One Thing You Shouldn’t Do On Kindle …

24 Sep

… Or anywhere, for that matter.

I get a lot of emails from people who want to be writers themselves. Mostly, they tend to ask for advice – as if I knew something that would make anyone who possessed it an automatic success. And what I do, because I got help from other writers myself when I started, is explain that the only key to any success in writing is hard work.

I learned two things, in particular, from Eric Flint.

One – writing requires practice. You have to write at least a million words before you have anything that is even remotely readable. Yes, really. I cringe at the thought of my readers looking at some of my early works.

Two – writing requires a form of double-think (the ability to believe two things that contradict one another.) The writer must believe that his work is the greatest piece of literature since Oliver Twist … and, at the same time, must believe that his work is not worthy of being used as toilet paper, let alone publication.

Why? The writer must have the confidence to enter the writing world and, at the same time, understand that he or she has a great deal of work to do. No writer is EVER capable of judging his own work. Writers can miss the major problems and the minor problems, simply because they know what the book is supposed to say. That’s why a decent critic – and an editor – is a MUST for any writer who seriously intends to write. They can make the difference between a publisher considering your manuscript or kicking it out the door, without even bothering to write sarcastic comments.

In the past, writers were dependent on publishing companies to get published. The publishers provided a barrier between the general public and the hundreds of pieces of simply awful writing that were sent in by hopeful authors. Kindle (and other e-book publishers) has changed all that, at least to some extent. Anyone can publish on Kindle …

As I’ve noted before, the good news is that anyone can publish on Kindle; the bad news is that anyone can publish on Kindle. This causes problems because young authors who haven’t worked for years developing their writing start trying to sell their wares. When they do, they get attacked – sometimes savagely – by readers who don’t feel any obligation to soften the blow.

Obligations? Most people – me included – have problems being critical to our friends and family. I see something they’ve done and I bite down the urge to point out that its crappy. A writer’s mother – for example – probably won’t make critical remarks, even if the story is thoroughly awful. Anyone else, however, will certainly struggle to restrain themselves from making caustic remarks – “why the hell are you wasting your time doing this when you can’t even spell ‘cat’?” The unwary writer, expecting plaudits, may find himself hammered by a through dissection of just WTF is wrong with his work.

This hurts. Unless you’re a complete hack, your writing is your heart and soul. Having someone come up to you and make unpleasant remarks about your baby doesn’t make you want to listen, it makes you want to punch them in the face, then do unspeakable things to their corpse. Or, perhaps, you want to explain to them, in great detail, why they’re wrong – or to defend your work to the bitter end.

This is essentially pointless. There are two types of critic; the helpful dude and the troll. The former will not feel inclined to continue to help you if you reject his advice so openly (even if he’s wrong, he’s got the wrong idea because of something YOU wrote); the troll gets his jollies from forcing you to work yourself into a tizzy over his words. You are merely feeding his sick ego when you rant and rave on the internet over how someone doesn’t get your work – and feeding trolls is stupid, in any online forum.

The real trick, of course, is learning to tell the difference. I always tell myself not to respond to negative remarks, but to consider what is actually being said. Someone who offers useful feedback – “this word is spelt wrong” – is a helpful dude; someone who doesn’t offer useful feedback is a troll. Thank the former, ignore the latter.

I mention this because there has been a spat of comments on one of the facebook groups I frequent, concerning a particularly unpleasant piece of work. Now, that alone would not be worthy of comment. Kindle has seen more than its fair share of works that are over-priced, poorly edited, worse researched, badly formatted, given horrible covers, plagiarised (and copied from other works produced by the author, which may not be plagiarism per se), etc, etc.

However, the author – who has the same attitude to his works as other authors – has been responding badly to criticism. He has insisted that his reviewers are trolls, cited the opinions of his friends (and at least one person who may not exist) and refused to believe that they’re actually pointing out very real problems with the book. Worse, he has spammed Amazon with samples of his book and tried to game the rating system. (And one reviewer has written a 5-star review that is anything, but.) Readers have not responded very well to his defence.

This has always left me with mixed feelings. I have never believed that an author should be above criticism, particularly when they produce works like … well, SONICHU. (About which the less said, the better.) On the other hand, there are times when the barrage of criticism (even when not actual trolling) becomes unbearably akin to bullying. I’ve had moments in my writing career when I felt backed into a corner by trolls, even when some of those trolls were probably making sensible remarks. Whose side should I be on?

Well, that of common sense, of course.

Writers need thick skins. At the same time, they need to understand that critics are the most valuable resource a writer can have. There’s nothing to be gained, as I have said above, in treating the critic as a troll.

So … if you want to write seriously, listen to the critics.

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8 Responses to “One Thing You Shouldn’t Do On Kindle …”

  1. Peter Johnstone September 24, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

    I got positive reviews, mostly from people who knew me, but some from strangers. Then I got a review from somebody who said they’d really wanted to like it, but didn’t – they were specific about what was wrong with the book. And somebody else who (correctly) pointed out the poor editing and suggested I should do something else.
    Those are my favourite reviews as I learned something from both

  2. Matthew Greene September 24, 2014 at 11:35 pm #

    Darn you to Hades Chris! I had never heard of Sonichu before this blog post. Then I made the mistake of Googling it. It was painful.

    None the less good post and one that I agree with. Criticism that helps an author is a valuable thing which I believe comes mostly from fans.

    Take care and write more books.

    • chrishanger September 25, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

      I’ve been told there are worse things out there than SONICHU, but I’ve never been exposed to them. And thank god for that. Chris Date: Wed, 24 Sep 2014 22:36:00 +0000 To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com

  3. wraiththirteen September 25, 2014 at 1:38 am #

    Thanks for that. I have two written works and two on the way and have already made the decision to find an editor when I get the cash saved up. any suggestions?
    Totally agree on the whole criticism thing, the biggest problem is finding someone who gives you good criticism, since the people you trust enough to believe their word usually try not to hurt your feelings, and anybody else doesnt want to read your stuff because they dont know who you are. On a side note a 10 year old liked my first sci fi novel. I hope baen gives some feed back soon.

  4. drvenushouse September 25, 2014 at 2:37 am #

    Kindle User Guide & Kindle User Manual: Step by Step Kindle Survival Guide Reveals The Secrets of Kindle, Tips, Tricks & Shortcuts,

    Download from here nw
    http://goo.gl/K9jSjY

  5. Joe Thornton September 25, 2014 at 3:26 am #

    I agree that comments are often unusable in the sense that they don’t tell you much. While I do write (if academic journal articles can be termed writing), I have had to learn that not only do you have to have a thick skin, you have to learn how to separate useful reviews from those that are less so.

  6. johntae71 September 25, 2014 at 4:23 am #

    You can be critical of any book that’s written, there are always flaws and issues with everything. It’s just a matter of understanding what you’re consuming.

    It’s the difference of going to McDonalds(A fine Scots/United Kingdom name) and expecting the same experience as a Five Guy’s semi gourmet burger. At the same time you expect the Burger at your Steak house to be better if not as good as Five Guy’s. It’s about expectations.

    I always write comments on Raymond Weil’s books. I usually give a 4 or 5 star review with my lament being that his books are limited in dimension, but well written and reasonably researched in the limited scope of his books. It’s lite science fiction, enjoyable for what it is.

    Chris’s books are a little bit heavier and have greater dimension to them, they’re good reading and enjoyable. Having said that, it’s not Hard Science fiction, it’s mostly Adventure Science Fiction which tends to be lighter on the science.

    On the Gripping Hand, Hard Science Fiction can be rather plodding and isn’t for everyone. Not everyone finds discussions on thrust and velocity to be sexy.

    I would say A Sword into Darkness is one of the few recent books that are able to marry Hard SciFi and Adventure well.

    When you buy a Nuttal book you have an idea of what you’re going to get, just as when you buy a Weber book. Good reading! Usually. Everyone has a stinker here and there.

    By the way, there are worse books then the comic mentioned. If I can’t slog through at least half a book, then it’s Utter Garbage. Avengers of Tantura, if you can get past 10% of this book you’re a much worse human being than you thought.

  7. gigletes1 October 27, 2014 at 3:22 am #

    XKCD!

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