Thursday, March 21, 2013

Strong words, wrong words

Every once in a while I get an idea for a clever pun, then find out I had the wrong reference.  This is a bummer.

I was trying to think of an alternative to "grammar nazi," since that kind of hyperbole can be more than a little offensive.  One can be a stickler for good grammar without being a jackbooted thug capable of real atrocities against real people.  Hyperbole has its place, and it can be amusing as well as effective in making a point, but this particular one can be very offensive.

So I came up with the idea of "grammar ratchet."  There are lots and lots of tools around my house, including several ratchets -- those little gizmos that tighten (or loosen) nuts depending on which way they're set.  And I had thought to use that term as a play on the inflexible, by the book, mean as dirt Louise Fletcher character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, until I discovered her name was Nurse Ratched. 

I've only seen the film once, and I can't say I enjoyed it.  I'm not a big fan of that sort of film.  The problem with Nurse Ratched, as I saw her, was that she couldn't see beyond the rules.  They were there in and of themselves, not as tools or -- to pull a term from another popular film -- guidelines.  Reality had to be bent to the rules, in Nurse Ratched's world, no matter what.  She found her security, her rightness, in those rules, but she never found a soul.

Well, my pun on ratchet didn't work.  I'm still looking for one.

But I guess that's as good an opening as any into an examination of what I find is a disturbing trend to compare negative book reviews to physical violence, and for the authors of books that receive negative reviews to liken themselves to the victims of rape, murder, and genocide.

Yes, indeed, one self-published author has said in public that the existence of a group of readers on who address issues of "Badly Behaving Authors" reminded him of 1942-1945 Europe.  The self-published author did not, of course, reference any of his own abusive posts on Goodreads, yet all anyone did to him was . . . . not like his book.

Words have meanings.  Nazism, genocide, murder, rape, bullying -- all these words have very distinct meanings.  "I didn't like your book" doesn't come close. 

Even if one reader rallied her friends to collectively bash someone else's book, how can that equate to the experience of having armed men invade your home in the middle of the night, take your family into an alley, and shoot them all in front of you right before they shoot you?  We're not talking apples and oranges; we're talking butterflies to B-52 bombers.

The same self-published authors who bitch and moan and whine and complain about the negative reviewers who gang up on their books never say a word about the rallying cries they send out to their own fans and supporters to flood the review sites with five-star fountains of praise.  And the truth is that very few of those fan-rallies are ever really called out.  Oh, some of the more egregious sock-puppet masters have been exposed, but for the most part your average self-published novel that gets five or ten or even 25 glowing reviews and a few one-star comments that are basically, "What the hell were they reading?  This is crap!" get a pass.  If customers on Amazon alert the system that there are obvious shill reviews, or the author's spouse is blatantly promoting the books, the reviews might be removed.  But most of the time, Amazon and the other retail booksellers are in the business of selling books and they really don't care. 

Needless to say, neither do the authors who are benefiting from the fandom.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, to lurkers, to readers, to my (so far) innocuous stalkers:  You are not your book, and your book is not you.  Criticism of it is not necessarily criticism of you, and very often even the most scathing criticism contains seeds of wisdom.  It is only your own fault if you don't pay attention.  Claiming that your critics are just meanies and trolls and bullies, Nazis and rapists and murderers is just childish exaggeration, and it will not change the quality of your writing.  Only you can do that, if you really want to.


  1. It is obvious there is strong conviction behind this belief, but Linda, wrong is still wrong and no matter how hard you try to validate it, it still doesn't make it any better. Yes, maybe it is apples to oranges. Bashing another author, getting friends to bash that author is nothing comparative to B-52 bombers, rapists, killers ect... It however is a display of your character.

    Which moves me on to my display of character- my reaction to a negative review- I acted like whiny baby :0) You were right and I thank you for setting me straight :0)

    Now onto something for you to think about...just consider...
    How is your approach of bashing other authors going to effect your writing career? Do you think readers might hesitate or worse choose not to purchase your book(s) upon seeing these displays?

    Well, anyway, thank you again and I do hope you accept my humblest apologies for the offense I have caused you, you make quite a debater. I must confess I would rather be your friend than enemy :0) I look forward to more of your posts, they do make one stop and think.
    Good luck to you in all your endeavors :0)

  2. Thank you for your comments, Alishia, and allow me to respond.

    As a matter of fact, I have given the matter of how my reviewing and blogging and posting in various reader-and-writer forums might affect (that's the one with the "a", not the "e" one) sales of my books. I explored the issue in a series of three blogposts, beginning here:

    For one thing, however, I don't bash authors. I may give their books, their writing, and (sometimes) their online behavior harsh criticism, but not themselves as people. For one thing, I don't know them, so how could I bash them? Even the most scathing review, even suggesting the writer never go near a writing instrument of any kind ever again, is not the same as bashing the person.

    It's a book, for crying out loud. And if someone thinks it's a poorly written book, the author is still perfectly free to disagree and ignore the review, or remove the book from publication, or write a better one next time. Writers have all kinds of options; victims of war and violence, of bigotry and discrimination don't have that. How does one disagree with a bullet or a cluster bomb or a drone?

    Nor is a critic's honest, if painful to the recipient, opinion the kind of blight on her character that you seem to be judging it. Would you prefer that no one ever offer negative reviews, regardless how terrible they think the book is? Would you prefer no one ever point out the bad grammar, the shallow plots, the stereotyped characters, the clichéd description and stilted dialogue, the errors of fact and internal consistency? How would anyone become a better writer if all they got were five-star reviews?

    Like many people who socialize online, I have friends with whom I discuss books and reading and writing, both publicly and privately. We share our experiences, both of books we've liked and those that we didn't like so much. Sometimes we agree in our opinions and sometimes we don't. But we have enough respect for each other that we emphatically do not make group judgments.

    What other people need to understand is that friends often share the same opinion. They often like the same movies and music, the same books and politics. It's on these similarities and shared interests that their friendships are based. So what may look like an organized (and thereby nefarious) campaign of, say, downvoting an Amazon review or liking a Facebook post, is probably nothing more than people with similar interests expressing similar opinions. At least that's what it is with me and my friends. Rest assured, Alishia, that I am far too stubborn and far too opinionated ;-) ever to be part of a mob action. Even if it's just a small mob.

    Peace to you and yours, and happy writing!