WTF Authors?

WTF Authors?

Scalzi encourages authors to post their 1-star Amazon reviews because, hey, it may sting, but it’s not the end of the world. What inspired this? Why, an author acting as if bad reviews are the end of the world! Not just by whining and complaining about them, but by actively harassing the reviewers and encouraging her readers, friends, and authors from her small press to do so as well. And, as if that’s not bad enough, she isn’t even going after a professional reviewer, but some poor Amazon reviewer. Just a regular person.

WTF author?

I thought Anne Rice was bad, but this is above and beyond.

It’s easy for me to sit here and say, “Oh you authors should calm down and stop whining!” because I don’t have a novel up on Amazon. I’ve also had to contend with very few bad reviews (because I haven’t published much that was reviewed at all, not because I’m super fantastic). Still and all, I hope that I have the sense and civility not to go careening after the bad reviewers with a virtual sledgehammer. In fact, many years ago I made a vow to have a good attitude about reviews and Amazon reviews in particular because of something I witnessed in another author.

I blogged about this back then, but my old journal now only exists in Bloggers servers. (I’m trying to decide if I want to import it into this blog. I doubt it would be at all useful). But the gist of it was this:

After my first World Fantasy I attempted to read all of the books that came in the free book bag. I was young, what can I say? One of the books was Prince of Ayodhya by Ashok K. Banker. I put it down after about 6 chapters because it just didn’t engage me. Too much set-up and introducing the huge cast of characters and not a lot of moving forward with an actual story. I went over to Amazon to post my review and found that there was a bit of a kerfuffle going on there between some reviewers and the author. I wrote at the time:

The author of the book has posted three (yes, three) reviews of his own. And they’re starred reviews, which I thought authors and publishers weren’t supposed to be able to do. (they were removed I don’t know how long ago, but there’s another one here. –T) The reviews are weird, too. One is a rebuttal of a bad review that is at once intelligent and also incredibly egotistical to the point of being comedic. Another is just a long list of praise for the book. And I do mean long. (It’s also one of the spotlight reviews, which I find highly suspect) The last is a note to Amazon – which he claims he didn’t want published, yet submitted it as a review – that asks Amazon to remove the review because it is obviously a malicious attack on his book, unfounded, by someone who didn’t even read it. And they should take it down because Amazon is in the business of selling books, right? So they shouldn’t allow bad reviews on their site because it would discourage sales.

Around this time I joined a mailing list of people I knew from the OWW and other related spheres. One of our members asked the group if she could invite Ashok in. They’d met during a con and shared a publisher (possibly an editor?) and she felt he’d fit in with us. We said yes, and I giggled behind my hand a little since I had been a bit WTF about him just a few weeks before. At the time, no one read my blog, anyway. He certainly hadn’t. Life went on.

Remember a few years back when something went wrong with Amazon Canada’s code and all of the reviews that had been marked “Anonymous” suddenly revealed the actual names behind them? And it became apparent that authors and/or their friends were going about giving themselves or friends positive reviews? Yeah, we all had a good chuckle about that. But in the course of discussing this on the list, Ashok lamented the Amazon review system and its many faults. Just anyone can put up a review! They can give negative reviews! And they don’t even have to have read the book! If they put up a bad review, it’s probably because they haven’t read it, anyway. Don’t they want to sell books! How stupid!

At this point I thought he was going to bring up the little scuffle he had with that other reviewer, but instead he said something like: “There’s a reviewer called fluidartist who gave my book a bad review and he didn’t even read it. It’s ridiculous! And if you look at all his reviews, you’ll see they’re all negative He just goes around giving negative reviews for no reason.”

Take a look at the URL of this website (or the Permalink, if you’re on LJ). Yep, he was talking about MY review.

I sat there wide-eyed for a long time because, firstly, I didn’t think my review was that bad. Secondly, I was trying to decide if I should say anything or not. Because my email at the time (and some of my emails now) came from fluidartist.com. It’s right there in every message, every reply. But Ashok hadn’t noticed. Everyone else did, though. And no one commented about it, on list. The thread just died.

I asked some of the others if I should say anything, but everyone told me it wasn’t worth bringing up if he hadn’t noticed. So, I didn’t. To this day I have no clue if he ever connected the two. No big reason for him to do so, as we weren’t close or friends or anything. Still.

It was just very strange to see how angry he was about what I considered a not all that horrid review. Certainly I’ve written worse. (Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon is still bleeding on the bookshelf, as is Master of None.) It left me feeling like authors need to have a thick skin. Not so thick that they can’t learn, improve, and admit to mistakes. But thick enough that random Amazon (or any other) reviews don’t send one over the edge.

I vowed never to be like that, if I could possibly help it. It’s also good to have role models in this regard. Though I suspect that Scalzi is not as level-headed, cool, calm, and collected about everything as he pretends to be, if he has nasty things to say about his negative reviews, he isn’t saying it on his blog. He hasn’t yet called me up to raise the pixel pitchfork in anyone’s general direction. In fact, most of the published authors of my acquaintance don’t do these horrid things. I respect them all the more for it. Sure, I know some people who are fakely aloof and passive aggressive about their negative reviews (“Oh, look at this bad review! Hahaha I don’t care. I REALLY DON’T CARE AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU BUT GO LOOK AND SEE HOW SILLY AND WRONG THEY ARE.”), but I try not to spend time around them.

More importantly, I try hard not to be them. Now, we’ll see how well I succeed when my first book comes out.

Dear CSI (of any flavor)

Dear CSI (of any flavor)

Something you seem unable to grasp:

You Are Not A Soap Opera

Seriously. We don’t care if one CSI is cheating on another and we don’t appreciate the return of the Black Man As Addict storyline and, honestly, we really don’t need to know that much about the lives of the CSIs. That’s not why we watch. Sure, it’s great when you see that two people who are into each other hook up, but then that’s all we need to know. No more info needed, thanks. No drama required. We’re watching your tiresome shows for the hot forensics action and because we enjoy crime shows and puzzle solving. If we want relationship drama we’ll catch the replay of today’s All My Children. At least there we’ll find some more black people.

Once again: CSI =/= Soap Opera. Put it in a memo and send it to Gary, David, and William ASAP.

Boring Website Stuff Made Exciting With Exclamation Points

Finally switched over to my new host. Finally got all of my data over to said new host. New host restored WordPress databases! Love new host to death so far. DNS propagation went smoothly, yay! Upgrade to WordPress 2.5 went smoothly, yay! The WP future post function now finally woks for the first time evar, yay, yay, yay! Put in a bunch of new plugins so I can pretend to be as awesome as Mary Robinette, yay! Completely forgot that the crossposter doesn’t work with WP 2.5, boo. So no one on LJ saw this post from yesterday, boo. This will be my first test of the upgrade, yay! My comments now have avatars, yay! I decided to upload my own avatars for that, so went with people of color from SF TV shows and movies. I think I got everyone from the TV shows I watch, and I have Will Smith + some Matrix people. But I need more! Suggestions? In the comments, yay! Which can now be threaded, yay! WordPress is awesome, yay!

Oh Boob Grab, We’ll Miss Thee (actually, we won’t, but…)

Oh Boob Grab, We'll Miss Thee (actually, we won't, but...)

Yesterday when I found out about the open source boob project I figured I should write something up for FSFBlog about it. Something more comprehensive than WTF PEOPLE. However, Liz beat me to it! And brilliantly. Everyone should go read her post, cuz she has awesome links.

I am as impressed with the swiftness and voracity of the response to the original post as Liz is, but not entirely surprised. I think there is a lot of built-up, sometimes unspoken, anger about the issue of sexual harassment or skeeviness at cons or with the community in general. And it’s not just with the obvious crap from inappropriate touching or overtly creepy people, but also that subtle shit or with people who take advantage of the politeness, introversion, or shyness of the people–usually women–they are creepy and inappropriate and worse with.

And because it’s not completely over the line stuff like actual touching or actual verbal abuse, it’s sometimes hard to know what to do. Even I find myself struggling to get past the barrier of basic human politeness and have the courage to say, “Dude, you are creeping me the fuck out.”

I’ll give an example, since I’ve been telling folks about this a lot lately. I was at a big con a while back and met a person through mutual friends. Upon first meeting, this person seemed to be nice and friendly and someone I wouldn’t mind knowing. Later, at a party, I saw this person again when they approached me and proceeded to compliment my various physical attributes and declared me hot and sexy.

On the surface, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But the majority of the people reading this journal know that there’s a way in which someone can compliment your looks that is flattering, even a turn on. And then there’s ways they can compliment you that makes you want to have a very hot shower, perhaps with a nice exfoliating piece of brillo, just to be sure the slime goes away. But the person didn’t say something disgusting, didn’t slip me his room key and wink, didn’t touch me, didn’t threaten. It’s right on that edge of not cool, enough to make me go EWWWWEWEWEWOMGNO on the inside. On the outside, I just smiled and accepted the compliment (as young ladies are taught to do) and resolved to not go near that person again, if I could help it.

But, like I said, this was a friend of a friend, so I did see them again over the course of the con, and they continued to flirt and skeeve in my general direction. (and after that, friended me on LJ, moving into virtual skeeving. Lovely.) And even I marveled at why I couldn’t just say, “I do very much mind that you keep flirting with me, since you asked, because you’re ICKY.” But then, that’s really mean.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, I have ideas about when it’s appropriate to just cut someone down and when it’s not. Someone says something racist? Yes. Someone touches my person or the person of someone I know for a fact doesn’t want to be touched? Yes. Someone is just being generally creepy? Not so much.

Perhaps I should re-evaluate this. Because this is a problem. Not just at cons, not just with guys. (If I counted the # of times some women of my acquaintance have been completely inappropriate with the flirting and skeeving all over a person she KNOWS to be in a relationship… gah! Don’t get me started. Though I do recognize that the power dynamics with that are different.) And, at this point, as this boob touching thing has proven, even mild creepiness calls for swift, loud, direct correction. Honestly, how else is this crap going to stop?

I just realized I am sitting here getting angry because I was imagining the kind of bullshit I would hear from people if I were to ever go off on someone for being creepy but not over the line. People telling me that I’m being MEEN, or that just talking to someone privately would achieve more, and why should I completely embarrass that person when they may not even know they’re doing something wrong, or similar sentiments. Preemptively I say to that: BULLSHIT.

Just as I will not, WILL NOT, put up with racism or sexism when it’s seemingly not overt, I also will not put up with this skeeviness. Our community should not. And if I have to be the one to loudly proclaim “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME” in order to get my message across, regardless of who it embarrasses, then I will just have to.

That’s my project. Don’t have a cool name for it, though.

4 Things Make A Post

  1. Thank you, everyone, for the birthday wishes. They made me smile on a day when I didn’t have much to smile about.
  2. Don’t forget to enter our contest to win a copy of Fangland!  I mean, damn, most of you are writers, you just know you could come up with some fun fanfiction based on some H G Wells or something.
  3. Over on SFBookswap, Jasmine is now going to include the total # of stories and the # of female-written stories for each market (and a list at he bottom of markets who didn’t have any women-written fiction in a certain period).  I asked her to do this so we could keep rolling data on this stuff and make tallies and such at the end of the year.  When I do the print fiction roundup for May I’ll start the same.
  4. One of the things I noticed when I was collecting online data from last year is that Baen’s and IGMS seemed to have the lowest ratios.  It’s weird because I get the impression that the older and/or more established SF writers who don’t really know much about what’s going on with online markets seem to be okay with Baen’s (and possibly IGMS).  I was talking to Nancy Kress at World Fantasy and she told me she had a story coming up in Baen’s.  I waved my hand dismissively and said I didn’t red that market because if something’s online, I’m not paying to look at web content.  And she said to me, in a sort of bewildered tone like I was a small child, “But Tempest, how else will they get money to pay their authors?”  (I should pause here and say that Nancy wasn’t being condescending.  Rather, she is like the ultimate mother-ish person.  And ever since Clarion West, when I first met her, I’ve always felt rather like a small child whenever she talks to me, but in a good way.  Like somehow an apple pie is going to show up and I can suck my thumb and watch some cartoons and be snuggly safe.) Anyway, my point was that I wonder if there is a correlation?  Like, old guard SF is into Baen’s, so Baen’s publishes like an old guard magazine, complete with the lack of women in significant numbers.

Submitting Strategy

Submitting Strategy

Earlier this week I wrote a post about how Asimov’s, under Sheila Williams, has published more women this year (so far) than F&SF or Analog by a significant amount.  I mentioned this for several reasons, though probably not the one people think.  Though some people grokked my main reason, which was to make people (scratch) women aware of the markets they might deem “friendly” to them or their stories or the kind of stories they like to write.

Over and over I hear that women and men, in general, have different submitting strategies.  And that women, mostly, will stop sending stories to markets where they are sure that their stories have no chance.  In some ways, this is a good strategy.  It keeps one from sending stories about pretty, pretty princesses to Clarkesworld and gory horror stories to Realms of Fantasy. But then one runs the risk of rejecting the story for the editor, which doesn’t do anyone any good.  Finding a sensible balance between those two extremes is, well, sensible. But a key element in finding that balance is good information about a market.

If the common knowledge floating around is that this or that market doesn’t like girl stories or whatever, there’s a chance that people who write girl stories won’t send there. But if a market changes, or is looking to change, how is that common knowledge amended?  Though people pointing it out, talking about it, encouraging writers to update what they think they know.

More than once recently I’ve heard someone write Asimov’s off because of stuff that happened or stuff they read 5 or more years ago.  That was before the current editor.  Things have changed since then.  Things that matter to writers (like that goddamned form rejection we hated).  And one of those changes is the percentage of women in the magazine.  Maybe pointing this out will encourage women writers to pick up a few issues, read them, and submit themselves.  The more good writers in the slushpile, the more good stories in the magazine.  It follows.

Ann Vandermeer posted an interesting comment to Jeff’s response to my post:

Just a FYI. Opened up my WT submissions email account this morning. 25 new submissions. 22 from men, 3 from women. This is the typical submissions ratio I receive for Weird Tales (this is just from overnight – I’ll get more in during the day….)

Weird Tales is another example of a magazine that has gone through changes (major changes, in fact) and may still suffer from wrong “common knowledge” about what kind of stories they publish and that they’re more interested in what men write than what women write.  Now, I don’t know Ann, and I’ve only read one issue with her picks so far, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she probably isn’t more interested in the stories that men write.  What she is interested in is up to her to show us as the magazine continues.  But if I were a writer (oh, I am), and also a woman (batting 2 for 2 here), I would definitely get right on sending her appropriate stories and not automatically assuming that she doesn’t want my fiction.  There are an awful lot of men who are doing this thing.  And it would please me above anything to have really strong female writers making their mark on that slushpile, amongst others.

I’m on the Tiptree jury!

I'm on the Tiptree jury!

Now that the other jurists are confirmed, I can jump up and down about this in public. Debbie Notkin asked me to be on the 2009 Tiptree jury, which means I, along with other fabulous people, will pick the winners from 2008 published fiction.

I’m so excited about this I cannot tell you. It’s a real honor to be asked, especially because this award is close to my heart.

I foresee many, many months of reading ahead of me, not to mention getting to know the UPS guy really well.

Dear People On The Internet

Dear People On The Internet

Something you’ve perhaps failed to understand over the last 15 or so years:

Reply –> Sends email to the person who sent it and only that person.

Reply to All –> Sends email to everyone on the “To” line of the original email plus the original sender.

Times where clicking Reply To All is appropriate:

  1. You know everyone in the group and what you have to say pertains to all/most of you.
  2. It is not a note/message meant for only the person who sent the original message.

Times when clicking Reply to All is not appropriate:

  1. 98% of your life on the web, people.

Seriously, the Reply to All should never, ever, ever, ever be your default clicky button when replying to emails. If you cannot help but click that button because of some curious disease of the mind (or habit, whatever), then remove that button from your interface. Don’t know how to do that? Ask a teenager.

Because, really, the number of you people out there who do not understand this, and the number of you who run businesses on the Internet and yet do not understand this to a crippling degree, appalls me. There is no reason for this foolishness.

No love,

Tempest

Related Letter:

Dear People Who Design Email Programs,

Help us out, here. Make it so every time someone clicks “Reply to All” a window or dialogue box pops up and says: “Do you really want to do that? Reply To All is only appropriate when…”

Make it so that only people who really understand computers can figure out how to turn this off. You’re good at that, especially if you work for Microsoft.

If you do this, you’d be doing the rest of us a huge favor, thanks.

Love,

Tempest