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.

24 thoughts on “That is not an apology, Raani York

  1. Max Caranian

    Honestly…I have been following everything from day one. I am a book reviewer myself and didn’t think anything she said was that bad. I for one am more disgusted how people took it on goodreads.
    Yes, Raani might have closed doors but so have these book reviewers. I have gone through weeding out the ones that did nothing by what is called cyber bullying and these individuals have officially destroyed their own credibility.
    If you are including words such as bitch, whore, or slut in your review you have crossed the line from a credible reviewer to a cyber bully.

    Reply
    1. Sadie Post author

      Max,
      On your first point, in a vacuum you’re absolutely right. Nothing she said was horrendously offensive. She was even especially polite about the way she said it all. But we don’t live in a vacuum and she wrote one of two types of author-posts guaranteed and historically proven to get a negative response from readers. (The second being a direct attack on a reviewer.) The reaction was no different than it has been for past ‘How Reviewers Should Review’ lists, unless you count that people acknowledged her naiveté and on the whole (with notable exceptions, obviously) didn’t completely eviscerate her.

      On your second & third point, I’m not a huge fan of the 1-star rating that happens. I completely respect other reviewers right to do so and, more to the point, Goodreads’ TOC allows it. It does not however allow attacks on authors and any review with bitch, slut, whore, etc in reference to the author. Any such reviews will have been subsequently deleted.

      But it’s worth considering the anger that leads readers to use language like that in their review. It too isn’t’ written in a vacuum and it’s at least in part due to the repeated nature of these same readers feeling dictated to by authors. The role Ms. York, I assume inadvertently, stepped into with her post is one that’s already well-defined, including the general response to it.

      But there are also two different ways in which this whole thing played out. There were those who, in forums and comment threads, and twitter, etc discussed Raani York’s post and behaviour and those who chose to rate/review her book. They were not necessarily the same people, nor did they all have the same end goal in mind.

      Thank you for your comment, Max. It’s a good point that authors aren’t the only ones being judged on their online activities.

      Reply
      1. mahala

        Authors may not be the only ones being judged but they are the ones with the most to lose- namely income. If the 4 people who read my blog depart because I offended them I can still blog to my heart’s content and be happy as the proverbial clam. But an author who offends gets to watch readers and reviewers choose to pass her by.

        Much has been made of York’s seeming newbie status but I refer you back to her bio and her claims of being a “high volume writer”. I cannot believe a HVW would never have received criticism before so I’m having a very hard time with her response to a critical review.

        Reply
  2. mahala

    Excellent post, Sadie, but I must disagree with you on one point. I don’t think York is getting carpet bombed solely because of her bad case of foot in mouth. Her book is simply not up to the hype of those 5 star reviews.

    Indeed, her original description was long, rambling, confusing and gave away the ending. Then the book itself was simply not something I would recommend to anyone and certainly not YA age group it is intended for. Her writing is simply not that good.

    And this is the cause of those 1 stars. She told reviewers to present impeccable reviews or they wouldn’t be taken seriously. She wants to get paid for a book that is not as well put together as at least half of those reviews that are written for free?

    I could keep going but I won’t. Yes, some gave a 1 star because of her blog nut a number of us gave her one because she so obligingly pointed us to her substandard writing.

    (written around the cat, any typos are his fault)

    Reply
    1. Sadie Post author

      There were definitely some problems with that original blurb and, from the ‘Look Inside’ option on Amazon, they continue into the book. And a good number of the 1-stars are based on that. As you no doubt know, some too are just readers’ way of marking a book as not interested. It ensures it doesn’t come up in Goodreads future recommendations to you in a more definitive manner than simply shelving.

      But some really are part of a pattern of punishing authors who have the audacity to try and tell reviewers how to review. A pattern that is exacerbated by so often being new, inexperienced, poor writers who resort to 1st, a ‘how to’ list, 2nd, a woe is me mentality, and 3rd, a belief they’d been bullied.I believe it’s the ‘oh, not again’ aspect of it that makes it such a hot-point.

      But there is a difference between public censure of a behaviour and bullying of an author, though from the recipient’s perspective it can probably be hard to tell. I’m not claiming that there weren’t individuals who crossed the line from a fairly established form of, essentially, public shaming to mean spirited insults. But on the whole, they were in the minority.

      Reply
        1. Sadie Post author

          I’ve read a couple of your Pigeon posts, but I’d guess you mean the YA writer one (since it uses ‘yes, there is a Pigeon involved’) and I agree with you. Actually, I’ve agreed with most your points. But, and I hope you don’t mind me saying this, on the ‘I’m sick of this shit and no longer feel the need to anything but blunt about it’ scale, I think you’ve progressed farther than me. That’s actually part of what I like most about them.I’ve gotten there in my reviews, but not so much in everything else.

          Reply
  3. Sadie Post author

    That is another good one, Mahala. I think it brings out what I was trying to say about the repeat nature of these How To lists and why readers have gotten to the point that they react with such volatility.

    Reply
  4. Sadie Post author

    My husband, in trying to reference an earlier conversation in which I explained what a Special Snowflake author is, but unable to remember the exact term, just referred to them as “Resplendent Penguins” Can we add this to our vocabulary somewhere?” 🙂

    Reply
    1. mahala

      Resplendent penguins sounds like a publishing house merger.

      Whenever we have one of these discussions I feel that we never get to some issues that I feel are important and have everything to do with these situations but we never address them because we get bogged down in the specific issues of the author in question.

      I think we need to discuss the author as a public and private figure. What should an author talk about on social media and what should they discuss only with friends in a private setting.

      I think authors, especially new and Indie, have a hard time realizing how they are tied to their product (book). They could (hopefully) save themselves a lot of grief if they didn’t post every random thought on their public sites.

      I also wonder why so many of them claim to have no idea what would happen when they do post something like York did. Don’t they pay attention to what is happening within the book community? Do we always give them a free pass or is there some point where we say that they can no longer claim ignorance of the reaction they get?

      And when do we start looking at 5 star reviews by other authors of badly written books like York’s and start asking them what makes a book like this a 5 star? Because if anybody should know what makes a good book I would hope it would be another author.

      Yes, it is their opinion but when you start reading a book like Dragonbride you have got to ask yourself, what were these other authors thinking? I don’t want to hear about not discouraging a new author, I want to hear about making sure that the paying public gets the best possible product.

      And I want authors to realize that I owe them nothing but the price of the book. I am not their free editor, I am not their cheerleader. I don’t want to hear their sad life story as they try to justify their actions or inaction.

      And I want people to stop saying how young the author is as if that is why we pat should them on the head and let them continue to throw themselves on the floor and have another tantrum. Most of these authors are at least in their mid-20s, old enough to know better, old enough to vote, drink, work, marry, have kids. I was working on designs for nuclear power plants at that age, would you give me a pass if you start glowing in the dark?

      I guess I just want someone to look at them and say, you know how all this works, and if you don’t you should so not knowing is no excuse, and since this is how it works if you want to have a tantrum on the floor we won’t excuse you and you will be accepting the consequences of your actions because your actions reflect on all of us- authors, reviewers, readers, bloggers, everybody, and we are tired of this behavior.

      And now the cats are demanding to be fed.

      Reply
      1. Sadie Post author

        Hear Hear! Gawd, that makes so much sense. I’ve just been reading Authors vs. Goodreads. Have you seen this yet? I think this is a new…high (?)/low (?) of the same thing. Someone moved beyond blogs and social media and wrong a whole B.B.A book!

        Reply
        1. mahala

          Missed that one. Did you ever see Wheels on the Bus A disgruntled author takes aim at several prominent Amazon posters. Read the only review, it will give you a good description. The author was banned a while ago for truly obnoxious behavior and posts.

          Every time this happens, another Stacey Jay, Michael Scott, Kathleen Hale, it damages the community and the already tenuous relationship between authors and r/r/bs and puts us all one step farther apart when we should be closer together.

          Reply
      2. pennyhaswell

        As a truly ‘common reader’, never having written a word to be read by others – other than personal letters and professional documents – may I respectfully join in?

        ‘What should an author talk about on social media and what should they discuss only with friends in a private setting.’ An interesting thought and, dare I say it without being slated, in my opinion purely philosophical. Perhaps an equally relevant question would be ‘Why do people continue to write contentious material when they’ve been warned’? As was said in the beginning, we are extremely lucky in this part of the world to live in societies that have free speech. We are able, within the laws of decency, to say what we like and that goes both ways. In this day and age of Twitter, Facebook et al, apart from all the comments on every site imaginable, so much has been written on the dangers of what one says being misconstrued that it is hard to believe anyone who posts anything is not aware of the potential dangers.

        Perhaps Ms York should have thought rather more seriously before posting her comments, it would seem the irony could be considered questionable and was definitely not apparent to some, but I do wonder if the people who reacted so outrageously have nothing better to do with their lives, are they so innocent or is the over-reaction down to twinges of conscience. Have we not all said or done something which we hugely regretted? Mostly we get away with it because it was not done in the public arena, unfortunately this was. So, accept that she was unfortunate in her wording, move on. I can see absolutely no excuse for inflammatory language – would that be used if the conversation was face to face, I like to think not. To my mind that oversteps free speech – ‘Do as you would be done by’ comes to mind.
        In a very long-winded way, I think I am trying to say that this sort of reaction amuses and exasperates me in equal measure, but mostly – dare I say this – it bores me. From talking to friends and colleagues my reaction is not unusual, we read reviews to get a feel about a book, we sort the one star from the five and the ones in the middle, we find the people who seem to like similar stuff and ignore the others, sometimes, perish the thought, we even just pick up a book without having read a review and we just get on with it.

        This is not meant to imply that I find your discussion boring – indeed, your intelligent discussion of what has occurred has prompted me to write. I should ask your forgiveness for me butting in here and using this as an outlet, thank you.

        Incidentally, is there any truth in the old saying ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity’?

        Reply
        1. Sadie Post author

          pennyhaswell,

          Thank you for commenting and you need not seek forgiveness for it. I invite everyone to all discussions, be they agreeing or dissenting of opinion and/or be they just readers, heavy reviewers, authors or any combination of the three. As long as things stay civil, more points of view and types of opinions can only benefit a discussion.

          I actually agree with a lot of what you said. And as much as I hate to reinforce the artificial separation of writers, readers and reviewers I also think this (and similar events) is predominately of importance to those who write and those who consider themselves reviewers.

          To use myself as an example, I am a reader first. No question about that, but I also really enjoy writing reviews. I am invested in being a ‘reviewer’ in addition to a reader. Not everyone is and to those who aren’t, to whom such post as Ms. York’s aren’t address, I can completely understand raised eyebrows and ‘what on earth’ type confusion…and ‘not again’ type boredom. Certainly, all the clutter left behind in the review section of Dragonbride will make it very difficult to someone to find a review that tells them just about the book.

          What I find so unfortunate about this particular case is how much farther than usual it has gone. There seems to be wave after wave of new upheaval and there are far too many people claiming to act on Ms. York’s behalf. The ‘retaliation’ or ‘attack’ or ‘social censure’ (choose your camp) ended quickly, it’s these attempts to ‘help’ that have kept the drama alive. (In my opinion, of course)

          As for who’s responding and who’s also put feet in mouth, I know I have. Heck, that apology I wrote last year for my own gaff resulted in someone else writing a blog post about it. I argued my point until that horse was well past dead, but still think my meaning was misinterpreted, due in large part to where I tried to make the point and that was my mistake. It happens. (I’m not entirely sure, but I think one of the earlier commenters might have even written the post. I didn’t keep links or SS, so I’m not sure but vague familiarity-bells ring. *shrug* Not a grudge keeper. Discourse is more important.) So, yeah, we’re probably all guilty. Some are just unfortunate enough to garner more attention than others.

          But I think, as I’ve said, there are certain issues that come up again and again and their frequency has caused them to become hot-button issues that a certain percentage or readers and/or reviewers react poorly and predictably to. It’s kind of like some people being concerned about dolphin safety and choosing to protest tuna sales, while others march right on into Krogers and out again without giving it a second thought. It’s important to some and they choose to try and bring attention to it. It’s not to others. Fair enough, I think.

          As for your last comment, Jane Steen wrote an interesting commentary on it at the end of last year. I don’t actually think this is what Ms. York was doing, but there is some truth to it. If nothing else Ms. York has garnered some sales, some reviews with informative criticisms and Dragon Knight Chronicles (what I think is a group of authors functioning as a publishing collective) has picked her book up and claims to be re-editing it for future republication. So…

          Reply
  5. Nathan Weaver

    I’m so glad you screen clipped her apology into the post. I was unaware of her apology, and had not read it yet. And she has since taken down her entire website.

    On the one hand, it’s bad and horrible that there was a select group of people who were jerks to her. But on the other hand, you can’t publish stuff like she did on the internet and not expect it.

    I’m pretty laid back myself, and don’t normally bother to sound off at all on the internet about anything because…. trolls. But York was a rare gem for me, and I came out to play too. I wrote my blog post, not because of her post, but because there were people who agreed with her.

    I don’t know what her plans are moving forward, but deleting her entire website seems like a big reaction to me.

    Everybody needs to relax and dance a lick.

    Reply
    1. Sadie Post author

      I read your blog post and enjoyed it. I tend to be conscious of what I say too, it’s so easy to make yourself a target. Like the misstep I mentioned apologising for. At the time I was convinced what I was saying made perfect sense and couldn’t figure out why everyone was so hostile. Then I had this painful ah-ha moment when I realised the reason everyone kept taking everything in ways I didn’t intend was because I’d forgotten to be conscious of where I was saying it. On any other forum at any other time, what I said would have been accept, maybe even agreed with (maybe not, but I think so), but we were commenting under the umbrella of someone else’s blog post and that changed the perception and interpretation of my comments. It wasn’t neutral territory, so to speak.

      So, yeah I get it and I think this is Raani’s biggest failing (at least from what I’ve seen so far, I don’t know her personally). She doesn’t yet. But we were all clueless at one point. Some of us were just lucky enough not to make too big of a mistake until we learned better.

      That’s really what led me to my post too. I think Ms. York really needs a mentor, not that I’m volunteering or think I’d qualify. There are a lot of bloggers and authors out there with more experience than me. (And She sure wouldn’t want me. I’ve tweeted a number of people’s posts about this and commented widely. If she’s paying even the slightest attention, I can’t be on her favourite person list, right now.) But if, instead of blandly warning Ms. York that she was treading on thin ice, someone had said, “Hey, you’re going to be targeted, talked about, carpet bombed, and lose a lot of your hard earned credibility.” she might removed the post before anyone noticed. And I was hoping to get that message across about the apology too. I figured there was a 50/50 chance people were tired enough of this particular drama to ignore it or it would just be a second, compounding wave against her.

      Reply
    1. Sadie Post author

      Good lord, 140 5✮ (and rising). He must be someone with some clout.

      I’m not gonna lie. I felt sorry for her book. I’m not a fan of the 1✮ routine, but again, respect people’s right to it. And while I imagine she’s happy to see her rating come up, now it really has no meaning left at all. Less even than with all the one stars, because then at least future readers could identify what happened and choose whether to ignore them or not. Now it’s been hidden behind an online tug of war, leaving the actual rating average completely hollow.

      What a mess…however, I guess I have to admit my comment that the book is “unlikely to recover” has been proven wrong.

      Edit: As of 1/24/15 the number of 5✮ is up to 275, all but 4 without reviews (and those without substantial content) and many of them from brand new profiles, without friends or other books being rated.

      Edit: 1/25/15: There’s been more ridiculousness, the 5✮s are up to 555 and the 1✮ are up to 81, with little evidence that anyone has actually read the book.There are very few 2,3 or 4 star ratings/reviews and VERY few reviews including content relevant to the actual book.

      Reply
        1. Linda Hilton

          The person orchestrating the 500+ five star ratings for Raani York’s book is the same person orchestrating (though he denies it) death threats against me. My sin? Attempting to read the sample of Dragonbride and finding it . . . lacking.

          How anyone can justify death threats as an appropriate response to a negative review is beyond me.

          Reply
          1. Sadie Post author

            It’s a damned mess for sure.

            He commented at me, under my psuedo-review of Dragonbride (more of a review of the situation than the book, without a rating) and was exceedingly polite, though he did try to guilt me for not stepping up to help Raani (as if she or anyone would listen). But I checked out his Wattpad before it was taken down, read some of the comments and have heard more than one story of encountering him in the past (over Maggie something-or-other, I think). He definitely seems to have a standing issue with you personally.

            Either way, taking it to threats is just beyond ridiculous. That’s the thing that gets me about this. K. isn’t personally invested in this, or shouldn’t be. Neither should the DKC person. And the retaliations against your books is just petty beyond belief, as if you personally are somehow responsible for what happened to Raani. As far as I can remember, your blog post didn’t even come out until after the whole affair had started. (Am I wrong on that?) But even beyond that, it’s one thing for a group of individuals to all choose independently to do something. It’s something else entirely for a single person to call all his friends and talk them into doing it. He claims that wasn’t his intent, but honestly, what did he expect to happen?

            I don’t doubt Raani isn’t at least complicit in all this, but so much of the distasteful stuff that has happened has been orchestrated by someone other than her. That’s what makes me feel bad. If it really is people acting on their own, without asking her I can imagine she’s a basket-case. Even if she’s giving permission to these people, is it because she’s believing some truly horrible advice or is she seeking these people out? Or am I making excuses for her in my mind, because I can’t really imagine someone taking so many consecutive missteps?

            It’s a mess beyond compare. I know you’ve been in this longer than me. I’ve seen more than one B.B.A. meltdown, but this is the most clusterf*ck like one I’ve followed.

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