorrow, would continue. Historically, it has been very successful, at least in the short-term. My point is, there is no need to tear specific people down and scapegoat them for something that has been happening for long before they came onto the scene. It was never about that. Privately, we vented, because that’s what people do. Publicly, we would not try to slam a specific author or make their fans feel bad for liking their books. There’s no point in that.
- It’s not about jealousy. Like I said, I’m a reader first… if an author has a ton of hype surrounding them, I typically buy their book(s) because I love a good story. I haven’t been a published author long enough to feel justified in any amount of fanbase – I am ecstatic and sometimes in disbelief that I have any fans at all. There are so many indie authors (I won’t mention them here because I’m not sucking another poor, innocent soul into this madhouse) who are leaps and bounds ahead of me and Joe-Blow-model-photo-Mcgee, both in fans and in skill. I have nothing but love and admiration for them, with a dash of fangirl. I’ll promote them, read them, review them, gush about them everywhere. These are my heroes, I am not jealous of successful authors, I am in awe of them. I know how hard it is to get where they are without a gimmick.
Alright, I have been writing this puppy for far too long and I know that I missed some stuff and overexplained stuff, probably. Anyhow, it’s time to wrap it up.
Sorry for the long read. In summary: Pen names are cool, Kyle doesn’t have a filter but he has valid points, follow and read who you want, but do so with your eyes open! Or don’t, that’s your prerogative… But, at the very least, try to switch off ‘defensive combat mode’. This was not an attack, it was an opinion and a PSA. It’s okay to disagree, it’s not okay to declare war on someone for expressing an opinion you may not agree with. Read the articles and the comments, absorb what it is saying before going into attack mode… you may be surprised, you may actually agree with some stuff. Or maybe not. That’s okay, too.
At the very least, it started a conversation. I think, regardless of which side of the fence you are on, that can only be seen as a success.