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September 20, 2006

The End of Author Productivity In Our Lifetime
Posted by Patrick at 04:45 PM *

Amazon now allows comments on their “customer reviews.”

Mark my words: this will provide some writers with the opportunity to endlessly delay finishing their current books. And for a few, it will provide the tools with which to end their careers altogether.

Comments on The End of Author Productivity In Our Lifetime:
#2 ::: Chryss ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 04:58 PM:

Or, alternatively:

Most. Entertaining. Train wreck. EVAH.

It's only a matter of time before all comments are BLOCKED.

#3 ::: Patricia ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 05:07 PM:

The whole Anne Rice debacle didn't make them think it was a bad idea?

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 05:23 PM:

1. Replying to a bad review of your own book is almost always a terrible idea.

2. This turns Amazon's customer review sections into discussion forums.

#5 ::: tobias s buckell ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 05:25 PM:

Well... I'm going to have to be getting more smores to toast by the heat of the flaming mess that'll come out of *that.* And here I'd put away my lawnchair for the summer too...

#6 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 05:35 PM:

::purchases a vat of popcorn::

Let the wanks begin!

#7 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 05:47 PM:

All they need to do now is to add a way for authors to file the papers to run for Governor while checking out their sales records!

#8 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 05:50 PM:

This will, at least, weed out the vain.

#9 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:18 PM:

Someone ought to warn JournalFen that Fandom_Wank is going to explode. At best, it will become the new IMDb of internet drama (ie, too much like shooting fish in a barrel to be worth snarking on).

Maybe publishing houses ought to add a clause to the boilerplate contract: "Author agrees not to make a damn fool of himself on amazon.com."

#10 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:19 PM:

It would be totally sweet if these really did turn into discussions, and little online communities ended up evolving on book discussions, complete with all the online community stuff -- off-topic personal discussion, inter-group flamewars ("Those idiots over at Stephen King's The Cell are at it again..."), cons/meetups, participants getting married, etc.

#11 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:32 PM:

Mike: how can it not happen?
And - of course, the bestest place this should happen is the pages for Jasper FForde's books. :-)

#12 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:50 PM:

The sound you just heard was R*b*rt St*n*k having an orgasm.

#13 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:54 PM:

I have a house to buy, a house to sell, and two books to finish before Hogmanay. I do not need distracting right now.

Where is my army of flying web-monkey fans when I need them to burnish my burnishables?!?

#14 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:54 PM:

Fragano Ledgister: "This will, at least, weed out the vain."

Yes, but who will write new books then?

#15 ::: Jack Womack ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:57 PM:

As a reader, I can only imagine what the Jonathan Franzen comments sections are going to sound like, shortly. As a publicist, I can only say: God, kill me now. As a writer, I'll be right with you as soon as I have finished my retort to ThinkingAmmerican148.

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 07:00 PM:

j h woodyatt #14: All the writers who comment here.

#17 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 07:26 PM:

I once considered leaving a comment on Amazon about one of my own books, after a publisher who shall remain nameless printed it in 9 point type. I was going to tell everyone not to buy it because they wouldn't be able to read it... And yes, I was going to sign my own name. My agent, God bless him, talked me out of it.

On the other hand, this sounds like fun. Pass the popcorn.

#18 ::: Fiendish Writer ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 07:27 PM:

Does not the world have wank enough already?

#19 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 08:02 PM:

Ohmigod. For those of us not inclined to Talk Back, imagine the distraction potential in reading the screeds of those who are soinclined. Holy cow.

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 08:08 PM:

Schadenfreude by the carload.

Of course, if you really wanted to get even with an author, the thing to do would be to register an account at Amazon under some version of his or her name, and then play out-of-control diva amongst the reviews.

#21 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 08:18 PM:

TNH #20: That is a wicked thought!

#22 ::: Fiendish Writer ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 08:20 PM:

Teresa (#20): That is a most wicked suggestion!

P.S. We will then need more popcorn.

#23 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 08:32 PM:

Of course, if you really wanted to get even with an author, the thing to do would be to register an account at Amazon under some version of his or her name, and then play out-of-control diva amongst the reviews.

How will they tell the person doing that from the real Harlan Ellison?

#24 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 08:47 PM:

Fragano Ledgister: "All the writers who comment here."

Personally, I think their productivity went into the hole a long time ago.

Besides, I thought reducing authorial productivity was a good thing. The more books you buy from them, the more they'll write, and the more they write, the more readers will decide to try to write books of their own. Pretty soon, the population of writers consumes all the available resources for sustaining them, and you have an ecological disaster.

Remember, for every writer you see out in the open, there are at least a thousand more of them inside the walls.

#25 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 08:55 PM:

j h woodyatt #24: Fortunately, I'd put my glass of water down before I read this.

#26 ::: RuTemple ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 09:07 PM:

Remember, for every writer you see out in the open, there are at least a thousand more of them inside the walls.

And everyone knows what happens when the writers come out of the walls!

oh, wait...

#27 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 09:11 PM:

Dear God. It's like stories that feature the Necronomicon or some other Fat Ol' Tome of Forbidden Power that always drives its readers to gibbering Lovecraftian insanity. The protagonist knows that reading the book always leads to incurable madness, but he just can't stop himself...

...and then he's reading the first page...

Then one scene break later the wife or the best friend comes in to find the protagonist drooling on the carpet, screaming over and over again about the tentacles, the horrible numinous tentacles from the non-Euclidean angles out of space!

Amazon Author Commentary's gonna do that for quite a few people, methinks.

#29 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 09:39 PM:

Does Amazon reserve all rights over what appears in its pages?

They're planning to save the most entertaining exchanges and pass them off as epistolary novels, with "Amazon" as the author.

#30 ::: RiceVermicelli ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 10:18 PM:

I am going to spend the next week obsessively checking for responses to the less-than-flattering Amazon review I posted today.

Fandom wank, indeed.

#31 ::: kathryn from sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 10:33 PM:

JonathanMoeller @27,

It's also like that sweet short story by Chiang (published in Nature, also in Years Best SF 11)- What's expected of us:

"By now you've seen an Amazon troll. Millions have been written. The troll is fed when they've pushed your button. They push your button when you read the troll.

"Most authors say that when they first try it, it feels like they're playing a strange game, one where the goal is to write a witty response after seeing the troll, and it's easy to play...

"Typically, an author plays with a troll compulsively for several days, showing it to friends, trying various schemes to outwit the troll. The author may appear to lose interest in it, but no one can forget what it means...

"It turns out that the disabling thought is one that we've all encountered: the idea that trolls can be overcome. It just wasn't harmful until you believed it...

So, authors, what's expected of you is that you ought not to go to Amazon, ever. Amazon reviews don't fade away, so neither will your desire to cancel out the trolls. Go there and you'll forever be chasing them.

We, your readership, need you here. You have stories to write, awards to win, vowels to disem.

#32 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 11:12 PM:

Yes, bad idea. (Although I don't mind saying there were one or two snooty reviews of my Shakespeare DVD I don't mind sticking it too...)

:)

#33 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 11:14 PM:

Mike (#10): Doesn't even need the ability to reply to reviews, as there have been subject area discussion forums for a while, plus the Amazon Connect programme for authors.

I occasionally check the discussion forums that are linked to from the Amazon pages for a couple of my books. A couple of them are already showing signs of developing a community -- complete with what looked to me suspiciously like a sock puppet promoting its master's vanity-published book...

#34 ::: Steven Gould ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 12:45 AM:

Can't talk--on my way to Amaz--

#35 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 12:46 AM:

Who was it that said "Anyone that can be discouraged from writing... should be"?

So what's the problem with this, again?

#36 ::: Steven Gould ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 12:59 AM:

Okay, I went, I looked. I can't be bothered to update my own website and I'm supposed to be spending time commenting on people's reviews of my fiction?

I'm going to give this one a miss, I think. I've got more enjoyable ways of avoiding writing, really.

#37 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 02:54 AM:

If it has a 1% chance of saving a poor feline from getting bacon taped to it...

Haven't the cats suffered enough?

#38 ::: Karen B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 03:05 AM:

#14 Fragano Ledgister: "This will, at least, weed out the vain."

Or, rather, let them remove all doubt.

#39 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 06:58 AM:

Actually, being serious for a moment, I avoid reading my amazon reader reviews because I have high blood pressure, and one idiot can undo all the antihypertensive ego-stroking of a hundred groupies in a single sentence. And to help kick my addiction, I whipped together a perl script to query the amazon sales rank of a given ISBN or ITIN via their public web services API. And so I can, whenever I want, get the true measure of my popularity on amazon via the only metric that really matters to a professional writer.

(If anyone's got access to a UNIX or Linux shell account and knows enough to install a Perl module, poke me via email and I'll happily share my script.)

#40 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 07:28 AM:

In other words: "Reviewers: if you pan his book, he'll die. But hey, no pressure." (sorry)

#41 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 07:34 AM:

"Who was it that said "Anyone that can be discouraged from writing... should be"?

I dunno, but I never agreed with it. Just looking at my own life, I know plenty of people whose writing I want to read who manifestly "can be discouraged from writing." I do my best to un-discourage them. A literal application of the idea that "anyone that can be discouraged from writing should be" would have lost us a heck of a lot of the best writers in human history.

"And so I can, whenever I want, get the true measure of my popularity on amazon via the only metric that really matters to a professional writer."

Presuming you mean sales data, ha ha, that's a good one. The professional writers I know appear to care about all kinds of things -- money, sure, but also reputation, influence, whether they're emotionally connecting with their audience, personal vanity, and lots else. Much like, you know, other people.

The We're Tough, Hard-nosed Pros Here, We Only Care About The Check chest-beating routine is a constant in the SF world. It's silly. And transparently false.

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 07:48 AM:

The We're Tough, Hard-nosed Pros Here, We Only Care About The Check chest-beating routine is a constant in the SF world. It's silly. And transparently false.

I saw that pompous twit Jerry Pournelle use that one at a NASFiC panel, Patrick. It seemed like he meant it. True, he has probably had many years to convince himself that what matters is not being literary but being good at making money.

#43 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 08:03 AM:

Patrick: true, but it would appear to be impossible to deliver malicious negative feedback via sales figures. Which makes it more reliable than listening to the trolls.

#44 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 08:29 AM:

The Amazon sales numbers are notoriously -- notorious. They only cover sales via Amazon (a small percentage of total sales for most people with decent distribution), and are derived by non-transparent means.

From hanging around too long with vanity-published authors I have my own opinion of how to interpret them, but it's only accurate down to the order-of-magnitude level.

(I also know the Secret Trick for removing any Amazon review for any book.)

There used to be a little Windows app that would put your Amazon number (constantly updated) in your Windows toolbar, next to the clock. This too is silly.

#45 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 08:34 AM:

#35: Who was it that said "Anyone that can be discouraged from writing... should be"?

Sadly, this rule of thumb would have lost us the Lord of the Rings, which was only coaxed out of Tolkien by the ongoing support of Stanley and Rayner Unwin. Granted, he couldn't have been discouraged from writing per se, but genre fiction would be a very different place today if Tolkien had skipped straight to the Silmarillion.

#46 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 10:10 AM:

Patrick & Eric, I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek with my quote of the "Anyone who can be discouraged..." homily.

(I am, after all, among the "easily discouraged" myself. I have an overpocketful of excuses, of course, and some of them are even good excuses. I manage to crank out... usually... a few short stories a year, but I should do More, dammit.)

Seriously, I think writing should be encouraged, even amongst the untalented. Time spent writing is a far better choice of habitual/compulsive behavior than things like drinking, drugs, chasing after inappropriate women, or serving on Worldcon committees.

Some people, however, should probably be discouraged from marketing their work.... (It scares the horses, and annoys the pig.)

#47 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 11:39 AM:

Who was it that said "Anyone that can be discouraged from writing... should be"?

Given sufficient information about any author you choose, and given sufficient powers to implement whatever circumstance I needed, I guarantee you that I could discourage any author from writing, at least for some substantial, noticable, period of time.

There is something to be said for people being at the effect of their circumstances. And if you gave me free reign in creating circumstances, I'm sure I'd find one that would discourage and distract any writer. Part of the job then becomes managing your circumstances so that you are no longer effected by them.

Someone who is on a diet might want to clean out all the junkfood from their fridge and cupboards.

Someone who is trying to quit smoking may want to avoid places where lots of people are smoking.

And someone who is a writer may have to ban themselves from amazon reviews.

#48 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 11:53 AM:

We Only Care About The Check

If a person only cares about the check, writing is about the worst paying career you could choose. Anyone who says this is hiding some higher purpose they invested in their writing that has been thwarted.

#49 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 11:53 AM:

There are very few rules that apply to all authors. Partially applicable rules may be useful all the same.

Or not. It depends.

#50 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 12:53 PM:

I dunno, but I never agreed with it. Just looking at my own life, I know plenty of people whose writing I want to read who manifestly "can be discouraged from writing." I do my best to un-discourage them. A literal application of the idea that "anyone that can be discouraged from writing should be" would have lost us a heck of a lot of the best writers in human history.

Patrick - hoping this isn't inappropriate for me to say here, but, speaking as one of those whiny, sensitive, neurotic aah-tists who that phrase is probably intended for, you having publicly made this point a couple of times now is one of the things that keeps me coming back to the keyboard and the Oh, Why Bother demon at bay. I go back and forth at least once a fortnight on whether I think it would ever be worth the trouble and heartache to darken a slushpile with any of my stuff, but the fact that Respected Editors feel this way makes me at least feel vindicated that the sheer pleasure of creation, and the improvement of craft for its own sake, is not an enormous waste. And that the ability, or lack of it, to be stoic and resolute in the face of the challenges of publishing is not a reflection of the worth of one's work.

So, thank you.

#51 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 01:08 PM:

What, you're all telling me that making a metric shitload of money isn't what I can expect from a career as a writer?

Oh woe! Oh misery! I have been labouring for years under a horrid misapprehension! I shall have to stop writing imediately and go find an investment fund to embezzle, or brains to practice surgery upon until I know what I'm doing, or something more lucrative.

#52 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 01:13 PM:

Dan -- hear, hear.

My problem is that I'm never sure if I'm one of the ones to be en- or discouraged. When I read my own work, if I think "that's pretty good" I assume I'm deluding myself, but if I think "that's predictable dreck" I assume I'm being fair (and balanced).

That, and the whole sitting down at the computer thing tends to lead, not to the writing fiction thing, but to the surfing the web and commenting blogs and staying up wayyy too late thing.

Besides...the last time I wrote a story and was really pleased with it (except for the ending, which needed trimming, I eventually decided), my friends who beta'd it for me said they found the narrative style irritating. You see, I'd written it in 2nd person, present tense, stream-of-consciousness (the real kind, not the cheapass stupid kind) narrative. This was just before I read (perhaps here) that three examples of authorial error and self delusion are

  1. 2nd person narrative,
  2. present tense narrative, and
  3. stream of consciousness narrative,
all of the "but when I do it, it will work" variety. So into the trash with that 'un (actually I tried to rewrite it more conventionally and I just couldn't sustain the offhand mood I wanted).

Part of me is content to be a bad writer because I just don't write (which is pretty bad), rather than risk being a bad writer because I do (which is worse).

#53 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 01:14 PM:

Actually one friend of mine loved that story. He has ADHD too.

#54 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 01:18 PM:

Xopher: This was just before I read (perhaps here) that three examples of authorial error and self delusion are ...

Looks at current 80%-completed novel: subtype: present tense, second person, stream of consciousness.

Oh fuck.

#55 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 01:22 PM:

I do my best to discourage myself from writing fiction. When ideas pop into my head I put my hands over my ears and chant "la la la la" and hope they go away. Or I think about quadrilles. Or really complicated Italian dances. Or Feuillet notation. I've successfully banished almost all incipient stories this way, despite occasional sabotage from a couple of friends.

#56 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 01:45 PM:

LOL, don't worry, Charlie! I'm sure that when you do it...

#57 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 01:57 PM:

Xopher: I hope when you say in the trash you mean into a trunk or a folder hidden in the depths of your computer.

Not only are there published stories in stream-of-consciousness and second person and other formats as weird or weirder, I've heard this a few times from people who read experimental short fiction:

"I don't like stories written in {stream-of-consciousness, future perfect, etc....} oh, except X, which is really good."

Also, a common maxim on critiques: "People who say there's something wrong are usually right. People who say exactly what is wrong are usually wrong."

#58 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 01:58 PM:

#45 Eric: If only, if only . . .

#59 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 02:03 PM:

Susan... How about a story of a woman thrown back in time and the fate of History depends on her knowledge of quadrilles? Or really complicated Italian dances? Or Feuillet notation?

#60 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 02:31 PM:

Lenora Rose: oh, I never throw anything away completely. I take that one out and reread it for my own pleasure every now and then. I haven't bothered to change the ending though (it drags, and it needs some serial numbers filed off it...just language, not content so much).

Into the trash means I gave up hope of ever publishing it.

#61 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 02:44 PM:

Tee hee. I've taken my own walk down the path of Second Person Present Tense, but I pasted mine up on The Internets for everyone to see.

Yes, I am one of the Ugly Naked Men of amateur wordcraft.

#62 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 02:58 PM:

I echo Dan's sentiment. When a throwaway character I introduce decides to make the short story all about him, I sit back, I tell myself that I have Teresa Nielsen Hayden's permission to write badly, then I keep going.

(Ok, she didn't tell me this personally. During her talk at ReaderCon 16 on how to spot publishing scams, she gave all of us in the audience permission to write badly. I think that still counts.)

#63 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 03:17 PM:

she gave all of us in the audience permission to write badly

JC... That's the part where Teresa thinks to herself: "What have I wrought?"

#64 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 03:55 PM:

Serge @ #59:
Susan... How about a story of a woman thrown back in time and the fate of History depends on her knowledge of quadrilles? Or really complicated Italian dances? Or Feuillet notation?

LA LA LA LA LA LA LA

#65 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 03:59 PM:

What, you're all telling me that making a metric shitload of money isn't what I can expect from a career as a writer?

(doorbell)

(big tractor trailer sitting in front of house)

(driver approaches. Hands clipboard to me.)

"Mister Stross, I have the first delivery for you metric shitload of cash. Please sign here."

(Greg London takes pen. Hand starts to shake.)

(ponders the possibilities)

(ponders the morality)

(ponders)

(ponders)

"You were supposed to be here yesterday."

(signs clipboard)

"Sorry, Mr. Stross. It won't happen again."

"It better not. Or I'll have you fired."

#66 ::: kathryn from sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 04:15 PM:

I went poking around Amazon to see what comments-on-reviews were being produced. So far not many at all. There were a few on Coultr's Zeusless, but that was all I saw

But Oh the temptation. I reread the reviews for books I've worked on, and the errors are calling out 'correct me, reply to me...' Tempting, even though the readership for a reply would be in the high 3's, if I count myself.

#67 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 05:06 PM:

As an author with no books yet in print, and therefore no books on Amazon to accummulate reader reviews, I feel left out of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to trash my own career. Therefore, I will make a blanket pre-emptive comment on all future reviews here and now:

"It's not about transcendentalism, you illiterate, muck-wallowing chumps! It's about *transcendentality*. And zombies, of course. And it is too my best book ever! So shut up!"

That ought to just about cover it.

#68 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 05:13 PM:

Shouldn't there be words all in caps in your review, Susan? And it doesn't have enough exlamation marks.

#69 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 05:29 PM:

I'd have end mine with the penultimate debate ender, the argument that cannot be argued with:

NEENER NEENER NEEEENER!

#70 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 06:03 PM:

Charlie Stross #51: Worry not, I've just received an email from a Mrs Abach in Nigeria that may solve all your problems.

#71 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 06:23 PM:

I believe the comment "Any writer who can be discouraged from writing, should be" is one of Truman Capote's.

#72 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 06:45 PM:

Renee, at #71: if you're correct, I hope that he hasn't spent the last decades discouraging his childhood friend Harper Lee from writing another novel.

#73 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 06:54 PM:

Don't they do this already in the form of reviews..

oh wait.

#74 ::: Jerol J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 11:04 PM:

I see potential for great mayhem here. See, there's some regulars on a couple fantasy boards that love to roast a certain author. I won't name this INDIVIDUAL other than to see he's a fantasy author who claims he's not a fantasy author, you might say his OBJECTIVISM towards that is rather strong. Which still doesn't explain why he thinks a chicken is evil incarnate. Anyway, they could easily push his buttons into overdrive given their penchant for mocking and parodying his work. Of course, if said author got involved in a flame war it might keep him from writing and that can only be a good thing.

#75 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 12:08 AM:

Serge:
Shouldn't there be words all in caps in your review, Susan? And it doesn't have enough exclamation marks.

Oh...that was a summary of a book I should review rather than a book I should write?

Okay, here's a review:

I hate it when writers of time travel or historical fiction don't bother to get the dance stuff right!

I don't even have to read the book to issue that review. :)

#76 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 06:57 AM:

To give JP credit, I think he was talking about money being a better reward in the long run than an award. He pulls out that saw and plays it every Hugo and Nebula weekend.

I agree that while this new Amazon idea will delight the trolls and wankers in the stands, the authors themselves should run away, run away.

Jane

#77 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 07:45 AM:

Charlie, or anyone: if you use Amazon Light, it gives you the sales rank (which might not mean anything but is at least visible to the writer now, not in a year's time) and the "star ranking" for all of your books, in one convenient list, without any of the reviews visible.

It's at http://www.kokogiak.com/amazon/

I do look at my books on actual Amazon sometimes, just because seeing what other things people have bought with them can be amusing on a wet afternoon.

#78 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 07:46 AM:

I shall have to stop writing imediately and go find an investment fund to embezzle, or brains to practice surgery upon

Decent writing is equivalent in effect on the recipient to brain surgery, while keeping your hands clean of yeuch.

she gave all of us in the audience permission to write badly

Ha. Like I needed permission.

One of the bits I liked best in "The System of the World" is where Roger Comstock explains that a gentleman should write bad poetry to his mistress. If he writes good poetry, there is always the suspicion that he is doing it not as a sincere expression of affection, but simply as a way to show off his mad poetry skillz. Bad poetry is bound to be sincere.

#79 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 07:53 AM:

Greg (69), that is a Word of Power, not to be used lightly.

#80 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 08:04 AM:

in #77 Jo Walton wrote:
Charlie, or anyone: if you use Amazon Light, it gives you the sales rank (which might not mean anything but is at least visible to the writer now, not in a year's time) and the "star ranking" for all of your books, in one convenient list, without any of the reviews visible.
I'm having trouble getting it to produce such a listing in that format. I can get individual books, but not the whole slew by a given author in one list, without the reviews. Tips?

-r.

#81 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 10:27 AM:

I do look at my books on actual Amazon sometimes, just because seeing what other things people have bought with them can be amusing on a wet afternoon.

I pre-ordered my copy of Farthing and my copy of the latest Strangers in Paradise collection in one order mainly because their release dates were within a few days of each other and thus they could ship together in one Super-Saver order without delaying my receipt of other things. Amazon naturally decided to ship them separately on consecutive days instead, though I still got the free shipping.

I then took Farthing to Canada to reread and promptly got chocolate ice cream on it in Tir Na n'Og. My copy now looks, um, loved. I eagerly await sequels.

#82 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 11:21 AM:

I'd have end mine with the penultimate debate ender

Penultimate? Then what's the one after it?

#83 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 11:30 AM:

Xopher: When the other guy says "Oh, yeah? You too!"

#84 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 01:47 AM:

I hesitate to mention this to Amazon Rank watchers, but . . .

http://www.titlez.com/welcome.aspx

#85 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 02:56 AM:

Authors who are in the Amazon Connect programme will find a summary of their books on their profile page. This shows the sales rank and average rating for each book, without all the other stuff. It is a most useful tool for indulging the cat-vacuuming urge without spending the entire morning at it. I speak from personal experience. I *have* managed to resist using it to check out the sales rankings for those of my friends who have profile pages... so far.

#86 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 03:01 AM:

Amazon maintains (by way of Prospero) a Discussion Board for reviewers, and anyone else with an account who wants to join in. Only a small percentage of active reviewers participate, but it is a fairly lively place. See http://forums.prosperotechnologies.com/n/mb/listsf.asp?webtag=am-custreview&popup

Full use of its functions requires signing in, but as a read-only forum it is open to all (if it is working).

Complaints about spam reviews, and schilling by "reviewers" with dubious identities, have long been a staple. So have problems with attacks on products, (usually, but not always, political or religious in some way). And particularly attacks on reviews in the forms campaigns of "unhelpful" votes, and suppression of opposing ideas through abuse of the "Report This" function (which seems to delete reviews automatically if a magic number is reached), and, worse, on reviewers, by way of public verbal abuse, and sometimes actual threats.

There are now several threads addressing the "Comments" feature. A major concern is it potential misuse NOT for attacks on writers and artists, as such, but as way of assaulting those reviewers who presume to praise / not praise / insufficiently praise this or that item, writer, performer, movie, etc. Plus being a vehicle for general trollishness.

And that it will be a new outlet for spam, which Amazon has never really brought under control, although there have been some improvements recently.

Those interested, this is a (possibly incomplete) list of the threads directly addressing the new feature:

Under News from Amazon (Reply-Only Folder):
Review Comments
Seeing Comments on Your Reviews

Under On Reviews and Reviewing:
Review comments, post abusive ones here.
"Comment on this review"??????
Modest Proposal: Comments option button
Besides Voting, We May "Comment"

There are scattered comments in other threads, of course.

#87 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 08:52 AM:

Penultimate? Then what's the one after it?

Why, belgium of course.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's an army of water carrying broomsticks spawning in my basement and flooding my house.

#88 ::: Ceri ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 09:00 AM:

Susan (#81): Now you've got me curious. What in the world is Tir Na n'Og? (Apart, I mean, from the Celtic Otherworld, which as far as I know isn't in Canada, and doesn't sell chocolate ice cream.)

Also, from further upthread -- why would it be a bad thing if you wrote a story, upon having the idea for one?

#89 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 09:55 AM:

Ceri, the Celtic Otherworld is everwhere.

#90 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 11:45 AM:

Until this thread, I'd always been able to resist checking the product page for the single item of mine up on Amazon. As far as I can tell, they've sold exactly four copies through that website, and there's not a single review. I think I'll be able to resist trying to track its sales rank; it would be too depressing.

#91 ::: Ceri ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 09:51 AM:

Xopher -- Well, Alison Baird *did* write a novel about Newfoundland being Avalon. But I thought the Otherworld was underwater? That is, when it's not on an island that can only be seen once every seven years at Midsummer. And if you don't mean the one that's at the top of the World Tree...

Okay, maybe you're right. It is everywhere. In which case I want to know how to get in and if the chocolate ice cream is any good.

#92 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 12:00 PM:

In #88, Ceri writes: "why would it be a bad thing if you wrote a story, upon having the idea for one?"

Because every time someone writes a new story, a faerie must be ritually sacrificed to appease and bind Cyäegha, the one who sleeps under the dark hill.

#93 ::: Zack Weinberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 12:12 PM:

I cannot resist pointing out this amusing imbroglio over amazon reviews between Lubos Motl and my former boss at Columbia. Not being carried out on Amazon, but I can hardly imagine Amazon's shiny new feature acting to calm things down.

#94 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 10:44 AM:

why would it be a bad thing if you wrote a story, upon having the idea for one?

Because writing is personal and emotional and raw and lots of time and energy, and once you start a story, it will sit there, like a carnivorous plant, screaming "Feed me, Seymour!" whenever you make eye contact with it. And to feed it takes time and energy, and given that days contain the flawed design of only a finite and fixed number of hours, you must choose. Choose to feed the incomplete monster sitting on the slab in your laboratory, or have a date with your spouse, play with your kids, work at your day job, or minor things like eat or sleep. And if for one reason or another you cannot reanimate dead tissue, if you cannot breath life into a corpse, perhaps because you spent countless hours under a microscope hooking up nerve endings from the spinal cord to the brain, only to discover that the brain you swiped from the morgue was diseased and infected, and won't work, or perhaps because you are looking at the abdominal cavity, see there's a hole, a place where an organ should be, but isn't, and you can't for the life of you figure out what organ fits there, and you're certain you have every organ on your checklist, but that missing thing just (doesn't) sit (not) there, then you will have built nothing but a reminder of a history of your bad choices. And all the while you're laboring to breath life into dirt, while you've raised the lightning rods into the dark and stormy night to get that creative spark, and fed it down to that cold slab of lifeless bits, you know, in the back of your mind, it might not work. That creative spark might not come alive in flesh and bone, in a walking talking character, that you might end up with nothing more than a smoldering mound of char-broiled meat, which you gnaw on like a bone, for lack of any other sustenance.

#95 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 11:30 AM:

#88 Ceri
Now you've got me curious. What in the world is Tir Na n'Og? (Apart, I mean, from the Celtic Otherworld, which as far as I know isn't in Canada, and doesn't sell chocolate ice cream.)

It's in Ontario, behind a bank in my favorite town. You go through the ornate black gates and sit on benches among the flowers and read books while eating ice cream. You get the ice cream beforehand. You can tell where you are because there's a helpful sign by the gates that says "Tir Na n'Og".

#89 Xopher
Ceri, the Celtic Otherworld is everwhere.

Yeah, and the best gateway I've ever found is at the University of Aberdeen. I described this magical experience in my suppressed worldcon report from last year.

#96 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2006, 02:41 PM:

Who was it that said "Anyone that can be discouraged from writing... should be"?

Googling reveals that it has been attributed to James Gunn, Ian Irvine, Dan O'Brien and Gene Wolfe, along with "a well published fantasy writer" and "a wise man". I think I first read this in the form "Anyone who can be discouraged from writing for a living, should be". In other words, a variant on "Don't quit your day job". I'm pretty sure it was then attributed to James Gunn; my vague recollection is that it was in an article about Clarion and perhaps other writing workshops in a late 1970s or early 1980s issue of IASFM.

#97 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2006, 06:58 PM:

#96 (Jim Henry): I think I first read this in the form "Anyone who can be discouraged from writing for a living, should be".

Similarly, my mother was a theatre director and professor of theatre, and the advice she always gave people who thought maybe they wanted to be in the theatre was, "If you can imagine doing ANYTHING else for a living and being content, DO THE OTHER THING."

#98 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2006, 04:31 PM:

Ceri #88:
Also, from further upthread -- why would it be a bad thing if you wrote a story, upon having the idea for one?

Because the only way to make time to do it would be to either further reduce my sleep or to steal time from my true, passionate artistic vocation of social dance history.

Greg #94:
(I'm not going to quote all that, but it was well worth the reading.)

You're dead-on about the problem being time, but (if I am interpreting you correctly) not so much on the idea that I'm just afraid I might not get a successful monster out of it all. It's more a case of having my own, personal, separate corpse to reanimate (literally; I'm trying to bring historical movement back to life) and deeply resenting being called off to deal with some other creativity-corpse which is peripheral to what I really want to do with my life.

I've only ever completed one short story, which didn't entirely suck, but writing stories is just not my artistic passion. I'm very pleased that there are so many talented folks out there for whom it is a passion, though - enough wonderful reading material to last me a lifetime.

#99 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2006, 05:04 PM:

it was well worth the reading.

thanks.

You're dead-on about the problem being time, but not so much on the idea that I'm just afraid I might not get a successful monster out of it all.

Ah well, I was talking about my monster, who happens to be part shape-shifting doppleganger. Sometimes I think I am in the process of writing the best thing I've written yet, and later, I might look at that same piece of incomplete writing and think it a load of bollocks. For me, at least, the process of writing is excruciatingly slow, but it is the process, the act of writing, choosing, managing time, characters, and plot, that seemed to be missing from the other person's question:

why would it be a bad thing if you wrote a story, upon having the idea for one?

If ideas were light switches that transformed into complete stories when flipped, then of course, there would be no "bad thing" in flipping the switch upon having the idea for one.

It is the fact that it is a process that requires choices and management and time and energy, and that during that process you might face some inner demons who would otherwise lay dormant, that writing isn't all raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

were I to curse someone, and it be limited to non-physical harm, I would curse them with an idea for a novel that they start writing but never complete. A writer's version of sysiphus. I'm sure there are worse non-physical fates, but for me it points to the toil in the process.

#100 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2006, 05:25 PM:

It is the fact that it is a process that requires choices and management and time and energy, and that during that process you might face some inner demons who would otherwise lay dormant, that writing isn't all raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

In my unfinished (barely started) and, at the rate I don't-write, likely never-to-be-finished novel, the heroine started out as a Mary Sue of sorts (dark sorts). Then I realized she wasn't actually the heroine; that was someone else. Then I killed her/me off. That required some time to process.

#101 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2006, 05:29 PM:

The chuckling you hear is the chuckling of recognition.

#102 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2006, 05:41 PM:

speaking of Mary Sue, it came up recently on Making Light about it being used in mainstream media, and then I got to wondering where a Mary Sue ends and a good character begins. I've read some online articles about Mary Sue-isms, but I swear I can think of at least one award winning SF novel that contained a Mary Sue as main character, and there seem to be a lot of Mary Sues in mainstream television. (I think I shall have to refuse to name names for safety reasons.)

In writing terms, a Mary Sue is, I'm not sure, but I'm guessing ?character development? executed poorly, or not executed at all. Don't know what the term is.

#103 ::: Ceri ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2006, 09:06 PM:

Greg (#99): For me, at least, the process of writing is excruciatingly slow, but it is the process, the act of writing, choosing, managing time, characters, and plot, that seemed to be missing from the other person's question

You're right, that was poorly phrased on my part. I was more responding to Susan's earlier post (#55) about doing her best not to write fiction if she can help it, which made it seem like she had a real burning desire to write but was supressing it, rather than a simple "I have a great idea for a story, but no time to write it."

I don't think I'd ever say that writing is fast or easy (though it can be, it often isn't). I'd just hate to see anyone stop themselves from writing a story because they say to themselves "but it won't be any good when it's done". If you really want to write the story and are taken with the ooh shiny!-ness of the idea, I think it's better to write it out than to force yourself not to. That's assuming, of course, you have the time to write, and wouldn't rather be doing something else -- like studying social dance history, for example.

#104 ::: OtterB sees batch of spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2012, 06:51 AM:

Six or 8 spam in a row here, mostly this URL, a few others

Choose:
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Even larger type, with serifs

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