Thursday, March 29, 2012

Liability and Book Blogging: An Introduction into the Scary

When I'm not book blogging I underwrite insurance in order to feed my face, feed my dog's face and feed my book habit. When I say I underwrite insurance, are you wondering what the hell I mean? Are bridges involved? Don't worry. When I started this job I couldn't even define it. I was poached from accounting.

To underwrite insurance means to evaluate a particular risk (let's use a driver looking for car insurance since most people are familiar with that) in order to determine whether it fits the guidelines to write with a particular carrier (like Progressive, Allstate or Geico). If it fits, in the case of auto insurance a driver's motor vehicle history (accidents and their severity, moving violations, etc.), age, sex, type of car and a bunch of other factors get weighed together and priced based on that information. Someone that's been in 6 accidents is going to have a much higher premium than someone that hasn't been in any. A 16 year old's premiums are going to be through the roof compared to a 35 year old's. It is I that sets your premium. I'm the one that takes a look at your life and puts a price on it. I'm usually the one people hate because those price increases? Oh hey! This is, of course, assuming I underwrite personal auto insurance. I don't. But it's an example people are most familiar with.

What the hell does this have to do with anything, especially book blogging? Well as an underwriter I have a tendency of looking at the world in terms of insurance, whether I want to or not. It just comes with the territory. When people talk about buying houses in Florida, instead of commenting on beach location and proximity to Disney World, I'm all like, "Dude you're totally not going to get wind, you're fucked on flood and the NFIP isn't writing policies." To which they go, O_o. My brain just automatically goes there. As an underwriter you're taught to look at the world differently and it bleeds.

So when I see all of the shenanigannery going on regarding negative reviews, my brain starts going, "oh shitballs . . ." Why, you say? People are just being assholes. Authors are just losing their shit. It just makes THEM look bad. Well yeah but when accusations like libel and career sabotage start floating around, however frivolously, them sirens start whooping in my brain. Because that's insurance.

All we do is give opinions on books. We are not professionals and we don't pretend to be. But we have HUGE voices and people know that. Otherwise why would they go insane about a less-than-stellar review or what kind of shelves people are using on Goodreads? Words like blacklisting get thrown around. Slander for those of you that vlog. Ruining someone's career. Sure they may look like your standard internet douchery but to these eyes they're a lawsuit waiting to happen.

We live in an insanely litigious society and while I hate it, and while I believe it has created a hypochondriac society for insurance, the courts enable this kind of sue-happy behavior and the reality is we should all really be wearing internet condoms to protect ourselves. You never know when that one bad review will hit that one author in just the wrong way at just the wrong time that'll send them into a frenzy that involves legalese and a monetary value.

This is more than just owning your words. As we all know the internet is forever so no matter how many times we hit delete, like herpes, it'll never completely go away. We are LEGALLY liable for our words and that's scary. First it was the FTC. Seriously, we're just book bloggers! No. We need to declare our books or face potential fines. Did you really think it was going to stop there? We work with professionals: publishers, publicists, authors, in some cases agents. They're protected out the nose. Yet here we are running our mouths off about books to THOUSANDS of people. We can literally hold the success or failure of a book in our hands. We rightly can amp up or crush an author. That is an insane amount of power and we're not even wearing oven mitts in this fire.

I'm still in the information-gathering phase of this excursion but I wanted to get the ball rolling on the few posts that I'm going to spend discussing liability in book blogging and what we can do to protect ourselves. I am by no means an expert and I'm not pretending to be. I'm just using the knowledge I've garnered as an underwriter, along with the resources at my disposal, to better educate the book bloggers out there about the real power of their words and the serious repercussions they could have.

So stay tuned. I didn't intend to have this be a "something is killing your children, find out what tonight at 11" type of post. This is just a bookmark, a discussion-starter. Just what are you liable for in this book blogging world?

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