License to Ill (Repute)

Yesterday Melanie Zolatan posted an excellent piece on Technorati that paints a bleak picture of a dystopian society in which authors and critics wage internecine warfare on a simmering hellscape that once knew peaceful division.

Ok, it’s actually about the perils of bad reputation management online, and has some hilarious links to examples of rather ill-conceived attempts at addressing unwelcome feedback. If self-publishing is going to be viable, then self-immolation via comment box needs to be taboo.

Even legitimate literary feuds are boring. As a matter of fact, they are perhaps the silliest of all kinds of fueds. My personal favorite is “blood” (if you’re my freshman year roommate, than your favorite is “Family”). In any case, authors need to know that their vanity sci-fi epic about mutant space whatnots is either going to be 1) ignored by an empty, godless universe 2) discovered and discussed. All of the potential rests in #2. Unfortunately, so does all of the peril.

Self-publishing is going to keep expanding, but its growth will be stunted if authors are short-circuiting the process and engaging with critics before consulting editors. Enter the comment box, the steel cage match of wounded pride and aggressive self-defense (not to mention the constant enfilades of random cruelty).

The next concern is that a breed of writer will emerge that uses this call-and-response of instant feedback to tailor works that have the same integrity of a test-audience movie.

The question is- how can an author, without the benefit of a marketing division and dedicated image brokers, build and maintain a sterling reputation? Probably the way that always have- ignore the feedback unless it comes from a trusted source. Finding that source will be the central challenge for self-published authors.

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