Archive for 'moral outrage'



What Stace had to say on Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
Who Takes the Chance?

Quite a few years ago I did a blog series about choosing a publisher, specifically an epublisher: what to look for, what to be wary of, that sort of thing. It’s a topic I’ve revisited now and again, though not recently (thanks to my long moratorium on discussing writing-related subjects).

But you know…I just, I’m tried of seeing something. I’ve been tired of seeing it for, oh, eight years or so now, and I grow more tired of seeing it every day, and it pisses me off, so I’m going to talk about it anyway, because there seems to be a new wave of it out there.

I am sick to fucking death of seeing bad publishers, or writers associated with them, justify their lousy treatment of writers and their unprofessionalism and their crappy business decisions and their lack of ability to perform a publisher’s number one job (which is to SELL BOOKS TO READERS) with the following phrase:

“We/they took a chance on you, so you should be grateful!”

You guys, publishers do not “take chances” on your work, at least, not in the way these people imply they do. Sure, every book is a chance they take. In the most basic sense I must concede that publishing is about taking chances, and your book could lose money.

But those publishers who stand to lose money? They’re buying the rights to publish your book because they’re pretty sure it will actually make them money*, and they’re basing that decision on quite a bit of experience and knowledge and work**. They’re buying your book because in their professional opinions it is well-written enough and interesting enough to appeal to a large audience of readers, and they want to sell it to those readers. It’s “taking a chance,” yes, but not in the sense these snippy little writer-nannies seem to mean it, whereby the author who’s getting fucked over is apparently supposed to spread wider and beg for more because hey, somebody agreed to publish their book! That means they have license to treat the author any way they want and make whatever shitty business decisions they want and the author should just shut the hell up, right?

(*They SHOULD be buying the rights because they think it will make them money, anyway; and **They SHOULD have quite a bit of experience and knowledge and work before they start acquiring books. More on that in a bit.)

The thing is, when you tell another writer that they should be grateful somebody took a chance on their book, you might as well scratch out “book” and insert “piece of shit.” Isn’t that what you’re really implying? That they should be glad somebody actually agreed to publish that crap they wrote? That it’s not really a good book or anything, so they’ve been done a huge favor and beggers can’t be choosers? That they don’t really deserve a decent, professional publisher, so they should be glad somebody agreed to “give them a chance?”

Quite frankly, if the book isn’t good enough, then doesn’t that almost by definition mean that a publisher who “takes a chance on it” isn’t a very good publisher? Because they’re publishing books that, well, aren’t good enough to be published? (It’s like a big “chicken or the egg” loop, isn’t it?) There’s no benefit to anyone in “taking a chance” in publishing a lousy book; it doesn’t benefit the writer, it doesn’t benefit the publisher, and it certainly doesn’t benefit the people the industry exists to serve: those people we call “readers,” who spend their hard-earned money on those books.

Either you think your publisher publishes good and worthy books (like yours, right?) and therefore should be providing the authors of those books with all of the benefits professional publishers provide, or you think your publisher tends to publish crappy books (except yours, I guess?) which deserve only the bare bones and everyone should just be glad they got a “chance.”

Except–and here’s the big thing–throwing a book out into the ether without promotion or decent cover art or good editing is NOT giving it a chance. It’s sort of stacking the deck against it, actually, and ensuring that most people either won’t have the “chance” to hear about it, won’t look beyond the cover, won’t look beyond the excerpt, or won’t find it to be of high enough quality to “take a chance” on other books from that publisher or by that author. Or, of course, they’ll see a review that mentions poor cover art and/or editing, and write both publisher and author off in their minds.

Being a writer means you make, and take, your OWN chances. You’re taking a chance every time you open a new Word doc and start writing. You’re taking a chance every time you submit. You’re the one who controls the quality of your book and what happens in it–don’t forget, editors are not supposed to change your book, just make suggestions. It’s your name on the cover, and what’s inside should be 100% yours. Publishers do not–should not–be the ones deigning to give your book a “chance,” the way you may agree to a date with that guy who doesn’t really appeal but seems nice enough, or the way you might give someone who’s been rude and nasty to you one more chance to make it up to you, or whatever other serious power imbalances and ambivalence are inherently implied in the phrase “give it a chance.” A publisher shouldn’t be publishing your book reluctantly. They should be snatching it up. A publisher who buys your book is not–should not be–doing you a fucking favor.

You know what you owe the people who publish your book? You owe them the text of that book, turned in on time, edited on time. That’s it. That is ALL.

Now, in the standard nature of the professional author-publisher relationship, it also behooves you to do things like not scream and yell at editors, and not turn to the internet to scream about your publisher because you found out X got a higher advance, and generally not make yourself horrendously unpleasant to work with. It behooves you to work with your editor, whose sole interest is and should be making your book the best it can possibly be. It may also behoove you–it’s not a requirement, usually, but it’s often nice–to do things like have a website or make appearances or do guest blogs or interviews or whatever at the publisher’s request, in order to help make you and your book more visible in hopes of selling more copies.

Nowhere on that list, or on any of the similar things I left off the list because of length considerations, are things like, “It’s necessary to let your editor call you an idiot and imply that you’re lucky she agreed to take on that piece of shit you think is a book,” or “You can’t forget to let various publishing staffers call you names,” or “You must sit quietly while a pack of illiterates overshare about their ladyparts in emails to you,” or “It’s important to remember that paying you is something we do out of the kindness of our hearts,” or “Never think you deserve things like distribution or for our website to work properly or for us not to behave like twats online.” Nowhere on that list are things like “Of course, by submitting your work you agree that only entitled jerks expect to be able to negotiate contracts,” or “If you think you have a right to an opinion about your work, you’re dead wrong,” or really any variation of “Be grateful we published your talentless ass, loser.”

Here’s the thing. As I said, yeah, it’s sort of true that any publisher who offers you a contract is “taking a chance,” on you. But the thing to remember is that A) You are also taking a chance, on them, and believe me, there are plenty of stories out there–a really sadly large number of stories–of authors for whom that chance didn’t work out; and B) Everything is a “chance,” if you want to look at it that way.

For example. Are you married? If you are, that means your spouse “took a chance” on you. Does that mean, in turn, that you are required to allow him/her to be abusive? That you get no say in the finances, or where you live, or how you spend your evenings? Does that mean every argument is your fault, or that s/he is entitled to cheat on you and you should shut up, sit down, and be grateful? (Yeah, I know that last one with the cheating is stretching the analogy a little. Tough.)

It doesn’t. Because the “chance” isn’t all on one side in your marriage, and it isn’t all on one side with your publisher. If your spouse tells you it is, s/he is abusive and you need to get the fuck out. Same with your publisher.

You were offered a contract–you should have been offered a contract–because your publisher thinks your work is good enough to sell. Your publisher thinks that not only will the publisher make money, but you will, too. That’s how partnership works, see, and really, to a large extent publishing is a partnership.

All that editing and cover design and stuff that amateurish publishers keep insisting they provided free of charge so you should be grateful? Yeah. Books get cover art because cover art attracts readers: you know, paying customers. Books gets editing because publishers who want repeat business don’t expect to get it by selling a substandard product–at least, publishers with half a damn brain don’t.

Another example: Say you walk into a restaurant, and the food is bad. Next time you’re considering where to eat, is that place going to be at the top of your list? Unless you’re a culinary masochist, I’m guessing no. Personally, I go to look at the websites of new publishers and look at the excerpts, and if I see more than one full of grammar/spelling/punctuation errors or clunky writing? Not only do I not buy those books, I don’t look at the others, and I write that publisher off in my head. Sure, I might check again one day, but the odds are against it. I’m sorry for the good writers (and, sadly, good writers sign with bad publishers every day, and I in no way mean to imply anything different) who are caught up with that substandard house, but my time is limited and there are too many good books out there for me to spend hours hunting through published slush piles to try to find the one or two good books in there. I’m sorry about that; sorry for the writers watching their good books sink in a heap of not-so-good ones, and sorry for me because I miss out on a story I might have loved.

I’m digressing. My point is: Quit telling writers they should be grateful that publishers “took a chance” on them and provided them–however expertly or ineptly–with the things that are the fucking job of a goddamn publisher, like editing and cover art, and provided it in the way that a publisher is supposed to, which is without charge. Oh, good, they’ve done the bare-bones minimum, so writers are supposed to be tearfully grateful for the crumbs from their table. Whoopee.

You guys, let me be blunt. You are better than that. You deserve more than that. You deserve a publisher who will provide you with the things a publisher is supposed to provide, professionally executed, and in a professional fashion. You do not need to be “grateful” that someone published you; a real, professional house is just as grateful that they are getting the opportunity to work with you. An editor doesn’t wake up one morning, grab any old manuscript from the slush pile, and decide to send a contract because, gee, they just feel like giving somebody a chance that morning (at least, a good editor doesn’t). You didn’t win some sort of lottery. You worked hard and made your book the best it can possibly be, and if a publisher contracts that book it should be because they think they can make money on it and want to work with you, not because they’re granting favors and your name was in the hat.

I repeat: They are not doing you a favor.

And if they say they are or imply they are…they’re wrong, and you deserve better.

I may discuss this more tomorrow.

What Stace had to say on Wednesday, July 11th, 2012
I don’t need you to avenge me, thanks

Guys…what the fuck is going on?

Seriously. What the fuck is going on here?

I honestly don’t even know where to begin, or what to say. I find myself growing more and more disturbed by things I’m seeing lately, on an almost daily basis. Like, to the point where I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps writers and readers simply should not interact with each other at all. Like, to the point where I’m considering withdrawing from the online world more than I already have (which, I’m sure none of you have noticed because you have full and busy lives, but is a bit).

It seems like almost every day we have yet another bag-of-douche acting like a fucking…I don’t even know what a good analogy is. Like a fucking vindictive shithead, vomiting their poo all over the internet and delighting in making other people feel bad. They claim this is justified, that they are Taking A Stand.

Guys…at the risk of Godwinning, reviewers are not Hitler. They’re not Mussolini. They’re not Pol Pot. I’m not aware of a single reviewer who has actually, say, kidnapped an author and tortured them in the basement, no matter how offensive they may have found that particular author’s book. I’m not aware of a single reviewer who has committed mass human rights offenses, or has engaged in some sort of cover-up, or has stolen money from people, or whatever other actions that might constitute, you know, actual activities a serious and definite stand should be taken against. For that matter, I’m not aware of a single book that has bombed spectacularly because some people got upset about it on Goodreads. The books that (appear to have) started this whole mess? Hardly failures.

I’ve been hanging around the online reading/writing community for seven years now (“Lane, I’ve been going to this school for seven years now. I’m no dummy.”). In that time I’ve seen quite a few authors behaving abominably. I’m only aware of one whose behavior was execrable AND whose books were not successful, but in that case, actually, I think the lack of sales has more to do with the fact that her books were utter shit (and even then, there were several poor misguided souls out there who liked them. Which is their right. I just personally thought the books were garbage).

So let’s get this straight, and let’s say it in boldface so there is no mistaking it:

You are not Taking A Brave Stand when you “out” people on the internet, no matter how rude or nasty you may think that person has been. You are not Exposing Their Crimes At Great Risk To Yourself. You are not a Miraculous Crusader For The Rights Of Others. You are not Karen Silkwood. You’re not even Woodward & Bernstein. You’re just an asshole with no perspective, to be honest.

And you should be fucking ashamed of yourself.

I’m ashamed of you. I’m ashamed to share internet space with you. You make me sick to my stomach.

Ever hear the phrase “Two wrongs don’t make a right?” Why don’t you think for a minute about what that means? Even IF–for the sake of argument–even IF we take your thesis as a given: That there is a segment of people online who secretly hate certain authors and delight in ripping them to shreds, and who get off on the sense of power they get from insulting and hurting and misrepresenting authors who they know can’t fight back, and who honestly believe they have the power to hurt the careers of those authors…

Even if we take that at face value…

How exactly is outing those reviewers on the internet HELPING anyone? How are you making yourself look like anything but a miserable, bullying piece of shit? How are you doing anything but making the tension in reader-writer relations–a tension with which I admit to being increasingly uncomfortable with every new kerfuffle–WORSE?

You’re not.

And you’re a fucking hypocrite. Outing people from behind the veil of anonymity. Yelling at people for daring to express opinions while behaving as if every word you type is precious and golden. Deciding it’s your place to attack people you deem “bullies.” (By the way, I’m also not talking about the difference between bullying and what you seem to think is bullying, and how offensive that is, and how I’m tired of seeing people hide behind the buzzword-of-the-day to justify their own complete lack of human decency.)

Honestly, I’m not just angry and sick about this. I am both of those things, intensely. I’m furious. I’m horrified.

But I’m also disheartened. I’m so tired of it all, you guys. I’m just so fucking tired of it all.

You know what? I’ve been on the receiving end of internet rage. I’ve had things I said misrepresented. I’ve gotten hate email–more than once. I’ve found people saying the most vile and hurtful things about me, lying about me. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t fun. It didn’t feel good. It still doesn’t. I’ve seen it happen to others, too. And I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

I’m sick of the goddamn internet feeding frenzy. I’m sick of feeling like we’re all trapped on the island from LORD OF THE FLIES.

But you know what? If it’s anyone’s responsibility to put a stop to that shit, it’s MINE. I am the product creator. I am the merchant. I am the content originator. In other words, I am the one with the responsibility to guard my public image, to guard my art, to guard my integrity, and to watch how I represent myself. You could even say–and hell, for the sake of argument I will, even though it sounds egotistical and I really don’t think of it this way–that I have a responsibility to set an example.

I cannot control the behavior of others. I CAN control my own behavior.

Here’s the thing. Have I seen situations where I feel statements or actions of writers have been taken out of context, or overreacted over? You bet your ass I have. Has it upset me? Hell, yes, it has. Has it happened to me, where something said in one spirit was taken in a completely different one? Regular readers know it has (and I won’t even discuss in this post the sexism of that situation, or of this one, though I may do that soon. Suffice to say at the moment that I’m sick and tired of the attempts made to keep women and their opinions in line while no such offense is taken when men say the same things, or of women being yelled at for their “tone” and “attitude” whereas no one does the same at men. Ever visited a heavily male site like Aintitcool? Why don’t you go take a look at the vitriol there, and say something about it? Oh, I know. Because you’re too busy being an asshole about women who dared to step off the very narrow path of behavior you deem appropriate).

But here’s the other thing.

If writers never went crazy and unloaded on readers, if they never did things like try to out them or get their little friends to vote down their reviews or report them to try to get them deleted…if writers never sent nasty emails to reviewers or threatened to name AIDS-infected prostitutes after them (because that is so totally hilarious, yo) or tried to get them banned from websites…if writers never sent emails out to their cronies asking them to write positive reviews of their books or leave comments on less-than-positive reviews on retail sites or blogs…if writers never took to the internet to bitch and moan about those stupid readers who dared to not like their books and what morons they are and how they don’t deserve to live…in other words, if the idea of a writer cheating, gaming the system, and generally acting like an entitled little shit had never occurred to anyone? If all writers behaved with integrity? If no writer had ever behaved as though readers are nothing more than their personal publicity service with some kind of duty to help them promote their work? If no writer had ever behaved as if readers have no right to express an opinion?

Well, gee…if no writers had ever behaved like that, do you think readers would be so anxious? Do you think they would interpret any sort of comment by a writer on or about a review (and keep in mind I disapprove of writers commenting on reviews at all, this is just a general question) as an attack or attempt to intimidate? Do you think all this shit would have started in the first place?

Because I kind of don’t.

The fact is, the burden is on us. No, I didn’t start writing with the intent of being a Public Figure. Yes, I do find it upsetting that writers have to be so careful what we say, not just about reviews but about anything and everything else. But hey, that’s part of the job. And it’s easy to forget that it’s not just writers. It’s not an outgrowth of “celebrity.” It’s an outgrowth of having your thoughts and opinions exposed to a large group of people. Sooner or later somebody’s going to take offense. If you say something to enough people that will happen. That’s just the way it goes. I find it upsetting no matter who it happens to; I wish and wish that we could all remember those people on the other “side” of the computer screen are people, with thoughts and feelings. Maybe they’re having a bad day. Maybe they’re lonely or sad. Maybe they’re just not thinking about everything they say with the gravity Lincoln afforded the Gettysburg Address. People make mistakes. People mess up. People forget their audience, or fail to phrase something exactly, or whatever else. I hate that people are so eager to leap onto others like a pack of wild dogs. I hate that we seem to think the internet means it’s okay to say anything to anyone, about anyone, with no consequences. But you know what? People get carried away, too.

It’s easy to look at the current climate and talk about how ugly it is. And it is. Not all of it, but a segment of it. I know I’m not the only one growing increasingly disgusted by it, increasingly uncomfortable with it, increasingly angry and upset. I know I’m not the only one who’s been seriously reconsidering my participation online. I know I’m not the only one who finds the tendency toward outright glee when someone makes a mistake, the way everyone jumps in to laugh and point, to be highly disturbing.

But the answer is not to jump in and out-disgusting the people you feel are disgusting. The answer is not to forget your responsibilities to other people. The answer is not to create a website so full of vile slime and attacks, a website that deliberately tries to disrupt lives and could potentially incite violence–a website that outs mothers with children in their homes and encourages people to harass them (think about that again for a second: MOTHERS WITH CHILDREN IN THEIR HOMES)–that it turns the stomach and then pat yourself on your smug fucking back like you’ve just Scored One For The Good Guys.

YOU ARE NOT A GOOD GUY.

You are, in fact, the opposite of that.

I’m sorry this is so disjointed, and confused. I’m sorry it doesn’t make my point as clearly as I would like. I’m just too sick and sad and angry and upset and whatever else over this. It is horrifying. HORRIFYING.

I may well discuss this more later.

What Stace had to say on Friday, June 1st, 2012
The Dating Game

Imagine this scenario.

You meet a guy. Let’s say he’s a friend of a friend. And you like him. He’s attractive, he’s smart, he’s funny. Everything about this guy seems tailor-made for a long and happy and loving relationship with you. You’re pretty into this guy, and after an afternoon of chatting, you’re even more into him.

And of course you assume he’s into you, in return. Why wouldn’t he be? You too are attractive–if you say so yourself. You’re smart and funny–if you say so yourself. You’re charming and witty, you like a lot of the music and movies and TV shows he likes. So it only makes sense that the two of you should start dating immediately, and go on to fifty fun-filled years of happy love-filled home- and baby-making. Right?

So maybe you–a little shy–start hunting around to see him if he’s interested. Like, just to see what he thinks of you, and if he found you as delightful as he must have–why wouldn’t he, right, because you are indeed delightful!–and as delightful as you found him, then maybe he’ll call you, or you’ll call him, and there you’ll be picking china patterns. Maybe you look around online to see if he’s mentioned you. Maybe you see he did.

Except…He didn’t find you charming at all. Not even attractive. He thought you were obtuse and annoying. he thought you talked too much and had nothing to say, so his mind kept drifting during your conversation. He found the way you spoke irritating. You’re blonde and he likes brunettes, or vice versa. You’re very slim and he likes women with a little meat on their bones or vice versa. He hates women who say “Totally.” He hates all accountants on general principle so just talking to you was like pulling teeth for him. He basically thinks you suck.

Or maybe he doesn’t think you suck, he just thought you were kind of meh. He didn’t feel a spark. He wasn’t really attracted to you. he thought you were okay, and your conversation was an okay way to spend an hour or so, but he’s not interested in continuing it. The chemistry just isn’t there.

So what do you do, when you discover this guy had the nerve to not fall in love with you? Perfect, amazing, deep, smart, incredible, touching, delightful you?

If you’re an adult, you shrug and move on. Maybe it stings a little. Maybe it stings for an hour or two, even, or a day or two. Maybe you’re a little hurt and confused. But you know there’s nothing you can do to change his mind, and you know that hey, okay, that guy didn’t like you enough to want to fill you with his tiny babies, but you know there are other guys out there that will, it’s not like you’ve never ever had a boyfriend ever. In fact, you’ve met a few other guys recently who really liked you and called you and wanted to buy you dinner. So this is obviously just that guy’s personal taste, right?

Now, if you’re NOT an adult, but some sort of ridiculous child, maybe you call the guy up to tell him you’re really offended that he didn’t like you. Maybe you tell him that he’s obviously not smart enough to understand the Wonder Of You. You call him an idiot. You tell him that if he was a better person he would want to date you. You tell him that he obviously has some sort of grudge, that you bet he’s been conspiring with someone else to make you feel bad, and what does he know anyway? He’s not a woman, so how can he know what’s really good about women?

If you’re REALLY a ridiculous child, you start spreading gossip about him. You tell everyone you know that Brett McSingleguy is a total dickhead, that he’s sexist and stupid, that he thinks he’s so great. Maybe you start following him around and telling women he meets that he’s scum. Maybe you start leaving nasty notes on his Facebook page, or sending emails to his boss accusing him of all manner of things. Maybe you start stalking him. Maybe when he calls the cops on you, you get even angrier.

In other words, maybe you are a fucking psycho. Maybe you should grow the fuck up. Maybe you should get a fucking life. Maybe you should leave this poor man, whose only crime was to not like you, alone.

Anyone see the parallels there?

Now tell me. How many people out there would really see one guy not liking you as a reason to start stalking him and smearing him and denigrating him like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? I’m guessing not that many.

So why is it so much fucking harder when it’s your book the guy just doesn’t like that much?

He’s one goddamn guy. Get over it. You’re not going to change his mind by arguing with him, and you’re not going to make any friends by going all Crazy-Bitch on him.

He doesn’t like you. Just grow the fuck up and get over it. If that one guy’s opinion is that fucking important to you that you have to fixate on it, perhaps you are in need of professional help.

Do I see that it can be a bit harder when the guy in question has lots of people who listen to his opinions? Sure. But do you really think all of his friends are sheep who just blindly follow whatever he says? “Oh. Kevin said that girl is dumb. I think she’s pretty and seems nice, but I’ll never even speak to her after he said that. I don’t think for myself, tra-la-la!”

Jesus Christ, guys. Seriously. If you can’t handle reviews, don’t read them. Actually, if you can’t handle reviews to the point where you have hissybaby fits and actually–I cannot believe I have to type this as an actual thing that happened–out a reviewer’s personal information on the internet, to the point where you become sort sort of crusader on the world’s most maladjusted and silly crusade, then I seriously think you probably lack the emotional depth, maturity, and wisdom necessary to write a book that anyone would actually want to read. Both because you are a fucking psycho, and because I cannot believe your actual work is any good, because creating good writing is about accepting criticism, admitting to ourselves where our books’ flaws are, and working to fix them. Over and over. Because creating good books is about recognizing that not every human being on this planet is the same. Humanity is not a hivemind. Readers are not a hivemind. Some people like some things, and some people like other things. That’s part of being real people and not cardboard cutouts. If you don’t understand that different people think and feel differently about different things, what the fuck kinds of books are you writing? Seriously.

And seriously, stalking people is never a good idea. It will not and does not win you sympathy. No one, on hearing that you got so angry that that one guy wouldn’t go out with you you started stalking him, is going to think that clearly you’re in the right here. NO ONE. (At least no one decent. But really, if Mark David Chapman or Buck Thurman would be on your side in the argument, maybe you should rethink your position.)

Nobody owes you a date. Nobody owes you a good review. Grow up.

(NOTE: Comments are temporarily disabled on this entry due to spammers. If you have a comment you want to leave, use the comment form to let me know.)

What Stace had to say on Monday, May 21st, 2012
“Customer Service”

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.) (For the record, the “f-bomb” or variations thereof, is used exactly six times in this 3075-word post. I know, it’s horrible, isn’t it? It’s as if I don’t know any other words. I mean, how gross is it for a girl to use the f-word? Shouldn’t I be sitting quietly in a corner, deferring to other people, refusing to have or express opinions on anything, and giggling with my hand over my mouth–as a woman apparently should? Next thing you know I’ll be wanting to vote or drive a car by myself; give me an inch, you know, and I’ll use adult language like almost every other adult on the planet. The horrors!)

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. Read the rest of this entry »

What Stace had to say on Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
The Friend Zone

(In which I interrupt the SACRIFICIAL MAGIC pre-release-week festivities and fun to bring you a huge rant. I warn you in advance that this topic has made me rather emotional, and I’m emotional anyway since it is pre-release week and we’re moving house this weekend, and maybe this is going to come off harsher than I intend it to; I hope it won’t, I don’t want it to and I will be careful, but just as I spent several days before my wedding being completely unable to read others’s tones or body language from stress, so am I having difficulty at the moment. I also warn you this is LONG.)

So yesterday I popped onto Facebook, which I’ve been trying to do more lately, because I have friends who hang out there and I want to be more active there. And while checking my timeline I found someone had posted an image. I won’t re-post the image, but it was one of those “I’m going to make my saying a picture so you’ll read it” things, and it said:

“Brotip #1415: ladies, guys are sick of hearing you ask where all of the ‘nice guys’ are. They’re in the friend zone, where you left them.”

Okay, fuck you.

Let me tell you a story about those “nice guys” shoved into that cold, cruel “friend zone” by all those heartless bitches who only want to date assholes, okay? Read the rest of this entry »

What Stace had to say on Monday, January 9th, 2012
Something in the water?

Oh, man. I hardly know where to start.

I’ve been thinking about this post for about a week now, and still don’t know what exactly I’m going to say. I’m just trying to make sense of some things, basically. So forgive me if this is a tad rambly.

The thing is, I’ve been involved in the online writing/reading community since 2005 now. And in that time things have gotten–in my view, at least–more and more antagonistic and upsetting. I wonder why. This post–this series of posts planned for this week–is my attempt to figure it out, I guess. To express my thoughts and see what yours are, and perhaps to offer a potential solution. And in order to do that I’m going to be very honest, and perhaps harsh in some places, but I’m trying to express my full thought process here. So we’ll see how it goes.

In the past nine days or so the internet–at least the writer/reader part of it–seems to have gone kablooey. Specifically, the writer part of it, in that we’ve had a rash of writers deciding it’s their place to tell readers A) How to review books; B) What is and is not okay to say or think; C) Why their opinion is totally wrong; and D) whatever other ridiculous shit they come up with.

I’m aware of five separate incidents, the latest being a self-published author who, in response to a reasoned but negative review, took it upon himself to leave 40 comments–yes, forty–on the blog quoting the fawning letters he’d received about the book from family and friends. And then many more comments insisting that what he did was totally professional and reasonable and why is the reviewer in question so full of hate, yo? And that’s nothing compared to the others, the writers ranting on their blogs and leaving nasty or argumentative comments on Goodreads and blah blah blah.

Guys…cut it out. Just, seriously, cut it out.

Readers have the right to say whatever the fuck they want about a book. Period. They have that right. If they hate the book because the MC says the word “delicious” and the reader believes it’s the Devil’s word and only evil people use it, they can shout from the rooftops “This book is shit and don’t read it” if they want. If they want to write a review entirely about how much they hate the cover, they can if they want. If they want to make their review all about how their dog Foot Foot especially loved to pee on that particular book, they can.

Why?

Because, and I’ve said this before, reviews are for readers. Because they purchased the book (or it was sent to them specifically hoping they would express an opinion) and so can say whatever they want about it. If you buy a shirt that falls apart in the wash, do you keep your mouth shut about it because you don’t want to hurt the manufacturer’s feelings?

Authors, reviews are not for you. They are not for you. Authors, reviews are not for you.
Read the rest of this entry »

What Stace had to say on Monday, July 25th, 2011
Self-exposure

Amy Winehouse died.

I’m sure you all know that. I’m sure this is only one of thousands of posts about her and her death that will be posted today, that have already been posted. But I want to say something about it; I need to say something about it, so I’m going to.

Amy’s music wasn’t the type I normally listen to, but I honestly loved Back to Black. I loved the sixties-esque, bluesy feel of it. I thought her lyrics were stunning and gritty and dark and beautiful, and her voice incredible. And today–all weekend–I’ve watched other people–other women–talk about those lyrics especially, how it felt to them like Amy really opened herself up, really exposed something of herself and how much that mattered to them, and why it mattered to them. They talk about dark times in their lives when those lyrics and that music helped them and spoke to them and made them feel not so alone. They talk about what a tragedy this is, how much they wanted another album, how deeply they identified with the troubled soul laid bare for them in song.

I’m also seeing other people–mostly men; some women, yes, but more men–talk about how they’re not surprised, how Amy deserved to die, how she was a junkie slag, how we’re all stupid if we didn’t expect this and stupid for caring to begin with. Oh, and of course there’s a healthy dose of “Kids died in Norway so how dare you people care about this when something actually important has just happened,” as if people can’t care about both, or as if no one is allowed to mourn the loss of someone who touched their lives because another tragedy with a bigger body count has taken place elsewhere. Like if your grandparent died on 9/11 you shouldn’t have cared or something. Along with that comes quite a bit of “Those kids in Norway didn’t deserve to die and Amy did” or “those kids in Norway had futures and Amy pissed hers away.”

(This post isn’t about the tragedy in Norway, and for the record I am horrified and saddened and deeply troubled by it.)

I find a number of things troubling here, and am kind of struggling to articulate all of my thoughts and feelings on it. I’m troubled at the loss of someone with talent. I’m troubled at the loss of someone who was clearly in a lot of pain. I’m troubled by the callousness of so many of the responses (just, as it must be said, I am by the callous responses many people make anytime any kind of death is reported in the news).

I find myself thinking back to when Kurt Cobain died. I personally never cared for Kurt Cobain or his music; in fact I strongly disliked both. But I remember well the way his addiction was handled in the press, and I remember that the response to it was one of sadness and concern, the response to his death one of shock and mourning. I remember how the public discourse seemed so much to be about worry and support. And now I remember the response to Amy’s addiction was scorn and disgust, and the response to her death–not everywhere, it must be said–seems to be more of the same, with a healthy dollop of “she deserved it.” I don’t remember people calling Cobain an ugly whore because of his addictions, or discussing how if he touched them they’d want to bathe with bleach, or wondering why anyone in their right minds would want to be anywhere near him. I don’t recall, when River Phoenix died, people saying he deserved it. So why the vitriol against Amy Winehouse? Is it easier to dismiss and shame her because Ladies Don’t Do Such Things? Why is it okay for talented men to be fucked up, but talented women aren’t allowed? Why are men with addiction problems forgiven and hoped for, but women are condemned?

For every person discussing what a vile person Charlie Sheen is and has become, there are many willing to pay huge amounts of money to see him ramble. And that’s now, after the shit around him finally reached an un-ignorable level. Let’s not forget that Charlie’s had addiction issues for years; let’s not forget how many women have accused him of domestic violence. How much shit did we hear about him when those incidents happened? It was a quick news story that then disappeared, and when his name came up we didn’t hear much about it. If it was mentioned it was in a cheery “Those problems were totally overblown and are behind him now” sort of way. He was called a “partier” and a “lothario.” Now how many times in the last couple of years did you see an article about Amy that didn’t focus on her addiction problems or mention the violence in her relationship with her husband in a snide and condescending manner? How many comments to those articles didn’t focus–in Charlie’s case–on how much the commenter hoped his troubles really were behind him, and how many of the comments in Amy’s case weren’t about how ugly and skanky she was? How many times was Amy’s behavior chuckled about as if it was just normal and fine, how many times was she fondly called a “party girl?”

Googling things like “Amy Winhouse slut,” “Amy Winehouse slag,” and “Amy Winehouse disgusting” brings up millions and millions of hits all about–yes–how Amy was a slut, a slag, and disgusting. “Amy Winehouse disgusting” brought up over nine million hits, largely Facebook groups, blogs, videos, websites, whatever, devoted to how disgusting Amy is. “Charlie Sheen disgusting” brings up two million, and even on the first page you can see the difference; they’re calling his behavior disgusting, not him, or they’re quoting Denise Richards. I realize doing a few Google searches is hardly a scientific study, but I do think it’s telling.

Sure, there’s a difference. Charlie’s fame didn’t come from singing about/talking about drugs and alcohol. I know that, and I know that’s part of the response I’ll get about this post. I guess the implication there is that–my old favorite–Amy shouldn’t have mentioned it if she didn’t want to be judged, and Amy asked for it when she sang about things that had meaning for her. Of course that can’t really be argued with; every artist knows that creating art for public consumption means opening oneself up to public criticism. That’s the name of the game, and of course everyone has a right to their own reactions to things and to express those reactions. My comments or concerns aren’t about that so much as the fact that we seem to be much gentler and more forgiving when it’s a man whose problems we’re discussing rather than a woman. (It’s not just publicly either; when I asked about this online I had a girl who’d entered AA at a young age remark on how different were the reactions she got from the reactions the men she knew in recovery got. They were tortured and cool; she was a dirty slut.)

(We can say the same thing about Britney Spears, actually, a young woman who had a public breakdown while we all watched. When Britney was a sexy virgin everyone loved her; the minute she gained a few pounds and showed evidence of stress people started stoning her in the public square. Part of this is simply the way of the world these days. As I said Friday, it feels like our culture has devolved to the point where other people aren’t seen or treated as human anymore, but merely artificial constructs created for our entertainment, and we delight in going online to say whatever clever little cruelty we’ve invented in our vicious little heads, then sitting back smiling at our own pithy disregard for other people’s feelings. After all, we’re perfect, aren’t we, so obviously anyone dealing with problems we don’t ourselves deal with or not living their lives the exact same way we do are inferior in some way, and thus deserving of our scorn. I digress.)

This is getting very long, so I’m going to hold off on the second part and post it tomorrow. It’s about my own feelings about blogging and putting things out there, and all of that. So for now…that’s all.

What Stace had to say on Friday, July 22nd, 2011
Of sales, skepticism, and scams

So.

Last night I saw a link–I’m not going to repost it here, the poor girl has been through enough–to the blog of a writer who had just self-published her novel. The link was to a new post, in which the writer announced–with palpable and understandable excitement–that Jodi Reamer of Writers House (that’s a big-name agent at a big-name agency, for those of you unfamiliar) had seen her book, emailed her to offer representation, and gotten her a deal with (if memory serves) HarperTeen. A big deal, a six-figure type deal.

Obviously people were thrilled for her, in the way so many of us are thrilled for another person–happy for them, perhaps tinged with a bit of envy, because we’re all only human and at heart most humans are, frankly, selfish, evil little beings. Socialization and morals and ethics and all of that teaches us how to deal with those selfish, evil little thoughts, but they’re still there.

Anyway. A few people were not as thrilled; they were skeptical. I admit to being in this camp. I’ve seen publishing deals happen at lightspeed–I know a few people whose agents submitted their work in the morning and had offers by the afternoon–and of course agents can offer to represent at lightspeed as well (my agent offered two days after my initial contact with him, and I’ve known people who’ve gotten offers on the same day). It does happen, sure, but to get an agent and a large deal all in a day or so is extremely unusual. To be able to announce that deal so quickly is even more–well, no, it’s not even unusual. It is, frankly, unheard of. Generally deals aren’t announced until contracts are signed, or at least until the contract stage has been reached (meaning, the fine points are agreed to and we’re just waiting for the paperwork). Lots of us wait until our deals are announced in Publisher’s Marketplace; not because we have to, but because it’s fun to be able to post the little blurb they print in there. It makes it feel real. (In fact, my agent rarely reports to PM, and did so for me because I asked him to, batting my eyelashes and all of that while I did. Okay, no, I didn’t bat my eyelashes, but I did ask, because I wanted that announcement; I wanted to see it confirmed somewhere, because so many people read PM and it’s exciting.)

But this isn’t about deals being posted or anything. It’s about the fact that apparently the expressed skepticism of some people alerted the writer that maybe she should just double-check everything. So she called Writers House.

And discovered that an extremely cruel joke had just been played on her. And not just her, either:

From today’s Publisher’s Lunch:

Writers House has learned that a series of fake emails claiming to be from WH agent Jodi Reamer have been circulating to self-published authors this week. “These emails, which contain a number of false statements, have not in fact come from Jodi Reamer and should thus be disregarded.” One easy “tell”: they advise that any e-mail from a non-Writers House address “expressing interest in representation is counterfeit.”

I cannot even begin to express how absolutely horrified I am on this poor girl’s behalf (and on behalf of the others to whom this happened); I can’t even imagine how it must feel to think you’ve accomplished something like that and to discover that no, you were simply a victim, something to be exploited for someone else’s sick enjoyment. That you were treated as if you’re not even human, less than nothing, not a person with feelings but some sort of computer construct to be toyed with. Who the hell would do something like that? What the fuck is wrong with people? Do they like to kick puppies, too, and maybe wander up to random children and tell them they’re useless, stupid little shits who’ll never amount to anything in the world? What kind of person gets their jollies from doing this sort of thing?

When did we forget that those other people, the ones on the other side of the computer, are in fact people, real people with feelings, and not Sims?

A while ago I did a post on bullies. It feels like things have gotten worse since then. No one is content to just let someone else have their own opinion anymore, and I’m sorry, but the fact that they posted that opinion on the internet does not mean it’s okay to gang up on them and call them names. You want to disagree with their opinion, fine. I personally don’t always see the point in making a big deal about disagreeing with it–I tend to just think “Huh. I don’t agree with that” and move on, unless it’s factual misinformation, in which case I still strive to be polite and respectful–but if you feel they need to hear your point, go ahead.

But there’s a difference between “I disagree with your opinion” and “Dude, you’re a fucking idiot.” There’s a difference between “This is incorrect” and “Dude, you’re a fucking idiot.” And why the hell do you care what they think, anyway? Why is it so important to you to lurk on people’s Twitter feeds and make fun of them in your own? Why do you need to send hoax emails to people just because they have dreams and are trying to accomplish something? Is that really fun? Do you even care that a human being is on the other end of that, a human being you’re being purposefully cruel to just because you can?

Yes, sure, people shouldn’t put things out there if they don’t want others to react. Yes, people should expect disagreement and not get all butthurt because someone does disagree. Yes, we’re adults and need to take responsibility for what we put out there.

But other people’s lives are not a fucking game. Just because someone doesn’t think or feel the way you think or feel doesn’t mean it’s okay to call all of your friends to gang up on them and giggle in public. Just because that person exists doesn’t mean you have the right to stomp all over them. Does it make you feel good about yourself to reduce another person to tears, to make them the butt of your jokes? Have you proved that you’re cool, because you can take an offhand remark they made and turn it into a huge debacle, or misinterpret something they said and spread that misinterpretation around, encouraging others to pile on as well, or play a prank on them and make them think their dreams have come true? Is it really that much fun to treat other people like shit? How the fuck do you people sleep at night?

I’m sick of it, is all. I’m sick of this internet culture that makes people think that other people are simply toys for their amusement, and that it’s okay to jump all over them and keep jumping, that it’s fun to do so. I’m sick of the idea that because it’s a group of people doing it, it’s okay to join in. I’m sick of the idea that it’s open season on anyone and everyone, and that if they wanted to have feelings they should have thought of that before they logged on to the internet. I’m sick of the idea that this kind of shit is cool, and I’m sick of the way people are dehumanized, and I’m sick of the internet culture that reminds me so strongly of Christians thrown to the lions.

Next time you go to comment on something, just think for one second. Is it really necessary to share my opinion here? How much does this really matter, in the big picture? Does this person really deserve my scorn? How would I feel, if someone said this to me? Am I sure I’m interpreting their point correctly?

I’m not saying you can’t have opinions or make them public. I’m not saying you should never respond. I’m not saying you can’t gossip with your friends in email or whatever else. I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t speak up when someone is being unjust, or that you shouldn’t alert people to that injustice and/or warn others away from it, or stick up for those who can’t stick up for themselves; I absolutely believe you should.

I’m just saying, don’t forget, that other person is a person, too. Being cruel to them, picking their words apart when they didn’t mean to offend, playing tricks on them, laughing and kicking them when they’re down, publicly encouraging others to go and pick and laugh too? It doesn’t make you cool. It makes you a fucking asshole, and I’m sick of seeing it, and I’m sick of watching people be bullied online and then told they deserved it for daring to put themselves out there.

Just saw a link to this:

Another ETA: I want to make it very clear that my post is NOT referring to any other posts written about this specific situation. Indeed, it’s not about any one blog, blog post, or specific incident; or rather, I’m very angry and upset about this situation and on behalf of this writer but when I speak of internet culture etc. etc. I’m speaking in generalities, and absolutely NOT referring to or accusing anyone of anything over this particular situation (except the actual hoaxers, of course).

Just wanted to mention that, because I know a couple of other posts have been written about this. I read those after I wrote my post, and am not at all reacting or responding to them here.

What Stace had to say on Friday, June 24th, 2011
I’m here! and a wee ranting…

Yes, we arrived safely in England, and all is well. Amazingly well, in fact; touch wood, but we’ve had gorgeous weather, even. Warm, mostly sunny, but with enough drizzle to make us feel at home. I’ve had fish and chips twice (aaah!) and we’ve rented a car that, although it’s not the Vectra we had before (how I loved that car), is very similar (Vauxhall isn’t making the Vectra anymore, which makes me sad inside). We’ve done some wandering around and some loitering, and hubs has been pounding the pavements and his job hunt is looking *very* promising at the moment, so please keep your fingers crossed for him!

I missed a few things while I was away, sigh. First, and most importantly: L.A. Banks has been diagnosed with adrenal cancer. It’s serious and it’s awful, awful news, and her medical bills are and will continue to be astronomical.

An auction–several auctions, actually–are being held to help raise money for her. I heard about it/got involved too late so couldn’t offer anything; fortunately many, many other people did hear in time, and there’s lots of awesome stuff available to bid on. Please, I urge you all to go have a look. Leslie is really a fantastic person and writer; one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Nowhere near that in importance is the fact that SACRIFICIAL MAGIC is now up for pre-order on Amazon (I don’t see it on B&N.com yet, and Book Depository has it but with the incorrect release date [though you can still pre-order it]) and Amazon UK! So if you’re planning on buying the book anyway, you could pre-order it now, and that would be frankly awesome.

I understand that while I was away there was something of a kerfuffle about this whole pre-order business and the “How you should buy my books” thing again and that whole business. I’ve already made my position on such things clear, but since people have a tendency to forget, let’s just go over it again quickly, shall we? Let me make clear too this particular comment isn’t directed at any one author, or at least not at the one this mess seemed to be directed at.

But I do have issues with authors who think it’s okay to scold people and make them feel guilty for buying her book on the Monday before it comes out rather than the actual Tuesday release date, which is such bullshit. First of all, the NYT counts book sales for the week. They tally numbers Sunday night, which means, unless no book ever sold on a Monday ever counts, that a “week” in those terms runs Monday morning-Sunday night. So a book bought on Monday? Fucking counts, so shut up. Second, shut up anyway, because your arrogant assumption that your listing should matter to your readers grosses me out. You want to grumble privately? Fine. But to make them feel guilty and bad? *gag*

Sorry, but I can’t see myself ever having the ego-driven nerve to assume I’m going to make any kind of list. Perhaps that’s because I’m barely midlist, sure, but either way. And even if I did… Seriously, dude, do you really think that if your sales are going to be big enough to give you a shot at the NYT, those ten or twenty copies people managed to buy early is going to keep you off it? Really? Especially when it’s a day early, which I remind you again, still counts?

Also, pre-orders count, and pre-orders matter. Pre-orders help determine print runs and convince bookstore buyers to place bigger orders. Pre-orders count as first-week sales. Again, even were that not the case? Pre-orders are fucking sales. They count. Every fucking sale counts. (When the previous “Buy my books this way so I can hit the NYT” thing broke out I actually had a chat with my editor about it; she confirmed that yeah, every single damn sale counts as a sale, and that–ta da!–helps our sales numbers, and those determine if we get to write more books or not.)

Getting to write more books or not is what matters to me. Would I love to hit a list one day? Of course; what writer wouldn’t? But honestly? What I care about is getting to write more books. Please, please let me get to write more books. If I could get paid a little more for them that would be great, sure. If I could get a bit of recognition beyond the circle of incredible awesome people who’ve actually read my books and are kind and wonderful enough to talk about them that would be pretty cool, too; I’d love to have a bigger audience. But really, I just want to write more books. I dream about getting to write more books. I can’t imagine being so secure in myself and my sales that I think I can totally hit a list as long as those damn readers don’t fuck it up for me, and worrying they will fuck it up by exercising their rights as a consumer to buy available products.

You know what I worry about? Whether or not they’ll like the book. Whether it’s as good as the last one. Whether they’ll understand why Chess did X in that scene or if I didn’t make it clear enough; whether they’ll see the changes being made or not and like them or not. I worry I’m not giving them a full enough experience, that this book will be a let-down, that I haven’t made it exciting enough, sexy enough, thrilling enough. I worry I’ve failed them–you. That’s what I’m crying about in the weeks before release. That’s where my focus is, what’s on my mind. Not “Will they buy it on the right date?” but “Will they love it?” I honestly, again, can’t imagine being in a position where worrying about what on what day the book was/is bought overrules my absolute terror that my readers will hate my new book, or be disappointed by it.

I just can’t explain how furious I get; not when I see the initial posts about “How you can help me hit a list,” because really, they bug me but oh well. Read it or don’t; follow it or don’t. I dislike the implication that it’s the reader’s job to care about such things or that they exist to serve the writer, yes. As I said above, I dislike the sort of arrogance implied by “My book is going to sell big numbers, y’all, so let’s get me some accolades for it.” The initial posts annoy me. But those aren’t such a big deal to me; it’s the follow-up comments about how no one is following instructions or how they’re obviously not reading the posts because if they were they wouldn’t be behaving so damn badly by buying the book when they see it/in the format they’re buying it in/whatever or how they’ve just made the author cry and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing that when I get angry. That’s what infuriates me; that’s where I start to get that sort of deep raw burning rage inside me that makes me want to start screaming and punching people. That’s where slight rudeness or even innocence of tone becomes real arrogance.

Why am I saying all of this now, when the current little internet mess is over? Well, because I’ve just posted pre-order links, that’s why. And I want to make it clear that while I would love you to pre-order the book, I really would, because I need every sale I can get and a sale is a sale, you’re under no obligation to do so. My sales numbers are not your problem; you are not required to do shit for me, my career, or my sales, frankly.

Yes, maybe it is the case–as I’m sure will be pointed out–that it’s easy for me to say all of this because I’m not in a position where I could hit a list, the implication being that because I’m not a big success I don’t have to worry about growing that success, I only have to try to hang on with my fingertips, whereas these people actually are successful and what do losers like me know about that. But I also know writers who have hit the NYT–quite a few of them, in fact–and none of them made a stink about buying the book the day before release or tell their readers they’d made them sick by buying the book a day or two early. And again, oh well. Maybe I’ll never hit a list. I don’t really care. I care about having a long career, and selling enough to make my publishers happy and make them keep offering me contracts. I care–deeply–about writing books my readers love, books that make them happy and make them want to see more books from me.

I got into this business so I could write books. I stay in this business because I still want to do that. That’s all I want to do. I want readers to like my books. That’s all I worry about.

So pre-order my book or don’t. I hope you do. I’m not worried if you don’t. I just want you to LOVE the book, and be excited by it and not feel let down, and that’s what I’d much rather focus on: you, the reader.

What Stace had to say on Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
Women’s Books

Before I start I want to make something really, really clear. This post is NOT about any specific review outlet/magazine/blog/website. It is NOT claiming this is the case for all reviewers, in all places, or that this is a constant. And most importantly it is NOT saying reviewers can’t feel about a book however they want to, or view it through any lens they want to, or whatever else. I also want to make it absolutely, positively clear that I am thrilled beyond words at how readers and reviewers in general have taken to my books and characters; this isn’t about some sort of personal grudge on my behalf, not at all. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I’ve seen several other people discussing it recently, so wanted to stick my nose in.

I also want to mention something else, because judging from a couple of comments I need to clarify. The story about bookstore shelving was one small indie bookstore. This has nothing to do with where books are shelved. It’s about the perceptions of those books once purchased/the standards by which they are judged/the dismissal of them. But it’s not about where they’re shelved at all.

What kinds of books do women write?

I know, I know. Women write all kinds of books. But it seems–from a very extensive search I’ve done over the last few weeks/months of various bookseller sites/review sites/magazines/databases/blogs/whatever elses, that books written by women are far, far more likely to be categorized as romance, reviewed as romance, and judged by romance standards, than are books written by men.

In a Twitter discussion about this (Twitter use update: I’ve been using Hootsuite the last few days because Seesmic has a slight tendency to balk when I leave it up all the time, which I do; it’s always the second tab in my browser. I do miss the little crunch noise, though, and will be going back to Seesmic; I like switching back and forth between them, but Seesmic is the main one I use) someone told me about a bookstore near them where any books written by women that have any sort of romance subplot or whatever–including sci-fi and of course urban fantasy–are shelved as romance. Period. SFF written by men is SFF, no matter how big the romance subplot is. But if the author has ladyparts, it’s romance.

I’ve talked before here about the frustration of women’s books–urban fantasy in particular–being categorized/called/dismissed “chick books” just because there are sex scenes in them or just because finding love/romance is part of the story. And how romance is often a subplot in books written by men, too, but those books are not dismissed or judged as romances, and why it is that women’s books are denigrated as “not real fantasy” if they contain stronger romance elements but those written by men aren’t.

Neil Gaiman’s STARDUST, for example, is still called and reviewed as Fantasy, despite its incredibly strong romance plot/subplot. But I’ve seen Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series called and reviewed as Romance. Why? What’s the difference? Carey calls her books Fantasy. Gaiman calls his book(s) Fantasy. Why is his categorization honored and hers isn’t? More to the point, why do reviews of his book–including reviews written by women, too–focus on the writing and story, whereas reviews of Carey’s books focus on the romance?

In her book How to Suppress Women’s Writing, Joanna Russ–herself a fantasy/sci-fi author, among other things–uses as one of her methods “False Categorizing.” She says:

It is bad faith that stands behind what I shall call Denial by False Categorizing, a complicated now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t sleight of hand in which works or authors are belittled by assigning them to the “wrong” category, or arranging the categories so the majority of “wrong” Glotolog fall into the “wrong” category without anyone’s having to do anything further about the matter.

Later, she elaborates a little further:

The assignment of genre can also function as false categorizing, especially when the work appears to fall between established genres and can thereby be assigned to either (and then called an imperfect example of it) or chided for belonging to neither.

Does this sound familiar?

Again, reviewers have every right to bring their own tastes, thoughts, and opinions to a review; honestly, this really isn’t about reviews or reviewers as such. It’s more about genre itself. But what’s happening is, every time a work of literature, or a work of fiction in a genre that is not romance is reviewed as a romance, that author is being denied her agency; she is being denied the right to have her work seen on its own merits, and is instead being forced back into a particular box. In other words, her work is being denigrated not because it isn’t a good or worthwhile example of what it is, but because it’s not a good or worthwhile example of something it never claimed to be.

This is akin to giving Schindler’s List a bad review because it isn’t funny enough, or complaining about Caddyshack because the viewer didn’t find it scary. That these films never claimed or set out to be funny or scary doesn’t matter; the work isn’t being judged by how well it is what it’s supposed to be, but by the standards of something completely alien–standards which may even be totally unknown to the filmmakers.

Is this a way of suppressing women’s writing?

How many books by men do you see re-categorized in this fashion, either as women’s fiction or romance or whatever?

I often see Lolita discussed when the topic of underage sex comes up in regards to romance. And the very correct argument is made that Lolita is not a romance, and therefore should not be judged by romance standards. But do you think the difference would be so clearly and carefully mentioned if Lolita was called Laurence, and was written by Valentina Nabakov? Do you think people would avoid mentioning how sad and saggy Humbertina Humbertina was, how desperate to recapture her youth, how sexually useless she was, being past her sell-by date?

Of course, I am chiefly talking about genre fiction here, since it’s where my experience is and what I read, so it’s what I pay more attention to. But I honestly can’t recall the last time I saw Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels dismissed as “chick books” or downgraded in reviews because the reader didn’t fall in love with the main love interest in whatever story. I don’t remember seeing Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels treated that way either. But I see lots of urban fantasies by women being downgraded for exactly that reason.

It’s not just the romance or lack thereof, though. It’s the “unwritten rules of romance” which are applied to women’s books but not men’s. And they’re applied not just by reviewers, not by a long shot (like I said, this really isn’t about reviewers) by society in general, who insists on shoving books into certain boxes or classifying them/their main characters as “good” or “bad” according to a strict set of rules.

It’s about how male characters–in any genre–can sleep around and their exploits are cheered; it even makes them more desirable, but a promiscuous heroine–again, in any genre–is looked down upon. Not only is she disliked for her sexual escapades, but it’s automatically taken as a sign of some intrinsic weakness in her character, i.e. she obviously needs sexual approval to feel whole, or she obviously has no self-respect.

The promiscuous heroine is unlikable–and worse than unlikable, she is unworthy–simply because she likes sex, and likes to have it with whomever strikes her fancy, at any time she feels the urge. Again, whereas the promiscuous hero is applauded; he is an object of desire. Getting him to settle down is the chief achievement of the heroine in those romances or romance subplots, in fact (of course, it should be in a genre romance). Every woman’s dream is to make him settle down, and if any negative mention is made of his bed-hopping past it’s made with a sort of wink, a boys-will-be-boys sigh. Either that, or his past promiscuity is made much of, but it’s made clear that this sort of prudery is part of the heroine’s prim/uptight character. She’s generally a virgin, or someone who’s only slept with one or two men, and she generally has other very straight-laced views and thoughts.

The hero’s promiscuity is an aspect of his character, which may or may not have consequences. The heroine’s promiscuity is a flaw, one she usually must answer for.

It’s also about how male characters can be distant or cold, even in some cases borderline psychotic/sociopathic, but they’re still regarded as likable and appealing. Whereas a cold and/or distant heroine is regarded with hostility and suspicion, because women are “supposed” to be kind/loving/feeling/friendly/caring.

Male characters can be intrinsically violent; shoot first, ask questions later, and readers approve. When female characters are like this they’re called “too angry” or “flies off the handle too fast” or, again, just plain “unlikable.”

A man whose morality is relative is morally relative. A woman whose morals are relative is morally vacant.

And yes, when male characters have drinking or substance abuse problems very little mention is made of it–the hard-drinking detective is a genre staple, in fact–but for a female character to do the same makes her a bad or unworthy person, one who should be ashamed of herself.

Does whether or not the author is a man or a woman make a difference as to how these characters are perceived? What do you think?

What about if the main character is a man or a woman? I haven’t seen any reviews of K.A. Stewart’s A Devil in the Details (which is excellent, btw, and has a male MC) called romance or put down for being UF, but J.F. Lewis’s Staked was dismissed by quite a few people simply because it has a woman on the cover, regardless of the fact that the MC is a man; and some people who did expect it to be a romance judged it rather harshly because it isn’t, although, again, it never claimed to be..

How much of a difference does it make if the reviewer or reader is a man or a woman? I see far less slut-shaming coming from men/male reviewers than I do female ones, but I also see men/male reviewers as quicker to dismiss books by women unread because it “looks like a romance,” or to cast it aside as a romance because there is a sex scene in it or a romantic subplot, as if romance isn’t a valid genre in and of itself or one that may have some worth to men (again, I discussed all of that this summer, and how I don’t understand male dismissal of romance or of UF by calling it romance, or the sort of “eeew cooties” mentality which seems to often go along with that dismissal). Again, that may simply be where I’m looking.

How much of this do you think is because of the blending of genres? Perhaps because the genres have blended a bit to a certain degree, readers/reviewers/whomever are paying less attention to authorial intent/classification (although again, it seems men’s wishes/thoughts in that regard are taken more seriously and heeded far more).

I just find this all saddening, and disturbing. I find the way women tend to put down other women for not conforming to be very disturbing, and always have; it’s been an issue with a direct effect on me my whole life, quite frankly. And while I stopped caring about shit like “fitting in” or being accepted by people who were essentially unpleasant, or whose entire achievements were that they had very shiny hair, or people who were narrow-minded that anyone who had a different viewpoint or opinion on an issue was automatically worthy of insult or simply stupid/lying/whatever–people who felt they had a right to judge others and/or the choices of others based on the presumption that everyone had the same privileges, possibilities, educations, finances, lives, cultures, etc. as they did–it still disturbs me. (In fact, I read a fantastic quote the other day that summed up my feelings on it exactly. It’s from Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (which is tons of fun, btw, and the authors definitely know their shit) which reads: Acceptance from the fascist hierarchy is death of the spirit.

This sums up pretty much my whole life.)

I certainly don’t intend to blame anyone for this. My thought is more to examine it. Is this something we do, consciously or unconsciously? How guilty are we all of doing it? It’s not something isolated; it’s pretty widespread. And I believe that the person ultimately hurt by this is the reader, because they’re not being given accurate pictures of what the books are and are not; the romance reader who grabs a book from the romance shelf in the bookstore mentioned above, only to discover it’s not in fact a romance, will be pretty angry, and they have every right to be.

And is this inevitable? Are we all going to judge a main character according to our specific 21st-century Western middle-class/upper-middle class standards, with no regard for time period/world/adversity suffered/whatever else? (This is part of another discussion, actually, the one about characters in historical novels being surprisingly PC or about books written hundreds of years ago being rewritten to make them more “acceptable” to modern audiences.)

What do you think? Have you see instances of this lately? I’d love to hear your thoughts.