Sunday, April 12, 2009


Okay, let's get the nitty-gritty out of the way.

There are good things about being a writer, and chief among them is the many fans and friends who support you. Last week's STRAIGHT LIES book party was a great success. More than 90 people showed up, and I sold about 50 copies of STRAIGHT LIES, as well as roughly 18 copies of my backlist. By any measure, that is great, and I want to let my peeps know how much it means to me.

And I need to thank the insanely popular websites Joe.My.God. and The Bilerico Project for giving me the opportunity to connect to their readers in BlogWorld. Not to mention Jonathan Griffith at "Talking About:," who reached out to me and honored a commitment to interview me on what was a very difficult day for him personally.

I make some good friends through this process. That much is very true and so rewarding.

But... God! How come it gets more difficult with every passing year?

I don't mean the actual "selling" part. Back in 2002, I was reticent about selling; these days, I'm much more aggressive. Now I now that you have to keep working it. The thing is... no one else seems to want to work it with you.

I'm not even talking about reviews, either. The bad or "eh" reviews I can mostly shrug off these days. After the first half-dozen one-star reviews, you have to shake your head and think of the people that loved it. Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby... Doctorow's Ragtime... Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities... they get one-star reviews, too.

The fact is, the earliest reviews of STRAIGHT LIES have been pretty decent. Booklist, Bob Lind in Phoenix's Echo Magazine and the Our Bookshelf website, and EDGE: Boston all gave the book very positive reviews. But when a negative -- or maybe "eh" -- review came late last week from someone I respect, I have to admit I had to take a second, then third, look.

Still, you get past it. You have to.

This week, though...

Okay, I know I should be putting a "sunny-side-up" spin on everything, but I am getting too annoyed to smile about it. Here's the deal:

* A certain LGBT bookseller that is always crying the blues that people are mean to them has not returned my e-mails or phone calls for over a month. So fuck them. I am not going to name names on the blog, but you can e-mail me.

* Based on an informal survey (and a few even more sporadic questions with staffers) at several Barnes & Noble outlets in Manhattan, my book isn't being stocked... at least on a consistent basis. Since I've been telling people they can swing in and buy it anywhere, that sort of sucks the lifeblood out of me.

* And now has decided to label STRAIGHT LIES and my other three books as having "adult content." Not because they are naughty or smutty or erotic, but because they have gay characters! As a result, their sales are no longer ranked, and -- in effect -- my books (not to mention almost all other LGBT books) are marginalized.

And the Amazon policy is my last straw.

I know that I'll get a form letter back from some anonymous person at Amazon, because that's what everyone has received over the past few days, but here's what I wrote a short time ago:

I am the author of four novels -- the most recent of which, STRAIGHT LIES (ISBN 978-0758228574), was released on April 1 -- and understand that sales rankings for my novels, as well as most other gay/lesbian titles, were removed due to "adult content."

Since my novels have no "adult content," I demand an explanation. "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" has adult content, but is ranked. Diana Gabaldon's "Lord John" books have adult content, but are ranked. So if I have no adult content, I can only assume your policy is based on gay and lesbian writers who write about gay and lesbian characters... not, truly, the adult content in the pages.

Does anyone at Amazon even READ the books you are effectively marginalizing?

You have promulgated an idiotic policy that is applied inconsistently and is discriminatory. I demand it end immediately, and I demand an explanation of (a) why this policy was devised; and (b) why it seems to only apply as a blanket policy to gay and lesbian writers.

Rob Byrnes
Author of STRAIGHT LIES (2009); the Lambda Literary Award-winning WHEN THE STARS COME OUT (2006); TRUST FUND BOYS (2004); and THE NIGHT WE MET (2002)
Days like these, I wonder why I bother. Seriously.

Hopefully, when the sun rises tomorrow morning I'll have an entirely different outlook. But despite all the good -- and there is a lot of good -- I have to wonder if this bullshit on every level is worth it.

Update: Amazon responds, via Publishers Weekly. I'd like to say they at least tried, but this is the most papered-over bullshit I've read in a long time. Still, as I figured, they backtracked like crazy

Because the PW article doesn't always load, and because it's short and fair use, I've done a quick cut-and-paste for you:

Amazon Says Glitch to Blame for "New" Adult Policy
By Rachel Deahl & Jim Milliot -- Publishers Weekly, 4/12/2009 5:49:00 PM

A groundswell of outrage, concern and confusion sprang up over the weekend, largely via Twitter, in response to what authors and others believed was a decision by Amazon to remove adult titles from its sales ranking. On Sunday evening, however, an Amazon spokesperson said that a glitch had occurred in its sales ranking feature that was in the process of being fixed. The spokesperson added that there was no new adult policy.

For most of the weekend on Twitter, in conversations with the hash tag "#amazonfail," users were discussing the fact that the e-tailer was removing the sales rankings for books that it deemed featured "adult content." Many readers, and writers, decried the fact that Amazon appears to be removing the sales ranking for titles that feature gay and lesbian characters and/or themes.

The director of the Erotic Authors Association, who goes by the pen name Erastes, told PW that many of her members "noticed their titles had been stripped of their sales rankings" on Amazon. One, Mark Probst, contacted a customer service representative at Amazon and wrote about the exchange on his blog. Probst wrote that the Amazon rep responded to his inquiry by saying that "'adult' material" is being excluded from appearing in "some searches and best seller lists" as a "consideration of our entire customer base."

Whether a glitch or new policy, titles like James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room and Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain are among the titles who have lost their ranking.

Total bullshit, of course. If it had any relationship to the truth, they would have fixed "the glitch" as quickly as they threw writers off their lists. But in my case, almost six hours after this idiotic press release, they haven't.

[Update here. All better now.]