Note: I’m not going to identify by name any of the authors included in this post because it would bring attention to their name and publicity is what they seek. Therefore, I’m trying my best to avoid providing publicity for these activities with which I don’t agree.
Indies have a problem. Indie publishing is the wild west where might and cleverness succeed and the law-abiding, quietly thoughtful authors are being left to bleed out in the dust. There’s nothing that can stop it but I can’t help feeling dismayed.
A day or so ago, I received a cover reveal request for an author who had publicly proclaimed not even two weeks earlier she was quitting publishing due to extreme bullying. She had explained in her post that in her post that she was near starvation due to low sales and suicidal due to the terrible things bloggers and other authors have said about her books. The author enjoyed above 4-star review averages on goodreads and Amazon, and her books were ranked below 10,000 (which is a hell of a lot better than most authors).
As a result of her post, many bloggers and authors posted about her on Facebook and encouraged others to buy her books. Her book sales spiked, until she was close to the Kindle top 100 and was actually #1 in a few browse categories. And now, not two weeks later, she’s out seeking promotion for her books. When I inquired about her intent to quit, I was informed by her two-person personal assistant team that sales were separate from writing, whatever that means.
Just a day before that, I saw an international bestselling author, top in her genre, announce that a famous actor was being featured in her cover reveal. Based on her twitter stream, it was apparent that her readers thought that he was personally involved somehow, yet going to the page where this occurred showed him in a gif which was taken from a recent movie. If I took a picture of this author from the internet and pasted it on a post here at Dear Author and said X author was featured in a new promotional event at the blog, I have no doubt this would be frowned upon.
Appropriation of celebrities is rampant among the indie author crowd. I’ve seen picture teasers by authors that include images of actors that they have voiced are inspiration for their male characters. I differentiate these from fan-made teasers because the fans shouldn’t be required to know what copyright is. But authors should, particularly when every other post some days is about pirates.
Then there’s the 1D fan fiction that was written on Wattpad and portrays Harry Styles as an emotionally abusive boyfriend and boywhore (he’s a teenager in the FF). Wattpad is trying to get this made into a movie and is touting it as the next Fifty Shades. Going to the Wattpad page leads you to picture after picture of Harry Styles in various poses next to quotes from the book.
Two of the above three examples violate the right of publicity. In California, the knowing use of a celebrity’s likeness without their consent for advertising purposes is a violation. California isn’t the only state with this law, but it was one of the first to enact it. There are at least nineteen states that have enacted this specific law. Even beyond the statutes, celebrities (or anyone) can bring a suit against the author or publishing house for invasion of privacy or misappropriation of their image.
But why should they have to? Don’t authors believe in the integrity of intellectual property? Isn’t that important to them? I mean, it seems like it is.
Laws, it seems, are for suckers, if you look at what some indie authors are doing to sell books. I’ve seen countless illegal contests. The latest craze is to increase pre-orders so that the author’s upcoming book appears on the NYT list. Pre-order the book, show proof of the pre-order and be entered into a lottery to win. That’s right. These authors are running lotteries that are against the law. And these aren’t small time authors. These are multiple-book bestselling authors (formerly indie) backed by major publishing houses.
Against the law? Yes. Requiring someone to purchase something in order to enter your contest is against the law. It turns a contest (sweepstakes) into a lottery.
Maybe you’d argue that these authors don’t know better, but with their million-dollar contracts, they could afford to hire a lawyer to not be afoul of the law. And frankly, ignorance of the law is no defense.
What really grinds my gears is that these authors are gaining advantages in unscrupulous ways, which adversely impacts those authors who try to not game the system through illegal contests, misappropriating celebrities’ likenesses, attempting to manipulate sales by claiming deep and serious psychological issues, and buying reviews and sales.
The cesspool of activities that authors, a lot of them indie, are engaged in to get ahead is really off-putting. I know that there isn’t anything that can really be done about it. Oh, complaints could be made to the FTC. Attorneys for celebrities could be contacted. But probably nothing would come of that. I know I don’t care to do it.
But I tell you that it’s pretty frustrating for me to see these things happen and then read endless claims about bullying, piracy, and bad reviews. The worst part is that it’s manipulative to readers, many of whom get caught up in illegal and unethical schemes without their consent or knowledge. And it makes the task of finding honestly marketed books a thousand times harder than it already is. We hear complaints about the quality of indie books all the time, but I think this is a lot worse.
In the courts of equity, there’s this rule called in pari delicto. I won’t go into a long dissertation about how this is a rule of equity, and all of the above would be heard in a court of law, but it’s a rule that I learned in law school that has always appealed to me. It’s called the Clean Hands Doctrine and essentially says that if your hands are dirty, then you can’t complain about the unclean things anyone else is doing.
Maybe we need to institute that in publishing. I won’t complain about these irritating and illegal activities, and authors can be quiet about reader behavior, starting with reader reviews, which are not now and are never going to be bullying, no matter how many times authors call it that.