Friday, May 20, 2016

Robert Stanek and his Ironic Lack of Effort

Meet Robert Stanek. Or better yet, don't, but by all means google him. His story is worth your time and effort.

Much has been said about Stanek, whose name is actually William Robert Stanek, and thus, I shall refer to him as Billy-Bob for the rest of this post. Seriously, just googling his name will turn up all the relevant hits of the story, but the most comprehensive collating of all pertinent Stanek-related material is absolutely this site here. Go there. Read the whole thing. I'll wait.

To make a very long story short, Billy-Bob is a self-published author who has produced, by his own count, well over 100 books. In fact, he says over 150. He is a multi-nationally published author with over 200 million in sales to his name and a bucket-full of awards. His books have been translated into a dozen languages. He is one of Amazon's top sellers. He is the next JRR Tolkien or JK Rowling (two writers he constantly compares himself to, despite the two having nothing in common). At least, that's what his website says and what he himself says a lot.

None of it's true, however. I'm not going to say that no one's ever read a Stanek book and come away thinking "that was pretty good", but then, there are dumb people in the world. I'm reasonably sure that 99.9% of the people that have actually subjected himself to his writing come away wondering  what the unholy fuck they just read. I can't really speak from experience, because I haven't read a full Stanek novel, but the excerpts I've read are enough to convince me that my last lingering thread of sanity will be fully snapped by the time I'm finished even one chapter.

Billy-Bob gets around this by creating hundreds of "sock-puppet" Amazon accounts and posting umpteen positive reviews of his own works under all these different names.

But I'm not here to discuss Billy-Bob's work or antics in detail. That's been done so many times I'm sure I have nothing new to add to it. What I want to talk about Billy-Bob's incredibly skewed focus when it comes on where to expend his energy.

Others have commented that if Billy-Bob put even half the effort into writing that he does into his unethical, and oftentimes bordering illegal, self-promotion tactics, he might have actually produced something worth reading by now. But that's exactly the problem. As far as I can see, when it comes to actually writing, Billy-Bob hasn't committed a ton of time or effort at all.

But wait! Isn't this the guy with over 100 books to his name? Well, yes. And no. Let's blow one lie away right now; Billy-Bob Stanek has not written over 100 fictional novels. In fact, even that page I linked to is misleading, because Billy-Bob habitually re-releases the same books over and over again with different titles. Including some that blatantly rip off other, better authors, possibly pulling an Asylum Films act here, hoping that you'll buy these books believing them to be the ones you've been hearing about.

On that goodreads page, notice how the covers for his This Mortal Coil and After the Machines series look identical? That's because it's the same series, listed twice, for some reason. Same with Cards in the Deck, a single novel split in two. He does that a lot, also.

In fact, This Mortal Coil or After the Machines or whatever you want to call it is also just one novel, split into several novellas, averaging about 70 pages each. Keeper Martin's Tales, Ruin Mist Chronicles and Ruin Mist Tales are all the same book. And yes, they're just one book. And I don't mean they're different versions of the same book; I mean they are literally the same book.

As near as I can tell, his Ruin Mist series contains four novels: Keeper Martin's Tale, Kingdom Alliance, Fields of Honor and Mark of the Dragon. It's impossible to tell, though, because he keeps splitting them each into two volumes (so, eight very short books) and retitling them. In addition to this series, he's written This Mortal Coil, Cards in the Deck and two duos, The Magic Lands (real inventive title, there) and Dragons of the Hundred Worlds, both of which contain two books each, each of those books being just over 100 pages. Literally everything else is either his Bugville Critters books, which are apparently close to text-free, and his non-fiction.

Now, I can't really speak to his non-fiction, because I understand that most of it consists of computer manuals that he actually is paid to write. There's no question he includes those books in his 100+ count, however. He also apparently has written some non-fiction novels about the military, and apparently does have some military experience, and personally I don't care if this is true or not, but it wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't. Crying wolf, and all that. It's hard to pin down how much non-fiction he's written, but he also doesn't spend much time trying to promote it, so I won't really focus on that so much.

So, totaling up Billy-Bob's fiction (and discounting Bugville), that's ten novels, all together. Ten. Four of them are really more like novellas, and the others aren't much longer, if goodreads can be believed, and I'm sure they can. As I can't really tell which listings for his Ruin Mist books are the full novel and which aren't, I can't really pin down how long those books are, individually, but we'll give Billy-Bob the benefit of the doubt that they're all novel-length.

So compared to his hype about how much he's produced, it's ultimately very little when you really examine it. I'm not a published author, and I am not sure if I ever will be, but I know I've written more than he has in terms of sheer word count. I am forced to conclude that Billy-Bob doesn't like to expend much effort when it comes to actually writing.

In fact, as he's been re-titling and re-releasing the same 10 books now in various forms for the past decade plus, one wonders just how long ago he wrote them, or how long it's been since he's sat down to write anything recently. You can't do the same thing for years and not get better at it, even just a little. Can you? Actually, maybe not, so forget I said that, but really, if you listen to Billy-Bob, the impression you get is that he's passionate about his writing, that he really wants to reach out to the world through his writing, that what he's produced is transformative, and educational, even producing "study guides" that he tries to hawk to libraries and schools.

But his actual output is, when you stack it up, pathetically small. It only looks bigger thanks to Billy-Bob's tricks. In fact, Billy-Bob spends most of his efforts doing just that; trying to trick you.

Instead of writing more books, Billy-Bob has spent countless hours attempting to look famous and revered. That is where his entire focus is; on trying to get people to believe that he's well-known and well-loved. He yearns for the prestige of a JK Rowling, or JRR Tolkien, or George RR Martin, but he doesn't want to do any of the actual work required to reach such heights.

This is indicative when you consider how much he's changed his approach in recent years. He used to continually refer to himself as "professionally published", and talked endlessly about how authors such as Martin and Patrick Rothfuss apparently considered him a threat to their sales. He accused them of using friends and family members to attack him. I'm not kidding. I won't link to it, but google enough and you'll find the story.

What he clearly wanted you to think was that he was this big-time best-selling author who was so good that name authors at the top of the genre were afraid of him knocking them off their perch (not, of course, that this is how big-name authors actually behave).

Nowadays, his approach is a bit different. In the last five years or so, independent publishing (or self-publishing) has actually started to get noticed. Self-published authors like Hugh Howey or MR Mathias have actually earned enough self-publishing their material that they refuse to "go label", as remaining independent is earning them plenty of cash and allowing them to maintain total creative control over their brand. Authors like Michael J. Sullivan, Anthony Ryan and David Dalglish have had gone from self-published to professionally published over the strength of the material they were producing. There's even a Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, hosted by author Mark Lawrence, that deliberately sheds light on the best of self-published fantasy fiction of given years (and I haven't even mentioned self-published fiction from other genres, but I can guarantee you've heard of some of it).

Of course, Billy-Bob had to get in on that, so he fashioned a new blog for himself, now titled "ReadIndies", and with the tag line "Discover self-published authors". This is an honorable goal, and for the first couple of years he was at this, it seemed that, in fact, the goal of the site was to promote indie authors. And yes, shockingly, not just himself! Of course, he never compiled a list of "best of" that didn't include one of his books on it, and spent a lot of time talking about himself and all he's done in the world of independent publishing.

But, of course, it wasn't long before he started talking about his "haters", unethical practices within the publishing industry, other authors he accused of gaming the system, either by writing their own reviews (irony of ironies) or buying good reviews, or who knows what else. He would talk about these authors by name, and of course, would produce no proof whatsoever of his accusations. Not only that, but he would also call out his "haters" by name, including many professional authors like Patrick Rothfuss, David Louis Edelman, Jim C. Hines and Melissa Foster. He also attacked Hugh Howey (in a series of over-the-top accusations launched at him) and, elsewhere on the web, David Dalglish. You'd think that if his goal was to promote indy fiction, he'd embrace those two as brothers.

In other words, he kept pulling the same crap he pulled back when he was claiming to be a leading best-selling professionally published author. Only now it's worse because back in the day he wasted time attacking people that were likely completely unfazed by it (I doubt George RR Martin lost a single sale thanks to Billy-Bob's ranting). Now he's attacking people who really are just getting started in the industry and just beginning to see real success.

Honestly, just going through his blog and selecting any post with a whiny-sounding title digs up some pretty awful behavior on Billy-Bob's part. It's quite sad that he reprints emails he's sent in full, harassing people and accusing them of all sorts of crimes they are of course in no way guilty of. I mean, it's his website and he's showing us his juvenile, borderline illegal behavior and expecting us to be on his side. It gets worse the more you plow through it; accusing the New York Times of maliciously editing their best-seller lists to keep certain titles off of it (I presume in hopes that we'll say "Oh, that's why we never see his name on best-seller lists! It couldn't be because he's not really a best-seller!") and launching personal attacks, again, by name, against many people, some of whom are not actually rich, famous or in any way able to protect themselves. He has a whole post about arguing with a small-time blogger trying to force him to remove his negative review of Keeper Martin's Tale from goodreads. The ironies continue; he bemoans authors who "trash competitors" and repeatedly acts as though it's others who write phony reviews, then accuse him of doing it. And not a shred of proof, or even evidence, anywhere.

Billy-Bob is obsessed with the idea that writers like Foster, Edelman, Hines, Rothfuss, even Martin, etc., view him as a competitor and are threatened by how well he's doing. Of course, this isn't how it works, and never has been. Writers who are doing well enough to make their living writing generally don't obsess about other writers who might be doing better, or becoming more popular. They understand that readers can buy their books and other books as well. My bookshelf, both the real one and the virtual one, has many, many different names on it (and we'll be getting to most if not all of them in due course). It's not a competition. No writers who get into the game do so in hopes of unseating other writers in terms of sales and acclaim.

Nobody except good ol' Billy-Bob.

So, again, it's just sad how much time and effort Billy-Bob has put into:

  • Creating fake Amazon accounts and posting glowing reviews of his own work, and/or posting reviews of other work, comparing it to his own, in an effort to have his book show up under "also recommended"
  • Brazenly lying about his sales, reviews and awards (of which he has none)
  • Re-titling and re-packaging his books in order to look like he has more output than he really does
  • Attacking anyone he finds speaking negatively about him online, often accusing them of horrible crimes in the process
  • Accusing other authors of unethical practices that he himself is actually guilty of
  • Spamming various websites like and Wikipedia in an effort to make himself and his work look important
  • Accusing the publishing industry of deliberately trying to stop his allegedly meteoric rise all because they're threatened by indy writers
  • Attacking other indy writers who are doing better than he is and/or have managed to sell their work professionally
  • Attacking bloggers (most of whom don't earn a cent with their blogs) who have posted negative reviews of his work and accused them of slander, even saying they're harassing his readers
  • Whining about how all the people he's attacked are actually the ones ganging up on poor widdle him
But the comparative amount of effort he's put into actually writing seems, by and large, pathetically small. This likely explains why he's never gotten any better, which can also be explained by the fact that Billy-Bob also thinks of himself as perfect already and can't handle even the most constructive of criticism. Many blog posts "attacking" Billy-Bob have, in fact, offered advice on how he can improve, but, naturally, Billy-Bob accuses them all of being "haters" who are slandering him and harassing his readers.

It's just sad. Clearly, Robert Stanek is capable of great effort. He's just applying entirely to the wrong end of things. He doesn't care about actually being a good writer. He just wants the fame and glory, without doing any of the real work.

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