Wednesday, 2 January 2013
One-By-One My E-Books Are Snuffed Out
Last month I commented how a 3-star review on Amazon for one of my e-books cuts its sales by two-thirds and a 2-star review not only ends all sales for that book but freezes the sales of all my other books for a week or more: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-importance-of-sock-puppetry.html Clearly I have been deluding myself in believing I can write competently. One-by-one my counter-factual history books are being given 3- and 2-star ratings. The basis for the ratings is often due to minor errors. Yes, in ‘Other Americas’ I failed to spot that I, or my spell checker, had named the 15th US President ‘John’ rather ‘James’ Buchanan and that I got the area of the state of Rhode Island wrong. I spend weeks checking and editing my books, but like all authors I am not going to spot everything. If Henning Mankell and Philip Kerr have to do without editors when they are leading authors, how can I be expected to employ one?
Now, with e-books it takes a matter of seconds to correct minor errors when people draw them to your attention and a revised edition can be up online within hours. However, this is never enough. The reviewers my books attract condemn a book on the basis of such errors and despite my efforts there is nothing I can do to counter let alone remove such condemnations. The only choice once I receive a 2-star review is to ‘unpublish’ the book, i.e. remove it from Amazon listings or leave it there hoping that someone might accidentally buy it. Basically, however, the moment a 2-star review goes up, it is dead. I might was well bring all the content back here and make it free access, which increasingly I am tempted to do.
All authors make minor errors and in the past with published books these were eliminated by editors. However, as I have noted before, editing is disappearing from even leading publishers. Yet, tolerance of errors by readers is zero, despite the fact that they now pay far less for an e-book than they would have ever done for a new paperback. There are some other challenging bases on which my books are being criticised and killed that it seems impossible to do anything about.
One thing I have noticed is that with my books open to a global market my readers views of what constitutes ‘correct’ English is incredibly varied, yet I am hammered for not using the style that a particular reader wants. I have both been criticised for writing too lengthy sentences with too many sub-clauses and at the same time attacked for writing sentences that are deemed to be so short that they are nothing but ‘fragments’. I have Word grammar check all my writing, so all sentences in my books are certainly not deemed by that system as fragments. For my counter-factual books, being based on blog postings, I sought a chatty style which I thought would be appropriate for a book you most likely would read on the move. Yet, the style is clearly not tolerable in India where it is seen as too serious nor in the USA where it is perceived as too light or in fact, just British, and so simply intolerably alien. I would certainly welcome lessons in how to write in a universal English style which is not going to warrant such criticism from two of the largest potential markets.
There is a further challenge that authors of counter-factual books face in a way fiction authors probably do not. This is the fact that your books are rated to a great extent not simply by the quality of what you write but also by your opinions. I have been condemned for apparently being too hostile to Finland and for giving too much detail of the potential alternate outcomes so somehow smothering the ‘what if?’ aspect. The greatest insult I have received in reviews is to be said to simply be summarising the arguments of Newt Gingrich and in a less competent way. This cut right through me. I briefly comment on Gingrich’s work in ‘Other Americas’ but not to simply take his ideas, rather to strongly contest them. In my view Gingrich’s writing is basically extreme right-wing propaganda wrapped up in a covering of counter-factual writing. I feel I have utterly failed if any reader thinks that somehow I am making a poor quality replica of Gingrich’s work. A couple of years ago, I dismissed the statement by one commentator in ‘The Guardian’ that seeing how many good books were being produced he saw no point in bothering to try to write creatively, despite having been doing it for many years. However, recognising that I am completely failing in getting my message across in my work and the fact that a book will be destroyed for even minor slip-ups among 100,000 words, I have come to the same conclusion.
Writing e-books saved my sanity at a time when I was being bullied, having my house repossessed and seeing the break-up of my family. However, I have learnt that instead it has opened me up to a new kind of abuse. In a matter of minutes a grumpy reader can render useless months of work. Furthermore they can insult to me such an extent that I am going to be offended for years to come and I am aware that there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop this. At the time, getting in to producing e-books seemed to be an interesting thing to do and gave me a motive to continue. However, it has proven to be a poisoned chalice and the price I am paying for this foray is not worth the now clearly meagre gains I made for a short while.