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The Things Authors Do To Themselves… and Others

There are authors out there who google themselves.

This is something I try very hard never to do.  Please, in fact, remind me never, ever to do it.  Only misery awaits at the end of that left-mouse click.

Because sure, no matter how awesome you are and how much people adore your works, someone’s gonna say something nasty at some point.  To test this hypothesis, you could for example look up Harry Potter on amazon or goodreads.  99% of the reviews are going to be glowing, but that still leaves several hundred which are going to go, ‘good, but thin on plot’ or ‘I loved the rest of the books, but the characters in this just didn’t work for me’.  There’s nothing particularly nasty in that, not least since all things are subjective, but that’s not the point.  As the writer, you read it, and even though the rest of the world sings with praise the thought creeps into your soul of ‘oh god, what have I done?’  Doubt sneaks upon you, and you glance sideways at your old works wondering anew if actually, they’re all they’re cracked up to be…

Or perhaps you find pictures of yourself from an ancient interview that you wish had died.  Or an article or blog post you wish you hadn’t written.  Or just one stinking review on ‘hate all fantasy books.org’ which sure, has a go at you because you believe that the earth is round and that elves should be called Jeff, and even though you know the author of the review is mad as a box of frogs, still, the words burn… they burn

Moral of the story: don’t google yourself.

However!  This is as nothing to the things authors do to other authors.  The savagery of one or two individuals leaves me reeling.  To name no names – not least, because it would risk exposing some details of secretproject3 – I recently came across what I can only describe as Biography Wars.

Picture the scene: amazon UK.  Now, I don’t like using amazon, but sometimes when looking for obscure stuff, it’s the only place to go, damnit.

Three biographies writing on the same subject.

Biography 1 is by an academic in a related field, and considers the subject from a literary and political standpoint.  Unfortunately, Biography 1 also costs £55, and sure, I’m dedicated, but not that dedicated.  So I look at Biography 2Biography 2 is by a journalist, and seems to be a decent summary of collected wisdoms so far.  More to the point, it seems easily readable and at a mere £5.49 it’s not going to wound my hollow pocket.  Add to wish list.

Finally I look at Biography 3Biography 3 is by a gentleman we’ll call Gollum.  In its blurb it explains that this biography is completely revolutionary.  Using techniques only known to the biographer, the author of this marvelous work can prove that the subject is homosexual, has committed bigamy, fathered 8 illegitimate children, and was an habitual kleptomaniac.  All this, without ever having to use any actual historical evidence!

Bewildered by this, I look at the reviews.  Biography 3 has about 3 reviews, average of 3 stars – except wait!  Review no.3 is a five start glowing review, praising the book’s innovation and wonder.  And what do you know?  It’s by Gollum himself.  He hasn’t even bothered to change his name as he goes ahead and praises his own book to the sky.

Now.  This is simply bad form.  I click automatically on the review to say how unhelpful I find it, and observe that someone else has pointed out that this review of the book is by the book’s author and therefore shouldn’t be fully trusted.

‘Ah-ha!’  replies Gollum.  ‘I bet you’re a rival biographer trolling!  What’s your agenda, huh?’

Groaning, I discard Biography 3 from my read-list, finding myself offended both as a historian and a writer by everything I’ve just seen.  I return to Biography 1 and Biography 2 and have a look at reader reviews.  Both have done alright except, wait!  What’s this I see beneath both books?  You guessed it… 2-star reviews by Gollum.

‘This biography, while entertainingly written, completely lacks in any new historical material or research.  I recommend Biography 3 as a far better source of information, as the author of this book has clearly got nothing new to contribute to the debate.’

Now, I must admit, at this my indignation reaches boiling point.  What utter cheek!  What wretched ballsy git-ness!  I flag the reviews as unhelpful and, in a fit of pique, report them as inappropriate to amazon on the principal that rival authors should a) not give themselves good reviews and b) should not poo-poo their rivals!  Needless to say, amazon does not take action, and so these foul reviews remain, besmirching the honour of otherwise perfectly decent academic texts.

In the grand scheme of things this is nothing.  The petty wrangling of writers in an obscure field.  But!  As established above, pettiness is a massive part of an author’s day!  We all invest emotion in the things that surround us, and writing a book can fairly quickly quash all other thoughts from the mind.  So if you insult this endeavour, if you do it down, then sure, in a massively petty way, it’ll hurt like kidneys stones.  Authors should know better than anyone else how important it is to be kind to other writers – and yet all too often, we are our own worst enemies.