Thursday, June 2, 2011

Apparently, I need to accidentally hurt TWO people before I learn my lesson

I said a stupid thing to another blogger whom I admire last night. And in the past I've done a similar thing to another blogger whom I also admire. I hurt them both, and I feel bad, and I'm sorry to them both, and I'm trying to fix things so that I don't do this in the future.

So, today is dedicated to me trying to organize my thoughts on how I will proceed with my internet behavior from now on (until my next revision). I didn't get much sleep last night, so today's work might not be very effective, but I want to get this started because it's sitting heavy in my heart. This post is meant to be amorphous and will evolve throughout the day. Feel free to leave comments at any time and help me with your wisdom!

Here's the deal. To begin, I don't really view The Literary Lab as my blog. Well, I sort of do, but I also sort of don't. What do I mean by this? I mean that I feel at liberty to do whatever I think is best here (and I hope Michelle and Scott do too, because I also think of this as their blog). At the same time, I want all of our readers to feel like they can say whatever they want in the comments. What do I mean by "whatever they want"? Yes, that's what I mean. You can, for example, say that you hate me, that you hate my writing, that you think my new book sucks. It may hurt my feelings, but it's still playing by the rules as far as I am concerned. I doubt I would even argue with you if you said any of those things. This is how I see The Literary Lab. *Note added later* Okay, I changed my mind. You can say anything you want about me, but I might delete stuff if you say hurtful things to other people. New rule #6. Commentors here can say whatever they want about me, but they shouldn't say things that personally hurt other people.

BUT, I have made the mistake for at least two people now of thinking that other comment sections play by the same rules. They don't. Why should they? They're just MY rules after all. So, I have gone to other comment sections and said inconsiderate things, not because I was trying to be hurtful, but mostly because I was careless or rushed, and this was wrong of me. Other blogs do not belong to me. I need to respect that.

New rule #1: I will do my best to not go to other people's blogs and say hurtful things to them.

New rule #2: Sometimes I may still say hurtful things on other blogs because I'm being careless in some way, but I will try to be much more conscious of this, and I will apologize if I screw up.

If you've been reading some of my posts over the last few weeks, this may feel contradictory to what I have been saying before. Here's why I think there's contradiction. While I think it's good to be considerate and nurturing to my fellow writers, I'm also very concerned that the current writing culture is making writers feel so scared that they can't even be honest or have personalities. I hate that a writer got internet mobbed for reacting to criticism on her book. Why must thousands of people make her feel bad? I also hate that some writers feel like they can't be critical of any other written work. This feels soulless to me, and it makes me sad. I want writers to be passionate about the art form. I want writers to be passionate about their own work.

So, somehow, I need to figure out a way to be nurturing and supportive of everyone's work on one hand while also nurturing and supporting writers and their courage to be honest and opinionated on the other hand.

New rule #3. I am going to do my best to always be only honest on blogs. I want to only say true things because I think that gives my words power.

New rule #4. While I am going to be honest, I'm NOT going to allow myself to say everything that's on my mind. This makes me a little sad because it feels stifling in the way that I think the culture is trying to stifle writers. I'm going to have to think more about this. How do I talk about a book I don't like, for example? Should I just not mention it? As a writer, I want others to mention what they don't like about my work, though. And I don't think I'm alone. So, I'm conflicted here. Any thoughts from anyone on this please?

New rule #5. (This change has been happening for awhile now, and I'm pleased with the direction that it's going.) I'm not going to treat our readers here as a network or as a group of potential buyers or as people who are here for my use, nor will I expect the reciprocal. What does this mean? I think it means a lot of good things, although not all of it is well-defined. It means, for example, that you can disagree with everything I ever say and it won't hurt your chances of me reading your work. I know myself, and I know that this is true. So, you don't have to feel like you have to behave a certain way to make sure you keep me in your audience. If I like your thoughts and/or your writing, and I know you have work available, I'll try and read it, even if you don't want to read mine. It also means for me that I can help be better at New rule #3, which I think is very important. I won't try to sweet talk you for the purposes of getting you on my side. I won't give you B.S.

New rule #5.5. (This is inspired by Havi Brooks from The Fluent Self, who I discovered yesterday. And, really, much of this blog post is inspired by her and also by F.P Adriani and others.) I am going to try to help put writers (including myself) in touch with their Right People readers. This is something I've been understanding for a while now, but Havi put a name to it, and I think that makes it easier to explain. What do I mean by Right People readers? My Right People readers are the people who like the type of writing I do. It doesn't mean that they have better taste than anyone else. Or worse taste. It just means that our preferences somehow align. For me, those are the people who should be reading my fiction. I want them to know that. I got a really nice email from someone who read most of my new book last night. It was obvious that she was a Right Person for me. If you're not a Right Person reader for me, that's totally okay! The beauty of this idea is that if we both know that, I won't try to get you to spend money and time on something you're not going to enjoy--my book. I don't hate you. I just understand that we are different. That's cool! And if I know your tastes, I might be able to help put you in touch with books that you would like. That would help other writers and other readers. I think if everyone did this it would be spectacular, but in the end, these are my rules, and people can choose to follow them or not.

So, this is where I am at the moment. My heart hurts a little and my brain hurts a little. I'll be coming back. Feel free to help me if you can. I hope by the end of this that I can just have a nice clean set of working rules to guide me.


  1. the problem with being inconsiderate is that it's based on NOT thinking about what you're saying, so trying to put rules in place to think more clearly when you're not thinking at all can be somewhat redundant.

    A swift apology is often more effective than a complicated plan that's soon forgotten.

    Moody Writing

  2. Mood, I did the apology. Just trying to keep from doing it again.

  3. First - "I also hate that some writers feel like they can't be critical of any other written work. This feels soulless to me, and it makes me sad. I want writers to be passionate about the art form. I want writers to be passionate about their own work."

    Right there with you on that one. I want honsety, even if it's brutal. I should be able to not like a book, voice that opinion and not have a slew of people besiege me, or say that we should never talk bad about another writer. We do live in America, after all, the land of Free Speech. If all we hear is "it's so good" we're never going to recognize the fact that, sometimes, even the most talented person of all can, well, create a piece of crap. If we can't recognize within ourselves that everything we do isn't brilliant, then we're - at least in my opinion - not reaching our fully potential. To change, you have to realize something is wrong.

    Second - "I am going to try to help put writers (including myself) in touch with their Right People readers."

    Amen! This is so important. When I was looking for beta readers, I emailed a writer friend and she emailed back "Sorry, not the type of thing I read, don't think I'd be a good beta for you". Bravo! The right reader is important. Now, I read a majority of genres, but hard core sci-fi is not one of them, so . . . I'd be a horrible person to be a beta, or a true judge, of a hard core sci-fi book.

    It never hurts to read outside your comfort zone, but . . . giving an opinion on a book that's totally not your 'thang' is, well, wrong . . . at least in my opinion.

    Last, but certainly not least - fantastic post.


  4. Davin, I've been in situations where I've put my foot in my mouth. In fact, I do it much more often than I'd like, and it's not a good taste or a great position to be in. However, sometimes people refuse to help you get it OUT of your mouth and they stay offended. That's a hard situation, too. I've been there before, and it hurts. A lot.

    If your intentions weren't hurtful, but it came off that way, then apologizing is the best thing you can do, and I hope it's taken well. If not, then it's out of your hands at that point.

    One of the things I've learned is to be very careful about the negative things I put out there. I don't like to be negative at all, in the first place (not just as a writer, but a person, too!), so it's hard when I want to talk about a book I really didn't like and I feel like I can't say anything about it publicly. In fact, it's hard to talk about GENRES I don't like because I just know that someone is going to take it the wrong way. In the end, though, if people are offended when you're not specifically slamming their name, it can't really be on your shoulders, and you should feel open to at least expressing your opinion. What's the point of all this if we can't be ourselves? Opinions are opinions, and it's not fair for others to rub your opinions in your face and twist them into something you never intended. I've had that happen to me a few times. Of course, lots of things in this whole publishing politics thing aren't fair.

    I think it comes down to treating people with respect (and that's a two-way street, I think we sometimes forget), even with your opinions. That's what I have to remember every time I open my mouth or start typing.

  5. I appreciate that you've already said sorry, but my point is we only learn who can take a shot in the gut and who can't over time and with (often painful) experience. You don't need to sign the Treaty of Versaille, you haven't become the destroyer of worlds, and dwelling on it only serves to draw attention to yourself (which was probably the reason for the inappropriate comment in the first place).

    When you act like an ass just say sorry for being an ass and move on. If you're sincere, next time you'll be more wary naturally. If you aren't, then subsection 4, clause (a) of paragraph 5.5 won't make any difference.

  6. Davin,

    Thank you for this post. It really made me think about my own role in the blogsphere, something I've been pondering a lot these days.

    I heard once that there are three steps to an apology:

    Step 1: Take responsibility for what you did and say you're sorry (you clearly did that already).
    Step 2: Figure out how not to do it again (again, you've done that step with this post).
    Step 3: Let it go.

    I find step 3 to be the hardest to do but in the end, it's just as important as the others, if not more so. I've found that when I start to ruminate about situations gone sour, the best thing for me is to breathe in, think "Let it go" and then breathe the ruminating thoughts out (if that makes any sense). Otherwise I just keep obsessing about things and that doesn't help me any.

    In the end, I've found that if I treat fellow bloggers as though they were critique partners, generally things have worked out OK. Before I offer criticism, I try to ask myself: "Would I say this to a CP? And if so HOW would I word it so it doesn't sting so much?" So far this method has seemed to work.

    Thank you again for this post. It came at a really good time for me.

  7. I wasn't in on the hurting episode, but those sound like useful rules. Rules are fine as long as you can break them sometimes.

    This is a huge issue in the writing community, because there's the "don't say anything if you can't say anything nice" camp and the "if I don't say something negative, I don't sound smart" camp and then there are the rest of us, who are bound to upset somebody sometime, because we're human beings.

    I said on my blog the other day "when was the last time you picked up a book to read on the plane because of its long, detailed descriptions and philosophical musings" Well, wouldn't you know, I had a furious comment from a Henry James fan.

    But healthy people usually have healthy reactions to healthy criticism. The unhealthy people--if you're not a mental health professional, you probably can't help them much anyway.

  8. This is a great post. For me personally, I have no problem with brutal honesty. If you hate what I'm putting out there, you are free to say so. Of course, whether I pay attention to you depends on how you phrase or justify your hatred. Differences of opinion are possible and should be expected in any interaction between two people (regardless of the forum).

    Having said this, I know that some take their written works very personally. Any response I give to a fellow writer is couched in safe and polite terms, unless of course I know that person expects and respects a more brutally honest response. I don't believe I've put my foot in mouth (yet), but of course many times people aren't willing to point it out to me either. I could be acting like a total idiot more often than I think.

  9. I think some things you’ve described are general web communication problems—and so not your fault. Don’t beat yourself up over that and don’t beat yourself up too much over anything you may do incorrectly personally—I think you’re beating yourself up too much here. Give yourself some kicks then promptly remove your foot from your own ass. At least you’re nice to want to see negative issues change and offer to help change them. I know you and I have had problems between us, but you’re one of the last people I’d say posts hurtfully a lot around the web in general; I’ve seen you in plenty of places. That you generally tend-nice on the web is one reason why I spoke up when no one had said anything about your actor-reading.

    Over the past two months, first because of some real-life stuff and now because of a pain-in-the-ass something-writing-on-the-web I’ve been going through (nothing to do with anyone here), which made me break one of my personal rules, which I’m pissed at, I’ve concluded that I don’t think writers should often review their contemporaries’ works—on any bookselling site or any review site. I’m not talking about saying what they want on their blogs—NO. Those are their spaces; they should say whatever they want. But I don’t think writers should rely on each other too much as readers and reviewers because that helps make the reader-reader numbers diminish—that makes reader-readers superfluous. They’ve been decreasing in numbers as it is (or at least not increasing fast enough with the population increase).

    I’ve said before that I don’t normally write fiction with other writers as intended-audience; well, now I also generally don’t trust their reviews on bookselling sites! No matter whose book is being reviewed. On Amazon there’s been so much nastiness on all sides (from both writers and readers)—fake reviews both pro and con toward writers’ books that Amazon has now cracked down and only allows writers to discuss their books in one forum. We’re banned from mentioning our books anywhere else; if Amazon catches that behavior, the posts are deleted right away. So are shill reviews and biased attacks, though to a lesser extent.

    I think most 1-star and 5-star book reviews between contemporary writers are either sour-grapes competitiveness (especially if they’re writing in the same genres) or helping-friends reviews. Apparently, many book-buyers have become very angry at this, and I confess that, when looking for books to read, I also don’t give as much weight to bookselling-site book reviews from other writers. Dead writers are an exception—writer reviews on those creators’ books are okay. It’s one living writer to another where the competition-and-friendship-produced problem lies.

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  11. I talk a bit about fiction books on goodreads, but the other day, a book I had hopes for wound up being a 3-star to me (with nothing stated in the review and not that I think 3 stars are bad but some other writers do), and I felt bad about that. So I removed the review. If someone asked me what I thought about the book, I’d be honest. But I don’t feel like being bothered even having mentioned the book—that will just give it more attention (it’s already well-known). Not speaking negatively about other writers’ books may actually hurt them more than speaking negatively. In my opinion and experience, being ignored kills more books than being badly reviewed does.

    Now, I only indicate I’m reading something if I’m pretty sure it will be at least a 4 star review. If a writer’s book had NO reviews and the book is terribly written to me, I would never post a really bad review even on my own sites—unless maybe that writer shat on me or my work. Because of the recent issue I’ve had pop up, I’ve become more mercenary lately; some people (read: writers) will not learn unless they get back what they give. I got tired of trying to remain fair. Now, I’m not being fair unless I know a writer for a long time first. Not that I’ll be nasty first with other writers. I just remain very neutral emotionally and don’t care too much until I’ve learned a lot more information about the person.

    I do not think you should encourage people to say hateful things about you and your writing here—I think you’re making a mistake there. If someone does that, I’m not saying you should delete it, but, personally, knowing what you’re like especially, I think you should not encourage people hating on you here. I’m almost positive you won’t like how that feels; in fact, I think that eventually it would do your writing bad. Hate is just nasty. I don’t see how it can be anything but.

    “I hate that a writer got internet mobbed for reacting to criticism on her book. Why must thousands of people make her feel bad?”

    --I think I know who you’re talking about, but I’d only found out about that after-the-fact. Point-blank: that was fucking sick. In my opinion and experience, when writers claim they don’t care about negative reviews on published works, or about what people say about them and their books, they’ve usually never actually GOTTEN any negative reviews and lots of hate thrown their way. I’ve yet to meet or know of a writer who doesn’t dislike GETTING criticism. Some may not say they dislike it, some may deny this, but if you observe their behavior closely, you can see that they dislike the negative comments. I wish more writers would be honest about this: criticism always hurts at least a little. I consider that The Artist’s Prerogative. See the pertinent quotes below.

    “As a writer, I want others to mention what they don't like about my work, though. And I don't think I'm alone. So, I'm conflicted here. Any thoughts from anyone on this please?”

    --If you’ve had people say this a LOT, and criticism and little-to-no-reads were mostly what you’d gotten, I think you’d change your tune lol. Trust me on this a bit.

    Try to enjoy your book being out now. Don’t let any bullshit others may say or any mistakes you may make—don’t let that ruin the moment for you. It only happens one time, that first book.

    "Critics appear to be addressing themselves to works other than those I remember writing." --Joyce Carol Oates

    "I love criticism just so long as it's unqualified praise." --Noel Coward

    "I don't see how you can write anything of value if you don't offend someone." --Marvin Harris

    (I only barely edited these posts--sorry for the long-windedness. I'm exhausted today and not feeling well.)

  12. Good post and good rules but try to remember that we're all a work-in-progress. It's just that we're doing it together. So cut yourself some slack. I'll bet that in the process you'll cut others some slack too; and they, you.

  13. Everyone, thank you very much for your comments. I've read over them a couple of times. I'm tired today, so no long responses, but I do appreciate you giving me your caring thoughts.

    F.P., I'm agreeing with you more and more on the idea of reviewing. I want to sit with it a bit longer to really know how I feel. I'm sorry to hear you are not feeling well and hope you are better soon!

  14. awww..I think you just need a big hug!

    In real life, I am always worried that I will (or have said) say something that will hurt somebody or that is not exactly what I mean or that is misinterpreted and I often run stuff in my head over and over and get pretty neurotic - you get the picture. I often stop myself from saying anything unless I am really sure that I mean it. So I know exactly how you feel..However, once I get comfortable I can go to the other extreme of not thinking before speaking/writing which isn't great either. I guess, like with everything else, balance is the key..

    That bit seemed pretty rambly and pointless..but anyway- don't over think it- you've apologized-now let it go.

    Oh- and congratulations on the publication of 'Wild grass and other stories'!!!I will try it to make it to your reading (in July).

    I just started Bread and then got caught up in proposal defense type stuff so will resume reading this weekend..


  15. awww..I think you just need a big hug!

    In real life, I am always worried that I will (or have said) say something that will hurt somebody or that is not exactly what I mean or that is misinterpreted and I often run stuff in my head over and over and get pretty neurotic - you get the picture. I often stop myself from saying anything unless I am really sure that I mean it. So I know exactly how you feel..However, once I get comfortable I can go to the other extreme of not thinking before speaking/writing which isn't great either. I guess, like with everything else, balance is the key..

    That bit seemed pretty rambly and pointless..but anyway- don't over think it- you've apologized-now let it go.

    Oh- and congratulations on the publication of 'Wild grass and other stories'!!!I will try it to make it to your reading (in July).

    I just started Bread and then got caught up in proposal defense type stuff so will resume reading this weekend..


  16. Davin, based on what I read from you online, I imagine you a straight-up dude. You love sharing your love of writing with strangers, you're a natural teacher - and a good one, and I can't imagine a mean bone in your body. Keep in mind this is all projection; you can be a serial killer for all I know. :)

    Having said that, if you were to write something harsh about my writing (without being asked to critique), you'd get a pass. You'd get that pass because everything else you ever say is helpful and encouraging. And if you did offer up unsolicited harsh words, I'd have to look in the mirror as to why. Everyone has a bad day now and then. My advice: Don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff!

    About the writing community in general:
    I have never met a group of people more helpful in my life. I'm stunned and the level of support I am receiving on a regular basis. Especially the three amazing bloggers that author this blog! Thank you X3.

    I have tons more to say but I see a lot of my thoughts echoed in some other comments.

  17. There is a question I try to remember to ask myself before I react negatively to something or someone:

    Will it cost me anything to be kind?

    If not reacting/speaking will mean silencing an important part of who I am solely to please others, then it costs too much to be kind. If, on the other hand, I want to react negatively merely to show off my vastly superior intellect, then it's time to re-think the issue. This can often be a very fine line for me.

    I also try hard to remember my favorite adage, "Never assume malicious intent where ignorance or stupidity will suffice." I will often try to obtain clarifications and more information before over-reacting to something.

    But hey, mistakes get made. Correct them if you can, and move on.

    -Alex MacKenzie

  18. At least nobody here is spouting off like VS Naipul

  19. Anyway, before I got distracted by the troubling comments of a certain author named V.S. Naipaul, I was going to say that I get tempted to, as Alex said, "react negatively merely to show off my vastly superior intellect." Sometimes, you know, I am filled with the Shining White Light of Righteous Rightness and then I open my mouth (or type type type away in a fevorish furor) and within minutes, usually, it is made very clear to me that my Utterly Correct Statements of Truth are, in fact, nothing more than my unquestioned assumptions dressed up in my belief that I Know Fucking Everything. Which is why I feel more and more that the best thing to do is keep my damned mouth shut all the time. But then, you know, I still have my opinions and I look around and everyone on the internet is giving their damned opinions so why can't I give mine, too? So, you know, it's some tricky.

    What's missing in a lot of this is just the simple idea of tact. Which might be Davin's New Rule #4, actually.

  20. First off, I haven't been by in a while and I love the new look. And if the look is not new, then sorry I haven't been by in a while.

    Second, As much as I would love to write an anthem comment to your post I will scale down to two thoughts. Bravo to you for admitting you made a mistake and are looking to make amends. You gain loads of respect by all parties involved by doing so. ALso, rule #4 is an excellent rule. I think there is a way of being honest without being hurtful. Sure it's frustrating that you can't fully disclose/bash something when you want to but is it worth the price of regret? You've created an great path to success with your rules and they are reasonable and respectable. Good luck with making the amends.

  21. @ Scott. I remember you beat me up on my blog last year. Your comment, and the fact that you chose to respond, was awesome! It was real. Thank you.

  22. Charlie: I am such a big blowhard.

  23. I'm sorry you're hurting. That's what makes us human. But you've apologized and that too makes us human. We all make mistakes.

    I can't count the number of times I put my foot in my mouth and lost friends because of it. Sometimes, when it's important, I apologize. Sometimes, when you know, I really don't care, I don't. Like Scott said, I'm entitled to my opinion.

    What I've found is that I'm in the first camp now -- if I can't say anything nice, I don't say anything at all. Which sometimes leaves me silent. But that's okay too. I'd rather be silent than thought of as a bitch. Which I can be at times.

  24. If I'm going to critique someone, I do my best to say it delicately. One great advantage of being a writer is knowing how to skew your words into any tone.

  25. They sound like reasonable rules. I share your concern about where and how often honesty can give right-of-way to tact without becoming something other than honesty.

  26. I've come back to this twice and then left.

    Third time's a charm, right? (One can hope.)

    I left because I feel reflexively defensive on your behalf. You put so much of yourself out there, often for the benefit of others, and I think if anyone deserves to be cut some slack on the internet, where you can't see a facial expression or read other non-written cues or maybe have a history of interaction with a person, it's you. And I don't mean give you a pass. I mean take you as a whole person and apply context and intent and think about things like meaning and intent and integrity, and then keep everything in perspective.

    So that's all I'm going to say.

    I hope you find lots and lots of Right People, Davin. They are going to adore your book.

  27. Davin, I'm sorry I'm only commenting now. This is an honest and excellent post and touched me in many ways.

    I have also learned to be more cautious of what I say and it does feel at times that I'm being stifled. I also hated the vicious pecking of the author who reacted badly to a crit review (there but for the grace of God go I, perhaps one day'll be having the melt down)

    What I've tried to learn to do - and it's much the decision you've come to already - is to find a way to work that middle path that is honest for myself but considerate to others, and yet still real. I really on my gut feel to tell me when I've reached that fine point of balance between honest & real and considerate. I don't always get it right. Good luck - and trust that part of yourself that says you've found the golden mean in your blog behaviour.

    I'm having some difficulty find my Right Readers. I think I need to pop over to that blog and read more..
    Judy, South Africa

  28. I really appreciate everyone's thoughts and sincere opinions. Thank you!

  29. Sorry about this Davin. I understand what you are saying, but I truly want your honesty over at my place. If I write something and it sucketh, I want you to tell me. I mean that's what it is all about. I love the term Right People Readers. I write picture books and middle grade so I usually beta for those writers. Not counting Beth, she's YA, but I still read that too.

    But I would love to read for you one day, just because I enjoy your writing. That's it! I really believe you would never mean to say anything to hurt anyone. I want you to forget it. It's over. You did the right thing.

    Davin, I love your rules, too. I think we should all take a hard look at them. I know I will! (Sorry I'm late in the discussion.) Feel good about who you are. :-)

  30. Domey: I hadn't been able to spend much time reading blogs yesterday. I can see how deeply affected you are. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. It's hard for me to imagine you saying hurtful things, intentionally or not, although I am not doubting people are hurt. I hope you feel like you are able to rebuild those relationships.

    Words are so easy to use that we do forget how powerful they are. How do we say things that we mean and feel without being hurtful? It may not always be possible. Faceless communication makes it harder. I think this is where a relationship is the most important. When you know someone, even only via blog comments, you are able to understand better their intended meaning, and if you do feel hurt, it's easier to forgive and overlook.

  31. Scott: I love your comment about being filled with the Shining Light of Righteous Rightness.

  32. Personally, I applaud the fact that you are taking this as an opportunity to grow, rather than the simple, "I'm sorry, move on" approach. Most people don't.

    From what I've read here, I can't imagine that you meant anything hurtful, but people have different sensitivities, and I think it is noble to be considerate of those. (I know, noble sounds like an overstatement, but I really do.)

    As far as reviews, I've always thought a well written "bad review" addresses what the reviewer felt was lacking, with reasons backing it up. And the review doesn't attack the person who wrote it.

    By publishing your work, I think that you are putting yourself out there to be critiqued. If you don't want to hear it, don't go googling yourself, or reading the poor reviews on Amazon. (Actors do that all the time)

    I hope you continue to feel completely free on the blog. I really love reading the posts here. Informative and never a dull read.

  33. There’s too much here to address everything and plenty of comments already but I’d like to address New rule #4. There’s an old adage – you will know it – which goes: If you can’t say something good then don’t say anything at all. It’s a sound, if a little shallow, rule. What I was taught when it comes to offering criticism is to offer praise first; don’t just go for the jugular. The fact is that I have yet to review a book yet that I could say nothing good about. I’ve read books I didn’t like and would never have parted with hard cash to read but none has been so bad I couldn’t see that it would have an audience out there. I’ve just finished a review of the latest bestseller – from a six-time bestselling author –that I pretty much hated but I’m clearly in the minority. In order to get through the review what I had to do was put myself in the shoes of all the potential readers out there and try to see what they might see in it. I still think you can tell from the review that the book was not for me and I have no problems offering a subjective response as long as that’s not all my review consists of.

    You expect kids to say they don’t like something and offer up no explanation other than, “Because!” That’s fine for kids. It’s unfair to an author to pan his work without giving clear reasons why. In the above case my reasons were that the book’s scope – it was a book of interviews (or rather snippets of interviews) – was too broad ranging from Lady Gaga to Bo Diddley and I couldn’t imagine anyone reading it from cover to cover and, secondly, as all of the interviews were old there was very little that I hadn’t heard before and much of what I was hearing was trivial. I said, “If you’re looking for ‘profound’ read the Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations,” and I explained why with illustrations from the text. I also picked some of the best bits and included them too. In the end though I said that it was best my readers take a closer look at the book themselves and then decide.

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  35. @Miscellaneous – The book was Everyone Loves You When You're Dead by Neil Strauss. My review’s not up yet I’m afraid. It’s due on July 4th. What he’s done – with the best of intentions I have to say – is extract what he thinks are the key minutes from certain interviews. In some cases it works – Leonard Cohen and Billy Connolly were great – but it others, you get what you might expect, i.e. the brothers in Oasis telling us just why they’re the greatest rock band ever and Roger Waters bitching about just exactly who’s ‘Pink’.

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