Unethical Competitors

I am the author of 150 books, celebrating #150 this year in fact. Millions of people around the world have read my work. I write as William Stanek for technical works and Robert Stanek for other works. My first professionally published book was Electronic Publishing Unleashed, published in 1995.

For over a decade certain competitors have used downright nasty, unethical tactics to tarnish my good name and reputation while strongly positioning themselves within the industry. They’ve hired promoters to spread falsities while spreading praise for themselves, set up fake websites to do the same, compelled others to disparage. They’ve used intimidation and harassment to ensure readers couldn’t talk about my books in public forums. They’ve coerced distributors into dropping listings, hired lawyers to send notices—and much more.

Apparently, I was supposed to sit quietly and not say a word about what they were doing—ever. I did in fact ignore them for a number of years, but that only emboldened them to do more harm. Finally, fed up, I blogged about what they were doing in May 2007 @ http://www.robertstanek.com/rsblog2.htm — this was about 5 years after all this started and only after these same competitors took over the Robert Stanek author page fans had created on Wikipedia and used it to spread their nonsense. It was the first time I had said a word publicly about what these competitors were doing. Prior to this, my only involvement was to ask Wikipedia to take down that bastardized page. My contact was with Wikipedia and not these persons.

Blogging about what they were doing sent them into another multi-year rampage because I was supposed to sit quietly while they ruined my career. The next time I commented about any of this was on my blog in 2009 —http://www.robertstanek.com/rsblog1.htm  — when these persons used a picture with myself, my entire family and Brian Jacques at his book signing in my hometown of Olympia Washington and made all kinds of noise about how it was a supposed scam where they said I photoshopped myself into the picture to make it look like I had a book signing with Brian Jacques—or whatever variation of such generated the most outrage at the moment. The picture was posted, with Brian’s permission, on a tribute page about his books and his visit, found here: http://www.themagiclands.com/brianjacques.htm.

At this point, this was the sum and total of my commentary on the matter, but according to their postings and running comments I supposedly deserved all their nonsense because I was raving about how they were attacking me all over the Internet. If defending yourself and your reputation with a few blog posts is raving all over the Internet, then I guess I was raving.

Who are these people? Largely, they’re direct competitors—authors who write in the genres (fiction books) I write in and their blogger friends. This nonsense started in 2002 when Keeper Martin’s Tale was topping the Science Fiction & Fantasy lists at Amazon.com. The book was highly ranked for several months when the nonsense started. Initially, it was a couple of odd reviews. The third review ever of Keeper Martin’s Tale was titled: “I’ve been had.” The review went on to say the book was “nowhere near a five star book and I was conned into buying this book by all the five star reviews.” The book had exactly two previous reviews and both were short, a few sentences. Elf Queen’s Quest got a similar review around the same time—which was the second review ever for that book and from a reader supposedly “conned into buying by all the five star reviews.” Keeper Martin’s Tale was published in print February 2002 and in ebook in August 2001—the book had sold many thousands of copies on Amazon.com since its publication.

In May 2002, the following appeared in David Langford’s Ansible: “Amazon Mystery. Authors of fantasies on sale at Amazon.com have noticed a rash of oddly similar customer reviews that rubbish their work and instead recommend, say, George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Robert Stanek. The number of Big Name commendations varies, but not the plug for self-published author Robert Stanek. Who could possibly be posting these reviews (many since removed by Amazon) under a variety of names? It is a mystery, but Ansible is reminded of how Lionel Fanthorpe's pseudonymous sf would often mention those great classic masters of the genre, Verne, Wells and Fanthorpe.”

The people behind that post made sure for whatever reason this kicked off a firestorm within the fantasy community. Before long people were posting about how I was a conman, a fraud, a guy who wrote fake reviews and used sock puppets. For the record, later when I learned of this nonsense, I looked to see if any such reviews rubbishing anyone existed. The only review I ever saw, written in this timeframe, was a five-star review of George R.R. Martin’s book from a reader that mentioned they had bought Martin’s book after reading my book, Keeper Martin’s Tale. Of note also is that I had about 65 books to my credit by this time (2002), which had sold many millions of copies collectively and was also previously a columnist for PC Magazine and Dr. Dobbs which were widely read (readership in the millions for PC Magazine back then).

Regardless, what followed was a flood of nastiness that went through multiple fantasy forums and blogs and also resulted in my books getting flooded with one-star reviews and hateful comments. Largely, this nonsense came directly from competing authors and their associates.

The nonsense reached a fever pitch in 2005 when these hateful people learned my book, The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches, was the #1 bestselling book on Audible.com. That sent them into a feeding frenzy that went across the Internet and into nearly every fantasy book discussion forum. Suddenly, my books on Audible were flooded with nasty reviews too.

In 2005 my books were praised in three printed books: The Complete Idiots Guide to Elves and Fairies (June 2005), Ancient Art of Faery Magick (Sep 2005) and Popular Series Fiction for Middle School and Teen Readers: A Reading and Selection Guide (Children's and Young Adult Literature Reference) (Jan 2005). This was exciting news and when I found out I shared the news with readers.

Seeing me talk about this, these hateful people started spreading malicious lies that no publication had ever mentioned my work and I was supposedly fraudulently claiming publications had.

Anyone who bothered to look would have found otherwise—but it seemed no one who went on the war path about this bothered to check the facts. I don’t know why but I suspect some people are just mean and hateful and don’t care, while others may have believed the people spreading the lies were beyond reproach: The lies were coming from professionally published competitors. Some with many books to their credit. [This was before Look Inside the Book was available on Amazon BTW.]

This was accompanied by another strange post in David Langford’s Ansible (Sept 30, 2005) about how I supposedly hired a lawyer to contact Glasgow University: “Now it can be told. The mystery complaint that caused such trouble for the Ansible archive at Glasgow University has been forwarded at last. Apparently, however factually based and written in a spirit of fair comment, light-hearted squibs are fraught with peril if they refer to fantasy author Robert Stanek.” There’s more but I won’t include it here. Again though, the people behind the post ensured it kicked off a firestorm.

In February 2007, my book, The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches, was praised and reviewed by the leading magazine for YA librarians, VOYA. Within a few months, they started spreading malicious lies that I wasn’t a best-selling author, that any claim I made to have ever been #1 was a lie, and backed their claims by stating no publication had ever mentioned my books and that no library had ever stocked my books. Shake your head if you want, I know I have. It makes no sense that any rational person would believe this nonsense but these hateful people used this nonsense to work others up into angry frenzies in forums and discussions time and again. Those angry people then spread the nonsense and posted many hateful, malicious things about me on blogs, in reviews, and in discussions.

By this time, the group posting character attacks and slinging mud in my direction included quite a few competitors who were directly associated with fantasy publisher Tor. Not only that, when their blogger friends trashed me, they used Tor.com and Tor.com related Facebook pages to distribute their nonsense and seemed to be given additional visibility within the fantasy community for doing so. Some of these competitors even started web sites to praise themselves and their friends while trashing me (and sometimes others).

Around 2007 a new group related to a then-newcomer with big friends came in swinging with nastiness. That author's #1 fan, and friend, started posting the same nonsense to his blog and elsewhere. The author (himself or a representative of his) joined in by posting about how I was supposedly a fraud on his blog/site in what seemed an effort to get his readers involved in the nonsense—and they did get involved in a big way for the next few years.

These nasty things continued. My book, Stormjammers: The Extraordinary True Story of EW in the Gulf War, was published and received good reviews in the press. I’m a distinguished combat veteran, having received many accommodations for my wartime service, including our nation’s highest flying honor, the Distinguished Flying Cross. Around 2008, when these people saw that the book was still selling well, they started spreading a malicious lie that I hadn’t received the Distinguished Flying Cross and wasn’t even a combat veteran. This resulted in some of the worst harassment I’ve ever encountered.

This was rapidly growing into something worse, darker and angrier. The people at the core of this began posting online how I was delusional and mentally imbalanced—and here’s the kicker: and that I deserved everything I was getting because of my supposed rantings about what they were doing.

This continued for several years and was spread to new corners of the Internet. Some of these started going around to various websites and getting them to remove any positive discussion of my work. In mid-2008, my publishers and I started a year-long promotion campaign to showcase my work and try to undo the great harm these persons had caused, spending $100,000 on advertising with schools and libraries. Our advertising was primarily in periodicals read by schools and libraries. This culminated in a big promotion at the summer American Library Association convention that included a 4-page spread in the show’s daily newsletter.

Several of the competitors who had been trashing me online and/or their representatives came back from the show with renewed purpose to destroy me. One, who either attended or knew someone who did, posted malicious nonsense about me on his blog / Facebook page. His readers went rabid with their attacks—some going as far as stalking anyone who talked about my books online anywhere.

The Fantasy genre is a billion-dollar industry. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why so much effort was made to harm my image, damage my career, and ensure I couldn’t compete as effectively as I should have been able to in the marketplace. Meanwhile, the hateful people behind the nonsense and those related to them? A few are multimillionaires.

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