Reviews

Amazon Adds New Review Options Via Drop Down Menus

23 March 2015

From Self-Publishing Review:

If you’ve tried to review a book on Amazon recently, Amazon has added a few options for users when reviewing a book via drop-down menus.

a1

. . . .

At the bottom of the page it says: “Write your reviews using the traditional review authoring page” so this is a beta system. Time will tell if this will be helpful and/or abused. It could potentially lead to a more reviews, as it caters to people who might have trouble articulating themselves.

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review and thanks to Henry and several others for the tip.

Dorothy Parker Slices and Dices

23 March 2015

From The Daily Beast:

You may know Dorothy Parker as the acid-tongued wit who once said a performance by Katharine Hepburn “ran the gamut of emotions from A to B,” and who reviewed a Broadway play with the line, “The House Beautiful is, for me, the play lousy.”

. . . .

[S]he was The New Yorker’s book reviewer from 1927-1933, writing under the pseudonym Constant Reader, and held a similar post at Esquire decades later. Of all her literary eviscerations, perhaps the most famous is the slicing she gave to A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner, making it clear Mrs. Parker had no taste for whimsy. Here’s an excerpt:

“ ‘Well, you’ll see, Piglet, when you listen. Because this is how it begins.The more it snows, tiddely-pom—’

“ ‘Tiddely what?’ said Piglet.” (He took, as you might say, the very words out of your correspondent’s mouth.)

“ ‘Pom,’ said Pooh. ‘I put that in to make it more hummy.’ ”

And it is that word “hummy,” my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.

. . . .

Dorothy Parker was a big fan of Dashiell Hammett’s work, calling him “as American as a sawed-off shotgun.” And while she explains that he doesn’t have Hemingway’s scope or beauty, she says it’s true that “he is so hard-boiled you could roll him on the White House lawn. And it is also true that he is a good, hell-bent, cold-hearted writer, with a clear eye for the ways of hard women and a fine ear for the words of hard men, and his books are exciting and powerful and—if I may filch a word from the booksy ones—pulsing.”

. . . .

Parker’s negative reviews can go on for pages, outlining the sheer torture of the reading experience. Her praise, on the other hand, is often succinct. Here is her entire review of this book: “There is still sunshine for us. The miracle is wrought by Shirley Jackson. God bless her, as ever unparalleled, more than ever in her latest book, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as leader in the field of beautifully written, quiet, cumulative shudders. This novel brings back my faith in terror and death. I can say no higher of it and her.”

. . . .

Mr. Capote has three speeds, of each of which, I think, he is a master. He is a novelist, a writer of short stories, and a reporter of murderous accuracy.

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

There’s No Such Thing as a Fake Reader

17 March 2015

From Electric Lit:

Three people walk into a bar: the first is carrying a book of experimental poetry, the second holds a YA vampire novel, and the last sits down and opens up a Victorian classic. Who is the “real reader”?

Writers, understandably, are always seeking advice for how to better connect to readers. And there is an abundance of advice that makes claims about what readers want: “Readers want realistic characters!” “Readers crave plot!” “Readers want emotion!” “Readers want simple stories, not complex literary gymnastics!” But, contrary to these claims, readers are not a monolithic block. Readers want different things. Some want realistic characters, others want archetypes. Some want plot-heavy books, others want essayistic musings. Some want simple language, others want complex sentences. And most, in truth, want all of those things at different times.

An appreciation of readers as diverse individuals with different tastes should be a basic tenet of criticism. Instead, it’s common for critics to imagine that their aesthetic preferences are the reflections of “readers” or a special class of readers—“serious readers,” “imaginative readers,” “brave readers,” or some other ill-defined category—whose views truly matter.

Take, for example, this painfully un-self-aware NPR review of Mark Doten’s experimental Iraq war novel, The Infernal:

[The Infernal is] a novel written not for readers but for those who love to argue about the novel-as-object more than they love the words. It’s an elbow-patch book, fodder for lit professors, likely attractive to those young enough (or cynical enough) to believe that oddness and iconoclasm equals genius, but that just ain’t me.

I don’t want to debate the merits of The Infernal here—it’s gotten mostly very positive reviews, and I, full disclosure, know Mark Doten personally—but this is the perfect example of a flaw common in today’s literary and cultural criticism. When a reviewer can’t defend their preferences through argument, they resort to a No True Scotsman fallacy and say anyone who feels differently isn’t even a reader.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Anti-vaxxer children’s book is getting destroyed in Amazon troll campaign

9 February 2015

From Salon:

In 2012, a proactive Australian anti-vaxxer named Stephanie Messenger self-published a children’s book called “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles.” With the book, Messenger endeavored to “educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully.” The book’s illustrated cover features a girl frolicking in a meadow with her stomach exposed, revealing a number of measles pocks all over her body. The whole thing is truly grotesque — so much so, that Amazon has put a disclaimer on the book’s description, noting that it is “provided by the publisher/author of this title and presents the subjective opinions of the publisher/author, which may not be substantiated.”

The book is made all the more relevant, now that a massive measles outbreak (due to the steadily growing vaccine “trutherism” movement) has infected more than 100 people in 15 states, including five babies at a Chicago daycare center.

So, the Internet is doing what the Internet does best: trolling the hell out of Messenger’s deeply flawed book through Amazon comments.

. . . .

“Finally! A children’s book with an agenda I can get behind! I always thought I loved kids until I actually had one of my own and boy was I wrong! I researched anything and everything I could possibly do to get rid of the little brat, but I didn’t want to be arrested for murder and childhood cancer is just too darn unpredictable. Fortunately, I stumbled upon ‘Melanie’s Marvelous Measles’, and learned that there is a huge community of people who hate children as much as me! Thanks to Melanie, I was able to ignore my pediatrician’s recommendations to vaccinate my daughter before our trip to Disney World, all while acting like I want what is ‘best’ for my child.” –brittany

. . . .

“Google image “measles” for a GREAT extra set of illustrations as you read along! While watching Melanie chase rainbows in her parents’ Beverly Hills garden, you can journey along with the millions of kids getting marvelous measles in the areas of the world without the luxury of herd immunity from that oh-so-terrible vaccine! Then you can see into the future of what your grandkids will be enjoying, as you continue to encourage others to reject vaccines that hold back the prevalence of viruses in the population. Gotta say, it’s a great time to study medicine in the USA – we get first-hand experience treating diseases that we’d have to travel to the third world to see. Thanks so much, Stephanie!” –Lyra 

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Ric for the tip.

Turning Amazon Reviews Into Celebrity Status — and Free Stuff

8 February 2015

From ABC:

On any given day, Bob will come home to find two to three boxes at his front door filled with products that range from cell phone products to coffee mugs all for free.

That’s because by day, Bob, who asked that his last name not be used, is an IT specialist inWashington, D.C., but by night, he’s an Amazon celebrity.

. . . .

He gained elite status on Amazon by reviewing hundreds of products over the years. Most reviewers like Bob start off small, one review here or there, but now companies send him their products for free. He said he receives about 30 products per week.

Bob is now in the “Top 5” of Amazon’s trusted reviewers and has been in what the company calls “The Reviewers Hall of Fame” for the past five years. For him, it’s more than just a hobby. He said he spends three to four hours a night reviewing products.

And Bob goes all out. He sets up photo and video shoots for his reviews and he’s not afraid to use words like “worthless” in describing products.

“It needs to be time-consuming to be a hobby,” he said. “What good is a hobby that takes 10 minutes a month?”

Mandy, who also asked that her last name not be used, is number 7 on the Amazon celebrity list and has a similar story. A political consultant and a single mom, she spends her spare time building up her review count on Amazon and she too receives dozens of free products now.

“Around Christmas time I was getting around 15 to 20 boxes a day,” she said. “It’s flattering that people [send their products] because you’re not paid for this. This is something that I do because I want to help people. I really want to help small business.”

Many of the free items Mandy said she receives range from clothing to household goods to beauty products, even jewelry. The biggest item she received was a full-sized washing machine, but she said those big ticket items are rare.

. . . .

“[Reviewers] are hugely powerful,” said PR specialist Howard Bragman. “On average they give between one and five reviews a day. So they have a lot of volume, they sell tens of millions dollars’ worth of product because again that’s how our decisions are made.”

Link to the rest at ABC

Ten Ways To Get Your Book “Review Ready”

23 January 2015

From Self-Publishing Review:

As the owner and editor of Self-Publishing Review, I deal with hundreds of self-published and indie books every year. People ask me, “How do I get a good review?” Apart from actually writing a good book (snort) there are a few other things you can do to make sure you get your readers to invest and feel they can sing your praises on Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes and Noble.

1. Get a professional edit for your manuscript. This is 101 stuff, but still I see authors saying they are doing it themselves, or have let it loose on a friend. This is never, ever enough. Editing and proofreading can be acquired for as little as $1 a page, and should be considered part of the publishing process, and not a luxury.

. . . .

4. Make sure your title matches your book content. There’s nothing worse than buying a book that you think is about one thing, that then turns out to be something else. If your title doesn’t properly suggest your book’s subject, maybe you should add a subtitle to give readers a better idea.

5. Make sure you choose relevant genre categories. Don’t try to game buyers into purchasing your book by slotting it into irrelevant categories. If a reader is caught off-balance with the content you could get a bad review. By being transparent about your themes you will give buyers confidence in your book.

6. Don’t tell the reader how to read your book. Don’t add a long introduction or preface telling the reader how the book is a certain genre mash-up, or how it isn’t really how you want it because you haven’t written a book before. I’ve even seen one introduction apologizing if the book is tedious! Let readers read the book! If you really feel you have something to apologize for, you’d best go back and edit your book before publication, hadn’t you?

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review

Want to nix all those pesky bad reviews? The EU shows you how

4 November 2014

From TeleRead:

The all-too-predictable consequences for the creative arts – including literature – of the European Union’s apparently misguided attempt to legislate a “right to be forgotten” appear to have started to roll. Croatian pianist Dejan Lazic has submitted a request to The Washington Post dated October 30th, asking the paper to remove a negative review of a performance he gave in 2010, on the grounds that it has featured too prominently in his Google search records for years.

The fact that the original EU legislation applied to search engine providers rather than media outlets doesn’t appear to have troubled Lazic unduly. Nor does the fact that it concerns a publication outside the EU. And the irony that his move appears to have secured more publicity for the bad review than the review itself ever received appears lost on Lazic too.

As quoted by The Post at least, Lazic explained in a follow-up e-mail that: “To wish for such an article to be removed from the internet has absolutely nothing to do with censorship or with closing down our access to information.”

Link to the rest at TeleRead and thanks to Shel for the tip.

Bad Advice for Writers!

31 October 2014

From The Huffington Post:

We at Bad Advice for Writers have thus far only concentrated on the act of writing, ignoring important things to like how to behave like a writer and the importance of not understanding how social media works.

Today, on the eve of NaNoWriMo, we will focus on bad advice for the novelist. We feel we should make this distinction insofar as some of this advice might actually not be bad advice if you are planning on a work of non-fiction.

. . . .

Advice #4: Correct negative reviews

There are only two types of reviews: the positive kind, and the kind where the reviewer didn’t understand the book. A bad review of your book is actually a cry for help!

Whenever you see a negative review that makes you say to yourself, “I should reach out to this person, perhaps in a borderline illegal fashion,” by all means do so. Find out where they live if you want! Show up on their doorstep and offer to politely explain how they simply failed to understand your novel. Make it clear that this is something they need to resolve within themselves and not a reflection on your work, and also that there’s no need whatsoever to call the police, so please put down the phone and stop crying.

Interaction is what reviewers are really looking for from you, the writer. Words like “awful” and “incomprehensible” and “this may have been written by a very dumb parrot” are really their way of saying, “I have failed to fully grasp your clear brilliance and would like for you to explain it to me”. So get out there and interact!

You may find that the sheer number of negative reviews makes it impossible to reach out to each and every person, however. When this happens you may want to consider writing a screed complaining about the nature of online reviews in general, and getting it published in a large magazine. This way you can tell multiple reviewers at once that you consider them unqualified to write reviews, and at the same time express a clear lack of understanding for how the Internet works.

Remember, nothing says “I am a serious writer” like a public inability to grasp how modern media functions!

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

Don’t Attack Reviewers

28 October 2014

From Ruthless Culture:

Last weekend, the Guardian published an astonishing piece by Kathleen Hale about her experiences tracking down someone who spoke ill of her and her books online. According to Hale, the negative reviews spiralled out into a more generalised form of online vitriol that motivated Hale to trace her reviewer’s real identity, travel to confront them and then write an article about it in the Guardian that paints Hale as the (moderately self-critical) victim of things like ‘trolling’ and ‘catfishing’ rather than a petulant and intimidating online presence. Anyone who has published a negative review online will read this article and shiver, particularly at the manner in which Hale presents the silencing of her critic as a signifier for personal growth:

I’m told Blythe still blogs and posts on Goodreads; Patricia tells me she still live    tweets Gossip Girl. In some ways I’m grateful to Judy, or whoever is posing as Blythe, for making her Twitter and Instagram private, because it has helped me drop that obsessive part of my daily routine. Although, like anyone with a tendency for low-grade insanity, I occasionally grow nostalgic for the thing that makes me nuts.

It’s nice that Kale was afforded the privilege of writing about her experiences in a venue as visible and respected as the Guardian and it’s nice that she was able to transform her defeated and diminished critics into stepping-stones on the road to personal self-improvement. I am genuinely glad that she is feeling better but the bulk of my sympathies still lie with her critic.

I feel quite close to this issue because, for the past ten years, I have been hanging out on the margins of science fiction fandom occasionally writing about books and commenting on the state of the field. In that time I have seen a partisan dislike for negative reviews of favourite books broaden into a more generalised taboo against negative reviewing and a related dissolution of the taboo against authors confronting their critics and responding to reviews. Given that Hale frames her encounters with critics in strictly psychological terms, I think it appropriate that I should begin by doing the same.

The first time I took a step back from genre culture was as a result of being stalked for daring to publish negative reviews. The stalking was limited to some creepy comments and a rather cack-handed attempt to run me out of town on a rail by posting a long diatribe in the comments of a number of widely-read blogs but It did give me pause for thought and a reason for cutting back on my reviewing.

. . . .

In February 2009, I reviewed Ellen Datlow’s anthology Poe for Strange Horizons. I liked some of the stories but not all of them and was largely unimpressed by the anthology as a whole. A few days later, the Hugo-winning editor Ellen Datlow appeared in the comments to take issue with things that I had said. She was later joined by the author Anna Tambour whose contributions make little sense even upon re-examination. Curious as to where these authors and editors were coming from, I backtracked and came across a discussion of the review on Datlow’s blog. I later commented in public about Datlow’s willingness to go after her critics and she responded by saying that she didn’t believe that I had actually read her work.

In hindsight, this type of stuff seems like weak beer. In the past five years, online discussion has grown considerably more hyperbolic and an editor linking to a negative review on their blog would most likely result in 110 comments rather than 11. However, I started reviewing under the principle that a reviewer’s right to express their opinion about a book was sacrosanct and when you realise that this right has suddenly been taken away it cannot help but make you feel alienated from your culture (am I *that* out of touch?) and just that little bit more careful when choosing which books to review (does this author have a history of going after their critics and do I think that my review might prompt such a response?).

. . . .

The changes in the social protocols surrounding reviewing show how the lack of distance between authors and fans has put fan spaces under pressure to conform to the requirements of the modern publishing industry: A literary culture built to meet the needs of fans naturally encourages robust criticism because robust criticism encourages fans to talk amongst themselves and a negative review is no bad thing (whether you agree with it or not) because it aims to prevent fans from spending money on books they won’t enjoy. Conversely, a literary culture built to meet the needs of literary professionals has no interest in protecting people from bad purchasing decisions. This type of literary culture emphasises not only positive reviews that help to sell (sometimes terrible and offensive) books but also coverage of the types of things that publishers want. Why encourage fans to find their own areas of interest when you can drive them towards the blogs of people who review the right type of book in the right type of way and at the right time? A literary culture built to suit the needs of literary professionals has no need for independent or idiosyncratic voices and absolutely no need for reviewers who dare to point out that the hot novel of the moment is a waste of money. However, a literary culture built to suit to needs of its bourgeois professionals may feel the need to set out a set of rules that the lower classes would be wise to follow, hence Robert Jackson Bennett laying down the law as to where and when it is acceptable for critics to express their own opinions:

In other words, when you leave your platform, your own personal space of the internet, and go to someone else’s, or even to a community platform, it requires a different code of behavior. This isn’t your space anymore, so you need to act differently. And remember, you’ve had your say back on your own platform. That’s the place to speak your mind.

What has changed in the last generation is that the book publishing industry has been bought out by corporations who see the literary world as nothing more than another domain from which to extract money. Thus, the infamously sloppy and old-fashioned publishing industry was put under pressure to perform and in order to perform, belts had to be tightened and resources squeezed including authors who could no longer be allowed to sit around writing when there was marketing to be done. I understand when people like Robert Jackson Bennett say that they’re feeling vulnerable and exposed but it is capitalism and not fans who put them in this position.

Many of the writers who are now compelled to interact with fans in fannish spaces were not members of those spaces prior to becoming authors. Having been told by agents and publishers to set up a Twitter account and get branding, they arrive in fannish spaces expecting the cultural equivalent of an eBay account: Put effort in here, extract money there. Brought to these spaces for entirely selfish reasons, it is not surprising that these authors should find themselves alienated from a set of cultural values devised and maintained by people intent upon using those spaces for different reasons. Faced with a disconnect from the cultural values they have and the cultural values that benefit them financially, some authors choose to either lobby for a new set of rules (as in the case of Robert Jackson Bennett) or lash out at reviewers (as in the case of Kathleen Hale and Ben Aaronovitch) who refuse to act according to the rules that many new authors were lead to expect by publishers who don’t have the time to promote the books they themselves chose to publish.

Link to the rest at Ruthless Culture and thanks to Laura for the tip.

#HaleNo, Blogger Blackout and the Non-Existent War

26 October 2014

From Bibliodaze:

A week has passed since author Kathleen Hale revealed her exploits as a stalker in the Guardian, misrepresenting crucial facts and painting a narrative that smeared a blogger who gave her a bad review as a notorious troll, and a lot has happened in the interim period. If you’re unfamiliar with what happened, our open letter to Hale and Guardian Books is here, but so much has been uncovered since then.

Details of Hale’s previous stalking became common knowledge thanks to an article she’d written detailing her sustained attack against a young woman who accused Hale’s mother of molestation. Said attack climaxed with Hale pouring peroxide over the young woman’s head.

. . . .

We also have tweets showing Hale’s excitement over getting the reviewer’s address from YA Reads, who organised the debut author tour both participated in. Screencaps show the full passive aggressive attacks she sent on Twitter regarding a 3 star review of the book that called out some problematic word choice. That 3 star review wasn’t by the woman she stalked (these screencaps can be found in Hurst’s post, linked above). We have a myriad of evidence that refutes Hale’s claim that Blythe Harris launched some kind of extensive bully blogger attack of her as well as a glaring lack of evidence that such attacks ever took place.

. . . .

Bloggers were justifiably angry, but they were also scared witless. This incident opened up the possibility that not only were we unsafe for participating in a mere hobby but that publishers may be complicit in these attacks. Harper Teen and Hale have since come out and said the publisher did not give out anyone’s address (Hale procured it through dishonest means by way of a blog tour, claiming she wanted to send Blythe a present) but the lack of action and condemnation from HarperCollins, especially with the revelation that Hale’s future mother-in-law is an executive editor there, did nothing to calm anyone’s concerns.

Hence #HaleNo.

The hashtag started shortly after HarperTeen tweeted Dear Author to comment that they had not given Harris’s address to Hale (the tag’s name was by Cuddlebuggery). Its aim was simple – book bloggers, a crucial part of marketing in the publishing ecosystem, would refuse to give Kathleen Hale any space on their respective sites. No book tours, no reviews, no cover reveals, to interviews, nothing that would benefit her. She didn’t respect bloggers and saw stalking as ‘investigative journalism’ so why should she be welcome on the blogs we’ve all worked so hard on? It quickly gained steam and even trended on Twitter for a short time. #AuthorYes quickly followed, allowing bloggers to express their gratitude to the authors who have condemned Hale’s actions, and there are many authors who have done so. Bloggers wanted action from HarperTeen, and so far none seems to have taken place, although we have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes.

The next step was the blogger blackout, which followed a similar pattern to #HaleNo. Many blogs will black out for a chosen period of time to take a stand. Some will black out entirely, others will simply show no content related to new releases. Much space will be given to pieces on blogger safety and issues crucial to the community. Every blogger participating, ourselves included, has taken the step they have deemed to be the right one for them. For us, that also included a full boycott of HarperTeen releases. We understand that this is a drastic step and we also fully understand why others are not going as far. It could be seen as unfair to other HarperTeen authors who have condemned Hale, and we are sympathetic to them. However, this is the right step for us. This is one small but active step we can make in order to take a stand. Only a handful of bloggers are doing this and we do not condemn those who are taking smaller steps. We’re all doing what we have to do.

Link to the rest at Bibliodaze

Since The Passive Voice doesn’t do book reviews, the Blogger Blackout won’t be relevant here.

However, PG suspects Ms. Hale did not give a thought to how social media works when she wrote her stalking article for The Guardian. Tweets come and goes, but a simple Google search on her name will turn up HaleNo mentions for a very long time.

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