By now I'm going to assume that everyone's heard some portion of the people-are-posting-fake-reviews-on-Amazon-for-all-kinds-of-wrong-reasons scandal that's been rocking the book world. (If you haven't, just Google the words "fake reviews Amazon" and you'll have more than enough reading to fill you in. Or you can read my partial summary here. Whatevs.)
So it's been out there, and it's been on my mind. Which might be why, when I was writing a review the other day on Amazon (yes, I write reviews of books I liked on Amazon and other sites. No, no one pays me to do this.) I noticed something interesting just underneath my name. It was the words "Real Name." As in: I use my real name when reviewing books.
And then it hit me. It's an obvious point, of course, but part of the reason that all of these fake reviewers were able to get away with it for so long is that they -- mostly -- were not using their real names in their reviews. In fact, the non-use of a real name is so ubiquitous that Amazon thinks it's worth underlining when someone actually does use their real name.
What's that about?
When I first starting telling people I was going to have a book published, one of the most frequently asked questions I received was: "What name are you going to publish under?" The funny thing is, it had never even occurred to me to publish under any other name but my own (I mean, at least then I could count on the 300 people I'd met in my life to buy the book, right?). But people are often surprised that I don't use a pseudonym.
Of course, if you put something out into the world under a name, it becomes a brand. And if you use your real name, then your name -- and by extension, you -- becomes the brand. So whatever I do in connection with my name has the potential to affect my brand, etc. Marketing 101.
But if you're anonymous, addressing the world as bookfan123 or gatorhater72, you're taking a step back from what you put into the world. You are, perhaps, freer to tell the absolute truth because there won't be any consequences of doing so, but you're also freer to lie, to abuse, to do things you would never do in your own name.
In most professions, this option is not available. But in a world where pseudonyms were already commonplace before the invention of the great, anonymous, world wide web anyone can open an Amazon account or start a blog, and begin blasting away at whomever the choose with little chance of reprisals.
I'm not saying that most people do this. Like with many things, a lot of great people (selfless book bloggers who review books for nothing because they love books, for example) are being tainted by the actions of a few. But we're all responsible for putting up with systems where anonymity is okay, and ownership is the notable exception.
When I first started practicing law (insert lawyer joke here, if you must), I received some good advice: You only have one reputation, and it's yours to lose.
So, what's in a name?
If it's yours: everything.