Tag Archives: author

That is not an apology, Raani York

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 13.17.20Last week author, Raani York had a mishap. She well and truly stepped in the shit. And in the microcosm that is a certain circle of Goodreads, it blew up.

Lucky for Raani, it never went much farther than that. Unfortunately for her book, Dragonbride, it was far enough. Over the course of four days, the book was hit with almost forty 1-star ratings. Now, even including Raani’s own 5-star rating and a couple others that it’s been suggested may be the result of review swaps (I don’t know or care, since even they’d average out eventually), it carries a 1.72 average. It’s unlikely to recover.

I don’t intend to spend a lot of time talking about what transpired, my intention is to discuss her response to the aftermath of her on-line transgression. But there are a couple points to be made here, before I address the apology that Raani has now posted. The first is that I’ve watched this from almost the beginning. I even posted a comment on the original blog advising Raani that it was going to be reacted to poorly by readers.

I’v also been active in discussing the post in question online and, for the most part, commenters have been comparatively polite. (Those posting one star reviews, not as much. But I’ll get to that in a moment.) The most common attitude I heard expressed from Goodreads frequenters, who’ve seen this all before, was ‘this is obviously a new, naive author who made a stupid mistake and now she’s feeling the consequences.’ Note, not accusing her of malicious intent or calling her names beyond naive.

I’m not suggesting no one did, certainly Raani was quickly labeled a Special Snowflake and she became a bit of a meme on the #replacebookwithbaby hashtag for a moment. It’s just that it wasn’t the general tone of most of the discussions I read or was part of. And I believe this was wholly due to the fact that Ms. York was unfailingly polite, if painfully thick skulled, throughout the affair. It couldn’t have been pleasant for Ms. York to know that dozens of people were talking about her in a public forum and very few of them were agreeing with her. Despite that, she never lashed out at anyone.

The second is, though it’s often forgotten and very few say it, Raani York has the right to have said every ill-advised word she did in her original post. The same freedom of speech reviewers demand, that leads to outrage over posts in which authors try to dictate their behaviour, gives her the right to say anything she damned well pleases, especially on her own blog.

However, freedom of speech does not mean free from the consequences of what’s said and Ms. York stepped on a landmine. Authors and their seemingly endless lists of how reviewers should act is a hot-button in the reading/reviewing community. Any number of us could have told Ms. York with 100% certainty that as soon as Goodreads regulars got wind of her blog she would be condemned and carpet bombed with 1-star reviews. This is the standard response to authors who do what Raani did, regardless of intent, and they are viscous. Had she done even a little research she would have known better.

The original blog post, in which she laid out the things she wished reviewers would do when reviewing a book, has been taken down. I’ll list them here, just in case anyone’s curious, but breaking them down is not the point of this post.  (For the record, though, it seems to be that first one that really riled people up, myself included.)

1. If you aren’t convinced of our work, and you don’t feel it deserves a 4- or 5-Star review, please contact us in private and let us know why you are not the biggest fan of our book. When you find constructive criticisms we understand, but still have good words about our writing, we can decide together, whether or not a quite positive 3-Star review can be published.

2. Make sure you REALLY read the entire book before reviewing it. I was given a review by a person who has clearly “jumped” half the book before telling me it was extremely bad(how can anyone judge a book who hasn’t actually read it?). Thank God that review was never published!

4. Before criticizing my grammar and typos, please make sure your review is impeccable, otherwise you might not be taken seriously. Keep in mind that a self-published 1st edition still might have a few flaws. I don’t say that’s how it should be – but it happens. Every Author who is permanently working on getting better is going through it again to correct these mistakes in a second edition. So am I, together with my editor.

After letting things settle down Ms. York has now posted an apology for it. And it’s this apology that prompts me to finally write a response of my own. Because, while I commented in the GR discussions and tweeted most of the blog posts I found about Raani’s Wish List (I watch these things. They’re learning experiences for all of us.), I have made no effort to officially comment on it.

I’m doing so now because something important is happening here and Ms. York is risking another set-back. You see, as I noted, she can say anything she likes, but she has to be willing to accept the public’s reaction to it. Fair enough on all fronts, really. But this requires she have some ability and enough understanding to anticipate that reaction. I don’t think she does.

Those of us who’ve spent years on Goodreads and Amazon have a fairly firm grasp of the unspoken rules and nuances of the online community. One of those is realising that there is a bit of a war between what I’ve called reviewers who claim the right to say anything they please with no accountability to anyone and special snowflake authors who think their precious baby (book) should be treated with kid gloves by everyone. These are the extremes of course, but they are both vocal and have a number of active supporters. (I’ve actually started writing a whole essay on it. One day I might even finish it.) The point is they exist (along with everything imaginable between them).

I likened Ms. York’s post to tossing a Molotov cocktail at a standing army in a preexisting war. Thus the immediate and seemingly coordinated response. It’s well practiced, though still the work of individuals. Even those of us who navigate this war regularly occasionally misstep. I issued an apology last year for one of my own. So, surely Raani York can be forgiven. The problem is, she’s not helping her case with her apology.

So, to finally get to the heart of the matter, here is Ms. York’s apology. I’ve added screenshots in case she takes my unsolicited advice and scraps it for something better.

My issue with this post is admittedly based on an assumption. I’m assuming that part of her intent is to smooth the ruffled feathers of her reading public, in the hopes of salvaging her reputation and the further saleability of her book. If I’m wrong on that, then Ms. York can just ignore me and keep on keeping on. (Well, she can obviously ignore me either way.) But assuming I’m not wrong and at least some of the intention is to garner good PR, it’s 100% a failure.

The closest this particular blog comes to an apology can be seen as this, “I’m sorry that a lot of people attacked me and in doing so, saw that you, my friends, supported me and may, thus, have been attacked too.”

This lacks a few very important elements of a heartfelt and meaningful apology. There is no acceptance of original wrongdoing. She states that she didn’t take proffered advice about removing her blog post (or I think that’s what she’s saying), but not that she regrets what she said in it. This is the difference between “I’m sorry you were offended by my words” and “I’m sorry that my words were offensive.” One places the blame on the listener/reader and one accepts it as your own.

It doesn’t address the aggrieved. It’s written to her friends and supporters, not those who were outraged at her words.

It doesn’t begin with her own actions. She’s still placing the impetus of the whole series of events on the original 1-star reviewer. She says, “Caused by insult and rage against my person…” Not caused by her, but by this mystery reviewer.

Even the title skips over the apology. It infers she learned a lesson…or one preexisted, or she found one written somewhere or she’s intends to teach us one…but there is a lesson and it is about regret. That’s not the same thing as actually regretting anything. The title is pointedly, not “I Learned A Lesson…” and at the end of the day, the lesson she needs to have learned from this isn’t about regret anyway.

Worst of all, it’s still framing her as the victim in all of this. So, while the post successfully prompted Raani’s fans to come comfort her, it didn’t actually apologise for having done anything. Apologised for having been the centre of a storm that may have allowed some friends to be rained on too [like how I tied that in with her stormy angel], but not for having done anything worthy of censure.

And again, she doesn’t have to be sorry. She’s allowed to have opinions that people don’t agree with or get angry over. But Ms. York (because I hate to talk about people if I’m not willing to talk to them) if you’re hoping this apology will help you look less like a whiny, Special Snowflake and reopen doors that have been closed to you in the online reading community you need to try again. This won’t do.

P.S. You’ve got a cool name though.

Up for discussion: writing reviews of books you dislike that are also outside your preferred genres

How do you handle writing reviews of books you didn’t like that are outside of your normal reading genres? This is a quandary I’ve found myself in more often since opening myself up to review requests. I get requests from all genres and try to read a little of everything. I also choose a lot of books from Amazon’s KDP and make a concerted effort to not let myself fall into only downloading one type of book. Though by and large I download a lot more PNR than anything else.

This, however, is a prime example of why I try to force my horizons open. Until about this time last year I didn’t read romance of any sort, paranormal or otherwise. Now it’s one of my favourite genres. I’ve gotten older. My tastes have changed. Maybe I’m a little more of a cougar than I used to be, I don’t know. At some point, though, I had to branch out and give that first PNR a chance.

The honest truth, however, is this doesn’t always work. I’m not going to like everything I try, but does that mean I shouldn’t be allowed to then write a review stating that I didn’t like the book? To clarify the question, does the fact that I’ve historically not liked the genre somehow negate my actual dislike of a book or social permission to express that opinion? What is a book review, after all, but my own personal opinion of what I’ve just read? I’ve never promised anyone an impartial review and don’t even know that it’s really possible to write one.

I recently posted the following review on Amazon, along with a 3 star rating. It is what prompted this particular exercise in crystallising my own opinion through public discourse. I’ve purposely removed any reference to the actual book. The intention here is not to IN ANYWAY disparage the author or her book. It is simply the impetus of the discussion.

I’m not claiming any real anonymity though. It wouldn’t be difficult to scroll through my Amazon reviews and find the one, but the book isn’t the point of this post. What is and isn’t considered acceptable by the review reading public is. Please understand that. This also isn’t a disguised attempt to defend myself against a perceived attack or to have a go at the commenter quoted below. I don’t want to get mired in any ill-conceived author/reviewer behaving badly quagmire. 

The review:

Oh God, I wish I hadn’t read that. I don’t know why I did it to myself. I know I don’t like this kind of story. I do. But I was tempted by the sarcastic tone of the description, which I admit runs through out the story and is just as funny. Honestly, I’m not even saying it’s not a good book and everything that women who like mushy love stories and frail, save me from myself heroins appreciate about the genre. I’m just not one of those women.At 27% through the book I posted this status update here on Goodreads,

I’m ~25% in and I know things are going to change, but as of this moment I’ve decided that a more satisfying rewrite of this story would be: Julia was having a bad day, week, month year. Stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire she doesn’t know how to change, Joe stops to help. She is then such a bitch to him that he gets back in his van, drives away and leaves her there like she deserves. Seriously!

The problem is that it didn’t change. Julia remained a completely bi-polar, possibly psychotic witch who did NOTHING to deserve Joe—who was of course wonderful in every tall, blond, muscled, 8-inch, committed, loving way.

To top it all off I don’t get the who lied about being a cop theme that the plot hinges on. First off, so what? He a cop, big deal. Second, he DID TELL HER he’s the chief police. The fact that she didn’t believe him doesn’t negate the fact that he told her. Plus, even if he hadn’t told her he told her enough of what he does for a simpleton to figure it out. It’s not his fault if she’s just too stupid to read the large, neon, flashing, heroic sign he paints for her.

Wylde’s writing is perfectly readable and, like I said, it is funny. But This was definitely not a good match for me.

Within a day two people had marked it as unhelpful and one person commented, “This is the worst review that I have ever read. If you don’t the genre DO NOT BUY THE BOOK!!! Unnecessarily harsh and mean spirited.”

The commenter’s instruction to not buy a book in a genre I don’t like is my point of primary interest here. Am I not allowed to negatively review a book I disliked simply because I admit that I’m not a fan of the genre in general? I’m not a huge fan of contemporary, depression era fiction either but I recently wrote a positive 4 star review of Sandra Brown’s Rainwater.

Now I understand the commenters point. She appears to feel that I’ve punished the book for not being in a genre I like. Something that is obviously not the book’s fault. I’ll also concede that this was a more vitriolic review than I normally write and I have, hence, rewritten parts of it to try and  pull it back a little bit. But I’d also point out that I gave the book 3 stars, and in an attempt to be balanced stated that it is funny and the writing is good. I also feel that the points I made about not liking the female character and not understanding the police officer angle are still valid ones. They would be the same even if found in a book from a genre I claim to love. But what are my…well, I don’t want to call them rights as a reviewer, because that would be too weighty a word, but I don’t currently have a better one? So we’ll go with that. 

I am, myself, an intrepid author. I understand how important reviews are, good and bad. No one pays attention to a book until it has a few good reviews and a lot of people don’t take your reviews seriously until you have one or two bad ones. As such, I review EVERY BOOK I read. This leaves me in the predicament I found myself in while writing the above review. I could either a) lie and say I liked it when I didn’t, b) write a vague, uninformative review that gave no real information, c) write an honest opinionated review, or d) not write a review at all. 

I suspect a lot of people would tell me to go with option D, since ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all’ is a fairly common mantra on the indie book circuit. It’s also one I have been fairly vocal about disagreeing with. A reviewer’s reviews are worthless if all filled with nothing but praise IMO. This, however, is a debate that could easily fill a post or two of its own and I’ll not let myself be distracted. Let me just say that option D wasn’t an option for me. As stated, I review everything I read. To skip over this one would be according it special treatment that I had not reason to offer. 

While not uncommon in practice, I doubt anyone would really advise me to take up option A or B either. That left me with option C, an honest and admittedly opinionated review. But what to include? I strongly suspect the, “I know I don’t like this kind of story” portion is the where the trouble arose. I, however, see a place for it there. I choose whose reviews to give most credence to by which reviewer seems to be the most like me. Like many people I have certain reviewers I pay special attention to because history has proven we like and dislike similar things. So informing the review reader which type of book reader I am helps inform them whether or not we might have similar tastes.

That’s my defence for having initially included it. However, like I pointed out, I’ve taken it out. I think it probably prevented review readers from clearly seeing the rest of the review. They may have seen it and immediately assumed everything after it was biased.  I can even understand that thought process. It does however ignore the fact that, unless I’m being accused of reading the book just to write a means spirited review of it, which I don’t think I am, something about the book attracted me to reading it in the first place. In this case the sarcastic narrative style. 

So the question I’m ending with, the small token of information I’m hoping to garner from you the reader is, am I right? Should I openly and honestly be able to say I generally don’t like this type of story, while also being able to separately declare myself to have liked or disliked this particular story or is that just being naive? Will the former always eclipse the latter? If that’s the case, how would you advise I handle such situations in the future. I see no one complaining about reviews that start out ‘I don’t usually like genre X, but loved this particular book.’ In this case the general dislike of Genre X only serves to heighten the importance of liking the book in question. It obviously doesn’t work in reverse. 

Review of The Pattern & interview with author J.T. Kalnay

Author J.T. Kalnay has been kind enough to join me this afternoon to answer a few questions about his techno thriller, The Pattern.

Has one programming error killed hundreds of people in airplane crashes? A handful of west coast computer geeks know the answer. After reading The Pattern, you will too. Follow auto-pilot programmer Craig Walsh and his beautiful engineer girlfriend Stacey “Jack” Horner as they create, and then confront, a malicious computer virus that seems destined to destroy air travel as we know it.

Review

You probably don’t know this, but my husband works for a university flight program. There have been many many mornings that I have watched him fly off in what looks like a tin can of a plane, so the premise of this book terrified me from the get go. But that only made it seem more exciting.

When ace programmer and intrepid rock climber Craig Walsh starts to suspect that the unusually high number of recent plane crashes may not be coincidental it sends him and his friends on a cyber hunt that could either save or kill millions. This isn’t a heart pounding action adventure novel. It is more of a slow boil techno thriller, but it never quite settles into a simmer. There is a decent amount of computer jargon thrown about, even a few snippets of actual code (C++ I think). I don’t know anything about coding but wasn’t at all put off by its inclusion.

The characters are quite well defined. You can really imagine them hunched over a keyboard in hard wearing Northface or Prana clothing that shows evidence of real world use, carabiners and the somewhat cliche Diet Coke and Doritos close at hand. But it all only served to further crystalize the character type. I really liked the contrasts of the cloistered offices and the majestic outdoors as well as the light romantic elements.

The novel hints at being more than just a techno thriller. Though the spiritualist angle is never fully explored, I would have liked to know a little more about Craig’s experiences in this regard. Similarly, there are hints that there may be more to the virus than meets the eye. It would have been an interesting avenue to explore.

Overall, The Pattern is an enjoyable read. There is a tenderness to the main character, Craig, that is really appealing and it’s nice to see someone trying to do the right thing.

Interview

Thank you for being here today. Why don’t you start off telling us a little about yourself and your writing.

I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, but only recently started self-publishing under my own name. I had hidden behind a pen-name for quite some time.

Do you have a favorite genre?

I like writing about people falling in love and about people facing crises (usually somehow related to computers). I love to read sophisticated romance novels, anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Lee Child, Michael Crichton, Nicholas Sparks, Anita Shreve, and Elizabeth Gaskell.

What got you into writing in the first place?

It was a suitable outlet for my hyper-active imagination. That’s a polite way of saying that I am basically full of crap and that the written page is a socially acceptable vehicle for the bs that I’m constantly dreaming up. When I tell people the stories, it’s lying. When I write them down it’s fiction!

What does your writing day look like?

On writing days (as opposed to day-job days), I get up before everyone and finish the sentence I left unfinished the night before. Then I go until the characters need a break. That’s usually two or three hours. Then I do something physical like walking or playing golf or going to CrossFit. After getting cleaned up and refueled, I sit back down and see where the characters take me. I always try to leave a sentence unfinished on a writing day so that there’s a hook to get me back to the page.

There is quite a lot of technical know-how apparent in The Pattern (coding and rock/mountain climbing). Did you have to do a lot of research for this or are these personal passions that were easy to write?

I have a graduate degree in computer science and worked in programming, design, and teaching computer programming from 1983 until 1995. So the programming came naturally to me. I did, however, do some research about auto-pilot software and computer viruses because I wasn’t familiar with either of those specific topics. I am a rock climber and mountain walker, so that also came naturally to me. The thunder storm and sprained ankle scenes are frighteningly accurate accounts of an experience I had while a little less experienced in the mountains. Even though I am a climber, I still did in-person research at the actual rock climbing locations in Colorado and England, and in-person research of the actual locations in Seattle, Oregon, Muir Woods, Stinson Beach, and other California locations. It’s cool to do on-location research, especially driving from Santa Cruz to Seattle via the PCH. There is some scenery there that I wish everyone could experience.

I don’t want to give anything away, but Craig has a few encounters that some might classify as spiritual. What are your feelings on the matter?

Craig is a whiz kid who put his feelings away after the childhood trauma in his life. For a peak into that trauma, readers might consider the psychological examination in The Keeper, a short novella about a young boy who faces unspeakable horror as a child. Since Craig put away his feelings, and since he went into programming, his world continued to shrink and shrink until it was just video games and Stacey. The crisis Craig faces in The Pattern forces those repressed feelings back to the surface to where he has to face them. He has no frame of reference and no spirituality of his own, and thus he struggles mightily to even acknowledge what is going on. Luckily, Stacey has moved him into the wide open majestic spaces of the mountains where Craig becomes open to new experiences. I agree with your question that these encounters are spiritual. My feelings are that there are connections that we cannot explain, that we can only experience. Craig has these experiences which finally make him realize that it’s not all about him, that there are bigger things out there. His guilt and pity had blinded him to the fact that other people have feelings too. The spiritual encounters remove those blinders.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on marketing G1, a book about a young girl who was bullied as a child. As a result of the bullying, she turned inwards, to athletics and computer hacking. She becomes abnormally proficient at both. When she decides to hack a casino while training for a triathlon, she encounters unexpected complications, both technical and personal. The book deals with how her psyche was damaged by the bullying, and how as a young adult she has to try to reconcile her two vastly different worlds. I’m also writing The Point, a book set on the California coast, where Charles Ginetti has just met Sierra Marner at Pigeon Point lighthouse. They are just experiencing the first hints of new love, so it’s a very exciting time in that book.

——————-

Any last words for your readers?

Thank you for reading the books, for writing reviews, and for the emails about the characters and the stories. I read each and every email and eventually respond to every polite email. (The hate mail does not get responded to…) Also, I encourage the readers to check out other independent authors (“Indies”). There are some fantastic new writers out there that can entertain you!

Thanks J.T. Here’s wishing you all the best.