A sucker punch also known as a king-hit or coward-punch is a punch made without warning, allowing no time for preparation or defense on the part of the recipient. The term is generally reserved for situations where the way in which the punch has been delivered is considered unfair or unethical. In practice, this often includes punches delivered from close-range or behind.
The sucker punch has been adapted into many films, video games and other forms of media. It can be used to show the antagonist's vileness, the low moral of an anti-hero, betrayal of someone close to the protagonist, etc., but it also can be used as a weapon of the protagonist to deal with an unfair situation.
After the events of yesterday, I feel sucker punched. I'm angry still, but I also feel very discouraged and demoralized. And helpless.
A BookLikes blogger posts a screen shot of what appears to be an email soliciting her participation in an at least unethical fixing of reviews. An author, unidentified, appears to be recruiting a "street team" of 50 readers and reviewers who will only post positive and/or 5-star reviews of her forthcoming book. In exchange, those readers will get special bonuses.
A few people post comments to the blog, but nothing much happens for two weeks. Yesterday, for whatever reason, everything sort of exploded. The blog was reblogged, including by myself, and much rather heated discussion ensued. Then the original blogger began dismantling her involvement. She removed comments she'd posted on reblogs, she removed her screenshot of the original email, she took down the entire blog post, and now it appears she may have removed her entire BookLikes account.
Various comments were lost, but the original blogpost remains in reblogs.
I added some angry commentary of my own:
But after a stressful evening and a not very good night's sleep, I'm getting more and more troubled about all this.
It just strikes me as very, very odd that no one has yet identified the author involved. The text of the purported email suggests it went out to a mailing list. The author says she's looking for a team of 50 readers, so one assumes she sent it to more than one reader. The original blogger was upset enough about the apparent sliminess of the proposal to post it two weeks ago and there was discussion about it then, but the brouhaha seems only to have started really yesterday.
At least one other blogger apparently knows who it is, and she's apparently not telling.
Why hasn't someone else come forward? Why is no one else talking about this? Is the author such a big name that no one dares? That no one can believe it? Is she threatening people in a way that is effectively silencing their protest? Is that why the original BookLikes blogger took it down and was "curled in a ball" sick to her stomach over it, according to a now-deleted comment she left on my reblog? Hyperbole much? Or am I just that much of a cynic?
Was it all a bunch of bullshit? Did someone somewhere along the line make it all up to discredit reviewers? Writers? Gain publicity for someone else?
If the email was in fact genuine and some big-name author proposed this scheme to her followers, she's just managed to get away with it. No taint of scandal, no hint of impropriety touches her name or her books. She's now free to do whatever she pleases, including go forward with her establishment of an army of readers and reviewers, bought and paid for.
Will other authors feel likewise enabled? Or is pressured the better word? Will every author now feel that the entire game is rigged against her, that the readers and the bloggers and the review sites are all demanding baksheesh? And if she can't afford it, has she been forced out of the marketplace, unable to buy the votes needed for any visibility at all?
Will the present scheme ramp up a notch to where competing novels are attacked with negative reviews? Will bloggers feel empowered to extort authors for free copies, payment of disguised fees, or other bribery? We all talk about the finer points of FTC regulations that require disclosure of anything that might be considered payment for an endorsement or favorable review, but have we now reached the point where the system is so completely corrupt that even those who defend the requirements feel no compunction about violating them?
Has the credibility of every single review everywhere now been called into question?
No author can call out a reviewer and say, "You're dishonest; you protected a scammer," without risking retaliation. And yet every author out there has been harmed by this, the good as well as the bad.
So has every reader. And the situation will continue unless and until the offender is identified.
I'm heartsick. I've never felt this discouraged, this demoralized, this sucker-punched, at least not in the few years I've come back to the business. In all my wide-eyed wonder at my own rediscovery of the joy of writing and reading, I've experienced some marvelous moments that have brought me to tears. I've met some delightful people (and a few assholes) and established what I hope are abiding friendships.
The tears I cried this morning were the tears of heartbreak. And no, that's not drama-llama hyperbole. I'm the first to admit I cry easily. Maybe I'm taking it too personally. Maybe the corruption of the system is just something we all have to learn to live with. Maybe the book bloggers who have protected this author have consciences as clear as hers and I'm the voice crying in the wilderness.
I don't think I'm alone, though. There have been others calling for an identification of this author. There are people who know who she is and who really ought to divulge that information, even if only privately to someone not directly involved who can then make it public.
The reading public has a right to know, don't they? Authors have a right to know, don't they?
Or maybe not.