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text 2018-07-01 01:48
Amazon is apparently removing reviews . . . again

And some authors are bitching . . . again.


Halfway civil discussion here:




Including the observation that it may not be a direct connection between that author and that reviewer that got the review(s) removed.


Slightly less civil discussion on Twitter (no link) because, you know, authors NEED those reviews and so it's OKAY to interact with readers and ENCOURAGE them to leave reviews, just like it's OKAY to swap reviews with other writers who are FRIENDS.



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text 2018-06-28 04:53
An afternoon of reflection, an evening of determination

In case you missed the earlier rant that I spent five hours writing Tuesday morning, it's here.



It's outrageously long, but I needed to write it for myself.  I paid for it Tuesday night with an aching back from being hunched over the laptop so long.


This follow-up may be equally . . . wordy.  And it won't be written in a single evening.


The comment Debbie's Spurts left on the earlier post reminded me of an important point that she brings up frequently: bullying.


I've been called a bully when I've usually done nothing more than point out someone's errors.  Maybe they were violating Amazon's or Goodreads' or BookLikes' Terms of Service.  Maybe they were using trademarked or copyrighted material without permission.  Maybe they called a character in their book James Helston, Duke of Tamar, and then referred to him as "Lord James."  Maybe they sited the car accident at the corner of Dearborn and LaSalle in Chicago.  Maybe they set their 1898 western historical in the state of Arizona. 


Pointing out an error is not bullying.  Even giving a book a terrible, horrible review isn't bullying.  Even carpet bombing an author's entire list with one-star ratings isn't bullying.  It may be mean and nasty and petty and juvenile, but it's not bullying.


Bullying is done to benefit the bully.  Panning someone else's book doesn't help me.  It often hurts me, in that people are less likely to buy or read my books.  Or they may be inclined to rate or review my book unfavorably.  I'd do much better for myself if I just kept my fingers away from the keyboard and said nothing but nice things about other people's books.


But, you say, if I turn people away from buying other books, doesn't that boost the chance that they'll buy mine?  Am I not trying to thin out the competition?


Well, to be perfectly honest, maybe.  But if in writing a bad review and pissing off people I lower my chances of selling, what advantage is there in weeding out competition?


So why then do I write and post negative reviews, or even negative comments?  (The minor explosion on Monday night was not due to a bad review.  I had simply made some comments in a blog post that did not directly identify the book or the author; I posted no rating either.)


Part of the answer is easy.


When I read a book and write a review of it, I am 99.44% of the time reviewing only the book: the story, the characters, the format, the research, the style.  Sometimes, occasionally, the author's behavior will impact my reading, but usually that's in the positive direction.  Most of the time, however, I don't know anything about the author outside her or his writing.  That means my opinion is formed only by the book itself, good or bad.


Some authors don't like this.  They don't like my honesty.  Worse, however, they don't like my standards.  My standards are very, very, very high.


Sometimes the authors' fans don't like my critiques either.  They take the reviews personally, as though I were criticizing them, as readers, too.  I don't care what they want to read. What I do care about is that readers who want good books to read have the tools they need to find those good books.


This goes back to the changes in publishing over the past couple of decades.


The publishing of genre fiction has changed dramatically.  The most important but the most invisible change is the absence of gatekeepers.  Traditional publishing enterprises that have come through to digital from paper publishing still have editors and proofreaders, but those have always been invisible.  The marketplace only gets the end product, so it's difficult if not impossible for the average reader to know when the gatekeepers are operating and when they aren't.  Those of us who are activist readers -- following reviews, participating in discussions, etc. -- know how to determine if there are gatekeepers on a given book or not.


The vast majority of readers don't know how to tell the difference.


The vast majority of readers don't leave reviews, good or bad.


We don't know how many of the reviews that show up on any given book are genuine honest opinions of disinterested (unbiased) readers and how many are sock puppets of the author, friends of the author, purchased reviews paid for by the author, or recipients of free copies of the book who want to keep receiving free books.


Many readers aren't reading to analyze the books they read.  They just want to be entertained.


A friend of mine who does a lot of reading in a wide variety of genres and who is on a tight budget, too, recommended a Kindle freebie to me some months ago.  It was a spy thriller that she said she had really enjoyed and it happened to be set in a location I had told her I was interested in. She happens to have a background in the technology that was spotlighted in the story, so I figured she was recommending a good book.  Unfortunately, I found some glaring errors of fact in the first few pages, errors so huge that I couldn't imagine someone with expertise in that field wouldn't have caught it.  I who knew almost nothing still caught the mistakes!


But when I brought it up to my friend and told her I couldn't read a book in which the plot hinged on something so patently wrong, she just shrugged.  She had noticed the detail, of course, and knew it was inaccurate, but read on anyway and still enjoyed the book enough to recommend it to me.


On the other hand, she draws an absolute line on formatting.  She refuses to read anything with block paragraphs rather than indented, and I can't say as I blame her.  I don't like them either.  And she has very little toleration for poor spelling and bad punctuation.


There are probably a lot of reasons why readers don't pay much attention to these details, but that's not the point I'm trying to make.  What we don't know is how much their reading experience is less enjoyable because of, for lack of a better term, badly written books.  And how much better their reading experience could be if books were better written.


Reviews and blogs and online discussions are the only avenues we have for learning about the "average" reader's experience, but reviews and blogs and online discussions do not take the place of traditional gatekeepers.  They can perform that function, and it's possible that some of them do.  But most don't.  And they have no obligation to do so.


When a book arrives on the Amazon scene, the reader has no idea what, if any, editing has been done to it.  But because the self-publishing industry is still younger than a lot of readers, most readers believe there must certainly be some process through which a book passes before it's ready for publication.  Even if they don't know what that process is -- because it all went on behind the scenes in the past -- readers still believe that it's there.


Often it isn't.


The first three novels I wrote provide good -- and safe -- examples.


A Party of Ghosts, written when I was fifteen years old, lacks a lot of the structure suitable to define an actual novel.  The writing itself is decent, in terms of description and mixing narrative with dialogue, and so on.  The grammar and punctuation are fine, even though I was at the time a thoroughly lousy typist.  But I had no one to tell me how to structure a novel, how to build in conflict and character arcs.  It only ever had one reader other than myself, and he knew even less than I about plotting a novel.  I sent it to several publishers, virtually all of them inappropriate for that kind of book.  I received polite rejection letters.  I was a junior in high school.


The Ivory Rose, written about ten years later, has a much more coherent plot,  At least one of the characters has a well-defined arc from beginning to end.  I let several friends and family members read it, though none of them knew anything about the technicalities of story building.  Their comments were encouraging, but I did not take them as informed critics.  This particular novel sat with a New York agent for almost two years and collected a whole lot of justified rejections.  It never went anywhere else.


The Song of Sheba, written a couple years after The Ivory Rose, is an adventure fantasy along the lines of H. Rider Haggard.  By the time I wrote this book, I had a much better grasp of story structure, conflict, resolution, character internal consistency, and so on.  Two friends read it and liked it, but I did not bank on their recommendations because they weren't knowledgeable readers.  I did not send this book to any potential publishers.


Legacy of Honor, my fourth novel and the first to be published, was started in 1979, a year or two after The Song of Sheba, and finished in late 1981/early 1982.  I had now read several books on structuring a novel, and I had read literally hundreds more novels in the historical romance genre.  I shared the manuscript with several local friends, all of whom enjoyed it.  They were not knowledgeable critics either, so I appreciated their support but I knew I needed more critical response.  I became a member of a snail mail critique group in 1982, and over the next three to four years exchanged manuscripts with these other writers.  I learned an enormous amount from this experience.


In 1982, I began sending proposals of Legacy out to various publishers.  The feedback I received from editors was often limited to "thanks, but no thanks."  However, I did get some rejections that included helpful comments, to the point that I made a major revision to the book before I sent it to the editor who eventually bought it.


I learned more through the various experiences connected to the publication of six more novels . . . and the writing of at least three that were not published.  I belonged to critique groups, I judged RWA contest entries, I even worked for a self-styled literary agent for a while. 


And of course I continued through all this to read and read and read and read. 


Up until about 2000, this was more or less the course most writers followed.  When a book appeared on a store shelf, the automatic assumption was that both the writer and the book had gone through all the appropriate steps to put a finished, readable book in the reader's hands.


Unfortunately, many of the digital books that started showing up in online marketplaces had not in fact been through any editing process at all.  As these essentially rough drafts proliferated and digital self-publishing took off a few years later, readers got the impression "I can do better than that!" and they proceeded to do so.  Except their books weren't appreciably better than "that," and the cycle persisted.


Mechanisms then arose to monetize the publication of unedited, unprofessional books. Cover art improved, even if the writing didn't.  Digital formatting services could even make the text look good regardless how bad the writing was.  The fake reviews and book stuffing and rank manipulation and page-flipping bots are all symptoms of the far greater illness that is just plain bad writing.


This didn't really start with digital publishing; it started earlier with mechanisms that paved the way. 


Did it begin with the dumbing down of the American reading public?  Well, that certainly contributed.  Was it when a high school literature course was described as "comic books and science fiction" because the students wouldn't or couldn't read anything else, so they had to be provided with something in order to pass and graduate?  It wasn't that there was or is anything intrinsically wrong with comic books and science fiction; it was that these students were reading a narrow spectrum of literature and not reading it critically.  If they even went on to do any reading after high school -- and many of them didn't -- they hadn't been given the tools to appreciate it.


But even while I watched as some public high school reading curricula diminished the importance of critical reading skills, I also watched as the largest writers' organization dumbed down the writers.


I joined Romance Writers of America in the mid-1980s, after I had sold my first historical romance.  At my first few national conferences, I was surprised at how many of the workshops/seminars were targeted at the basics of writing. When I began judging manuscripts for RWA contests, I was appalled at the poor quality of some of the entries.  Believing -- perhaps foolishly -- that feedback on those entries would help the writers improve their product and take them closer to the goal of publication, I provided extensive, detailed critiques.  I got some pretty harsh feedback.


Common responses were that I wasn't supportive enough, encouraging enough, kind enough.  But, but, but, I countered, do you want to learn how to fix it, or do you just want a pat on the head?


I don't know what the membership of RWA is now, but by the time I left in 1998, the total was about 10,000, and the ratio was still about nine unpublished members for every published author.  Although RWA had instituted its Published Authors' Network ("PAN") in 1989 -- I was at the organizing meeting at the conference in Boston that summer -- and a few years later inaugurated the Published Authors' Special Interest Chapter ("PASIC") -- which I personally founded in 1993 -- the emphasis through 1998 remained on the unpublished and doing everything to help them sustain the dream that someday they might get published.


Take that how you will.  I'm not going to get myself in any more trouble.


There were scandals with unscrupulous agents.  One agent went around a particular conference bad-mouthing some of her clients.  I personally heard some of those comments because they were made to me by her about some of my friends.  When some of us reported her unethical behavior to RWA, we were told nothing could be done because unpublished writers still wanted agents.  "Even lousy ones?" I asked an RWA official on the phone.  Her response was that RWA couldn't take the legal risk of criticizing an agent.


Even when an agent stole money from a client?  Even then.  Yeah, I was one of those who was stolen from; I was lucky enough to fight back and at least not only get what the agent owed me but get her taken off the contract so none of my subsequent payments or royalties went through her.


So over the years, RWA took care of the unpubs at the expense of the published authors.  And when digital publishing came into its own in the 21st century, there was nothing stopping those who were desperate for publication and felt a certain grievance at all the gatekeepers who had denied them for so long.


That's one of the reasons why romance has seen the highest spike in badly written books.  There has been a stable of writers waiting for their opportunity.  Yes, it's also because romance has been the biggest market for genre fiction.  Yes, it's also because there are still readers who consume romance at levels not matched even by science fiction, the second on the list.


RWA, with its numerous conferences and booksignings, has taken the industry out of New York and into the heartland.  This is a good thing.  But in doing so, it has also encouraged that dream of wild success.  And it has fostered a connection between readers and writers that sometimes becomes unhealthy.  Social media has exacerbated this.  Readers become fans on Facebook pages and author websites and Twitter and Instagram, to the point that they see the online followership as the equivalent of personal friendship. 


And therefore woe betide the critic who dares diss a favorite author's new book.  Those reviewers and bloggers who might have provided some gatekeeping services now had to be very wary of just how critical they might be of a beloved author's book.


The whole Lauren Howard/Pippa catastrophe was an extreme example, because she herself did not have a following and the book wasn't even published.  She had sent out a few ARCs and listed the book on Goodreads prior to publication.  Someone gave it a 2-star rating without a review, and Howard/Pippa went ballistic.  People who didn't even know her came to her defense to the point of threatening bodily harm to anyone who dared tell the truth about Goodreads' policies!


Amazon had no incentive to provide any internal quality control beyond the basics of machine-checking for basic readability.  Even then, it sometimes failed.  But along with its subsidiary Goodreads, Amazon had less and less incentive to police reviews.  Authors were prohibited from posting negative reviews on Amazon if the item being reviewed was in their own genre, but authors could post positive reviews.  Many of those reviews, of course, were of books by their friends, even though that was supposed to be prohibited, too.  And it's still being done.


Many of us remember the difficulty of getting paid reviews and reviewers removed, even when hard evidence was presented.


Goodreads had all its tone policing in force, because of course they wanted the authors and their followers to stick around and buy ads and -- of course -- publish on Amazon.


Thus the removal of far too many potential gatekeepers for the self publishing authors, namely, the critical reviewers.


I know there's going to be a cry of "Gatekeepers kept too many of us out of publishing! They stifled niche markets! Down with the gatekeepers!"


But, no one on the other side of the gate gets to voice an opinion.  No, not the authors who got inside.  I'm talking about the readers who were reasonably guaranteed that the product they bought was of acceptable quality.  The authors screamed, whether it was because they were kept out or because no one was screened for quality writing, but no one heard the voices of the readers.


Bloggers proliferated, and some of them felt they could only stay in business by promoting books, authors, publishers.  "No negative reviews" became the mantra.  Reviewers like the late Harriet Klausner got visibility; authors like Anne Rice used their own visibility to tone police negative reviews.


In spite of all this, some voices persisted.  I was one of them.  Oh, I got banned from Goodreads for my sharp honesty in criticizing bad writing and badly behaving authors.  I have evidence that I was personally targeted by Goodreads -- and possibly through them by Amazon, but that's murkier -- in a way that no other reviewer was.  I came to BookLikes where I had hoped to continue at least to review honestly and avoid some of the drama.


Some of the drama, of course, followed me, but after a while that died down.  We had some little fires of controversy, but for the most part BookLikes was a haven.  I credit this community in particular with providing me the encouragement to take up writing again, and seeing me through the publication of The Looking-Glass Portrait. 


It was here that I posted about the "stuffed" books even before I knew what they were.  So I got involved with the unofficial group on Twitter to get some of those books removed from Amazon.  (There's a huge financial impact to the stuffing issue, but that's not germane to this discussion.)  Some people were impatient; they wanted the books removed immediately upon report.  I cautioned patience, because I knew how long it had taken to get fraudulent reviews removed.  To the surprise of a few, the books did begin to come down rather quickly; Amazon's notice of the official change to TOS regarding stuffing was dated 1 June, and before the end of the month (today is only the 27th) many of the worst "stuffers" have been removed.


The trolls who had defended the stuffers by saying stuffing wasn't explicitly prohibited in the TOS were never truly vicious.  They found some marks who fed them persistently, but the 280-character limit of the platform made it easy to avoid the heated, long-winded arguments that had led to the BBA crisis on Amazon and Goodreads, circa 2011-2014.  The Twitter version also lasted a much shorter length of time, a matter of weeks rather than months and years.  The cast of characters was smaller, too.  There were only three or four trolls (who may have all been the same person anyway.)


But I had forgotten the way defensive authors can act when confronted with their own shortcomings.  So the reaction to my criticism stunned me.  The trolls had been accusing all of us of being on a witch hunt (sound familiar?) and targeting the stuffing authors with the intent to destroy their careers out of jealousy.  The trolls defended the stuffers and insisted they had done nothing wrong and that we were the bad guys.  To have someone I believed was on "our" side turn around and attack me was a shock.


I admit I'm not knowledgeable about the new crop of authors of "new adult" romances.  I came back onto the book scene just about the time of the Beautiful Disaster battle, and nothing about the discussion of that particular book made me eager to read the genre.  I don't find abusive relationships romantic in any way.  Yes, even "broken" or "damaged" people deserve to find love, but in the kind of novel I personally want to read, those damaged characters are redeemed and healed through the process of finding and then earning love.


What I saw of the books being reported for "stuffing" wasn't appealing to me.  Nor were the stories related to the "cocky" trademark argument.  I'm not trying to tell other people what to read; I'm just saying this isn't my preference.  So when a new author entered the Twitter discussion, I often looked them up to see what they wrote.  I don't have the resources to support all of them; I have to be very selective.


I hesitated to write anything Monday night when I discovered . . . what I discovered.  I suspected there might be blowback, and I'm not at the income level of Anne Rice to be able to withstand a bunch of retaliation.  I had to decide whether to ignore it for the sake of my own potential sales (which are nothing to jump up and down about anyway) or make a discreet comment to express how I felt -- which is the way I've always felt -- about authors who go out of the way to defend bad writing, because they're usually guilty to some extent or other.


I chose honesty, regardless of the ultimate price.


When I explained a small part of this to BF last night -- a very small part! -- I realized I was defending myself perhaps just as unfairly as an author who can't proofread defends herself.  And I remembered how one of my favorite fictional characters of all time, Ash from The Far Pavilions, complained that so many things in life were unfair (p 232).  Ash also confronted George Garforth when Garforth was caught in a web of his own lies and told he should shoot himself.  That's exactly what Garforth did, too (p 234).


I've been a reader of historical romances for somewhere around 60 years.  I wrote and published seven of them.  Who knows how many more I might have written and published if I hadn't pissed off a certain editor?  And who knows if it was entirely my fault?  All I know is that I'm pretty sure I know good writing when I see it and bad writing when I see it, too.  And maybe that's all I've got to give the book community.


Maybe it's more than some others have to give.


As a long ago sportswriter for the Chicago Daily News said, 'Tis better to be honest and hated than corrupt and despised.







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text 2018-06-27 21:59
Don't Touch Me!! DNF, stuffed, awful

I entered this book into the database but it won't connect to this post.






Text of email sent to content-review @ amazon . com, with additional comments in [brackets]:
Book title: Love at First Touch
Author: S. J. Mullins
This is a collection of stories, not a standalone book.  There is no table of contents to indicate how many stories there are, where they are, how long they are, or anything else. 
Title story ends at 7% of the book.  The second story is titled "Burning Love," which happens to be another Kindle book also by S. J. Mullins.  [Indication of "bonus content" is required by TOS.  Said bonus content is limited to 10% of total book.]
Book title: Burning Love
Author: S. J. Mullins
The "Burning Love" contents lasts to the 73% mark, to be followed by "3 Dates A Billionaire Romance Story."  This story is also a standalone title.
Book title: 3 Dates A Billionaire Romance
Author: S. J. Mullins
ASIN:  B07415H495
There are several links to "subscription" sites, and at the very end of the book there is another link that says
Click Here To Read The Twists In The Final Chapters…

Mullins, S.J.. Love At First Touch (A Billionaire Romance Story) (Kindle Locations 11448-11449). Kindle Edition.
Overall, the formatting is  not conducive to comfortable reading on a standard Kindle device, due to double spaced paragraphs.  There are numerous typographical errors that a good proofreader should have caught.  I could have put up with that, but I am really disappointed with all the duplicated content.
So-called bonus content is not supposed to be duplicate of other published material.  Without actually reading the stories, I couldn't tell if they were m/m, m/m/f, m/f, or what.  Isn't that kind of like basic?
The AMZ listing blurb isn't helpful either.
Kyle is a young well-bred billionaire who does everything by the book including going on the several dates that her mother sends him to.
One night however, everything changes for him, after spending the day at the best friend’s wedding he gets him feeling emotional and after working through the night decides on a night cap. In the kitchen eh bumps into Maggie a sweet young ambitious girl who is studying for her classes. He is immediately impressed by her and strikes up a connection with the help. Sadly for him, Maggie comes with baggage, a whole bucket full of baggage. He tries to stay out of it but Maggie does not stay out of his head. Will he get involved? Or rather play it safe and by the book?


  •  This is the kind of crap that's clogging up Amazon these days.


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text 2018-06-26 22:06
Forbidden . . . . and stuffed. DNF, no stars
Forbidden Kisses in the Highlands - Sheri Egan

Disclosure:  I obtained the Kindle edition of this item when it was offered free on Amazon.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of historical and contemporary romances and non-fiction.



Sheri Egan may also be Emily Meier, since their compilations of short stories tend to have a lot of the same stories.



This is classic book stuffing, and appears to be a violation of Kindle Direct Publishing's

prohibition against "Disappointing Content."


None of the writing is particularly good, and the historical research, at least in this first title story, appears to be questionable at best.


This particular volume is still free, so if you're interested in any of the contents, you can grab it.  But it's really not even worth the time to read for free.  Of course, if you have Kindle Unlimited and read it, the author will be paid approximately $3.00.


Not recommended.  DNF, no stars.

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text 2018-06-26 16:55
No reader has ever stabbed me in the back. Several authors have. Guess whose side I'm on.

She had to go looking for it.  Her name wasn't mentioned; there was no link to her book. Despite the fact that she said reports of typos and other errors should be placed in reviews, she accused me of "shaming" her when I even mentioned it -- even though that mention was not in a review.


But I should be used to authors stabbing me in the back.  I'm sure she'll find a place to leave a nasty review of at least one of my books, even though I didn't do the same to her. Since I never look at my reviews, I won't know.  And I won't care.  I trust readers to know the difference.


I don't trust writers at all any more.  None of them, with only a very, very few exceptions.


I had a brief PM exchange with one of them on Twitter last night to explain to her briefly what had gone down.  She is one of the very few people on earth who know how it all started and sensed my anger over this latest incident.  This morning I'm going to put the worst of it into reasonably coherent words, maybe for the first time.  Maybe it will help dissipate my rage.


Names and some dates and other details have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.


The first was in the 1980s, before I had sold my first book and while I was still living in Indiana.  I had become one of a group of "aspiring" romance writers who corresponded by snail mail -- that's all there was! -- and exchanged manuscripts the same way.  At one time the group numbered seven or eight, but only four of us were really active writers.  Of the four, Nancy wrote contemporary romance while the rest of us wrote historical.  When our group started, Amber and I had finished or almost finished our books and were starting to shop them around to publishers and/or agents; Adrienne's manuscript ran to about 150 pages, but she was far from finished.  When the group dissolved, she still had not completed the book.


Amber lived relatively close to me, close enough that I was able to make a couple of week-end visits to her.  Her home life was . . . unpleasant . . . but I kept my feelings about that to myself. 


Her book was, in my opinion, adequate for the market at that time.  I didn't think it was great, but it was okay.  Over the course of the year or so that it took for us to swap a few chapters at a time, I had offered her various suggestions for punching up what was a kind of bland romantic adventure.  She rather strenuously resisted any and all criticism, but I had little to no experience in that arena.  Her comments on mine were minor and not very constructive.  "I liked this, I didn't like that," but with no suggestions.  I wasn't sure if she didn't know how to make suggestions or what.


Most of my comments on hers were on the way the sex was handled.  Remember that this was in the 1980s, when the bodice-ripper was the classic and the norm for historical romance.  Amber's book had almost no sex, even though the setting would have almost required it.  When she did have a love scene, it was brief and kind of clinical.  When I suggested she expand these, she got very defensive.


It was during one of those week-end visits that I learned why she was so reluctant to write sex scenes.  She had, she told me, grown up in an abusive family and as a teenager she had become a born again christian.  She had kept this secret from her husband, who turned out to be an abusive alcoholic.  When he learned of her religious leanings, he mocked her for it.  This much I saw with my own two little eyes.  The hints she gave off led me to believe she saw sex as personally unpleasant.


Over the course of maybe six or seven months, Amber and I continued to exchange letters.  With our manuscripts finished, both of us had begun new books, which we were also exchanging.  Hers was another historical which I thought had major, major flaws.  I had switched to a contemporary, even though I hadn't read very many and didn't really know much about them.  It was one of those "the story just came to me in a flash and I had to write it."


Amber's letters were filled with desperation. "If I don't sell this book to [fill in name of publisher] I think I will kill myself" sort of thing.  I didn't know how to handle it, but I was just glad to have someone to bounce ideas off.


During one of those week-end visits with Amber, she took me to a meeting of her local RWA chapter.  I met several published romance authors there -- I had no local chapter so I knew NO ONE in the industry -- and I was suitably impressed.  Amber told me her completed book had been praised by all the members there.


Not long after that visit, I received back from Amber the opening five or six chapters of my contemporary.  Without my permission, she had given it to one of the published members of her chapter -- Millie -- for a critique.  I was horrified enough that Amber had done this.  I was horrified even more by Millie's comments, scrawled all over the manuscript.  Page after page after page of scathing, rude comments, the kind that often made no sense in the context of the story.  On one page she had written, "Where the hell is she coming from?" referring to the main character.  But on the previous page I had explained exactly where she was coming from.


Some of Millie's comments were valid, but I didn't see their validity for months because I was so outraged first by Amber's action and then by Millie's brutal rudeness.  I did go on to finish the book, despite their comments, though I've never sent it anywhere or even tried to publish it.  It has flaws that I never really cared to fix.


In the meantime, I had sent a proposal on the other completed book, the historical, to another publisher and received a positive response.  The editor wanted to see the whole manuscript.  I was excited enough to call Amber and tell her.  A few days later I received a letter from her asking if I would be upset that she had sent her proposal off to the same editor.


Well, of course I wasn't upset.  Not really.


Amber had also entered her book in one of the RWA contests, which were nothing as significant then as they are now.  I wasn't yet a member, so I couldn't enter.  But I would soon join, because the bunch of us -- me, Amber, Adrienne, Nancy, and a couple of the others -- were all going to the RWA conference together.  I would be rooming with Adrienne, even though I had never met her.  I think Amber shared a room with Nancy because they also had met several times.  But the conference and its award ceremony were months away.


In due course, I received word that the editor to whom I had sent my manuscript was offering a contract on it.  I was over the moon with excitement, as you can imagine.  I called Amber to tell her, but I immediately got the sense that she wasn't exactly happy for me.  I wished her luck, since she had sent her book to the same editor.


Not long after I sold my book, Amber received a note from that editor requesting her full manuscript also.  She sent it, and a few months later got a contract offer.  On the advice of her fellow RWA members, she began looking for an agent before she signed the contract.  But when Amber called to tell me about the contract offer, she also told me not to tell anyone else, not even Nancy or Adrienne.


Why not?  Well, because she had also received notice that her book was a finalist in its category for the RWA contest.  If anyone found out that she had a contract offer -- just an offer, mind you -- her book would be disqualified.  Even though I told her that wasn't exactly fair, she insisted that this was the advice of her new agent, who believed that if the book won, it would give her better negotiating power.


The conference was still months away.  Delays in signing the contract pushed the scheduled date for Amber's book's publication out further and further.


I was already deep into my next book, and looking forward to the conference and meeting all these new people.  Even though I had met Amber and spent two or three week-ends with her, she was remarkably stand-offish when we all got together for dinner that first night of the conference.  Nancy, too, was way less friendly than I had expected based on her letters.  I had fun with Adrienne, staying up way way way late to talk about our books and our families and . . . everything.


Amber seemed to be spending most of her time with her agent, who shall remain nameless.  Nancy sort of reluctantly joined me and Adrienne for lunches, but we mostly went our own ways for workshops and so on.  The night of the awards ceremony, Amber sat with the other finalists, while the rest of us sat at a table in the back of the ballroom.


When Amber's name was announced as the winner in her category, we all applauded, but there was a niggling distaste in my mouth because she had, after all, cheated.  But hey, everyone cheats, don't they?


After the dinner and awards, we tried to reach Amber to congratulate her in person.  Somehow or other, I happened to be the first of our group to locate her in the milling crowd.  She was with her agent, a rather frowzy woman with badly ratted hair, but I walked up to them to congratulate her. 


I don't remember exactly what words were exchanged between us, but they weren't very many before the agent took Amber by the shoulders and physically turned her away from me, saying in a very loud voice to Amber, "You don't need to talk to people like her.  She's nobody."


Amber didn't speak to me through the rest of the conference.


What I didn't know until several years later, when I happened to run into Nancy at another conference, was that Amber had bad-mouthed me to every single one of my "friends."  She told them I was seething with jealousy over her award.  She told them I had offered her suggestions on her book that would have ruined it so it would never be published.  She told everyone that I was a horrible person and a horrible writer.


I was stunned by what Nancy told me, but then I realized it all fit the pattern that had emerged. Even though Amber and I continued to correspond and even exchange manuscripts after that conference, there was an underlying malice to her comments.  I was hurt beyond belief, but I also knew about the problems in her personal life, so I chalked it up to that and moved on. 


She signed her contract, sold a couple more books, and vanished into obscurity.


I moved to Arizona, sold a few more books, and also vanished into obscurity!


There were some minor incidents of a similar nature to what I'd gone through with Amber, but I didn't pay a lot of attention to them.  I had two kids, we had moved to Arizona, I was writing, and so on.  Life was too busy for that kind of shit.  I joined a local RWA group in the Phoenix area, then started another one.  Our new chapter ran a contest -- as far as I know, they're still running it more than 20 years later -- and there were some clashes over that.  Some of them stung pretty hard, but I got over them.


Then came the incident with Marie's book.  Marie was one of the unpublished members of the new chapter, and she too was entering her book in the RWA contest, which by this time had become a pretty big deal.  Marie asked if I would look over her sample chapters and give her any advice.  If I had known about the Josh Olson protocol then, I might have followed his advice, but I didn't.  And I really had no reason to expect any kind of backlash.


Well, boy oh boy, was there backlash.


Marie was totally grateful for my advice.  She couldn't thank me enough.  She publicly praised my ability to find even tiny weaknesses in her plot that she was able to fix and strengthen.  Of course, once she won the award, she sang a different tune.  She and her friends snubbed me every chance they got.  It was as if I had become invisible.


After winning the RWA award, she signed what was rumored to be a very comfortable two-book contract.  The first book was published just about the same time one of my books came out.  Another member of our chapter, Dana, also had a book published around then, so the chapter set up a joint book-signing event at the bookstore in the mall where we had our monthly meetings.  I spoke with the store manager to give her all the information on my books, and she said she would get back with me if all the backlist titles weren't available.  I told her I had copies I could bring if she couldn't get them.


I never heard back from her, so I assumed she had them.  I knew, however, that two titles were out of print and couldn't be obtained anywhere, so I brought a few of those with me, as well as a couple copies of the others just in case


I arrived at the bookstore early, to make sure everything was in order.  Out in the mall area the bookstore had set up nice little tables with books and vases with red roses and name placards . . . for Marie and for Dana, but not for me.


I was stunned.  I was devastated.  I didn't know what to do.


I went into the store and asked for the manager.  She showed up and was clearly not inclined to be friendly when I told her who I was.


"You told me you weren't coming," she snarled at me.  "I had to send all those books back."


But of course I had done nothing of the kind.


Somehow or other, I don't remember how, she found some copies of my books and I provided the few that I had brought.  A name sign was made, a red rose was scrounged up, and all was made more or less right.  But I was hurt.  I was mortified.  I was humiliated.


Why?  Why would anyone call the bookstore and tell them I wasn't going to be there?  And who had done it?


Oh, I eventually found out.  Marie and some of her allies in the chapter had done it.  Marie didn't want me to take any of her limelight, because I'd have three or four books and she'd only have one.  (Never mind that her one book looked a whole lot better than mine, because I ALWAYS got crappy covers.)  When I confronted one of the "allies" and asked her why she had done something so horrible to someone who had never done anything to her, she just shrugged and said, "We figured you were strong enough to take it."


Yeah, a knife in the back and public humiliation are so easy to take.


There were some repercussions from that incident that left me really at a loss for how to continue.  There were sabotaged contest scores and a whole lot of lies thrown around -- and I still have the tape recordings of the confessions -- and I took it pretty hard.  I tapered off my involvement with the local chapter and moved on to another group where I felt the jealousy factor was going to be toned down.


This other group decided to sponsor a conference, and for logistical reasons, I got chosen to do the siting work.  I coughed up funds I didn't have and took time off work I couldn't afford, so I could spend three or four days in Los Angeles visiting hotels that might accommodate our conference.  A few things went right, a lot of things went wrong, but we got the conference put together.


One of the few benefits I got as a result of my trip to choose the site was that I got a fabulous free suite at the hotel.  Double king bedroom, two and a half baths, dining room, living room, wet bar with mini-kitchen (microwave, but no stove).  I think there were five or six phones.  I made the decision to invite my husband to come along.


Although this was a conference for members of our chapter only, there had been some controversies, and one member of the RWA national board decided she wanted to attend.  We could not deny her that request.  And because she was someone I knew and had kind of palled around with at a previous conference, she was welcomed.  She joined in with some of our social activities, and one evening joined a small group of us for an impromptu "picnic" in my suite.  We all trooped over to the shopping center across the street from the hotel, bought sandwiches and chips and soda and wine and snacks, then sat on the floor around the huge coffee table in the living room.  My husband was with us, and even though he was normally pretty shy, he joined in the conversations, too.


The very next morning, the rumors started to fly.  The board member who had sat in the suite with me and my husband was now accusing me of refusing to let her speak to the conference.  She had never asked to speak.  There were more accusations, more straight out lies.  Even my husband spoke up, asking who the heck started this.  It made no sense.  Why in heaven's name would she do this?  What reason could she have?  What good would it do anyone?  The only result was to hurt me, personally.


To this day, I don't know.  She was a best-selling, Big Name Author.  She sat on the board of RWA.  I was a nobody who had just pissed off one of the most powerful editors in the industry and killed my career.  Why?  Why do this to me?


Again, to this day, I don't know.  I have no fucking clue.


Then comes the familiar litany of events.  My writing career was over, I went back to college, my husband passed away, and here I am.  My experience on Goodreads told me a lot about myself.  I'm a bitch.  I'm self-righteous.  I don't suffer fools, not gladly or any other way.  And I want good books for readers to read.


In all my fifteen years in RWA, I read a lot of contest entries.  I was in a total of five different critique groups.  I saw a lot of really, really, really shitty writing.  I saw some good stuff, too.  And of the good stuff, most went on to be published.  Marie's book did.  Amber's book did.  And a few others.  Some of the stuff that wasn't so good has shown up on Amazon.  Some of those books have been offered free and I've downloaded them.  They're no better now than they were when they were entered in RWA contests.  And they aren't selling.


I only ever entered one of my published books in the RWA contest.  My scores were middling, and I never advanced to a further round. But one judge's comments stuck with me because they were so far out in left field.  It was obvious she didn't get the point of the story.  I shrugged it off mainly because she was well published in contemporary romance, and mine was historical.  She's gone on to be one of the Big Name Authors in romancelandia, and that's fine.  I've never felt the need to reveal who it was or badmouth her for any reason.


I've never felt the need to stab someone in the back.


But maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe I really am a mean, spiteful bitch.  Maybe I really am jealous of everyone, regardless how poor or stratospheric their sales, regardless how glowing or slamming their reviews.


I've said often enough that I simply can't read Nora Roberts, and I've made no secret why.  I read her first novel, Promise Me Tomorrow, when it was entered in the RWA contest.  I should have kept that paperback edition instead of dutifully returning it as we judges were supposed to do.  It's now worth a small fortune, because it was so horrifically bad that even Nora herself allegedly hated it.  She wasn't a Big Name Author when I read it for the contest.  She was just another writer.  But that book was, in my humble opinion, utterly horrible.  And I can't read her stuff because of that.


But I don't hate Nora Roberts as a person.  I've never trashed her or her books.  (I've never read any others.)  I don't hate other authors.  I've disliked some of their books, but with very few exceptions, I've never hated on another writer just because I don't like his/her books.  They have to actually do something to earn my enmity.


I have no personal contact with any other writers, and I haven't had for years and years and years.  My connections with other writers here on Booklikes are almost entirely as readers, not writers.  I left RWA in 1998.  I reconnected with a few old friends online through Facebook a few years ago, but I've not become an active participant with any of them.  I write mainly for myself; the success of The Looking-Glass Portrait still astonishes me.  I still have never looked at any of the reviews, not on Amazon, not on Goodreads, not even here on Booklikes.


Reviews are for readers.  Period.  End of discussion.


I know that I am a harsh reviewer.  I know that doesn't endear me to writers.  And to be honest, I don't care all that much.  I'm still a reader first, and I will stick up for the rights of readers to get good things to read.  I personally don't want to read crap.  A few typos won't prompt me to ding a book -- other than my own -- but I do have my pet peeves.  Peerage titles are one; if a writer can't even get the forms of address correct or the rules of inheritance, then I'm going to be pissed and I'm going to review accordingly.


This whole business with "book stuffing" was new to me a few weeks ago.  I had come across some of the books because I had downloaded them as freebies from Amazon.  But I had no idea what they were, and I expressed my confusion and consternation here on BookLikes.  An informal group of writers and readers on Twitter began somewhat coordinating the reporting of the most notorious "stuffers" and I got involved with that.  There were some sock accounts that showed up to defend the stuffers and/or attack the reporters.  I left the socks pretty much alone, to an extent that surprised even me, because I tend to let myself get dragged into those fights.  But I stayed pretty much out of it.


One of the leaders of the group (I'll explain in a minute or two) pointed out that "stuffed" books could be reported for other reasons than just stuffing.  She suggested they could be reported for bad formatting or even typos, as appropriate.  And that's how this whole latest debacle started.


I still don't know who the dyslexic writer is.  And I don't know why a dyslexic writer would feel entitled to put out a book they knew was filled with tons of misspellings and typos and expect readers to just ignore it.  Maybe I'm being too cruel?  Too intolerant?  Not supportive enough of other writers, regardless how good or bad their writing?


My experience in the Goodreads Purge taught me that there are no second chances, and there should never be any expectation of either support or justice.  There is a very human tendency to take the path of least resistance, to side with the majority, and to not make waves.  (We're seeing this is current American politics, too.  Don't get me started.)  I've fought in real life and I've fought online, and there's never really been a win for me.  Oh, some small victories, but I'm still pretty much on my own and still pretty much taking my own hits.


And I'm still nobody.


I mentioned above that there were some "leaders" of the Twitter group.  They are authors who have a significant following, who publish in the more popular genres, and they were vocal in their denunciation of the "stuffers," and to a lesser extent the trademark trolls who are trying to corner the market on particular words.  I don't know any of these writers, and I've never read any of their work.  I'm sure they don't know me either.  I'm pretty much nobody wherever you go in this business.  And that's fine; it is what it is.


So those three or four or however many they are, they get all the virtual high fives and all the congratulations, while I continue to quietly get other stuffers removed.  I don't need to brag about it.  I get little to no recognition, and in a way that keeps me able to operate under the radar.


I can't review on Amazon or Goodreads. My blog is pretty much inactive, and I didn't really review much there anyway.  I save my reviews for BookLikes, but I don't write reviews of everything I read.  Lately I've been going through some of the gazillions of Kindle books and weeding out some of the real shit, so I've posted some junk here.  But other than the William Morris and Judith Tarr books, much of my recent reading has been non-fiction for research on subjects of very narrow interest.  There's really no reason to review them here.


I didn't review the "reign" author's book.  I didn't identify it or rate it or anything else.  She chose to vent her rage directly at me on Twitter, to post a screen shot of my Booklikes post, and accuse me of "shaming" her.  I have several voices in my head right now, urging me to do many different things. 


One voice -- the loudest -- says, "Curl up in a ball and cry, because you're a terrible person, full of spite and venom and jealousy who doesn't deserve to interact with normal human beings."


Another, almost as loud, says, "Get online and rip the ever living shit out of every bad book you find. No quarter! Go after the shitty writers, the bad formatters, the liars and cheats and everyone."


A third tells me, "Just withdraw.  None of them are worth it.  I know you want to be social and have friends like a normal person, but it's not going to happen.  I'm sorry.  You're basically good with good intentions, but the world is cruel."


A fourth whispers, "You're just doing all this for the attention.  You're feeling sorry for yourself."


I'm inclined to give that fourth voice credit for telling the truth.


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