Sunday, April 28, 2013

Words for you, words for me

A friend inadvertently posed an interesting question to me the other day.  Because I don't talk a whole lot about my writing, she was surprised when I told her that I had written several books.  But when I told her they were historical romances, she wrinkled her nose and said, "Oh, why don't you write mysteries instead?  If you wrote a mystery, I'd buy it, but I don't like romance novels."

It was easy to just laugh it off and tell her I didn't write mysteries because I didn't know enough about them to write a good one.  End of discussion.  Sort of.

But then I stumbled upon a review of a self-published historical romance in which the reviewer gave the book one star and blasted it for containing a particular plot element that she considered grossly offensive.

It was not a plot element *I* would find grossly offensive, but I won't argue anyone's right to be offended by something in a novel.  Nor their right to give a one-star scathing review.

But I did think that review was just another reason why authors should seriously consider not reading the reviews of their books and why they should never respond to them.

Most of the books I've written have contained one or more elements that large portions of the romance-reading demographic might find offensive.  If I were to write solely with the objective of not offending anyone, I wouldn't be able to write anything.  Someone, somewhere, is going to be offended by just about anything.  Swearing.  Explicit descriptions of sex.  Mere implications of sex out of wedlock.  References to homosexuality without condemnation. 

So it's impossible for me to write without the risk of offending someone's sensibilities.  And if they are offended and choose to castigate me for it, well, there's no much I can say.  I mean, I'm really not sorry that they were offended, and I'm not sorry for writing whatever it was that offended them.  I just wrote what I wanted to write.

I do think it's possible to write for a specific sales market, but I also think the author who wants to be successful should first and foremost write for herself.  I write the kind of books I like to read, and I since I like to read the same kind of books other people do, it stands to reason that maybe they'd like to read the books I write.  But am I writing for the reader?  No, I'm not.

I'm really writing for me.

Understanding that concept takes a great deal of the sting out of the negative review that conveys the reader's personal dislike of elements of the story.  That's not to say the review or the reviewer is wrong.  But as the author, I have no control over that reaction.  Will that one-star rating hurt my sales?  Well, yeah, maybe it will.  But I can't do anything about it. 

And why should I do anything about it?  The reader is free to like or dislike the book just as I'm free to write or not write it.

Criticisms based on writing competence or research accuracy or plot consistency are another matter entirely, and most writers (especially ones with little experience) should probably pay some attention to review comments about the writing quality. 

But if you write the book you want to read, there's no reason to argue with anyone who didn't, unless they're you.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A fool and her words. . . .

. . . .are too soon published.

I'm trying very hard not to be that kind of fool.

As I blogged last month I'm in the process of preparing my first published novel, Legacy of Honor, for digital republication.  I knew it was going to be a rather difficult task, for a variety of reason, so I'm not really surprised that a month later, I'm still working on it.  I have a day job, after all, and other real-life obligations that take some of my time, too, and I still need to eat and sleep.

It's been a multi-step process, not always easy.  Although I'm changing nothing of the storyline, there are areas that cried out for better editing than the book got when Leisure published it.  If all I had to do were re-insert lines or paragraphs or even pages from the original manuscript, hey, no problem.  But there were two different edits involved, both of which did more than just remove text.  The intent of those edits was to improve the book, and for the most part, they did.  So my task is not only to fix errors that were made but also to avoid adding back any more. 

As I began work on one particularly delicate scene, I thought maybe it really didn't make any difference.  The changes I wanted to make were extremely fine-tuning in terms of clarity.  Would the reader notice the difference?  Would she care?  How many people, after all, had read the print version and never questioned anything?

Oh, wait a minute.  There was no Amazon in 1985, no Goodreads.  No forums for readers to complain, "WTF was that on page  XXX?  There are characters speaking who had already left the room!"  If I, as the writer who mentally knew how everything played out in the book, saw it and wondered about it, then I owed it to the reader to make sure those characters were put back on stage so they could speak.  And that the rest of the errors were fixed, too.

The writer is the book's first reader.  I know I would not want to read a book whose author knew about but didn't care about those details because all she really wanted was just to see her work in print -- even if it's only digital print. 

Even though some of these edits involve the careful massaging of three different versions of a scene to make sure all the crucial information is presented in the proper sequence so the reader can "see" exactly what's happening, and even though maybe no one ever would notice the errors if I hadn't fixed them, I  know they're there.

Legacy of Honor will have to wait a bit longer before its digital edition is published.  As impatient as I am to see it in "print" again after almost 30 years, I can wait.  And the readers?  All I can do is hope they're waiting, too.

Monday, April 15, 2013

You win when you walk away

Yeah, no "word" in the title of this post.

But there are more words in that title, because the whole thing is, "You win when you walk away with your head held high and your integrity intact, and they can't follow you where you're going."

You don't win when you hang around the pigpen and play their dirty games with them.

If you've been following this blog at all, you know how I feel about trolls and book review stalkers and authors who pad their records with fake reviews and all that bullshit.  The advice is the same in all situations:  Don't, for the love of all that's good and light and wonderful, don't feed the trolls.

And whatever you do, don't lower yourself to their level.

Oh, I know how tempting it is.  I've spent many a night on the computer, arguing online with someone I knew was wrong, someone I knew I could persuade to see the issue -- whatever it was -- my way.  And you know what?  It never happened.

And sometimes I justified my efforts as being for the lurkers, so they didn't fall prey to the error of the other person's ways.  Every once in a while I'd get rewarded with an email or a posted reply from some sweet little lurker who appreciated my effort.  I'm not putting down those dear souls, because it is indeed gratifying to think that the effort wasn't entirely wasted.

The truth is, however, most of the time it's all mental masturbation, it's self-righteous exhibitionism.  I know I'm right and I really, really, really want everyone else to know it, too.

And they don't give a rat's ass, because they all know they're right, and they're entirely wrapped up in their own monologues.  No matter what you tell them, they aren't going to get it.  They aren't.  No, don't argue with me.  They aren't.

(Yeah, that was supposed to be mildly humorous. Ha ha.)

No matter how great the temptation, no matter how convinced you are that you have a moral obligation to get The Truth out there, your only path to victory is to walk away.  Do not engage them.  Do not feed the trolls.

No matter how well constructed your arguments are, no matter how air-tight your logic, no matter how much evidence you've stacked up, none of it matters.  (And here's where a word or two might come into play:  It's "evidence," not "proof."  You can present evidence that they've lied, evidence that they've taken comments out of context, evidence of anything, but evidence isn't proof.  Just sayin'.)

Now, I don't care which side you're on when you're reading this.  Again, it doesn't matter.  Each side, both sides, all sides are so thoroughly convinced of their own rightness, and so vested in maintaining that stance, that nothing is ever going to change.  It's not.

Yes, you can cite all the instances of writers, readers, bloggers, reviewers, editors, sock puppets, who have written stuff they're later so ashamed of that they take it down and then they have to be reminded that it doesn't matter, because the Internet, like a DeBeers diamond, is forever, and someone somewhere is certain to have a screen shot.  Writers who suddenly are made aware of the awfulness of their prose then clamor for Goodreads to delete their book, only be told nope, sorry, it's there and it's going to stay there.  And sometimes, it's true, they will sort of apologize.  But for the most part, confronting them in public is a waste of time.  They're as eager to save face as you are.  And why wouldn't they be?

If what they've done is so far over the line of civility as to constitute an actionable threat, then for crying out loud, take action.  Screen shot the evidence of threats, record the voice mails, wrap the snail mail letters in plastic and take it to the police.  Do not become a vigilante.

If it's not actionable, if it's not a threat, if it's not unlawful, then walk away from it.  Do not become a vigilante, because they have done nothing wrong.

If what they did was in violation of a website's Terms of Service, report them to the website.  The website has the authority to deal with issue.  If the website says it's okay, who are you to challenge them?  If you don't like it, walk away, hold your head up high, wrap yourself in a mantle of honesty and integrity, and walk away.  Do not become a vigilante on a site you don't own.

If you choose instead to become a vigilante, to take whatever law there is into your own hands, then you cannot cry out for the protection of that same law.  You have, after all, denied that protection to "them," so how can you -- without hypocrisy -- claim its protection for yourself?

You cannot complain that they are goading you and teasing you and bullying you, unless you steadfastly refuse to do the same to them.  Oh, I know, you're going to say you're doing it for the right reasons, you're fighting fire with fire, you're giving them what they deserve.  Where have we heard that before?  Oh, of course, those are all the same justifications "they" used when "they" started it.

I know it's difficult to ignore their lies, their taunts, their jeers.  I know there's a deep seated desire to challenge them, to prove them wrong and yourself right. 

But it isn't going to happen.  Oh, I know you think it will.  I know you think you've got right on your side.

"They" don't care about right or wrong.  They only care about getting attention.  You know that.  You know you know that.  But that little voice inside you is cheering you on every time you get out there in that forum or on that blog and proclaim The Truth.

And you know what?  You're probably 100% correct.  Your truth probably is the correct one.  You probably have far more evidence of their wrongdoing than they have of yours.  But it doesn't matter.  There is no victory in this battle, not until one of you refuses to fight.  Not until one of you says to the other -- and means it -- "You're not worth my time and effort.  I have better things to do."

They win as long as you keep fighting, because that's what they live for -- the fight itself.  They don't care about winning in a traditional sense; they just care about the fight.  As long as the fight goes on, they can't lose.

But if you win by walking away, that's the end of the fight.  And they've lost.