Didn’t anyone ever teach you any manners? What kind of a horrible person are you?
~Dorothea Benton Frank, commenting on a negative review of her novel Return to Sullivan’s Island on Amazon’s discussion boards
I want to thank the authors out there who wag their tongues unadvisedly. I want to thank, particularly, authors who waggle their fingers on their keyboards, releasing their unadvised commentary into the wilds of the internets, where I may view it freely and anonymously, and where the original comments will spread, mutate and multiply, if sufficiently, deliciously ill-advised. I adore the incendiary remarks that cause the blogosphere to erupt in censure, offense and Outrage, and the critics and pundits to create Rule #158 of How Not to Behave if You Wish to Sell Novels. Resulting kerfluffles are educational, and are, above all, the best kind of gossip, the kind that frees my own tongue and gleeful schadenfreude, because the originator released me from my bonds of courtesy by behaving badly in public!
Last week, author Rob Thurman adjured her fans to purchase the latest installment of her paranormal series in hard copy on the first week of its release, unless they live in Canada, in which case she doesn’t care about them (Canadians were outraged). Thurman wanted Roadkill to make the New York Times Bestseller List, and told her fans that only U.S. brink-and-mortar sales would count. Her argument is likely correct, although it is difficult to be certain because the NY Times conceals such trade secrets as best-seller data acquisition and analysis (if your methodology is not transparent, are your results not sort of…bullshit that I have no way to evaluate the relevance of? but I digress). Her problems arose because she more demanded than requested, thereby outraging the fans. She further alienated readers and generated snickering in the wings when she sniped at an Amazon reviewer for suggesting that reviews begotten in bribery might be suspect. Besides ill-advised, I think her machinations are unlikely to be effective, unless she has enough fans to be a best-seller without bribes and shenanigans.
And while I agree that Thurman behaved rudely and screwed herself, I can’t agree with the premise of thou must never offend the fan base as a general rule. It is wise not to be foolishly rude, or rudely foolish, but what about contentiously and unpredictably outspoken? Contentious speech may be necessary. Unpredictable outbursts may be interesting. Authors are purveyors of ideas. Do you write to sell books, or sell books to communicate thoughts, opinions, ideas, and stories? Some of both? The rule may depend on the type and style of writing you traffic in- whether it is work that profits or suffers from drawing controversy. What do you think? Here’s a sample of what Sherman Alexie, famous for unpredictable outspokeness, thinks:
I got hundreds of emails insulting me, accusing me of being some caveman. I am by no means a Luddite. I have two iPods. I have a cell phone. I have cable TV, HDTV! I had some French friends in town last week. The man said, being French of course, “When you’re in a bookstore and you’re smelling the book and you’re touching it, your senses are engaged.” His English was a little off. He said, “It’s like—what do you call that word?—the preparation for having sex.” I said, “It’s like foreplay.” And he goes, “Yes!” Amazon had given me a Kindle, and he grabbed it, and he goes, “This is not sex!” Then an American friend of mine took the Kindle home for a night; he wanted to play with it. He came back and he said, “It’s like masturbating with a condom on.”
~Sherman Alexie, on calling e-readers elitist, “Sherman Alexie: Don’t Call Me Warrior” Mother Jones 29 Sep 2009.
[We at inkyfreshpress would like to point out here that we don't necessarily agree with all of Mr. Alexie's points.] Listen to more of Alexie’s thoughts in a conversation with Rick Moody that follows a reading of his short story “Breaking and Entering” on the 28 Feb 2010 podcast of Selected Shorts. Its still free to download, but act fast.