Monday, July 18, 2011

Be Deliberate

Don't write crap.

I've said this many times, but I believe it needs to be clarified.

Here's my succinct explanation:

Write deliberately.

Taste is subjective. But very few people are able to separate their feelings about something from the value it might actually have (as evidenced by the thought that went into it), simply because they can't perceive its value, or don't bother trying to perceive it.

Which is lazy. Or ignorant. Or outright stupid. Or some combination of all three

We can offhandedly say "That TV show sucks" simply because we don't like that type of show, or don't care for one of the actors on that show, or it didn't provoke emotion. But chances are high that the show doesn't actually suck, because there was a lot of work that went into it, by a lot of people who did their best. It takes a lot of dedicated folks a lot of hours to create a television show. That doesn't mean the show is automatically excellent, but knee-jerk or cavalier dismissal of something that took so much time shows little understanding of the creation process, and devalues it.

All opinions are valid, because you can't argue with subjectivity. But just because something doesn't work for you doesn't mean it doesn't work.

So I've begun taking a closer look at media that I both like and dislike, and have been searching for the thing that indicates quality, even if it isn't something I enjoy.

I believe that thing is deliberation.

Since I write fiction, let's focus on novels. According to my criteria, a novel is a success if:

1. The writer intentionally sets out to do something within the story.

and

2. As a result of deliberation and execution, the story meets the writer's expectations.

No story will ever meet all readers' expectations. Some readers don't even know what to look for. Some will confuse their personal taste with quality. Some form instant opinions based on misapprehension, bias, or false expectation.

But if a writer is completely aware of why they wrote what they wrote, and can explain the reason for every chapter, scene, and sentence, I'd call that deliberate, and by definition, it can't be crap.

It's similar to a pool shark running a table, calling his shots. If you call it, and make it, you're doing something right.

Of course, that means having an understanding of writing craft, but for the sake of this argument let's assume a base level of professionalism. To know craft is to intentionally use craft.

I've tried a few times to read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I don't enjoy his prose, and believe he takes too long to get into conflict. But I'm betting this is deliberate on his part. He's not a newbie without a clue what he's doing. In fact, he knows exactly what he's doing. It just doesn't appeal to me. This doesn't make it crap, much as I don't like it.

An easy example of this is the story I wrote with Blake Crouch, Serial. As of this writing, that free story has gotten 139 one star reviews.

As I like to say, it's difficult to judge quality if you're an idiot.

In the case of Serial, I can safely qualify most of those one star reviewers as idiots, because they criticize the story for doing the exact things Blake and I want it to do. No one should be surprised that a story about two serial killers is violent and disturbing. But because it is free, and the description likely wasn't read before the one-click download, many readers were surprised by the content, and they responded with one-star reviews.

That's their problem, not the story's problem.

Conversely, we got hammered for being overly gory and gratuitous. This amuses me to no end, because Serial is purposely understated when it comes to the on-page mayhem. The prose is spare, not purple. We don't go into descriptive detail. We pull way, way back and let the reader fill in the blanks.

We did this deliberately. The fact that people imagine gore that isn't there is proof the writing works. If you don't like it, it doesn't mean the story sucks.

One of the deep-rooted problems in our society is how people form quick opinions without analyzing why they reached their conclusions. Then they'll defend those opinions without thinking. It's a basic flaw of human nature that most people would rather fight to the death for their beliefs before questioning them. The ability to change one's mind is a rare thing.

I understand that casual dismissal is necessary, to a degree. We're bombarded with choice, and we need to be able to quickly make decisions.

But casual dismissal coupled with the anonymity (and the cushion) of the Internet has turned a bunch of lazy morons into bitter critics who spout off their idiotic opinions without any sense to back them up.

Note I am spouting off my opinion here, but I'm backing it up with a clear trail of logic. I'm also keeping this argument general, rather than personal. Much as it might amuse me to attack specific people or reviews, you won't see me do much of that.

I don't like critics in general (I don't like awards either, but that's another rant.) But a good critic can remain somewhat objective.

The world wide web has spawned an unpleasant epidemic of idiots who are quick to criticize, insult, dismiss, and reject without any accountability. These folks really believe their nearsighted and downright idiotic opinions are not only correct, but need to be voiced in public.

Are you one of these idiots? I hope not. And if you are, I hope you have the capacity to change.

Here are some signs you might be an idiot.

If you've ever called someone a name without any provocation, you're probably an idiot.

If you think the world really cares about how much you hate something, you're probably an idiot.

If you've ever given a one-star review to anything, you're probably an idiot.

If you've ever posted anonymously, you're probably an idiot.

If you've ever casually dismissed something that others find value in, you're definitely an idiot.

If you talk before you think, you're definitely an idiot.

If you have a closed mind, you're definitely an idiot.

If this blog post makes you angry, you're definitely an idiot.

Now you might say, "Joe, but I've done one or more of these things. Does that mean I'm an idiot?"

Possibly not. True idiots usually aren't aware that they're idiots. But if you're doing a lot of the above, you aren't doing yourself any favors.

Remember how I said that writers should be deliberate?

That goes for everyone. We should all be self-aware. We should be deliberate in everything we do, including when we're being critical. Especially when we're being critical.

So, to recap:

If you're a writer, make sure you understand why you're writing what you write, and have a clear idea of what you want those words to do. Then you'll never write crap.

If you're a human being, make sure you truly understand why you say and do the things you say and do. An unexamined life ain't worth living. And an unexamined life that tweets or posts reviews on Amazon is a big waste of carbon. And oxygen.

There was no particular inciting event that made me go off on this rant. But I've seen too much stupidity on the Internets over the years, and the number of clueless morons seems to be rising.

Don't be a clueless moron, in your writing, or in your life.

Be deliberate. Everything you write, whether it be fiction or commentary, should be carefully thought through and intentional. If you ever dismiss something deliberate without being deliberate yourself, you're going to come off looking like an idiot.

And to my many critics: Disagreeing with me doesn't make you wrong. It's your inability to adequately articulate why you disagree with me that makes you wrong.

Being wrong is fine, if you learn from it.

324 comments:

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Joe Konrath said...

No, they’re not. Everyone is allowed his or her feelings and beliefs. Opinions, on the other hand, need to be informed, well reasoned, and stated intelligently. If they are not, they are less than useless, they are harmful, and shouldn’t even be given a forum in which to be expressed, much less listened to and taken to heart.

I agree, and I think I clarified that in the comments. By "valid" I mean valid to the one holding the opinion. Ask anyone if their opinion is worthwhile, they'll insist it is. But the only opinions that count are informed opinions.

Joe Konrath said...

If I don't like it, doesn't mean it's to end all on my opinion.

If every reviewer took that route, I'd have nothing to complain about. Well said.

Nancy Beck said...

@B. Rehder,

Not sure what exactly you're looking for (and maybe someone with a better brain than me will chime in), but I have urls and other online stuff at the end of my book. I hit return, and Open Office makes it into a clickable link (Word does the same thing).

Is that what you're looking for?

Changing Faces (Amazon)

Barry said...

Yesterday, I was doing my best Joe Konrath imitation, meaning I wrote 4200 words and did not once succumb to the temptation to stop by here!

This morning, though, I broke down.

So much good stuff in the post and the comments. I could talk about this stuff all day, but I want to offer a few thoughts on just one topic that some other commenters have touched on.

I think it's important to distinguish between taste and opinions. To me, they're not the same, and using them interchangeably can cause confusion.

Taste is entirely subjective and neither legitimately attackable or defendable. I like strawberries but not licorice. I like thrillers more than urban fantasy. Brussels sprouts taste gross to me. Other than boxing, MMA, and some Olympic events, I don't enjoy watching televised sports. I think the Harley V-Rod is the coolest-looking bike ever made. Lately I have been *loving* Kings of Leon.

I could go on, but you get the idea. These things reflect deep aspects of my own, idiosyncratic wiring and are utterly unamenable to logic, evidence, or proof/disproof.

Here, John Cusack explains it to Jack Black in High Fidelity better than I can: "How can it bullshit to state a preference?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVv5sIY57TA

Anyway. To use Joe's terminology, all tastes are valid. Automatically and inherently.

But opinions are different.

Opinions need to have a foundation. George Bush was the worst president ever. Until Barack Obama. Guns should be banned. Gun control should be banned. Women are better human beings than men. All cities should have bike lanes.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The value of the statements above is entirely a function of the speaker's ability to deploy evidence and argument in support.

Barry said...

In the absence of evidence and argument in support, an opinion is reduced to a matter of taste. Which is fine, as long as the speaker understands the difference. "I loved/hated The Road" is entirely a matter of taste and stated as such. It's like saying, "It wasn't really for me." Taste, not opinion, and like all taste, it tells you nothing about the object of the taste, only something about the holder of the taste.

Because it is entirely subjective and idiosyncratic, taste can never persuade. If you are trying to persuade someone with your taste, you're doing something inherently narcissist, and, to use Joe's parlance, something idiotic, too. In this sense, I would not say that all opinions are valid. A well-supported, well-argued opinion is valid. An opinion without foundation isn't valid as an opinion at all. It's valid only in the limited sense that the opinion holder has a right to it. But it has no worth to anyone else.

As always, it's useful to reverse engineer from our objectives (what Joe means by "Be Deliberate"). Want to persuade? You need to deploy evidence and argument in support. Want to say something that's no larger than yourself? You can just say, "Nah, it wasn't for me," and leave it at that.

It's conflating these objectives, and the tactics for achieving them, that makes people look foolish.

I gotta get back to writing, but I can't leave without pointing out that KONRATH, YOU ARE WRONG, WRONG ABOUT THE ROAD, YOU BASTARD! And here's why:

"They began to come upon from time to time small cairns of rock by the roadside. They were signs in gypsy language, lost patterans. The first he'd seen in some while, common in the north, leading out of the looted and exhausted cities, hopeless messages to loved ones lost and dead. By then all stores of food had given out and murder was everywhere upon the land. The world soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes and the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell. The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes. Out on the roads the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond."

Joe Konrath said...

As usual, eloquently put, Barry.

I agree with everything, but then you quoted Cormac with:

"small cairns of rock"

And it was at the point in the sentence that I stopped cairn about reading any more.

That is all personal taste on my part. Some folks might enjoy reading flowery exposition that doesn't move the story forward. :P

Adam Pepper said...

One star hit-and-run artists may well be idiots, but I dont think motive matters in this context. A reader is entitled to express their opinion whether articulate or simple. That doesnt inherently make one an idiot.

Susan Tunis said...

Chuck Palahniuk's novel Tell-All comes to mind because the author made such deliberate stylistic choices.

Out of 92 Amazon reviews, Tell All has 25 4 and 5 star reviews.

So you're right and they're wrong?

I'd say that Chuck is right, and his work didn't appeal to you. That doesn't make it bad. It make you dislike what he intentionally did.

In my definition of deliberate, I clearly state that if the author meets their own expectations, the work isn't bad. I stand by that. It's a much more objective definition of quality that subjective taste.

So, I do get a little irked when readers and writers are completely dismissive of reader reviewers.

I'm not dismissing reviewers. I'm dismissing the reviewers who are idiots. We both know you don't fall into that category.

*****

Okay, for the moment we both agree that I'm not an idiot. Here's the thing... I understand about taste, but I wrote a considered, well-supported review of Tell-All. So, it has at least some validity by your definition, even if it reflects my personal taste AND a fairly good understanding of literature. But the book isn't bad because *I* said so. Of the 92 reviews the novel garnered on Amazon, the breakdown was like this:

5-star (9)
4-star (14)
3-star (26)
2-star (28)
1-star (13)

Of the top 10 most helpful reviews, none is above 2 stars. And here's a quote from an online article discussing the novel's poor reception:

"Unfortunately for Palahniuk, the consensus on this one appears to be more negative than his previous works. From Publishers Weekly: 'Unfortunately, this gossipy fantasia is a one-joke premise that, even at its modest length, wears out its welcome.' Ouch. Let’s try another one. From the Library Journal: 'Palahniuk still has considerable linguistic firepower and satirical humor, but here he puts it in service of a repetitive, predictable story, never fulfilling the promise of a great premise.' Well. That certainly rained on my parade a little bit. Maybe one more, from the Los Angeles Times: 'Instead of a blockbuster, Tell-All is a bomb…a giant gasbag of a book, an unwieldy genre mish-mash, more confusing than entertaining.' Hmmm…I’m sensing a theme."

Yes, there may be a small minority of readers who truly enjoyed the novel. There may also be a contingent who are die-hard loyal fans, who would give a positive review to anything he writes. (I know the impulse. I've defended beloved novelists who've jumped the shark until even I could no longer rationalize doing so.)

I guess the point I'm belaboring here is that at some point, deliberation or not, there should be a critical consensus of informed opinion that can legitimately say, "This work is a failure. You did not achieve what you set out to do." Just as, at some point, there could be a consensus that says, "This work is a success," even though not every reader is going to like it. And for many books, there will never be a consensus, but that doesn't mean that critical thought shouldn't be explored or is invalid. I don't think yours is "a more objective definition of quality." You are essentially dismissing the entire field of criticism.

Look, I'll be honest, I've bemoaned the calliber of reviews on Amazon. I get especially annoyed by knee-jerk dismissal of serious literary fiction with wholesale 1-star reviews. I know where you're coming from. And sitting on your side of the computer, you have some basis for your opinions. But I think these opinions were broadly, harshly, and inellegantly expressed.

Joe Konrath said...

I guess the point I'm belaboring here is that at some point, deliberation or not, there should be a critical consensus of informed opinion that can legitimately say, "This work is a failure. You did not achieve what you set out to do."

Perhaps there should be. But there never will be. I bet you could talk to Chuck and get his blow-by-blow why he wrote Tell All, and he could capably defend every word. It might mean he wrote it for the minority (of which he is included) but that does not mean the book is bad. It means most people won't like what he intentionally did.

There was a hubub a few years ago about the movie Chaos, which Roger Ebert gave zero stars and panned as garbage. Ebert didn't like the movie, but the director didn't create a movie to be liked. His intent was to disturb the viewer, and Ebert was disturbed, so the director was right, not Ebert.

You have to be careful equating subjective opinion with universal truths. Even if you can logically defend your opinion (as you do) it doesn't mean you're right for everybody.

Joe Konrath said...

That doesnt inherently make one an idiot.

No one is inherently anything. We can only be judged by our deeds and words.

If your words point to you being an idiot, I'll call you an idiot. And I'll be able to logically defend my position.

Susan Tunis said...

I bet you could talk to Chuck and get his blow-by-blow why he wrote Tell All, and he could capably defend every word.

But what if he couldn't?

I think you and I are going to have to agree to disagree here, Joe, but I appreciate the discourse.

Tom Crepeau said...

Joe: when you lump everyone giving 1-star reviews as idiots, you're name calling, which you should recognize that you're doing one of the things which makes you an idiot, according to your post. You're saying each and every one of them, every time they give a one-star review, hasn't thought about it and been careful that time. Some people are giving you one-star reviews for the way you're portraying violent, evil events. What if they think you did it badly? You say Ishtar didn't suck. You're claiming nothing sucks badly enough to deserve a one-star review. There is, however, a reason we can give one-star reviews: Many of us think things sometimes deserve them. Everything is relative, and frankly, Ishtar is terrible. It doesn't even manage to be so bad that it's accidentally funny. You say that people who write deliberately don't ever suck. You're saying people have no right to hold a negative opinion, and to express it. Regardless of the pain you feel when someone hates what you've done, they have a perfect right to have and express their opinions. That makes them human. You don't like it. That makes you human. Then, you go into name-calling. Pot, Kettle, Black? We deserve better thought out posts from you -tc

I.J.Parker said...

Having posted my complaint about a one-star review earlier (much earlier), Susan Tunis's post made me feel guilty. Let me say that I have had some of the best, most careful, and most deliberate critiques from readers on Amazon. And I've also had a lot of professional reviews, so I know. My only regret is that it's usually impossible to thank those folks. I wouldn't want to be without reader reviews.

Ann Voss Peterson said...

I think it's interesting that most of the comments about Joe's (fabulous) post center on reviews. For writers in all stages of their careers, it's far more valuable to use what Joe's saying here to improve your writing craft and storytelling.

Know what effect you intend, and keep learning better ways to deliver it to your readers. When analyzing others' work, analyze what is effective and what isn't and WHY.

As an author, reviews have little to do with me, but the ability to analyze fiction, others' and my own, is essential to becoming better at my profession.

Joe Konrath said...

when you lump everyone giving 1-star reviews as idiots, you're name calling

I'm saying people who act without thinking are idiots. That isn't name calling. It is a generalization that happens to be true. In fact, it is one of the definitions of "idiot".

You're saying each and every one of them, every time they give a one-star review, hasn't thought about it and been careful that time.

No I'm not. Read more carefully. I'm only calling the thoughtless reviewers idiots. A person can write a thoughtful 1 star review.

You're claiming nothing sucks badly enough to deserve a one-star review.

You're putting words in my mouth. I never said that.

I did say that Hollywood products can't suck, because there is so much deliberation involved by so many people. They are done professionally, and bound to appeal to someone.

Some books are also done professionally. Some fail to meet minimum requirements, which I stated in my post.

Everything is relative, and frankly, Ishtar is terrible.

According to your subjective taste, it is.

We deserve better thought out posts from you

There's so many things wrong with that statement I'm not going to even bother touching it.

Joe Konrath said...

As an author, reviews have little to do with me, but the ability to analyze fiction, others' and my own, is essential to becoming better at my profession.

Well said. The Serenity Prayer applies here.

Joe Konrath said...

But what if he couldn't?

If Chuck wasn't being deliberate with his writing, when he should know better, then he's an idiot.

But my money says he did what he set out to do.

Robert Carraher said...

Chuck is a pro. he is also extremely original in style, and subject matter as well. I'll give 100/1 he knew what he was doing, just as Ellroy knew what he was doing when he didn't use verbs and created a distinctive style. Now, that style may not appeal to everyone, but it is a style and very deliberate and IMHO will be mentioned in creative writing classes for a long time to come.

Anonymous said...

The world soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes and the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell.

Pat, can I buy a comma? No punctuation marks allowed? Damn.

But, seriously, I find it a fascinating comment on our current culture that quite a few people are offended by Joe's labeling of "this book sux" reviewers as idiots. The term being defined loosely as: someone who speaks/writes without thinking or deliberating consequences.

Back in the days before computers, when dinosaurs walked the earth, people wrote long hand, on paper (I know, right?) and, because of this, it forced one to consider their words before they came into existence outside their own head. That mental hurdle has been removed by technology and many people see it as a blessing. We have entered the age of the knee-jerk, and it's not a pretty age to live in.

Joe Konrath said...

We have entered the age of the knee-jerk, and it's not a pretty age to live in.

I'm going to start using "knee-jerk" as a noun and applying it to people who don't think before they act.

Susan Tunis said...

Having posted my complaint about a one-star review earlier (much earlier), Susan Tunis's post made me feel guilty.

Well, that wasn't the intention, but I'm glad it gave you some food for thought. :-)

Anonymous said...

Joe, you are such a lovable idiot ;o)

So what if they comment that a story/novel is poorly written, has little character (development) and a predictable (if any) twist at the end. That's sorta the standard rant in any one-star review. I've seen those comments in reviews of King, Grisham and all the rest of the usual suspects on the top of bestsellerdom. But what's wrong about that? It's consistent. It tells storytellers what the audience wants (whether the storyteller wants to provide it or not is the storyteller's choice, of course).

But you, Joe, have really had an EFFECT on your readers; quoting just one of the one-stars : "Serial is a incredibly disturbing and graphic short novel." OK, most think it's too much, but you can GET TO THEM - that's the first requirement for telling a captivating story, so why on earth are you so pissed about? I'd bet you get a lot of readers AS A RESULT of those one-star reviews - lots of people will be unable to resist the temptation to read this story, if for no other reason then to prove how tough they are - even if they have to make penance for the forbidden pleasure with a one-star review afterwards ;o)

Will Granger said...

Someone here wrote: "Up to 138 readers hate Serial on Amazon already!!!"

I honestly wish I had that many one-star reviews for my books, which would mean I was doing something write in marketing and promoting. It would also mean I was able to provoke a reaction in readers. Given that 99.9% of reviews are subjective, I believe 138 negative reviews would be combined with a good number of more positive reviews.
As I wrote my books deliberately, and do not think they are crap, I will not let one-star reviews bug me too much. Instead, I will change my blurb cover, etc. and try to write better next time.

Will Granger said...

I believe Joe's "idiotic" reviewers sound like some of my high school students who loudly proclaim things like, "I hate that book because it's boring," or ""I hate to read," or "I can't find anything good to read."

They have a somewhat narcissistic viewpoint that I or anyone else will actually care that they dislike books historically judged as classics, or at least not crap.

I demand that they explain why they don't like a book. Saying it is because it's boring or that you don't like to read are lame excuses.

Be deliberate; be specific; be focused. Any writing or communication that is not deliberate/specific/focused/intentional is of poor quality and a bit idiotic.

Isabella Amaris said...

You know what would be cool?

Have 'like' and 'dislike' buttons for those who don't want to/are unable to articulate the reasons behind their opinions. Allow only reasoned reviews to be posted for the 'star' rating system, even if they're only one-liner reasons.

I think that would help everyone, especially other readers. Sheesh, the number of times I've been curious about the 1-star and 5-star reviews and been disappointed because there's no explanation at all for them...

Now, if only Amazon would miraculously read this suggestion and put it into effect:)

W. Dean said...

Joe,

Let me acknowledge that it’s easier for me (and other readers) to be magnanimous toward reviewers because we’re not the ones on the receiving end of the one-star reviews from the less than enlightened. (Hopefully someone won’t be there to remind me of these words someday when I’m on the receiving end.)

All the same, I don’t think the one-star business has the quite the negative effect that it’s assumed to have. The strongest counterexample is that well-articulated negative reviews don’t seem to have much effect on the really bad books that deserve them; people keep buying them, maybe to see what all the fuss is about.

Second, let’s not forget that readers of reviews also have the option of rating and responding to reviewers. And fans are more than willing to rush to the author’s defense. Case in point: God help the man who criticizes a Stephen “Better than Jesus” King book.

None of this excuses being an idiot in the first place, of course, but my experience suggests that bad reviews probably do as little or as much good as good reviews.

By the way, I think it’s fair for writers to respond in certain cases. I noticed that Barry Eisler responded to a critic of his Lost Coast story, and I think he provides a good model for writers to follow. Now that I’ve praised him, however, I have to mock his adoration for Cormac McCarthy.

W. Dean said...

Barry,

1. Taste and opinion or taste backed by opinion is still skirting the basic reasons books get panned, which are no less objective for being qualitative. Most of these defects come down to execution. So let me offer a Konrath-inspired suck-list for books written in a realistic genre so as to be clear about what I’m saying:

a. If the protagonist in your thriller has both of his legs shot off and keeps running, it’s more than my taste or reflective opinion that says your book sucks.

b. If the plot of your gritty, realistic thriller is resolved by having your protagonist develop telepathic (and why not telekinetic to boot!) powers, then your book likely sucks.

c. If the Harvard educated lawyer and the town yokel in your realistic thriller both ape a Shakespearean dialectic, chances are your book sucks.

d. If you’ve left out paragraph breaks and left in run-on sentences or any of the other mistakes in basic writing mechanics, the book will suck regardless of genre. (Note that there are different standards of prose, of course, so it’s unfair to expect writers of sci-fi and thrillers to be little Hemingways. We’re talking basics here.)

e. If nothing happens in your purportedly spine-tingling suspense novel—no conflict, no journeys, no deaths, no surprises, no nothing—chances are your book sucks.

f. If your book is about you, and you’ve done nothing that anyone other than a prisoner who’s spent the last year in solitary confinement would find interesting, your book likely sucks.

These are things that people generally complain about in the reviews I’ve read. None of them really boils down to simple matters of taste or opinion. No doubt some people can look past an implausible plot (e.g., some variations of a and b), for example, so it seems like there’s wiggle room for subjective taste. But experience should suggest that the 50 percent of reviewers who panned a book for this kind of fault would turn around and praise it if the plot were fixed without losing the original 50 percent who liked it in spite of the problem.

2. As for McCarthy, it would be wrong to respond in the limpid prose of mere humans, so let me McCathify my response:

The unfettered Cormac’s purple prose burns cold upon my withered soul and it does not strike upon my affective sense the fire hot and bright as the sun and it does not make me sing songs long forgotten and ancient and yearned after by men who endeavor to sing anew. There. I have uttered the unspeakable and I have said it without the leaden heart that still encumbers the dark sooty silk strings of the old rancher’s dialect near the flaming haystack bailed against the sun of the West Texas sky whose horse drawls in jumbled rhymes of things remembered from coltish days wandering the lush fields in Spring’s embrace beneath the yawning mountains ever still and watchful.

And so it is and was and will be that all this portentous versifying has rendered me inconstant in my dreams of yesteryear buried deep and dark in my mind’s eye by a Devil in the wilderness with an eye that sees all things. Yet I lay my weary bones down here below the shaggy green weeping willow in the coils of the dewy thistle resting forever without words to ensnare my already shackled mind’s eye in the eternal unyielding darkness of the burning sun’s luminosity directed only at me from afar like the tentacles of some unseen and unspeakable deep oceanic force of raw nature and something worse besides.

Joe Konrath said...

Yet I lay my weary bones down here below the shaggy green weeping willow in the coils of the dewy thistle resting forever without words to ensnare my already shackled mind’s eye in the eternal unyielding darkness of the burning sun’s luminosity directed only at me from afar like the tentacles of some unseen and unspeakable deep oceanic force of raw nature and something worse besides.

Hell yeah.

Jude Hardin said...

Stephen King claims that because of alcohol and cocaine he barely remembers writing Cujo. I wonder if he would say every word was deliberate, or that some sort of storytelling instinct took over while his conscious mind was out to lunch...

King says, and I agree, that starting out with a theme in mind is a recipe for bad fiction. So it seems deliberation can actually be harmful sometimes. Sometimes it's best to let the words flow and allow the story to find its own direction.

On revision, however, it's absolutely crucial to be deliberate, and I think that's where many books fall short.

Jude Hardin said...

This is off topic, but Oceanview Publishing finally lowered the price on the Kindle version of my debut thriller Pocket-47. It was released at $9.99, and now it's $2.99 (the price I suggested from the get-go). As a result, in the last couple of days it has gone from being ranked in the 150Ks to currently 1,956. That's with no promo other than announcing it on Facebook and on the Kindle Boards.

Jude Hardin said...

Pocket-47 is currently #53 in Kindle>The Big Deal>Mystery and Thrillers.

I'm not sure, but I don't think there are any self-published titles in the Amazon's new "Big Deal" list.

Anonymous said...

W. Dean, Joe, everybody, according to your standards, thank God I don't suck. Otherwise, I'd feel like an idiot. Does McCarthy really write like that? Damn . . .

Jude Hardin said...

Sorted by average customer review, I’m #1!

Carolynp said...

I deplore violence, but I've read several of your novels. I haven't read serial (I like to buy my books). You are a fantastic writer. It's easy to concentrate on the negative criticism and ignore the good criticism.
On a tangent, I noticed people giving the new Rollins novel 1 star because of the cost for the electronic version. Then, people later were giving the novel 5 stars "to make up for the jerks who gave the novel 1 star". As a reader, these kinds of reviews make me want to grit my teeth. I wish Amazon would just delete reviews by people who admit not reading the book.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I swore I was going to stay out, but F-it, if Barry's going jump in here then I'm in too.

If as you say 1 star reviews are idiotic if they don't qualify themselves, then does that hold true for 5 star reviews that only say 'great book' go buy it.

Then are these reviews invalid in your opinion or as Susan says it isn't the job of a single review to prove validity because it is the whole scope of reviews that matter because some people don't know how or don't have time to articulate a well thought out review?

Anonymous said...

I keep reading about valid opinions. What's the difference between an opinion and a valid opinion?

Selena Kitt said...

It's like someone who tries to fight porn... by buying up all the porn.

Oh THOSE people.

I love those people. *grin*

Joy M said...

There will always be "reviewers" or readers who leave bad reviews who are one of the following: obstinately obtuse, possibly afraid of the great sea change which publishing is undergoing and feel that gatekeepers are indeed needed, simply arrogant and a bit jealous of the success of writers who choose to be independent, possibly paid to write bad reviews by the "big six" or agencies to discourage some of those "free range" writers, or finally, simply incapable of reading or writing anything beyond a third grade reading primer.

The vituperative comments thrown at Joe truly surprise me. I don't agree with everything he posted, but I seldom agree with everything that anyone had to say.

Most writers understand the deliberative process which Joe discusses here. I'm not sure that all reviewers do. I'll use an example here that will certainly inflame some of you if my prior comments have not already: Do you think James Joyce wrote Finnegan's Wake with the thought of bad reviews dragging at his every word or did he write it because he was deliberate and brilliant?

I choose to believe the latter.

Rex Kusler said...

This is a amazing. People will argue about anything. They probably argued about things like this on the Titanic as it was sinking. The Donner Party probably argued about the way Bob was cooked. The meat was too tough.

Anonymous said...

***The vituperative comments thrown at Joe truly surprise me***

Funny because I thought everyone was a little better behaved this time. I thought most people argued the facts and the amount of anon. postings were down.

Kim Mullican said...

I always look forward to your blog. Specifically your no-holds-barred approach. I'm a fan of no B.S. TY for providing it!

Sean A Lusher said...

I have to agree. This is something I've been arguing with others for quite a while.

I can still hate a movie while respecting it. There's a big difference between how much the movie spoke to me and how high the quality was.

Melissa said...

I think W. Dean is my new best friend on Joe's Blog.

The quality of writing covers the entire spectrum. Consider a fresh, hot pizza. Yum. You eat some of it and put the rest in the fridge. For the next few days, you snack on it. Maybe it's not as good as it was when you got it, but it's still edible. But once it has a growth of mold on it, out it goes. There's your limit of consumption. You don't eat things with mold on them.

There is a limit to everything. And some books are ... moldy. Bad. They're unreadable. I know one when I see one — objectively.

(I personally don't like pizza, but I objectively acknowledge that it tastes good.)

Claudia Anderson said...

Being a writer, like any other heartfelt, earnest outlet, means having a thick skin at times. If one isn't born with one, or learn it at an early age, it's a lifelong (or longer) lesson. I write because it gives me pleasure; I write about middle age because it's what I know; I add a lesson to learn in my stories because that's what I believe about life. Getting published is something different now than it used to be 5, 10 years ago. For most of us it's not in the cards.

No one is ever going to "get" what you write like you do. I don't know if that makes them idiots -- it just makes them different. You can't change those kinds of people, so why waste good energy on them?

Do what you love, the hell with those who don't "get it."

Claudia
humoringthegoddess.wordpress.com

Melissa F. Miller said...

I am with Ann Voss Peterson on this one. For a group of writers, shouldn't the takeaway here be "be deliberate"?

There's been a spate of public moaning that we are all going to drown in crap without gatekeepers to curate.

Some people, like Kristine Rusch, rightly point out that sampling will help readers weed out the crap.

Joe here has long said "don't write crap" in the first place. That also solves the problem, so long as you can tell whether you've written crap. And here he has given us his crap test:

Can you articulate a reason for every sentence in your book? Why it is there, what do you hope it accomplishes? If so, it is not crap as defined by JA Konrath. I personally still think execution matters, too.

But getting worked up over 1 star (or for that matter 5 star) reviews is not a good use of our energy as writers. Isn't it better to focus on what we can control and ensure that the words on our page are working in the service of the stories we want to tell?

Anonymous said...

I looked at the one star comments on Amazon and didn't find the blind condemnation you accused them of. The people who gave one star reviews often explained their reasons whey they did not like the book. No more or less than the fewer people who gave you five star reviews.

Blaming a reader for an author's failure is not a way to go.

Accepting praise and condemning criticism is not a way to go.

Misrepresenting critics and comparing your writing (one man spending a week or two at a computer) to a year or more's worth of work by a huge Hollywood production team is not a way to go.

Some people won't like your books. You churn out books fast, sell them cheap and specialise in the genre market. Not everyone will like the literature that such a process produces.

But there are enough people around who love serial killers and gore to make a profit, about $500,000 per year according to your blog. Don't feel bad that not everyone appreciates your write 'em quick, sell 'em fast style.

You are successful in your chosen sphere. The people outside your sphere of interest are not necessarily idiots.

Aaron Polson said...

I've yet to see a rational, well-reasoned, and thorough 1 star review.

I personally enjoy those which say "I forced myself to finish this book". Wow. Get an effing life, eh? There are plenty of books to be read.

Guy Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ian Martin said...

You were endowed with a pair of enormous gonads, which enabled you to confront and undermine the entire publishing establishment. Like a Zeppelin, your ego lifts you above the taunts and insults of those envious ingrates now snapping at your heels. But I fear for your psychological well-being. Is it possible that you have arrived at that midway point in life where a writer pauses to take stock and think about posterity? Is that why you are stung by some one-star reviews? Are you beginning to think along these lines: Yes, I have fame and, yes, I have fortune. But how will succeeding generations value my oeuvre? Will I be dismissed as a writer of 'popular fiction aimed at a broad readership who desired nothing more than quick and easy gratification'? Do I want more than this? And if I do, and I attempt work of a more substantial nature, am I prepared for the consequences? Because my moronic fans will leave me in droves and the flow of lovely money will rapidly dry up. I am an American and totally unprepared for such a disaster.

You are faced with an existentialist challenge of considerable proportion and I hope you will overcome it in a way that is more noble than expedient.

Joe Konrath said...

I keep reading about valid opinions. What's the difference between an opinion and a valid opinion?

Personal taste is valid, and can't be defended. You either like fish or you don't.

For an opinion to be valid, it must be deliberate and thought out.

In both cases, neither taste nor opinion necessarily reflect on the thing being judged. Not liking fish doesn't make fish bad. Not liking a book doesn't make a book bad (though it might if minimum criteria aren't met.)

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head with everything you said.

My THE ROAD was Walker Percy's THE MOVIE GOER a perennial favorite on critic's lists that I tried to read but lost interest in after 20 or so pages.

I didn't get it. But as more and more critics (and writers) listed it as a top novel of the 20th century I kept going back to it.

It wasn't until I became aware of the idea of Post-Modernism that I was able to see why critics liked it so much and I was able to appreciate it on its own terms.

What use would it have served for me to trash it in a review? But, you see, I was self-aware enough to know I must be missing something when writers I respected spoke highly of it. I would never have reviewed it all in that case.

A lot of these idiots would think nothing of dismissing MOBY DICK as a yarn about 'a bunch of guys hunting fish in a boat that is way too long.' Who cares what a bunch of college professors and stuff think of it. Bubba dont like it!




PS

I liked ISHTAR and HEAVEN"S GATE and don't get me started about Roger Corman, the man is a genius.

Selena Kitt said...

...and don't get me started about Roger Corman, the man is a genius.

I enjoy his work so much more with the addition of little robots in front of the movie screen... :D

Anonymous said...

@Selena

I said don't get me started, Girl!

But then again your writing always gets me started---though I usually finish off by myself. ;-)

Joe Konrath said...

I looked at the one star comments on Amazon and didn't find the blind condemnation you accused them of.

Look closer.

Blaming a reader for an author's failure is not a way to go.

I'm blaming readers for not thinking. If an author fails, there are specific reasons. Serial doesn't fail on any level. You're welcome to read it and dislike it, but your reasons for disliking it will be personal, not inherent in the story.

Accepting praise and condemning criticism is not a way to go.

Point out where I did that. Because I didn't.

Misrepresenting critics

Huh?

and comparing your writing (one man spending a week or two at a computer) to a year or more's worth of work by a huge Hollywood production team is not a way to go.

A professional is a professional. Hollywood movies are made by pros. So are most novels. Once a minimum level of professionalism is achieved, the result cannot be crap. It might not appeal to you, but that doesn't mean it sucks.

Don't feel bad that not everyone appreciates your write 'em quick, sell 'em fast style.

This isn't a blog post about me feeling bad. It's about idiots who spout their opinions without thinking.

The people outside your sphere of interest are not necessarily idiots.

You need to reread the blog post, because you completely missed the point.

Joe Konrath said...

don't get me started about Roger Corman, the man is a genius.

If I ever have another child, I'll name them Sharktopus.

Joe Konrath said...

Is it possible that you have arrived at that midway point in life where a writer pauses to take stock and think about posterity? Is that why you are stung by some one-star reviews?

One star reviews don't sting. The dumbing down of America stings.

As for posterity, I'm immortal through my writing. It'll survive forever. Whether it is still be read and enjoyed 100 years from now doesn't matter to me--I won't be around then to care. But it will still exist.

As for being a voice in the ebook revolution, that will pass like all revolutions pass, and my part will be forgotten. I simply don't care about what people think of me, save for a handful of family and friends.

You are faced with an existentialist challenge of considerable proportion and I hope you will overcome it in a way that is more noble than expedient.

No challenge here. I enjoy what I'm doing and like who I am. Everything else is trivial. But I did find your assessment interesting from a purely intellectual point of view.

Seeking fame or praise is foolhardy. I've actually shied away from it in the past year, turning down speaking engagements and interviews and public appearances. I get a lot of fan email and thank yous, which I mostly ignore. I take no more stock in someone calling me a hero than I do in someone calling me an asshole. Naturally, I'm happy that people enjoy my writing, because I enjoy writing and am lucky to make a living at it. But the only validation I need is a paycheck.

Selena Kitt said...

I said don't get me started!

What can I say? I'm good at starting a party... ;)

Since no one addressed this that I can find:

Say you have four ebooks to upload to Amazon, but you haven't uploaded them yet. You want to have a clickable bibliography at the back of each book. But how can the links in the bibliography be clickable when you haven't uploaded the books yet? You won't be able to provide web addresses for those links until you've uploaded each book.

You can edit your book after you upload it. So go in, publish your books without the links - then go back and edit your book to add the book links you now have and re-upload it. Make sense?

Oh, and something Jude said about being deliberate is worth repeating. There is always a time and place for being deliberate, but it can vary from writer to writer. Some authors write deliberately all the time - they outline and plan. They write the title first and every sentence thereafter with precision. But some, and Jude mentioned Stephen King, are more archeologists than chemists. They don't weigh and measure - they unearth. Both are valid. For the archeological writer, the deliberation usually comes during the editing process.

But trying to tell an archeological writer write like a chemist or vice versa is a bad idea. Trying to fit everyone into some generalized box never turns out well.

Ty Johnston said...

The dumbing down of America stings.

Can I have an AMEN!?!

But Joe, I think that's a topic that goes well beyond readers, writers and reviewers. Not suggesting you need to focus on other issues, just pointing out (as I'm sure you know) you're only nibbling at the top of an iceberg the size of a small planet when you write about the dumbing down of reviews.

Welcome to the least graceful age of mankind.

Merrill Heath said...

Some authors write deliberately all the time. But some are more archeologists than chemists. They don't weigh and measure - they unearth.

I once asked Barry Hannah how he knew when he was through with one of his stories. He said, "When I start writing I open a bottle of bourbon. When it's empty, I'm done."

Merrill Heath
Consequences

S.E. Gordon said...

"I did say that Hollywood products can't suck, because there is so much deliberation involved by so many people. They are done professionally, and bound to appeal to someone."

Oh, Joe. I canot even begin to tell you how wrong you are about this. Years ago I had a job as a theatre manager, and got to see all the latest releases for free. Without a doubt, 90% of EVERYTHING Hollywood produces is crap. It doesn't matter how many professional artists work on a film, we still get classics like The Last Airbender.

Ask yourself, how many of the films that you watch on Netflix/Blockbuster/etc. would you actually purchase a copy of? I'm sure it's less than 1 in 10.

Anonymous said...

Why complain Joe?

You got 139 one-star reviews but Serial has been downloaded over 500,000 times.

That's a potential 500,000 one-star reviews, but you only got 139! Way <1%.

You're doing great!

Susan Tunis said...

Sturgeon's Law /prov./ "Ninety percent of everything is crap". Derived from a quote by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who once said, "Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud." Oddly, when Sturgeon's Law is cited, the final word is almost invariably changed to `crap'.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was 80% of everything was crap.

Things must be really going downhill.

Anonymous said...

I like this post! There are a lot of idiots out there. I also really hate it when people give books a one star review because usually there's at least one thing good about a book to warrant a 2 star rating. I've read a lot of crappy books and have never given or would give a 1 star to any. If you give 1 star, you better have a damn good reason. I'll be crushed if/when I get my first one star.

W. Dean said...

The recent food analogies (Joe and Melissa) perfectly illustrate the contentious part of Joe’s deliberateness pie. I like fish (and sci-fi), which can be cooked in a lot of ways. I say yes to bbq’ed fish (and BSG) and no to poached fish (and the various incarnations of Stargate). But other people like my dislikes, so it’s all taste so far.

When minimum standards were batted around, most agreed that such things exist. The fish actually has to be cooked no matter how you like it (note that I exclude sushi from this analogy for simplicity’s sake). Though I don't like Stargate, I concede that it's cooked.

But there’s dissent over the other extreme, burnt fish, which spoils the dish no matter how you like it. The two sides of the burnt fish part of the analogy can be summed up like this:

1. So long as someone, somewhere claims to like burnt fish, it’s as good as any cooked in the proper way. And besides, who’s to say otherwise?

2. Finding someone, somewhere who claims to like burnt fish is beside the point, because burnt fish could have been avoided (or in the case of books, be unburnt with some creative editing).

I’m in camp 2, even though I concede that it probably lies beyond the scope of a comment on a blog to show that there’s more to good writing than complete sentences and a plot that satisfies minimal standards of plausibility. Moreover, I suggest that those in camp 1 have to concede that burnt fish is bad if they want to maintain that cooking fish is meaningful at all.

Elizabeth Ann West said...

A one-star and five-star rating is equally useless.

A one-star refuses to acknowledge anything that worked in the story.

A five-star review refuses to acknowledge any flaws with the story.

As a reader, I don't read either of them. I look for 2, 3, and 4 star ratings that give a good balance on the writing.

Anonymous said...

LOL! I just started reading your blog a couple days ago. This post is really amusing. Amazing how many people are offended by some direct observations.

Joe Konrath said...

I'm probably smarter than 95% of the population. But 100% of the population thinks the same thing.

Robert Carraher said...

That's got me beat. I'm smarter than the other 5% and nobody thinks that....;-)

Frank said...

Wow! Too many comments to read now, but here are a few things I want to say.

The newer (from an evolutionary standpoint) brain, the cerebral cortex is where rationality lies. Unfortunately some very good psychological experiments have shown it to be more like where rationalization lies. We're very good at coming to snap judgments (we need to know when to run or fight very quickly) and using our rational faculties to justify them after our decision has already been made.

Name calling is worthless, and it would be good if people don't try to game the system.

As someone noted Amazon even notes their star ratings are meant to be entirely subjective.

Any rating system filters out all nuance by design.

No one owns the right to 2 stars even if they're professional, but a 1 star rating does require a thoughtful explanation.

Anyone who buys a Kindle book just because it's cheap without reading the sample IS an idiot--fools and their money as the saying goes.

Keri Knutson said...

I think there's a place for 5-star reviews and a place for 1-star reviews, but I heartily agree with Joe that any review should be deliberate. I find the most useful reviews (both as a reader and a writer) are the ones in the middle, because they tend to be more thoughtful. (Not always, but there are no absolutes.)

BTW, as a self-published writer, I just received my favorite review yesterday. While the whole review was nice, the part that put a smile on my face was the final line: "In fact I would not have been surprised to pull this one off a library shelf in hard cover." Squee!

Darker By Degree

Jude Hardin said...

Trying to fit everyone into some generalized box never turns out well.

Very true, Selena. I'm 45K words into my WIP and I didn't know how the book is going to end until today. So one could argue that none of the 45,000 words I've written so far was deliberate. Yet my agent read the first 100 pages and said she loved it, so I know it isn't crap.

I'm thinking where a piece of writing falls on the greatness/crappiness meter might be way more complicated than whether it was deliberate or not. Some people, for example, are just not very good at stringing words together and constructing a cohesive narrative. They might have a perfect outline of what they want to do and they might follow that outline to the letter and the novel still might turn out to be crappy. Execution is a huge factor. The good news is that most people improve with practice. Persistence is key.

You got to keep writing writing writing until you come up with something that isn't crap.

I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.
--Ernest Hemingway

Jude Hardin said...

And Joe, congrats on SHAKEN being #1 in Kindle Store>The Big Deal>Mystery and Thrillers sorted by bestselling. I didn't even see it in the top 100 yesterday, so it must have kicked some serious ass today.

Pocket-47 is still #1 sorted by average customer review. :)

Joe Konrath said...

You got to keep writing writing writing until you come up with something that isn't crap.


That's called being deliberate.

Selena Kitt said...

Very true, Selena. I'm 45K words into my WIP and I didn't know how the book is going to end until today.

It's one of the reasons I like to write. I want to find out what's going to happen :) and something usually surprises me!

Jude Hardin said...

That's called being deliberate.

FTW.

Still, there are books being published that aren't quite there yet. There are authors who might be altogether deliberate in their thinking but haven't reached a publishable level of proficiency with their writing. That's not to say that they'll never be good writers, just that they jumped the gun.

Dragana said...

I'm fairly new to your blog, and found it rather informative. This post however, there's not a single thing I agree with. Firstly, your claim that everything written deliberately and with purpose must by default be good. You wrote this post deliberately and with purpose to stop people from being idiots, but what you actually accomplished was to alienate part of your readers. Did it meet your expectations? Only if those were to put people off.
I might go off and deliberately write a story with a purpose to be funny. While it might be funny to me, how do I know if it's funny for anyone else? How would I ever know if it works without feedback from the reader? You have that feedback, that most valuable thing a writer can get, and what do you do with it? You call your readers idiots.
I actually went and read Serial before commenting. Wow, 140 freaking bad reviews and you never stopped to wonder it might be you? Are you that infallible, so brilliant that everything you write is pure gold? You say you don't care for the opinions of strangers. To whom do you sell your books to, your friends and family? No, you're selling them to those very strangers you care so little for. As long as they buy, who cares if they're satisfied with what they got for their money, right? There are enough of other idiots out there to sell the next one to.
A critique from a perfect stranger is the most honest critique you can ever get. It won't be a tap on the back from your family or a considerate praise from a friend, it will be a brutal and honest opinion from someone who has nothing invested in you to worry about your feelings. Instead of calling them idiots, you should try using it to grow and improve as a writer, not whine and lick your bruised ego. You already are a good writer and don't need to grow anymore? Because you sell? Twilight sells as well, it's still crap (feel free to call me an idiot , but I'm not going to beat a dead horse and explain why it's crap, google does it better). So there are people that don't like your writing. Poor you. Get over it.
Reviewers on Amazon are not professional reviewers, they're not writers, editors, agents or publishers, still they're the ones that count the most, they're READERS. You expect them to tell you why they didn't like your writing (do you bitch about 5 star reviews not telling you why they liked it?). Why would they? Are they payed for it? Do you realize how much time and effort it takes to write a good review? Why should they waste their time on it? And it always comes down to just one thing, if they liked it, or not. It might be the most beautifully written thing on the face of the earth, deliberate to hell and back, but if no one LIKES it, what's the point? The reviews on Amazon shall always be subjective, as they should be. Get over it.
As for Serial, while I wouldn’t give it one star because the first two chapters the two of you wrote independently were good, I can totally see why so many people gave it one. The last chapter you wrote together is mostly random and without a plan and purpose, and it shows. It's little more than roleplay, and you hardly invented it, kids are doing it for fun for decades. The ending, as clever and ironic as it was, was so abrupt that it made me go WTH, that's it? Instead of tapping yourself on the back and calling me an idiot for giving you a "negative" critique, if you were a real writer that cared for his readers, you'd go and re-write that ending and make it much more "deliberate", I know that you can do much better than that. (BTW, is this what passes for gore these days? I find five minutes of Fox Crime far more disturbing.)
I'm signing this so you couldn't call me an idiot on that point, but I certainly am an idiot for wasting the last three hours of my life on reading Serial and writing this comment. Think about that the last time you call your reviewer and idiot, that that person wasted their time so you could get feedback on your work.

Adrian said...

A lot of the arguments on both sides boil down to definitions and how those concepts relate. What's quality? How does it relate to opinions? What does 1-star really mean? Are the stars supposed to represent the quality or the reviewer's opinion?

The stars question is interesting for reasons I haven't yet seen here. Amazon is rather vague, simply letting you assign a number of stars from 1 to 5. Other sites, like Netflix, try to give a more precise definition. 1-star is "Hated It!" and 5 stars and "Loved It!", with gradations in between. In the Netflix case, it's *clearly* about opinion--not any objective measure of quality (if such a thing were possible). A lot of people assume the Amazon stars use a similar, opinion-based scale.

But there's another wrinkle to this whole thing. These star ratings, to a large extent, drive the recommendation systems. The recommendation systems are vital to finding the stuff you like, especially as the number of titles available continues to grow. (And not just for the explicit "Recommended for you ..." features, but also in subtler ways like ranking search results.) For those systems to work well, they need lots of high-quality data about individual opinions (which may or may not correlate to quality, depending on how you define quality).

A very common problem with recommendation systems, is that users don't provide a good spread of ratings. People who absolutely love something are moved to give a very high score. A much smaller number of people who hate something are moved to give a very low score. Very few people bother if their opinion is middling.

This huge skew is somewhat tolerable for aggregate ratings, but it makes the cluster analysis pretty useless, as there's no distinction between the individual and the aggregate ratings.

Netflix tries very hard to get you to rate everything, regardless of whether you loved it or hated it or just sorta liked it. It needs that data sampled all across the whole 5-star spectrum in order to make good recommendations--not just to you, but to other customers as well.

People who never give good scores or never give bad scores or give scores only when they're at the extremes hinder the recommendation systems that are so essential to both authors and audiences in this age of the long tail.

Someone who gives a 5-star review is as much an idiot as someone who gives a 1-star review, which is to say, they're not an idiot at all.

Joe Konrath said...

Wow, 140 freaking bad reviews and you never stopped to wonder it might be you?

That's what is wonderful about the Internet. You're allowed to be wrong.

We sold the movie rights to Serial, and it was published in Shivers VI. Shivers VI also contained a story by some dude named Stephen King.

No, there's nothing wrong with Serial.

There are, however, many things wrong with your argument.

While it might be funny to me, how do I know if it's funny for anyone else?

If it is funny to you, and you can explain why it is funny, you have succeeded. You'll probably find someone else who agrees with you.

I just watched a Will Ferrell comedy, and didn't laugh once. The movie made millions, so obviously someone thought it was funny.

You say you don't care for the opinions of strangers. To whom do you sell your books to, your friends and family?

Yes. I have half a million family members.

Once I publish a story, it is out of my hands. I don't have any control over who likes it or dislikes it. All I can do is write deliberate stories that appeal to me, and get the word out they're available. And it seems to be working.

As long as they buy, who cares if they're satisfied with what they got for their money, right?

First, Serial is free. Second, if they liked a story, they'll buy more. Enough people liked Serial to buy Serial Uncut, and it's sequels Killers and Birds of Prey. Blake and I have made tens of thousands of dollars, all from Serial.

That is us doing something right. Something that appeals to a broad range of readers.

If you don't like Serial, that is your opinion. But it doesn't mean there is something wrong with the story.

A critique from a perfect stranger is the most honest critique you can ever get.

Wrong. A critique from a professional that you trust is where you get good critiques. Strangers' opinions are worthless. If you want to go chasing the approval of a someone you'll never meet, consult the DSM IV.

Twilight sells as well, it's still crap (feel free to call me an idiot

Okay. You're an idiot.

Any book that is able to reach and touch as many people as Twilight did is not crap.

You can criticize the writing style, or the cliched dialog, or any number of things about Twilight, but once you dismiss a billion dollar property you're the one with the problem, not Stephanie Meyer.

I can totally see why so many people gave it one. The last chapter you wrote together is mostly random and without a plan and purpose

This made me smile. We wrote Serial with the intent of trying to kill each other. There is a very definite plan and purpose. It's the whole point of the story. If you didn't get that, that's on you, because Blake and I got is, and thousands of others got it.

if you were a real writer that cared for his readers, you'd go and re-write that ending and make it much more "deliberate"

Serial is self-contained. But the story does continue for another 60,000 words in the works I mentioned above.

We released something for free, and it has turned into a cash cow for us. You can't get more deliberate than that.

BTW, is this what passes for gore these days?

There's no gore in Serial. What story did you read?

Joe Konrath said...

Think about that the last time you call your reviewer and idiot, that that person wasted their time so you could get feedback on your work.

Reread the post. I'm fine with one star reviews that say something.

My beef is with those who post reviews without thinking. Who knee jerk react without supporting their opinions.

I disagree with your opinions of Serial, but at least you thought them through. You didn't make blanket statements like "this sux" and not support your opinion. In that aspect, you aren't an idiot.

But if you were as sharp as you think you are, you'd understand the point of my blog, which I repeated ad nauseum in the comments.

Be deliberate. Consider things carefully before you speak. Or else you come off looking like an idiot.

Anyone who thought Serial was gory is an idiot. Anyone who said it was poorly written is an idiot. Anyone who said it was awful without support that claim is an idiot.

Serial has several well-thought out 1 star reviews. Those people are able to differentiate personal taste and informed opinion. Which is perhaps something you should work on.

Joe Konrath said...

Someone who gives a 5-star review is as much an idiot as someone who gives a 1-star review, which is to say, they're not an idiot at all.

IF they don't give reasons behind their opinion, they're an idiot. But there is a difference. On a book with very few reviews, a single 1 star review can hurt sales. If that 1 star review is by an idiot, that idiot has done real monetary harm to the author.

Not fair. Just because someone can do something, doesn't mean they should. The web has allowed every jackass to spout their opinions without repercussion, and when those opinions are ill informed, that's a bad thing.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

On a book with very few reviews, a single 1 star review can hurt sales. If that 1 star review is by an idiot, that idiot has done real monetary harm to the author.

THIS

It was the same when I was selling used books and other goods on Ebay and Amazon. A single, negative review could make a huge dent in your ability to attract buyers and close transactions.

It may sound unlikely, but it's true.

Reviews such as these were common and had sellers pulling out their hair; NEGATIVE "I just won and don't know how to pay" or NEGATIVE "I haven't received my stuff yet, I paid for it yesterday!"

In the beginning, this was so bad that some sellers wouldn't do business with buyers who had less than a certain number of transactions in their history.

I don't recall referring to them as idiots - I think I used "clueless newbies." The system sure didn't bring out the best in everyone involved, myself included.

YouTube dropped the star ratings and went to like/dislike. I actually prefer that system.


Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

W. Dean said...

JK,

I have to ask this question about one-star reviews, because I have no hard data and my anecdotal experience suggests the opposite. I wrote a couple of scathing reviews of content-farmed, pseudo-academic books as a public service. But Amazon’s “percentage of people who bought this book after looking at it” (or whatever it’s called) didn’t seem to change much afterward, which suggested to me that my reviews didn’t make much difference (not that I expected it, but one always hopes).

Now, you suggested that bad reviews do affect books. I don’t dispute that that’s true of print books and traditional media reviews, but does it really hold for e-books and Amazon reviews? Now I’m not demanding a quantitative analysis here, but do you and your fellow writers have experience of this happening, or are you basing you view more on conventional wisdom about traditional reviews (which, as I admit, do affect sales)?

I’d also be curious to know if other writers here have seen a drop in sales after a bad Amazon review. I think it’s a fair question to ask. After all, lots of writers here have complained about one-star reviews, but no one has actually come out and said that one-star reviews affected their sales.

No doubt it’s hard to judge the effects, but surely someone must have seen a precipitous drop off if these reviews have an effect. (I hear you Veronica, but you're talking about selling used books, a different kettle of fish.)

W. Dean said...

By the way, all the Cormac McCarthy talk got me thinking about my “literary experiment,” which I wrote up on my blog today. I mention this on the off chance that the one other human being who’s interested has been born and is reading this blog.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

Hi W. Dean,
(I hear you Veronica, but you're talking about selling used books, a different kettle of fish.)

When you have a small number of reviews that a low rating can make a drastic difference. If you have one 5 star and one 1 star, you show up as a 3 star.

Seeing 3 stars next to your title may keep people from looking at your book which makes it that much harder to get more ratings.

That is how it is the same as when I was selling on Ebay and Amazon; when your "stars" drop your traffic can also drop.

Sellers on the Amazon Sellers board had it all calculated. They knew just how many 5 star ratings you had to get to offset one 1 star rating.

I don't remember the exact figures, but it was quite a few. If your seller rating dropped to 4 or 4.5 stars, you would see a very large decrease in sales.

If that 1 star rating came from an "idiot," it really stung.

Not exactly the same scenario, but a similar concern.

Anonymous said...

I write organically, but there is always that huge idea behind each word. The big idea before the first word is typed. I know where I want to start, how I want to end, and my characters guide me from that point on. I watch them, I listen to them, they are as real to me as any person I would meet on the street. I edit, edit, and edit, and edit some more, giving Sidney Sheldon his due. I work hard to give my readers only my best. I take a measure of pride from that. I understand I’m not everybody’s cup of tea, I know this. I also understand people are people and generally come in two flavors: those that think, and those that don’t. If most people used the power of thought, we wouldn’t be worried about global warming. While you all argue this out, I just wish the people that do or did read my five books would write a review. Maybe I wouldn’t be foundering, waiting for that snowball to start rolling downhill. Yes, I’m putting out books, when I feel they’re ready. I got four more in the wings I need to polish. I have more I’m working on, too. My formatting is like a blog, and as I work on my html, I’ll reload these. There might be a typo or two, because one jumped up an bit me in the ass, and I thought I had killed them all. I do everything myself, because I have no other choice. I live on a fixed income, praying this will be my ladder up. I finally did get one review, four stars, and despite the bad spelling, she got it. She understood what I did from start to finish, and gave me my thumbs up. I was thrilled! Debate this all you want, but in my opinion I think enough has been said, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and be grateful anybody bothers to read you at all.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

I just went over to Amazon Seller Central to see if I could find the stats. I did see a post that says it takes 200 positives to negate the effects of a negative.

They have a different system than author reviews so I don't think it is nearly that drastic for us.

I just had to share this though:

This re-seller received a neutral feedback (which lowers his overall rating) with this comment:

"The dvd cover is totally inaccurate and has one too many spelling errors."

This is a re-seller, not an author or DVD producer, getting rated down for a typo on the product! This rating could have a BIG impact on his bottom line too.

Luckily, Amazon will probably remove this feedback because it is a product review. But, the guy could have just said, "I wish I hadn't done business with this seller" and there would be no recourse.

Yikes, I am glad I am out of that business.....

free online Decorating games said...

@Peter S. Hart: I agree!
and i like this topic

Brian said...

"The Road" changed my life. For real. I completely get why you might not have liked it, and you're completely right for not dismissing the book outright.

I wish more people thought like you. Too many people too easily dismiss things which others value.

By the way, I read your blog all the time. And my first self-pub will be released this fall. Thanks for all you do; keep it up.

Jude Hardin said...

I liked THE ROAD, but I thought RUN by Blake Crouch was better.

Does making that statement without writing a critical essay comparing and contrasting the two to back it up make me an idiot? Hmm...

Michael A. Boyadjian said...

Joe sez: "Just because someone can do something, doesn't mean they should. The web has allowed every jackass to spout their opinions without repercussion, and when those opinions are ill informed, that's a bad thing."

I love the Internet, but this is oh-so-true.

Whether you agree with Joe or not about "idiots," the general message that ill-informed reviews of a work are unfairly and unnecessarily damaging is one I think we can all agree on.

Here's a great example. A friend and I once discussed our favorite Bond films. I told him which film was my favorite and which I thought was the best. He couldn't understand how I separated the two; for him, best and favorite are one and the same. With a line of reasoning like that, I imagine my friend cannot voice his distaste for a work without also claiming it is poor quality--when that is not necessarily the case.

If people cannot separate their preferences/opinions from a measure of quality, then any statements about a work are incomplete, ill-informed, or lacking in substance.

Joe Konrath said...

Does making that statement without writing a critical essay comparing and contrasting the two to back it up make me an idiot?

Stating a preference isn't idiotic. If you said one of the sucked and one was brilliant without back that up, it would be idiotic.

Liking and disliking is taste. All taste is valid--though in the case of media you should have an understanding of why you like something.

Cyn Bagley said...

But I am a bit annoyed at the seemingly growing number of people who apparently haven't learned how to properly think.

So am I. Unfortunately I believe that the inability to discern and think is a product of three things: dependence on technology, lower quality of schooling, and less discipline in public and private life. It is just the tip of the iceberg of the problems that have been developing since the 60s.

You are just now seeing the ripples in your creative life.

Werner said...

After reading almost 300 comments, I think the 'idiot' thing has been beat to death. While it was entertaining and served the purpose of the post, the lines that continue to resonate with me most are:

"Be deliberate. Everything you write, whether it be fiction or commentary, should be carefully thought through and intentional."
-and-
"...if a writer is completely aware of why they wrote what they wrote, and can explain the reason for every chapter, scene, and sentence, I'd call that deliberate..."


To me, this was the meat and potatoes of the article. Or should I say it was the deliberate point of the entire post?

Nancy Beck said...

Some authors write deliberately all the time - they outline and plan. They write the title first and every sentence thereafter with precision. But some, and Jude mentioned Stephen King, are more archeologists than chemists. They don't weigh and measure - they unearth...For the archeological writer, the deliberation usually comes during the editing process.

@Selena,

I love this! What a great turn of phrase.

I always thought of myself as a chemist, but I've come to the conclusion (recently) that I work better as an archeologist. :-)

Changing Faces (Amazon)

Robin Sullivan said...

While we can wish all we want for reviewers to give "valid" reasons for liking or disliking a book the bottom line is part of putting your work "out there" is relinquishing it to the whims of others. Some people will write a bad review to try to purposefully do harm. Some will write one without a valid reason. Once the book is out there - what is said about it is out of your control.

The best thing an author can do is try to be very specfic about what their book is when writing the description so that it will appeal to an audience that likes that "kind" of writing.

Now, more than ever people want an "objective" way to determine quality. I'm sorry Joe, but I don't think just because an author did what he intended gives it a checkmark of not "sucking".

It is a never winning battle. There is no "objective" determerination. What some people love, others hate. Michael wrote a great post with snippents from both good and bad reviews - it was pretty entertaining to see them side by side.

Robin Sullivan | Write2Publish | Ridan Publishing

Adrian said...

On a book with very few reviews, a single 1 star review can hurt sales. If that 1 star review is by an idiot, that idiot has done real monetary harm to the author.

You're underestimating the sophistication of the recommendation systems. These systems don't just look at the average ratings to make recommendations. They do cluster analysis, and weigh the ratings from users with similar tastes much heavier than those of dissimilar tastes.

When recommendation systems work well, even a one-star review from an idiot is a useful data point. A good system can realize that reader X has generally opposite opinions from reader Y. So if Y is an idiot and gave a 1-star review to Bloody Mary, that may actually increase the odds that the system will recommend Bloody Mary to X.

The better the recommendation systems get, the bigger the overall market gets (more people find more of what they like and thus buy more things). Good recommendation systems are also more likely to connect authors with fans, even when the author's work has niche appeal.

What keeps the recommendation systems from getting better is skewed and incomplete data. When people make it a rule to avoid giving 1-star ratings (or 5-star ratings), they limit the ability of the system to improve. When people only rate stuff they like and simply don't rate the stuff they don't like, they limit the ability of the system to improve. When the system can't improve, we all lose: the retailers, the authors, and the readers. The idiots are the people who keep the system from improving.

Rate honestly. Rate everything. Trust the system to filter out the idiots.

The book retailer that makes a recommendation system as good as Netflix's will eat Amazon's lunch.

Dragana said...

That's what is wonderful about the Internet. You're allowed to be wrong.

And you, of course, are infallible.

We sold the movie rights to Serial

Did you read the short story on which the movie Total Recall was based? The only thing they took from it was the idea. Your idea is good, no one is disputing that.

and it was published in Shivers VI. Shivers VI also contained a story by some dude named Stephen King.

I guess they had to fill the rest of the pages with something, or it wouldn't be called Shivers VI but "Short stories by Stephen King". ;) I kid. I never said I didn't like it. Surprisingly, I did like it. It has a good idea behind it. It's just a pity it wasn't executed as well as it could have been.

If it is funny to you, and you can explain why it is funny, you have succeeded. You'll probably find someone else who agrees with you.

Oh, you'll always find someone who thinks it's funny or good, that's another wonderful thing about the internet. But if you find three people that agree with you, and 97 that don't, have you really accomplished what you planned? Sure, Twilight found a lot of fans, but it also found just as many people, if not more, that hate it with a passion, does that tell you anything? For comparison, another phenomenon of this age, Harry Potter, also has millions of fans, but it has a lot less people that hate it, why is that? The bad thing about Twilight is that it sends the wrong message. It's telling people that you don't have to write well, you just need to find the right magic formula and you're off. It spun such a plethora of clones who think substituting vampires with angels, demons, or even trolls makes them original. Do they sell? Yes. Does that mean they're well written? No. They sell because people today are settling for mediocre. Mediocre music, mediocre movies, mediocre books. Sure, you can say "My books sell, I earn enough, why should I try to be better when mediocre sells just as well?" You said it yourself, your books are here forever. But if you’re ok with settling for mediocre, that’s your right. Just don’t bitch about it when people call you out on it.

Once I publish a story, it is out of my hands.

In 1947 Theodore Sturgeon published a revised edition of his story “Maturity”. It’s interesting that someone of his caliber would admit in such a way that what he wrote was not the best and that he can do it better. But that could never happen to you, you’re infallible.

No, there's nothing wrong with Serial.

And yet, you have 140 reviews that say otherwise. I do agree with you on one thing, those who read stuff they’re not into just because it’s free are indeed idiots. The reviews that call things like “I tried the scissors on his eyelids” vivid, graphic and stomach turning made me laugh as well (I guess this proves that less is indeed more?), I’m surprised that people find it disturbing in the age when an average Hollywood blockbuster has murder and rape by the buckets. The ones calling it a book (it’s a short story, not a novel, and expecting the same thing from a short story they would get from a novel is idiotic, short stories are mostly about the idea, not character development, there’s just not enough room for that) are equally laughable, but the ones that should make you wonder are “I was unimpressed by this short story, I am an elementary school teacher, and I believe my students could have written a more sophisticated ending.”, “The writing was juvenile, lacking depth, and fairly predictable. The possibilities for this book were enormous, and it fell far short of its potential.” or “It really seems like the author came up with some interesting ways to kill people but never bothered to write a good story around those ideas.” and more. These don’t complain about gore, but substance.

Dragana said...

A critique from a professional that you trust is where you get good critiques. Strangers' opinions are worthless. If you want to go chasing the approval of a someone you'll never meet, consult the DSM IV.

From a professional, you get input on technical execution of the story, like plotting, characters, or spelling and style (by the way, there are several spelling errors in the story, you should really get a professional to check it), but they tend to get lost in those technical aspects that they forget the most important part, if it’s fun to read. You will never get the same kind of critique from a writer as you would from a reader because they’re looking for different things, and it’s not other writers you write for, it’s readers. Both critiques are just as important. You say you’re not chasing the approval of strangers, and yet you boast with those half a million that approve. Interesting. In fact, the approval of those half a million is your livelihood.

We wrote Serial with the intent of trying to kill each other. There is a very definite plan and purpose. It's the whole point of the story. If you didn't get that, that's on you, because Blake and I got is, and thousands of others got it.

Yes, you roleplayed, I get that. It shows in every sentence. You didn’t discover America. A lot of kids put their roleplaying sessions online, only some of them edit it before they show it to the world. “I spiked your drink.” “Really? I eat drugs for breakfast. HA!” You do? Where did that come from? Go back to the first chapter and show him popping a few pills in his mouth and I’ll believe him. Or does consistency go against your experiment?

Serial is self-contained.

Yes, I get that too. It’s a short story. I’m not saying it needs to be expanded, it needs to be written better. Ending in particularly.


But if you were as sharp as you think you are, you'd understand the point of my blog, which I repeated ad nauseum in the comments.
Be deliberate. Consider things carefully before you speak. Or else you come off looking like an idiot.


I get your message, and agree with it, it’s your examples that bother me. It’s calling people that don’t agree with you idiots that bothers me. I realize the quality of Serial is not the point of your blog, but you opened that door when you chose it as an example.

Anyone who thought Serial was gory is an idiot.

I wouldn’t call him an idiot. I’d call him a pamsy. The ones that don’t like violence but still read it, those are the idiots.

Anyone who said it was poorly written is an idiot.

No, just has higher standards than most. I wish there were more of them out there. If you’re going to compare it to My Immortal (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/4719325/1/My_Immortal_REPOST) then no, it’s not poorly written. If you’re going to compare it to Twilight, no, it’s not poorly written. But both of you showed that you have a certain level of skill, and then you failed to hold that level of skill to the end. Compared to what you two with that level of skill could have written, it’s not written as good as it should have been. And I’m not even going to go further this line and compare it to, I don’t know, Hemingway, for instance. In the end, it’s all a matter of standards.

Anyone who said it was awful without support that claim is an idiot.

No, just not willing to waste their time on something they have no profit from. You act like they owe you something. A review is a gift, not an obligation to you or other readers. The comment from Terrance Foxxe summed it up quite nicely. Also, I don’t see you calling 5 star reviewers that don’t support their claim idiots.

W. Dean said...

Veronica,

I know it seems like bad e-reviews should harm a book, but it’s not necessarily the case that they do. There could be a lot of factors that come into play. The star rating, for example, is meaningless to me. I do consider well-written bad reviews, though I take them more as information than guidance. The bottom line is that one can’t assume that a bad rating works any better than a good one without concrete evidence.

POKEMON said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Troy Kirby, Author said...

Interesting that you write this. I had two comments on my kindle edition of my crime e-book, Crunk. Both liked the plot, characters, inner voice, etc. They both gave it three stars. But they suggested I used too many words. I find this humorous in two factors: A.) The text was edited by two college english professors prior to publication. B.) I believe they were referring to the way that the characters spoke, which may have included broken english, because most people I've encountered in life rarely speak formal English.

Either way, you have to take the comments you receive and just "go from there." Just keep writing and stop worrying about the rest of it.

JohnPaul DeWalt said...

I despise mindless tradition. When people lose the reason for an activity, it becomes meaningless or legalistic. Much better to think about why continue it than to follow it religiously.

Glen Strathy said...

I very much appreciate your point about thinking before you speak. But there certainly is a challenge to be faced with art.

Most people, at first glance, hate Shakespeare. The language is strange and difficult, as are the settings. Yet many people who have taken the time to get to know Shakespeare find his works sublime. A similar situation exists with modern art, ballet, opera, comic books, and rap music. Some people dismiss them out of hand. Others take the time to examine them before forming an opinion.

What can you say about the people who dismiss things out of hand? They don't want their opinions challenged. They are not curious. And maybe, because they think they know everything, they will never grow as people.

But one thing is true, they don't see anything wrong with how they are. If people disagree with them, they dismiss those people too. They are happy to surround themselves only with people who agree with them. It's only the thoughtful who try to see other perspectives, who question their own beliefs, and who try to understand how the real idiots can be so unthoughtful and incurious.

You can only hope your work finds its audience first among those who instantly like it and second among those who take the time to think about it. But you can't escape the idiots without becoming as insular as they are.

And we can all try to not dismiss things out of hand and nurture our own thoughtfulness.

Joe Konrath said...

And you, of course, are infallible.

No. I'm deliberate. It means I don't say dumb stuff without thinking.

Sure, Twilight found a lot of fans, but it also found just as many people, if not more, that hate it with a passion, does that tell you anything?

Yes. It tells me taste is subjective. It also tells me a whole lot of people like and dislike things without thinking.

I'm not saying there aren't reasons to dislike Twilight. But it is also doing a lot right, and can't be cavalierly dismissed as garbage.

“I was unimpressed by this short story, I am an elementary school teacher, and I believe my students could have written a more sophisticated ending.”

If they could, then they should, and get rich. But I've read enough student and newbie stories to be able to dismiss this comment as a particularly stupid thing to say. Serial not only follows a deliberate structure, but the structure is sophisticated and invisible. I challenge any student or newbie to write a scene completely devoid of internal monologue or perspective. The final scene in Serial contains zero head-hopping, zero telling. It's all showing, and the reader is never privy to either character's thoughts. That ain't easy.

“The writing was juvenile, lacking depth, and fairly predictable. The possibilities for this book were enormous, and it fell far short of its potential.”

The writing wasn't juvenile. Period. As for lacking depth, it's a short story, meant to be a one trick pony. This reviewer is looking for something that intentionally isn't there. That equals idiot. As for predictable, I agree and disagree. Agree in that all stories are predictable if you understand anything about structure. My wife hates seeing movies with me, because I always predict what scene will happen next, and I'm right most of the time. That doesn't mean the movie is bad. But the ending of Serial was unpredictable because Blake and I were trying to kill each other and had no idea how it would end. If we didn't know the ending until the moment we wrote it, it's not a predictable story.

Joe Konrath said...

“It really seems like the author came up with some interesting ways to kill people but never bothered to write a good story around those ideas.”

First of all, it's "authors."

Second, the story is perfectly summed up in the book description: Two predators go at each other, so who will win? THAT is the story, and it plays out exactly as we wanted it to play out.

This reviews is akin to many other who bitch about the lack of characterization. Again, intentional on our part. We didn't write a story about why people become killers. We wrote a story about two established killers trying to kill each other. Don't criticize a story for what it doesn't want to be.

But Blake and I also knew we had more to say about these characters, so we wrote SERIAL KILLERS UNCUT, which expands a 7000 word idea into a 120,000 word double novel. Donaldson and Lucy will also be in STIRRED.

This free short story that Blake and I wrote in an afternoon has been read over half a million times, and has made us a fortune, and we continue to get new fans because of it.

So, yes, I can dismiss the majority of those 140 reviewers as idiots. They're confusing their own personal tastes with quality. You don't have to like Serial. If you give it one star, that should be your rationale. Once you say the writing is "juvenile" it shows you're an idiot who doesn't know what juvenile means.

Anonymous said...

This blog is excellent.

But I hate the commenting section of it. That's my opinion of course - doesn't mean it should be changed necessarily. But I think it should.

I think you should upgrade to a better looking blog.

But I think you have some really solid-minded views of the world of e-publishing. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely true.

People don't realize that negativity is harmful. The bottom line is that no one WANTS to be given a 1-star review, nore do they want their work torn apart without tact or justification.

I have to say that the most idiotic douche-bags out there are elitists - they believe that they have superior tastes in life and are quick to tear down others for having "inferior" tastes.

The hilarious thing about these idiots is that many of them (one in particular) are mediocre at best in the area they claim to have superior taste in. I suppose I'm talking about critics here.

It's enough to drive you insane. The bottom line is that if you find value in your work, that's enough. BOTTOM LINE. The rest of the world doesn't matter.

Now, once you step outside this comforting belief to actually get money for your work, it helps to take CONSTRUCTIVE criticism from those with EXPERIENCE in the field (and many with experience will NOT tear your work apart without justification). But in the end, you have to go with your gut instinct.

I have to say that I'm with Joe on this one. The idiot is really truly ignorant to his plight. He is utterly convinced that there are better and worse forms of art out there, and he has picked all the "good" ones. It's all in the eye of the beholder when it comes down to it.

I can not emphasize how pissed off I am that there are people out there that are this idiotic. Although I suppose it is liberating in a way, because it's reminder of how confining a way of thinking can be. These idiots severely limit themselves. To be truly changing and improving, you have to be truly open-minded to thinking in new ways.

And that is why I respect this blog from what I have read so far. And I respect those venting their opinions with justification. Keep up the determination and realize that by taking the time to justify your opinions, you have already won against the idiots of the world.

Dragana said...

The posting system ate the other half of my comment... There's a chance it will turn up twice, but I'll risk re-posting it:

A critique from a professional that you trust is where you get good critiques. Strangers' opinions are worthless. If you want to go chasing the approval of a someone you'll never meet, consult the DSM IV.

From a professional, you get input on technical execution of the story, like plotting, characters, or spelling and style (by the way, there are several spelling errors in the story, you should really get a professional to check it), but they tend to get lost in those technical aspects that they forget the most important part, if it’s fun to read. You will never get the same kind of critique from a writer as you would from a reader because they’re looking for different things, and it’s not other writers you write for, it’s readers. Both critiques are just as important. You say you’re not chasing the approval of strangers, and yet you boast with those half a million that approve. Interesting. In fact, the approval of those half a million is your livelihood.

We wrote Serial with the intent of trying to kill each other. There is a very definite plan and purpose. It's the whole point of the story. If you didn't get that, that's on you, because Blake and I got is, and thousands of others got it.

Yes, you roleplayed, I get that. It shows in every sentence. You didn’t discover America. A lot of kids put their roleplaying sessions online, only some of them edit it before they show it to the world. “I spiked your drink.” “Really? I eat drugs for breakfast. HA!” You do? Where did that come from? Go back to the first chapter and show him popping a few pills in his mouth and I’ll believe him. Or does consistency go against your experiment?

Serial is self-contained.

Yes, I get that too. It’s a short story. I’m not saying it needs to be expanded, it needs to be written better. Ending in particularly.


But if you were as sharp as you think you are, you'd understand the point of my blog, which I repeated ad nauseum in the comments.
Be deliberate. Consider things carefully before you speak. Or else you come off looking like an idiot.


I get your message, and agree with it, it’s your examples that bother me. It’s calling people that don’t agree with you idiots that bothers me. I realize the quality of Serial is not the point of your blog, but you opened that door when you chose it as an example.

Anyone who thought Serial was gory is an idiot.

I wouldn’t call him an idiot. I’d call him a pamsy. The ones that don’t like violence but still read it, those are the idiots.

Anyone who said it was poorly written is an idiot.

No, just has higher standards than most. I wish there were more of them out there. If you’re going to compare it to My Immortal (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/4719325/1/My_Immortal_REPOST) then no, it’s not poorly written. If you’re going to compare it to Twilight, no, it’s not poorly written. But both of you showed that you have a certain level of skill, and then you failed to hold that level of skill to the end. Compared to what you two with that level of skill could have written, it’s not written as good as it should have been. And I’m not even going to go further this line and compare it to, I don’t know, Hemingway, for instance. In the end, it’s all a matter of standards.

Anyone who said it was awful without support that claim is an idiot.

No, just not willing to waste their time on something they have no profit from. You act like they owe you something. A review is a gift, not an obligation to you or other readers. The comment from Terrance Foxxe summed it up quite nicely. Also, I don’t see you calling 5 star reviewers that don’t support their claim idiots.

W. Dean said...

“People don't realize that negativity is harmful.”

No one has realized this before. You’re the first. But seriously, if “negativity” is so bad, how do you justify your own? I mean, why do you call everyone who disagrees with you “stupid,” “idiot” and “idiotic douche-bag”? Don’t tell me, I’ll guess: they deserve your negativity for being negative!

I don’t blame you completely for ranting, because the nastiness is annoying (and Mr. Konrath ultimately invited the name-calling, even if he meant to be a little tongue in cheek). But you’re only really adding to it while holding yourself up as a paragon of righteousness.

“It's all in the eye of the beholder when it comes down to it.”

What about kiddy-diddling stories, rape fantasies and torture porn? Are these all in the eye of the beholder? No doubt the beholders enjoy those things, but by your lights we cannot judge them. After all, wouldn’t stating a dislike of such things be the sort of self-limiting behavior that idiotic douche bags engage in?

writerlyderv said...

There is something worse than a one-star review. When someone describes your work as 'nice.' Which meant it had no impact on them whatsoever.

Joe Konrath said...

I mean, why do you call everyone who disagrees with you “stupid,” “idiot” and “idiotic douche-bag”?

You're being cute. There is a big difference between attacking a specific book and author, and a general statement calling out those who are overly negative. Surely you know the difference.

What about kiddy-diddling stories, rape fantasies and torture porn?

You mean, like the bible? I believe that contains all three of those.

Look, fiction is fiction. We can all agree that murder, rape, and child abuse are wrong. But that's real life. When you start restricting what you can write about, it becomes a free speech slippery slop. Should we ban DeSade? Mein Kampf? The Koran certainly seems to incite some people to do bad things.

Once you become the sole expert in what is harmful and what isn't, you open yourself up to a world of problems.

W. Dean said...

“You're being cute.”

Only half. I recognize the distinction between naming idiots and talking about idiocy in general, just as I recognize that you were being more humorous than truculent in your original post. But not everyone picked up on it. Susan Tunis, for example, initially took it as an indirect shot across the bow.

The anonymous poster took it in a whole different direction by saying, in effect, that anyone who doesn’t act and think as he does is an idiot. Sure, he didn’t name names. But not being an idiot requires more than not naming names. And you don’t get a free pass to indulge in invective because you’re on the side of the angels.

“fiction is fiction.”

I wasn’t lamenting free speech. I was trying to force the poster to admit that he, like everyone else, thinks some things cross the line and should be condemned (even if he doesn’t believe that such things should be illegal). After all, he can’t consistently maintain that taste is subjective while condemning as idiocy some people’s taste for writing invective. He can’t have it both ways: either taste is subjective and everyone’s taste is hunky-dory (no matter how idiotic or vile) or some people have bad taste and some good (and we can debate what it is).

By the way, I think you said yourself that freedom of speech requires self-restraint on behalf of those who exercise it or everything goes to shit. And as you know too, the written medium requires far more in the way of diplomacy, because strangers don’t always know how to read you (e.g., I’m more of a pr*ck in real life).

Anyone who was online in the early 90s has seen how fast it goes first hand. I used to be active in online forums back then. One by one I watched the best and most interesting people leave, because more and more of those who didn’t understand (or care about) this basic condition for actual debate joined the fray. I soon gave up too because every forum turned into a screech-fest, which was pointless. It was like playing chess with people who‘ll only throw the pieces.

None of which is an endorsement of censorship. I’m simply observing the fact that the freedom to speak has little practical value when everyone’s hissing at enemies, whether named or unnamed.

W. Dean said...

“You're being cute.”

Only half. I recognize the distinction between naming idiots and talking about idiocy in general, just as I recognize that you were being more humorous than truculent in your original post. But not everyone picked up on it. Susan Tunis, for example, initially took it as an indirect shot across the bow.

The anonymous poster took it in a whole different direction by saying, in effect, that anyone who doesn’t act and think as he does is an idiot. Sure, he didn’t name names. But not being an idiot requires more than not naming names. And you don’t get a free pass to indulge in invective because you’re on the side of the angels.

“...fiction is fiction.”

I wasn’t lamenting free speech. I was trying to force the poster to admit that he, like everyone else, thinks some things cross the line and should be condemned (even if he doesn’t believe that such things should be illegal). After all, he can’t consistently maintain that taste is subjective while condemning as idiocy some people’s taste for writing invective. He can’t have it both ways: either taste is subjective and everyone’s taste is hunky-dory (no matter how idiotic or vile) or some people have bad taste and some good (and we can debate what it is).

W. Dean said...

By the way, I think you said yourself that freedom of speech requires self-restraint on behalf of those who exercise it or everything goes to shit. And as you know too, the written medium requires far more in the way of diplomacy, because strangers don’t always know how to read you (e.g., I’m more of a pr*ck in real life).

Anyone who was online in the early 90s has seen how fast it goes first hand. I used to be active in online forums back then. One by one I watched the best and most interesting people leave, because more and more of those who didn’t understand (or care about) this basic condition for actual debate joined the fray. I soon gave up too because every forum turned into a screech-fest, which was pointless. It was like playing chess with people who‘ll only throw the pieces.

None of which is an endorsement of censorship. I’m simply observing the fact that the freedom to speak has little practical value when everyone’s hissing at enemies, whether named or unnamed.

Joe Konrath said...

It was like playing chess with people who‘ll only throw the pieces.

LOL. Agreed.

Anonymous said...

An intriquing post, fairly thorough. But, - "ALL OPINIONS ARE EQUAL." Really. "Fire is the fluid or humour of things burned." vs. "I think JFK was assassinated by 37 people who came from Argentina after he died." vs. "The sun is a great ball of hydrogen, which it burns through the process of atomic fusion."

They may be equally BELIEVED (and even THAT is unlikely) but they are hardly equally true.

FAIL. Lazy.

Anonymous said...

Joe,
I always enjoy your blog,know it's a time suck, but come anyway...sometimes time suck isn't a bad thing if you're learning and I generally learn something here.

Of all your many posts, this is one of my favorites, totally agree that being deliberate is important and can strengthen the story.

Joe Konrath said...

"I think JFK was assassinated by 37 people who came from Argentina after he died." vs. "The sun is a great ball of hydrogen, which it burns through the process of atomic fusion."

Everyone knows JFK was assassinated by aliens. Duh.

There is a difference between taste, opinion, and fact.

Taste is personal, and valid. Opinion is valid if it is informed and can be defended. Fact is whatever stands up to the scientific method.

Anonymous said...

Meb Bryant said: "I understand your frustrations over the one star ratings. It's a cowardly way to express an opinion of an author's novel, especially a complimentary copy."

This, along with Mr. Konrath's response to a response on it bringing up Hisenberg's Uncertainty Principal, kind of bothers me. In part this is because I cannot for the life of me understand what Konrath was getting at with the reference. The big thing is that I am a book review blogger and almost all the books I review have been complementary copies. I do my best to write good, if not necessarily positive, reviews of the books I am sent. This occasionally means that I get a book that I just can't find anything good to say about, which leads to my giving it a one out of five. It seems that according to Ms. Bryant I should award those books more than that because the copy I have was free. This annoys me because while, yes it is great to get a book to review, that doesn't change the baseline quality of the novel or my reactions to the writing.

I would also like to point out that I have very deliberately written utter crap at times. Does this mean that I both succeed at writing crap and failed to write crap because I was doing it on purpose? That may have been the biggest bit of logical fallacy I've posted in awhile, but I find that it meshes well with the "you're probably an idiot" bits late in the original post and the sweeping generalizations from earlier. If I as a reader interpret a novel differently than the author intended, then that is no fault of mine nor the author's. I'm a fan of the idea that a novel should meet the readers' expectations to be considered successful, an unprinted manuscript could meet the expectations of its author but a novel needs readers.

All in all, I have to say that both the original post and many of his subsequent comments make Konrath seem kind of childish. I can't speak as one published novelist to her peers, but the post needed work. Too vague with some of it's arguments, such as the statments regarding those who post one star reviews. Too much focus on how deliberation makes everything good with only a token mention that one also needs the skill with their craft to go with it. Way too much "you can't speak to everyone's reactions so don't say anything" and arguing against opinions in an opinion.

William Knight said...

"If you've ever called someone a name without any provocation, you're probably an idiot."

Oh b*gg*r. That just about does it for me!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but if you can't appreciate the power and poetry of Cormac McCarthy then you really don't know anything about good writing. Up until you made that comment I thought you were realistic in your outlook, now I see you're off in fantasy land.

Because, let's be frank here, you're not a writer, you're a hack. Nothing wrong with being a pulp hack flogging cliches by the yard, but you should have a realistic appreciation of where you stand in relation to serious writers like Faulkner or Melville or Hemingway, or Joyce or Cormac McCarthy. It comes down to respect - I'll make a sporting comparison that might make this clearer for you. What Philip Roth or Milan Kundera or Don Dellilo does is akin to what Michael Jordan did in the NBA or what Muhammad Ali was to boxing or what Anderson Silva does in MMA. They are geniuses in their field, vying for immortality, which is why their work will be taught in universities for generations to come.
For to say you don't care for McCarthy's prose is like a pee wee ball player sneering at Barry Bonds. It's not even that you're not in the same league it's that you don't even realize you don't even qualify to be on the same-sized field of play. You really should read some Tolstoy, some Dickens, some Shakespeare, some Proust before you can remotely consider yourself ready to comment on what Cormac is or is not trying to do.
I think maybe your little bit of internet money success has made you think you are something other than a hack, which is a shame, because, as I say I thought you were a realist and now this cast doubts on all your other opinions.

Sample of Joe: "A horn blared and Joan swerved out of incoming traffic. She pulled over to the curb, her heart racing."

This is lazy cliche. Hearts always pound or race, horns always blare, guns roar. It has no style, no rhythme, no originality or flavour. Anyone could have written those lines and thousands already have.

Sample of Cormac: "Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world."

This shines with original talent. It's art. You could write for a thousand years and you'd never approach it - so at least have the grace not to presume to tell Mr. McCarthy when he should "get into the conflict."

Those who know, know. Those who don't should hush.

Joe Konrath said...

"Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world."

I'll make a deal with you. Show me a picture of "dark beyond darkness" and I'll stop blogging.

And then Cormac beats the metaphorical dead horse even more, because "beyond darkness" wasn't dark enough, and he also has to delve into glaucoma to really drive home the overwritten metaphor.

You like purple prose? Fine. Your choice. Some folks dig literary masturbation that takes forever to reach a self-indulgent climax.

Others like a fast-paced story that's actually fun to read.

To each his own.

Robert Carraher said...

Anon, ya had me interested until I go to "Faulkner or Melville or Hemingway, or Joyce or Cormac McCarthy" sticking with your baseball analogy, you could have said "Ruth or Mantle or Ted Williams, or Aaron or Tommy Agee". You went from the Hall of Fame to a so so. Hey, and I enjoy McCarthy in small doses. Besides, in your annonomous effort to denigrate Joe (in case you haven't gotten to that part of the BFA course that means put down) you are comparing apples and oranges. Joe writes great hardboiled entertainment. they are fun reads and I can't recall him starting a Nobel or Pulitzer campagne so far. Put another way, you are comparing Warhol to Renoir.

Besides, taste in anything, including reading, is pretty sunjective. Raymond Chandler though James M. Cain was a hack, the worst thing that happened to the genre, yet Cain is taught in colleges and Universities. I myself can't stand Cornell Woolrich, but I like my noir without melodrama or gothic delievries. Yet, many people that are fans of crime fiction praise both of these writters. I'm certainly not pretentious enough to try and tell them they are full of shit. but, then, I am not annonomous....

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