The Man Who Thought He Was King
Yesterday night over 1,350 people visited a thread on Fantasy-Faction by a self-published author named M. R. Mathias. I hate to further bring attention to what has since been called: “Mathias’s Meltdown”, but I think his aggressive advertising tactics and willingness to bring negative attention to himself warrant discussion.
I was first brought to attention of the thread when Anne Lyle tweeted:
Oh dear. Self-pub author throws tantrum on @FantasyFaction.
For those who missed it:
Basically, M. R. Mathia, a self-published author from America, took great offence when we moved a forum thread of his, that was advertising his own book, from the main book discussion forum into the Self Published & Small Press section of the forums. Now, this is something we do regularly. Fantasy-Faction welcomes ALL small press and self-published authors to come and tell us/our readers about their books, but we have a special place to do it. The reason for this is that our site is a place to discuss fantasy novels, primarily those in the mainstream, and we leave it up to our members to choose which books they would like to discuss.
Once we moved his thread, we got this response:
I am not a small press. I am an author with 18 titles for sale. That is more titles that some big publishing houses. I have advertising currently running in Locus, Publishers Weekly, Fantasy and Sci Fi, and Revolver magazines. I have blog advertising across the entire blog-o-sphere. I am not a small press or even self published. M. R. Mathias’ books are PUBLISHED by Michael Robb Mathias Jr. and should be treated no differently that any big named publishers title. WHY? Because I do my job as a publisher too. Please quit sending my posts into the self published/small press thread. My titles are neither. I have 92k twitter followers @DahgMahn and 10 titles in their genre bestselling list. There is nothing self pubbed, or small, about books written by M. R. Mathias.
M.R.Mathias’ publisher, Michael Robb Mathias Jr.
Now, in my mind, whether you set up a company to publish your own books or you set yourself up as a sole trader to publish you own books, you are self-publishing. A number of our members replied to M. R. Mathias (maybe a mistake) and he responded aggressively.
Jared Shurin of Pornokitsch, one of the UK’s most respected Fantasy bloggers, told Mathias that:
Speaking as a mod and a small press publisher, I’m doubly offended by the tone of this post.
Mathias quickly replied:
The only ill tone you find in my original post stems from your jelousy. I did not swear, threaten, or even do anything other than state facts. So why is my post offensive? I was even polite. Please tell us why this bothers you. Is it because I have sales? Reviews? Followers? Success? My 92k twitter follwers want to know.
Just unbelievable. I’m so used to speaking with humble and respectful writers that support one another that this just blew me away. How a man can be so rude and full of himself is beyond me.
It also brings up something that really worries me about self-publishing. How do you know you’re not being conned? Because it is so easy to advertise (as M. R. Mathias points out) and get your books online, anyone can get their book seen by book buyers. Ten years ago, only the elite among writers got into bookshops. Waterstones or Boarders wouldn’t put rubbish on their shelves. Self-publishing means that not only can anyone put anything up online, but it also means that they can tell you whatever they like about it: “It’s the best thing since sliced bread!” could be shoved on the cover by the author themselves and reviews can be doctored or paid for.
Anyway, these kind of questions meant that M. R. Mathias’s outburst brought interest from authors (traditionally published and self-published) and the fantasy community. People were shocked that a self-published author would react so aggressively to being labeled as a self-published author. But, it was the increasing aggression and disturbing level of egotism that really got people interested in the storm that was occurring on our forums and over Twitter. A few examples:
If Stephen King suddenly started King Publishing would he be a self publisher? I think not. A pen name is a brand, and mine is selling books at a level above a ton of big publisher’s imprints.
If you dont read my books that is your loss. Really it is your loss. I have a 4.5 star rating after 90 reviews at B&N.
Appearantly someone likes them, if you chose not to read one of the best fantasy trils ever written then by all means take a pass.
As Jennie Ivins pointed out:
Small Press is defined by Wikipedia (related to US publishers) as a publishing house that makes under $50 million dollars a year and publishes fewer than 10 titles a year. Unless you are making and publishing more than that, in the US, you are considered a Small Press publisher. There is nothing wrong with being a small press publisher. If you look purely at the numbers a company could make $40 million dollars a year and publish 9 books a year and still be considered small press. That does not make them less successful or the work they publish less important. But it still means they are small press.
That is our policy and should have been the end of it. However, I’ve never met an author in my entire life who has openly said: “My books are some of the best fantasy ever written.” To dismiss works or to put yourself on a level alongside authors such as Sanderson, Hobb, Goodkind, Tolkien, etc is not only not something you, yourself, do not have the right to do – but it is damned right offensive. Honestly, how can any artist judge their own work in an open forum? The majority of authors I know greatly under-estimate their work, but it seems M. R. Mathias is more than happy over-stating his own achievements.
Some of the most disturbing tweets and claims I have come across over the past 24 hours from M.R. Mathias:
@FantasyFaction FACT – My post will have three times the number of hits as you have followers. I broke NO rules! #NAZI #Censorship #InEffect
(I have 8050 followers – this post attracted 1300. So his mathematics are off.)
@FantasyFaction @BenGalley @LorGraham until I get an apology 143k twitteres are gonna know you are a #NAZI FOR DAYS and DAYS and DAYS. #RT
(What a lovely man.)
If you would read The Sword and the Dragon you’d be on my side. lmao
(I mean…really? How much of an ego can one guy have!?)
I want to know how I am a small press, if I am outselling Robin Hobb and Terry Goodkind and Tolkien? lmao
(At very best he is a “Smaller publishing house that releases books often intended for specialized audiences.” Therefore a small press. His sales figure declarations are frankly ridiculous.)
As a publisher with a nice advertising budget earned from my book’s profit. I am a publisher AND an author.
(No. He is a self-published author. Close though!)
Fantasy Faction is mostly self pubbed authors who read. You have bashed your own following all night. They follow me now.
(What? Judging by Twitter our members spent the night in shock. Wondering how on Earth a guy could possibly be so rude and so full of himself. Any of us following him are doing so to see what ridiculous claim he makes next.)
- – -
Now, I want to avoid too much discussion in regards to the book’s quality. However, I did decide to read the first chapter after Mathias told me that his book was selling better than Hobb’s and Tolkien’s and I found myself feeling sick that this guy could be placing himself above these wonderful artists. Hobb has perhaps the most beautiful prose and fleshed-out characters that I have ever come across. Tolkien has those wonderful plots and vivid settings that will ensure that in hundreds of years, people will still be speaking his name.
So, rather than tell you my thoughts (because I don’t want to directly give negative comments about a book I haven’t finished) I will relay to you a couple of reviews:
“I wish I could get a refund for this one. I purchased this novel based on the reviews posted…..I will be more careful in the future. This author should not even be mentioned in the same sentence as Jordan, Hobbs and the other fantastic writers. I honestly tried to give the book a fair shot, but I could not get past the juvenile writing style and errors. There was no gripping story line to draw you in, and the characters were downright flat and uninteresting. I wish I could give this one a 0 star rating. Don’t waste your money!” – Amazon Review
“I must be missing something. I’ve read a lot of fantasy and science fiction books, and based on the reviews I thought this would be a winner. I was wrong. The phraseology in the book seemed amateurish and the characters seemed two-dimensional. I just couldn’t get immersed into it. I finally gave up and came back to re-read what people had said about it. If I didn’t know better, I’d say I’d read a totally different book than most everyone else. I couldn’t see myself comparing this author’s style to any author I’ve read.” – Amazon Review
It throws up an interesting debate in regards to how a self-published author attracts an audience. Typically, self-published authors send out copies of their books and interact with the community in the hope that, after a few people have read their book, word of mouth will spread and they’ll gain a readership. However, as with other media – you have those rock stars and models who get famous because of their self-destructive nature or their willingness to make outrageous statements. Can this work in book publishing?
I reflected upon that this morning, because by picking up his book to see what I thought – I fell for this guy’s ploy. M. R. Mathias happily told me earlier: “I sold 400 books last night and gave away 325 I must be doing something right.” And yes, he probably is. “Any publicity is good publicity” and “Controversy creates cash” as they say. Certainly, he has an interesting and successful way of marketing himself and getting himself noticed. But personally, if I ever publish a book, I’d like people to buy it because they’ve heard good things about it or like the premise, not because they want to know the answer to the question on everyone’s mind last night: “Can this egotistical dick really write?”