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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, July 26, 2015

SPEED KILLS...OR DOES IT? How to Write Fast(er) without Going Bonkers

by Ruth Harris

As the Romans said (and the Olympics borrowed for its motto): Citius, Altius, Fortius. Or, as we say: "Faster, Higher, Stronger."

Sometimes publishing seems to be an Olympic event or at least it feels that way.

Vroom. Vroom. Everyone wants to write faster. To publish more books. To keep up with/get ahead of the competition. To be a Jackie Stewart of the keyboard. A Dale Earnhardt of word count.

But, hang on, you might say. It's not a sprint. It's a marathon and marathons take time.

Or, you might have other objections:

1) I care about my work and I care about my readers. I want to share my best possible efforts and "the best" doesn't come easily or quickly.

You're right, but what we're talking about here is getting a draft written fast, not about the finished product.

2) I don't want to publish any book before it's ready and editing and revising take time.

See above.

3) I've taken part in NaNoWriMo so I can show you proof positive that anything I write fast is garbage.

So what? No one except you ever has to see it. Ever hear of that amazing process known as "fixing it later?"

4) If I write fast, won't I add to the "tsunami of crap?"
Yes, of course, you certainly can, but "crap," like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. Lots of people who write what you or I or Maxwell Perkins might consider crap are enjoying writing it, publishing it, making readers happy and making money in the process.

In addition, allow me to remind you that writing slowly and agonizingly can also result in crap. Pretentious crap. Boring crap. Unreadable crap.

Besides, there are all the obvious upsides to writing fast.

  • Your productivity soars. Where there were two books, there are now four. Duh.
  • You get into the zone, that magic place where writing goes so effortlessly you don’t know where the twists, turns and brilliant dialogue is coming from.
  • You outrun the inner scold, that mahatma of negativity that rains on your parade and tells you you're not good enough, not talented enough, that you're a phony and a faker.
  • You don't give yourself time to censor or second-guess yourself.
  • You avoid wasting time by obsessing over whether your hero should be blond, brunette or a power-baldy à la Bruce Willis. You can always figure out the details later and, more often than not, as the character engages and develops, hair color (or lack of hair) will become obvious.
  • Writing fast increases your chances of gaining access to your sub-conscious or what Stephen King calls "the boys downstairs." Those "boys"—or girls if you're of the female persuasion—are the source of creativity. They are the ones who come up with the unexpected (even to the writer!) plot twist and dazzling solution to a problem you thought unsolvable.
  • Watching the words and the pages pile up, you give yourself the gift of a sense of accomplishment. Where there was nothing, there is now something and the fact that there's "something" where once there was nothing builds confidence.
  • Writing fast frees you from the endless, soul-numbing editing-revising trap.
  • Last of all, writing fast is a sensible approach in these days of self-publishing because new books help sell old books. Just ask Joe Konrath or Dean Wesley Smith who writes about writing at pulp speed.

Before we get into (sane) ways to increase your speed, it's important to understand why you aren't writing as productively as you'd like to.

1) Are you really slow or are you yourself putting the brakes on? 

Are you slowing yourself down by listening to the no voices in your head? That prune-faced seventh grade teacher? That parent for whom nothing was ever good enough?

Psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps offers a practical approach to deflecting self-criticism based on cognitive behavioral therapy. She tells how to turn self-criticism into compassionate self-awareness that will help free you from the trap you create for yourself.

2) Do you allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good?

Do you plod along, spending hours searching for the "perfect" word or trying to write the "perfect" sentence, paragraph, first sentence, last sentence? Are you getting nowhere? And not fast?

This thorough guide explains the roots of perfectionism and lays out a concrete guide toward taming the runaway perfectionist that's getting in your way.

Just remember: your book has to be good. It doesn't have to be perfect. In fact, it can’t be perfect because nothing is perfect or even can be. Fact of life, just like the birds and bees, (but not as much fun).

3) ID your working style: steady, spurt, sprint.

  • Sprinters can't (and shouldn't) expect to keep up a killer place all day long. Sprints are short races for a reason. No one can go full steam ahead hour after hour after hour.
  • Spurt workers tend to write in extremely productive bursts. They also need a few days off to regroup and catch up with themselves between intense writing sessions.
  • Steady writers work at an even pace. A hundred words a day or a thousand words a day every day, those words add up.
Once you ID your working style, you will have an idea of how many words/how much speed you should realistically expect from yourself but, before you start, you need to have some idea of what you're going to write.

4) Face to face with the “O” word.

No way to escape it, but if you want to write fast you have to Do It. You know exactly what I mean, it’s the writer's version of The Big O. Outline.

In order to write fast, even pantsers need a road map. An outline does not have to be that godawful clunker from grade school with Roman numerals and tiered indents.

An outline can be as simple as a hand-written list or a scribbled synopsis. Or it can be a version of any one or more of the following ways of getting your ideas down and wrangling them into some kind of usable shape:

  • A logline or one of its relatives. Anne's tips on writing the dreaded synopsis...and its little friends: the hook, logline, and pitch will start you off on the right track.
  • The elevator pitch. Author Kayelle Allen offers a fill-in-the-blanks template.
  • The blurb you write before you write the book. Joanna Penn's tips on how to write a back cover blurb are practical and inspiring.
  • A genre cheat sheet so you know what your readers expect and can make sure to keep on track.
  • Here are 6 different outline templates you can apply to romance, scifi, fantasy, literary fiction and any other genre you can think of.
  • Libbie Hawker's popular guide to outlining for pantsers: Take Off Your Pants. Libby's outlining technique applies to any genre and will help you improve your writing speed.
  • Bestselling author of the Costa series, David Hewson explains his method of outlining novel-length fiction and tells how he brainstorms story and storyline possibilities.
  • Scapple (Mac only. $14.99 with FREE trial) is a simple app perfect for brainstorming and making connections between any or all of the kinds of ideas (plot, character, setting, incident) you will need to write a book. If you've ever scribbled down ideas all over a piece of paper and drawn lines between related thoughts, then you already know what Scapple does.
  • How to Write a Book in Three Days: Lessons from sword-and-sorcery master, Michael Moorcock, is inspiring and practical.
  • Rachel Aaron's How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day is another source of inspiration and down-to-earth advice.
  • 5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter has helped many writers up their speed. The author, Chris Fox, has also created an app (Mac only) to accompany the book.
  • Roni Loren always thought of herself as a Slow Writer but deadlines compelled her to change her ways. She was surprised by the impressive increase in her speed and blogged about what she learned here.

Now that you're feeling inspired and have prepared yourself to write, it’s time to start.

  • Coffee (or Red Bull) works for some. Loud music for others. Vivaldi's The Seasons for still others.
  • An external deadline can help: a contract (if only with yourself) or even a promise to someone else—including the dog who is in need of a walk.
  • Setting a word target, a time target, a scene target adds focus in the form of an achievable goal. 
  • Do you respond better to the kiss or the whip? If the first, promise yourself a Dove Bar at the end of your just-get-it-down writing session. If the whip, then no dessert for you tonight unless you get your quota filled! 
  • Shut the door, turn off the phone, quash the internet, go to full-screen mode, do whatever you have to do to get the job done. Adapt Nora Roberts' approach: you will permit interruptions only in the case of “blood or fire.”

In your new world of Writing Fast, there are a number of possible outcomes:

  • Might be much better than you think and just needs a light edit. Yay! Treasure the moment because you get to feel you're better than you think and that faster doesn't mean crappier.
  • Might be pretty good but needs a careful edit. OK, editing is part of the job of being a writer so get on with it.
  • Might be dull, drab and needs major, butt-in-chair revision. That’s OK, too, because revision is also part of the job.
  • The aaargh! draft: So what you wrote is real crapola and needs a four-corners rewrite? Don’t let that get you down and don’t forget: It ain’t the writing it’s the rewriting. Professionals know it and the aaargh! draft is the perfect case in point.
  • Even worse than the aaargh draft is draft so putrid it threatens the integrity of the time-space continuum. We've all been there, done that and it's why keyboards come with delete buttons. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean you have to publish it or even that anyone else has to see it. See if there's anything you can learn (or steal), then trash the d*mn thing and move on.
  • Saving best for last: OMG! Did I write that? It's just about the best feeling a writer can have and, when you write fast, you outrun your insecurities and second guesses, your tendency to "fix" and fiddle, you're also raising the odds of the OMG!-Did-I-write-that? outcome.

Now that you are writing fast(er) and at a speed that feels sane to you, stand up and take a bow.

As the Romans used to say: Accipe rosas, relinque spinas.

Accept the roses, leave the thorns.

What about you Scriveners? Are you a fast writer like Ruth, or are you a sloooooow writer like me (Anne)? Ruth wrote this post partly to help me with my sluggish writing skills. Do you find you can write faster with an outline of sorts? Or are you like me and write a careful outline and then completely ignore it? Have you tried any of these tips to get you up to speed?  


We have two FREE books to offer you this week!

Ruth Harris's New York Times bestseller Love and Money is FREE!

Amazon US, Amazon UK,
 Nook, Kobo, iBooksGoogle Play.

"Richly plotted and racing to a shocking climax, this glittering novel is first-class entertainment." --New York Times 

"Sophisticated and entertaining. I couldn't stop reading." --Rona Jaffe, author of The Best Of Everything

Also FREE: Michael Harris's Gripping Memoir

Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks | GooglePlay

Catch-22 with radiation! Area 51 meets Dr. Strangelove!

"A gripping memoir leavened by humor, loyalty and pride of accomplishment. A tribute to the resilience, courage and patriotism of the American soldier." —Henry Kissinger


BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline September 15.

Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers  Entry Fee $15. A prize of $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of the prize issue is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not been published in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,200 to 12,000 words. Deadline August 31. 

Creative Nonfiction magazine is seeking new essays for an upcoming issue dedicated to MARRIAGE. TRUE STORIES about marriage from any POV: happy spouses, ex-fiancees, wedding planners, divorce attorneys, whoever. Up to 4000 words. $20 Entry fee. $1000 first prize. Deadline: August 31. 

CRAZYHORSE SHORT-SHORT FICTION AWARD $15 Entry fee.  $1,000 and publication. Three runners-up. All entries considered for publication. Submit one to three short-shorts of up to 500 words each. Deadline July 31.

DIABOLICAL PLOTS  NO FEE. A new online journal that publishes original fiction, one story per month. Genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror (everything must have speculative element, even horror). 2000 word limit. Pays .06 cents/word. Deadline July 31.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

What Happens to Your Blog when You Die? Why You Need to Appoint a Social Media Executor NOW

by Anne R. Allen

One of my blogger friends died last week. Ann was a regular commenter here from the beginning and often gave me suggestions for blog topics (she commented as "Churadogs".) Her own blog, Calhoun's Cannons, grew out of a local newspaper column. It's smart and funny and fierce and full of the down-and-dirty info on local politics.

Her illness, pancreatic cancer, is a ruthless killer. It sneaks up so fast that a diagnosis is usually a death sentence. Ann was diagnosed less than two months ago. Her last blogpost was on June 17th. It makes me cry when I look at it. Her family and friends are dealing with all the chaos that happens when a life is cut short without much warning.

So what will happen to Ann's blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts? Without passwords and usernames to log in, her heirs could be facing a host of problems.

It turns out social media is crammed with dead people. Senior Planet reported in 2012 that three Facebook users die every minute. The number is probably bigger now.

And bad things can happen to dead people on Facebook...or any other social media site

I'm more amazed by the savagery on the Internet every day. As I said two weeks ago, it's time for governments and big tech companies to do more to curtail rampant bullying. "Freedoms" should apply to all of us, not just sociopaths. I'm so glad to see that Reddit is finally cleaning up its act: this week the new CEO banned illegal activity on the site. Good for him!

But there's a horrible thing called RIP trolling where bands of bullies deface the pages and accounts of people who have died for the sheer "lulz" of torturing the bereaved.

Any untended blog will also attract endless spam invitations to meet hot Russian women, buy fake college papers, and enlarge your penis. Most of us would prefer not to have that as our legacy. So now is the time to act if you don't want your cyber-remains to haunt the Interwebz forever.

Don't Become a Social Media Ghost.

Yes, I know younger people don't think this applies to them. I was a firm believer in my own immortality until I was at least forty. But even young, healthy people get in accidents or are struck by sudden illnesses.

Not a nice thought, but it happens. Consider author-blogger Mac Tonnies, who updated his blog one night in 2009, went to bed and died of cardiac arrhythmia. He was 34. His blog, Posthuman Blues, is still just as he left it.

The thread of comments is heartbreaking—first expressions of annoyance from his regular followers about his lack of updates, then rumors, then the death announcement, then poignant memorials, then…spam. One friend posted a final comment in August of 2014, letting people know the blog had been turned into a book. Then the comments drift off into more sad spam. Without his password, nobody can delete the spam, and his digital remains may hang in limbo as long as there is an Internet.

The Internet is crowded with ghosts like Mr. Tonnies.

I've read sad tales of young people who have died suddenly whose social media accounts stay open forever, not just attracting those disgusting trolls, but reminding friends daily of their loss as posts on the page of the deceased keep appearing in their news feed. 

An article at Mashable told of one young woman who lost her best friend, and after getting "updates" from her friend's "ghost" for months finally had to unfriend her.

Make Sure Somebody You Trust Has Access to Your Book Accounts, Too.

All of this is more complicated if you've got published books as well.

Heirs may have to deal with Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, Audible, Wattpad, Goodreads, and other accounts as well.

This is what I confronted when my mom died. My mom developed dementia in her last year of life—but she was so clever, she hid it from us for months. But the one thing she could not do was remember passwords. I realized how bad things were when she stopped answering my emails. And she had to give up her computer entirely when she went into assisted living, because she couldn't remember how to log on.

In the huge work of moving her things and selling her house, none of us thought to look for her list of passwords. And if we'd found it, most of them would probably have been out of date because she kept changing them in those last weeks.

After she died, I had to do a lot of searching around to figure out how close down her FB, Goodreads, and Twitter accounts without her passwords. I did find it could be done on many sites—but not all—armed with her death certificate and obituary and proper identification.

Some sites were very accommodating, but Nook has steadfastly refused to take down her account and keeps sending money to a non-existent bank account. (Although they allowed me to put her book in my account as well, so there are now two accounts for her on Nook.) 

Nobody knows where the money from her first account goes, but Barnes and Noble notifies the IRS of her "income" every year, which means we cannot close out her estate. Their rule is that an account must be closed from the email address used to open the account, with "no exceptions." Funny how a dying company won't allow its customers to die.

But hassles like this can be avoided with digital and social media executors. 

The Digital Executor

"Digital executor" is a legal term that's accepted in some states but not all. If you have a will, you can get your lawyer to add a codicil to your will with the extra info. If your regular executor can be your digital executor as well, you have no problem.

But if your heirs are not tech-savvy, you need to appoint somebody who is.

A digital executor needs to deal with all your online financial stuff, like—

  1. Collecting your intellectual property—online written material, music files, photos, videos, and other online content—and transferring it to your heirs. 
  2. Closing online banking and shopping accounts. 
  3. Deleting files from your computer or other devices, or erasing devices' hard drives 
  4. Closing or maintaining online accounts like web hosting services 
  5. Closing down subscription services and other accounts that are paid for (like Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime) and/or transferring accounts to your heirs 
  6. Transferring any income-generating items (your book retailer accounts, plus websites, blogs, affiliate accounts, etc.) to your heirs 
  7. Closing down your social media accounts and notifying online groups of your death. 

You can find further information and even a downloadable worksheet at a site called Everplans. They have a planning tool that guides you through the process of creating, storing, and sharing everything your heirs will need.

You can also make things much easier for your executor if you use something called PasswordBox which you can download for free.

Everybody needs somebody to do this for them in the digital age, but it's a more complicated business than a simple social media executor.

The Social Media Executor

Social media executors don't have to deal with anything financial the way a digital executor does. Basically they just do #7 on the list above.

They only need your social network usernames and passwords so they can protect your blog and social media accounts and notify online friends of your death.

This can include all the social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest etc. as well as online gaming sites and forums.

You can appoint a social media executor informally without going through a lawyer. And I urge you to do so. Now. Don't put it off.

But, for those of you who have lost a loved one who did not save information for a social media executor, here's how you get accounts deleted—

How to Memorialize and/or Delete a Facebook Page

Facebook is definitely the most user-friendly site for heirs. Their policy is to memorialize a deceased user’s page for the benefit of the survivors. People can post their condolences, for example, or share photos. 

  • Memorializing a page requires proof of death via an online obituary.
  • Taking down a page requires a death certificate and proof of identity from the legal heir, 
  • Deal with your Facebook legacy right now and make things easy for everybody. FB has made it easy for you. Go to your "Settings" page, choose "Security" and "Legacy Contact." There you can name a Facebook friend to be your account's caretaker. You can also choose if you want this person to be able to download content from your page. Or, you can simply check a box that tells FB to delete your account when you kick the bucket.

How to Close a Twitter Account

Twitter does not memorialize accounts. If you don't have access to the account via password, an executor has to contact Twitter Security via snail mail, at:

Twitter, Inc.
c/o: Trust & Safety

1355 Market St., Suite 900
San Francisco, CA 94103

  • The username of the deceased (e.g., @username or twitter.com/username) 
  • A copy of the deceased’s death certificate 
  • A copy of your government-issued ID (like a driver’s license) 
  • Your full legal name 
  • Your email address 
  • Your current contact information 
  • Your relationship to the deceased user or their estate 
  • Action requested (e.g., ‘please deactivate the Twitter account’) 
  • A brief description of the details that evidence this account belongs to the deceased, if the name on the account does not match the name on death certificate. 
  • A link to an online obituary or a copy of the obituary from a local newspaper 

How to Delete an a Goodreads Author Account

An executor will usually want to delete an active author account, but keep the books and their reviews on site. If you have no access to the account, contact a Goodreads librarian and attach a copy of the death certificate as well as proof of your identity and relationship to the deceased.

How to Transfer an Amazon Account

In order to transfer my mom's account to my name, I contacted Amazon through Author Central with the same data I gave Goodreads. If you're not an Amazon author, this will probably be more difficult, but I found the people at Author Central very accommodating. They even offered to fold her books into my account. 

If you're an heir, you'll want to keep KDP and CreateSpace accounts active and transfer the income to the estate. If you have an Amazon buying account of your own, make sure you use that email address to contact Amazon with the proper information. 

Again, passwords will help a lot.

Closing Down Google Plus and YouTube Accounts

I have not been able to find a contact address for Google, so this is a tough one. I've read you need to provide Google with an email from your loved one's Google-related email address to prove that you knew each other, plus a copy of the death certificate. This should allow you to get an account deleted. But sometimes Google people are very difficult and require a court order, according to Senior Planet

So make sure you give your executor those usernames and passwords, okay? Otherwise, the chances are good you'll be a Google Ghost for eternity.

I don't know about Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, etc, but I assume the problems will be similar. Give somebody those passwords! 

What About Blogs?

There's not yet a standardized system for dealing with blogs once we’ve gone home to the Great Social Network in the Sky. That means that unless you've got a designated blog executor, your blog could hang forever in cyberspace like Posthuman Blues, especially if it's a Google (Blogger) blog.

Melissa Ford at Stirrup Queens posted a great list of things to do to insure that doesn't happen.

She suggests you make a "Password Passbook" for your social media executor and heirs. She advises you to make this in hard copy only, because a hacker can find a file by searching for "passwords". (Or you could label them "fishcakes" or some code only you and your executor will understand.) 

She suggests a simple handmade document with three columns listing for each site:
  1. Site name 
  2. Username 
  3. Password 
Then put this in a safe place with your other important documents and snail mail a copy to your social media executor. And remember to update it every six months or so as you change passwords and add or delete accounts.

She also reminds people to put in writing which sites you want kept up and which you want taken down and where you'd like to post the announcement of your death.

If you don't want to go the low-tech route, you can download a free Excel Worksheet for a "social media will" at Dead Social.

If you save it on your computer, give it a name that doesn't use the word "password". And also print out hard copies and put them in a safe, but prominent place. Don't make your heirs go on a fishing expedition in your computer files. 

What if You Want To Leave Your Blog Up as a Memorial?

Of course some people want their blogs and social media pages to stay online after they are gone. But you still need to plan for that, so your blog doesn't become a billboard for spam. 

It is possible to leave your blog up if you have a social media executor. Friends of the departed (fictional) Miss Snark have sustained her blog for agent-seekers in the "Snarkives"  for nearly ten years. They have disabled comments, but her executor, "Miss Adventure" will still answer questions via email.

You can also prepare a message for your loved ones to be displayed after your death on your social media pages at a site called "Dead Social," which also has a lot of other great info on digital legacies. 

You can even record a video message to be posted on your Facebook page after you go at ifIdie.net (Warning, it opens with an annoying voice over, so don't click on it if you're at work or the baby is sleeping.)

A Special Note to Writers in the Query or Submission process

If you’re in the query process, it’s also a good idea to let your executor know where to find the list of your outstanding requested manuscripts and story submissions.

A quick email from  your executor to the agents or editors who are reading a writer's material would not only be kind, but it might even make it possible for a story or book to be published posthumously. (If we can judge by Steig Larssen’s phenomenal success, being deceased might even be a good career move.)

Your Digital Legacy

Nobody likes to think about shuffling off one’s mortal coil, but we all need to have a plan in place.

The subject of our digital legacies was addressed several years ago by Evan Carroll and John Romano in their book, Your Digital Afterlife. And they were responsible for getting sites like Facebook and Twitter to allow accounts to be deleted by heirs. The book has been updated since then and they also have lots of valuable information at their website, the Digital Beyond.

Adele McAlear is a blogger who focuses on the electronic remains the modern human leaves behind. On her blog, Death and Digital Legacy she offers excellent tips on how heirs can deal with social media and she also curates articles on digital estates.

Digital Legacies are now becoming big business. This year, the first Digital Legacy Conference was held in London.

Make sure you protect your own legacy by appointing an executor. Now.

What about you Scriveners? Have you thought about what will happen to your social media accounts when you die? Do you have a social media executor? Does your family know about all your social media accounts? Have you provided for distribution of your intellectual property in your will? 

You can read an interview with me at You Read it Here First, I'm talking with Debbie McClure about my new Camilla comedy, So Much for Buckingham as well as self-vs-trad publishing and many other aspects of the writerly life.

A note to friends of Ann Calhoun: A potluck and celebration of Ann's life will be held at the South Bay Community Center - 2180 Palisades Avenue in Los Osos on Saturday, August 1, 2015 from 2-6 pm - everyone is invited - please bring your favorite dish and memories and stories of Ann, who left this earth way too early!


Academic Body, a cozy campus mystery my mom wrote when she was in her 80s, lives on and is still selling well. 

Right now, it's only 99c at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes and Nook (if you land on a page where it costs more at Nook, you've reached the old account they won't delete, so be sure to use this link.)

Retired theatrical director Paul Godwin longs for the quiet life of a college professor, but can he woo his famous wife away from the New York stage to become part of his academic life in small-town Maine? Not easily, especially after the dean accuses him of having a fling with a student and then is found dead in circumstances that make Paul a prime suspect in the investigation.

Paul's efforts to discover the real culprit provoke dangerous reprisals, but he must succeed to save his new career, his marriage - and perhaps his life.

I love the sensual aspects of this novel, the circumspect but highly charged sexual chemistry between the couple, the fact that they're not above tippling a bit and enjoying gourmet meals prepared mostly by Paul himself for the woman he loves...Sue McGinty, author of the Bella Kowalski mysteries.


BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline September 15.

Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers  Entry Fee $15. A prize of $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of the prize issue is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not been published in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,200 to 12,000 words. Deadline August 31. 

Creative Nonfiction magazine is seeking new essays for an upcoming issue dedicated to MARRIAGE. TRUE STORIES about marriage from any POV: happy spouses, ex-fiancees, wedding planners, divorce attorneys, whoever. Up to 4000 words. $20 Entry fee. $1000 first prize. Deadline: August 31. 

CRAZYHORSE SHORT-SHORT FICTION AWARD $15 Entry fee.  $1,000 and publication. Three runners-up. All entries considered for publication. Submit one to three short-shorts of up to 500 words each. Deadline July 31.

DIABOLICAL PLOTS  NO FEE. A new online journal that publishes original fiction, one story per month. Genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror (everything must have speculative element, even horror). 2000 word limit. Pays .06 cents/word. Deadline July 31.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Indie Authors: How to Get Visible in Libraries

We're jazzed to have a visit this week from one of the most respected journalists in the publishing industry. Porter Anderson's resumé includes CNN, The Dallas Times Herald, and the Village Voice. He also writes for online biggies like Writer Unboxed, ThoughtCatalog, and FutureBook. He visits most of the major publishing industry conferences worldwide and reports on them in his newsletter, Porter Alerts.

As regular readers know, I urge new writers to enter writing contests to beef up credits, boost your cred and get some positive feedback while you're building your career. (And maybe even win some cash!) 

I list a few free and affordable contests each week in the "opportunity alerts" section at the bottom of each post. I  look for established contests with an entry fee under $20. I make exceptions if there's an edit or critique offered for each entry, because that's usually worth a slightly higher-priced entry fee. 

But as Porter warns, not all contests are created equal. Many are bogus and charge huge fees, especially the ones for self-published books (indies are popular prey for scammers these days.) So check this post by Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware before entering any indie novel contests. 

But the new SELF-E Library Journal contest is different. For one thing, it's FREE to enter. The monetary prizes are modest ($1000 grand prize in each category). But a win or honorable mention gets you a major amount of discoverability through the Library Journal and distribution to libraries.

Compare that with the cost of a one-day Bookbub ad for a freebie book, and it looks like a very good deal to me.

Superstar indie author Hugh Howey thinks so too. He says:

"Librarians can be a powerful marketing force for emerging authors....The SELF-e approach will encourage books to be discovered and even go viral."...Hugh Howey

Since it's quite different from other contests, I figured SELF-e deserved its own post, and I've invited Porter to tell us all about it....Anne

The SELF-e Contest: Your Chance to Get the Attention of Librarians

by Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson

Like trying to flag down triathletes in mid-event, getting the attention of librarians as a self-publishing author these days? — not easy.

After all, our library systems are in heavy competition, themselves. They're running a mean race against the digital dynamic to find their place in a world that once saw the reference department Xerox machine as the highest tech in the building.

If they can get together, self-publishing authors and libraries have a lot to offer each other.

Libraries need e-content for their patrons, preferably of the kind that can be checked out by multiple readers at once, an unlimited number of times, no waiting for available ebook copies.

And self-publishing writers need to have their ebooks discovered by readers: America's libraries have some 299.9 million of them.

As my colleague at The Bookseller in London, Philip Jones, has pointed out, "Self-publishing may still feel marginal in terms of overall business right now, but in certain genres it is already highly visible and highly influential."

So "highly visible and highly influential" is some self-published genre work, in fact, that librarians are eager to have it in their collections for library patrons to check out and read. The problem for them is the marathon they're running in their own e-evolution: librarians, themselves, have no time to find or read self-published ebooks.

That's why, until the arrival of Library Journal's SELF-e program, so many librarians haven't been able to acquire more self-published work. If estimates are right that as many as 600,000 or more titles are being self-published annually in the States alone, librarians can't even hope to see and evaluate even a fraction of it.

So let me say a special thanks today to my longtime friend and colleague Anne R. Allen for this chance to tell you about SELF-e. It's an important development on the self-publishing scene, and one that many indies are studying carefully and using, for its ability to get them into librarians' consideration.

I'll make it clear, as I do in each piece I write about SELF-e, that Library Journal is a client of Porter Anderson Media, my consultancy. This means that I am promoting it to authors' attention as a paid professional consultant. And I've taken on this client because I think that SELF-e is a significant new channel to potential discoverability for many independent writers, a channel that is free to writers.

In fact, $4,000 in prize money is being offered at this point by Library Journal to winners in four genres of its 2015 Self-Published eBook Awards. If you're writing in romance, mystery, science fiction, or fantasy, when you submit a book or books to SELF-e, you can enter the competition. The winner in each of the four genres gets $1,000. Those winners and two runners-up in each genre also get: 

  • A full Library Journal review, publishing in print and online (these reviews are used by librarians in choosing acquisitions) 
  • Presence in a promotional ad featuring all award winners' books in Library Journal's December "Best of Books" issue 
  • Recognition at Library Journal's Self-Published eBook Awards Reception during the American Library Association's huge Midwinter Meeting in Boston 

These are extremely valuable prizes —
each a way to flag down those librarians and have them see your work. And, as such, this is a singular competition, one that probably is unlike any other being conducted right now. What's why Anne and I are interested in making sure you have the information you need about this.

Before moving into some detail, let's get that all-important deadline down: 31 August — 11:59:59 p.m. Eastern time.

When Contests Matter

As we talked about this piece, Anne asked me about competitions that could really mean something to a career. That's exactly the right thing to ask.

Just last week, I was writing up the excellent work that Writer Beware's Victoria Strauss has been doing on warning authors against wasting time and money on "awards profiteers."

If you keep an eye on Strauss' updates at Writer Beware, you can stay abreast of a lot of scams that can get hooks into unwary writers in this age of "author services" on every corner. And among those scams, you'll find her alerting you to "awards profiteers" at work. She lists here a series of red flags to look out for, including solicitation (usually by email, of course), high entry fees, dozens or scores of entry categories, anonymous judging, "non-prize prizes," and opportunities to spend more money.

Another important reference for self-publishing authors on all author services is the Alliance of Independent Authors' (ALLi) Choosing a Self-Publishing Service. In it, you'll find independent evaluations of products and services for writers, a big help in a marketplace that sees indie writers as ready customers.

The SELF-e competition I'm bringing to your attention here is totally free to enter, as is SELF-e submission of your ebook for libraries. There are just four categories (the four genres eligible). And here are some of the judging team members announced so far:
  • Stephanie Chase, Director, Hillsboro PL, Oregon 
  • Stephanie Anderson, Head of Readers’ Advisory, Darien Library, CT 
  • Robin Nesbitt, Manager, Hilliard Branch, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH 
  • Robin Bradford, Collection Development Specialist, Timberland Regional Library 
  • Corinne Hill, Director, Chattanooga PL, TN 

So as you think about the contest, let's go over SELF-e itself and get a fix on why it's a pivotal arrival on the scene for authors.

  • What can you submit: your ebooks. 
  • Who can submit ebooks: Any writer who holds her or his ebook rights to the material. 
  • Which librarians see them? 
  • (a) You can select to be included in your Statewide Indie Anthology for all the librarians in your state to peruse, and 
  • (b) You can select to be considered by Library Journal evaluators for inclusion in SELF-e Select, a curated collection for libraries at the national level. 
  • What do you pay? Nothing. Submission is entirely free. 
  • Do you assign your digital rights over? No, you retain your rights. You grant Library Journal a license to offer your ebooks to libraries (only) for their collections. 
  • Can you get out of it? Yes, and you can get your ebooks back out, and your rights are still intact as yours. 
  • What are you paid? Nothing. SELF-e is a discoverability play, giving you a chance to leverage the massive "prime readership" of libraries. It's not an author-revenue program. 

Where is SELF-e operating now? Have a look at this map and hang on for a minute when you get there — it renders an up-to-date view as you wait. It's being refreshed by Library Journal's partner in SELF-e, BiblioBoard, so that you can tell where in the country authors are submitting work (all but six states on the mainland); where Statewide Indie Anthologies have already begun releasing to their libraries; and where Statewide Indie Anthologies are coming next. 

What's ahead? As the SELF-e team continues building out the program, dashboards will be created for authors — I'm told before the end of the year — which will tell you where your books are being entered in library collections and what level of readership they're getting from patrons.

The Controversy of the Moment

As Library Journal's SELF-e has been rolled out, there's been a lot of talk about the fact that it does not pay royalties to authors whose ebooks are entered in library collections and checked out by patrons. 

The way the program is paid for is that libraries subscribe to Library Journal's SELF-e Select curated collections. (They also are able to use SELF-e's submission system as a way for their local authors to offer their books to their regional libraries.) So the costs of the program are covered by the business relationships that Library Journal and BiblioBoard have with libraries and library systems.

Victoria Noe:

One of the self-published authors who was early to investigate the program is Chicago-based Victoria Noe. Her series of "Friend Grief" nonfiction books is a growing collection of highly specified considerations of grief experienced by people who lose friends and co-workers but don't have access to the typical grief processes of family members. Noe's fifth installment of the series comes out later this week, she tells me.

Noe's four first volumes are all in SELF-e Select for librarians, nationwide, to consider adding to their collections for ebook patrons to check out.

And I've found that Noe is quick to say she understands, but disagrees, with those who feel that the no-royalty aspect of SELF-e is a problem. In comments at Jane Friedman's site on my recent article there about SELF-e, she writes:

"So, yes, the 'I'm not going to make a dime from this' is something that gives all of us pause. But I'm in now, so here's why I submitted:

Libraries are obviously a huge market and a gateway to book sales: either by the library, the patrons themselves, or the possibility of the library inviting you to speak to their patrons. (God knows I'm not shy about getting up in front of an audience.)"

What Noe values the most in the SELF-e program is its curation, the preparation of vetted, evaluated ebooks for librarians, not just a vast list that no one has time to sift through.

"The issue for self-published authors has always been curating. Libraries (public, school, etc.) tend to go by reviews. And many review sites were off-limits or prohibitively expensive for us. But otherwise it's damn hard to get noticed in the sea of self-published books. So being included in the Illinois and national collections is, for me, an important way into that market that had eluded me for some time. I've done a couple local author fairs at public libraries, but this will be the kind of validation I need to get into more (not just in Illinois, hopefully)."

And not for nothing may it be easier for Noe to see how SELF-e may raise her visibility in meaningful ways — it turns out that she has seen library acquisition at close range:

"I learned a long time ago when I was selling children's books to school librarians that everyone likes a free book. At library conferences I would offer 'buy 3 get the 4th one free'. Librarians would stand in my booth with the one book in hand that they planned to buy and say 'I have to pick 3 more!'. That’s called up-selling and I was shameless. I think of this program the same way, though I guess my ebooks are technically loss leaders....When librarians see (fingers crossed) a lot of interest in my ebooks, they're going to at least consider buying the paperbacks. They're going to consider bringing me in to talk about them. And if not for this, they probably wouldn't know I'm alive."

And that's the challenge for every self-publishing author today. How can you get any part of the market to even "know you're alive" when millions of self-published books already are out there and hundreds of thousands more are coming into play each year?

Library Journal and BiblioBoard think they have one answer, a new curated way into the system for self-publishing authors. The practicalities of how library acquisitions work and what librarians need to find and consider your book are the currency here.

Some indies may not feel that this is the right answer for them. 

Perhaps they don't agree that exposure to such a realm of readers is worth it; they may feel that only a royalty fee for a checkout by a patron will do. That's perfectly fine. Each writer must make up his or her mind independently. And only that writer knows what's right for her or him. 

Your decision is the best decision for you, every time. And it doesn't have to be permanent, either. If you get into SELF-e and it doesn't work for you, you can get back out and your books will be removed from library circulation. You're not stuck in anything; the rights to your work have never left you, they're yours.

Should I be able to help with any questions, please feel free to drop a comment here. And, thanking Anne again, I'll leave you with a couple more lines from Noe about how SELF-e works out for her:

"This is marketing for me. In the long run, I'd rather do this than pay for an ad or booth space. Those have their advantages, especially the booth. But it still means my work isn't curated. And while there may no longer be gatekeepers to publishing, on some level we will always need gatekeepers for discoverability."

What about you, scriveners? Do you have a self-published book you'd like to get into libraries? Do you have any questions for Porter? How about other contests? Have you ever felt ripped off by a contest? Has a contest win made a difference in your career? 


photo by Bob Timpson
Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson) is a journalist and consultant in publishing. He's The Bookseller's (London) Associate Editor in charge of The FutureBook. He's a featured writer with Thought Catalog (New York), which carries his reports, commentary, and frequent Music for Writers interviews with composers and musicians. And he's a regular contributor of "Provocations in Publishing" with Writer Unboxed.

Through his consultancy, Porter Anderson Media, Porter covers, programs, and speaks at publishing conferences and other events in Europe and the US, and works with various players in publishing, such as Library Journal's SELF-e, Frankfurt Book Fair's Business Club, and authors. You can follow his editorial output at Porter Anderson Media, and via this RSS link.

Porter will be presenting SELF-e at Writer's Digest's Annual Conference (#WDC15) in August and at Novelists Inc.'s conference (#NINC15) in October.

Click here for more about upcoming conferences (and sign up for Porter Alerts.)


Chanel and Gatsby 

Anne and Ruth BOGO!

Buy the boxed set and get another FREE ebook (you choose).

Buy a copy of the boxed set of Ruth Harris's The Chanel Caper and Anne R. Allen's The Gatsby Game for $2.99 (or your country's equivalent) and you can choose a FREE ebook from either Ruth's or Anne's catalog. That's right: 3 books for $1 each. You can choose any single title from the sidebar (& find more on Ruth's book page and Anne's book page)

Just forward the confirmation email you get for the purchase, with the title you'd like free to the author of your choice and we'll gift it to you. (Make sure to let us know if  you want the Kindle or E-Pub version.) Link to our contact emails in the sidebar.

You can read a great interview with Ruth Harris by Debbie A. McClure at You Read it Here First. Find out what's next for Ruth! 


BARTLEBY SNOPES CONTEST   $10 FOR UNLIMITED ENTRIES. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. Must be under 2,000 words. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.). These are the only rules. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine. Last year they awarded $2,380 in prize money. Deadline September 15.

CRAZYHORSE SHORT-SHORT FICTION AWARD $15 Entry fee.  $1,000 and publication. Three runners-up. All entries considered for publication. Submit one to three short-shorts of up to 500 words each. Deadline July 31.

DIABOLICAL PLOTS  A new online journal that publishes original fiction, one story per month. Genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror (everything must have speculative element, even horror). 2000 word limit. Pays .06 cents/word. Deadline July 31.

Rattle Poetry Prize The annual Rattle Poetry Prize offers $10,000 for a single poem to be published in the winter issue of the magazine. Each entry can contain up to 4 poems. 10 finalists will also receive $200 each and publication, and be eligible for the $2,000 Readers’ Choice Award, to be selected by subscriber and entrant vote. Entry fee $20 (includes subscription) Deadline July 15.

Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

Glamour Magazine Essay contest.  FREE! Theme: "My Real Life Story". Prize is $5,000 and possible publication in Glamour Magazine for personal essays by women, between 2,500-3,500 words. Enter online or by mail. Open to US residents aged 18+.Deadline July 15.

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Public Shaming, Cyberbullies, and the Hive Mind: Fighting 'Censorship by Troll'

by Anne R. Allen

Lots has been written about the pain caused by online bullying of children and teens—and that stuff is horrific—but we don't hear as much about the cyberbullying that goes on in the adult world.

But cyberbullying can have disastrous consequences, no matter what the victim's age or social status. In fact, some people think it's having a devastating impact on our whole culture.

Welsh journalist Jon Ronson tells us cyberbullying and public shaming in social media are "creating a world where the smartest way to survive is to be bland."

He fears we're heading for a dumbed-down world controlled by Internet trolls and cyberbully gangs.

Unfortunately, the Internet is still the "wild west," and tech companies and individual governments don't yet have the laws in place to combat this behavior.

We need to learn how to keep ourselves safe, avoid being swept up in mob behavior, and report abuse when we see it.

Reporting is the only way to get the necessary laws and rules put in place, even if it seems our individual complaints aren't addressed.

Unfortunately, as I was writing this piece, I heard the news that Reddit has fired Victoria Taylor, its strongest anti-abuse advocate. Reddit has harbored sadistic bullies, pedophiles, and hate groups in the past, and apparently it plans to return to its old ways. I strongly recommend avoiding Reddit unless it does something to address criminal behavior on the site.

Social Media and Public Shaming

Jon Ronson laments "toxic Reddit threads" as well as psychopathic behavior on Twitter in his hair-raising (and funny) book about online bullying and character assassination called So You've Been Publicly ShamedIt was Amazon's "Best Book" of April 2015.

Ronson is a successful, high profile author (his book The Men Who Stare at Goats was made into a major film starring George Clooney).

But his reputation was nearly destroyed by bullies who hijacked his identity and posted bizarre things in his name on Twitter.

As a result, he wrote his now-bestselling book that has been called a "tour through a not-necessarily-brave new world where faceless commenters wield the power to destroy lives and careers, where the punishments often outweigh the crimes, and where there is no self-control and (ironically) no consequences."

You can see an interview with Jon Ronson on the PBS Newshour here, and a review of his book at the New York Times here.

Anonymity, Speed of Communication, and the Power of the Hive Mind

The above blurb blames the anonymity of the Internet for much of the nastiness—and I agree that's a big factor—but I think the most egregious abuses spring from something far more dangerous than the lone anonymous troll: "groupthink" aka the "hive mind."

It is the speed of communication on the Internet—not just the anonymity—that makes it such a dangerous place. Rumors that would have taken weeks to reach the public consciousness in the pre-Internet age can rouse the Twitchfork-wielding rabble in an instant.

There's a quote attributed to psychology pioneer William James that voices the principle at work here: "there's nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it." 

That kind of mass-repetition can now happen on social media in a matter of minutes.

I've observed that once people have repeated a lie—especially an outrageous one—they become invested in it. It becomes part of their identity. Members of a "hive" that has perpetrated a falsehood or misinterpretation of facts feel a narcissistic compulsion to keep repeating it—to "prove" their own righteousness.

The same thing is true when someone commits an act of verbal cruelty, the way so many Twitterers did this week to a bestselling author. Once an individual joins in an attack on a designated victim, s/he becomes assimilated into the collective hive mind and seems to lose the ability to behave as an individual.

These real-life cyberbullies mimic Sci-Fi cyborgs like Star Trek's the Borg, or Dr. Who's Daleks and Cybermen.

This means that trying to reason with an individual member of the hive is useless. Otherwise sane people will display a complete lack of empathy—behavior that's usually seen only in a true sociopath.

It's as if people are saying: "I'm not really a sociopath, but I play one on Twitter."

Thing is, social media is real life. Your victims are real people. You are inflicting real pain.

People who say, "this isn't bullying because the target is successful/ naïve, liberal/ conservative, religious/ atheist, feminist/ antifeminist, made a typo, got a fact wrong, used irony, wrote in a genre I disapprove of...and the old faithful, 'Mo-o-o-m, he started it!'" need to grow up.

There is no excuse for doing evil stuff. Stop it.

Of course the hive mind does not always do evil. As Margaret Mead said: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world."

But it needs a corollary: "Never doubt that a small group of misguided citizens can devolve into a mindless, bloodthirsty mob."

Angry Mobs are High on their Own Rage

When you become part of the hive mind, you become as unreasoning as a swarm of bees.

Drunk bees.

Angry people actually get high on their own rage. Anger management specialists tell us that self-righteous rage can trigger brain chemicals that mimic the high of cocaine. And it’s just as addictive.

A hive mind drunk on anger is unable to think or learn. It is intolerant of any divergence from the hive's orthodoxy and outraged by humor, whimsy, irony, or fantasy.

All non-literal speech goes over its buzzy little head.

In fact, the hive mind often feels the need to thwart artistic expression of any kind, as we can see with the religious-fanatic hive destroying ancient art in the Middle East.

Scapegoating and Shaming have always been a Road to Power

The dangers of the hive mind are not unique to the Internet age, of course. Humans have been whipped into cruel frenzies by stupid ideas ever since Zog convinced the tribe that throwing Gog into the smoking volcano would keep it from erupting.

Euripides explored the phenomenon in 405 BC when he wrote the Bacchae —in which a band of women, under the spell of an angry Dionysis, rip their king to pieces with their bare hands, thinking he's a wild beast.

Wily politicians have always known how to use mob behavior to their advantage. Designating a scapegoat/enemy and lying to the masses about the danger they pose is the power-play of choice for most tyrannical regimes.

When I was researching my new Camilla mystery, SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM, I did a lot of reading about Richard III, (who appears as a ghost in the novel.) As you probably know, Richard III was portrayed by Shakespeare as a heinous tyrant who murdered his young nephews.

This is very likely a lie. But it has been repeated for 530 years, so has become accepted as fact—although Richard had little motive. More proof that the William James quote is correct.

The Tudor hive mind needed reassurance that Henry Tudor had a God-given right to the throne, so spreading lies about the godlessness of his dead predecessor was a no-brainer. 

Public Shaming and Online Reviews

It's a quirky coincidence that in my novel, a character named Ronson is publicly shamed and slandered on social media.

I hadn't heard of Jon Ronson when I first created the character of Ronson V. Zolek, but Ronzo could easily have been a subject for Jon Ronson's book. He's a music review blogger who suffers public shaming at the hands of a band he gave a bad review. The stories they spread about him are so horrific, he may have committed suicide. (Sorry: no spoilers.)

At the same time, his girlfriend, etiquette expert and bookstore owner Camilla Randall, suffers swarms of obscene personal-attack "reviews" as well as doxxing, hacking, social media shaming—and eventually rape and death threats and real-life destruction of her business. All because she commits the cardinal sin of responding to a negative fake review on Amazon.

Although I exaggerate my characters' troubles for comic effect, none of what goes on is terribly far-fetched.

It happened to me four years ago when I wrote a blogpost that displeased one of the Queen Bees of the review bully brigade, who Tweeted a call to cyber-jihad against me.

I've taken most of the threats and "reviews" Camilla receives word for word from my own and other real online threats.

Some come from last year's #Gamergate mess—a toxic Twitter storm sparked by a woman's negative review of a videogame. Hordes of male gamers got in touch with their inner cavepersons and screamed a blistering group-howl of misogyny on Twitter and Reddit.

Women responded with nasty behavior of their own.

The battle escalated to threats of rape, torture, and mass murder that were so vicious and terrifying that some reviewers and designers had to go into hiding. Colleges went into lockdown when Columbine-style shootings were threatened.

Unfortunately, the gaming world and the book world are closely related. The Amazon forums were originally started for discussions of videogames, and #Gamergate-style misogyny and brutality is rampant there. (Women can be as rabid in their misogyny as men. Most of the rape threats I've seen aimed at women come from women. Go figure.)

Even if you have the sense to stay away from the Amazon fora—which I strongly recommend—the bullying that started there has crept into much of online bookselling.

Reviewers and Authors are Equally Victimized

Unfortunately, online customer reviews have become the "third rail" of the new publishing paradigm. No author is supposed to touch the subject.

But—as I show in SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM—reviewers and authors are equally victims of bullying and we'd be better off banding together to fight it.

Unfortunately, the world of online reviews is mired in corruption. The Guardian reported in 2013 that at least 20% of online reviews are fake. These days I think it's probably more like 30%-40%.

I wrote in May about how Amazon is cracking down on the paid review mills that have grown up around their review system (and all retail and service review sites). But they can't get them all. In many third world countries, writing fake online reviews has become a growth industry.

There are also authors who use fake identities ("sock puppets") to inflate their own review numbers and vote down their "rivals'" books.

And a number of nasty groups use Amazon and Goodreads reviews to carpet-bomb books they haven't read with one-stars and personal attacks to further a political, religious, or social cause. They also do it to punish authors for imagined misdeeds or simply inflict sadistic pain on random strangers for fun.

I will no doubt get some one-star reviews as retaliation for this post. (There's nothing a bully hates more than an appeal for reason and empathy.)

Amazon is making some changes to the review algorithms in order to make the reviews more fair, which I applaud. I've heard rumors that they've started mass-removal of reviews for inscrutable reasons, but the rumors are as yet substantiated, so I reserve judgement on that.

But I fear they still aren't addressing the bully problem. Giving more weight to "verified" reviews doesn't help much because sock puppets, vigilantes and trolls know how to buy an ebook and return it within minutes to get that "verified" stamp of approval.

I'd like to see Amazon limit the number of aliases a reviewer can use. I should think five would be a sufficient number for any legitimate Amazon customer. And it would do a whole lot to cut down on the sock-puppets and one-star public-shaming swarms.

Goodreads has improved their moderation and seem to be quicker to delete toxic threads than they used to be. They have also banished some of their most sadistic Mean Girls. But unfortunately plenty remain—and new ones spring up all the time.

How to Avoid Becoming a Target

I realize that some new authors appear to be "asking for it". Especially if they're naïve and don't realize that getting bad reviews is part of the process of publishing. They can have very public temper tantrums when they get a one-star review, as happened on Goodreads last month.

An author who protests an unkind review (or responds to a negative review in any way) can be the target of toxic verbal abuse, swarms of one-stars, and the ever-popular rape and death threats.

Authors can be bullies too. The ones who feel entitled to all five-stars-all-the-time sometimes call out fans to bully reviewers who don't give them the praise they think they deserve.

I think a lot of naïve newbie authors can be led astray by the over-zealous self- and vanity- publishing industries who tell them that if they pay enough for editing and good design, they won't get one-star reviews.

They've been lied to. Every successful writer gets cruel reviews. Every. Single. One. Go check the Amazon reviews of any bestseller.

New authors need to understand that a few nasty reviews aren't abuse.

However, attacks on the author's character, false accusations of plagiarism or buying fake reviews, carpet-bombing with dozens of one-stars, stalking, hacking, doxxing (making public personal, work, and family contact information), and sending rape and death threats IS.

I've heard from veteran authors who have landed in the hospital with stress-related illnesses, panic attacks, and depression as a result of online persecution by the bullies on Amazon and Goodreads.

Reviewers get stalked, physically assaulted, and suffer public shaming, too. Not always at the hands of authors and their fans, but sometimes as a result of reviewer-on-reviewer bullying, which is a big problem in the Amazon fora—and also plays a part in my novel.

Never Participate in Public Shaming

Public shaming is like torture. If you do it, you're opening the door to have it done to you.

You are also encouraging limits to free speech and artistic expression with what superstar author Anne Rice calls "censorship by troll." This week she said on her Facebook page:

 "I'm fed up with 'Censorship by Troll.' Aren't you? Well, there is a way to stop it. Appeal to websites and internet venues to enforce their existing guidelines against obscenity, abuse, threats and out and out 'hate' attacks. Just about every internet business or venue has guidelines; and if they don't, they can establish some. What is needed is moderation."...Anne Rice

If you hear that an author or reviewer has been accused of piracy, plagiarism, political incorrectness, or other "bad behavior", check the facts before joining the angry mob. 

Even if the accusations are valid—does the punishment really suit the crime? Threatening to rape and mutilate a teenager who overreacts to a nasty review—or writes one—may seem justified to the hive mind, but does it make sense to your own personal brain? Would you be proud of contributing to a fellow human's heart attack, depression or suicide ?

The people who terrorized me with death threats probably thought they were doing good by ridding cyberspace of an uppity old lady. Or, more likely, they didn't think at all.

Next time, instead of grabbing your Twitchfork and joining a frenzied mob, why not take a breath and detach from the hive mind? Ask yourself if you would you like this stuff to happen to you or your child.

So What Can we do About Cyber-Gangs?

Nobody can eliminate Internet bullying entirely—and the tech giants won't do much about it until abuse reports hit critical mass—but you can do your part by learning the rules, refusing to participate and reporting abuse when you see it.

I know the rules are sometimes hard to find, so a couple of years ago I compiled a list of some of the biggies: The Laws of the Amazon Jungle.

The Internet book community is ours to create. We can become a jungle of irrational, violent, anger-addicted brats, or we can behave like literate, civilized adults. If someone is misusing a forum, or you see criminal or bullying activity, leave the group temporarily and contact the appropriate authorities.

Not only do most sites have a "report abuse" button, but you can report false and misleading reviews to the government

If your life or safety are being threatened or you witness a case of cybercrime in the US, you can report to the FBI.

If you believe a review is false and misleading, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, or your local state attorney general's office: (Google: Your state + Attorney General Consumer Affairs Division+ file complaint.)

I don't know about reporting cybercrime outside the US, but maybe a reader can provide info in the comments. I know that in progressive countries like Australia, there are already laws in place against cyberbullying and trolling.

And remember that what happens online has real consequences. This is not a videogame.

 Blogger Chuck Wendig said it very well this week (warning, Chuck uses colorful language):

"I question why we have to be mean for the sake of being mean....Ill-made snark and meanness dull the effectiveness of your criticism; they do not often sharpen it. Is it bullying? Maybe not taken individually, but when it becomes a crashing tide like that — I don’t care who you are, that’s not healthy for your mental well-being. Whatever the case, I think it does us well to remember: Online is IRL." (IRL=In Real Life) ...Chuck Wendig

Jay Asher, author of the NYT bestselling anti-bullying YA novel, Thirteen Reasons Why has been the victim of online bullying himself. This week he said on Facebook:

"It shouldn't matter how rich someone is, or whether we like their writing...to say a behavior toward that person is wrong...I see so many of my friends, and myself, get really hurt when people say horrible things online...We're not supposed to defend ourselves. We're not supposed to block people mocking us. We're supposed to sit there and take it. Sorry. There is nothing right about that."...Jay Asher

Jon Ronson's book is a plea for self-control, empathy, and compassion. He says social media is so young, it's like a toddler crawling toward a gun. 

It's up to the grownups to stop the impending disaster. Be a grownup. Don't bully. And report people who do.

There's an old saying that advises us to ask ourselves, "Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?" before speaking.

Kindness is key here. In an op ed piece in the Washington Post this week, former white supremacist Arno Michelis said:

 "Being on the receiving end of violence did not make me less violent. It was the kindness of people who refused to lower themselves to my level that changed the course of my life." ...Arno Michelis

On this weekend when Americans are celebrating freedom and independence, let's declare independence from the tyranny of the hive mind, trolls, and cyberbullies!

What about you, Scriveners? Have you been the victim of cyberbullying? Have you witnessed it? Have you participated in a public shaming? How did it make you feel? Do you report abuse when you see it? Do you have info on how to report abuse outside the USA? Do keep comments civil. Bullies will be deleted.


SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM: The Camilla Randall Mysteries #5 is now available for preorder on Amazon. Only 99c if you order before July 8th

It's a comedy-mystery about cyberbullying, the gangs of new media, and the ghost of Richard III. Plus a cat named Buckingham.

Camilla's best friend Plant is in the English Midlands accused of murdering a historical reenactor dressed as the Duke of Buckingham. The only witness seems to be the ghost of Richard III. Meanwhile, Camilla's etiquette books are mysteriously attacked by obscene one-star review swarms...and she has no idea what happened to her boyfriend Ronzo. Did he really murder those kittens and then jump into the Passaic River?

And don't forget Ruth Harris's million-seller Husbands and Lovers is FREE for a limited time


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