I thought it would be one of the less controversial things I've done in my life: signing this online letter against authors basically being dicks on the internet.
Bizarrely though, someone (I'm not going to say who) has got in touch by the wonders of Twitter Direct Messaging to call me a 'coward' for doing so. Lovely.
I'm not going to reply directly, as I suspect it would be pointless. But I do kind of hope the individual involved sees this. I was going to use this post to explain why I signed the letter (which I'd ask other writers, readers, and reviewers to read and consider signing too) but I think instead I'll just explain my view of how authors should behave online, and hopefully that way it will be clear why.
Anonymity, Sock-Puppets & Pseudonyms
In my view, if you're a published author (including self-published) you are, in whatever small way, a public figure. For most of us this isn't a particular onerous burden, but one thing it does mean is that if you are commenting on something to do with books, publishing, or anything else where you might have a perceived self-interest or bias, you should be doing it as yourself.
Note I said 'perceived self interest' - it is for the reader to decide if you are biased in some way, not you. You might not even realise your are biased. You only need to give them enough information about yourself to make that decision - your name (or the one you publish under, in the case of pseudonyms).
Pretty obviously, if you haven't read a book you shouldn't review it because the review will be a lie. I don't know how to say it any other way. It's morality a ten-year old could understand and no sophisticated bullshit will change that.
Otherwise, as long as you do it under your own name, review what you want. Even review your own book if you're that stupid - you'll look a dick but the reader has enough information to see, so go for it.
Reviewing other writers is a minefield, no question, particularly leaving bad reviews for writers that could be considered 'competition' (I don't think of other writers as competitors, incidentally - writing isn't like The Apprentice, thank goodness) but I don't see that being a published author means you forfeit your right to an honest opinion. Like most writers I am a passionate reader and if I come across a book that's amazing I like to shout about it.I don't particularly have the time or inclination to write bad reviews, and to be honest I rarely finish a bad book so it would be dishonest of me to do so. Just by the nature of things I've reviewed books by people I know, to a greater or lesser degree, but I hope I've reviewed honestly.
But again - and you may see a theme here- it is the reader is the one who gets to judge if my review is honest and unbiased, not me. Which is why they're under my own name (unless I ever review a kettle, which is a risky business).
Other people doing immoral things on line, including mainstream publishers, doesn't in some way make it okay for me to be a dick online too. In fact it makes it more important that I'm not. Or no more than I am offline, anyway. That's why I signed.