The Nameless Horror

Amazon Reviewhouhaha

Very briefly, because there are better things to do with my time - these nuts won’t scratch themselves, after all - but I’ve been linking to Amazon’s sudden deletion of masses of book reviews on Twitter all week. Now Joe “Moral Panic” Konrath has weighed in, blaming this all on the sock puppet scandal of earlier in the year.

In short, short, shorts:

  • Amazon’s new review guidelines mean that if you’re an author you can no longer review books because you have competing products. Existing reviews are being deleted where detected.
  • Lots of people are weeping bitter tears over their lost reviews. Not least Joe, whose reviews represented “a significant time investment” and whose loss means “many authors who don’t sell as well as [him] do now have lower star averages”, hurting their sales, and this isn’t fair. (I appreciate that Joe’s reviewing is as genuine as the next guy’s, but what a strange way to make a point. To me, anyway.)
  • Amazon has a million billion customers (give or take an order of hyperbole). At most, probably a quarter of a million, maybe half a million, are authors (250k ish self-published books per year, n self-published authors, x published authors, etc. Wild estimate but let’s call it a ball park figure). A significant number of both groups leave no reviews anyway.
  • The loss of author reviews on books therefore represents - MATHS! - ((one gigagagillion - half a mill)/one gigagagillion) * percentage of OMFGbestthingeveronestarthisisshitism in population, or approximately one sparrow’s fart of overall give-a-shit impact so long as other customers aren’t all swept up in the Rapture in the meantime. It is not, frankly, that big a deal, aside from making people pissed that they took the effort and now it’s all for nought. Which is a shame, to be fair, but still.
  • Amazon cannot possibly check every review posted by hand. It must therefore employ automated systems.
  • Amazon’s detection system apparently is incapable of detecting reviews from an author’s account (secondary or otherwise) that’s not linked to an author page (i.e. one used to log in to Author Central). If this is supposed to prevent abuse of the sock variety (and that’s not a wanking reference), and this failure is genuine, this will therefore do nothing to prevent such abuse because everyone - with the exception of the occasional caught-out editor - was doing it from multiple named accounts linked to one credit card.
  • Amazon’s automated deletion system is therefore a sack of piss, if the above reports are true. The equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a hazelnut, missing, and taking out the neighbour’s window. “Your review system is open to abuse!” some people said. “Sure,” they replied, “how’s THIS for a fix?” “It’s a bit shit,” everyone said.
  • Amazon is in the happy position of not really having to give that much of a shit. The company can point at the attempt made and tell everyone to shut up. I’m frankly amazed they did anything at all.
  • Freedom of speech does not extend to privately-owned slabs of internet, much less ones run as vast commercial enterprises, any more than it does to privately-owned slabs of physical real estate when you’re not the private owner. If Amazon were pursuing authors across the net, sending legal threats to those caught reviewing books on their own websites, you would have a point. They are not and so you don’t, just the same as every other numpty on the net who’s tried to claim it.
  • If, like one commenter, you genuinely suggest "Instead of targeting legitimate reviews, why doesn’t Amazon weed out the one star reviewers? Reading the average one star review its patently obvious they have never read the book they have in their sights…" then you’re totally fucking barking.

(On a side note, that open letter wasn’t a “petition”. Petitions have to be to someone. You petition someone for something. You can’t petition the world in general, or petition yourself. It’s more of a declaration, if you want to get fancypants with your lingo.)

(Obviously I brought up that subject at the weekly meeting of the Witch Hunt Association, alongside changes to our regulation sinister robes to make them even more menacing, and upping our lobbying and/or bullying levels to national election levels of shit-shovelling. We burned three minor authors who may or may not have been guilty of something and formally castigated twelve more with a barrage of hateful email. There was a hog roast and we drank the blood of a Vine reviewer. It was good times.)

(On a further side note, I’m aware the commenter in question is actually concerned with review-spiking on both Goodreads and Amazon, and there’s a genuine point in there; the blanket suggestion is nuts though.)

If one of those babies were poor, I don’t suspect you’d want to punish her because her dad got laid off from his manufacturing job or because leukemia killed her older brother and bankrupted her parents just in time for her birth. If you don’t like these examples, tough shit; they’re how people get poor in the United States of America in 2012. I don’t want you to like them.
Rob Delaney, making, according to Twitter, the Obama campaign’s healthcare argument much better than the Obama campaign.

Please understand that the closure of an account is a permanent action. Any subsequent accounts that are opened will be closed as well. Thank you for your understanding with our decision.

I appreciate this is not the outcome you hoped for and apologise for any disappointment this may cause.

Stay classy, Amazon - full story, with some important detail corrections, is here but doesn’t include the email ‘exchange’.

This kind of wildly obfuscated corporate douchebaggery is the answer to the question “why would anyone need DRM-free ebooks/want to be able to move them to another device/back them up?”Also to the question “are Amazon really great people?” And “it’s not like we’re only licensing the use of books, is it?”

Novel In 30 Days? Try 3.

There’s been some harrumphing on Twitter the last couple of days about a Guardian piece on writing a novel in 30 days - conveniently in time for NaNoWriMo - trimmed from the book of the same(ish) name of Karen Weisner (whose website was apparently designed in 30 minutes with the aid of a time machine back to 1996).

But as others have pointed out, Simenon famously generally took a couple of weeks to write the Maigret novels, Fleming took 6 weeks to do a few of his, I seem to recall Will Christopher Baer advocating a ‘lockdown’ approach to writing, sealing himself in a hotel room in a strange town for a few days and hammering through a book sans the distraction of familiar real life, and many good writers have knocked out stuff very quickly when the need’s arisen. Plenty of bad ones as well, but still.

And forget 30. Try three.

That old link of Tim's outlines some advice from fantasy supremo and sometime Hawkwind collaborator Michael Moorcock on how to write a 60,000 word novel in three days.

And the thing is (and I don’t know how this compares to Weisner’s), the advice is actually really very good. It essentially boils down to “make sure you have as much cool stuff in your head before you sit down as you can, and have backup suggestions from yourself so you don’t get stuck thinking about things”. OK, it also plays off the outline ideas in the Lester Dent Master Plot, but even that, so long as you don’t take it as gospel in modern non-pulp writing, isn’t a bad thing either. Neither of them encourage writing any old bilge and calling it a book and Moorcock, even if he got a little 70s fruity at times (“Hello, Elric. Yes, I am riding a giant snail. What of it?”), is no bad writer.

Now, I don’t think I’ve got the typing speed to bang out 20k words a day for three days, not unless I was wildly stream-of-consciousnessing (a word I intend to trademark forthwith), but I gave it a poorly-planned trial run for writing a 20,000 word novella a couple of months ago. And while it turned out I get hopelessly distracted after the first two days, and I should’ve made sure I had the prep done properly rather than winging a lot of it, it worked a treat. I wrote about 15,000 words in 48 hours and, reading them back once I’d finished the thing off, they’re not at all bad. Surprisingly passable, in fact.

So don’t get sniffy at the idea of writing a book in a month. Get sniffy if someone suggests you shouldn’t nail the bastard thing as best you can first time out. Get sniffy if they try to sell you a system to do it when there’s plenty of good advice for free. Get sniffy if the person doing the writing plainly doesn’t give the tiniest shit about the quality of what they’re doing and is only in it for the speed and the kudos.

As with so much in life, it’s not so much how quickly you’re done as how much enjoyment everyone gets out of what you do.