In this series of essays, B.J. Swann spews out hatred and gives you the straight dope on everything that sucks about the contemporary writing and publishing scene.
The Facebook Author Phenomenon: A Cautionary Essay
Consider the following scenario:
You have a Facebook friend who happens to be an indie author. He’s constantly posting about his new book. Soon you see numerous mutual friends reading it and posting about it. The author starts to suggest, perhaps indirectly at first, that you read his book. Maybe he even sends you a copy. The guy is so nice, he’s always liking and commenting on your posts, and you start to feel bad about not reading his book, so you decide to give it a go. It’s okay, you suppose. Not terrible. Maybe a two-star read, three at best. His grammar isn’t so good and he doesn’t have any original ideas. You wonder if you should post an honest review with some constructive criticism. But the guy just seems so nice, and he’s always liking and commenting on your posts, and saying nice things. You don’t feel comfortable posting anything negative. You decide to be charitable. After all, he’s a nice guy. And the book was okay. So why not add a few stars to your review? After all, he’s your friend. And it’s not like you’re lying, right? After all, art is subjective. You go post a 4-star review of his book, glossing over all the flaws and highlighting all the best bits. The writer loves it and thanks you profusely.
Next week he has another book out. He starts posting about it constantly. He starts to suggest that since you loved the first one, you might want to check this one out as well. The cycle begins again. You feel trapped. The next book is worse than the first. But the guy is so nice. And he’s your friend - right?
If the above scenario feels familiar to you, you’ve been the victim of a Facebook author. To learn more about this tragic phenomenon, read on.
What is a Facebook Author?
A Facebook author is an indie or small press writer who aggressively uses social media as a free means to market their books. They are insincere, disingenuous, Machiavellian flatterers and pests who abuse the kindness and goodwill of others in order to farm reviews and build their public profile. They are often poor or unskilled writers with a shallow grasp of writing techniques whose only asset is the shameless ability to kiss ass and harass their so-called “friends” ad nauseum.
Conquering the World One Friend at a Time: The devious techniques of the Facebook Author
Many authors on social media post about their new or upcoming books. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. After all, that is what social media is for - posting about your achievements and memorable moments in your life. Facebook authors go much further than this, however, and their sinister strategies will be outlined below.
Gaming the Algorithms + Post Spamming
Facebook authors spend countless hours on social media liking and commenting on people’s posts. Their comments are always short, shallow, and positive. They might say “Awesome, great job!” about the new wallpaper you installed in your flat. They might love emoji one of your selfies. They might say “Awesome review!” when you post your thoughts on American Psycho. But they never engage on a deep level. Their goal is to interact with you just enough so that when they post about their book it gets right up in your feed. Essentially, they are using fake engagement - false friendship - to shove marketing material in your face every day for free. When you think about it, that’s really annoying.
Perhaps the number one tactic of Facebook authors is simply to pillage your goodwill by pretending to be your friend and pressuring you into reading and reviewing all their books. They just seem so damn nice, it’s hard to turn them down. They’re always spamming love emojis all over you. They can seem so friendly, like big, dumb puppies. But in reality, they’re just a bunch of shallow parasites. Like the man said - you better watch out for the skin deep
If you’re a writer yourself, Facebook authors will often approach you for a “book swap.” The idea is that you swap books and give each other a review. If you agree, the Facebook author will quickly write a glowing review kissing your ass and jizzing all over your immaculate masterwork - but guess what? They probably didn’t even read it (I am not making this up, I have known Facebook authors who have point-blank admitted to doing this). If you look closely at their review, you’ll find it’s generic, with no real depth, and could be cut and pasted into a review of any book in your genre. If they do say something specific about your book, it might be because they actually read it - or because they spent five minutes skimming over it. What they expect from you in return is an equally glowing review, and they will pressure you with flattery to get it. If you give in to their strategy, they will be back to harass you again, and again, and again, until you end up reading half a dozen of their lacklustre books.
Similar to review swapping, review fishing is when a Facebook author writes a glowing review of another indie or small press author’s work in the hope of gaining their attention and ultimately gaining a review. Like all Facebook author strategies, it uses a combination of flattery and the Machiavellian technique of exploiting the basic kindness and goodwill of others. Often a Facebook author will write a positive review of a writer’s book, then send them a flattering message on social media. It might read something like this: Dude, I loved your book CHEESE DRAGON APOCALYPSE. By the way, I’m an author too. You might want to check out my book, it’s similar to CHEESE DRAGON. I’ve attached a copy just in case…
Disturbingly, Facebook authors will often fish for reviews from authors they hate. I have known a Facebook author who gave another writer numerous five-star reviews, then confided via e-mail that she thought he was “a pretentious moron.” When asked why she wrote him such glowing reviews, she answered in true Facebook author style: “because he’s popular, and I want to get on his good side.”
Do you want to puke yet?
Similar again to Review Swapping and Review Fishing, Facebook authors will often post fake reviews about books that are currently trending. This is because posts about trending books get a lot of views and likes, even if the posts themselves are shallow and amount to nothing more than “Wow this book is awesome!” By posting about popular books they haven’t even read, Facebook authors increase their exposure to readers and build on their image as a “positive” force. This technique is often combined with Review Fishing.
Facebook Authors will often band into online cliques and circle-jerk each other to the moon and back. Every time one of them releases a new book, it gets an automatic five-star review from everyone in the circle. Just have a look on Goodreads, it’s pretty easy to spot.
Why do they do it?
Now that we’ve looked at what Facebook authors are and how they operate, we must ask ourselves - why on earth would anyone spend dozens of hours a week performing keyboard fellatio on hundreds of virtual strangers just to snag some fake reviews for their lacklustre indie book?
The answer may be the simple fact that these techniques work - at least to some extent. By using the techniques listed above, Facebook authors are often able to get hundreds of positive reviews for their books, even if those books are utterly terrible (I could name names, but I won’t). And yet, because Facebook authors spend all their time networking, rather than perfecting their writing skills, their books are rarely successful beyond the social media bubble in which they work their dark arts. A Facebook author’s book might get 100 or 200+ glowing reviews from “friends” on social media, but once it makes its way into the ranks of the general public, or gets into the hands of an objective reviewer, it gets shot down in flames.
There are other reasons why Facebook authors are unlikely to escape their cloistered bubble of flattery and cronyism. One reason is simple mathematics. After all, just how many asses can one person kiss? Sure, a Facebook author may be able to kiss a few hundred asses and get a few hundred positive reviews, but books need to sell thousands of copies to turn a decent profit, and nobody - not even a full-time social media whore - can kiss that much ass.
And now to return to our earlier question - why? Why would a person act like this? Isn’t it degrading to everyone involved, including themselves? Why would a person trample their own dignity through such vile flattery just to achieve the tawdry goal of getting a few hundred positive reviews for their book? The true answer, most likely, is sheer desperation. The literary market is absolutely flooded. The oversupply of books is astounding. The popularity of books hasn’t been this low since - well, since before they were invented. If you’re an indie or small press author, someone who doesn’t have the wealth to advertise a book or a big publisher to market it, then the odds of making a splash in the literary scene are pretty close to zilch. Some of the absolute best books I’ve ever read have been indie or small press books with barely a handful of reviews. Books by people with real talent, like Jason Ray Carney, Alistair Rennie, S. E. Lindberg, and James .O. Hands (all of whom are definitely not Facebook authors). Considering this, it makes sense that some people will get desperate and turn into shameless whores. So perhaps we should pity the Facebook authors, rather than despise them. After all, by chasing success they will never achieve, by spending countless hours in the joyless task of kissing ass, by forgetting everything that makes the craft of writing joyful and pure, they have sentenced themselves to their own living hell.
Up next in B.J’s Bile, B.J. takes aim at the Facebook author’s toxic counterpart, the Thirsty Bitch Book blogger.