Random Tez

Trialling an idea that may, or not, become semi-regular: things on my mind this week. I often share this kind of stuff on Twitter or Booklikes, but blog-readers may be interested.

Goodreads has an option where users can share recommendations. I used the function to ASK for recs once, when I wanted to read more fiction set in asylums – that’s how I found out about Dan Wells’ The Hollow City, which I really liked. (Tried his two YA series, but they didn’t work for me at all.)

But there’s also an option where users can send out a recommendation to all their friends (or all the people who follow them). PLEASE DO NOT USE THIS OPTION. If I ask for recs regarding something in particular, chime in. But sending unsolicited recommendations feels a lot like spamming, from my point of view as a recipient. The first time this week, a publisher recommended something they’d published. The second time, an agent recommended something by an author that they may or may not represent. (I didn’t bother checking, because it was SPAM, and I don’t want to research something spammed.) The third time was by someone not in the biz (as far as I know), but still unsolicited.

Unsolicited recommendations are spammy, and make me LESS likely to want to read the recommended book. Which defeats the purpose of why you’re recommending them – because you want people to read them, or at least pay attention to them.

Believe me, if those books you spammed about are good enough, I’m sure to hear about them in a non-spammy way from other people.

During my teen years I read a lot of crime, including some Mommy-Track Mysteries. I also liked a standalone novel (“women’s fiction”/mainstream/general) by this author, though I can’t remember anything about it except that in one scene the character ate cupcakes in New York City.

My teens are long over, as are my days of reading this author’s books. So it was kind of a blast from the past this week when the author posted some Tweets that made news on The Daily Dot and other sites. It was kind of the same thing that Chelsea Cain did earlier this year: publically mope about not making a special list. For Ms. Cain, it was a bestseller list. For Ms. Waldman, it was a “notables” list. Because that publication had rated her novel highly, she expected her book to be on the notables list, but it wasn’t. She didn’t understand why some books with less-favourable reviews were considered “notable” and hers wasn’t.

But instead of simply asking what “notable” meant her Tweets came across as rather…well, a number of people have referenced tiny violins.

Social media is both the best thing and the worst thing when it comes to authors and publicity. Sure, people have now heard of Ms. Waldman when they previously hadn’t, but not in a positive light.

The first time I’d heard of her was when Penguin Teen Australia announced they’d bought the rights to her book and spoke of her in the context of celebrity. Apparently she was a beauty blogger, but the novel was fiction. Whatever.

Then she hit the news for circa-80,000 copies of her book sold in its first week in the UK.

With it came rumours of the novel being ghost-written, to which the publisher replied, “to be factually accurate you would need to say Zoe Sugg did not write the book Girl Online on her own”. So either a ghost-writer wrote it all, or at the very least co-wrote it. This isn’t the newsworthy bit, but ghost-writers exist for a reason, and deserve to be properly compensated for their work.

Basically the problem is lack of transparency. The ghost-writer/co-writer (whom it’s been suggested is Siobhan Curham, who’s mentioned in the acknowledgments, but her specific role isn’t said) should have their name on the cover, or at least the title page. I’ve heard Ms. Sugg’s brand is built on “authenticity” (which is weird, because I thought the more prominent beauty YouTubers were paid/sponsored to positively promote specific products), and having her co-writer/ghost-writer not openly named/credited comes across as Ms. Sugg and her publisher not being upfront. This means that her “authentic” characteristic may not be entirely truthful.

And then there’s the matter of payment. It’s been said that ghost-writers are generally paid a flat-fee, but are there bonuses/commission if the book becomes a bestseller? Contract stipulations and whatnot likely prevent ghost-writers from speaking about their work, so the world of ghost-writing is rather secretive.

To reiterate: Was your novel co-written or ghost-written? That’s fine, but at least have the decency to be transparent about it – in the form of their name on the cover, or at least the title page.

But the situation reminded me of something Tara Moss recounts in her non-fiction book, The Fictional Woman. Back when her first couple of novels were published, there were rumours that maybe they were ghost-written. Ms. Moss was (and still is) a fashion model, and often mentioned in the society pages of publications – and some of the public could not quite trust that she could also write.

Ms. Moss submitted to a polygraph test. And yes, she did – and still does – write her own novels. (She also writes non-fiction.) But why was speculation focused on her, rather than other authors? The Fictional Woman (published in 2014) examines public perceptions of all kinds, and though it’s been months since I read the book, Ms. Sugg’s situation reminded me of it.

Is speculation ever fair? Some would say it was fair in Ms. Sugg’s case, since the official word came out that her book isn’t solely her writing. But had the co-writer been publicly credited from the start, there may not have been speculation. Should there ever be? In the case of Ms. Moss, people saw a crime that wasn’t even committed.

How does the public determine whose books are up for speculation? Only when an author is also known in a different, publically-prominent profession? The best way to eliminate speculation would be more transparency regarding ghost-written/co-written books.

Ghost-writing is not a problem. But it is when authors and publishers aren’t upfront about it before journalists ask them.

Tried out this online recommendation service. Perhaps I didn’t give them enough info, because the results were pretty disappointing: One book was already on my wishlist, the second was already on my maybe list, and the third was by a do-not-read author.

But perhaps you will find this service more useful than I did.


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