Friday, November 21, 2014

Troll Reviewers--WTF, Guys?

Good evening.

We've all heard the stories of authors reacting badly to reviewers. It happens. Kathleen Hale is a prime example of that occurring, and her actions kicked off the great book blog blackout week and the #haleno campaign.

And I believe that. Reviews are for customers, not authors. They should be, must be, sacrosanct, in a way that free speech must be sacrosanct, to preserve the freedom to express unpopular opinions in a safe forum, to air all viewpoints, to discuss all topics.

...But even free speech has a limit. Most of us agree that hate speech is not protected. Unwarranted attacks against another person are not protected under free speech. And this, also, should apply to book reviews.

Here's what I mean:
Recently, an author named Stephanie C. Fox came under fire for some viewpoints she expressed about human overpopulation and childbirth. Some people took offense at her viewpoint, This happens; anyone involved in discussions online is bound to piss someone off, amirite?

But then, these people decided to gang up and ruin Ms. Fox. They discussed this online, then marched to Amazon and wrote falsified reviews. All one-star, all posted on the same day, not one a verified review of the material.

And I have proof: Here is the screen capture of one of their discussions. If you cross-reference the names, you'll notice that many of the reviews have the same or similar names to the people commenting.

Again, I wouldn't want to interfere in free speech. Even threads like this, where people vent vitriol about things they disagree with, I accept and permit. But this is not only an open forum, but these attacks are masquerading as legitimate customer feedback. Maybe they'd really have hated her book. But to attack someone in this manner is reprehensible and unacceptable, and it makes both real readers and authors wary of one another.

As full disclosure, I have not read Nae-Nee either. It might be terrible. All these reviews might be justified. 

This does not change the basic reality, that reviews are supposed to be honest assessments of work, not vicious attacks against another person.

As far as I know, Ms. Fox has not responded to the trolls. I, however, am taking what action I can: I have sent a message to Amazon requesting that the offensive reviews be removed. I am pasting a copy of my letter to them below.


Please provide the following information to help us answer your question:
1. What is the name of the Kindle book or reading material that you are having trouble with? Nae-Nee - Birth Control: Infallible, with Nanites and Convenience for All.

2. Which device are you using to access the content (e.g. Kindle Paperwhite, PC, iPad, etc.)? Not relevant

3. Please describe the problem, including any error message that you see, and any troubleshooting steps that you have already tried.

This book has been the subject of fraudulent reviews. As the result of something the author posted in an unrelated forum, several people chose to attack her, submitting one- and two-star reviews over the course of a single day (the evening of the 20th and through the 21st). I believe that these reviews should be taken down, as they do not represent true customer opinions, but are represented as such.

I have evidence that these reviews are the result of a "plan" to ruin Ms. Fox, which I can submit upon request (this email does not allow me to attach or paste it): a facebook post wherein many of the reviewers discuss their actions and laugh about the distress this is likely to cause Ms. Fox. 

I know that reviews are an important customer resource. Therefore, you should remove these reviews in order to preserve the integrity and validity of this resource.

Thank you.

If you have comments, I would love to hear them. Please don't think I'm attacking readers, or the freedom to review and express opinions. If you DNF a book, review it. If you think that the author uses the word "gosh-darn" too much and every character sounds like an idiot, say so. If the work makes you feel uncomfortable because it seems overtly racist, let us know. But don't bring anger from another venue and use it to destroy someone's life's work.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Writing your best work

In his amazing memoir On Writing, Stephen King talks extensively about his body of work. In particular, he mentions The Stand, his massive post-apocalyptic epic story. It's widely considered to be the best thing he's ever written.

And this frustrates him to no end, apparently.

See, he's glad that people like it, of course, but he wrote it over 25 years ago. He doesn't like the implication that his best work is behind him.

I've just released my third novel. Several of my readers have said that it's the best thing I've written so far, the best mechanically and stylistically. This makes sense - as far as writers go, I'm still a novice. I haven't even finished my first million words, after all :) Mr. King is one of the most prolific writers of genre fiction in the world, wildly successful by any measure of the word. It's not surprising that some people think that some of his earlier stuff is better than his latest.

What intrigues me is his reaction to it. Not that he was mean or rude, but that he continues writing even when that opinion is expressed, widely. He keeps going, trying to create something better and better, writing what makes him happy. That's what makes a true writer - he doesn't need to do it for money, anymore, so he does it for happiness.

To all the writers out there who do it because they can't do anything else, thank you. You endure the slings and arrows of those who feel entitled to exactly what they want because you love the work. You endure self doubt and worry because you love the work.

And, because you love the work, we do too.

So thank you.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Writing Contest - What is it good for?

Writing contests.

As I began my independent writing career, I found several (as in, dozens if not a hundred) of writing contests that wanted my work. Most of them asked for money, but the chance for exposure and prestige loomed large if I could just muster the funds.

Which contests should I enter?
Which ones would give me the most cachet?

I did my best to do due diligence. I found out about "vanity" awards, or "award mills." I knew enough to avoid the actual scams, or contests that didn't do what they promised, but which ones were worth my money?

I couldn't tell. There were conflicting reports. What qualifies an award as "vanity?" Some sources said that anything that cost money should be avoided--but I couldn't find many awards that didn't. Some said that, if they had more than three or five categories, they were vanity...but there are tons of books out there, in many different genres. Is that really the case?

I entered a few, won a silver medal in one, got valuable feedback from another. I would happily recommend the Wishing Shelf awards to any author, as they are inexpensive (under $50) and provide feedback from at least 15 readers. It took me a while to receive that feedback, but it was cross-posted to and to Goodreads, which is a wonderful bonus.

Authors, I ask: Have you entered/won any writing competitions? How did you market your victory? Was it worth the time and/or money?

Readers, I ask: Does an author being "award-winning" mean anything to you? If you see that on a book cover, does it draw you in? What connotations does that phrase have for you?

Thank you in advance. I appreciate the feedback.

Jason P. Crawford