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What Jacqueline Howett’s professional self-immolation can teach us all

By on March 30, 2011

Earlier today, I was introduced to this review of The Greek Seamen by self-published author Jacqueline Howett. (Thanks to Ben Parfitt for the link).

Jacqueline Howett

It’s excruciating. Basically, a reviewer (who goes by the name of Big Al) gives a self-published author a reasonable but negative review. Said author goes ballistic, complains he didn’t read the right version, demands her right to prevent publication of negative reviews and gets upset that the reviewer won’t discuss his review with her over email.

Finally, she lapses into profanity. It is rapidly becoming an Internet meme like Judith Grigg’s plagiarism in Cook’s Source.

There are important lessons for us all in here.

Self-publishing is hard – technically

Big Al says:

“The odds of making that final click are slim. One reason is the spelling and grammar errors, which come so quickly that, especially in the first several chapters, it’s difficult to get into the book without being jarred back to reality as you attempt unraveling what the author meant.”

The author took issue with that, stating that her English was perfectly good, thank you very much, and perhaps it was Al’s fault for not understanding her (she’s an English woman who moved to the States in 1989)

Al posted these snippets and asked readers to decide for themselves:

“She carried her stocky build carefully back down the stairs.”


“Don and Katy watched hypnotically Gino place more coffees out at another table with supreme balance.”

I know where I stand on the quality of the prose in these extracts (and based on the prose in her comments and her blog, they don’t seem to be outliers to me.)

Lesson #1: Final polish really matters. If necessary, get someone else to check over your work. A paid copy editor. A skilled games QA professional. A friend. And remember to listen to them.

Self-publishing is hard – emotionally

Jacqueline Howett wrote and self-published a book. As someone who has finished a manuscript of a novel (it was rubbish), self published two books (How to Publish a Game and GAMESbrief Unplugged Volume 1: on politics, opinions and tax) and has been published by a traditional company (a roleplaying expansion for GURPS from Steve Jackson Games called Supporting Cast: Age of Sail Pirate Crew), I know how tough it is when you launch something in which you have invested time, effort and emotional energy.

The things is, people have a right to criticise. When you put something out there, it’s out there. You made the choice to let people read it, comment on it, love it or hate it. It is no longer yours.

That’s the joy of launching. And the misery.

Lesson #2: Have a thick skin. Take criticism on the chin. Adapt to it. Ignore the bitchy comments and learn from the constructive ones. Be professional and courteous in any response. Above all, don’t feed the trolls.

The Internet is permanent

Jacqueline is now famous for being an ungracious self-published author who not only can’t take criticism, she swears at people who responded professionally and gracefully throughout their exchange.

It’s a small place, the Internet, and an outburst that would have passed unnoticed in days gone by can suddenly go global.

Lesson #3: Remember that whatever you say online can be shared, retweeted and quoted out of context (perhaps in MCV). It’s permanent. So be professional (or at least unprofessional in a way that you don’t mind other people seeing)

The Internet mob is a bad thing

While Jacqueline’s behaviour was poor, the witch hunt that has followed is in danger of getting out of proportion. (Yes, I know that this post makes me part of it). It’s like the opprobrium heaped on Judith Griggs over her patronising comments to an author whose work she stole for Cook’s Source or the unnecessary venom aimed at Rebecca Black for launching a catchy pop tune with anodyne lyrics on YouTube (63 million views and counting).

The mob is scary. Any time you find yourself joining in, I think it’s worth thinking about the impact you are having on the recipient, and reflecting on whether that is the kind of thing you really want to do. Charlie Brooker put it best in the Guardian:

“If you are complaining about a banal pop song but can’t muster a more inventive way to express yourself than typing “OMFG BITCH YOU SUCK”, then you really ought to consider folding your laptop shut and sitting quietly in the corner until that fallow lifespan of yours eventually reaches its conclusion.”

Lesson #4: It behooves all of us to remember that while the Internet has made it easy to be part of everything, sometimes it is better not to say anything at all. Don’t be that guy.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
  • Björn Loesing

    The internet mob may be bad, but it also has a terrible memory. Who else knows what the Streisand-Effect is, and why haven’t I read it anywhere in combination with Jaqueline? After all, her initial intent was to have the criticism removed.

    So while we, the mob, may have scarred her for life and maybe scared her out of the self-publishing scene or even the internet, no one will remember her name or this witch hunt next month.

    Still the lessons are very valid.

  • Nicholas Lovell

    I agree that this is the Streisand effect in action. It might help Jacqueline sell some books. It certainly means that a there is ample evidence that she is not very professional.

    I agree that the mob will move on. But agents, publishers, partners and so on who might Google to find out if they won’t to work for her will now think twice.

    Which is why I think we should be wary of leaving a trail such as this behind us.

  • UnknownSubject

    Just to disagree slightly: the internet has a perfect memory, but lousy attention span. So the Mob will have moved on in about a week, but she’s always one Google search away from this particular event.

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  • allen

    I don’t think someone would go wrong by following this advice, which is well supported. For that, I’ll look into you book on publishing.

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