TEZ TALKS: The Case of Chelsea Cain, and Why Public Perception Matters

[EDIT: Throughout this post, I used “privilege” as a synonym for “entitlement”, but that was incorrect of my behalf. I’m very sorry for not doing my research, but I’ve now learned that “privilege” and “entitlement” are NOT interchangeable terms. Details here.]

(I considered naming this post, “Are You There, Entitlement? It’s Me, Chelsea,” but refrained.)

Welcome to Tez Talks, a blog series on books and publishing from a reader’s perspective.

Today we examine the recent social media behaviour of New York Times Bestselling Author Chelsea Cain, and what we can learn from it.

(TOO LONG; DIDN’T READ: Author complains about not making the NYT list, and complains about people asking her things on social media instead of Googling. Author deletes post upon her publisher’s request, but is clearly not sorry and does not apologise. TEZ SAYS: Don’t take anything for granted. Instead of complaining, take the time to appreciate the very fact that you have a publishing contract and that ANY people are interested in reading and purchasing your works. Because both the “woe is me” and “it’s your fault” attitudes are very off-putting for readers, which may prevent them buying enough copies of your book to earn out your advance, and thus any future contracts you sign may come with a lower advance.)

Yesterday, news spread fast about one of Ms. Cain’s Facebook posts:

(Screenshot via K_Tullo on Twitter.) “I am not your personal customer service hotline. Do not ask me the order of my series or when the book is coming out in your particular country or how to make your fucking Kindle turn on. Google it. It will take you less time and turn up a much more reliable answer.” — Chelsea Cain

You may consider this no big deal – she’s just saying what we’re thinking, right? Key word: thinking. Tone and word-choice is important when communicating with the public. While she raises a fair point, the manner in which she expresses it is inappropriate.

A quick check of Ms. Cain’s website reveals the absence of a Frequently Asked Questions section – something which really should be on every author’s website. And while there is a list of books, they aren’t labelled, “Book 3 of 6 in the _____ series,” for example. So it’s not like she could just refer people to a particular page on her website.

Ms. Cain’s tone, whilst understandably frustrated, ultimately comes across as being ungrateful for the privilege of being an author of books that people actually would like to read and purchase.

Since that post has since been deleted (more on that later), the comments were also deleted. I didn’t screenshot, but I did copy-and-paste the text she posted in a reply to a reader’s comment in the thread:

“I spend hours every day responding to reader questions on all my various social networking sites. It is a full time job. It takes up more time than writing. You have no idea the bullshit I am bombarded with. Suddenly I’m an asshole for pointing out that listing the order of my books ten times a day may not be the most productive use of my time? I love cool questions and comments. It’s the inane ones I object to. You don’t pay my salary. I don’t have to do this. But here I am. Personally responding to your comment at almost 1am.” –Chelsea Cain

That comment further displays her sense of privilege and entitlement. Readers, and potential readers, showing interest in her work? That’s “the bullshit I’m bombarded with”. Not to mention that if her website was more informative, it would save her time and effort.

As for, “You don’t pay my salary. I don’t have to do this. But here I am.”: First of all, “salary” is probably not the correct word. Publishers contract specific works. Big publishers generally pay an advance which is specified in the contract. Money made on the books first goes to the publisher to reclaim what they spent on the author’s advance. Once the advance is “earned out”, then extra money in the form of royalties are made. But in order to get those royalties, to earn out that advance a certain number of copies need to be sold. And if an author doesn’t earn out their advance, they may have trouble getting future works contracted. Or they will be contracted, but with a lower advance.

Ms. Cain doesn’t HAVE to use social media. Publishers certainly encourage it, but I don’t know if they’d cancel contracts if authors refused to communicate with followers. And of course authors don’t HAVE to answer questions. So instead of complaining about listing series’ order ten times a day, an author could just…not reply. People can ask all the questions they like, but if an author doesn’t want to personally respond to comments at almost 1AM? Ms. Cain didn’t have to answer. She chose to. And chose to blame others for her choice.

(Screenshot via KarLyn_P on Twitter.) Key quote: “Don’t be a dick. Mistakes will be made. Don’t send angry emails.” –Chelsea Cain

That image shows advice Ms. Cain gave on Goodreads. If only she followed her own advice…

It was pretty amazing that Ms. Cain’s Facebook post stayed online as long as it did. Usually when authors realised they’ve buggered up, they delete the evidence ASAP. (This is why people tend to screenshot before the proof can disappear.) This afternoon, Ms. Cain announced she’d deleted the post. But WHY she deleted it is noteworthy:

(Screenshot via me on Twitpic.) “I have deleted my posts because my publisher asked me to and they are very busy and do not have time to deal with the hysteria I apparently whipped up. But you puzzle me. Because I don’t think it’s rude or outrageous to remind people that I’m human and that I have a family and that I am not an automated customer service hotline who is here to service your needs. It saddens me that a public person drawing boundaries inspires such an outpouring of hate. I would much rather spend my time responding to thoughtful reader questions than boneheaded ones. Call me crazy. Anyone who knows me understands the lengths I will go to for my fans. And I’m sorry but if you’re asking me to list the order of my books you are wasting both of our time. Seriously. Think about it. I will not pretend to be someone I’m not. It doesn’t feel safe here anymore. And for that I am sorry. But I don’t apologize for a single word of my earlier posts. I have met some amazing excellent people on this page. I’ve enjoyed knowing you. Goodnight.”

A lot of points made here:

Her publisher asked her to delete the post. She didn’t want to, but she did upon their request.
She doesn’t think her behaviour is rude or outrageous. Possibly her publisher did, since they requested the deletion.
The “I’m human and I have a family” defence. Yeah, and if any other worker is rude to their clientele, they are reprimanded if not fired. Thus her “I’m just like you” excuse is flimsy at best and Special Snowflake at worst.
“It saddens me that a public person…” It saddens her that she isn’t treated like a Special Snowflake.
“outpouring of hate.” I didn’t see any “hate”, but I did see people informing her that they will not read or promote her books anymore since she clearly doesn’t appreciate her readers.
“rather…thoughtful reader questions than boneheaded ones.” Some would say it’s a “boneheaded” move to NOT have a series order list or FAQ on an author’s website.
“Call me crazy.” No, I prefer not to use ableist slurs.
“And I’m sorry but…” Basically, “Sorry, not sorry.” Or, “Sorry you’re wasting my time.” As far as public apologies go, this is so far from an actual apology that I don’t know why she even bothered. Because her publisher wanted her to, maybe.
“But I don’t apologize for a single word of my earlier posts.” Then why did she post this today? Other than blaming her publisher for giving her good advice, and blaming her readers for not finding information about HER books that she didn’t list on her OWN website?

But wait – there’s more. A Facebook post Ms. Cain made on August 28th adds to the situation, but makes the existence of her latter posts illogical:

(Screenshot via me at Twitpic.) “I just found out that ONE KICK didn’t make the NYT bestseller list. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a thriller not make the list (at least the extended list!). Ironic because this is the best reviewed book I’ve ever written. And it had so much going for it – so much book seller and critical support, a fancy new publisher, “best of the month” picks from iBooks and Amazon and the independent bookstores. It probably sounds ridiculous, but this is a huge blow. The Archie/Gretchen books didn’t sell gangbusters, but I could count on the preorders – those core fans – to give us big numbers that first week to get us on the List. I tried so hard this time around. I gave it everything I had. I went to BEA with a broken leg! I left a sick kid to go on tour! This was supposed to be the book that had broad appeal – the book that would bring a new audience to the Archie books and therefore allow me to keep writing them. I did everything I could. (You have to do MUCH more than write the book these days.) I wish more than anything that I could just write stories for all of you. I would do that. But I just hate this. I hate the pressure. I hate having to sell myself all the time. I hate having to track every book sale. I hope ONE KICK finds a larger audience. I love Kick Lannigan. I don’t know what went wrong. But I know I don’t want writing to be like this.” –Chelsea Cain

Points made:

Her latest book did not make the NYT bestseller extended list – the first time one of her thrillers hasn’t.
“the best reviewed” – Reviews and sales do not go hand in hand. They may help, but doing well in one doesn’t guarantee doing well in the other.
“I went to BEA with a broken leg! I left a sick kid to go on tour!” Because if you do these things, you should automatically be guaranteed a place on the NYT list? Everyone works hard, everyone makes sacrifices, and so everyone should automatically make the list? Or just her?
“I don’t know what went wrong. But I know I don’t want writing to be like this.” So she responds to it by publicly complaining about not making a list, and complaining about people who dare to show interest in her work?

Her emotions are not exclusive – many authors feel this way. But many authors are smart enough not to air their complaints publicly. Not only does it put off potential readers, but it’s kind of insulting to her fans. So she didn’t make the list, but that doesn’t mean she made NO sales. That NO ONE bought the book in the first week it was released. Instead of saying, “Thanks to everyone who bought my book in its first week of release,” she is essentially blaming others for what she deems “a huge blow.” Notice how she says, “I did everything I could” – but while she doesn’t out-and-out say “it’s all everyone else’s fault that my book didn’t sell as many copies as I wanted it to,” the insinuation is well and truly there.

But let’s give Ms. Cain the benefit of the doubt for a moment. She’s disappointed, and despairing that her efforts haven’t resulted in the achievement she worked towards. When people are in that negative a mood, they take all the positives in their life for granted. They fail to appreciate that a publisher actually contracted their book in the first place. They fail to appreciate that some people bought their book – because SOME sales are better than NO sales. And I don’t think she appreciated all the kind messages to her in the comments. “But WE like you” is not good enough for Ms. Cain – you liking her did not get her that NYT slot. Priorities.

And by “kind” messages, I mean they were full of positivity for Ms. Cain – but one that threatened violence against others:

(Screenshot via me at Twitpic.) “If anyone is giving you shit, just pass their info on to me and I will find them and hurt them. No one should say anything bad about you, dammit!! You are a great person and fantastic author so f them!” –Megan Thomas Parr

But one particular comment seems quite prophetic:

(Screenshot via me at Twitpic.) Key quote: “Too bad you don’t have some scandal that you can get media attention for. It seems like people only pay attention to train wrecks these days.” –Megan Monaghan Smith

Which brings us to the “not your personal customer service hotline” post…

We are paying attention to Ms. Cain. If that was the point, then objection achieved. It’s no NYT Bestseller List, though.

P.S. All of this could have been avoided if Ms. Cain had hired a virtual assistant to manage her social media for her. A virtual assistant doesn’t guarantee a place on the NYT list, but at least it could prevent an author publicly complaining that people actually want to read and buy her books. Could YOU benefit from hiring a virtual assistant? Consider Tez Assists

9 responses to “TEZ TALKS: The Case of Chelsea Cain, and Why Public Perception Matters

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  5. Seriously, fuck the Mad Genius Club with a saguaro cactus.

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