Thoughts on a Thursday Afternoon #1

ITEM: Actually I have no idea if it’s ‘#1’, but scrolling back to check is just too damned laborious.

ITEM: Before we move on to other stuff, any writers reading this blog with a penchant for SF/F may care to note that the mighty Interzone is currently open to e-submissions. You can email your best stories to interzone [at] ttapress [dot] com.

That was a public service announcement.

ITEM: I have recently become the proud recipient of a spam email with the subject line ‘NO COST PASS TO LOCAL PUSSIES’.

On a similar, but slightly more ridiculous note (hard as that may be to credit), on Facebook I was recently pointed at an employment opportunity as a male escort. Their algorithms are really not working very well.

ITEM: Every so often I hear people banging on about how they are proud to be British, and I can’t help but wonder why they feel that way.

Pride is something I’m not that big on any way, but if you are going to feel pride then how about for something you yourself have accomplished, not simply by virtue of an accident of birth.

Say rather that you are glad or grateful to be British, with all the privileges and advantages that accident of birth has conferred when compared to the situation for people in the great majority of other countries.

The people who had the right to feel proud, if any, were those who contributed to the factors that made this country such a good place – the founders of the NHS and the welfare state, the geniuses who drove the industrial revolution, the champions of parliamentary democracy etc.

But none of that is down to our generation. We’re simply the beneficiaries.

And I suspect that history will look back on us as the ones who took it all too much for granted, who sat around on our duffs and gossiped about Cheryl Cole, Simon Cowell and all the other fatuous celebrities the media tells us we should be obsessed with, while Call-Me-Dave and his cronies piss all over the shop and sell our heritage off to their friends in the business world for the proverbial mess of pottage.

ITEM: Staying with the political theme, I find that I am divided on the matter of Scottish independence and the forthcoming referendum.

If I was Scottish, then I’m pretty sure that I would vote to dissolve the Union, simply because who ever ends up in charge of an independent Scotland can’t be as bad as the current incumbents at Westminster.

As an Englishman though, I want to keep the Union, because if the Scots leave then it reduces our chances of ever getting rid of the bloody Tories.

ITEM: On Facebook recently, in the wake of the publication of Doctor Sleep, there was a discussion of the stature of Stephen King within the horror genre.

Is he quite simply the greatest that we have ever known?

Personally, I think that there are plenty of misses within King’s oeuvre, and similarly there are plenty of people who have written better books and stories than King’s very best.

But while we might quibble about the particulars, what can’t be denied is how impressive his body of work is, in terms of size, depth, variety, epic scope, significance.

Yes, there are better horror novels than It, Carrie, The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot etc., but I don’t think there are any writers within the horror genre who have produced so many works of such high quality, books that remain true to the material and the writer’s singular vision, but also have a mass appeal.

He is our Dickens.

ITEM: A friend took her mother to see the One Direction film. She booked tickets far in advance, after being repeatedly told how popular it would be and sure to sell out.

In the event, there were only two other people in the cinema for that screening.

Petty I know, but this pleases me immensely.

ITEM: Also on Facebook and elsewhere, much discussion of Goodreads new policy regarding reviews.

I don’t have, or plan to have, a Goodreads account, so this is not a race in which I have a horse, and as a general principle I think it’s right that reviews should be based solely on the content of the book and not the author’s behaviour.

On the other hand, much of the bad behaviour has been down to authors acting out when they’ve received a negative review. With my reviewing hat on I’ve been on the receiving end of this sort of crap, and I’ve seen other reviewers – people simply doing their job, with no malice or bias – get dealt with similarly or worse.

Much of this acting out is, of course, simply anger on the part of people who’ve had no PR training and don’t know how to respond to criticism. But some of it I suspect is quite carefully calculated, with the intention to send the message to other reviewers that dissing their book may prove more trouble than it’s worth. I have no proof of this, but at times it seems like a deliberate strategy to stifle criticism through intimidating reviewers.

Of course such behaviour more often than not blows up in the offender’s face, with writers getting unenviable reputations and a possible knock on effect for sales, an incentive for many to ‘keep their noses clean’. And yet I can’t help feeling that the balance may be shifting against reviewers and, while there are still plenty of ways to get the news out there about unacceptable behaviour on the part of authors, with the change at Goodreads there is one less deterrent in place.

There are no more ivory towers, no author garrets. We live in a time when, thanks to social media, writers are interacting with their readers more than ever before. Some are developing the necessary skills to navigate in these murky waters, and others are proving themselves to be out of their depth. In this newly evolving age of publishing and self-publishing, the author is becoming as much a part of the package as the book, and while oldies like me will bemoan that change to the playing field, we may need to find new concepts of ‘customer service’ to cope.


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19 Responses to Thoughts on a Thursday Afternoon #1

  1. I’ve never been able to figure out why a writer would ever go public about a negative review. As you say, there doesn’t seem to be enough PR thought before the livid reaction. Much like some cars have devices that won’t allow you to drive if your blood alcohol level is too high, if might be a good idea if writers had a device that attaches to a newly-published writer’s keyboard and prevents any typing until his blood pressure is back to normal.

    My own pet peeve though are writers who spam about their latest book. I certainly want to know if a writer I like has a new book out, and I’ll sometimes discover a book that looks interesting based on a publicity send-out, all of which is appreciated, but I’m talking about writers who befriend you on Facebook for example, and then send hourly (literally hourly) messages about their new novel (if I wasn’t interested in buying the book the fourth time someone told me about it, I’m sure as hell not going to be more interested the fourteenth time I hear about it, all in the space of one day.)

  2. I like what Black Francis said when asked in an interview recently about a one-star (out of ten!) review of the first new Pixies song in years. It was along the lines that critics, whether they give you a good review or a bad one, are part of the excitement, because their reviews are the fanfare announcing the entry onto the scene of a significant new cultural artefact.

  3. I strongly feel that a writer should not react to a negative review. Unless the context or extreme nature of a review makes it unavoidable thus to react as a special case.

    • petertennant says:

      For me the problem with that Des is almost every time I’ve had a writer throw their toys out of the pram regarding a review, the attack has begun with something along the lines of ‘I know it’s supposed to be bad form to respond to negative reviews but…’ followed by some self-justifying guff as to why this doesn’t apply in their ‘special case’.

      Responding isn’t ‘unavoidable’. In fact I’d argue that if a review is as patently unfair as the writer thinks then he or she should trust in the good sense of the reader to take that into account when judging the reviewer’s opinion, rather than getting personally involved with the attendant risk of it all blowing up in their face. Dignified silence works much better.

  4. petertennant says:

    Death and taxes are unavoidable Des. For everything else there are options, choices to be made.

    And I know what you’re referring to but I’d prefer it if we kept this to general principles rather than the specifics of a particular case.

  5. “…if a review is as patently unfair as the writer thinks then he or she should trust in the good sense of the reader to take that into account…” Yes. I agree. This faith in the reader is an element missing from too much online interaction. If I bother to write a book, I have confidence in the intelligence of people who take an interest in it. They can decide for themselves if a comment or a review is out of line. They don’t need me to play hall monitor or mommy. My job is to write the book.

  6. Yes, but as Pete says, the interaction of writer (his job as you put it) and reader these days has changed with the Internet. And an author now needs (if rarely) to defend the work not necessarily against the discrete review itself but against the pre- or post- context surrounding the review (a context perhaps known only to some). This is a non-specific point.

    • Understood, nullimmortalis. I interact with readers at my blog and on several social media sites. I give interviews, and participate in blog tours. That’s plenty, for me.

      Consider the source. If the reviewer is not capable of describing or analyzing a book, why would I expect him to understand and appreciate my argument? Either he isn’t bright, in which case he won’t get what I’m saying, or he’s a troll, and will be thrilled by the negative attention. So, it’s a waste of time.

      Now, if a reputable reviewer (whose opinion you trust) tells you something is lacking from your book, that’s worth thinking about. But it still isn’t acceptable to argue with the reviewer. You make too much of the situation, when you do.

      I’m not telling you what to do. Follow your heart. This is just my attitude. I’ve been reviewed many times, by smart critics and hateful people and loyal boosters and fiction lovers. And I’ve watched other writers battle it out. It’s ugly, and boring.

      • I have sympathy with all that, SPM. Thanks, much appreciated.
        I started off here by saying that a writer should not react to a negative review.
        But never say never. Especially, for example, if things become personal rather than work-specific. Anything, I suggest, can happen, in my experience, on the Internet! And as Pete said originally there are no now no ‘author garrets or ivory towers’, nor should there be, I feel, for anyone at all involved in the process of discussing literature.

  7. petertennant says:

    When I have more time, I’ll write a blog post on the circumstances in which I think it’s acceptable for an author to respond to a bad review, and I’ll be interested to see who agrees with me, but for the moment…

    To slightly elaborate on what I said in the post about reader/author interaction, I do think that in the current climate how authors respond to reviews is becoming a customer service issue.

    The best advice I’ve seen on responding to negative reviews/readers’ comments was from Brian Keene, something along the lines of ‘Sorry you didn’t like the book. Thanks for reading it and taking the time to comment, and hopefully you’ll find one of my others more to your liking.’

    On the other hand, one of the things that inspired this post, was a review/blog discussion, where the author barged in and told people how they should be interpreting his work. His intentions may have been good, but it came across as authoritarian and high handed. I don’t, as some people feel necessary, wish to exclude an author from discussion of his/her work, but I find I respond better to somebody who opens the discussion with ‘This is what I was trying to achieve’ rather than attempts to shut it down with ‘This is how it is’.

    Which writer gave the best customer service? Which one was most likely to get repeat sales and win over onlookers? Which one showed class?

    Putting it in another context, you’re at a restaurant and complain that the vegetables are undercooked. Good customer service on the part of the restaurant is to apologise that not everything was to your satisfaction, and if they consider the complaint justified take appropriate action.

    Bad customer service is when the cook charges out of the kitchen and storms up to the table to tell you the vegetables were perfectly cooked and you’re an idiot who can’t tell a courgette from a cucumber.

    I give you Amy’s Baking Company:-

    • “but I find I respond better to somebody who opens the discussion with ‘This is what I was trying to achieve’ rather than attempts to shut it down with ‘This is how it is’”
      I certainly agree with that, Pete, me being a follower since the mid 1960s of the Intentional Fallacy! The work, once posited in the audience arena, the author releases all possession of it and just becomes another reader. The author’s view is then only one view from one reader among possibly millions of readers, a reader who just happens to be the author. But it is view he is entitled to make in response to a review. But as I say it is generally impolitic to react aggressively to a negative review.

  8. Nice analogy, Pete. I look forward to that blog post. Cheers, you guys!

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