Sunday, August 31, 2014

Disillusioned - The Ugly Side of Authors

In recent days, I've guest blogged about how to write a good-but-still-honest book review - and I talked a great deal about my feelings on the recent fuss over "review bullying", and whether or not you might be what I call a "pansy author". And then, just to be clear, I talked about what really constitutes actual "bullying" and what's really more of a bad review that a pansy author couldn't take.

And then, I just took some time off to reflect and think on what's been said - and what hasn't been said.

And you know what's sad? While I was reflecting on the sadness of bully reviewers (because they do exist) and the really really sadness of pansy authors, I had several different conversations with fellow authors who are currently undergoing personal attacks from other authors.

You know, when I first published To Love a Selkie, I met authors and bloggers aplenty, some of whom I'm still friendly with, others who were part of my life for a short time and are mostly gone now. But I've been an author now for one year, eight months, and thirteen days, and in that time, I've seen more ugliness than any of us would care to admit.

There's an element of competitiveness in writing, especially if you do it for a living, and there's no getting around that. We're all trying to make a living, and we all dream - at least a little bit - of hitting that top spot and riding the wave of fame for a little while. There's no escaping that, no getting around it. And there can only be one person in the number one spot at a time. There's only room for one "best".

But did you know that under the Brady Bunch image that is put on by the indie community, there is a truly ugly undercurrent? There are authors out there who beg for reviews, and then attack their reviewers as "bullies" if they don't say what they were expected to say. There are authors out there who attack each other's fans because they read the wrong genres (contemporary romance readers are "boring" or "prudes", erotica readers are "dirty" or "gross", YA readers are "immature" - it goes on and on), or they liked (or disliked) the wrong characters.

There are authors out there who attack each other as authors, because we differ in political views, views on gun laws, gay/racial/economic equality. And that's not even the worst of it.

THEY SABOTAGE EACH OTHER, TOO, WITH NO SHAME.

AND I'M DISILLUSIONED.

There are authors out there who send their fans and street teams to leave bad reviews on other authors' books, because if they can keep other authors down, maybe they can feel elevated for a while, or keep their spot on top for a little longer. There are authors out there who, after having a falling-out or disagreement with another author, will actually post about it, sharing all the details of their side of the story with the public, in order to be sure they look "good" and the other author looks "bad." All to make sure they get closer to the top faster, all in competition.

AND I'M DISILLUSIONED.

In the last twenty-and-a-half months, I've seen four authors go down, three of whom were really incredibly talented, simply because they couldn't take the competitive pressure from their peers. Because they lost the beloved illusion of the all-welcoming Indie family and got caught up in the cutthroat competition for the top spot. Because people they had once counted as peers, as friends, ganged up with the crowd and acted to take them down. Because their hearts were trampled in the stampede. Some of them were willing to tell me their stories. One gave me names - in trust - which I could honestly admit that I'd heard before, in dark whispers in the corners of the internet. But most? Most keep those names to themselves, out of honor, out of professionalism and integrity, out of a desire not to stoop to gossip and name-calling and shit slinging.

AND I'M DISILLUSIONED.

I mean, look - I love my books, I love my characters, and I love writing. And I'll write until the words in my spirit have dried up and gone forever (no danger of that, if the length of this post indicates anything), but I will confess - I'm disillusioned. And I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed that one of my favorite bloggers no longer speaks to me at all because I read a book for an author friend of hers and I didn't like it as much as she wanted me to. I'm disappointed because I've had way too little conversations about author "fan-girling" and way too many conversations about author "mean-girling". I'm disappointed that suddenly it's all about the hottest models and the horniest book covers, and many of us have completely forgotten about the stories within. I'm disappointed that most of those stories will never shine the way the author wanted them too, because they aren't polished, or because we're all too caught up in the drama to share the good books we've read, or too scared to review them because one wrong word written in a review, one wrong name whispered quietly to a friend you don't know will turn on you next week, can just end it all before you've even begun.

When I walked into the Indie world in December 2012, shy and fragile and terrified, I was welcomed as a new friend, a new member of a family, a community of creative people just like me. Now, as I walk into September 2014, I'm a little harder, and maybe just a little jaded. And I'm glad I didn't get as sucked into the whirl as some others have, because my spirit is still intact. Because I can still write, though it's impossibly slow going these days.

Because as disillusioned as I am with the Indie community, I still have something valuable to give, and because as long as I'm in the game, I know that at least one of us isn't going to show their ugly side.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Just In Case You're Confused.

Lately, I've been blogging a lot about the difference between a bad review and actual bullying. But I've actually had people message me on Facebook and ask me to really come out and clarify what I think the difference is.

So just to be clear:

According to StopBullying.Gov, bullying is defined as "unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance." And "in order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include" both an "imbalance of power" and "repetition" of the aggressive behavior. These terms are further identified as follows, quoted (in part) from StopBullying.Gov.

  1. An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power - such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity -  to control or harm others.
  2. Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
Hmm.

You might be wondering why I used a site that deals with bullying as a childhood behavior, and I'll tell you, I did it because generally, bullying is a childhood behavior. So how do I apply this to the adult "review bullying" thing? Okay.

It is not bullying to go leave a bad review because you hated the product, the packaging, or whatever. If you're sorry you bought it, and you say so, that still isn't bullying. If it's a paperback and you cut the book up for crafting because you didn't like it enough to keep it, that still isn't bullying. And if you write a review blog and you write a post about your craft that also includes your somewhat hurtful bad review of the book?

It's mean, but it still isn't bullying.

But ... if the author of said book finds the review and slowly comes to a boiling rage because one reader had the simple audacity to not fall madly in love with said book, and if the author shares the negative review, asking for comments, and if said author has a prior history of sending her fans to lash out and verbally beat down people who don't like her books ... Well, that's bullying. Sorry, Anne Rice. You can't cry about bullies and play the martyr'd pansy author if you're so busy actually trolling and bullying your readers that the entire world begins to take notice.

A bad review is the personal opinion of a consumer, who has the right to review the product in really whichever way they want to. That's how marketing works, and no one is so completely perfect as to completely avoid negative reviews. The only books with all positive, sparkling reviews are the books written by authors so desperate to look successful that they are willing to pay for good reviews - or authors who just happen to have lots of friends willing to lie to them to keep them feeling happy. Or maybe authors (like me) who haven't really broken completely into the industry just yet and haven't been thoroughly discovered by a wide range of readers.

The crazy thing is, in the midst of all this outcry against "review bullying," authors are now threatening the reviewers. Not just with immature bullying, but with adult bullying. Serious adult stuff like libel lawsuits. It's no wonder reviews are so hard to come by - people who read books are AFRAID to review them, they are afraid of being personally attacked, they are afraid of being the target for online trolling ... They. Are. Just. Afraid.

Why? Because authors are now making a habit of biting the hand that feeds them, the hand of the reviewer. (Check out this article for some astonishing references.) Instead of thanking someone, whether they liked your book or not, for taking the time to read it and give it a chance, instead of thanking them for taking the time to even write the review in the first place, authors are now in the habit of either writing a bad review in return for a bad review, or simply changing a previously written review.

I can speak that as a fact, because I've seen it happen personally. An author contacted me once, and after some time spent in small talk and needless flattery, this author finally got around to their point - would I be willing to read and review one of their books if they would read and review one of mine? Sure, no problem. So I picked what I wanted to read, and they picked what they wanted to read. We read. The other author reviewed, gave me five stars. I reviewed too, honestly stating that while I liked the story and acknowledged it's listing as a "short story," I felt that it ended too abruptly and left me hanging. I was being nice - the entire truth was that the very abrupt ending didn't feel like an ending at all, and I was actually outright disappointed. But I didn't say that, I was honest, but gently honest. I gave four stars. Well, the other author saw my review, wrote me a rude facebook message about how my review "disappointed them" and I "let them down," and has not spoken to me again since.

But in truth, even that isn't "bullying" - it's just rude and unprofessional. Because what that author's behavior ultimately said to me was, "I don't care if I have talent (they did), I don't care if my work is any good (it was), I don't care what your actual opinion/review is ... all I want here is an ego stroke, and my sense of integrity is low enough that I'll stoop to 'getting even' with you if you don't give me what I want."

That author also went back to amazon and changed their five star review of my book to a four star review. Can you imagine the smug look on their face? "Ha, Brandi Kennedy, that'll show you!"

But it didn't. I later went on to leave lower-star reviews for several other books that I felt either weren't well polished or just generally sucked. Sorry, I guess I'm just not that big of a pansy. I'm not afraid of a review. Not even a bad one. In fact, I will welcome constructive criticism. If you see an error in one of my books that was missed during three+ rounds of editing and polishing and then still missed by several beta readers, please send me a message - I'll fix it. If you didn't like my story, or you thought the hero was "too perfect" (yes, I got that once), or the heroine was to vapid or didn't have enough dimension, or if you really just felt like I was writing out of my ass and shouldn't have published that one, then that's okay.

Say so. I'm strong enough to take it. And I won't cry and call you a bully. For three reasons.

  1. Because I've encountered actual bullying before, and bad book reviews absolutely do not qualify (unless of course they are instigated by a bully author who is generally acting out of basic pansy-ness). And ...
  2. Because I'm not a pansy. I came into this business to succeed - to work honestly and build both my following and my talent, however unimpressive it may be to some people. I came into this business because I couldn't not do it. I came into this business, not to have my ego stroked by a world full of yes-men, but to make an honest living.
  3. I'm afraid of snakes, sharks, spiders, slugs, and snail goo. I am not afraid of opinions.

Now that we know the difference between being a "consumer/reviewer" and being a "bully", come back tomorrow for a more humorous take on how to find out if you're a bully ... or if you're a pansy.

Are You A Pansy Author?

Yesterday I wrote a blog post (post #2) about a guest post (post #1) I wrote earlier in the week for Kristen, over at Pretty Little Pages Book Blog. You should really check them both out, but just for the sake of summarizing, I talked about the recent buzz with what I usually refer to as "review bullying". Tonight I'll shout out to the pansy authors AND the bullying a-hole authors. Tomorrow, I'll talk about how you can figure out whether you fit into either of those categories ... and in a future post, I'll tell you what to do about it.

Okay. You ready for this?
Okay. Here goes.



To start off, and I know that in light of the whole worldwide, anti-bullying, everyone-should-always-be-NICE-and-almost-disgustingly-PC-all-the-time thing, I probably shouldn't say this, but ...

"Come on, pansy authors. Stand up and stop being pansies. It's just a review! It's not 'bullying'. So get over yourself, and understand that you can't please all the people all the time. And each review, regardless of the rating that comes with it or the words that are in it, each review is NOTHING more than someone else's opinion. And if you're such a pansy that you can't take a bad review, you seriously have no business in this business. Because even the authors that you can't even dream of coming close to in talent ... they have bad reviews too. Scathing ones. Ones that would make a pansy author like you crawl in a hole and just die. So if you're thin-skinned and you can't handle someone else saying your book sucked? You're a pansy - toughen up, or give it up. Because you'll NEVER have a book that's rated all five stars, all the time. Never. Seriously."

Now, with that off my chest (because I've been carrying it around for a LONG time, now), I can finally get on to say this:

"Hey, a-hole authors who use their fan bases as overgrown high school mean-girl cliques. Knock it off - all you do is ruin the fun for everyone else. And even though most people are too scared to really call you out, your names do get around. People find out who you are and what you're up to. People find out when you get your blogger buddies to completely shun another author because you were displeased about a review that didn't bow down and kiss your ass. And when you notice that your fan base stops growing? That's why. When you notice that sales stop happening? That's why. When your name drops out of conversations and people forget about you just you were so afraid that they might? That's why. Because you're an a-hole. So stop using reviews on other author's books as a way to forward your vendetta or fast-track your career. It's childish. And because you're too much of a coward to make it on your own steam without taking someone else down ... you're a whole different kind of pansy. Maybe the very worst kind."


You know, what really upsets me about the whole thing is that because of a-hole authors, there really is a kernel of truth in the "review bullying" thing. There are authors out there who really do behave that way, and there are bloggers who get in on it. There are fans who get in on it. But the majority of this "bullying" stuff is actually normal in the world that we're all trying to break into. I mean really, what's the goal - to make enough money writing to be able to write full time, right? To write books that are so well-loved that people come to our signings specifically to meet us? To be recognized in restaurants because people actually read our books and care about who we are?

To be celebrities in the reading community.

But don't you know what that means? Haven't you ever read a tabloid magazine? Seriously? Celebrities are threatened. Stalked. Constantly watched. They get set up to look like fools, with people freaking out every time they eat a french fry or forget to put their eyeliner on. And then they get mocked ruthlessly by the entire world when they crack under pressure and go nuts. And this is what we're working for? Are we stupid?

Maybe we are a little stupid to seek this out. Maybe we aren't. But my point is, when you ask to be in the eye of the public, whether your "public" is ten people or ten thousand, you're asking for attention. You're asking to be noticed. And when you make - or don't make - a living based on the public opinion of your books, your products, then you're asking to have your feelings hurt. There's no way around it.

YOU WILL RECEIVE BAD REVIEWS.

I'm sorry, but no matter what your mother or your best friend or your kindergarten teacher told you, you are NOT flawless as a writer. You are NOT impervious to failure.

YOU WILL RECEIVE BAD REVIEWS.

The thing is, those reviews aren't all there is. There's the self-satisfaction of finishing that novel. The pride you take in your work as an artist. The professionalism that requires you to polish your work, and polish it again. The big girl panties that you pull up when someone tells you they found an error in the book. And yes, the tears you shed, the first time you get a review like this one:

"This book gets one star from me for having a really unique and interesting premise. I might have given a 2nd or even 3rd star if I weren't so angry and confused by the last few pages and most especially the ending! To ease my frustration I had to come up with some reason for it... Maybe the ending was cut off while being uploaded? Perhaps the author died before the ending was written and well-meaning family, having NO clue what the author had planned for concluding the story, just uploaded it to Amazon without even looking!"

And then, there's the somewhat self-righteous laughter you can't hold back when you get a review like this one:

"Okay story line but badly wrote! Not worth the time spent to read it! The ending sucked so bad and was horrible! Took so long to get into it too!!!!"

Because, really? Badly wrote?

That second one is actually my #1 top favorite review so far, and has actually encouraged me in so many ways. I mean, really? "Badly wrote?"


But seriously. And you know what? I can see where a pansy author might have a hard time drying up their tears - some of the reviews out there are really brutal. But we all need to toughen up and remember that it's just someone else's opinion. And maybe you owe it to yourself to sit back and think about whether the review is right. Does your story lack something? If it did, I bet you felt it when you were writing it, but you pushed it off and called it "nerves" and kept going even though you knew the story wasn't working and wouldn't be worth reading. Does it need more polish (mine probably do)? Are there errors in it (I have found and fixed a couple in mine)? Does your cover suck (one of mine does, but I can't fix it yet)?

Be Honest.

Take that into account, stand up and accept it, then fix it if/when you can, and see what happens. But don't play the martyr and pretend the whole world hates you just because you got told something you didn't want to hear.

Stop being a pansy. I know it's hard, but really. You gotta do it. Be a grown-up.


And to the A-holes? Remember:



Friday, August 22, 2014

Downtime.

The month of August has been pretty busy for me: there were two takeovers (which were fun), a radio show (which went swimmingly), a thunderclap (which still needs your support), efforts to step up the frequency of my tweeting and facebooking, discovering the deep dark truth of why Kingsley Book #4 still isn't finished, and sadly shaking my head at my overactive muse, telling her that I can't write the stories she's throwing in my direction, because I still want to write the twelve other novels she's already given me.

This, of course, pisses her off, and then she just stops talking to me altogether, which leads to just a little bit of what I jokingly call "downtime", simply because it's mostly non-writing time.

But I can't just do nothing ... I can't. I have to feel like I'm doing something, prepping something, planning something, even when I'm not actively writing something. So I prepped, and I planned, and I did some soul searching. But then I needed to write, because the part of me that's always been a writer started to cry out, and I couldn't stand it. I needed to write.

So as part of a blog event for a certain little sweetheart I know (Kristen, the girl behind Pretty Little Pages Blog), I committed myself to writing a guest post. See, she had a birthday on the horizon and wanted to celebrate it in a big way, so she got a bunch of authors together and organized a birthday bash on her blog. I felt totally privileged to be one of the authors participating, and so I spent a few of my downtime nights scowling at my bitch muse thinking hard about what would make a good guest post. I asked Kristen what her readers might want to see, and she told me to write whatever my readers might want to see. Hmm, dilemma.

But that was right around the time that my facebook was staying totally crazy with posts about "review bullying" and things like that. And those posts really got me thinking. What really constitutes bullying, especially in the context of a review? I mean, we all know that people are mean, just flat out mean, and hateful - and sitting anonymously behind a computer screen just makes it worse. But what's "mean" mean, really?

Is it really bullying to give a book a one-star rating or review because you didn't like the characters? What about because the book was full of errors, misspellings, or gross errors in continuity that actually diminished the quality of the purchase made by the reader? I'm sure we can all agree that those are viable complaints, but I'm also increasingly sure that we don't all agree on the reality of that one star.

I've seen things on facebook (and other sites) on the subject that cite the old adage, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

But you know what?

That adage doesn't apply in marketing and purchases. Five million five star reviews are worthless if you only have them because you were too soft-hearted to handle the one stars. Or if you were so cowardly and small that you sent your fan base to bash and attack a fellow author because you didn't like a review they gave you, or because you don't like ... whatever.

I don't think a low review is bullying. Sure, we could be kind about it - I mean, we're readers and authors and bloggers! Many of us make our living by the power of words, by our abilities to spin a picture so convincing that it melts your heart, or brings you to tears, or yes, even makes you angry. And furthermore, wouldn't you leave a negative review if you went for a haircut and got your classic style butchered? What about if you went to a restaurant that was dirty and made you sick? Would you feel that it would be "bullying" to negatively review a clothing purchase that had a pin in it that stabbed you because the company was careless?

Well, a book is a product too, and if you didn't like it, you do have the right to say so.

So I thought about that, and it didn't take long for that thought process to gel with the idea that I owed Kristin a guest post.

And that's why I sent her a post called

You should check it out - in the post, I outline a few of my favorite things to always do, and never do, when writing a book review. And because I've got the courage it takes to take those reviews with a grain of salt (and maybe an alcoholic beverage), I never once recommended that you hold off on a negative review.

Why? Because you shouldn't. You shouldn't hold back - you should write that review, IF you read the book, and IF you have something real to say, and especially IF you have the class to speak constructively about the product you're reviewing without personally attacking the author of that product or using the review to further someone else's petty vendetta.

I know - it's a lot to take in. That's why I'm going to come back tomorrow to talk some more on this, with a post about how not to be a pansy author who can't take a bad review without playing the martyr. So come on back here tomorrow to find out if you're a pansy author - and if you are a pansy author, find out how to toughen up so that you can stand up and take reviews as what they are - simply someone else's opinion.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: 'Popping The Cherry' by Aurelia B Rowl

edited to reflect new cover
*About The Book*
From driving tests to relationships, Valentina Bell thinks she's a failure, with a big fat capital F. At this rate, she's certain she'll be a virgin forever. So Lena's friends plan Operation: Popping the Cherry to help her find the perfect first time. Yet somehow disastrous dates with bad boy musicians and fabulous evenings with secretly in-the-closet guys aren't quite working out how Lena planned. Soon Lena's avoiding Operation: Popping the Cherry to spend time with comforting, aloof Jake, her best friend's older brother, who doesn't make her feel self-conscious about still clinging to her V card. But could Jake show Lena that sometimes what you're looking for most is right by your side?

*My Review*
This was a book that I picked up largely because I love Aurelia. I've chatted back and forth with her a little on Facebook, and I find that I can't help but like her as a person. Still, without that initial sense of friendship, I might not have read this book simply because it isn't my usual genre. That said, I'm completely won over and so glad I took a chance on Popping the Cherry. Aurelia did a truly amazing job creating a lovable young character that felt real.

Initially I wasn't sure how I'd feel about a book that implies a certain pressure to have sex whether you're ready or not. I spent the early parts of the book a little annoyed with Lena for being ashamed of being a virgin, and a lot annoyed with her friends for making her feel that she had reason to be ashamed.

As an old fashioned conservative mother of two girls, I was disappointed - and more than a little afraid for my own young daughters - when Lena gave in to her friends "intervention" and agreed give "Operation: Popping the Cherry" a try.

But as a woman who was once a young girl, I could relate to Lena on so many levels, and as a mother, I was proud to see Lena hold onto her standards. She may have agreed to Operation; Popping the Cherry, but never once did she cross the line or overstep her own personal boundaries. She stood up for herself, for her standards, and for what she felt was right or wrong. Did she make some mistakes along the way? Sure she did - she's a teenager!

As the book moves along, though, a long-time acquaintance with her best friend's older brother suddenly takes a much more serious turn for Lena when she needs rescuing from a dangerous situation. Jake is right there with her, strong and supportive with no pressure and no awkwardness. Fighting their budding attraction, Lena and Jake find themselves spending more and more time together, which complicates Operation: Popping the Cherry - and Lena's long-time friendship with Jake's sister, Gemma.

Reading this book brought back so many memories, and by the time I read the last page, I was enthralled with all of the characters (except for "Malice," Lena's completely obnoxious arch-nemesis), impressed with their strengths, and completely in love with the innocent-yet-sexy romance between Lena and Jake.

I loved the characters, I loved the concept behind the story, and I loved Aurelia B Rowl's ability to give a believable voice to a teenaged girl. The only thing I could find fault in was the editing - there were several very noticeable errors missed in the editing process. But all in all ...

Will I be on the lookout for 'A Girl Called Malice', the sequel to this sweet-yet-steamy read?
You bet I will. In the meantime, 4 stars for Popping the Cherry.
Want to give this book a shot? One-click it easily on Amazon.

*More About Aurelia B Rowl*
Facebook / Amazon / Twitter / Blog

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Keepin' Busy - Branching Out.

For real though. Within the next two weeks, I have an appearance on The Hummingbird Place (blogTalk Radio) AND a blog takeover (Book Bliss Facebook Page).

... and ...

I have something huge to tell y'all. Something that's terrifying for me, but AWESOME for many of you.

You know I've been an Amazon exclusive author for as long as I've been an author. Amazon is a company that I trust not to crash and burn - I knew they were a company I could publish with, with a sense of some security. And they made it easy; there's even an e-book that walks writers through the journey to becoming authors.

But everyone doesn't love Amazon the way I do, and there's a whole big world out there - a world full of Nook users and Kobo users, and fancy iGadget users. And the time has come for me to step out into that world, to introduce myself to that world, using the lessons that Amazon so graciously taught me as a new author.

...so ...

As of September first, Fighting For Freedom will no longer be an Amazon exclusive novel. As of September first, Christine Matthews's inspiring story of overcoming and moving on from the horrors of domestic violence will be reaching out - for the first time ever, this story will also be available for Nook, Kobo, and the iBookstore (sorry I can't give a link - I don't use iProducts)!

... but the biggest and best part of this news is ...

You can actually pre-order the book RIGHT NOW by clicking the links above or simply searching in your chosen market!! No waiting, no hassle.

So go on y'all. Check it out!