Saturday, January 06, 2007

Writer Rants

What is it with writers penning long, rambling, insulting posts to anyone who dares to criticize their books? First we had Anne Rice expressing on Amazon her utter contempt for anyone who a) didn’t like her books and b) thought she needed to take that “no editing” clause out of her contracts. (If you missed it, it’s here, although you’ll need to scroll down to find it). But Laurell K Hamilton really outdid her with the recent blog entry, Dear Negative Reader. According to Laurell, if you don’t like LKH’s books, then you must be stupid, shallow, and lazy. So there.

I will admit I can get pretty irate when readers post attacks on my books that are based on false or petty gripes. I’m always having people pick at my books for “historical inaccuracies” that aren’t inaccuracies at all. I remember one irate Amazon reader who attacked SEPTEMBER MOON because she said the children in the book were obviously mental cases since they’d put a poisonous snake in my heroine’s room…except the snake wasn’t poisonous, and I’d said it wasn’t at least a half a dozen times. And then there was the time an on-line reviewer—a seasoned romance reader, no less—attacked THE BEQUEST because the hero was brave and the heroine was beautiful and came from New Orleans. Excuse me?

Those attacks fire me up because they’re unfair—or, in the case of the BEQUEST review, because the book obviously pushed some button the reviewer is refusing to acknowledge. I know there will always be readers who don’t like my characters, who don’t like my stories, who think my books are too dark, my prose too dense or not dense enough, whatever. That’s the way this whole wonderful world of books works. I know very intelligent readers who don’t like the books I love. So as long as we’re talking about a pure, gut reaction, I know it’s nothing personal.

One of the reasons I hate Amazon’s reviews is because they can and frequently do provide a forum for ignorance and spite. And I think LKH had one valid point: if her former fans don’t like her books any more, they should quit buying them. Why continue buying them, only to complain about them? I gather some of the remarks made were rather tasteless and personal. However, the remarks that set LKH off were actually made on her own Bulletin Board, something she willingly set up not just to give her fans someplace to talk about her books, but to increase her visibility and up her sales and, basically, multiply her take home pay. I guess she forgot to announce the rules: Now children, you can only post on my Bulletin Board if you’ve got something nice to say, otherwise go play someplace else.

Fan bases are funny things, especially with a series. A writer sets up expectations and lures readers to fall in love with her characters. And while it’s true that the writer must, in the end, tell her own stories, I can understand how a fan might feel betrayed and outraged when a writer takes off in a radically new direction. Expectations were set up, then deliberately broken. (And when you write weird stories, you gotta expect some weird fans.)

Success has its own dangers, and I suppose one of the most common (along with the belief, apparently, that one no longer needs an editor) is the temptation to equate book sales with superior writing ability: i.e., I sell lots of books, so it therefore follows that I am a brilliant writer, and if you don’t like my books you obviously don’t have either the intelligence or the emotional maturity to understand or appreciate them.

Oh, and if you’re tempted to take Anne Rice up on her offer and mail her book back to her, you should be warned that she no longer lives at the address she gives. I’ve heard the post office is simply returning them to the senders.

7 comments:

Chap O'Keefe said...

I used to belong to a Yahoo group for readers and writers of Black Horse Westerns. A couple of the writers would make posts about aspects of the publisher's copy-editing of their work that they didn't like. This often went along the lines of "how dare they change my italics to roman". I don't think any of them bothered to mention the editors' "saves" -- e.g. like when I changed a minor character's name from Hannah to Heather halfway though one of my books, or used "fossicking" in relation to gold-mining (it's an Australasian word only, apparently).
By the way, Candy, don't blush but veteran genre-fiction writer Ed Gorman is saying very nice things about you at his blogspot!

cs harris said...

I love my editor. She is brilliant at spotting scenes or explanations I've left out. Copyeditors, too, are godsends. I have more than once altered a character's name and left the old name in some places, which a wide-awake copyeditor caught.

And that you for your kind words about my blog!

cs harris said...

oops! that was THANK you!

Chap O'Keefe said...

Never mind, I got the idea. And did you notice my "oops"? I had a "though" instead of a "through" in my comment.
Another example of rant-type, arrogant behaviour I forgot to mention was the writer of several published books, now working under three names, who advised a newcomer the publisher's House Style book contained nothing of relevance bar a page on proof-correcting symbols! "I never refer to the book myself," he said (proudly?).
You might not like your publisher's rulings on some points, but that is not the professional way to go.
I can't call such people amateurs, because they've been given money for their work. How about shamateurs?
And did I mention that your blog was also given a thumbs-up just before Christmas by Grumpy Old Bookman, which is listed by the UK national Guardian newspaper as "one of the top ten literary blogs"?

Anonymous said...

I can understand how it could have upset Laurell Hamilton to have someone wait in line to tell you how much they hated your book. That would be kind of painful.

Chap, I looked up Black Horse Westerns. I didn't really know this publisher existed. I've been in a western mood lately so I want to look into picking up some of these.

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