Over on Goodreads we've been discussing how to respond to bad reviews as writers, specifically as self published writers. This lead us, of course, to some classic examples of writers refusing to accept that someone else might not find their writing as brilliant as they and their friends do.
And these reactions are not limited to just self published authors. One of the criticisms of Amazon's rating system has been that it is easy for a publishing house to use agents, friends, and other industry connections to pump up reviews, or vote down negative reviews. By using the like buttons, bad reviews can fall down and off the main page, leaving only the glowing reviews provided by "professional" reviewers. It is an inherent problem with user rankings: how do you know which users are real users and which are sock puppets?
The conversation turned, naturally enough, to the potential value of bad press. Really, more to the fundamental question: Is there such a thing as bad press? Or is any publicity good publicity?
The fact of the matter is that the only thing that drives sales in the modern era is eyes on the page. How the eyes arrive there is only marginally important. There is a sea of choices so anything you can do to get noticed is still something that gets you noticed.
Viral marketing is based strictly on the idea that someone talks about your work to someone else. A positive review is a good thing, naturally, as we like to be liked. However, even a bad review to a friend might still motivate that friend to investigate the "train wreck" and see for themselves. As a case in point, Friday by Rebecca Black has 27 million views on YouTube. Of those, she has nearly 600,000 dislikes to roughly 200,000 likes. Now, is it likely she can ride all of that negative attention to another song? I'm not sure. For one, people have talked about her. If a new single comes out "by Rebecca Black" there's already name recognition so which is more likely?
"There's a new song by Rebecca Black"
"That hack? What was it?"
"There's a new song by Rebecca Black"
Consider then our cases of Authors Behaving Badly. A writer goes to Twitter and makes a pile of noise about how angry they are about a bad review. Their agent tweets back not to worry, and soon the entire Innerwebs are aflame with shouts and cries of conspiracy and the like. But as long as that storm rages, people are talking. People are visiting. The pages are getting hits, reviews are getting liked and disliked, and there is that most important of hallmarks of a successful ad campaign: Engagement.
Do I believe that some of these outbursts are carefully planned efforts to stir the pot and get someone into the blog-o-sphere news cycle? Absolutely. Do I believe all of them are? Not for a moment. But we are suckers for drama. We like to gossip. And when we talk about a product or a personality, that keeps that person and personality relevant. Why do think Rush Limbaugh felt confident in calling a college student a whore on national radio? Because his model for success is to create as much drama as in nessecary to keep people listening. Even those who don't agree with him tune in just to hear what kind of crazy story he'll spin next.
Most reasonable people would say "Well, maybe they'll listen to it, but I certainly won't." And that's well and good. We want to think that we'd be above slowing down to look at the car wreck. But for good or ill, this seems to be a model that our information age encourages and even rewards. I'm not advocating it. I have no intentions of creating drama where it does not need to be simply because I don't think I need to nor can I conceive a place where I would.
I was taught to be honest and respectful. Maybe I would get more if I wasn't so much, but I would find such a victory a hollow one. It may be true that "Dignity and an empty sack is worth the sack," but I've never felt that the Rules of Acquisition were the rules I wanted to live by.