Saturday, September 17, 2022

Amazon Rings of Power: Reviews Blanked Out due to Fanboy Spamming, Then Back with "Incentivized" Reviews

Extensive review spamming is something I've experienced myself. Most reviews of my books on Amazon.com were removed because fanboys (and paid actors) of certain authors were flooding my books with fake reviews. I had always suspected Amazon staff were paid participants in these recurring activities, which dated back to 2001, and this was proven true when the US DOJ indicted Amazon staff for exactly that : targeting products with fake negative reviews. But the scheme, and as I experienced it over many years, was much larger than that. In exchange for bribes, corrupted Amazon staff facilitated attacks against competitors of those paying the bribes, using their inside access to Amazon's network to suspend competitors' accounts and product listings, remove favorable reviews and commentary, write fictitious negative product reviews designed to hurt sales, post spurious comments to intimidate victims and drive away customers, and much more. 

The DOJ announced the initial indictments in September 2020. Earlier this year, there have been trials and guilty pleas. At trial in February 2022, one of the participants was sentenced to prison. At trial in May 2022, two more pleaded guilty. In October 2022, there will be another trial for two others.

Amazon knows the power of reviews. Back in the mid-90s they paid a bounty up to $50 to encourage people to write reviews as the website had a paltry few and it impacted sales. So when Amazon spends $1B on a TV show (The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power) that is a pet project of Jeff Bezos and the show gets flooded with negative reviews from fanboys, their first reaction is to hide the reviews completely. Their next is to create a "supportive reviews" program that is trying to flood out the fanboy spamming and then bring back the previously hidden reviews (or at least most of them, as many thousands disappeared).

A surprise to anyone? It shouldn't be, given Amazon's long history of abusive, misguided and anti-competitive activities. Amazon.com has cheated and bullied its way to a $1T market valuation while abusing and underpaying its workers, stealing ideas, products and business plans from anyone and everyone and lobbying congress to keep it all swept under the rug. Case in point, the fake Amazon ambassador program where Amazon workers were paid to lie and praise their working conditions in an attempt to convince us all that their workers weren't underpaid, overworked, forced to pee in bottles because they don't have time for bathroom breaks, etc.

'Fake' Amazon ambassadors baited on Twitter

Twitter bans "fake" Amazon workers praising company

Twitter nixes accounts pretending to be happy Amazon workers

The bizarre story behind those 'Amazon ambassadors' on Twitter

Amazon Caught in Pay-for-Praise Scheme Involving Hundreds of Employees

Case in point, how Amazon resorted to similar tactics to break support for unions:

Pro-Amazon bots fill Twitter with anti-union rhetoric

How Amazon Crushes Unions

Amazon's Anti-Union Bullying

Pro-Amazon, Anti-Union Bots Are Once Again Swarming Twitter

Case in point, the many, many posts I've written about Amazon here and at http://readindies.blogspot.com/ over the past twenty years that point out other maleficence. For many years, I've also been asking Amazon to only show the overall rating, and then display the actual reviews on a separate page.

On video pages, reviews are not shown by default, but are easily accessible in the Details section, which you access by clicking the star rating of a video or the Details heading. Amazon does this for videos because the company spends billions on this category of media and wants to ensure the best return possible. Why not do the same for books and authors?

Waiting for an answer, an apology for years of abuse, and royalties for the separate review page idea since you implemented it exactly as I prescribed.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.

--

Addendum

Reader: A few of these bad actors appear to have used their friends in India that were Amazon employees (before they were discovered and fired), so I’m not sure I’d chalk that up to a corporate bad act, per se.

Indictments and guilty pleas earlier in the year said “Those 3P sellers sold a wide range of goods, including household goods, consumer electronics, and dietary supplements.” but I didn’t see anything indicating they were targeting authors or books.

I have no doubt that competing authors use fake accounts to trash the competition to sell more of their own books in the same genre, but those are individuals, not Amazon. And of course there’s not much they can do about trolls and fanboys.

I’m sure you’re much closer to it all than me, as long as you’ve been in the game. But I wonder how many people really make purchase choices (especially of books) based on trolls and their yard-poop negative reviews. If it’s not something backed by a verifiable ID or a credit card, I pretty much ignore it, personally.

I could see where they’d want to sweep aside the yard-poop of fanboys, for their own products, especially high visibility series. Doing it for everyone with products may not be as feasible.

Response: In the particular case, they were targeting everything and anything they were paid to target. Period. These types of activities have been ongoing since Amazon has been around because culturally much of the core of Amazon itself is unethical and the DOJ caught red-handed one group of MANY MANY such groups that were at the time, or had in the past, operated out of the company.

The DOJ included evidence on the specific instances they were able to track in a specific timeframe, not every instance of every despicable act by this ONE group over its entire existence. A case of prove what you have the evidence to prove. A goal of course was to stand up and tell these types operating out of Amazon that they were NOT untouchable and a goal of which was to tell Amazon it had better clean up its act.

For me personally, the very fact that the US DOJ proved in court that Amazon insiders were a part of these despicable activities was vindicating. Not only did the DOJ prove to be true and correct what I had been saying for years and years, the DOJ also proved in court that targeting products with fake negative reviews was only one part of a larger scheme to harm targeted companies and products. Again, the DOJ proved in court that in exchange for bribes, corrupted Amazon staff facilitated attacks against competitors of those paying the bribes, using their inside access to Amazon's network to suspend competitors' accounts and product listings, remove favorable reviews and commentary, write fictitious negative product reviews designed to hurt sales, post spurious comments to intimidate victims and drive away customers, and much more. All much as I experienced it on the receiving end of what was meant to, and did, destroy sales of my books for years and years.

As far as verified reviews or verified purchase reviews, etc, these types of reviews are as much B.S as the rest of them. Faked as soon as, and even before, Amazon introduced. These criminal types anticipated these actions and in many cases knew ahead of time these changes to the review system were coming. Either through Amazon's own announcements or through inside information.

As far as yard-poop fanboy reviews go, having been on the receiving end of people creating fake reviews, you have no idea what these types of capable of and how they operate. It's not just one and two star drive-thru drops of drivel. There is often specific intent to cause harm to the book and the author.

They use 3, 4 and 5 star reviews crafted in such a way as to deter purchases as much as 1 and 2 star reviews. And it's not just reviews... it's a pattern of attacks to get a book de-listed, removed from sale, whatever it takes.

They abuse the Amazon comments and discussion. They report books for supposed issues that don't exist. More.

You have no idea until you've been on the receiving end how much work these types will put in when they're being paid to do it.

Reader Follow-up: That being said, I do believe book authors should be able to turn off reviews of their product in Amazon. It’s too easy for peers to game it. Same as bloggers and news publishers can turn off comments. Shit posters are a major problem.

Response: The entire Amazon review system is gamed. Products don't get 50000 reviews without incentives. Reviews equal money in Amazon's pocket. When bad reviews cost Amazon money, they make it harder to find the reviews, such as with Amazon Video. When bad reviews cost someone else money, they put the reviews front and center.

Amazon itself benefits from the gamed review system and games the review system when it serves its purposes, such as by sending emails to purchasers of its private products to review products they liked or contact them otherwise to resolve any issue. These emails are carefully worded to get positive reviews. These reviews lead to more sales and more sales increase total revenues and total revenues are king. Incidentally, individual sellers are banned from doing the same or similar, though many often do and its how they end of with 50000 gushing reviews of some random toiletry product.

Reader: William Robert Stanek agreed. Some things are just out our control, though. 

Response: Thank you I will keep after the evil empire since I have no other choice as they control the majority of the marketplace for books and authors. I don't shop at Amazon or use any of their products, no one in my immediate family does. I do stand, and always have, with Amazon workers who want fair wages for fair work in an ethical workplace, and will continue to be a thorn in Amazon's side on this issue as well.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Go Brandon, No Not That Brandon, the Other One, Brandon Sanderson

They ceaselessly trashed Robert Stanek’s books and career for being self-published, now some of same helped Brandon Sanderson raise $20M to self-publish. The irony is not lost on me, nor is the fact that Brandon Sanderson is being praised for operating his own publishing company while some of the same spent years not only trashing Stanek’s career but also ensuring his publishing company couldn’t compete in the marketplace. The two-decades of background on all this abounds here, on readindies.blogspot.com and on Stanek’s sites, go read it.







Stanek and his family (for those who have a conscience, these
are the people whose lives you destroyed)

How dangerous Robert Stanek's ideas must have been, how perilous Robert Stanek's stories to their egos, to have now spent two decades stomping them into the ground. Robert Stanek has said all along they were being paid to do the deeds, and indeed they have been for the past two decades. I guess they believe the deed is done now so they can openly show their true colors. To that we say not so fast, we haven’t forgotten who you are, nor will we, nor will anyone we know. We know who you are and what you’ve done.

And meanwhile, the world of Ruin Mist is not going anywhere. The books remain in print. Readers can continue to enjoy them in editions for adults and children. Kids and teens start with The Kingdoms & The Elves of the Reaches 1 - 4 and then continue on to In the Service of Dragons 1 - 4. Afterward, read Breathe of Fire and Living Fire, the prequels, and The Dragon, The Wizard and The Great Door.

Adults, read Keeper Martin's Tale, Kingdom Alliance, Fields of Honor and Mark of the Dragon. Next, read Dragons of the Hundred Worlds, the prequel to the Ruin Mist Chronicles, and then Guardians of the Dragon Realms.

The graphic novel, A Daughter of Kings, answers many of the behind the scenes questions, as do the companion books, Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ruin Mist, Keeper Martin’s Guide to the Fantastical Beasts and Faerie Peoples of Ruin Mist, The Art of Ruin Mist: Heroes & Villains.

Read the Ruin Mist books if only because these people are so desperate for you not to that they’ve spent TWENTY YEARS and MILLIONS tearing down one of the great writers of our time. If not for you, fine, move on… If you love them though, like we do, tell the world about them and piss off those who think they can do whatever they want to whoever they want without consequences.


Emily, Cathy, Shannon


PS


This post is not about anything Brandon Sanderson has done personally. It is, however, about what those in his orbit have done. Cathy and I are readers of Mr. Sanderson's books. - Emily

Saturday, July 10, 2021

A Tribute to My Dad: William Robert Stanek

MAKE SOME NOISE TO SUPPORT MY DAD, William Stanek, and his many works of nonfiction and fiction! As some know, he retired from writing some years ago due to health and he needs to see your support, dear readers, to gather up the strength to return to the writing craft--and the books that have enriched and enlightened the lives of millions. Back when my dad was writing for Microsoft, many readers know I was a frequent contributor and also one of many who performed technical review of his work to ensure the books were as good technically as they could be. Beginning in 2015 or thereabouts, my dad made my contributor and co-author status official with cover credits, for which I am eternally grateful. As a contributor and co-author on some of his works for more than a decade now, I’ve had a front row seat to see him in action and was always awed by how he could understand the most complex subjects almost immediately upon reading them.

My dad’s the only person I know who could sit down and read a few thousand pages of whitepapers and other technical documentation and not only come away with a complete understanding of everything he read but also be able to fully implement the technologies he read about as if he’d been working with them all his life. My dad said that was a skill he learned from when he worked in Intelligence in the military and had to remember massive amounts of information to do his everyday work. Skills even the military seemed to recognize when they put him as a low-ranking serviceman in charge of the lines worked by those who many more stripes on their sleeves than him. His encyclopedic knowledge of all things Windows and Windows Server related is mind-boggling, and I honestly could never keep up. :)

My dad is the type of person who would sit down and read the current version of the ACPI specification (which usually runs over 1000 pages), and then remember all the relevant details and important updates when he wrote about it in his books days or weeks later. I guess you could call him a geek’s geek, except he’s not exactly a geek at all. You know what I mean if you’ve seen a picture of him from his glory days. If not, suffice to say he was built like an oak tree.

Growing up my dad was always there for my siblings and I, even if he was in the middle of a 20-hour work day, which he often was, as he often worked 7 days a week, 100+ hours a week, to keep up with the wild delivery schedules Microsoft required. Even so, every, single day, he made it a point that we as family ate our meals together. Breakfast and dinner at the least, and lunch if we were home from school. Every, single day, he greeted us at the door when we came home from school and at night he was there to tuck us in and read us stories. That’s a real dad, a superhero. I don’t know how he did it for all those years, because now that I’m working full-time myself, I find a regular 40-hour week to be exhausting in and of itself.

I would like to be able to keep working with my dad on future books, and I hope you, dear readers, want to keep reading his books. If so, please raise your voice and let your support be known!

 -Will

 

PS

While this is a bit late, I meant to post this on Father’s Day. Happy Father's Day!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Down on Klickitat Street with Beverly Cleary

Frequent visitors to Carmel and Monterey Bay years ago, my mom, dad and us kids knew Beverly Cleary in a way some locals may have, as that “nice old book lady.” Sometimes we’d exchange pleasantries. Sometimes we’d have a little chat. Other times, just a wave. I never really thought much about who my parents were chatting with or waving to. In my dad and mom’s world, him as the author of many books and her as a publisher for many years, it was just normal, usual, to meet “interesting people” as my dad called Beverly.


Beverly might have taken such an interest in us kids because as she said we reminded her of characters in her books. The age difference between myself and my siblings, similar to that of Beatrice and Ramona. "You are so welcome to borrow it for, like, ten years," Beverly told my younger sister once, regarding a pen she wanted to borrow to write something down in a notebook. Another time, she whispered over a sweet treat, “The first bite tastes best.” I didn’t realize they were quotes from her books, but I do now. 

 

When they were little, Beverly Cleary called my sisters princesses and would always ask my mom “Are they twins?” Her face would light with delight or maybe mischief because she knew the answer by then surely. My sisters weren’t twins, even though my mom dressed them alike. Something about “Every princess needing a little sparkle” invariably came up and there’d be something to sparkle about. My sisters being dressed alike, perhaps reminded Beverly Clearly of her twins, Malcom and Marianne.

My sisters were huge Buster and Lass fans. One or the other, always carrying around one of my dad’s homemade books about the little honey bee and his lady bug friend. Often, fighting over who got to hold onto whatever book they had. Sapphire would usually win and Jasmine would usually suffer the public defeat with tears. Perhaps that was what caught Beverly Cleary’s eye and endeared us to her. I don’t know what it was for sure, but I do know Beverly thought Buster was a “hoot” and said as much, enjoying the gentle humor of the books as much as my sisters did.


Beverly was particularly smitten with my dad’s illustrations. More than once, she told him, “Keep at it young man,” and my dad did eventually go on to publish all 100 of the Bugville books that us kids knew and loved. I think my dad might have given her a small watercolor on canvas of “Super Buster.” Super Buster being something Beverly enjoyed the thought of tremendously and said as much. She seemed very insightful, chatty sometimes, at times, especially about something she was passionate about. Books being one. Twins being another. Siblings too, I guess.

Beverly seemed to connect with elements in my dad’s books and vice versa. Social issues. School bullies. Family struggles. Relationships between siblings. New siblings in the family. Growing up middle class. Learning disabilities. Reading troubles. Like Lass in my dad's books, Beverly herself had trouble reading when she was young.

My family lived in Oregon off and on in the 90’s and 2000’s, so perhaps that too was part of it. McMinnville where Beverly is from being about half way between Salem and Portland. We lived in Eugene/Springfield and Portland. Carmel and Monterey where Beverly lived most of her life is near Presidio of Monterey and the Defense Language Institute. My dad being a graduate of the Defense Language Institute in the ‘80s.

Beverly had an interesting life, lived well. She was a fun lady, with an intelligent sense of humor. I can only hope to achieve a tiny fraction as much in my own work and writing with my father.

-Will



Monday, September 21, 2020

Justice Department Identifies Ten Amazon Staff Accepting Bribes, Writing Fake Negative Reviews, Targeting Products for Take Downs

When the malicious targeting of my books stopped suddenly, I thought someone must have finally caught the Amazon insiders responsible, and someone had, the Justice Department. A grand jury in Washington indicted six of those involved in a $100M fraud scheme, involving at least 10 Amazon staff who were being bribed. In exchange for bribes, corrupted Amazon staff facilitated attacks against competitors of those paying the bribes, using their inside access to Amazon's network to suspend competitors' accounts and product listings, remove favorable reviews and commentary, write fictitious negative product reviews designed to hurt sales, post spurious comments to intimidate victims and drive away customers, and much more.

Department of Justice U.S. Attorney's Office Western District of Washington issued a press release on September 18, 2020 naming the individuals who had been indicted. EPHRAIM ROSENBERG, 45, of Brooklyn, New York; JOSEPH NILSEN, 31, and KRISTEN LECCESE, 32, of New York, New York; HADIS NUHANOVIC, 30, of Acworth, Georgia; ROHIT KADIMISETTY, 27, of Northridge, California; and NISHAD KUNJU, 31, of Hyderabad, India, who are charged with conspiracy to use a communication facility to commit commercial bribery, conspiracy to access a protected computer without authorization, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and wire fraud.

The names of the Amazon employees being bribed haven't been released yet. The defendants will make their initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Seattle on October 15, 2020. The case is being investigated by the FBI, the IRS-Criminal Investigations, and the Department of Justice Office of International Affairs. The Grand Jury Charges are detailed in a 38-page indictment:

https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdwa/press-release/file/1317986/download

Being on the receiving end of these self-styled "takedowns" for two decades, I recognized every tactic outlined by the prosecution in the charging document. These are the very tactics my competitors had been using to target my books on Amazon with the assistance of Amazon insiders, and as I've been blogging about just as long. My posts about the same are here:

Speaking Out About Ugliness in the Publishing Industry

http://readindies.blogspot.com/2014/09/speaking-out-robert-stanek.html

Unethical Competitors

http://readindies.blogspot.com/2013/01/unethical-competitors.html

Authors who Trash Competitors

http://readindies.blogspot.com/2013/03/authors-who-trash-competitors.html

Authors who are Trolls

http://readindies.blogspot.com/2013/09/authors-who-are-trolls.html

Speaking out About Haters

http://readindies.blogspot.com/2013/06/haters.html

The Internet Isn't the New West

http://www.williamrstanek.com/internet-new-west.htm

My original blog at RobertStanek.com has posts about the same that go back to 2003:

http://www.robertstanek.com/rsblog1.htm

http://www.robertstanek.com/rsblog2.htm

http://www.robertstanek.com/rsblog3.htm

For years now, my every complaint about the targeting of my books was answered with retaliation, whether I wrote Amazon support or the Amazon executive team, and I finally have the definitive answer as to why. 

Despite these indictments Amazon is and remains the most corrupt marketplace on Earth, and this corruption goes from the bottom to the very top of the company, as evidenced by what has happened to my books for the past twenty years whenever I filed official complaints. Hundreds of billions of dollars of commerce flow through Amazon every year, and I'm certain many more former and current Amazon staff will be identified as part of similar schemes.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.












Saturday, September 12, 2020

Connecting with My Friend Walter Dean Myers, Talking Dysfunction & Diversity in America

The first time I met, Walter, aka Walter Dean Myers, we connected, and this led to an odd friendship of a sorts. The thing that bonded us was our similar childhoods, though decades apart. Walter was born in August 1937, my mamma was born in April 1937. Walter lost his mother when he was 2, and my mamma and her sister Dolores lost their daddy even earlier. Walter was given to Florence and Herbert Dean after his mother’s death, my mother, her sister and her mamma moved in with their gramma who raised them for the next few years until their mamma married again.

Walter saw me and knew who I was the moment he laid eyes upon me, never asked why I had a copy of Hoops in my hand. He just understood. As a child, I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Racine, Wisconsin, which I write about here. It was rough and tumble, which I also write about, and that was something Walter understood too as he and I both had to use our fists to defend ourselves at an early age.

His family became dysfunctional with alcohol and grief when his uncle was killed, mine when my step-father and sister died because of an explosion. The library and its books became my refuge, as books were a refuge and a solace for Walter.

Reading pushed us both to discover new worlds. For me, the classics. Treasure Island. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Robinson Crusoe. The Time Machine. The Invisible Man. Journey to the Center of the Earth. The Last of the Mohicans. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Around the World in Eighty Days. A Christmas Carol. Frankenstein. Dracula. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Lost World. And on and on.

Though never an apt pupil, Walter wrote well in high school and his English teacher recognized this, encouraging him to never stop writing no matter what happened to him. My English teacher in the 4th grade recognized my writing skill and encouraged me to write for and edit the school newspaper, as did my Uncle Wally and both of whom told me to never stop writing, never stop challenging myself.


Walter dropped out of high school and joined the army at 17. I joined the air force at 17 after finishing high school because I was homeless and had no other options.

Walter was one of the most prolific writers, with more than 110 books to his credit, and is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award in writing for young adults, as well as many other awards. I also became one of the most prolific writers, with more than 250 books to my credit and counting, and have been nominated several times for lifetime achievement awards in writing.

After Walter passed away in 2014, I blogged about one of his last essays decrying a lack of diversity in writing, saying that diversity existed in writing it just wasn’t always plain to see. Diversity in my books has led to controversy. I haven’t let controversy change my views or my writing, nor have I kowtowed to White publishing, nor to the conscientious objectors who worship at the altar of George RR Martin and abhor veterans.

How odd that even after decades and decades, books must still be thought of as white or black, or for whites or for blacks. It was, after all, an interracial award for children’s books that put my friend Walter Dean Myers in the spotlight in 1969. I’ve written much about division lately in my social justice essays. We humans excel at putting up fences, we just don’t know how to take them down.

This is Not the Time to Stand By and Not Say Anything - We all see the world as we want to see it and we don't always see what's right in front of our eyes.

No ‘Johnny Come Lately’ – These Systemic Problems are Ours to Solve & Resolve - I’m not speaking out ‘just now’ or because it’s convenient, I’ve been speaking out my whole life.

Denying the Brutal History of Asians in Our America is theHeight of Ignorance and Stupidity -Outraged after reading an anti-Asian article today in the national press.

It's Not About White vs Black, Cop vs Non-Cop - When Dr. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, said on Good Morning America June 3, 2020, 'Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter,' she stunned Robin Roberts.

Peace Officers, Community Counselors & Police Refocusing Needed - The police forces in our country have tried to do too much. Police try to be mental health counselors, drug and alcohol counselors, marriage counselors, victim’s advocates. They try to...

Hearing and Really Listening. Ending injustice meanslistening to all people. - One of the most powerful black voices I heard, listened to and shared about on Blackout Tuesday was that of Ben O’Keefe, former senior aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Racism in America. Poverty in America. Working-Class America - Many who read my posts may judge me as a privileged, white male. You don’t know me. I was born and raised in the metro area between Milwaukee and Chicago.

End Injustice in America. Injustice Affects All - Outraged this morning as yet again peaceful protests are marred by those conducting violence for the sake of violence. Police departments, first responders and private businesses are not the enemy. Silence is the enemy.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Celebrating Wallace Stegner, My Forefather, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award Winner

Uncle Wallace, as I knew Wallace Stegner, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972, the National Book Award in 1977, but on an ethical basis refused a National Medal from the NEA in 1988. My forefather was like that, always working against the grain, and in that we share common ground. Looking back, in fact, it’s remarkable how much common ground we share in our decades-long careers as writers and in our everyday lives.

Wallace Stegner was a tall man both in stature and legend. I have the tall part down pat. Like my wife of 31 years, his wife of 52 years, Mary, was short, rising only to his shoulder, and as instrumental to his work as the air he breathed. Uncle Wallace was an adopted son of Utah, as I am of Wisconsin. Our home states are where we grew up and what we think of as home even though as adults we chose to live elsewhere. I split my time between Washington and Hawaii when I can, just as Uncle Wallace travelled between homes in California and Vermont.

He and I had hard-scrabble childhoods. We were moved about by our parents, to the countryside in our youth. We experienced the worst of poverty, the failings of our parents. We learned early that you didn't complain, that you must keep a stiff upper lip, and that you never abandoned anything you started. He and I fell in love with the West, each in our own way. All of these things influenced our lives and make our writing unique.

Uncle Wallace schooled me regularly against succumbing to the trend du jour of headquarters, aka the American publishing houses in the east. I was to write whatever the hell I wanted, theme du jour be damned. Writing our way came with a heavy cost; we paid heavy penalties for being out of step with the literary establishment. He was impatient with my early writing, always wanting it to be more staid and literary. Once he understood that I saw writing as a challenge to the soundness of my character, as he did, he embraced it heartily. Although my work was eventually published and/or distributed by nearly every major American publisher, I still did it my way and bent the publishing world to my will just as he did—and when headquarters wouldn’t bend enough I went independent just as Uncle Wallace told me I should do when it was time.

Credited as the co-creator of the modern creative writing industry, having taught writing first at Iowa, Harvard and Wisconsin, and then at Stanford, where he built the prestigious program, Uncle Wallace blazed trails by teaching young people to write literature. As a respected and skilled teacher myself, I gave instruction on new technologies and am credited with transforming the computer writing industry with my plain language style. A style that Microsoft eventually adopted for its own, having been unable to bend me to its will to write in Microsoftese, that unknowable language only Microsoft itself truly ever understood. Millions of training courses taught by Microsoft and others used my words as their foundations.

Uncle Wallace wrote short stories, fiction and nonfiction. His more than 30 full-length works include 13 novels, with the Pulitzer Prize winning “Angle of Repose” and the National Book Award winning “The Spectator Bird” being among his best known works. His eight works of nonfiction include an autobiography, a biography and a book on teaching creative writing. Wallace Stegner believed steadfastly in the American West and in later years in its preservation, which he wrote about in essays and several collections. Thanks to his words and encouragement, conservation and the environment are constant themes in my own work as well and especially in my Bugville Critters books.

Most of Uncle Wallace’s correspondence from his long, storied writing career, both personal and professional, was kept and curated by his wife, Mary, and is now shared by the Special Collections Library at the University of Utah. But I know personally that the collection doesn’t contain all of his correspondence. Uncle Wallace threw a long shadow over my life and career. He’s a reason I became an editor and columnist for the school newspaper in the 4th grade and never stopped writing afterward. I wrote to challenge myself and prove my character every day, just as he did. 

He challenged me to succeed on my own, on the merits of my work, and I did. I signed my first contract and broke into publishing on my own in 1995 writing nonfiction, nearly 2 years to the day after Uncle Wallace passed away, having written many original works of fiction that garnered his approval but were as yet unpublished. He told me to never lose the writer’s voice I’d found and encouraged me to always keep challenging myself, to prove my character through my writing, to write more about my life and experiences, and to most especially continue my crusade against the literary establishment. This was at odds with the way his son, Page, wrote. Page was an academic at heart and a historian, who also taught creative writing for many years, but mostly published scholarly works.

My forefather Wallace Stegner told me winning the Pulitzer was impressive but it didn’t really help sell his books or pay his bills, nor did the National Book Award, nor the three O’Henry awards, nor the two Guggenheim fellowships. It wasn’t that he didn’t like fame, hobnobbing with the elite, or his charmed life. He appreciated the accolades bestowed upon him, but it all became a distraction from his writing. His works in his lifetime sold hundreds of thousands of copies, they did not sell millions. Because of this, he often took on projects for the money, which is something he told me not to be afraid to do. The craft of writing is about the writing. Professional writing is work. Professional writers write to pay the bills and pay the bills I did as I wrote for major publishers across several decades.

I never wanted Uncle Wallace’s academic career, awards or social calendar. Sure I’ve taught in colleges, hobnobbed with royalty, met and dined with presidents and generals, been paid thousands to speak to captains of industry, but I’ve always preferred the simple life, regular folk and the quiet comfort that comes from routine. The simple routine of putting words to paper is my routine, and that’s something Uncle Wallace would have appreciated as he always wanted to do more writing and less hobnobbing.

The name Wallace Stegner never became a household name in his lifetime. Nor has he become a literary celebrity, despite three biographies written about his life and career. He is thought of as a great but uncelebrated writer. He was okay with that and with what he’d achieved, just as I am okay with what I’ve achieved. Over the past 35 years, I’ve written hundreds of original works and they’ve been translated into 57 languages and counting. I’ll take millions of copies sold over fame and celebrity any day.

Traveling in France some years ago, I couldn’t help but smile and remember Uncle Wallace when a Parisian acquaintance told me that the American west was all cowboys riding the range and how the cowboy hat and boots he was wearing were just like the ones the real American cowboys wore. Uncle Wallace would have understood the irony in that statement because he rejected these superficial aspects of Western mythos, telling me more than once that the idea of the cowboy alone on the range was completely false. The West wasn’t about rugged, self-reliant individuals, it was about people coming together and cooperating to accomplish much more than they could alone.

Thanks for reading, I’m William Robert Stanek, Microsoft’s #1 author for nearly 20 years, and author of over 250 topselling books.