Quality: A Lost Art

I was at my son’s school recently. No, school hasn’t started back, yet, but it’s about to. It was open house and to say it was a mad house is an understatement. There were people everywhere and it was difficult to move around. Even with all that, one of my son’s friends’ mothers stopped me in the hall.

And that was no easy task.

I had passed her, not knowing she was there. Again, it was a mad house. I thought I heard my name—no, not my first name, but my last name, and there was a Mr. In front of it. I looked back to see one of my son’s closest friends and her brother and mother. I gave the little girl a hug and said hey to her brother and mother. That’s when all sorts of coolness ensued.

Through all the noise, her mom said to me, ‘I read your story online the other day, and I really liked it. Is there more to it?’

For a second or four I was confused. Did I have a story published online recently that I didn’t remember?

Then she asked, ‘Where do I find the rest of the story? I want to read it from the beginning?’

‘Ahh…’ It dawned on me.

‘You mean Dredging Up Memories?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ she responded, ‘It’s really good. I want to read it from the beginning. Where do I find the rest of it?’

Okay, stop, collaborate and listen…(Doh! Did I just write that? ::Looking at previous line:: Yup, I guess I did.) This was a great moment for me. Let me break this down for you:

  1. ‘It’s really good.’ Every writer wants to hear this from people. The fact that one of my boy’s friends’ mothers liked it and told me she liked it, felt really good.
  2. ‘I want to read it from the beginning.’ Dredging Up Memories is a zombie series. No, it’s not like The Walking Dead at all, other than the fact that it has a bunch of shambling zombies trying to eat the main character and any other living person. She had read chapter XVIII of the series. She liked it enough to want to read the story of Hank Walker from the beginning. Awesomeness.
  3. ‘Where do I find the rest?’ This goes with point number 2 above, but it is also it’s own little note.       Why? Simple: She asked where could she find the rest. She wanted to know and she asked. So often folks will read something by someone and say, ‘hey, I wonder if that person has written anything else?’ but then they never search out the answer to the question. She sought the answer, and I am thrilled she did.

These types of things make a writer feel good; it makes a writer feel as if he/she is doing something right.

Remember this for later.

I like flea markets. I like yard sales. For the most part, I peruse items on tables or on the ground or on chairs or even on an old ironing board (yes, for real and for true). Sometimes I find something I like at a price I like. Most times that doesn’t happen. Most times, there is nothing that interest me.

But sometimes while at a yard sale or flea market I run into people I haven’t seen in a while. Yeah, I know that can happen pretty much anywhere, like, I don’t know, the mall or a restaurant or the kids’ school. Stick with me here. There’s a reason for this.

There used to be a gentleman who worked at the post office right down from where I work. He was the nicest guy, always had a smile on his face, and always asked how you were doing. He went out of his way to help customers as best as he could. He was a great guy and when I saw him at the counter we always talked for probably longer than we should have.

After not seeing him for several years I ran into him three times in one day recently. The third time I saw him was at the flea market. Cate just happened to see him and pointed him out to me. I laughed. He did, too, when I walked up to him and told him I was stalking him. Since he was talking to two other people, I chose not to interrupt, but to wait patiently until he was done—or at least until he took a breath. While I waited, he said something that, to me, holds so much truth in it:

‘I always tell my sons if you give people your best and treat people with respect and kindness, then those people will always remember you and respect you and want to be around you.’

There’s so much truth in those words.

Stick with me just a little while longer. There is a point to all of this.

Back in October of 2013 the place I work at lost a giant of a man. He was well respected and dedicated to his work and his family and his faith. When he died it sent shockwaves, not just through the office, but also throughout the nation. A huge void was left in many lives when he passed.

When everything settled down and life started moving on at the office, I was charged with getting things in order, boxing things up, and cleaning out his office. I admit, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. This man had treated me so well, even when a lot of his peers looked down their noses at me. It took the rest of the year and on into the first month or so of 2014 to complete the task. I learned more about him just from going through everything and getting his office and conference room and library and storage rooms cleaned out than I ever did having worked for him for years.

I came across a little plastic plaque in his office. I had seen it before, and many of you have probably seen something like it as well. It read:

Quality is giving your best every time with a personal touch.

Let that sink in. Go ahead.

Sinking…

…Sinking…

Still sinking?

Here’s the point I’m trying to make:

Too often we don’t put our very best effort forward. Too often we don’t give it that personal touch. Instead, we rush through things to get them done and off our plates, and when someone slows us down we don’t add that personal touch, but we get grumpy and angry, and so many times we take it out on the person we should be giving our best effort to. Too often we don’t treat people with respect and kindness. Oh, they remember us when that happens, but not for the right reasons.

We see it everyday. Customer service at a fast food joint or the DMV or even at our own jobs. Most of us are guilty of not giving our best effort with every opportunity. We see it in our homes, as well. This world is no longer about respect and kindness, but more about what is in it for me.

We see it a lot in the publishing world. Just listen to anyone talking about the Amazon/Hachette feud. Just listen to any writer who is unhappy that they aren’t getting published and making money and someone they feel is inferior to them is being published left and right. We live in the all about me world.

This takes me back to the beginning of this post. You know that woman at the beginning, my son’s friend’s mom? Yeah. She’s an avid reader. And she likes my work. Why? The quality of it. If it were no good, then she wouldn’t have mentioned it to me. Quite possibly, she would have probably been a little uncomfortable around me. She may have even been thinking, ‘please, don’t ask me if I read the story and if I liked it.’ She certainly wouldn’t have asked me how she could find more.

With ebooks and self-publishing anyone can write something and throw it out to the world. Anyone can say he or she is a published author. Anyone. But they don’t have to work hours and hours on it—again, it can be slapped up on Amazon at any time and voila, published author. I talked about those people in my last blog, so I want get into that now.

What I will get into is something I have come to strongly believe in. Quality is not necessarily doing what everyone else is doing. Quality is about taking the time to do something that you can truly believe in, and at the end of the day you can hang your hat on it and say, ‘I gave it my very best.’ Quality isn’t just slapping something together and putting it out there and saying, ‘Yay, I’m going to be rich.’ For most of us, it doesn’t work that way.

This is why I do things the way I do them, especially when it comes to writing. When I first started out to get published at the end of 2003 I didn’t know any better. I thought everyone would love my work and that I could just write and the masses would come calling. What an idiot I was. I put sub par work out there, but not intentionally. I truly thought the work was good. It had to be right? Someone was willing to publish it, so it had to be good, right? Not necessarily. I have almost 200 short story publications, and if I could take some of them back, I would. In. A. Heartbeat.

Then I realized a truth that stung.

I sucked.

No. Really. I sucked.

When I realized this, I could have been defiant and continued to suck. Or I could have just quit and said, ‘this is too much work.’

After I realized how bad I S.U.C.K.E.D. I started paying close attention to what people were saying. I would pick out things in my own stories and focus on those things for several months. Then I would move on to something else and focus on it. And so on.

That’s when I came to realize, that for me to be the writer I wanted to be I couldn’t be like everyone else. I couldn’t be all cookie cutter. I had to write the way I wanted to, the way I enjoyed writing. For me, finding myself, my voice, was the beginning of finding quality in the writing/publishing world.

Believe me, there have been a multitude of times I wondered if the effort was really worth it. Go back to the beginning of this post and ask yourself, ‘was it worth it?’

Simply: Yes.

I’ve gone very longwinded today, and for that I apologize. If you have stuck with me until now, stick around for another minute or two and I promise I’ll wrap things up.

To create anything of quality you have to put forth the effort. You have to be determined. If the first ten times you fail to create what you want to create, do it an eleventh time. Nothing truly gained is done so without effort.

As a writer, I don’t want you to read crap. I especially don’t want you to read crap written by me. I want you to enjoy what you read. I want to tell you a story. I don’t want to just entertain you, but I want to give you an experience you can remember. It’s not quite like Disney World or a giant roller coaster or running with bulls, but I want you, Faithful Readers, to experience my stories. I want you to come away saying, ‘that was cool,’ or ‘that was awesome.’ If you go looking for other things I’ve written after reading one of my stories, then that tells me your experience with me was a good one. As a writer, that’s what I want: to give you my best with a personal touch and leave you with a good experience when I am done.

I hope your experience with me is always a good one. With that, I leave you with a quote from Aristotle:

‘Quality is not an act, it is a habit.’

Until we meet again, my friends…

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Like the Pot Calling the Kettle Black…

Woke up to the sound of pouring rain…
–Skid Row
I Remember You

***

I love starting stories with song lyrics, though most of the time I have to take them out before submitting them out to various publications. Copyright laws prevent me from using them, seeing how I’m trying to get paid for my work.

However, the lyrics above I find appropriate on this day for several reasons. First off, here in gloomy, gray South Carolina it is currently raining. Second, I can’t help but wonder if those lyrics are the same as the feelings that writers feel when a bad review about their book or story comes out. Lastly, I wonder what a particular writer is feeling right now, as I write this, after her massive meltdown because of a review she received for her book.

HERBIE’S NOTE: IN NO WAY AM I CONDONING THE ACTIONS OF THE WRITER OR EVEN SOME OF THE COMMENTORS ON THE BOOK REVIEW. ON THE SAME TOKEN, I AM ALSO NOT CONDONING THE FOLKS OUT THERE WHO ‘REVIEWED’ THE AUTHOR’S BOOK AFTER HEARING ABOUT THE AFOREMENTIONED MELTDOWN.

I have to say this before I continue on: I am quite torn about these events. In one respect it paints the author as an unprofessional hack who can’t take criticism. As it stands, it appears that is the truth in this case. In the other respect, many of those who called her an unprofessional hack then went on to ‘review’ her book and in turn blasted the work without really reading it. Does that make those reviewers who didn’t read the book, but based their comments solely on one review and the rants of the author, any better or any more professional than the writer?

It’s a question worth asking, but not really a question that is being asked.

This entire episode is bad. It’s bad for the reviewers. It’s bad for the author, who self published her book. It’s also bad for any author out there who has self published a title of theirs, myself included. These types of issues are what make the Independent writers look bad. It makes the little guys and gals look bad. It’s not what we need in the writing/publishing world.

If you are a writer and you are reading this, then there is a significant chance that you know what I am talking about. If you are a reader, then there is still a good chance you know what I am referring to, but maybe don’t quite understand the repercussions of the actions that have taken place over the last several days. If you do not know, let me give you a recap of the events:

A very respectable book reviewer (I’ll get to that in a minute) posted a book review about a particular book. (Yes, I am leaving out names and have chosen not to provide links on purpose. If you want to look it up, I’m sure it will be fairly easy to find.) He gave the book a 2 star review. Based on his review, the rating appeared to be fair. Interestingly enough, the reviewer said quite a few good things about the book, including calling the story compelling and interesting. Like all good reviewers, he also gave the negative side of the book, which is the reasoning behind the 2 star rating. He simply stated that spelling and grammar issues made the book a struggle to get through. He was honest with his thoughts and honest with his rating. Nothing wrong with that.

The issue came in when the author decided it was unfair and the reviewer was at fault for not having the correct copy of the book. From there things went downhill. Significantly.

The reviewer politely defended his opinion on the book. In turn, the author criticized and even insulted the reviewer.

Other folks weighed in and things only got worse. Even nasty.

309 comments later, things had gone viral. Links had been provided to the book review site, to the author’s Amazon page in internet chat rooms and open forums and people were talking, but for all the wrong reasons.

I admit that I followed this saga as if I were watching a train wreck happening in slow motion. The first few posts horrified me in that the writer, instead of saying a gracious thank you and I’ll check in on making changes, she went off the deep end and told folks to not so intimately screw themselves.

Ouch.

My heart sank as I read comment after comment–most of which were justified–from readers, writers and reviewers, expressing how wrong the writer was to blast the reviewer and then the other folks commenting as well.

What I and many others witnessed was literary suicide.

What I witnessed later, I consider literary homicide.

As I stated a few paragraphs earlier, links were posted all over the internet. Things became viral very fast. Many of those links were to the Amazon page of the author’s book. What had been four to seven reviews beforehand had swelled to over seventy in just under three days. As I am writing this, the review count is up to ninety-seven. And here is where I think things go from worse to even worse.

I took the time to peruse many of the ‘reviews’ and was terribly saddened by much of what I read. Many of them were not reviews at all, but a thinly veiled attempt to make the author’s book tank. It was a collective case of vigilante justice. Plenty of the reviews only rehashed certain portions of the book that the original reviewer had already brought into the light. Some of them were based on the free samples given, which I guess is better than not reading any of the book and giving your opinion on it.

Like many people, after reading the initial review, the meltdown and the 300+ comments I was curious about the book itself. I, like several of the reviewers, read the free sample given. Admittedly, from the sample I read I didn’t wish to read much more beyond that. Since I chose not to download the book, I also chose not to give my thoughts on what I had read, both of the sample and of the comments from the initial review where this all started. I don’t feel I have the right to give my full thoughts on it simply because I chose not to read the book in its entirety.

A few points to ponder:

As a writer, if we put our work out there we have to understand that not everyone is going to like it. A couple of years ago a story of mine was published at a fairly popular flash fiction website. Most of the comments were pretty nice about the story. However, one individual didn’t care for the story. It was that person’s opinion. I mulled over his words for a few moments and then brushed it off. I didn’t reply to his comments and I didn’t secretly e-mail anyone about it. It was his opinion, just like the initial reviewer to this author’s book: it was opinion.

As a writer, the one thing you don’t want to do is argue with a book reviewer who was kind enough to wade through the errors and finish it. By doing so, this makes you appear inconsiderate and, yes, unprofessional.

As a writer, if you don’t know how to take constructive criticism and if your skin is not as thick as an elephant’s, then you may be in the wrong business. Any creative endeavor where the artist puts their work out there is subject to both praise and criticism. It is the nature of the beast. Just don’t anger the beast.

This could have been prevented. All of it. The author of this book could have simply sent a thank you to the reviewer and chalked it up to experience. The author then could have asked for someone to read over the story and get help with it. Since publishing books is not all that difficult in the e-publishing world, she could have corrected the errors and uploaded a cleaner, more readable version.

Instead we have what we have here.

One individual commented on the initial review saying the way the author acted is the very reason she won’t review self pubbed authors. I find that to be sad as well. As a self publishing author or Independent author, this should bother other writers as well. It is cases like this that make the rest of them/us look bad. In the ever diminishing world of readership, we don’t need this type of publicity to paint us in a negative light. It is hard enough to get your name out there, to receive notoriety for the right reasons.

To the writer of the book in question, if she is reading this: Others have said how they feel about these events and I think some of them hit the nail on the head. However, in my opinion (and that is all it is) an apology to the reviewer might help things. Even if it doesn’t help your sales numbers or keep other reviewers from bashing you/your book, then at least you took the steps to right a wrong and I would think peace of mind would go a long way to getting over this fiasco.

To the initial reviewer: kudos to you taking the high road when so many others chose not to. I read your blog this morning and one paragraph stuck out in my mind that shows that you are a classy individual (and yes, I mean that in a good way, not a negative one):

One thing that rankles me is those posting 1 star reviews on Amazon, having not read the book at all. Those who read the sample and posted I have mixed feelings about. They at least had some basis for their comments. The technical issues I pointed out are apparent early on. Those who posted without reading at all are – I’d better not use any of the terms I really want. Unethical, rude, and inhumane are some more polite ways to put it. For the record I feel the same about 5 star reviews from friends and family who haven’t read the book or 1 star reviews based on price. I’m happy Amazon has weeded out most of the bogus reviews from Ms. Howett’s book.

I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels that way.

In case anyone missed it, by the reviewer posting this one paragraph, it shows the true compassion of the individual. I’m certain the events that transpired after his review was posted was not his intent and I truly hope that he continues reading and reviewing books honestly. Of all the individuals involved in this, the reviewer has been as diplomatic as he can possibly be.

Some folks say this is the reviewer’s fault, that he could have moderated the comments if he so chose to. Maybe so, but should he have to? I could be wrong, but I clearly got the impression that the author requested the reviewer to read and review her novel. It is the author’s responsibility to make sure the copy that anyone receives is the cleanest possible copy. If I’m correct, then the reviewer did nothing wrong, especially after the author essentially verbally attacked him with her responses.

I’ve tried to look at this from every angle from the reviewer to the writer to the reader. No matter which way you slice it, the author was wrong in how she handled it and many of the ‘reviewers’ were wrong in how they rated her story, especially since it appears–understand that I mean it appears, as in looks like–many of those individuals didn’t read the book or even the sample chapter offered for free.

All-in-all, this is sad. It’s a black eye to the self publishing and independent author world. Please understand, we are not all like this and many of us take our writing seriously. What makes this worse is that the author has now lost potential readers–repercussions of words that she can never take back, but maybe… just maybe she can try and make amends with the world out there. It starts with an apology.

I would like to point out one more thing, then I am done and hopefully, this topic will be off of my mind. A friend of mine pointed out the very last post–# 309 for those keeping score–on the initial review. I quote it here now:

“Anonymous said:

I don’t see how coming onto a blog to gloat or laugh about someone having a public emotional meltdown is better behavior than having an over-emotional meltdown.

Humans suck.”

It isn’t better. Arguably, it’s worse. It’s why people are posting as anonymous. Because then they don’t need to show humility or a modicum of compassion.

For everyone reveling in this–a quick story. I had something similar happen with a colleague who ranted and swore at me. Face to face. When I took him aside in private he broke down and admitted his father had just died the night before. Me pointing an error out to him had been the final straw.

Please don’t forget that behind an easy laugh is a real person. And you’ve no idea who she is or what might have prompted her behavior.

It doesn’t excuse her. But it doesn’t excuse you either.

Remember the author of the book, the one who blew her top and raised all sorts of ruckus, she’s still a human being. She has a life, just like you and I. She chose to put herself out there and she didn’t hide behind an anonymous name tag, but used her real name to comment. I’m almost certain right now, she’s not a happy person with what has transpired over the last few days.

Right now, it’s raining outside and that lyric is still playing in my head. I’m hoping that when all is said and done a different lyric will be in there. How about I’m walking on sunshine??