C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

Do Not Write By Committee

The blowback is coming. Soon, Starbucks will offer pumpkin spice lattes. I just saw a social media post in which it was pointed out that it’s a mix of cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This short post ended with, “It tastes really good and it’s okay to let people like things.”

First and only comment: No thanks.

(Gee, I hope that commenter was kidding.)

Next up, I listened to an interview with the delightful Simon Pegg in which he discussed the hazards of writing a Star Trek script. The tide of toxic fandom rose because, sigh, of course it did.

“THEY KNOW WHAT THEY LOVE AND ONLY LOVE WHAT THEY KNOW.”

Simon Pegg

(By Thor, I love that deep incisive cut, don’t you?)

Toxic fandom often goes to great lengths to demonstrate how little they understand creative work. They get the end result, but don’t understand or respect creators. Some even go so far as harassing writers and actors, especially if they’re women or in the BIPOC community. Gatekeepers are a particularly sad variety of this anti-enjoyment force. If you’re telling people they have to have read all of The Sandman before they really “get it,” please stop. We do get it. You were cool before everybody else. Good for you. Now shut up.

Actor Justin Long of Life is Short with Justin Long, confessed that he joined a I Hate Justin Long Club. (Note: Justin Long is a fine actor, and also a delight.) Funnily enough, by joining the club and agreeing with them, he defused the hateful action and made the organizer look awfully petty. However, as Simon Pegg observed, that shit still hurts.

Not everyone is going to love what we write and no writer expects that. However, some readers demand a home run every time. They want what they want and don’t you dare challenge their assumptions. They read books to confirm their biases and that’s all they’re in it for. More dramatic reviews sometimes end with, “I’ll never read this author again!” Gee, whatever shall I do without that $2? On the other hand, saying goodbye saves much more money in therapy. Trying to cater to each of those angry whims would lead to a lot of sleep loss. It’s nuts to try to write for the haters. Please, write for your readers, the lovers.

When I worked as a journalist, I wrote a piece about a common medical condition and profiled a particular sufferer. I soon got an irate call from a woman who was afflicted with that condition, but it rose from a different cause. She was in an anguished rage that I did not grind her particular axe that day. With threats to contact my editor and presumably end my career, she hung up in a huff. Her life brought no joy. She is not missed.

Sometimes you’ll detect a passive-aggressive version of this energy on a social media post. To demonstrate their higher expertise, some pedant will take the point you made and claim it as their own or take it further, as if you missed something. It’s not about you. They’re trying to feel good about themselves, and if that comes at your expense, they’re okay with that. Nobody likes the Well Actually Guy, so they have to feel good vibes some other way. A reviewer who proudly described herself as a know-it-all apparently does not know that the term is a pejorative.

One of my reviews (an outlier, by the way) declared: “Rubbish!” and “tries too hard.” Not really sure what trying too hard in this context could mean, but fuck it. It doesn’t really matter. For the sin of trying to entertain someone, you will get some negative reactions that are obvious overreactions. One wonders how these folks react when they face a real problem. The danger isn’t the nasty review. The danger is that you may take it too seriously and let it shut down your creative spark.

One reader contacted me with kind of a snarky question. I answered politely, but demonstrated that his assumptions were erroneous. At the conclusion of this interaction, he told me he enjoys contacting authors “to help them.” Dude, I didn’t ask, and I wasn’t helped. Actually, I helped you and no, I will not censor myself at your command. (As I’ve said many times in this space, write with your editorial team’s feedback, but DO NOT WRITE BY COMMITTEE!)

When we give too much power to readers, we’re essentially in the Florida school system where great books are banned for being too something or other. Among many, many others, their list of objectionable books included The Hate U Give, Of Mice and Men, A Wrinkle in Time, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Vampire Academy, and on and on and on until their fragility leaves them with just one book full of all kinds of violence. It’s a book they claim to revere, but few have read. For that one book, they give a lot of leeway. To be fair, some can quote the snippets they love while ignoring the uncomfortable bits. Alas, if only all authors could receive that grace.

Everybody gets to have an opinion, but don’t let them influence you too much. Don’t respect people who have no respect for you. We don’t write for everyone. We write for those who receive the frequency we’re sending. Everything else is static.

Now go write that fabulous genre-bending plot that most will love and some will absolutely hate. That’s what we do. Without us, how will the haters feel good about themselves? With us, our true readership feels better for the shared experience.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write apocalyptic epics with heart and killer crime thrillers with muscle. Check out all my work on my author site, AllThatChazz.com

Filed under: book reviews, writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , ,

The very nearly here, not quite yet, Post-review World

Once upon a time an author named Hale stalked a book reviewer, wrote about it in The Guardian and…well, things got crazy. I haven’t weighed in on this because you’ve no doubt read plenty about this debacle. Besides, I didn’t have anything new to say. I still don’t have anything new to say about that particular incident. It was a bad idea to respond to a negative review and there’s no need to pile on.

I do understand the urge. Oh, yes, every writer knows that urge to respond and demand an apology or…something. Instead, I stay indoors, never go anywhere, and write scary, funny books. It’s a better use of my time and the right thing to do.

So let’s talk about reviews more generally.

We all want them. We can’t promote our books effectively without a minimum number of happy reviews. But there are problems:

1. If you get a lot of happy reviews, someone who didn’t like your book will accuse you of having lots of friends and family shilling for you. Ha! I wish! It’s very difficult to get any reviews on anything and I don’t speak to my family. The point is, some people (I have no idea how many) think five-star reviews shouldn’t be trusted. However, if you didn’t have any five-star reviews, those same people would slay you for it. Crazy, huh?

2. Some people can’t help themselves. They condemn authors for their books and pedophiles for their despicable actions with nigh equal vehemence. Well…I assume so, anyway. I mean, I’ve read some vitriolic reviews where, once you dial it up to eleven, there’s no place to go, is there? But (silver lining) no one really takes one-star reviews seriously anymore, either. They are, with few exceptions, troglodytic. We read them for sick entertainment value, not for direction as to what to read.

3. Some people put spoilers in reviews without warning. That’s not a review anymore. That’s a spoiler and it’s a shitty thing to do. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean others won’t and spoiling a work that was years in the making in one ill-considered paragraph? Yes, that’s bad. What’s worse is Amazon lets it happen and allows those spoilers to remain posted without warning.

4. Likewise, authors have been libelled in reviews. Once again, Amazon does nothing if you complain. Unacceptable, and yet we are, at the moment, powerless. It’s the Internet. We’re supposed to shrug and hope the happy reviews drown out the unhappy ones (and eventually, mostly, they do.)

There’s a study somewhere that shows how unreliable reviews can be in an odd way. If the first review that goes up is negative, ensuing reviews tend to be more negative than they would have been otherwise. That’s less about the book, I suppose, and more piling on, hoping to be seen in agreement with whoever spoke up first. Weird.

5. Here’s where it gets weirder: Authors shouldn’t respond to reviews. Goodreads doesn’t even want authors to thank anyone for a nice review. That strikes me as forcing authors to be rude, but it’s their site policy so I abide by it.

Pretty much everyone accepts the No Response to a Bad Review Policy as a given, but no one knows who established this all-encompassing edict. Other industries routinely respond to reviews, hoping to ease their unsatisfied customers’ fury. We don’t. The argument goes that reviews aren’t for authors (true) but we aren’t even supposed to respond when reviews are misleading. We’re supposed to, as Hugh Howey so aptly put it once, “enjoy the burn.”

But wait. If we’re writers who should be thick-skinned and stoic since we put something out in the world…aren’t reviewers putting stuff out in the world, too? How come their writing is exempt from criticism but mine isn’t? Hm. No. Stop thinking about it. Nothing good can come from following the logical conclusion of that reasoning.

I am not arguing for responding to reviews.

The system is broken when reviews allow spoilers, libel authors or when so many people seem to distrust reviews.

Someone at The Passive Voice recommended we tell people, “If you liked it, please tell a friend,” in lieu of reviews. I kind of like that, but that’s what reviews were supposed to be anyway, right? Telling people what you liked so they can share the experience of an interesting, entertaining or enlightening book. I encourage people happy with my books to review them on Amazon. A review anywhere else (except perhaps a busy book blog) doesn’t really get more people to my books.

When I worked in magazines, we rarely gave negative book reviews (or the negative reviews were significantly shorter) because the point was to direct readers to the good stuff. The prevailing opinion was, the good stuff is too hard to find to waste time talking about the stuff we don’t like. I feel the same way. I may find commonality with reviews that tell me what they liked and why. What they dislike often seems more idiosyncratic (and some reviewers can’t seem to bring themselves to like much of anything.)

Maybe hoping for organic discovery through old-fashioned social networks is the way to go. But not quite yet. The apparatus for book discovery is broken. I still need happy reviews to get a Bookbub promotion going. That’s one of the few book promotion services that seems to have muscle and mojo behind it. I also suspect people don’t talk about books enough. I’m unwilling to rely on chats over fences with neighbors to spread word of my literary heights efficiently. Podcasts might be a better answer.

So what to do?

Stop stressing about reviews. Beat up a punching bag. (Reminder from Mom: human beings are not punching bags.)

If necessary, stop reading reviews. Read more books. Write more reviews.

Keep asking for reviews because, hey, that’s all we can do for now.

Don’t stalk book bloggers or book reviewers. Do not go near their homes or places of employment. And if you do (which you definitely shouldn’t!) don’t tell anyone. Jeez!

Cry quietly and not in public.

Treasure the many good reviewers who don’t mistake snark and disrespect for intelligence.

Read your four and five-star reviews obsessively to get your energy and esteem up. Read the negative reviews once, if you feel you’ll have something to gain from them (a murder plot, perhaps?) But never read them twice. That’s just masochism and revenge fantasies.

But there’s a better reason not to respond to negative reviews:

It takes time and energy that you could use to write your next book. And frankly, if someone hates your book, they won’t change their mind. If you try to use your best politician’s smile and the it’s-all-part-of-the-game clap on the shoulder, they won’t buy it. They know. You hate them. They hate your book and therefore they hate you. People will tell you this is wrong. Shit’s about to get real.

Yes, you’ll read lots of crap about how writers should separate themselves from their books. It’s a book, not a baby. Except it is. It’s the product of your mind and anyone who hates the book is calling you feeble in the brain. Be real. People tell you to be thick-skinned, but nobody really is. Many of the most successful writers, actors and entertainers on the planet confess that they remember every word of every bad review. You’d have to be a robot sociopath to be so far above the fray when someone criticizes something you put so much of yourself into.

However…when you write more books and get some success, it does hurt less. You become less invested in each book because you know you will write many. Just like having children, if you make enough of them, a few start to look expendable. (It’s a joke, for Thor’s sake. Relax.) 

Anyway, when the happy reviews drown out the negative reviews, that one-star review starts to look silly. You can also take some solace in knowing that if a reviewer hates you enough, they won’t feel the need to come back for more and you’ll be rid of them…if they actually read books before they review them, of course. Oh, yeah. There’s another reason so many people don’t trust reviews anymore. Sigh.

So, to sum up:

Write books and pretend you don’t bleed.

Don’t be a dick. Be nice. Play nice. Pretend you’re nice. Fake it and kill offenders in your next book. (I did.) Cover your tracks so they’ll never recognize themselves.

Pretend you’re happy all the time, especially when you’re not. Rant to a friend if you must. (Mental note: get a friend.)

Try to keep some perspective. You won’t, but it’s true that a review is merely one person’s opinion. It is not a scary diagnosis from a stone-faced internist.

We’re in the entertainment business. Entertain. Seek out entertainment. Don’t be so damn serious.

Remember that no matter how good your book is, someone will say they don’t like it. Don’t let them discourage you from following your star and writing, though. If that happened, then a bad review would really matter.

Until a new way to discover genius books is found, this is the way we live now.

Keep having fun. Don’t forget, this is supposed to be fun.

~ I forget sometimes.

 

 

Filed under: reviews, web reviews, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Was this post helpful to you?

I bought a book today by an author previously unknown to me. At six bucks plus, it was the most expensive ebook I’ve purchased in a long time. (Usually my ebook purchases are from indies, not trad publishers.) I bought this ebook because of one of its reviews. I did not buy because the review raved. The book caught my attention because the review’s tone was so damnably condescending, I had to make the purchase. This wasn’t a case of pitying the author. There were good reviews, too. Also, it helped that I suspected this was a book I would enjoy. It sounded smart and sure and people who liked it said it elevated and challenged its genre.

Whatever the book’s merits will be, the key component for the purchase was that the reviewer was too much of a jerk. What is it about bad reviews that so often reveal more about the reviewer than the book being reviewed? I emailed the author to tell him I bought his book. It sounded interesting and I wished him success with it. I look forward to reading it, but what can the rest of us take from this?

Take this post as a small salve to authors’ bruised egos.

People will love your work and others will hate it, but I want you to know that readers are generally intelligent people. They often see through the reviewer’s veil more than you might think. Readers divine intent when they read over-the-top malice and subtract value from a nasty review. Yea or nay, readers like thoughtful reviews. They get it when a reviewer sounds disrespectful or less than literate. Good readers (people who buy a lot of books!) aren’t easily impressed by cheap shots and snarky remarks. When a review is especially egregious, you might even get a sale out of it. 

I’m not saying bad reviews are better than happy ones, but don’t take the bad ones too much to heart. Also, when you spot a really nasty one that goes at the author personally instead of the book? Be sure to click “No” beside the question, “Was this review helpful to you?”

Filed under: reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

http://mybook.to/OurZombieHours
A NEW ZOMBIE ANTHOLOGY

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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