Monday, October 22, 2007

A pissed-off author

I reviewed a new Finnish crime novel by a first-time author recently. I didn't like the book a bit. It was purported to be funny and hardboiled and noirish, but I was only bored - the plot got on too slowly, the characters were a bunch of clichés and there were too many racial and sexual stereotypes in the mix, some even quite hateful. My review came out last Friday in the local newspaper.

The author wrote me back today on Monday saying that I'd understood the whole thing completely wrong. The book was a parody and it was based on reality, so it was nowhere near racist or sexist.

Okay. I've read some 2,000 books in my life (the number came strictly off top of my head) and should recognize parody when I see one. Nowhere in sight here. Okay, yeah, there were some overdone characters and overwritten prose, but still I couldn't see the book as parody. And, um, yeah, there were some awkward moments when there were actual characters with supposedly funny names such as "Don Heremy" (the book is about porn business), but I didn't laugh.

I'd made one mistake for which I asked the editor to publish a correction. The book was published by a publisher that has mainly been doing vanity books, i.e. books that the author paid for. It wasn't the case here. Which actually makes me feel more sorry - did someone pay someone to write this? However I sincerely think that the publisher should've notified about this somewhere in the book - maybe with changing the name of the imprint or with notifying the reviewer in a slip with the book.

18 comments:

Jess Nevins said...

A good rule of thumb is that if you have to tell someone that it's a parody or satire, either you've failed as a writer, or they've failed as a reader.

If the reader is intelligent, the failure is on the writer, not the reader.

"It's a parody!" is a reflexive, juvenile defense by writers who are too ashamed to admit that they tried to write something serious and failed.

Juri said...

Or then I'm not intelligent. That's impossible, though.

Thanks for your wise words, Jess! (Not that I needed any consolation, but..)

Anonymous said...

And a pissed of critic too... Dear Juri, although you have read about 2000 books you are not a God and you can be wrong. Being a critic is matter of opinion, and you are very opinionated about fiction written by other people. I havent yet seen a crime fiction book written by you. Minimal short stories dont count. I know the case you are talking about and I know that book you trashed in your so called critic was a first book of new series which is edited by a very well known and respected finnish book editor and writer. So basically it is your opinion against his. With a 15 years of editing and writing experience with a very well known finnish publishing company he says it is a great book and greenlights the publishing. You the critic tell us that the book sucks and dont even bother to check the facts behind the publishing. You are a critic allright, but not a professional one, and not a crime fiction writer either, allthough you propably wanna be...

Sandra Ruttan said...

A review is, ultimately, an opinion. Now, based on the background and experience of the reviewer, it can be an informed opinion.

The author should consider that many reviewers (I won't speak for you, Juri, but this is certainly true of myself and many others I know) will not only not engage in correspondence arguing over a review, but will actually ban the author from being reviewed in the future. In my case, I operate in the realm of volunteers, and most reviewers I know aren't paid for their time. I don't have time for all the work on my plate as it is. It's like arguing with people over short story rejections, pointless.

I advise people to consider the reviewer they're sending their work to when sending out review copies, or making recommendations to their publisher. Every reviewer has personal preferences. I don't read much comedy, I don't like reading anything with too much sex (it's a very fine line between what works and what's just lewd, and that line shifts for everyone) and if someone sends me a book that falls in that spectrum, the odds are I'm not going to review it as enthusiastically as someone who loves that stuff.

And I guess this says something about me, but "Don Heremy"? I don't get it. Why is that supposed to be funny?

Anonymous said, "So basically it is your opinion against his."

That's what a review is. Most reviewers aren't authors. If authors don't like that, then don't seek reviews. Truth is, sometimes I trust non-author reviews far more, because authors have to worry about relationships with agents, editors, publishers, other authors and have reasons to be nervous about putting extremely negative opinions about a book in print, even if they're completely fair and justified.

ron jeremy said...

Yeah, critics are the biggest crybabies of them all. They love to give and hate to take. In this case Juri lashed out a sloppy critic and did sloppy backgroung work on it. Author righteously reacted and Juri had to admit his mistake. Now he is crying about it in his blog and asking for sympathy from fellow wannabe authors aka critics. He made a big professional mistake despite publishers press releases and everything. It is called unprofessional conduct and poor work ethics.

Karen in Wichita said...

You know a book is bad when the author feels compelled to whine via sockpuppet.

Smart money says it's a vanity press anyway. Reputable publishers distance their vanity press imprint from their real imprint (usually so far that they don't even *have* a vanity imprint...)

the hedgehog said...

Greetings to Wichita. FYI Author is not doing the whining here. Only critics. And we are not talking about the vanity imprint like Juri already told. Editor of the bookseries is the very wellknown expert of the crime literature in Finland. And a writer too. Are you? I mean real writer not a critic.

Sandra Ruttan said...

How do we know who's doing the whining when they're 'anonymous'?

There are plenty of experienced editors that put out books some people don't like, the same way experienced actors end up in movies that bomb and experienced directors sometimes produce lemons.

If the critical assessment was based on the material in the book, it's fair. And I say that as a published author, with a two-book deal with a NY publisher, a reviewer and an editor. At every stage of the game in publishing writers learn that there's a lot that's left to individual taste. I've sent a story to one publication to have it automatically rejected, sent it elsewhere unchanged and had it automatically accepted. The initial rejection? They didn't like some of the character names.

You can whine about it or you can suck it up and move on. Not every reader will like your work, and not every reviewer. But as long as they base the review on the work and not whether or not they like me as a person or have some vendetta against me, it's fair.

Karen in Wichita said...

anon/Ron/hedgehog/Yo/Saf/Bridge:

There's a drinking game about amateur authors replying to reviews. I'll have to track it down for you, though really, you seem to be hitting all the high points just fine on your own... sock puppetry, claiming that only other writers are qualified critics, and so forth. It's pretty much a textbook case so far. Can we expect Cartooneys soon?

Pilot said...

Excuse me Karen, but what makes you think that Juris mistake pissed off only the author. There are many people in publishing company who are very angry about the unprofessional way Juri describe the means of publishing despite the press releases and other readily available information about the bookseries. For example the series editor is furious about it. The newspaper has promised to correct Juris mistake ASAP. Author of the book is a professional writer, not an amateur like you assumed. There was false claim in Juris critic and it was legally right to demand a correction. The newspaper admits that clearly. Juri himself obviously had some problems accepting the responsibility of his mistake.

Karen in Wichita said...

And now we progress to "the lurkers support me in email." Take a shot, everyone!

Still not seeing any actual, you know, *evidence* to support any of your claims. Just an endless serious of socks. Ho hum.

Juri said...

All I will do about this whole matter is what I already did: sent an e-mail to the editor of the newspaper and asked to publish a correction.

D.A. Davenport said...

Once again, Anonymous-es drive me insane. Speak up and stick your name on it for Heaven's sake!

According to Anon, short stories are minimal and do not count. So the stories that have haunted us since childhood by Poe, Hawthorne, London, O Henry, Canon Doyle and other immense talents lauded by the ages, have no worth. They inspired how many writers, entertained how many generations...yet the short story format is just not worthy of respect?

How arrogant and outrageous a statement is that? Writing should be about the beauty and clarity imparted by the written word, no matter the format a writer chooses to use. I'd rather read a perfect short story than a poorly written novel any day. 5000 finely crafted words are much more precious to me than 50,000 slapped together in order to write an opus destined for the bargain book bin.

What's the old adage?..."It's not the size that matters..."

Juri said...

I think the anonymous commentator wanted to point out that I've edited and published a small press magazine that contains 13 (or 14, I'm not sure) flash fiction short stories, including one by me.

D.A. Davenport said...

Good on you, Juri. Flash is one of the hardest formats out there to write and, no doubt, edit and publish.

I just hate to read uniformed comments like that one, which is intended to make a point but only serves to highlight the person's tunnel-vision. Anon is jumping to someone's defense, but cutting others down who work damned hard at their craft. You don't slam a form of writing, renowned for it's distilled beauty and difficulty or the people who write or enjoy it, and not expect others to respond. Anon needs to weigh his/hers words before committing them.

As for the author in question, when you put your work out there, then you have to take some honest feedback. Putting ego aside and learning from it is vital, or you never learn and grow as an author. I'm a fledgling at this, but I know to shut up and listen. It's the only way to learn.

Karen in Wichita said...

Can we quit calling him anonymous? We all *know* it's the author.

And with the absence of Finnish newspapers in Wichita (an inexplicable failing in the newsstands here), can someone name names (allegedly-not-vanity publisher, at the least?) Because calling him anon/ron/hedgehog/pilot/yo/saf/bridge is so awkward.

Juri said...

I'll say let's just it leave it alone. Everyone has had a chance to say what they think. Okay?

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

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