Thursday, July 19, 2012

Authors, Reviewers, and the Blogosphere

*For those who prefer advanced warning, this post will most definitely be enhanced with profanity.*


So I'd intended to write this blogpost weeks ago while I was on vacation, but anyone who really knows me, knows I'm sucky at not only blogging, but also doing things when I intend to do them. However, there might've been a divine hand preventing me this time, because in the short time I've been home, the proverbial shit has hit the fan in the author/reviewer/blogger world.

Let me start by explaining that although I don't particularly ascribe to astrology, I have found some truth in the science there. (Stay with me here, I swear I'll make a point with this.) That being said, my sun sign, what usually defines a person's character, is Libra—the "fair and just, can't we all just get along, do you mind if I straighten that crooked picture on your wall" of the astrological configuration. However, my rising sign, what is said to reflect in someone's personality, is Scorpio—the "inherently passionate, you better step off and get the hell out of my face and anyone's whom I've ever said hi to because if you don't, I'm gonna open a can of whoop-ass on you, you shitstick, and I'm not afraid of going to jail or Hell for my actions because that motherfucking picture on the wall is crooked again and I'm already in Hell!" of the signs. What this means is that I try to see every situation from both sides and be fair in whatever position I end up taking (if I ever choose one that is, which is a whole other ball of Libra-infused wax). But I am also extremely loyal to my peeps and will always want to go to the mattresses for them, whether that position is justified or not. Yeah, I tend to put my foot in my mouth on a regular basis and I argue with myself a lot. So, all that being the case and in an effort to keep myself out of harm's way by possibly saying something about someone which will inevitably come back to sink its teeth in the fleshy part of my backside, not to mention that I don't have all the facts, I am not going to name a single author, reviewer, reader, blog and/or blogger in this post. The potential to be pulled into the pit of vitriol being spewed is not something I want to risk and my career as an author demands I stay out of it because none of this actually involves me personally. And, I'd like to keep it that way. This post is not meant to call anyone out, but simply to make my feelings about book bloggers and reviewers known, and to explain why I don't personally review books.

And again, this was something I planned to do before the shitstorm over the last few days started, but with all that underway, what I was going to say has, of course, now shifted a smidge—mainly because I'm shocked at what's been going on, so that's how I'll now proceed...

I came home on Sunday from a two-week vacation with my girls to a gloriously black, beast of a vehicle sitting in the driveway, just waiting for me. I knew my superdy-duper husband was getting it for me, but it didn't make it any less special, and thus I spent Sunday afternoon in the driveway with my new ride, my husband, and our neighbors. Then I got a migraine and was forced to call it a night without ever really checking in on what was going on in the blogosphere. I woke up the next morning to an email from a professional reviewing friend informing me that "...a disgruntled author, and another book review site are coming against the [REDACTED] website." Although I did mentally question WTF?!! I didn't ask for details on the "who" was responsible for this outlandish action, nor did I need them. I responded immediately, offering my unwavering support because the gals who run this site are truly amazing people. Without having ever hearing of me or reading a single word of my manuscript aside from the book description, the woman who emailed me, who I now count as a friend, offered me an incredible amount of support, words of wisdom and guidance, and she was just an all-around, genuinely nice person—encouraging a debut author simply out of the goodness of her heart. Truly, I couldn't, and still can't fathom why anyone would even dream of trying to run them out of town, so to speak. Not to mention that their review site's following is gargantuan. I'm not even kidding. We're talking in the thousands and they're contributors to a site that has over 2 million visitors a month. Yeah, MILLION. Their website had enlisted the aid of an attorney and were facing possible litigation, but the author is apparently backing down. Whew! Well at least that's over!!

Sure, that particular debacle looks to be over, but let's take a look at what I was made aware of on Monday evening shall we? 

Twitter has been...well, atwitter lately with bloggers up in arms about blog feature theft, a form of plagiarism to some, and one blogger I'm acquainted with had had enough. She spoke out in blog form. And when I say she spoke out, I mean she wrote a fabulously epic, two-part rant about how the blogging industry has gotten way out of hand with everyone being nasty to each other rather than being friendly and helpful as it once was just a short time ago it seems. I'm still really new to the book blogging world so I really haven't witnessed what it was like before, but I'm guessing calling people out, sending them hate tweets, and making snide comments in other forums alluding to other bloggers etc., ad nauseum wasn't the norm previously. And all because ideas are being borrowed and either tweaked or enhanced to reflect the borrower's blog and personality. I mean who the fuck cares? Yes, I get it, coming up with original ideas is practically impossible nowadays and creating something super cool and building it and maintaing it takes a lot of work and effort, not to mention that we all like to be original and have something that makes us stand out in some way or another, but to get your panties in a twist because someone liked one of your blog features enough to put it on their blog?! I could be wrong, but that sort of sounds like flattery to me... And again I don't have all the facts about this, but here's the way I look at it, I have a feature on this blog called What's This? Essentially, it's a whiteboard. If you've read Shark Bait, you'll understand my motivation for having something like this. I had a whiteboard feature on my old blog too, but I had to revamp it on this one because guess what? The old one isn't available anymore. Whoever created it and powered it, no longer does and I can't write HTML so I had to go find another way to get a damned whiteboard on my author blog! It took me days and days, and a lot of work to get in place because I'm so deficient in how this shit works, and it's still not quite right and doesn't work the way I want it to, but at least I have a whiteboard again and we can all have fun with it. And something else, I know for a fact this feature will most likely end up being borrowed because my whiteboard conversations in Shark Bait were a HUGE hit with a gal who very recently started her own blog. But am I going to demand she remove the feature if she does use it? Hell HELL no! Sure, it would be freaking cool if she gave me a small byline credit for the idea, but if not, no biggie. Besides, I believe everyone should have a whiteboard, goddamnit!!

Part two of the blogger's rant was in regards to bloggers and authors, which was inspired by certain ugly events that I was enlightened on yesterday and earlier this afternoon as well, and the part two post has also since seen spin-off blogposts written by other bloggers. Now this is where it gets really nasty...

It seems that there are some authors out there who are getting all butt-hurt about their books receiving negative reviews. So much so that some have stooped so low as to publicly call reviewers a douche, and just being dicks in general. However, a few have banded together to seek retribution against reviewers vigilante-style, creating a website that divulges all manner of personal information including where the reviewer lives, their spouse or partner, pictures, personal habits, where they'll be during a certain time of day, everything... No, I'm not fucking kidding. If the US government had employed these people when we were looking for Osama Bin Laden so very desperately, he would've been found, strung up by his scrotum, and then disemboweled within 5 minutes of these people being given the green light to seek and destroy on our country's behalf. I haven't personally been to the site and I don't plan on visiting it, but from what I've read in other posts and news articles, I'm actually a little impressed with their sadistic thoroughness in what I believe sounds to be a misguided attempt to warn other authors about the evil-doing reviewers, whom it sounds as though they feel resemble terrorists in their reviews. But this isn't a war against terrorism! This is reading and sharing personal thoughts about a book, for Christ's sake! And speaking of Christ, we're not talking about books that even remotely fall into the same realm of distinction as the Bible or the Koran! These are just your average, read for pleasure books.

What really saddens me (I know. There's so much here to be saddened by...) is that from what I understand, these folks are indie authors. SUGH. I mean my information could be wrong (and I hope it is), but if not, that means my reputation along with every other indie author is now being besmirched by just a handfull of embittered souls who are having a hard time accepting harsh yet honest criticism and are lashing out because of it. Indies already have enough obstacles to get past in terms of getting read by people in general, let alone reviewers worth their salt, but throw this kind of behavior in and we all look like infantile, spiteful, insane people who should be locked up in a padded cell, and only allowed to write with crayons.

And yes, I get it, bad reviews and press can most certainly have a horrific impact on an author's career, and therefore they are a great fear amongst my kind. But let's be honest, if not completely realistic, there isn't a single book written to date that everyone will unanimously love. And there will never be one. It's an impossibility. Now I haven't personally received a negative review or DNF (which I have to constantly remind myself isn't the same thing as DNR, although I imagine getting and DNF probably feels quite similar), and so far everyone who's read Shark Bait has enjoyed it. If they haven't, they haven't said so. But I know it'll happen. Am I scared shitless about it? You bet your sweet bippy I am! This book is like my freaking baby for crying out loud! It's a part of me, living in a way that only someone who's ever given birth via their mind like this will ever understand. However, like my real-life children, not everyone is gonna love what I've brought into the world. There are people who aren't huge fans of my kids, and my girls will sometimes come home crying because someone said something unkind about them. And because it's part of my job as their momma bear, my first impulse is to lay waste to the fucktards who truly mess with them. A kid just expressing their feelings, no matter how snotty, doesn't qualify, though. That's fucking life. Just because someone doesn't like you and says so doesn't give you an excuse to publish personal information about them and their families on the fucking internet where any truly crazy person can access it!! I mean that goes past speaking your mind straight to endangering lives. 

And the fact of the matter is, if you don't want to hear that someone dislikes or even detests your book, don't publish it! Once you publish your work, you're going to get criticism—whether you ask for it or not. Which leads me to why I've chosen the human approach over cold calling in terms of promoting my work.

From the get go, I knew I was entering a line of work where I could honestly say "Pimpin' ain't easy." And it's not. I am in no way a salesperson, but I'm in an industry now where I have to sell myself, the alternative to which is not spreading the word about my stories and having others enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them. And that's what it's all about for me. I just want to share my stories and by providing something that I hope is well written, I might just get to share the wealth of human emotion with readers in doing so. How awesome is that? Bringing another person joy, making them smile, cry, cheer, and think? In terms of having an impact on a person's life without ever meeting them, well, it just doesn't get much better. So, if I want to touch the lives of others, I have to do something I'm not good at and inherently uncomfortable with. I have to sell myself.

I was advised to stalk as many book bloggers and reviewers as I could, and ask them all to read and review my work. I felt a little slimy about that, not knowing any of them. So, I decided against it. I still stalk and befriend, but I don't ask anyone to read or review my work unless I've taken the time to get to know them a little bit. Why? Because it's common decency. Regardless of the similarities, I'm not a hooker and book bloggers and reviewers are not pimps, pushing an author's book into the hands of reading johns in the world.

Bloggers and reviewers—incidentally, I make a distinction between bloggers and reviewers simply because some book bloggers are in fact, professional reviewers who make a living reviewing books, although most bloggers are just in it as a way to fulfill their shared reading obsessions with other like minded individuals. However, they are all professionals in terms of what they do in the literary world regardless what form their compensation is in. Where was I...? Oh yeah... Bloggers and reviewers do provide a service to authors and readers alike, but the thing is, They. Are. People. They are human beings and not only do they deserve respect for the work they do, they deserve to be treated with the same decency you would treat a librarian, the person standing in front of you in the grocery isle, a nurse, the parent of your kid's friend, a neighbor...etc. Because guess what folks? They are all those things. Just because you might not know them personally or be BFFs with them doesn't mean they don't deserve to be treated with due respect. After all, as an author, you want something from these people, and do you really think they're liable to give it you when you send them a form email insisting they check your work out because it's the next Pride & Prejudice and you're certain they'll love it and if they don't grasp this opportunity with both hands, they'll be remiss in their obligation to readers around the world? If so, you must really fart rainbows and shit butterflies too. I know it's cliché, but the Golden Rule (you know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you) wasn't something your Sunday school teacher or grandma pounded into you for nothing. It's common sense and just simply the decent thing to do.  

Bloggers and reviewers are people. Busy, busy people. They have jobs outside of reading and reviewing books, they have bills, they have families, they have pets, and some of them have *gasp* lives that aren't written about in books. I think sometimes we authors have an unrealistic sense of entitlement and even the occasional God complex. And why wouldn't we? I mean look at what we've accomplished! We've created life in the form of art in words and made it available for purchase...our names are on the covers of books across the world and some of us are household names! We bring stories to the bored, build worlds, keep the past alive and we prognosticate on the future! We're fantastic and everyone loves us, right?! (Let's just agree to say yes to that lest my ego takes a huge hit and I have to run to my bedroom crying and wailing about eating worms for dinner while I have a song stuck in my head which chants no one loves me) Reality: Reviewers aren't here to cater to us. They're people, not characters just waiting for an author to discover them and bring them to life. 

So, I decided that while it might take more time, and I might not get read/reviewed as widely as someone else, I'm going to get to know the people in this industry before I ask them for shit. And really, why not? I don't have anything to lose...in fact, I'm "meeting" some great people and actually making some really good friends, the kind with whom I would entrust the safety of my children. 

Not only that, but I do my research when it comes to who I ask to review my work. By taking the time to do what each of them asks us to do—read their policies—and by stalking the other pages of their blogs, I can somewhat glean whose reading preferences my work might be a good fit for. I'm not about to request a review of Shark Bait or any of the books in the GYP series from a person whose primary love affair in reading is dystopian holocaust-type stuff. That's not what the GYP series is about. Nor would I request a review from someone who adores historical romances (as I personally do) or someone who digs westerns first and foremost. That would be akin to asking for a DNR—er, DNF. However, it doesn't stop me from making an effort to get to know those people. Their bias in reading material has no bearing on the kind of person they are and I value those friendships just as much as I do the ones with people who prefer reading the genre I'm currently writing in—I just won't ask them to review my work. If they decide to do so of their own choosing, then so be it. And YAY! That means my story is being read—which is the point in publishing a book in the first place—and if they like it, that's an even bigger bonus! If they don't, then that's on them. They knew before they bought it that it most likely wasn't gonna be their cup of tea and decided to buy it and read it anyway. If they were to write a negative review, then I'm sure it would sting and my fragile psyche might be looking for night crawlers for me to munch on, but ultimately, I know it just wasn't a good fit in the first place. If an unsolicited review attacks me personally, that's a different story. That's when I just have to bite the bullet and force myself to keep my mouth shut and not engage with someone who is a sub-par human being. It's not worth it for me to get sucked into a pissing contest with a stranger who feels qualified to malign me in a review. I have too much self-respect for that. Don't get me wrong, it would be immensely hard and a couple of my closest friends, one of whom I call the Voice of Reason, would no doubt have to run interference and talk me down off the ledge of career suicide and/or a real-life restraining order that I'm sure would be forthcoming if I ever let my devious and ruthless inner-Scorpio have free reign.

So now I come to the part about me choosing to have a "I don't review books" policy. I know a lot of authors review books in addition to writing and that's cool, but I would make such an ass-sucky book reviewer, you have no idea. I'm overly critical for one. I discovered that when I wrote a Facebook note addressed to an award-winning, New York Time's Best Selling author ranting and begging him to fix the mess I felt he'd created in one of his series. Had I done that as an actual, public review, I probably would've been drawn and quartered by the literary world en masse. (No, you can't go to my FB profile to see it because it wasn't written on my public FB profile.) Plus I'm beyond snarky and sarcastic—something I doubt I would be able to hide in a review. Another thing, reviewing is very time consuming. I have a lot on my plate to begin with and I already struggle with finding the time to wear all the hats I have to wear on a daily basis. The main reason I won't review another author's work, however, is that I adore reading books, second only to writing them, and if I were to read a novel I know I have to write a review for, reading would cease to be fun. Reading and watching movies are the two things I choose to indulge myself with and by reviewing a book or movie, I would be taking my favorite pastime and turning it into work. Like any kid who is told they have to read something and then write a report on it, no matter how great the book, I would drag my feet and incessantly and profusely proclaim my hatred for having to work on the assignment. I don't want to hate reading so I won't allow myself to turn it into work. And if you're an author who might've been thinking of asking me to review any part of your work, you really wanna re-think that. Trust me. However, if an author came to me and asked me for a blurb they'd like to include on their book cover or something similar, and if I've read and enjoyed the book, the honor would be entirely mine and I'm sure I'd spend a day or two making sure it was absolutely perfect so that my words would reflect well on the author and their work. I would also be just as gratified to have an author do the same for me. Additionally, I have no problem with having people recommend or suggesting books to me, in fact I love it and ask for suggestions all the time, and if I like something, I'll say so and make my own suggestions to people who I think might enjoy the book as well, and I'll rate books on Goodreads because I guess that's what's expected of me as a member, but I won't ever formally review a book. Please believe me, it's not because I'm being snotty or think that I'm above reviewing (I'm so not...reviewing takes some really hard work and some of these people are uber-clever and talented), it's just that I'm realistic and despite being a writer, I know that I would be a hideous book reviewer.

Besides, there are people out there far and away better suited to reviewing than I will ever be. And I thank God for them. Truly. Book bloggers and professional reviewers are the new bridge clubs, discussing everything from the books they read to what the people on the covers are wearing, and the fonts used in the books themselves. They are a huge driving force in the literary world today, promoting literacy and sales, and giving indie authors like myself some of the same chances and opportunities previously only available to the traditionally published big boys and girls. For the most part, they do it without monetary compensation for their time and effort, simply because they love literature and wish to share their discoveries with other like minded individuals. They work hard creating their forums where they share a wealth of information with readers and anyone who happens to stop by. They do interviews, host giveaways, promote and support charitable causes, and some of them go above and beyond in extending a helping hand to newbies in the industry, fostering self-confidence and giving helpful and wise advice. They are the unsung heroes of many authors, especially the self-published ones like me who don't have a team of professionals working behind us to promote our books, and to their reader followers, they provide insight as to whether a book is suitable for their teenager or middle-grade child, whether a book will be—for them—worth spending their hard-earned money on, and whether or not they should part with the time reading a book requires—time that can never be returned to them. They are selfless and regardless of whether they do this for a living or as a "hobby," whether they read and review paranormal romances, erotica, memoirs, chick-lit, and so on...whether they rate books with or without a star system, and if heaven forbid, they despised a book you wrote or if they disliked something you passionately loved reading, they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect for the positon they hold, the service they provide to the literary world, but most importantly, they deserve the esteem and regard befitting members of the human race. 

Period.

And like I told one book blogger in a recent interview, if I could write HTML, I would write in a standing ovation complete with whistling and confetti in appreciation for what the blogging and reviewing world tirelessly does day in and day out, simply because they have a deep love of books. Hell, in my opinion, they all deserve a freaking ticker-tape parade.


10 comments:

  1. You. Are. Awesome.

    Maybe it's all the cranberry/vodkas I've had tonight, but this made perfect F'ing sense.

    With a post like this, I can't wait to read Shark Bait!

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  2. Oh and just so y'all know, I encourage everyone to comment, but I have comment moderation turned on so if anyone decides to get nasty, think again. Also, I'd prefer to keep any and all links to the fuckery that I mentioned which has been going on out of the comments as well. Most readers of this will know the specifics and this isn't meant to rehash or open wounds that haven't even scabbed over yet. It's simply my thoughts and views as an author on the value and importance of book bloggers and reviewers. And if you are one of those I admire and appreciate so much, I hope the steaming pile of shit that's stinking up the blogosphere right now won't affect your desire to continue in your endeavors nor will it impact your opinions of indie authors, because really, some of us are fucking amazing, just like you! ;-*

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  3. Oh Jenn how I love you so! If I could do a standing ovation, I totally would. You rock my world. Thank you for posting this! Here here!

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  4. You have a way with words, Ms. Cooksey. Very, very, VERY well-said. I'm flabbergasted at what I'm hearing about going on out there - I was going to say "behind the scenes" but it's not really BEHIND anything, is it?! putting people's personal information out there publicly because they didn't like your book and were honest in their review of it?! - anyway, I'm amazed at all that I've been hearing. I have been *seriously* considering starting my own book blog and I'm so in awe of the ladies I follow regularly (some of whom you're speaking of in your post :))...but all this scuttlebutt has got me thinking twice for sure.

    Anyway, just wanted to commend you for this post, I enjoyed it very much!! Favorite line, hands down: "If so, you must really fart rainbows and shit butterflies too." HEE HEE!!

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  5. Do you know how much I fucking love you?!

    You ROCK, lady!

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  6. Marcellus wallaceJuly 20, 2012 at 7:03 AM

    You are like Jerry Fuckin Maguire! Minus all the crazy Scientology shitassery. Good on ya!

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  7. I have never heard of you, or your book but I saw a link to this and had to read it. You are absolutely wonderful. Great post. I will have to check out your book for sure and see what it's about!!! Thanks for writing this!

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  8. you are the shit. that is all. <3

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  9. Thanks for your awesome, snarky post! I'm a libra, too, and I feel quite like you do. I can't judge an individual in a group based on a sorry bunch. It's unfortunate that it's come to this, because the community really WAS friendly and awesome. I enjoyed being a part of it. Now, it feels defensive and like work. Gahhhh. But I definitely want to read a book from an author as fantastic as you!

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