Archive | April, 2012

Amazon Customer Reviews: Bringing the HUH? Since 1995

23 Apr

For today’s post, I decided to do something I’m always advising traumatized “I-just-got-my-first-bad-review” self-publishers to do: I looked up books I love on Amazon, and read their one-star reviews.

Cue hours of endless amusement.

We don’t all like the same things, so even if the greatest literary minds all agree that a certain book is the greatest thing ever written in the history of the world and I don’t like it, that’s okay. Of course it is. I would expect all books, regardless of their amazingness, to have negative reviews.

What brings the funny here is the reasons the reviewers give for awarding just one star and the completely uncalled for contempt that they gleefully confess to having for the book, like it’s a badge of honor among them to not like a book the New York Times did. I don’t really get it because if I don’t like a book, I pretty much never think about it again. It doesn’t make me angry, or have me hurling books in the bin (which, if you read a lot of Amazon reviews, it seems a lot of people are regularly doing). So why are all these people so mad? What’s with all the anger? THEY’RE JUST BOOKS, people. BOOKS!

But anyway. I decided to pick 5 books that a) were international bestsellers, b) were generally accepted to be good or at least worthwhile books by critics, judging committees and readers, c) were good or great reads in my opinion and d) are the subject of a large number of Amazon.com reviews.

And here’s some of the fair, balanced and intelligent comments I found amongst their one-star reviews…

Room by Emma Donoghue

(I loved this book, and I’d give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.)

  • “My son is 5 and yes he trows [sic] fits etc but he does NOT tell me what to do etc.. ok yes we are not in one room and I am not locked up trying to raise him granted but even after his mom gave into EVERYTHING he wanted including going back to the house after they got out when she clearly did not want to and made her throw up.”
  • “Absolutely NOTHING happens in this book. How it ever got printed, I will never understand.”
  • “The child was a pain in the backside and the mother an idiot.”
  • “[Re: Jack watching Dora the Explorer] Not only is the baby talk hard on the inner ear, what are the odds of finding what is primarily a cable show on one of the lower broadcast channels at the time when networks are showing their morning news shows? Nick [the captor] would be surprised that you don’t need cable to get SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

(Easily one of my Top 10 All Time Favorite Novels. The last couple of lines floor me every time I re-read.)

  • “This book is an unpolishable turd. I rank it just above Galt Niederhoffer’s debut novel A Taxonomy of Barnacles on my list of books that are destroying American literature.”
  • “Trust me, no one, NO ONE, has been able to finish this book. How it ever got published, I will never know. This is a waste of natural resorces [sic]. A waste of paper, a waste of carbon a waste of gasoline.”
  • “I’d prefer to watch jelly set.”
  • “Reading the telephone directory would have been a more worthwhile pursuit. I suggest the author re-enroll in the MFA program at UC Irvine before he attempts another novel.”
  • “Before I purchased the book I read the summary of what the book was about, and I thought oh this should be good. A comedy but also about a group of people I could relate my experiences to. But the disappointment was in the language that was used. When I opened the book up, four letter profanity hit me right in the face. I just threw the book away. I had no idea it would contain that kind of language.”

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

(Makes me laugh and long for a Roman holiday, but Ms. Gilbert’s lack of self-awareness does grate a bit.)

  • “And for all of her self-realization and navel-gazing to end her dependence on men, Ms Gilbert has, as pointed out by another Amazon reviewer, married her Brazilian and moved to new Jersey. She could have saved Penguin Books [her $200k advance] by getting in her car and going through the Lincoln Tunnel.” [This review was entitled “Eat, Pray, Shove It.”]
  • “I suffered my own existential crisis reading it because I could not understand how it became a best-seller.”
  • “This book is the literary equivalent of like How Stella Got Her Grove Back. Only with yoga and white people … If one other person recommends this book to me I’m going to kill them.”
  • “Did you ever have that friend that went backpacking through Europe/Asia/South-America and came back as *that* person? You know, the one that wants to share with everyone their new found worldliness and appreciation for foreign cultures? As they hold you hostage in the corner, trying to convey the importance of every minutiae of their adventure to your increasingly wandering mind, you begin to realise that they are simply a self-centred bore who wants to dress up their fancy vacation in the guise of a shallow, faux-spiritual journey of the soul. No? Well, you’re in luck. Elizabeth Gilbert can be that friend in 352 glorious pages!”
  • “Because the author and publishers viewed this book as primarily for women, they have neglected a major marketing possibility for men. As a service to male readers (and as a suggestion to the publishers) allow me post the male instruction kit:  Step 1. Give this book to any woman you know or want to know.  Step 2. Have her read it. Step 3. Ask her to tell you what she thought of it. Step 4. Decision and Evaluation Phase: If she says she learned something about herself/about marriage/about relationships/about spirituality or about anything other than the narcissism of the author and of our culture, then you should dump her immediately; or keep her until a more attractive prospect comes along (it won’t take long) and then dump her. Step 5. Rinse, lather and repeat as needed. Of course, this algorithm does not guarantee finding a good woman, but it instantly eliminates the worst of your choices. It really is that valuable a tool for men. Stay far, far away from any woman who liked this book.”

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

(A stunning book, in my opinion. Science fiction that doesn’t read like it, with a theme that applies to all our lives. I’d put it in my Top 5.)

  • “This book was awful. I read regularly and am part of a book club that reviews award-winning books. I cannot understand how this book was nominated for The Booker. It pains me to think about this book, so I will be brief. The plot is boring.”
  • “Anyone who gave this book a good review probably thought that reading this made them somehow more cerebral even though it was a huge ball of nothing.”
  • “I usually give my used books to a friend or to a local book exchange – this one I threw into the garbage – to spare anyone else the pain of slogging through some of the worst dialogue ever published.”
  • “This is by far the WORST book I’ve ever read in my life. It was the flattest, most agonizingly slow collection of nothing that’s ever invaded my brain. 50 pages into the book I was hoping every character would be decimated by some catastrophic event and the rest of the pages were ISBN barcodes or something.”
  • “Some books are to be tasted, some chewed and others fully digested. After tasting, I inserted this thin volume into the toaster and then crumbled onto my tomato soup with maple cured bacon bits. After turning off the smoke alarm. I tasted again. Still an off flavor of sawdust. “O Good” my wife said “I’ve been wanting to do something else with this mancave. Can I start the bonfire?””

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

(Read it in one sitting, and burst into tears at the end. Loved it.)

  • “I thought it should be entitled: Mississippi, the Darky State. Really offensive and still believe a story about a black family who have white help would be more interesting. Maybe Mrs. Obama will have some ideas, after her reign at the WHITE HOUSE.”
  • “try a sample saved me ten bucks /i got bored quickly reading black maids/kill the english language on and on and on for no purpose than to allow the author not to “write”/this isn’t literature but fodder for bleeding hearts.”
  • “I only wish someone would have told me of the language that is in the FIRST chapter of this book. I stopped reading it because I DO NOT use those words. Thankfully I have been able to tell my friends who had planned to read the book and see the movie in time for them to stop. This book could have been written without those words. I will throw the book away because I don’t want to share it with anyone. Never use my God’s name in vain in front of me!”
  • “This book is a typical, uninventive formula novel. I knew how it would end after the first chapter and I’m not that smart.”
  • “Every character is a stereotype. The downtrodden black maids are all incredibly wise, kind and long-suffering. The white women all belong to the Junior League and neglect their children. The book editor is a Jewish woman from NYC. The black folk cannot rise above their situation without the help of a self-righteous white person. All that’s missing is the prostitute with a heart of gold.”

And The Help wins the award for the BEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN in an Amazon customer review.

Are you ready for this? Are you really? Okay. Drum roll, please. Here it is:

“Where was the editor for this book? In the end notes the author confesses to playing with time. For instance, Shake ‘N Bake is mentioned but didn’t hit the shelves until 1965. A Bob Dylan song is referenced but wasn’t released until 1964. Okay, but why did they have to be included? They certainly weren’t plot points but is a writer allowed to just make stuff up?”

[?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!??????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!??]

It also had this gem which alas was too long to copy and paste in here.

Now if you’ve ever found your book being sandblasted by an inexplicably angry, acidic 1-one star view, doesn’t it make you feel better to know that these guys have too? 

What’s your favourite book that’s likely to have hundreds if not thousands of Amazon reviews? Run over there now and take a look at them and let me know if you find any gems.

Is Anyone Still Here?

20 Apr

[Whispers] Hello…? Is anyone still here…?

And if you are here, would you happen to have a very large cup of coffee on you, by any chance?

It’s been two full weeks since I last blogged, and I haven’t been on vacation. I have been planning the big 30th Birthday Vacation, but that’s another story, and not so time-consuming that I can blame it for a two-week blogging break. What I can blame—and what I will blame—is the coincidental meeting of a major change in my daily schedule and a serious case of the Blog Blahs.

Also, Taking Care of Business (known as Filofax to my childhood) arrived from Amazon on DVD; I had to drop EVERYTHING and watch it immediately, as you can imagineIt resulted in a serious case of the Filofax Wants too.

(And then I found out it was J.J. Abram’s first movie—he wrote the screenplay—and that just blew my mind.)

Normal blog service (or at least, a form of it) should resume shortly—although in a movies-I-loved-in-my-childhood-spree, I have also ordered Troop Beverly Hills and Don’t Tell Mum The Babysitter’s Dead, so you never know…

In the meantime, here’s a little bit I wrote for Writing.ie about where I used to write, where I write now and why there’s a difference between the two.

Have a good weekend!

Video Friday: B*tches in Bookshops

6 Apr

I don’t think they’ll be winning any Grammy awards for their rapping skills but this video is funny and—although I hate it when people say this—well observed. (It only annoys me because people say it so much. Well observed seems to the new unputdownable. Or the new If you liked Stieg Larsson… But I digress.)

In a related note, I will no longer say “I don’t read e-books.” It’s going to be all “I carry spines” for me from now on…

Discovered via Gemma Burgess’ blog

Self-Publishing Stories on Writing.ie: Lauren Clark

4 Apr

Every Wednesday between now and when I run out of stories (!), I’ll be using Self-Printed, my blog on Writing.ie, to showcase the experiences of some self-publishers I’ve encountered along the way on my own adventures in self-printing. Other people’s stories are a great way to find out what you should—and more importantly, shouldn’t— be doing, and maybe will even inspire you with some ideas on how to promote your own self-published book. That’s the plan, anyway.

The first self-publishing story is that of Lauren Clark, who self-published Stay Tuned (which has a brilliant cover, while we’re on the subject. Clever, eye-catching and highly suitable.) Click here to read it.

If you’d like to submit your own self-publishing story, read this post for details.

Edit Where Edit’s Due: A Guest Post by Stephanie of Saltwater Publishing

3 Apr

Today we have a guest post by Stephanie Boner of Dublin-based Saltwater Publishing, about one of the most crucial aspects of publishing a book, be it traditional or self-publishing: editing. Here, she’ll explain the differences between things like copyediting and proofreading, what happens to a book when it’s being prepared for publication at a publishing house and allays a fear that I often hear self-publishers express—no, an editor isn’t going to correct or change your book, but work with you to make it a better version of itself. So, without further ado, here’s Stephanie: 

No matter what changes the advances in technology and printing may bring to the publishing industry, it is the quality of a book’s writing that will always be paramount. A well-written book does not just leap from the mind of the author onto the page; it needs to be sculpted, honed and nurtured.

With the rise in popularity of self-publishing, the role of the traditional publisher is viewed as being increasingly unnecessary. While this in itself may not be such a bad thing, one does not want to throw one’s baby out with the bath water. In other words, while the growing culture of self-publishing has allowed the author new autonomy and control, the necessity of having a good editor is as important today as it ever was.

Of course, the editor does not claim to be more skilled a writer than the author; the most accomplished writers in the world need editors, after all. An editor, however, provides an author with two things. Firstly, as all writers know, writing, especially fiction, is an all-consuming activity. The old hackneyed cliché of the novel being the writer’s baby is an effective one, in that, like a parent, it is difficult to criticise or assess something with which you are so emotionally intimate. An editor approaches a manuscript with fresh eyes, without preconceptions and with the all-important benefit of distance. With their experience and skills, they use this distance to analyse a piece of writing in a way that is simply not possible for the loving parent. They know what works and what doesn’t. They offer ways out of the labyrinth when the writer is facing a dead end. This kind of analysis is not a luxury. It is the essential bridge between the ideas of the author and the demands and expectations of a reader.

Secondly, professional editors are essentially giant nerds. The glee they get from spotting a hyphen that should be an en-dash, or from being asked to explain what an Oxford comma is, might seem a tad pathetic, but they have the necessary skills for assuring the baby doesn’t leave the house with food on his face. So while an author may miss a comma or two, worrying about the nuances and subtleties of plot development and character, the editor can be relied on to wield her trusty red pen and set the world to rights.

When a book is published through the traditional channels, the manuscript is put through a number of processes before it is deemed worthy of the printer’s ink and every self-published work is worthy of exactly the same rigorous process. In the current market, where the number of self-published books is exploding and all traditional publishing houses are turning towards digital publishing, an author must do everything they can to take on the competition.

This process varies dramatically from publishing house to publishing house but generally speaking, once the contract has been signed, the manuscript is designated an editor. This editor reads and assesses the work and gives it a structural edit. This is done either in consultation or in conjunction with the author. There is usually a list of suggestions sent back to the author, advising him to move around some sections, to develop a character, to deal with issues of consistency and so on. Very significant changes may be suggested at this stage or it may be that author and editor are, from the outset, very much on the same page, so to speak.

Once the overall structure and form has been agreed on, the manuscript is copy-edited. This is a much narrower process, focusing on the detail of each line and paragraph of text. At this stage, the editor looks at issues such as tone, syntax, and continuity. They consider the consistency of the speech patterns of the characters, the logic of the sequence of events, anachronisms, repetition and the like. Once this is complete, the author is handed back their new and improved baby to ensure that they are happy with its development and if not, revisions are made.

Finally, in most cases, a new editor comes on board to proofread the copy. This takes place after the text has been formatted for print or eBook. It is a finicky and fastidious exercise, where one is consumed with such geeky issues as word breaks, leading and kerning. Of course, all spelling and grammar is checked again to ensure it is just so. Before the manuscript is sent off to press or uploaded into the ether of the internet, it is given one final going over before we say our tearful farewells and the baby takes its first steps into the big, bad world.

For writers who intend to self-publish, their work is put at an immediate disadvantage if it is not subject to the same process and brought to trade standard. While everyone knows someone who’s good at spotting spelling mistakes and who is willing to throw their eye over something for you in exchange for a pint, it is not quite the same thing. Allowing a manuscript to be assessed and polished by experienced and professional editors, using the tried and tested processes that have stood the test of time in the publishing industry, truly makes the work shine.

Essentially, an editor would not be doing the job they do if they didn’t love books. This love translates into a desire to see books fulfill their potential and therefore editor and author share a common goal. To produce the best book possible, it is imperative that the author and editor enjoy a positive and open relationship. Another hackneyed cliché we hear bandied about is that of the editor taking a sharp scalpel to a manuscript. But in reality this is not at all what we do. We tend to take a much less ruthless and more collaborative approach to a book. It is, after all, the author’s baby.

Established in 2010 by Publishing Directors Stephanie Boner and Maeve Convery, Saltwater is an independent publishing and editorial services company based in Dublin. Along with our trade publications, we specialise in editing and proofreading for authors who intend to self-publish. Feel free to contact us at info@saltwater.ie or at (01) 2449488.

The Birth of a Book (VIDEO)

2 Apr

So… that was pretty crazy, right? Yikes.

If you haven’t been around these parts in the last few days, you’ve missed quite the drama. In a nutshell: last Monday I received a suspiciously flattering e-mail from someone called Mogoli Angelberg that contained a link to a book about selling e-books by someone called Jeff Rivera. When I googled “Mogoli Angelberg” the only thing I found was evidence that he and Rivera were quite close friends indeed. On Tuesday I posted about it, and practically every day since some new revelation about Mogoli and his friend Jeff has come to light. It’s really been an education in how not to sell your e-book, if not how not to conduct yourself online.

If you haven’t read This Is An Ethical Way to Sell Your E-book? I Disagree yet—or you only read it the day I posted it, before all the updates were added which turned out to be even longer than the post itself—I suggest you make a cereal bowl of coffee and go read it now.

But I can’t stay on The Curious Case of Mogoli Angelberg forever more and so today, I’m moving on. With this amazing video of a book—a real book—being born.

Yeah. Put that in your Kindle and smoke it.

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