Friday, May 16, 2014

Reader Defense Force

You're reading Books, Beer and BLOGshit! It's the only blog that sticks up for the rights of readers everywhere. I am your blogger, Mr. Frank!

This round of Books, Beer and BLOGshit deals with sticking up for the readers. Recently, I saw a post on Facebook by a writer regarding a book review he took exception to. It was a review for the book Predator X. It is a sci-fi book that seems to lie somewhere in the short story/novella spectrum that some may refer to as a novelette (I hate that word personally and refuse to use it, but that's another blog post entirely.) What struck me was, after reading the review, I didn't think it was as bad as all the vitriol I saw being spewed over it.

Let's take a look first at the Facebook post. The names of been redacted, it's not the who but the what that is at issue here:
Mr. Facebook Man: How can Amazon allow a review like this? This is fucking ridiculous!

"First of all I haven't read the story so 3..." a review of: Predator X

Comment 1: By the spelling errors, you can tell that he doesn't read much.... Jerk-off...

Comment 2: In a world where social media, blogs and forums don't exist, what other choice does he have but to sound off in an Amazon review? Personally, I salute Commander Dumbshit for making his voice heard in the face of tyranny. Many don't know that the Arab Spring took flight thanks to an irrelevant review of "Beethoven's 5th" entitled "I give oppression one star only because I cannot give a zero"

Comment 3: Wow. Should only be allowed to review what you purchase. He is a ballbag

Comment 4: I was under the impression that you can not review anything unless you purchase it.

Comment 5: Ridiculous. Not sure exactly how Amazon approves reviews during the delay before they're posted, but wouldn't it be easy enough to flag this kind of nonsense? Sheesh.

Comment 6: That is ridiculous! How can they even state a review when their first statement reads: "I haven't read this?"

Comment 7: I reported the review for abuse!! Everyone should do the same and have this taken down.

Comment 8: Reviews like that are just stupid.

Comment 10: What the...?

Comment 11: I reported it for abuse
 Comment 12: On the other hand, the reviewers words speak for themselves...and tell readers more about his education, intellect, and trustworthiness that perhaps he knows.

 Damn. They are all in a tizzy. It must be awful what this reviewer wrote. How dare he have the cajones to speak his mind. How dare he have an opinion! Shame on Amazon for allowing customers to give feedback. Something must be done! Torches and pitchforks, now!

Wait. Let's take a look at exactly what this awful reviewer said before we go maiming people:

This review is from: Predator X (Kindle Edition)
The story maybe great I haven't read it, that being said I wanted to give feedback to the author....I hate buying short stories especially if I have to pay for one story because there are plenty of novels out there to read, I generally van read a 300 page novel in one sitting and that is while taking time to do other things. I want a meal not a snack something to sink my teeth in to, my suggestion is if your going to write short stories (and really that's all a novella is) then publish a series in one volume. I very seldom purchase a novel under 300 pages. When I read an exert and think this could be cool then see it's between 75 to 150 pages it's extremely disappointing. After all there are a ton of new writers to discover where there first novels are the same or cheaper than a short story. As I said this is feedback for the authors I apologize to the readers.

Well, lets see here... The reviewer states that he or she did not actually read the story. Yeah, that's not so good. And he "van" read an "exert", so there is that. But let's put those two points aside. Let's take a look at the guts of this review.

The reader is saying they want a plumper story. Amazon lists this story as 154 pages. I am not familiar with the author but she feels like a self published indie writer. She's asking $3.99 for a 154 page book and doesn't seem to have enough clout to be charging that much in this blogger's opinion. So maybe this reviewer is onto something here. A sparkle of validity in a sea of poor grammar.

The reviewer also states specifically that his/her review is meant for the writer specifically. They are trying to point out what they perceive to be a pricing disparity. The reviewer asks that potential readers disregard the criticism as the review presents concerns for the writer.

Furthermore, despite the negative comments mostly dealing with a pricing issue, the reviewer still rates the book THREE STARS! Damn, I'd take it! A free three star review for a book they never read, what's the problem?

Look, the writers who complained are correct. You should never post a review of something you have not read. But, I think that is where their concerns should end. The poor grammar in the review should be overlooked, not everyone is a writer and readers shouldn't be expected to execute at that level. The grammar should demonstrate to those reading the reviews, the quality of the feedback.

 Next, you can't cry foul at Amazon for allowing reviews like this. The system needs to be open. Indie writers especially should understand this. When they give out review copies of their work it is with the hope that the free review copies will lead to reviews being posted on outlets such as Amazon. If limit that ability to only people who have purchased the book you will defeat you publicity and marketing campaigns. Not only that, but it will not stop someone who actually does pay $3.99 for this book to still post valid complaints about the pricing.

Lastly, and I think it's a point everyone who got upset with this review missed, it was a three star review. That's pretty damn good even for a good review. So the reviewer had a problem with the price of the book in relation to its length, noted that the feedback was directed at the author not the reader and STILL gave it a three star review. Do you see what they did there? They did not upset the fair balance of the star average by blasting it for 1 star. It seems a completely fair exchange to me.

In the end, the big point is this: Don't ever shit on a reviewer. I watch writers beg and plead for reviews all day long, day in and day out. Then when I see writers get angry about some of the reviews they get, I get upset. I am a reader and a reviewer. What is the motivation to continue reviewing your work or any other writers if this is how I see my honest opinion being received?

Think about that.

Monday, May 5, 2014

You, Me and McNee

You're reading Books, Beer and Blogshit! It's the only blog on the internet that attempts to understand what Scottish people are actually saying! I am your blog host, Mr. Frank! 

We put out an open call for interviews on The BLOGshit's Twitter (it's still open in fact.) The legendary Scottish author, John McNee, was the first to take up the call. John McNee first came on our radar when we became aquainted with Rooster Republic Press. John has appeared in several of their Tall Tales With Short Cocks volumes. He also has a full length book published through Rooster Republic, which is cited as one of the publishers personal favorites, GRUNGE PUNK.

We've also found that in addition to the odd style John McNee uses in GRUNGE PUNK, he also loves to write some splattery horror fare. And his horror stories are no joke. His short stories have appeared along side of the likes of Wrath James White, Shawn McKenzie, Brian Lumley and Joe Lansdale just to name a few. 

So lets jump into the mind of a man who writes from all the way across the pond, in the wilds of Scotland. When you're done with this entertaining interview, be sure to check out his links and pick up some of this prolific authors work!

The Blogshit: Welcome John McNee to Books, Beer and Blogshit. Can you give us a feel for what sort of genre your writing fits into?

John McNee: Mostly I write horror. A lot of my stories end up filed under 'extreme horror' (just because there's a little blood) but then there are the Grudgehaven stories which are a little more difficult to pigeon-hole. They were printed under a bizarro label and marketed as bizarro, but I've had too many people tell me it's not bizarro to continue claiming them as such. It's noir and horror and steampunk and dieselpunk and fantasy and sci-fi and new weird, but it's not bizarro (which apparently has all these traits and defining characteristics I didn't know about). I've just about come to terms with that now. For a little while I thought I was a bizarro author, but it turns out I'm just a 'grudgepunk' author. But one of the reasons I settled on that title is because the stories don't really sit comfortably in any one genre, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.

The Blogshit: Your book, GRUDGE PUNK, has been published by our friends at Rooster Republic Press. We've noticed however that the majority of your published work is short stories published through various anthologies. Do you prefer the short story format over longer form work?

John McNee: I prefer whichever works best for the story concerned. I believe the vast majority of stories can be told in 5,000 words or less. I also believe a writer hones their craft by writing in short form. Too many authors, I think, leap straight into novels and damage their own stories by trying to stretch them to fill 300 pages. Particularly in horror, where brevity is especially effective, and bizarro, which can quickly wear out its welcome in 10 pages never mind a hundred, the best way to tell your story is as briefly as possible. There are stories that are too big to be told in 5,000, 10,000 or even 50,000 words, but I think they're the exception and an author shouldn't try to push it.

The Blogshit: You've managed to get into quite a roster of anthologies. The likes of Wrath James White, Shane McKenzie, Joe McKinney and Brian Lumley just to name a few, have shared the pages with you. How have you managed to work with some big names in writing?

John McNee: 90 per cent chance, 10 per cent design. I was very lucky in that the first story I ever had printed (not the first I submitted, by a long shot, but the first accepted) was for 'Ruthless', edited by Shane McKenzie, right before he started becoming “the next big thing”. I try to work with the same editors and publishers as much as possible, so when he put out a call for his next anthology, 'A Hacked-up Holiday Massacre', I submitted again, got accepted and – because he'd been making connections all over the place – got to see my name in the TOC with Joe Lansdale, Nate Southard, Bentley Little, etc. So I was able to ride on his coattails just a little before he gave up editing to focus on his own writing, but it's been a similar situation with Blood Bound Books, who I've got a good track record with. When I first submitted (to 'D.O.A.') they were just starting out, but they've grown to attract much bigger names. And because I keep submitting to them – and they've been nice enough to invite me to submit for things like 'Blood Rites' - I've been able to capitalise a little on their success. So it is luck, but I think there's also a lesson in all that about loyalty, or at least the importance of trying to foster good professional relationships with publishers.

The Blogshit: You're from Scotland. How are we Americans supposed to understand anything you write?

John McNee: If I'm even halfway good at my job, you shouldn't even be able to tell. I'm not Irvine Welsh. I don't have much of a Scottish 'voice' in my writing. And I try to make it as accessible as possible. I use correct punctuation and quotation marks and all that, I don't try to break the rules of sentence structure. I even format everything I write into the US spelling BEFORE I send it to a publisher (another top tip). 'Grudge Punk' is heavily stylised in the vein of 40's American Noir anyway, which is a kind of language I'm very familiar with, so I don't think it's an issue. Going forward, I would like to write a few more horror stories set in Scotland or featuring Scottish characters, because I realise it's a region that doesn't get much of a look-in in the genre and I could be cornering that market. But the Scottish accent is a very, VERY difficult one to put on the page, so it could be a struggle.

The Blogshit: Is it tough to play in American publishing markets from all the way across the pond?

John McNee: In terms of the work itself, for the most part, it's fine. Everything's done over email and Paypal these days anyway, and publishers are used to getting submissions from all over the world. But I don't get to meet anyone face-to-face. I don't get to mingle with other writers (except Chris Kelso) or pitch projects to publishers over cocktails or drunkenly hit on cosplayers from behind the Rooster Republic stall at Texas Frightmare. So that sucks. And promotion is difficult, because there's no real opportunity to do readings or signings. The only tool I have is the internet, and while I recognise it's a fantastic tool, I still haven't quite figured out how to get the most out of it.

The Blogshit: What country/region do you find most of your reader base is coming from?

John McNee: It seems to be pretty limited to America, which I'm certainly not going to complain about. I love America. I would like to have a few more readers in Scotland, but we always seem to be a few years behind the curve over here. Most readers are still very suspicious of anything that isn't mainstream publishing. Small press or self-published gets written off as vanity press and what little underground there is is so far underground that even I can't find it, so connecting with an audience here is very difficult. Maybe when I remake myself as a SCOTTISH writer, writing SCOTTISH books about SCOTTISH people for SCOTTISH readers, a few libraries will finally agree to put me on their shelves (in the 'Scottish Authors' section), but it's a bit of a gamble.

The Blogshit: Are you currently working on anything longer form or will you be sticking to short stories for the future?

John McNee: I have written a horror novel and signed a contract on that, but I don't know yet when it'll be released. Right now I'm working on a sequel to 'Grudge Punk' which will take the form of a full-blown novel. It feels quite epic in scope, but I don't particularly like long books, so I'm constantly self-editing, trying to cut out all the extraneous crap like character development and descriptive prose (no-one cares about that, do they?) and stream-line it as far as possible, so it'll be a lean, lithe epic. I don't know what's coming up after that. I have a few other ideas for novellas/novels, but I would like to return to short stories for a while.

The Blogshit: What sort of shaving razor do you prefer to use?

John McNee: Excellent question. I hate shaving and try to do it as infrequently as possible, but when I do, I prefer a straight razor. I've tried a lot of fancy modern razors over the years and found them all very disappointing. There's a reason the straight razor endures – it's high risk, high reward. You will get the best, closest shave you can possibly get in your own home. But if you cut yourself, you really cut yourself.

The Blogshit: If we were to produce "The John McNee" sandwich in a sandwich shop, what would we have to put on it?

John McNee: I've asked myself this question many, many times. I take sandwich art very seriously and have even run Facebook masterclasses on the correct preparation of specialist sandwiches such as the 'Christmas Leftover' sandwich and 'Shooter' sandwich, so I believe I know a thing or two. And if I wanted to I could probably run off a list of fancy ingredients to try and make “The John McNee” sound refined and sophisticated, or pack it with local Scottish produce to reflect my heritage, but would I actually eat either of those sandwiches? Probably not. So I would humbly submit, for a sandwich that best represents me, a sandwich that I invented at 2am using what little I had in the fridge – peanut-butter, layered turkey, salt and vinegar crisps (potato chips) and processed cheese on lightly toasted white bread. Like my writing, it might sound a little off-putting, a little unrefined, and it fuses various elements that shouldn't work... but it does work. And, like me, it's much more agreeable after a few drinks.

The Blogshit: Can you understand what those guys from The Proclaimers are saying?

John McNee: Of course. Can't everyone?

There he is constant blog readers, Mr. John McNee! Do yourselves a favor and pick up something from this guy and check it out. There is a ton of short story work out there you can get and never go wrong with the names Mr. McNee rolls with. Also check the end of this blog for a reading from Grunge Punk with John McNee, it's like testing the book out for FREE!

John McNee on Amazon:

John McNee on Goodreads:

A Reading From Grunge Punk