Monday, July 23, 2012

The Legend of Carroll Bryant

There is nothing harder to watch than a promising author ruining his career. This past weekend, that author was Carroll Bryant, and I felt like a blog post was in order to discuss what his story means for myself and the rest of the independent author community. Before I go over the lessons, let me first recite the legend.

Carroll Bryant is an independent author of YA fiction who has written three books, and up until July 2012, he had established a decent rapport with readers, as evidenced by two YA books with greater than 4.0 rating on Goodreads. At the time of the writing of this article, Children of the Flower Power had 29 ratings with a 4.06 rating, and Last Flight Out had 18 ratings with a 4.08 rating. In addition, he had over 240 fans on Goodreads. To put that in perspective, somehow I only have 3 fans on Goodreads. Granted, I have not been focusing on the forums like he had been, but that only reinforces my point: he was an author with a lot of promise who had been doing very good work and building a steady following. That all changed this weekend.

What changed his path? Well, I'll start you at page eight of a Goodreads thread that still recounts the events. The original thread where much of this happened has unfortunately been deleted by the Goodreads admins. There's also a play-by-play as this went down on Absolute Write.

In a nutshell, here's what you'll find there:
  1. Mr. Bryant makes several blog posts about airing a list of bloggers who have been taking free copies of books in exchange for reviews and interviews on their blogs but have not been coming through. He gathers some supporters, especially from sites like Stop Goodreads Bullies, and many others try to convince him that he is handling this incorrectly.
  2. Mr. Bryant posts a list of 6 Blogs.
  3. A woman named Jude comes forward with a counter-story
    1. She was running a book blogging site for YA authors and was smitten by false photos of him and a profile that claimed he was much younger
    2. She was 17 at the time that he courted her online. He is in his late forties.
    3. He flew to Mexico to try to meet her and she refused him
    4. He stalked and harassed her to the point that she made her Goodreads profile private and discussed the situation with her book blogger friends who refused to review his books after hearing of his behavior
  4. She posts images that show him telling her to kill herself
  5. Mr. Bryant returns to the Goodreads blog and confirms the story and admits that the list was posted with a false pretense but claims his points still stand
  6. Mr. Bryant then goes on to essentially say all publicity is good publicity and that he will take a look at the numbers after the weekend is over.
  7. Mr. Bryant then demands everyone take down posts about him within 2 days or else. He then backs down from that and removes his threatening posts.

At the time of the writing of this article, Mr. Bryant's books Of The Light, Children of the Flower Power, and Last Flight Out are ranked at #201,184, #631,579, and #715,653, respectively, in the Amazon paid rankings. I am going to assume that the "numbers" he is talking about are his blog hits because what the paid rankings tell us are that the book has not sold any units in over a month in some cases (1 sale will drop an author's ranking into the 30k-40k paid rankings on Amazon). This means that throughout the thousands of page views on his blog, not a single purchase of his books was made. Additionally, each of his books have been placed into "do not read" shelves by hundreds of readers on Goodreads.

Why This Legend Affects You

In short, Mr. Bryant's actions affect all independent authors because his story has caused many previously self-publisher-friendly book bloggers to adjust their review policies to indicate "no self-published work will be accepted." Look at the comments to see why I say "many," as they are an indication of the trend. Why is that a big deal? It is a big deal because readers trust these bloggers to detail great books that they have read, and our ability to get our books into their hands has already been greatly reduced since the Howett debacle in March 2011.

What we independent authors do online has an impact on not only our own opportunities but also the opportunities of the entire independent author community. Please think about that when you are responding vitriolically to a scathing review on Amazon or Goodreads. Please consider that when you debate with readers on public forums. Everyone, and I include myself here, messes up, but be genuine, be respectful, and think about the legacy you are leaving online.

Can you talk about controversial topics? If you are an author of adult fiction, probably--especially if it is relevant to your books. However, if you are a YA author, probably not. Think about your audience. Keep your ego in check and understand that reviews are for readers and not authors. The best thing we can do is hope that readers understand our perspective.

Bad publicity is NOT good for sales. I was going to say "rarely" but I honestly am not aware of any, so I changed it to "not." As evidenced by Mr. Bryant's sales (and Howett's sales for that matter), this kind of controversy is NOT beneficial to paid sales, and in fact can cause an indefinite and even permanent stagnation of sales. In truth, he may not even be able to give away his books to readers at this point--judging from the "will-not-read" readers on Goodreads. And none of us want that kind of legacy.