Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oh, the Derp!

A horrible little boy came up to me and said, ‘You know in your book, The Martian Chronicles?” I said, ‘Yes?’ He said, ‘You know where you talk about Deimos rising in the East?’ I said, ‘Yes?’ He said ‘No.’ So I hit him.
That apochryphal event from the life of science fiction author Ray Bradbury always makes me chuckle, whether it’s true or not. It’s funny because every author wants to defend his or her own work. It’s even funnier because it’s hard to imagine Ray Bradbury ever punching a critic, let alone a little boy, horrible or not.

A spat that’s unfolded at Al’s Books and Pals blog – one of a googolplex of sites I’ve never heard of until this went viral – is a lot less chuckle-worthy than it is pain-inducing.

On March 16, Al reviewed Jacqueline Howett’s “The Greek Seaman,” praising the story but panning the book for its multiplicity of typographical errors and awkward wording. The author immediately jumped into the discussion, demanding Al remove his review, and read the “correct” or “emergency” version of the story she recommended he download. Then, as criticism mounted, she belched out a few expletives then left the discussion.

I highly doubt this situation will lead to a Cooks Source-style nuking of Howett’s career (the situations just don’t compare; Al rightly accuses Howett of poor proofreading and writing skills, not plagiarism) but the author’s over-the-top reaction is a caution to those tender Internet dwellers that there are distinct advantages to having someone with a critical eye review one’s work before it’s published, and that the author take criticism the way it’s intended – as a help, not a poke in the eye. (This kind of thing, unfortunately, isn't all that uncommon; here's another example provided by my brother-in-law.)

One poster said the following:
As a general rule, we as authors are told by our publicists that, "controversy creates buzz, and buzz generates sales."

Upon reading this thread I was pretty sure this wasn't the kind of "controversy" intended by the PR Pros, so I called my publicist and asked her if I'd misunderstood. Turns out I hadn't. I was correct in my assessment.

In fact, she threatened to kill me if I ever did such a thing.

Glad I checked though. I was just about to add telling everyone to "f**k off" to my promotional repertoire. Whew! Dodged that bullet...

And another chimed in:
It's sad because your reviews on Amazon were excellent, even though small in number. I give it to the end of the day before your starred review average takes a nose dive.

You've let one bad review turn your profile into a flame magnet - which is what always happens when something like this goes viral.

Those terrific reviews are going to get buried beneath a pile of 1-star reviews by people who've never, and will never, read your book, but will make posts about your behavior here.

Do yourself a favor, author, and don't give into the temptation to answer back over there; it will only back fire.
The author could have taken this opportunity to graciously thank the reviewer for making these comments and then earnestly worked to fix the errors – crowd-sourced editing and proofreading at its best, as the author apparently wants to go down the indie/self-published route. Instead, she takes herself and the thread as a whole down that shouty path.

This situation just cements in my head the overarching importance of having someone with a cold, fresh, critical eye read what you’ve written, especially if you’re going the indie/self-published route where editing is going to be cursory if not nonexistent. Errors and bad writing, of course, slip into even professionally-vetted writing, but you want to do what you can when you can to make your work as perfect as possible before it’s unleashed on the public which has that cold, fresh, critical eye that you desperately need.

I know I need it. I’m lucky in that I’ve got a technical-writer niece who has agreed to read “Considering How to Run” – that invitation is still open to anyone who wants to read it and offer suggestions to budding fantasy writer; just send me an e-mail at misterfweem (at) yahoo.com and I’ll get y’all set up.

Another note: One poster at Al’s blog was criticized for having a signature that promoted her own indie book. She removed the posts and apologized for the promotions. I have to ask: Why? Indie/self-published authors ought to promote their books when and where they can, and on a site that does book reviews it seems appropriate. How is this generation so averse to advertising – except when they like it – that they castigate a fellow author for advertising her own works in a public forum? Maybe it’s not correct to have that promotional hat on all the time, but the situation, I thought, seemed to fit the promotion, not the other way around.

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