Wednesday, July 17, 2013

the lowest thief of words there is

This is a short update to a previous post about plagiarizing reviews.

As I said at the end of that post, I will never ever forgive someone who steals another's words.  And if it's possible for one kind of theft to be worse than another, then I guess the theft of reviews is even lower than theft of a book or story or other original work.

Posting a stolen review on Goodreads or Amazon or your blog or anywhere else has absolutely no excuse.  None. 

There can sometimes be some justification for stealing bread or stealing money or stealing ... whatever, on the basis of need.  That, after all, is at the heart of so many classic stories, because there is an underlying injustice that creates the need that can only be satisfied through theft.

What is the underlying justification for stealing a review, for crying out loud?  There is no compensation involved to either party.  Is it ego, a need to be recognized and praised for one's contribution to the already enormous mountain of readers' responses to published works?  If so, then why steal?  Do you think you're not going to be found out?

Perhaps it is a genuine mental illness that requires professional treatment.  Perhaps.  Perhaps.  If so, then the person needs to find professional help -- or a friend or loved one needs to find it for her -- and get the problem taken care of.

Stealing a review is a conscious act.  It's not an accident, not when it happens a dozen times or more.  There is premeditation in the setting up of a user account, selecting the books to be "reviewed," and then choosing which reviews to actually steal.

How much more unforgivable can the theft be than when it is committed by a writer?  Does that writer not value her own words?  How would she feel if her words, her creation, her thoughts, her soul were stolen from her?

No doubt the account will be deleted from Goodreads,   If the reviews that have been stolen were also published elsewhere, on a blog or on another website, they will be identified and removed also.

When I wrote in another previous blog post that it's okay to write a review out of anger or revenge or spite, I meant it.  Sometimes there are authors whose behavior outside the pages of their books is so offensive that the reader just can't set it aside.  For me, one of those behaviors is stealing another person's words.  For me, that is simply not forgivable, and any author I learn has done it will be fair game for my revenge review.

DO NOT STEAL.  Period.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

...And just a few discouraging words -- for reviewers


If you wanta be mean and nasty, if you wanta lie and cheat, if you wanta slash and burn, that's okay.  You hated the book, okay.  You don't like the author's politics or choice of  spouse, okay.  You'll never read the book but you'll give it 100 stars anyway, fine.

But do not steal another reviewer's review.  Just don't do it.

It's plagiarism, it's copyright infringement, it's stealing the soul of the person who wrote, who owns those words.

I love words, I love writing, and even if I don't like what they write, I have at least an understanding of what a writer goes through.  Writing a review of someone else's writing is still writing.


I will not forgive you.  Not ever.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Where seldom is heard an encouraging word. . . . for reviewers

I tend to address more of my blog posts to my fellow writers than to any one else, and I'm frequently scolding them for bad writing or bad behavior.  Today I'm going to look in the other direction.

Except when we're writing just for ourselves, we writers depend on you, our readers, to make our stories come alive in your minds and your imaginations.  It's our job to provide you with the tools -- the words -- to do that, and then it's your job to tell other readers whether we succeeded or failed.

No, it's not your job to tell us we didn't do it.  We had our chances to get critiques before we published.  We had the responsibility make sure the research was right, the words were right, the spelling was checked, the plot was seamless, the characters fully fleshed.  Regardless how you acquired the book -- free, purchased, ARC, contest give-away, borrowed from a friend or the library, even illegally downloaded -- you invested your time in reading it.  You have a right to your opinion because you made that investment.

Did you quit after the first page because the writing was so poor?  You have a right to say so.  You have a right to write a review that's longer than the portion of the book you read. 

Were you so enchanted by the story that you never noticed how often the Regency heroine referred to the mysterious lights "left on" in the tower window?  You have a right to say so.

You're allowed to say you didn't like the cover, that you're tired of characters named after objects like Link and Star and Storm and Blade.  You're allowed to be snotty and snarky and mean.  By the same token, you can gush and give it five stars (or whatever the highest ranking is) just because it's set in Paris and there's a dog in it somewhere.

Readers and reviewers can write revenge reviews.  Is it kinda juvenile and silly to do so?  Yeah, I suppose so.  But we writers need to understand and accept that readers have all kinds of reasons for reading (or not reading) a book, for liking (or not liking) a book, and for liking (or not liking) an author.  When we put our books out there and ourselves with it, we are inviting you to read them and we should not think that we have any control whatsoever over the reasons that motivate a person to pick up a book and read it.  That includes anger or resentment or jealousy or spite.

Do you owe us anything?  Nope.  Nothing.

You don't owe us a review or a rating at all.  You don't owe us a critique.  You don't owe us a reading of the whole book.   You don't owe us perfect grammar or spelling.  First of all, you don't owe us anything because any review that you write isn't for us anyway.  Reviews are for other readers.  And it's okay to tell other readers that you couldn't get past page one.  There are some really crappy books out there, and you shouldn't be surprised if you encounter a few.  It's okay to tell other readers the author can't write her way out of a wet paper bag.  Your job as a reviewer is not to be kind to the writer who threw that garbage; it's to let other readers know you think it's garbage.  Reviews are for other readers.  It's okay to correct each and every grammar error.  It's okay to fill your online review with pictures and GIFs and videos and music and whatever else you want. 

You didn't hang over our shoulders and tell us how to write our books.  And we damn sure shouldn't be hanging over your shoulders telling you how to read them or how to review them. 

Dear readers and reviewers, please don't ever be intimidated, harassed, or threatened by an author (or her friends, fans, or sockpuppets) who tries to tell you what's wrong with your review.  Tell 'em to sod off.  And if they won't, then tell 'em I told you to tell 'em there's no such thing as a stupid question, and there's no such thing as a wrong review.  There is no "right" way to review and there is no "wrong" way to review.  There is only your way.

Not liking  a book, for whatever reason, does not make you a bully.  Telling the author not to quit his or her day job does not make you a bully.  Pointing out errors of fact does not make you a meanie or a troll.  Reviewing a book you couldn't get past page 3 does not make you a criminal.   You don't have to provide constructive criticism, and you don't have to be gentle with the tender sensibilities of the writer.  If she didn't think she could take criticism, she shouldn't have  published the thing. 

You, the reader/reviewer, do not have to have perfect grammar and spelling.  (Although if you correct someone else's and you're wrong, well, be prepared to have that pointed out!)

You don't even have to review.  Did the author give you a free copy in exchange for a review?  If there's no contract involved, if there's no exchange of benefits, you don't have to do it.  Can the author get mad and not give you any more free books?  Yeah, she can.  But she also needs to know that readers are not obligated to do . . .  anything. They don't even have to read it.

But by the same token, don't be afraid to say you really liked a book that others found fault with.  Some of us are really picky readers.  Maybe it's because some of us are also authors and we do tend to look for and see the technical problems more often and more easily than the casual reader.  Maybe some of us are just jealous meanies out to destroy some poor writer's career.  (I highly doubt that, but it's possible.)   But maybe readers just didn't like that book and you did.  If you liked the book everyone else hated, that's okay, too.  Something in that book touched you, and that's a good thing.  You don't know how many other readers out there might be just as touched by that element, that style, that setting, that. . . . whatever.

And yes, there are readers and reviewers who love everything they read, who never have a criticism, who dole out 5-star ratings like candy corn at Halloween.  Are they being dishonest?  I don't know.  Maybe they really do love everything they read in all genres and all styles.  Maybe they really do.  Maybe their mothers taught them if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all and they took it to heart.  Maybe they're just uncritical readers.  Maybe they want a lot of free books to sell on eBay.  Maybe they're greedy for fame as a top reviewer on Amazon or Goodreads.  Maybe they're frustrated writers who are living vicariously.  Maybe they just want to be loved.

But as far as I know, they have a right to do that, too.  Readers are savvy people, and they'll figure out which reviewers to pay attention to and which to ignore.  Remember that:  Readers are savvy people.  They'll quickly figure out if you're reviewing just for the sake of reviewing or if you're a good analyst whose judgment they're going to trust when making their own book buying decisions.

Oh, to be sure, there may be guidelines set up by the place you're posting your review, and those have to be adhered to because the guys who provide the space do get to set the rules.   But it's still your opinion and your review.

Go for it!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A few words about a jacket

Several years ago I made myself a quilted jacket.

Most of the women in my circle of acquaintances had lots more money to burn than I, and they all had nifty little jackets to wear on chilly days.  I didn't have any such jacket, and certainly not a closet full of them.  So I searched the Internet for a design.   After I found several that I liked, I created a pattern that incorporated elements of each, and made myself a jacket.

The prototype turned out all right, but it wasn't perfect.  I knew where I'd made mistakes, where I should have made adjustments to the pattern to make it fit better.  But that's what a prototype is for -- to work out the bugs.

The first time I wore the jacket, someone wanted to buy it, literally right off my back.  I told her I could make her another, though it wouldn't be quite the same fabrics, but it would be better constructed, wouldn't have flaws.  She said she didn't care about the flaws. . . . . until I pointed them out to her.  A misplaced buttonhole.  A too-narrow seam.  I told her I wanted to make sure any jacket she got from me was properly made for lots of comfortable wear.  When I delivered the jacket to her a week later and showed her the improvements I'd made and how much better quality this was than the prototype, she thanked me for my honesty and promptly ordered another as a gift for a friend.

Not too long after that, some friends invited me to go with them to the local "swap meet," which is one of those big commercial operations with several hundred vendors hawking everything from belts to golf clubs to cactus gardens to artisan bread to surplus cosmetics to toys to books to you name it.  In one of the "shops" featuring imported clothing, we stopped to look at . . . jackets.  Some were actually quite similar to the design I had used, but of course close inspection revealed seams that were already coming apart, mismatched buttons, loose threads, poorly stitched hems.  Though the jackets were priced about 75% lower than the two I had made and sold, they weren't even worth that bargain price.  They didn't look like they'd stand up to a single hand washing; mine were made to be thrown in the washer and dryer with no special treatment.

As one of the women remarked when we walked away from the display, "You'd think people would have more pride than to put that kind of junk out for sale.  And why would anyone buy that crap?  I'd be afraid it'd fall apart the first time I wore it."

And that's even taking into consideration that the people selling it are not the people who made it.

But I replied to her, as someone whose arts & craft products (Remember?  I make jewelry and stuff) directly competes with that flea market merchandise, "Many people don't know any better.  The stuff is cheap, and they buy it because they can.  And when it falls apart, they shrug and go out and buy another."

So there's all this cheap junky clothing in our flea markets and our stores, and thousands of women die because someone has to make an obscene profit off it.  No one seems to deny that a lot of it is garbage, and yet neither is anyone driving that point home: People die so other people can buy garbage.  And we know this doesn't make any sense, so why do we do it?  And I don't want anyone to think I'm blaming the workers for producing a shoddy product.  They do what they're told with the material and equipment they're given.  And if the boss says to cut the seams a quarter inch narrower to save a bit of fabric, they do it.  And if the boss says to set the sewing machine for eight stitches per inch to go faster instead of 12 to make a stronger seam, they do it. 

The point is, few will argue about the quality of the end product.  It's very often crap.  And that's the simple truth.  The colors fade, the stitching unravels, the buttons fall off, the zippers break. 

What's wrong with pointing out the obvious?

I happen to love the imported rayon dresses and skirts that are commonly found at the flea market, but I've learned to be very careful when buying them.  Often they have stains or fade streaks from being in the sun.  I check all the buttons, because even if I am perfectly capable of sewing on a loose one, I can't always match the missing ones.  And I'm not going to pay even $15 for something I essentially have to remake.

I don't buy appliances that don't work.  I don't by clothing items that are obviously poorly made.  I don't by rotten tomatoes or sprouted potatoes or moldy bread or bald tires.  Nor does anyone treat me like a leper for saying so.

But if I dare breathe a word about the absolute garbage that's being "published" these days by eager but woefully unskilled "writers," I'm called a hater, a bully, a scary troll, a jealous failed writer.  (Why would anyone be jealous of crappy writing?  Never mind.)

I don't care if it's a crocheted pot-holder (I've made more than a few of those in my lifetime) or an amethyst crystal wrapped in sterling silver wire (I've made quite a few of those, too)

 or a quilted jacket

or lathe-turned ironwood bowl

 or what it is.  If it's crap, it's crap.  Saying it's wonderful isn't going to make it so.