What Authors Owe You

This is a story about a friend. And I know that when someone says, “This didn’t happen to me; it happened to a friend of mine,” they usually mean, “It happened to me.” But seriously. Honestly: This did not happen to me. It happened to a friend of mine.

Like me, my friend is an author. One day, someone bought one of his books and there was a problem with it. Let’s say… Let’s say that a bunch of random pages were printed upside-down.

So, this person — we’ll call him/her “Pat” — reached out to my friend through the power of social media and said, “Hey, I bought this book of yours and it’s defective. What are you going to do about that?”

My friend, of course, is utterly powerless in this situation. There’s nothing he can (or, indeed, should) do. So he wrote back, “Hey, I’m really sorry that happened. That’s terrible. I’m sure it’s a printing error. If you return the book to where you got it, I’m sure they’ll replace it. Or you could contact the publisher and I’m sure they’ll take care of it.” (This is all in public, BTW, because it’s social media and everyone deserves to know everything about everyone, right?)

Now, if you are reading the BLog, you are most likely a rational, compassionate, intelligent person. ‘Cause my readers roll like that. And you’re thinking, “Yeah, Barry’s friend did the right thing.”

Sadly, you are not the majority in this world.

Because, you see, someone else, someone not impacted by this situation at all decided to poke his/her nose in, commenting, in essence, “What a horrible answer! This author is an asshole — he’s refusing to help this person!”

(We’ll call this new person…Dick.)

Suddenly, my pal went from offering the best advice he had to being a total tool. Never mind that it isn’t an author’s responsibility to replace a defective book. Never mind that Pat never should have asked the author for help in the first place. (Duh — when you have a bad product, you take it back to the store!) Never mind that the author took the time to spell out a couple of very reasonable, very easy, options for remediation.

Oh, no. Because he didn’t instantly jump in and say, “I’ll fix this personally!” he’s suddenly an asshole.

And — again — this is social media. In public. All it takes is one or two idiots to pile on and suddenly you as an author have a reputation for being difficult. Uncaring. Unfriendly to your readers.

Maybe that sounds like no big deal, but trust me — authors can be defined by just such things.

My friend — recognizing that he was now in trouble — immediately contacted Pat in private (which, admittedly, he should have done in the first place…but who knew Dick would jump in?). He no longer had any personal copies of the book in question, but he told Pat that he would buy one with his own money and send it to Pat at his own expense.

Pat never said “thanks” to my friend. Just posted online to thank Dick for the comment that “forced” my friend to “do the right thing.”

What horseshit.

This story nauseates me. It enrages and outrages me. The sense of entitlement people have — when combined with the ease of communication lubricated by the grease that is social media — has made stories like this possible.

Now, maybe you’re thinking, “Big deal — the author is out maybe ten, fifteen bucks for the book and a couple more for postage. And in return, he gets a happy customer.”

It’s not about the money. It’s about the public shaming. It’s about beating up someone who has nothing to do with the reason why you’re angry. It’s about not even essaying the tiniest bit of gratitude when someone goes out of their way to help you.

Re-read that last paragraph. Pretty much a textbook definition of bullying, as far as I’m concerned.

Readers are not an author’s customers. Readers are our readers. Readers are customers of bookstores (real and virtual) and other retail venues. Unless you bought the book directly from the author, you are not the author’s customer and all you are entitled to is the story we wrote. If there’s a problem with the delivery system, you take it up with the folks who run the delivery system.

If you buy a shirt and it’s missing a button, do you call up Versace or do you take it back to the store?

If you buy a videogame and the disc is scratched, do you bitch at Electronic Arts or do you get your ass back to GameStop for a refund?

Just because social media allows you to reach out to an author, doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

Most authors I know love to give away books and love to interact with their readers, whether in person or online.

But stories like this make us want to shut down our Twitter feeds, delete our Facebook profiles, and get rid of the contact info on our websites.

Personally, I try to be as available as I can. I know that other authors are more immediately responsive and interactive. But not all human beings are wired up the same. I have no idea, for example, where people like John Green or Maureen Johnson find the energy and the willpower to tweet, blog, and Tumble 25 hours a day.

999 times out of a thousand, when I hear from a reader, it is — no lie — the best part of my day. Hands down. The single best part of my day.

But there’s that one time in a thousand, where the experience is so soul-draining or (sometimes) offensive or (sometimes) frightening that it makes me question being so available.

I didn’t write this particular post for any specific reason. I didn’t write it to make anyone feel bad (although if Pat or Dick are reading, I hope they feel the slow, long burn of shame for their behavior.) And I didn’t write it to make anyone say, “Poor authors!” Because all in all, being an author rocks, even when you get the occasional doucherocket knocking on your door.

I guess I wrote it because that’s what I do: I write. And my friend is just about the nicest guy in the world and someone decided to pants him. And I wasn’t there when it happened, so I couldn’t kick that person’s ass, so I’m doing what I can, which is just saying, “Hey, man, you were wronged. And I know it. And I want everyone to know it.”

Thanks for listening.


  1. Charles Ranier says:

    in before “well you putting your two cents in it when you weren’t there is TOTALLY THE SAME as the guy you’re calling a dick, so therefore you lose the internet”

    because you know someone will.

    • Ha! Yeah, well, since it’s social media, there’s a public record of it, so I was able to watch it “happen” after the fact. But you’re right — someone will say that.

  2. Very nice Barry. Well felt and well said. You da man Yale!

  3. I don’t usually comment on blog posts. That said, I wanted to thank you for writing this. I wish it was broadcast more widely, or at least the message of bullying and entitlement. I want to believe that those who feel entitled will grow up. I really do. (But I have some doubts…)

  4. Excellent post. Your friend didn’t deserve the public “shaming” that he got by any means. Sending positive vibes and support his way.

  5. Speaking strictly as a person with two decades of experience in book production, most of it for a MAJOR trade publisher, I am 100% in agreement with the correct course of remediation for book problems.

    People forget that writers aren’t cranking these things out in their basement, personally hand-checking every one. People are often kind of stupid.

  6. Very well said! And I wish I could say that I have a hard time believing the veracity of this story because nobody would be that dickish, but… well, as much as I read fantasy, I don’t live it, and so I know too well that people don’t always have their heads screwed on properly. I feel bad that your friend got cornered into that position, and that the others involved didn’t show a scrap of remorse or gratitude for someone doing the equivalent of giving a portion of their paycheque right back to the client.

  7. Hey, Barry. I found this a welcome post, because I’ve been there. A whole school that bought 1,100 copies of one of my books contacted me personally because the books wore out too quickly. I put the teacher who emailed me in direct contact with the publisher, and — thankfully — they worked it out in an adult, mutually-happy-faced way.

    Sounds like your friend was many degrees less fortunate than I.

    There are a lot of readers in the world, right? Statistically, a few of them have to be flaming assholes …

  8. I love love love this post. It’s so poignant and deals with this “age of entitlement” that drives me bananas. “kind of” off topic. I REFUSE to buy my girls happy meals. They don’t get to have a toy for eating. EATING is a gift. But we’re thrown gifts and gadgets and shit, really, for doing basic human stuff that doesn’t need to be celebrated. What happened to your friend is an extension of that. And I’m sorry for him. Really. So, I have to leave with one of my favorite poems by Stephen Crane:

    A man said to the universe:
    “Sir, I exist!”
    “However,” replied the universe,
    “The fact has not created in me
    “A sense of obligation.”

    (sorry for the uber-long response)

  9. Just discovered this blog and writer via this post linked in twitter, and sorta hate that we have to meet this way… but I want to buy a copy of Barry’s Friend’s book and donate it to someone who loves books and writers and has more important things to worry about besides the burden of having to flip the book upside down for a section of pages, godforbid.
    And because I’m a mean SOB, I’d like to pull a dark Twilight Zone episode and render idiot-Pat without sight for further books, and render bully-Dick without tongue or fingers for barging in and lashing out as a hostile troll at Barry’s Friend.
    But — I’ll just subscribe to this blog, check out Barry’s books, and point to this post instead…
    Thanks for writing it;
    sorry you had to.

  10. Wow. Just, wow.

    Side note: doucherocket might just be my new favorite word.

  11. Speaking as a publicist, it goes even deeper than this. I had a client who was harassed online by several readers because there was an issue with an online store and their book wasn’t available on the release date (it was there the next day). One of those readers gave her a one star rating because of it and actually wrote that as the reason in the book review. I had to contact the online store to have it removed. I’ve had clients get harassed by readers if they don’t respond to emails immediately. They don’t realize many authors get 50-100 new emails a day and they’re busy writing. It’s really sad, but it’s not limited to just social media. We (the publishing house) get complaints from readers about authors for really ridiculous things on a weekly basis.

    • Yeah, and that’s one of the hazards of being an author these days — one “bad” story can multiply quickly, and the next thing you know, it’s “Author X is a jerk; let’s not review his book. Author Y is rude to fans online; let’s not invite her to our conference.” It can have a ripple effect and really impact an author’s career.

  12. Having survived the “Authors Behaving Badly” stories over the last year or so, it was almost refreshing to hear this one. Well, not for your friend. And honestly the nerve of some people feeling justified in breaking Wheaton’s Rule (Don’t Be A Dick), does spike the blood pressure. But honestly I think this along with Neil Gaiman’s post on reader entitlement (aka George RR Martin is not your bitch) shows the opposite end of the coin. When readers make an ass of themselves, bully and author and show zero remorse for it.

    Thanks for retelling it and not deleting all forms of social media. 😉

  13. This is right up there with those reviewers who give books 1-star on Amazon because the book arrived later than expected or because the Kindle formatting is kind of wonky. It’s the same people who stiff their waiters because the cook burned their steaks. So. Frustrating.

    I’m just glad there are lots of awesome readers reaching out online to make up for the occasional doucherockets 🙂 Also, GAME is one of my fave reads of the year. Thanks for being awesome.

  14. Who are these douche bags who feel like they have a right to harass someone about something out of their control? Ugh. I hate people sometimes. This is absolutely ridiculous.

    Is it really that hard for you to contact the store and let them know what happened? I think these people were desperate to get their panties in a twist about something and this proved to be it.

  15. I would LOVE to see the results of “Pat” trying that on Harlan Ellison. (Although I wouldn’t wish “Pat” on Harlan.)

Leave a Comment