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Posts Tagged ‘Publishing’

A couple weeks ago, The Guardian published an essay that got the reading and writing world buzzing. Author Kathleen Hale received a particularly negative semi-review of her novel No One Else Can Have You and she kind of lost her mind over it.

Hale scoured the Internet for information about the reviewer and eventually showed up at the reviewer’s home and then called her at work under false pretenses. Hale did not threaten the reviewer, nor did she actually harm her physically. But it’s still just slightly creepy.

In another case, self-published British author Richard Brittain, known for bullying behavior on Wattpad, traveled to Scotland to assault a woman who left a negative review of his book on Goodreads. He sneaked up behind her and bashed her in the back of the head with a wine bottle.

There exists a website called Stop the Goodreads Bullies that takes on a number of reviewers and bloggers who criticize literary (and I use that word loosely) works. The site has given out some of these reviewers’ addresses and daily habits, encouraging members and blog readers to track them down.

More benign, but in the same vein and more to the point I’m coming to, the latest trend is that people are not allowed to give honest reviews of books if the honest review is negative. The common criticisms of such critique are, “it’s subjective so you can’t judge it”; “I admire anyone who can finish writing a book”; “the author worked really hard on it and it’s like a baby.”

Let me take these on.

First, “it’s subjective.” Whether a particular reader enjoyed a particular piece certainly is subjective. However, there are some very specific elements that make a literary work good or bad. These include grammar, avoiding alliteration (unless it’s purposeful and works), avoiding redundancy, using words correctly, pace, plotting … There are many more, but I won’t list them all. Some current popular books lack one or all of these elements, yet people give them five-star reviews. Those five-star reviewers, whom I suspect wouldn’t know good writing if it climbed up their rear ends, attack anyone who disagrees with their assessments.

Personally, even if I didn’t enjoy a particular read, I will never give fewer than three stars if I recognize it’s well-written but just wasn’t my thing. If you go to my Goodreads page and see one or two stars, it was a BAD BOOK. That doesn’t mean others can’t enjoy it, but call it what it is!

There is a scene in Mel Brooks’ comedy History of the World Part I where the first artist paints on a cave wall and immediately after, the first critic arises. In other words. critiquing art has been round as long as there has been art. People make entire careers of it. They critique books, movies, television shows, visual art, dance and even each other. If you search through Goodreads, you will find thousands of one-star reviews of Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain … If those legends garner poor reviews, what makes someone like Hale think she won’t?

I long ago learned not to choose books to read based on Goodreads star ratings. I have utterly despised books that had average rating above four and loved books with much lower ratings.The average reader doesn’t know anything beyond, “I enjoyed that.” And the average reader probably isn’t nearly as critical as I am. I also question the quality of books the average reader is reading, based on the average quality of professionally published books in the last ten or so years.

For that matter, I just yesterday finished a novel I bought solely because it boasted a positive review from George RR Martin on the cover. (For those who don’t know, Martin wrote/is writing the A Song of Ice and Fire series that the HBO show Game of Thrones is based on.) The book? It sucked. It was dull, poorly-plotted. The character development was beyond bad. And that’s terribly frustrating.

But what is this trend of not being allowed to criticize something because someone worked hard and finished writing a book? Why do we admire a poor end product because someone “worked hard” on it? I admire writers who take the time and effort to perfect their craft. I admire writers who learn grammar and punctuation and who follow or break writing rules in a deliberate way that improves the product. I don’t admire someone who just slaps words onto paper and calls it a book and demands praise. I cannot support the popularization of terrible books.

To be clear, I am not criticizing subject matter or content. You like erotica? Great! But skip EL James and find something someone actually wrote WELL. Something with plot and character and, well, that’s written in a recognizable form of English. I’m not a fan of dystopian literature. It leaves me feeling very dark. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize that The Handmaid’s Tale is a brilliant novel. I’m not so sure about The Hunger Games, though. I only got through chapter six. It bored me and the writing, well, it wasn’t all that wonderful. I also suspect she stole a lot of the story and ideas from other authors.

Many who say we shouldn’t criticize call anyone who does “jealous.” Do I want to be a successful author? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean I am jealous of others who already are. If that were true, I would hate JK Rowling, Stephen King, Amy Tan and many other talented, published, successful writers. I don’t. I only have a problem with books I think are not up to par, that don’t live up to the wonderful works those authors have put forth.

Read The Shining, then read 50 Shades of Grey and tell me again that EL James is a great writer.

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On Labor Day (United States), I went with a friend to Goodwill. She wanted to take advantage of the store’s sale on clothes and I was just going along for the ride. I need to lose about forty pounds before I even think about buying new clothes. But  a welcome surprised when we arrived was that there was also a sale on books, most of which were no more than three or four dollars full price.

One of the books I left with was Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. I’d been interested for several years in reading that particular book, but hadn’t gotten around to it. Since it was such a good price, of course I snatched it up, along with four others.

If you read the back of Reading Lolita, the publisher describes it as being about a woman who holds what basically amounts to a book discussion group in her Tehran, Iran, apartment where the members (the former college professor’s students) read books that the Iranian government has banned. Obviously, one such book is Lolita.

By that description, the book most definitely sounds interesting. But the description is misleading. Yes, this book group is a part of the book. In fact, it takes up the entire first section. But there is so much more to it.

For those less familiar with Reading Lolita, the author is a woman who received a literature degree in the United States and then returned to her native country in 1979, just as Ayatollah Khomeini and his, shall we say minions?, seize control of Iran from the Shah. I’m more than half way through the memoir and the majority of it is about the author’s experiences during and after the revolution and of course throughout the course of the Iraq/Iran war of the 1980s. Her life touches those of her students and she tells what she knows of their experiences, as well.

What this book is, really, is a personal history lesson about an extremely tumultuous time in history that changed the world and I’m learning so much more than I ever did in school.

Miss Auras by John Lavery

In reading Reading Lolita, I began thinking about how publishers so often drop the ball in promoting books. I suppose in a way, what they’re doing is working, since the books I’m talking about have been best-sellers. But I wonder at the same time, what am I missing out on?

I’ll begin with Harry Potter. I didn’t read a single word of any of the books until last July and then I devoured all seven of them in sixteen days and re-read them all within the next year. But I only did so because I happened to catch a couple of the movies on television. The impression I had of the books, based solely on the publicity they received, was that they were very juvenile and a bit silly and while others may have loved them, I didn’t think they were for me.

The next book I nearly missed — and didn’t thanks to a movie preview — was The Help. Everyone raved about it. I thought I should give it a go. Then I walked into Borders, picked it up and read the cover. It said something about a young southern girl looking for her missing nanny and learning lessons along the way. I immediately put it down. I only bought it after seeing a preview for the movie (which I hated) and realizing there was much more to it.

Once I’d read The Helpit became clear just how ridiculous the description was on the back cover. Was Skeeter, the heroine, looking for her missing nanny? Well, yes. But that was mostly a subplot that took a back seat to her stealthily interviewing black housekeepers in Alabama at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in order to publish a book exposing the truth about what went on behind the manicured lawns.

That was an excellent book. The one described is sentimental and hackneyed.

I wonder if it’s always been this way. I don’t think it has. I’ve been a reader my entire life. I don’t recall a time I wasn’t. I’ve always chosen books at random. I walk into a book store or library and a title catches my eye. I read the back of the book or the inside jacket if it’s hardcover and if it interests me, I take it home and either love it or hate it. This method has worked well for me for thirty-five years. And now? Not so much.

Now I walk into a store and look at the books and they all sound awful. And many of them are. And now I can’t even count on the publishers to help me figure out which is which.

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As promised, following is an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo project:

     Abbot contemplated for a while longer and then picked up the phone. She answered on the third ring.

     “Diane, sweetheart,” he started. “How would you like to attend the final performance of Giselle on Friday? I have an invite to the wrap party. I know how you love those.”

     Diane Richards was one of Abbot’s few repeat offenders, as he liked to call them. These were women whose company and conversation he enjoyed enough to take them out more than once. Most of them agreed over and over because they all thought they would be the one to change him, to get him to finally fall in love and settle down. They were all gorgeous, young and guaranteed to drape themselves over him at any social event, if only to keep him from flirting with any of the other women there.

     Diane was Abbot’s favorite of them all, mostly because she was as dumb as she was pretty and because her social climbing aspirations guaranteed she would do anything he asked, just to ingratiate herself with the New York elite. Abbot liked the control he had over Diane. It would come in very handy on Friday night.

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It’s called NanoWriMo, and I’m starting late and far behind, but I’m determined. The goal, should you choose to accept it (and I have) is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

Technically, I should have started November 1, but I didn’t even find out about it until yesterday. I think I’d heard of it before, but never remembered to look it up. Yesterday, I found a blog by a woman who has done this for five years running and I bit the bullet and signed up.

It’s time. I need this.

Apparently, it’s all about goals and deadlines for me. My friend Leslee asked me to write something for her blog, and yesterday I sat down and wrote an 820-word short story. So, I know I can. (Once she posts this on her blog, I will link to it from here so everyone can read it.) I already have a couple novels started, but I haven’t gotten very far with them. Now is my chance.

I’ve decided it doesn’t matter how good the writing is, as long as I finish it. I can go back and revise. And I will send it out to agents once I do that. This is my promise to myself. I can certainly dream that this time next year, I will either have or be on the road to having a published novel.

Wish me luck, and stay tuned for excerpts!

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