Adding another voice to the outrage that has been generated over the last few weeks on the subject of “sock-puppeting” seems almost pointless. Josh’s post earlier this week was excellent in outlining the situation and its consequences (and this is Marilyn, not Josh, writing). But I do have a few comments from a bookseller’s point of view that may be of interest.
My feelings about the revelations, particularly those involving R. J. Ellory, have not actually been outrage but sadness. I have never met Ellory, but he is one of several authors to whom, for various reasons, I feel a connection. I have mentioned in earlier posts that I think there is great value in authors’ appearing in person at bookstores or events, and in connecting to readers through phone or Skype conversations with book groups. When a reader (or bookseller) feels a connection to an author, some affection develops, and the reader is likely to buy more books by that author and recommend him or her to others. It may not be social media buzz, but every little bit helps.
In Ellory’s case, I was made aware of his work through another bookseller at Bouchercon in 2008. I was told how popular he was in the UK, and this bookseller thought he would soon be a hit in the US also. When my son, who lives in London, asked what he could get me for Christmas that year, something from London that I couldn’t get here, I asked for some of Ellory’s books, which were not easily attainable in the US. My son told me that when he bought them, the London bookseller raved about how wonderful Ellory’s work is and was sure I would love them. Surely not a man who needs to use deception to make himself stand out from the crowd!
The books are very good. I even suggested one for our mystery reading group, and it was a hit. Ellory became one of those authors whose books I frequently suggest to customers, and I obtained the ones not available in the US through Gardners UK for sale in my shop. Maybe because my first copies of the books were the equivalent of the little clay ring holder that sits on my dresser (gifts given by a child, no matter how old, have a special meaning), I attached a little extra regard to Ellory’s work. I was looking forward to meeting him at this year’s Bouchercon.
Now I really don’t care one way or the other. I certainly would not start saying his work is bad, because it is not. But the enthusiasm I had for sharing it with my customers is gone. I don’t buy the “lapse of judgment” argument; everyone seems to use that excuse. “Lapse of judgment” is having one drink too many and saying something offensive; it takes time and calculation to create false identities, even on-line. “Lapse in character” is more apt. This is a person I don’t care to know, a “nonperson,” one who isn’t worth the energy it would take to be angry.
There are many authors to whom I feel connected in some small way, either because they have visited my shop for events, or just dropped in because another author-friend suggested it, or talked to our reading group by phone or Skype. I have no shortage of works to recommend to my customers, and those by writers for whom I have a warm personal regard are a particular pleasure to endorse. I don’t delude myself that sales, or lack thereof, in my small shop in a somewhat remote location, are going to make a significant impact on any author’s standing. I do know that a bookseller’s recommendations are spread from customer to friend to relative, and there are large numbers of readers who prefer the personal endorsement over the number of stars on A*****. And now there is even more reason to trust your local independent bookseller; you can see who he or she is.