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Arm Chair Critics – Activate

Over the past few weeks I’ve been dancing between a couple of different ideas. The first, as written in here recently revolves around writing a Fantasy trilogy, which I hope to have traditionally published so I can walk into the local Dymocks store and curl up on the floor holding my book sobbing and shouting “OMG Yippee!”. The second idea – again discussed in here previously – revolves around writing an eBook and selling it on Amazon.

Yesterday the weather forecasters predicted some pretty heavy rain for my area over the weekend, comparing it the storms of 2007. Storms I remember all too well. Over the Queens Birthday Long Weekend in June of 2007 I was working in a call centre. I worked that weekend. There were no trains because the train lines were washed out, and the walk to and from the station involved trudging through shin deep water to get to the bus stop. 

It was, quite frankly, the pits. As was the blackout that hit on the Friday evening and stayed for several days. This time, I decided I’d be prepared incase the world was plunged back into the stone age. 

  • iPhone fully charged – Checked
  • iPad fully charged – Check
  • Mac fully charged – Check

As I was going though my survival pack of entertainment, I realised to my horror I was a bit low on eBooks. I had a few, but frankly, you never can tell how long those things are going to be. Some I’ve bought thinking they were a full length novel but turned out to have barely 5,000 words, while others I snagged for free  thinking they were a short story, turned out to be a full length novel that entertained me for days on the train going to work.

Recently I’ve been reading Stephen King “On Writing” and decided that this weekend may turn out to be the perfect opportunity for a) some reading and b) some research in the form of reading books similar to my eBook idea to get some idea of what’s already out there.

With that in mind last night I spent a very pleasant hour or so wandering the overly crowded cabinets of Amazon. Now, like everyone else I read the reviews. I tend to ignore them for the most part. I’ve had some hits and some misses but I generally find myself in agreement with at least some of the reviews. 

I am a reviewer. If I read someones book, I leave a review. But for me to leave a review I have to be able to be constructive. I don’t read eBooks looking for the symbolism in the glass of water on the night stand, and I don’t leave reviews if I can’t make suggestions that are constructive. 

Now, to put my “shopping” into context. Last night I was looking for free gay romance novels. A sort of Mills & Bondage type scenario, but with less rope play and more “ohhh I hope they get together” moments. I wanted happy endings, but not the kind the hero pays an extra $20 for at the end of a “massage”.

So I had a look at some of the free books – in total I managed to download 15 free eBooks last night – and before clicking “go for it amazon, fill my world with the hope of love” or “click here to purchase” – whichever it is – I read the reviews and I noticed something. And it, to be quite honest, made my blood boil.

Each of the books I saw had at least 2 or 3 1 star reviews. That’s not to be unexpected. You can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time – unless you’re the previously mentioned massage therapist, in which case you better please 100% of your clients 100% of the time – so a 1 star here or there goes with territory.

Some of the reviews were rather random for a 1 star. One of the reviews that stuck in my head was

“Sweet little story, pretty short but yeah the characters were lovely”

That earned the writer a 1 star review. If I’d given a review like that with no negatives, thought it was cute, liked the romance and the characters I would have given it at least a 3 star review. 

But the reviews that really got under my skin were like this; *Note: the text in italics was my thoughts when I read the review

  • Don’t know how I ended up with this, I don’t read faggot filth” – umm I’d suggest you clicked download now and that’s how you got it but I could be wrong, maybe your alternative personality downloaded it.
  • “Didn’t read it, downloaded it by accident, I don’t care about fags”  – how the hell is it the authors fault you can’t read “Gay Love Story” in the opening line of the authors description of their work you tosser?
  • “I don’t believe these sort of books should be available on Amazon, gay trash, didn’t even read it” – yet you searched gay romance to find it in the first place, twit.

 

 

One book in particular and the one that gave me the idea for this post had 13 1 star reviews and pretty much all of the examples above were from it’s page. 13 1 star reviews not giving a critical analysis or constructive suggestions, but all homophobic, bigoted garbage. 

It got me to thinking “why doesn’t the Amazon do something about the reviews“. Surely a fair review is all well and good but when the reviewer admits they didn’t even read the damn thing, why are their reviews allowed to be up there, tainting someone else work.”

It was a nerve wracking experience reading all those reviews and it made me wonder how newbie writers – like myself – ever work up the courage to put themselves out there, and why these arm chair commandos have no eBooks of their own.

In my time reading eBooks I’ve come up against some very difficult books to read. One that always springs to mind is the one where the murderer and the victim kept alternating names towards the end. I nearly had a stroke reading that, but as fate would have it, I’d already purchased the next two in the series, and by the time I’d read the second one I was hooked. I’ve currently read all 7 of those murder mysteries and am impatiently waiting for the next one. 

I wonder how any writer, putting their toe in the pool ever has the courage to slip their whole foot under the water, knowing the tank is filled with pirañas waiting for the scent of fresh meat. 

I think the writers who keep going, ignoring the meaningless haters and just doing what makes them happy are an inspiration.

One thing I have learnt when reading the useful reviews is the fine line between porn and sex in romance. Even though people are reading gay romance they still want the good old fashioned Mills & Boon format. 

A large portion of the negative reviews dealt with the “pornographic” nature of the sex between the characters. That was interesting. Another thing was the amount of men complaining that women shouldn’t be writing gay romances.

Frankly if the story is any good I don’t give a damn who wrote it, although I’ve read a couple of books where I thought “oh honey, if he did that to a virgin the guy wouldn’t be moaning in ecstasy, he’d be screaming in pain and passing out on the mattress” but I digress.

So what is my point here? Well I guess my point is this; Readers of romance – regardless of the genders involved – what character. If the characters and the emotions are there, the reader will forgive a little, but if you just slap a pair of characters into a story and have them going at it like horny homo rabbits the readers – gay or straight – won’t be happy at all. 

While the reviews I’ve paraphrased earlier were a fairly substantial number of the 1 star reviews and I see no reason for them having been written I’d like to take this opportunity as a total novice to thank the arm chair critics. Sometimes you learn more than you expect to when you’re stocking up on eBooks before a storm.

In closing I want to leave you this review which while 1 star cracked me up. I can’t remember it completely but this is fairly close;

“I don’t like the man/man romance, there needs to be a woman but it was interesting to learn how the gays do the sex”

Reviewer whose name I can’t remember, I salute you, and to pinch a part of your thought “it’s interesting to learn how reviewers do the reviews”.

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43 year old Australian writer currently working on the first of a planned three book Epic Fantasy series. When he's not writing policy discussions, or tales of swords, Gods, and magic, he can be found making a mess in the kitchen, and turning perfectly good ingredients into crimes against humanity.

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