Over at Mad Genius Club Amanda wrote a post that turned into a bit of a shit storm. It started out with some misunderstandings about what Kristen Lamb had blogged about a couple weeks ago. Mostly the misunderstandings happened because I feel Kristen’s original blog was rather poorly worded and could have used some editing. But, because of the misunderstandings, and the jump in hits and some questionable comments that started coming in Kristen got her hackles up, which led her to make some comments on Amanda’s post that raised the ire of a bunch of people over there. For awhile it really digressed into a bunch of monkeys flinging poo at each other. It looks like everyone has apologized and things have settled down for the time being.

Some things that we can all take from this:

  • Don’t post anything when your judgement might be impaired. Drinking? Take a step back. On meds? Take a step down. High? Take a couple steps back and rethink how you got to where you are. Upset? Take a step back. Many of us are reactionary. We take things way too personally. If someone makes a criticism, step back, look again at what they said and see if what they said makes sense in context with what you wrote.
  • Be clear when you say something. What you said and what you meant to say aren’t necessarily the same thing. Don’t beat around the bush on a topic. Don’t say one thing, and then a couple of paragraphs later say the opposite. If you leave something open to interpretation, people will interpret it (most likely in a way unflattering to you). Don’t hedge about what your point is. I really like “X” and use it all the time, but… When you put that ‘but’ in there you just called into question the validity of whatever you had before it.
  • Don’t assume everyone is in the same boat as you. When you say something like The way it works is… people will assume you are talking about how it works everywhere, not just the one little part in your neck of the woods. Just because the library in your town is crappy doesn’t mean the library in my town is crappy. If someone can point to where things are different than what you say, you look like a fool and damage your image. This goes back to being clear, make sure everyone knows it’s based on your experience only.
  • Be humble and apologize, sincerely, when wrong. Instead of getting upset, look at what was actually said. As I said before, what was said and what was meant are not necessarily the same thing. Could someone take what you said in a way different from how you meant it, and that got them upset? Could what someone said be taken in a way different from how you originally took it? Most of us don’t intend to offend. If we say something that is wrong, apologize. If it’s because of ambiguity in what was originally said, it might be a good idea to go back edit that part. Be sure to mark that as an edit though if posting. Sometimes the facts are not as we perceive them. Whatever you do, don’t behave like Irene Gallo and merely apologize because people got upset rather than for what you actually said. That’s not an apology. Mistakes can be made, don’t make it worse with a false apology. You are the only one responsible for your words.

Going back to Kristen’s blog, where she’s trying to clarify points from her prior blog, one of the things that kind of struck me was when she got into the whole ‘fair trade and social responsibility’ after talking about not assuming all of your customers are broke. She went into considerable detail about buying fair trade products, basically just because you can, even showing several examples. I don’t know about you, but 7X more for a product just doesn’t seem all that worthwhile. If you’ve got the extra cash and it’s what you need to do to feel better about yourself, go for it. I’m thinking that there aren’t too many people out there with the financial wherewithal to do such things on a regular basis. I realize she talks about her past where she had to eat vienna sausages and stolen packets of ketchup, however $7 for a candy bar seems to smack of a disconnection with the average person. We all perceive value in different ways. To her that chocolate bar is worth the $7 value. To the average person who may not put as much emphasis on ‘social responsibility’, or whatever the cause du jour is, they’ll probably spend $1 on the Hershey’s bar and another $6 on something else they value more.

Back when I smoked cigars on a regular basis I tried many. I even tried Cuban when I was in Canada on vacation. And you know what, it was the best cigar I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, it wasn’t anywhere near the value I purchased it for. For the $25+tax I got A great cigar (there were others that were quite a bit more expensive). One cigar. Singular. But for that same $25 I could get a bundle of good Honduran or Domincan cigars and smoke all summer. Was the Cuban cigar good? Undoubtedly. Was it’s value worth $25? Not to me. Those other cigars were nearly as good in quality and I could get a heck of a lot more of them.

It’s the same thing with books. Where Kristen laments that authors aren’t getting paid because people are buying used books, I think she’s forgetting what the value is to the average person. I just don’t see most people willingly paying over $10 for a book from an author they’ve never read before, or possibly even heard of. $25 or more for a hardcover? Not likely to happen for me unless it’s something quite special. For an eBook? No way. The value isn’t there. Not when the publishers keep insisting I don’t actually own that eBook. That’s why used book stores and libraries are such great things. They allow you to sample around and try new authors and genres for a minimal investment. Sure, an author might not get a royalty check from that second hand sale, but no one gets another check when something is sold 2nd hand, regardless of what the item is. Doesn’t matter if it’s a car, a house, a gun or a record. If the buyer liked what they got, they’ll go back and look for more from that author (or band, whatever), and if they have even moderate financial means they’re likely to buy that next hit of crack new rather than used.

Equating used book stores to pirates is not only disingenuous but muddles the original message she was trying to get across. This comes back to being clear earlier in this post. Once something like that is put out, it implies that people visiting a used book store are thieves. That may not have been the intention, but it’s what many people take from it. Want a good way to piss people off? Call them something they are not, particularly if there is a negative connotation to it. Go ahead try it. Walk up to someone and call them a Nazi or a thief and it’s likely to make their blood boil. So when she says something like “Know who else claims they are doing writers a favor by letting readers “discover” new authors on the cheap? Pirates” I have a retort along a similar vein. Know who else doesn’t get a royalty check? Writers who don’t sell books because they insult their readers.

I think Kristen is wrong about used book stores and libraries. And for pretty much the same reason why I think the Big Wigs at Barnes and Noble and the major publishers are wrong when it comes to eBooks. Readers talk to each other. They recommend books to each other and get their friends/family members excited about a book. Closing off genuine avenues for readers to find your books is short sighted and in the long run usually just backfires on you.

Value is derived from what the customer is willing to pay. If the customer isn’t willing to pay $Y for your book, you’re not gonna get paid. If the customer bought one book from you for $Y, and found the quality of entertainment lacking, you’re not gonna get paid again. Be glad that they sold it a used book store or gave it to a library where you at least have a chance that someone else will pick it up, enjoy it and come looking for more. The other option is they throw it away and you lose all possible good exposure, and any chance at further sales.

It takes years to build up a good reputation, to build loyalty and trust. All it takes is a single instant to throw it all away. Be careful what you say. As they say, the internet never forgets. If you say something thoughtless, or callous, people will remember and someone will have a record of it. So take time to be clear about what you say. If you do make a mistake, apologize for what you did, not how other people reacted. Be sincere.

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