Thursday, August 30, 2012

Opinions are a dime a dozen

Are you familiar with Goodreads? If you're on Facebook, and you read (maybe a lot), it's possible you know of Goodreads, or even use it yourself.

For those not in the know, Goodreads is a site where you can list books you've read, and you are given the option of assigning a star rating to them (1 star = didn't like it, 2 stars = it was ok, 3 stars = liked it, 4 stars = really liked it, and 5 stars = it was amazing). It is very clear, when you hover your cursor over the stars, exactly what the numerological ratings stand for. You can also write a review of the books you've read. I choose not to do this, as I don't consider myself a reviewer, but also because I feel that the star rating system works well enough on it's own. 

Most of the books I've read have received either a 3 or 4 star rating. Some very few have received 5 stars, and a few have received 2 stars. Even fewer have received 1 star. Meaning I (just to clarify) "didn't like it." 

I like Goodreads. I read a lot. A LOT. And it pleases me to have a way to convey how I feel about the books I've read. I understand that it's just my opinion, but I think it's pretty cool to have something available whereby others (who may or may not value my opinion) can see how I, personally, feel about a book I have read. That is the sum of my feelings with regard to Goodreads. I certainly don't profess to know how others view it. I am, after all, only responsible for myself and my own actions and opinions.

So, imagine my surprise, when today I received a message from an author whose book I had assigned a 1 star rating. Keeping in mind that that 1 star rating means I "didn't like it," I was quite taken aback by the fury with which this author addressed me. My rating was viewed as a "personal attack," was considered "unprofessional" and "viscious" [sic], and my morals and ethics were called into question if I did not remove said Goodread's rating, and/or this individual from my Facebook friends list. I was also threatened with "repurcussions" [sic], and made aware that it works both ways, that my book was subject to the same rating by this individual, with a harsh critique to match (this, of course, makes no sense, unless you're 10, but there you go).

Apparently, I'm supposed to be nice to everyone. I'm supposed to play nice, and get along, and support all authors. By posting this rating, by showing my opinion, I was not doing anything of the sort, and was actually involving myself in "personal attacks" on fellow authors.Well, the last time I checked, voicing my opinion about a book I've read is not only allowed, but encouraged, and is not considered a personal attack. Or am I mistaken in that? It would appear, according to this person, that I am very severely mistaken. And that by posting a 1 star rating (which, remember, means I "didn't like it") I obviously "hated" the book, and if I hated it so much, I should have kept my opinion to myself, as it was very unprofessional to state this opinion. (I'm very clear on the difference between "not liking" and "hating" something. Yep, very clear on that difference. And I'm pretty sure Goodreads is too...which is why the 1 star rating specifically says "didn't like it.)

So what did I do? I removed the book and my rating of it, and then I removed the individual from my Facebook "friends" list (for clarification's sake, they had requested my "friendship," not vice versa). I did this not because I lack conviction or integrity, but because people like this, with their bullshit drama, and no life, and lack of their own conviction and integrity, piss me off supremely. I did, however, send a message back, and I did apologize. Because it is not my intent to upset anyone. It actually never occurred to me that someone would get upset over something like a stupid rating on a stupid app where it's understood this is JUST PEOPLE'S OPINIONS. It's not like I went on a diatribe and spouted hate speech all over the internet. And I've received my own 1 star ratings, and negative reviews, and I would never have thought to jump all over anyone who thus posted. Why the hell would I? Everyone is entitled to their opinion. 

However, from this point forward, I will no longer post those books I didn't like. Anything I consider to be a "1 starrer" is no longer getting posted. Because I don't need the aggravation of receiving any more stupid messages from people who have no clear perception of reality. 

And that is all I am going to say on that matter. Other than the fact that threatening me is just not a good idea. Oh yeah, that.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's not easy being mean

Today I decided I am officially a bitch.


I went to Staples this afternoon, to get an inkjet cartridge (colour black) for a new printer which was boxed without one. It came with a colour cartridge, but not black, which, when you think about it, is just plain stupid, but of course, is also probably brilliant marketing. And since I'm a writer, and suck at marketing, they will not starve, while I will. 

Anyway, I went to Staples, and almost immediately saw the wall full of inkjet cartridges. And I do mean "wall full." I've never owned a printer (which my sweetie thinks is appalling, but she's a graphic artist, so I'm not offended), and I can't clearly recall the last time I ever had to buy an ink cartridge, but the sight of an entire wall filled with choices was almost awe-inspiring, but was really more annoying. And if you knew me, you'd know right off that when something is annoying, that's a bad start.

I walked up to the wall of cartridges, and my eyes quickly scanned it, until I found the Lexmark section. I don't know how many cartridges there were, but if I were to assign a number, replaying that image in my mind, I'd say there were at least 40. But probably more. Which is daunting, to say the least. I had no idea how I was to know which plain black ink cartridge I was supposed to choose. I vaguely recall a time when buying an ink cartridge for a printer was not so complicated. But that was a long time ago, like maybe 7 years. I was hopelessly out of touch with what I now faced.

At that point, a salesperson suddenly appeared at my left side, as if out of nowhere. A very large male salesperson. With some sort of breathing problem apparently: he was wheezing softly. 

"Can I help you?" he asked, very solicitously.

"Well," I said, shooting him a glance and then quickly looking away, "I'm trying to find a black ink cartridge for a printer." I held out the slip of paper upon which I'd written the model number of the Lexmark printer. "I have the printer model number, but how do I find the right cartridge for it?"

"Oh, well," he said, a bit breathlessly, "printers are...well, they're complicated and confusing, and kind of touchy, and really, I only like one printer," and he suddenly shot his arm out to point, past and behind me, where I knew the shelf of printers was, "and it's that one, it's so straightforward, and..."

In the space of time it took him to lay this spiel out, I'd spied the plastic booklet attached to a clip before me, at about waist level. It obviously held the information I needed, the various printers names on it's cover, and undoubtedly, the types of cartridges required for them. I reached for it, and began to quickly flip through it. 

While I did this, the fellow next to me was still expounding on the merits of the printer he favoured. When I found the Lexmark name in the booklet, I didn't even look up. It was obvious to me he hadn't a clue about ink cartridges, and I was further annoyed with him.

"You know what," I said flatly, as I looked through the booklet, "go help someone else, because you're not helping me."

I literally felt the guy deflate. He stood there for about two seconds more, and then quickly departed. And I thought briefly, Wow, Rebecca, that was rude. And you know what? I didn't really care. Because why would someone who is supposed to be a salesperson, who supposedly should know the products of the store, offer his help, when he obviously doesn't know how to help with the product I'm looking for? What did he hope to accomplish? I have no idea.

When I went back to my car, I realized I'd been a perfect bitch. And that I no longer have the patience (and haven't for awhile now) to deal with people who have no idea what they're talking about. If you don't know something, if you can't help, then say so. Don't waste my time, and yours, spouting off about something in an effort to impress, to someone who is not easily impressed, and who is present for only one thing. Because I now realize that I won't put up with it. Once I would have. Once I would have been patient, and long-suffering, and then been irritated further once I'd left. But I don't do that anymore.

When I related this story to my sweetie, she laughed. "Oh, no," she said, "you in that situation? That's just a bad scenario all around. You just don't have the patience."

She knows me. Better than I know myself, sometimes. Because I do believe I have good intentions. I don't mean to be mean. I'm not a mean person. But I simply no longer have the patience. And if that makes me a bitch, well, I'm alright with that. Because I found what I needed on my own. And maybe that guy actually did go help someone else. Or will. Someday.

(Oh, and as it turns out, you can't buy just a single black ink cartridge for this printer. You must buy it bundled with a colour cartridge. Which was already supplied. See what I mean? I'm STARVING!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

To review or not to review...

The other day, I read a comment made by an author in regard to marketing and promoting of one's work. The author (who may be fairly successful and fairly popular, though I really don't know as I've never checked, and frankly, wouldn't know how to even if I were interested) provided suggestions for promoting a book, one of those suggestions being that a writer should not be shy about asking readers who have sent good feedback to write a review on Amazon. 

This topic has bothered me greatly, and so I feel the need to talk about it.

I have no problem with how anyone chooses to market and/or promote their work. At least I don't think I do. I'm sure there are myriad ways a writer (any writer) could choose to do so, and I'm certainly not familiar with all of them. On a personal level, however, having received extremely positive feedback from readers, either who are known to me or are complete strangers, it has never once occurred to me to ask them to write a review on Amazon. Somehow, ethically, to me at least, that just doesn't seem proper.

I understand the purpose of these "average person" reviews on Amazon (and on Goodreads). I do. People like to know what the everyday individual thinks of books they, themselves, might be interested in, or how that person's perception of a book they've read compares to their own. I get it, I do. But not everyone considers writing a review of the book they've read and enjoyed (preferring, perhaps, to keep that enjoyment to themselves), and not everyone is comfortable writing a review, thinking that such things are better left to those whose job it is (even those who may have grandiose ideas of being reviewers). I don't even feel comfortable writing a review of a book I've enjoyed (or even one I haven't), though I will share publicly on my Facebook a brief slurry of synopsis and thoughts.

Currently, I have exactly one review of my book on Amazon. It was posted there at the same time I was made aware of it on my publisher's website. That review was written by a bona fide reviewer, and I was very pleased and surprised to see it posted so soon after my books release. My publisher is in charge of sending copies of my novel to known reviewers. I sent one copy myself to another known reviewer, and that review was posted (not on Amazon) just under a month later, again surprising and pleasing me.

I'm new to this writing life. This world of writers, publishers, marketing, promotion. I'm learning as I go along, and for the most part, it's been a pleasant learning experience. I haven't been shy about talking about my work, or about sharing my work. I hand out business cards, talk my book up with complete strangers (in my usual reserved fashion), and point people to my website. I share the positive, and I share the negative; I'm fully aware that not everyone will enjoy (read: like) my book, and I think that even a bad review has its merits (okay, no, I'm not sure I think that at all, especially after the one - and only -  negative review received thus far. What a silly piece of work that was). 

It would be lovely to see reviews piling up on Amazon, or wherever. But I'm not going to ask my readers, who take the time to contact me privately to let me know how much they've enjoyed my work, to then post a review on Amazon. I can't even imagine doing this, let alone how I would phrase it. It somehow seems so very self-gratifying, and self-serving. Which, you may argue, is exactly the point. And I suppose it is. But I personally just can't imagine doing it. If someone chooses to post a review, of their own volition, hey, I'm all for that. Of course I am, why wouldn't I be? But I am not going to ask my readers to do so. And not because I'm shy. I most certainly am not. 

There is one other topic I'd like to discuss, briefly, while on the subject of posting reviews on Amazon. A while back, I was privy to a discussion, the gist of which I gathered centred around a review posted by the spouse of an author, and how the objectivity of said review could not be guaranteed, because, well, I guess all spouses opinions of their partners work is biased, and whose spouse wouldn't say good things about, or give 5 stars to, said work? Some participants in this discussion went so far as to suggest that it would be prudent of the spouse of any author to state said relationship clearly, upon which (I'm guessing) the posted review could then be discounted as unreliable and wholly biased, as is only right and proper, in their eyes.

Now, I suppose this discussion may have come about for some very good reason, but for the life of me, I simply cannot think of one. Okay, wait, before you lambaste me for being naive, I do know there are people out there who would do and say anything in favour of their spouse. And yes, you’ve got to wonder about those people. But really, if you’re serious about your craft, if you know your stuff, if your work is good, you know it’s good. Simple as that. It’s nice, very nice, to have other people say so. Of course it is. Validation is a lovely thing. But if anyone, ANYONE, ever suggests that my sweetheart, who is the very epitome of intelligence, discretion, and discerning taste, would ever support a piece of work of mine that was not the quality both she and I (and everyone else who knows me well) expected, I will thrash that person. Whatever the shortcomings of some spouses of some writers, those shortcomings do not apply to my sweetheart. Nor do they apply to my friends. I am far, far too particular to associate with anyone who would mislead in this manner, simply in an effort to stroke my ego.

One more thing: Before anyone decides to comment, I’m aware of the apparent contradiction here, that by virtue of my even bringing up this topic, I am thereby asking (0r suggesting) readers (now) post reviews. Such a thought process on anyones part implies that my readers are a) easily manipulated and/or guilt-tripped, b) unable to think for themselves, or c) stupid.
FYI, my readers are d) none of the above.

(Update 08/24/12 - After some understanding and encouraging discussions, I've come to see that there is nothing strange at all in asking readers to post reviews. As I said, I am new to this writing world, and new to this kind of self-promotion. But I'm learning!)