Monday, May 27, 2013

Reviews, Author Entitlement and Selling Out.

A joint post by Ceilidh and Christina.

So, it's been a fun couple of weeks in the increasingly weird world of self-publishing.

Best-selling author Kendall Grey recently published a blog piece on what she saw as her choice to "sell out" and write an erotica novel to make some money. The result of which made her $10000 in the space of two weeks. In her piece she referred to her own work as "trash" in comparison to her "beautiful, artistic, deep" urban fantasy series which didn't sell as well as she'd hoped, and sneered at those who did buy her erotica novel. Apparently the world doesn't give a shit about "art". 

Understandably, people got mad at what they saw as an author denigrating her fan-base which she happily mined for the sake of profit. The post has since been taken down (but can be read here) and written what can only be described as an incredibly weak non-apology which is more concerned with pushing the blame around. She continued to dig herself into a hole when caught out asking people on her Facebook page to anonymously troll those who had taken issue with her hypocrisy on Goodreads. On that note, I now want a t-shirt that says "Goodreads Motherfucker".

At the same time, best-selling erotica author M. Leighton announced she was pulling her latest book, Until I Break, from sale, blaming the negative reviews (even though at the time the book had about 2 negative reviews on Amazon). This, unsurprisingly, led to a surge in sales with the book ending up in the Kindle top 5, and accusations of a publicity campaign for sales began to surface. Leighton has retained a silence and refuses to address these questions head on. 

What these incidents both have in common is something we've seen far too many times in the book blogging community, something that has exponentially grown since self-publishing became legitimate. Here we have reviews being demonised, again, and the concept of negative criticism not only being something terrible but something utterly life ruining. 

What really gets me is this sense of entitlement that some authors seem to have in regards to their work. I myself am an aspiring writer, but I am also a realist. Of course I dream of success and rubbing elbows with people who have influenced me, but I know if I want to make that goal a reality I have to work hard and deal with inevitable setbacks. No one is immune to failure: not Stephen King, not J.K. Rowling, not anybody.

What makes a creative work resonate with people? What makes a work fall short? The market is fickle and unfair. A poorly written, badly edited book will make bestseller lists, and a beautiful, unique story goes ignored. It's the nature of the business. No one is "owed" anything. Not sales, not fans, and certainly not glowing reviews or even attention.

Therefore when an author throws a tantrum because his/her book was not well received, it reflects poorly on the author, not the industry. What makes it worse is that these authors often cite themselves as victims of bullying and abuse, which is an appalling way to deal with those who dare to think that your book isn't sublime.

We've seen this entitled attitude appear more frequently in the past year or two and it's tough to deny its connection to the meteoric rise in popularity and legitimacy of self-publishing. From Grey & Leighton to the sadly all too real harassment that happened with Stop the Goodreads Bullies, it's become all too regular an occurrence to see this lashing out at reviewers, particularly of the "Goodreads Motherfuckers" (Amazon gets its fair share of the blame too, but the system there's easier to rig in the author's favour than it is on GR, particularly if you have enough fans to help you out). For me, it's like watching a fandom go feral. There are no senior figures, so to speak, to tell everyone what the protocol is, and it's too easy to get caught up in the baiting and emotional circle-jerk of emotional manipulation. It's natural to want to defend that which you love, but now it's become a little too wild and very few people come out of that unscathed (not that it seems to hurt sales and popularity, otherwise Jamie McGuire wouldn't have a career. Sadly she still does).

Back to Grey's claim of "selling out", her blog post came with more than a few implications about what she thinks of the industry and literature in general as well as those who consume it. She deems erotica to be "trash" which suggests she finds sex loaded books to be trashy, yet her favoured urban fantasy series is described as "sexually explicit". So what makes that explicit sex more artistically worthy than her contemporary erotica? Sex has always been part of art. If that's not "selling out" for Grey then is it the general quality of the book? Before her lash-out, "Strings" had a GR average of over 4 stars and was very well liked. Granted, many popular things could objectively be considered poor in terms of quality but that doesn't make them worthless.

So what is selling out? Is it Grey admitting she rushed this out to meet demand? I don't consider that selling out, that's just capitalism. The element that angered me was the complete lack of respect Grey showed the readers of her work. Her book was "trash" that she rushed out to make a quick buck, so the insinuation there is that those who read it are somehow lesser readers, easily pleased and placated by inferior work. There are a few things you don't do as a writer and one of them is disrespect your readers. Most writers would kill to make $10k in a fortnight. I'd sell my furniture and underwear for that privilege. She couldn't have done that without the readers putting money in her pockets. She owes them her gratitude, not her scorn.

The message seemed to be "you idiots didn't appreciate my best, so I gave you lowbrow crap and you ate it up". By trying to cover her tracks and insist that she was being humorous, Grey missed the perfect opportunity to actually apologize for offending her readers and her colleagues.

What also struck me as odd was her interpretation of the word "fan". Grey admitted to chastising those who enjoy her work as identifying as "fans" and insisted that she is equal with her readers. She defined the word "fan" as a lesser being, which I find to be both strange and insulting. Admiring something or someone does not demean a person. While we can certainly place celebrities on a pedestal, there shouldn't be any form of shame in enjoying creative work, athletic ability, and so on. It seemed like a misplaced cause, something Grey picked to make her look like a martyr.

Not just that, but she then tried to use her fans to attack those who dared to have an issue with her attitude and comments. She wants to have it both ways - to have a loyal fan-base that will buy her work without question and be on call when she needs them for whatever purpose she desires. Of course, like far too many authors lately, she decided to go on the attack against the so-called bully bloggers. Leighton tried this too and for what felt like the billionth time, reviewers who dare to go negative were on the receiving end of the most ridiculous accusations. She also claimed she was pulling her book partly because people didn't get the story. No, people got it. Their interpretations were just different from yours. Intent does not equal reality when it comes to literature. No interpretation is more valid than another. 

The bully cry came out, of course, as did the claim that negative reviews are tantamount to harassment and said reviews ruin careers and lives. I have yet to see a single article or piece of evidence that proves an undeniable link between negative reviews and low sales. If that were the case then Dan Brown would be a worldwide flop. Sadly the world isn't that fair. 

But it's easy to use these kinds of reviews and bloggers to play the victim card, as Grey & Leighton did. The Be Nice culture has permeated the blogosphere in a way that will probably never entirely go away. Think about how often this website is referred to as a bunch of bullies (note: I was bullied pretty extensively throughout my adolescence and I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone. Living in constant fear of being punched in the face is in no way comparable to a 2 star GR review so don't insult us all by making bully reviewer claims, okay?) 

What I'd like to see is some actual accountability from these authors rather than a hostile defensive reaction and a false sense of humility. Rather than licking your wounds in public, seeking martyrdom and pity while claiming to be a victim of subterfuge, abusive, and bullying...why not handle criticism in, dare I say it, a professional manner?

Why not ignore the criticism, or maybe even take a look at your work and see if the reviewer has a point? (and that's what it is - criticism. Even the most furiously written review, filled with gifs, snark, cursing, and caps lock is not abuse or bullying. There are those of us who have grown up with this sort of thing all our lives, and it is beyond vile and insulting to see those terms used by an author who has had their feelings hurt because someone didn't like his/her book).

It doesn't matter if these authors have been writing for years, or if they have an agent, a contract, etc. While it helps that when these outbursts occur, there are a few authors who come out to speak against this sort of behavior, the message to authors must be clear; if you cannot handle the idea that there will not only be people who don't like your book, but there will be people who outright loathe it and will mock it mercilessly every change they get (don't get me started on Hush, Hush. Seriously), then you simply need to find another profession. I'm not saying you can't write, but don't mass publish it. Write a story and give it to loved ones as gifts. Write it for yourself and show no one.
But mass publishing? That is for those who can take all reviews, whether glowing, scathing, neutral. It is for those who appreciate all readers, regardless of the outcome.

To wrap these jumbled thoughts up, I can only return to my earlier statements on respecting one's readers. If you don't respect the people who pay for your work and help you make a living then you can't act surprised when they dare to fight back. When you make cryptic claims about people not getting your work then don't pretend to be shocked when they're insulted or dare to think for themselves. If you want to "sell out" then go right ahead but don't treat it like it's some sort of noble deed. We're readers, we've got money and we've got better places to spend it. 

The TorchBearers' Book Club: "Bumped" chapters 5-6

Last time on the TorchBearers’ Book club, we looked at the opening chapters of Bumped, our two protagonists and the importance of a good opening. I didn’t really set the scene, as it wasn’t relevant to the deconstruction, but since we’re moving away from the tell-don’t-show and into the more reactive part of the plot (sort of), it’s time to do so now. Melody and Harmony have just met for the first time and gone to a mall, presumably to buy Harmony a veil. However, they take a detour in Babiez R U, a sort of toy/accessory shop that sells fake pregnancy bellies (Fun Bumps) (You know, the stuff evil villainesses wear in soap operas instead of a pillow, to convince the hero they’re pregnant with their baby, only more sophisticated.) Harmony is in the middle of trying to spread the word to Melody when they’re interrupted by a salesclerk.
(Note: Spoilers under the cut!)

Monday, May 20, 2013

The TorchBearers' Book Club: "Bumped" chapters 1-4

Welcome back to the TorchBearers’ Book club!
Last week, we introduced this little venture and took a little peek inside the covers of our current contestant, Megan McCafferty’s “Bumped” - a dystopian novel where a virus has rendered everyone over 18 infertile. We examined the novel’s structure and the opening quote, and asked some starter questions about the universe.

As I said last time, here on out, there shall be SPOILERS! If you haven’t read the book and would rather go in blind, now is the time to click away! Everyone else, have your copies on the ready, we’re diving in.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Interview with Ruta Sepetys

Hello, fellow novel loves! Today, we have the pleasure of welcoming Ruta Sepetys, author of "Between Shades of Gray" and "Out of the Easy".

Ruta, welcome!
Your debut novel, “Between Shades of Gray”, tells the somber, sometimes terrifying tale of a young Lithuanian girl, Lina, who lives through the Second World War. How would you describe the response to the book?
The response has been overwhelming. I had no idea that so many people shared this history. The book is now published in over 40 countries. I'm so grateful!

What was the biggest challenge in writing it? And the most rewarding thing?

The biggest challenge was that I don't speak Lithuanian. To truly capture the essence of a country you must speak the language, so I was at a huge disadvantage. The most rewarding was reuniting with the survivors I interviewed during my research and celebrating the fact that together we're bringing this piece of history out of the dark!

I was impressed by the level of detail in “Between Shades of Gray”. What kind of research did you do before you wrote it?

I traveled to Lithuania and conducted extensive interviews with survivors, historians, psychologists, etc. I did a lot of listening. I learned that if I asked questions I would get specific questions, but if I just let people speak and describe things on their own, I'd get a much deeper level of detail.

What is, in your opinion, the most important thing in a novel?

I enjoy when a novel asks questions but doesn't necessarily give the answer. Readers are very intuitive. They will come up with their own answers.
Finally, can you tell us about your next book, “Out of the Easy”?
My new book, "Out of the Easy" is also historical fiction. It's set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950. It chronicles the story of a seventeen-year-old girl who is born in to a very disadvantaged family but dreams of building a different life for herself. It's full of gangsters and scandal too. Please watch the video at for full details.

Thank you, Ruta.

"Between Shades of Gray" and "Out of the Easy" are both available now from Philomel books.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Announcing the Torchbearers' Book Club

Hello everyone, and welcome to our newly found book club! I know I’ve been away for a while, so I think this is a lovely way for me to get back on track.

Well, I can’t take the credit for the idea of a book club: I’m merely following in the footsteps of others - Ana Mardoll, Jennifer Armintrout, our own Ceilidh, Something Short and Snappy and Reading With a Vengeance. In fact, Palice’s review of Divergent guided me to Whitley’s blog, and it is what made me take the step from fangirling over everyone and doing a big chapter-by-chapter deconstruction of my own. If the first takes off, I’ll do another.

I asked around Twitter and Goodreads - What book shall I start with? I had some ideas about City of Bones, but the truth is, I’m not really built for snark. Besides, a deconstruction means that I would have read a book half a dozen times by the end - I’d rather start easy on myself and take something I enjoyed. So this is how we got:

Friday, May 3, 2013

Review: "Reboot" by Amy Tintera

Author: Amy Tintera.
Publisher: Harper Teen (release date: May 7th 2013). 
Pages: 352. 
Summary (taken from Goodreads): Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation). 

Wren’s favorite part of the job is training new Reboots, but her latest newbie is the worst she’s ever seen. As a 22, Callum Reyes is practically human. His reflexes are too slow, he’s always asking questions, and his ever-present smile is freaking her out. Yet there’s something about him she can’t ignore. When Callum refuses to follow an order, Wren is given one last chance to get him in line—or she’ll have to eliminate him. Wren has never disobeyed before and knows if she does, she’ll be eliminated, too. But she has also never felt as alive as she does around Callum. 
The perfect soldier is done taking orders.
It’s no coincidence that the book “Reboot” is being compared to most is “Divergent”. Indeed, this is a comparison that the publishers must welcome. After all, “Divergent” is one of the few YA series of the past few years that justified the huge amount of hype it received and continues to dominate the NYT bestseller list. I believe its success is down to two main elements: A great publicity campaign and a marketable central premise. While “Reboot” has built up a significant amount of hype, particularly amongst bloggers, the story just isn’t there.
In many ways, “Reboot” and “Divergent” are incredibly similar. The reboots of the title, essentially an army of super strong zombies controlled by the state, bear more than a passing resemblance to the Dauntless of Roth’s world, including sharing a penchant for unnecessary violence, something I’ll get to later. Romance plays an overwhelming role in each story, far more than is really necessary, and the heroines both bugged me to kingdom come. There is one main reason “Reboot” fails and it’s also similar to “Divergent”, although the former is better written.
The plot holes are so large that I could navigate the wreck of the Titanic through them. In this world, reboots are less prone to emotions than humans. Wren, the heroine of the story, frequently talks about having no emotions but will immediately follow that up with a description of how she’s feeling. It reminded me of a moment in “Futurama” where Bender talks about how as a robot he doesn’t feel emotions and that makes him sad. It’s so blindingly obvious in its clumsiness, both in terms of prose and storytelling, that I wonder how the editors could miss it. This becomes even more distracting when Wren continues to insist that she is cold and emotionless. She clearly isn’t, especially when she’s mooning over her dull and very annoying love interest. The science of the reboots is messy and haphazardly explained at best. I rolled my eyes a lot when Wren talks about how dying and being rebooted automatically makes you more attractive, because zombie soldiers need to be sexy for reasons unknown. I wonder if anything is allowed to be unattractive in YA anymore when even the undead have to be sexed up like this, especially when it has absolutely no bearing on the plot. Even Stephenie Meyer briefly explained why her sparkly vampires all looked like GQ models.
The action scenes are actually pretty well written in terms of content and pacing, and they certainly outdo anything Roth wrote in “Divergent”, but they’re few and far between and shoved into a plot that is quickly dismissed in favour of romance. Callum, the cut-out love interest of the day, is just too irritating. His humour falls flat too often and he fails in his obvious objective of being the moral emotional core of the story in contrast to Wren. He can’t be the emotional contrast to the cold zombie when said cold zombie won’t shut up about her feelings. The supporting cast failed to leave any impression on me and I can’t remember any of their names.
I have a feeling the author was somewhat aware of this emotional plot hole and decided to use violence as a way to counteract it. Wren is bloodthirsty, to say the least. She has no qualms with essentially slaughtering humans, and it comes across as rather gratuitous in the novel. She is constantly talking about how she wants to kill humans and it felt a little too serial killer in places. It certainly doesn’t endear you to the protagonist.
I think many readers will like “Reboot” a lot and I certainly see its appeal as a possible movie (albeit one with some serious script editing) but it fell flat for me. In terms of prose, it’s stronger than “Divergent”, extreme bouts of info-dumping aside, but it also exhibits too many of the problems of that series, particularly in terms of thinly stretched world-building, characterisation, romance and the portrayal of violence. I’m not entirely convinced this will be the hit that Roth’s series has become. I would pass on this one and go watch the series of “Aeon Flux” instead.
“Reboot” will be released on May 7th in USA. I received my ARC from Edelweiss.