Before I get into the rant, a few things to share…
1. SACRIFICIAL MAGIC has been released in the UK! (I am told there was/is a shipping delay in the Australia-bound books, for which I am very sorry.)
2. SACRIFICIAL MAGIC has been released in audiobook! (And I believe CHASING MAGIC’s audio release will be very close to if not the same as the actual ppb/ebook US release.) I’ve heard already from a few readers who are enjoying the hell out of the audiobook(s); while I personally find listening to them to be just too bizarre an experience, I’m thrilled that they exist and that you guys like them!
3. Some of you may have already heard this, but I have to share with you the monumentally humiliating thing I did on Saturday.
I was at the grocery store, and outside were a couple of gentlemen collecting funds for Lifeboat Rescue. Since I have kind of a thing about the Navy/sailors/boats/the sea, I of course plucked some coins out of my pocket and tossed them in the bucket. As the guy was peeling off a sticker for me (stickers are a big thing here when you donate money), I started to say, “I love the Navy!”
But it occurred to me, maybe they weren’t actually the Navy. I mean, is Lifeboat Rescue the Navy? Or is it the Coast Guard? Or are they a separate, private group? It wouldn’t do to say “I love the Navy” if/when they’re not actually Navy, would it. So I changed my intent mid-sentence, casting frantically about for the correct term.
And what I ended up saying, in a bright, cheery voice, with a big smile on my face, was “I LOVE SEAMEN!”
I could still hear both of them laughing as I got into my car.
I swear I am not making that up.
4. I am coming down with a cold. Echinacea tastes icky.
Okay, with all of that out of the way… (This is a rant. An angry one. It’s possible that later I may feel more kindly about this, but I doubt it. I want to make clear that while I am using a particular person here as an example, and while her opinion infuriates me, this is not meant to be a personal attack, and it is not my intent to be personally hurtful to her [although I believe many of her comments were and are personally hurtful to me and other writers who care about readers and what we do].)
A day or so ago I got a pingback on one of my posts about how authors should not respond to reader reviews, because reviews are not written for us. I of course followed the link, which clearly from its title disagreed with me. (ETA: And more pingbacks, months later! Because apparently some of us are so butthurt that people disagree with them that they’re still thinking about it months later after the rest of us have long forgotten the whole thing. Whatever.)
I am not linking back to the post myself, because frankly, I don’t wanna send traffic this person’s way. But don’t worry. I’ll explain it well enough.
This particular self-published author (and I point out that she’s self-published simply because not only does it make her outlook a bit different, perhaps, but because of the impossibility of a commercially published author following one of her more offensive “rules”) believes that not only is it not bad for authors to respond to negative reviews, but it’s actually–wait for it–“Good Customer Service” to do so.
Let’s start with the first problem, which is actually the smallest part of my many issues with this particular opinion/advice–because it is presented as advice, as a “You’re a dumbass if you don’t do this” sort of thing.
The first problem, of course, is that reviews are for readers, not authors. The problem is that authors need to stay the fuck out of it and leave readers the hell alone.
This woman, again, insists that responding to reviews is just “good customer service.” She tries briefly to couch this in the idea that she feels bad when people spend money on her work and it fails to entertain them. Fine, I get that. But then she offers as proof that her method “works” the fact that most of the readers she’s done this to ended up changing their review to give the book a higher rating.
So in her mind, a victory for customer service is bullying and manipulating readers into giving her what she wants, regardless of how they feel about it or the fact that they may have simply done so because it wasn’t worth arguing with her anymore. In her mind, a victory for customer service is manipulating potential readers into thinking her book is better than it is. You guys, this makes me so angry I can hardly type. You all know what I think of authors who attempt to game Amazon reviews/ratings, remember? (Hint: They are scumbags.) In her mind, it’s a total win when a reader finally gives in to her pushiness and demands and does what she wants. Sure, that sounds like great customer service–except that it doesn’t remotely. Puh-leez.
She promises us all that she’s never had a negative experience using this unique “customer service” method…and then promises to share some of the “heated exchanges” she’s gotten into with readers. Surely I’m not the only one who senses a disconnect there?
There’s an even bigger disconnect when you consider that her pure and sincere desire to Make Her Customer Happy does not extend to those who review her work on Goodreads. Hmm. Now, I have wracked my brain to come up with a possible reason for why the opinions–and of course the Customer Satisfaction–of those who rate and review on Amazon should be so much more important than that of those who rate and review on Goodreads. Now why could that possibly be?
I can only assume it’s because Goodreads (with good reason, and they’re 100% right to do so) frowns pretty strongly on such entitled, assmunchy behavior from self-important authors? And such authors have had their accounts suspended or banned (if memory serves)? Obviously our friend the customer service expert must think Goodreads is crazy for having such a policy, because why in the world would any reader NOT want to hear a detailed explanation/defense of their work from an author they think sucks? I mean, isn’t that the reason readers exist–to gratify the egos of authors and do their bidding? Why in the world would a reader-run site be so shortsighted and unfair as to tell authors they can’t argue with readers? Sigh. Philistines.
That must be it. It must be because of Goodreads policy. Because we all know that given this author’s intense devotion to servicing her customers, it can’t have anything at all to do with the fact that Goodreads is not a retail site whereas Amazon is. It can’t have anything to do with the fact that readers on Amazon who look at a book’s listing can just click a button and put that book in their cart right then and there, and so Amazon reviews certainly appear to have a big influence on buying decisions? Why, it can’t possibly be a case where only those readers whose negative reviews may actively, immediately discourage another reader from making a purchase matter? And it’s not about pleasing her “customers” at all, but about–once again–making her book appear better than it is and conning more
suckers readers into buying a product they may not be happy with?
Surely not. Not our new friend.
But you know, authors bullying readers for the horrible crime of not loving their work, authors attempting to game Amazon, authors just generally treating readers like nothing more than open wallets, is really nothing new, sadly. It’s been done before, and I’ve discussed it before. In fact, the only reason I’m even bringing this up is because this particular lady has managed to add a twist to it, a twist I find so…so offensive, that it’s difficult to even explain.
See, part two of our lady’s “Customer Service” strategy is this: She changes the work according to the reviews she gets. She believes this is the right thing to do and, in fact, that authors who do not do this are somehow charlatans.
Let me try to express my objections to this in a calm and orderly fashion:
1. She seems to be mistakenly confusing the role of a reader, who has paid their own hard-earned money for a book, with that of a beta reader (for those of you who don’t know, a beta reader is someone to whom an author gives an unfinished, or finished but not submitted/published, book to, in order to hear an unvarnished opinion of what the reader thinks works or doesn’t work, and how the book in general made them feel. I have a few beta readers; I think most of us do). In other words, she’s treating readers–those paying customers to whose service she is oh so devoted–as beta readers who pay her for the privilege of being guinea pigs for her unfinished work. I frankly cannot fathom this.
2. What about the readers who bought the “original” version? Are they now expected to re-buy the new one? What if they like the old one? What if they buy a copy for a friend and discover it now has a totally different ending? How many times are they expected to re-buy this book? How much are you counting on re-purchases to line your pockets?
Which leads to:
3. How fucking disrespectful are you of readers, their time, and their money, to toss out a subpar or unfinished book and expect them to pay for it? How fucking disrespectful are you to then expect them to pay again for an “updated” version, or to just tell them to their faces that the version they bought was kinda crappy? Oh, it was good enough for the likes of them, but…
4. How much goddamn work do you expect readers to do, to keep up with your ever-changing novel? How much importance do you think they actually attach to you and your work?
5. It’s all well and good to change your work according to reader opinions (it’s not, really, but I’ll get there) when you have less than a hundred readers, or maybe even less than five hundred (this is where the self-published thing comes in). It’s another thing entirely when you have a readership in the thousands, or like some of my friends, in the tens and hundreds of thousands. You cannot possibly be serious–or less shortsighted–when you say it’s silly of authors not to change their work according to reader opinions. (And what happens to the readers who liked it before–how are they being “served,” exactly, when you pull the rug out from under them?) The very idea only demonstrates how tiny this woman’s experience is, how narrow her outlook. She might as well paint “Nobody reads my books” across her forehead.
That one–and these–are the big ones. The really really infuriating ones.
6. Just because YOU threw some book out there without proper editing, or a proper ending, or when you didn’t think it was done, or before you’d actually done enough editing and given it enough time to make sure it was as good as you could possibly make it, does not mean the rest of us are also careless, cynical, lazy hucksters. You think it’s “good customer service” to change your book according to the whims of Lisa in Omaha? Great. I think it’s “good customer service” to pay Lisa in Omaha the respect of giving her a good, finished book to begin with.
7. Not only do I think Lisa in Omaha deserves a book that’s as good as I can possibly make it right from the get-go, I happen to think Lisa in Omaha deserves the truth. The emotional truth. The intellectual truth. I think Lisa in Omaha deserves art for her seven bucks. I think Lisa in Omaha deserves to read a book that actually fucking means something. To me. Hopefully to her.
Lisa deserves to read fiction that stands for something and that says something, written by an author who stands for something and has something to say. I don’t care what genre you write in or what genre you read; at its core, in the most basic and honest and real fashion, fiction is about telling the truth. It is about connecting with people; with people who read the book, with the person who wrote it.
Fiction may be about lying–on the surface, anyway–but fiction is about hiding the truth behind those lies. It’s about using those lies to say something true and real. It’s about showing the reader something. It’s about making them feel.
And how we do that as authors is to put ourselves into our work, and make it mean something to us, so that it will mean something to the reader. That’s what we should do. That’s our job.
So when we just slap a book together, when we just slap an ending on there that we think is the most properly calculated to make people happy? Or when we just toss an ending in there assuming that those who paid us for the guinea-pig privilege will tell us how to fix it, because that’s what we think readers are there for? We’re not telling the truth. We’re playing a con game. We’re trying to manipulate readers. We’re telling them that we have nothing of importance to say, but we expect them to pay to hear it anyway. We’re telling them that we don’t care enough about them to expose ourselves, to share something with them, to give them something.
We’re telling them that this story and these characters don’t actually mean anything to us, and that we see them only as a means to a money-in-our-pocket-screaming-fans end. We’re telling them that our egos mean more to us than anything else, anything we could possibly say. We’re telling them they don’t deserve to actually get anything from our books.
We’re telling them that they ultimately exist to serve us.
The contempt of this viewpoint takes my breath away. The shameless calculation of this viewpoint takes my breath away. (Speaking of contempt, she makes some comment about how the popular opinion that it’s wrong to respond to reviews equates to treating readers like delicate flowers, for whom the idea that writers are actual human beings will make them reach for the smelling salts and clam up because they’re so intimidated. Um, no. That’s simply respecting readers and their spaces, and not making the discussion all about the fucking author. That’s basic human nature, and really, if that’s so incomprehensible to her, then it doesn’t surprise me that her work means nothing and says nothing. What could it possibly say? Claiming that the right and proper thing to do is barge into every discussion about your work, because those silly readers need everything explained to them? Using them as beta readers who paid you? Bullying them into deleting their opinions? Deliberately stifling discussion? That’s contempt. Leaving readers alone is respect. Understanding that when you become an author you become–to some extent–The Other is respect. Understanding that not every discussion needs your oh so valuable and important input is respect.)
I’m not saying that we don’t all look back on our published works and wish we’d changed that line, or made them a bit tighter, or whatever. Of course we do. It’s our nature to never be entirely satisfied. We could edit our books for years if given the room, I think, at least a lot of us could. But there’s a difference between thinking “I don’t think that scene makes the point as strongly as I would like” and thinking “I have no point to make, and I don’t really care about these characters or their story, so whatever, I’ll just change it to make more money.”
I do not write Choose-Your-Own-Adventures. I do not write books that don’t mean anything to me, or characters who don’t mean anything to me and are carefully calculated to be as bland as possible (believe me, if I did I wouldn’t write what I write. And the single most offensive thing anyone has ever said about me/my work was that Chess’s addiction was clearly “a gimmick” done in order to “seem edgy.” This came from someone who had not read the book[s], who doesn’t know me and certainly doesn’t know whatever history I may have with drugs/addiction. That was a direct attack on my personal and artistic integrity, which are valuable to me and important to me, and it’s still upsetting to me). I do not write books that I think are intellectually and emotionally unchallenging so as to not make readers do any of that pesky thinking that may upset them (because I do not believe readers are stupid). I do not write books because hey, I hear you can make some bank that way, and it’s so easy! Just throw some words on the page.
Writing my books? Not easy. I don’t believe any of my friends find writing their books easy, either–in fact I know they don’t. Because we’re all actually trying to say something. We’re all putting ourselves into our work. Our work is self-expression and it is art. It is the truth. It is not just a Product. It is not a test.
And if you think it is…I’m not interested in ever spending a penny on anything you write, and I don’t give a fuck what you might say about it.