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Writing: If you can't say something nice - say it anyway.

Yes. I’m late.

I have an excuse – and it wasn’t the dog eating my blog post. I don’t have a dog. Not like Segorian. He doesn’t have one either. Which is why there’s one sleeping at the foot of the bed that… but that’s another story :-).

But I’m still late. Late with my blog post. Like I said – I do have an excuse. And it’s all the fault of those horrible, evil people at Bethesda Softworks. They released Skyrim on Friday. I’ve been a bit busy. Dying. A lot :-).

But that’s not what this posting is about. Skyrim, I mean. No. It’s about words.

Actually, it’s not even about words. It’s about… Hmmm. Perhaps I should start again. Or even just start.

There’s a gentlema… um, a person. In the UK – in a place I won’t mention in the UK. And this person, who may or may not be a man (don’t worry – it’ll get clearer. Really, it will :-P), and who may or may not be gentle, wrote a book.

See? I can see you’re impressed already. We have a person, gender unspecified, gentleness unknown, who wrote a book. Yay, person :-).

Well, anyway, this person self-published their book. Which other persons, whose gender and gentleness I might feel safer confirming, have done as well. And they took their self-published book, and they put it up for sale on Amazon. But he published it under a pen-name.

Still not unusual, right? Well, guess what.

Someone reviewed the book.

Shock. Yes, verily, and horror. A review of a book on Amazon, posted on, um, Amazon. Oh. Did I mention the reviews were, um, not exactly enthusiastic? And that the reviewer revealed the writer’s real name?

Now, this isn’t about a writer who uses a pen-name having their real name revealed (though it sort of is). As Kristin Lamb says – pen names aren’t witness protection. They’re pen-names. No, this is about what happened next.

The writer sued. He sued the reviewer for libel.

Now, the last I heard, the case was still being reviewed to see if it could move ahead. But – it might. Which is why I’m not talking about gender. Or gentleness. I can’t afford the lawyers I might need to afford.

I won’t make any comment on the case I’m trying very hard to avoid mentioning. I won’t make any comment on the author, the reviewer, or Amazon reviews in general. Like I said, I can’t afford the lawyers I might need to afford. But – and here’s the point – I’ll say this. And I’ll say it about me. Because I’m not going to sue me. Probably. Or probably not.

I write stuff. Fantasy. Comic fantasy, or at least it is if you laugh. I write stuff I hope you’ll like. And if I write stuff you like, I’d be delighted if you told other people, whether in an Amazon review or not, that you liked it.

But you might not like it, right? You might even hate it, no? And if you did, should you tell people? Maybe even in a review?

Remember what your mother told you? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”? Well, with all due respect, I think mother was wrong. Reading a book isn’t like crossing a rickety bridge that might send you crashing to your doom in a long fall far below while – er, sorry (blushes). Writer’s melodrama. Ahem. Let’s try again. Reading a book isn’t a life threatening experience. But if I saw you about to cross a rickety bridge that I knew might send you falli – er, if I saw you about to do something dangerous, and didn’t say anything, would that be a good thing? And if I read a book I didn’t like, and I thought you might read it too, and I thought you might like some advance warning, might that be a bit the same? A little, tiny bit?

I think so. And I think you should feel free to do so too. Even if it’s my book.

Of course, I’d much rather you told people you loved it. Especially if it was true :-).

So there you are. Laws are different in different places. But let’s forget the law. Let’s forget free speech, let's forget the great and old pieces of paper various countries have protecting their rights to do to other people what they hate people doing to them. Let’s just stick with what we have inside us. so inside you, whether you’re a reader or a writer. If I think something bad about what you write, or you about something I’ve written, should you (or I) have the freedom to say what we think, as much as if we think something good?

Or should we go find us some lawyers?


Tricia Linden's picture

lets say I read a book that didn't appeal to me. Is that the book or author's fault that the book didn't appeal to ME? I think not. It may very well be my fault for reading a book I don't like. Now, IF I bought and read a book that I know nothing about but deceided to take a chance and found out I did't like the book, still not the author's fault. I will accept responsibility for the books I choose to read. Now if I was ASKED to review the book (for money or other reasons) and the book is really poorly written that may be worth mentioning, but since your ahh discussion up above neither confirms nor denies if that is the case... I am left wondering. I checked out the site for Skyrim and it does not look like my cup of tea or book to read, so I won't and I won't offer my opinion either. Does that work for you?
But you know I lov...err like you a whole lot... right!! Because you're too much fun.
Enjoy always, T

Graeme's picture

But that, to a degree, is my point. Sort of :-).

If I say 'That book by Fred was rubbish', what I'm really saying (and personally I'd prefer if people _did_ say :-P) is 'In my opinion, that book by Fred was rubbish'. And, if I may, I'll go one further. If people want to express an opinion, their holding that opinion (in my view at least) isn't anyone's fault really - theirs or the writer's. It's just that. An opinion. And when you have an opinion on, well, on anything, it seems to me you can:

1: Say nothing.

2: State your opinion as fact.

3: State your opinion as an opinion


Start a conversation :-). And a conversation normally happens when one party says not just what they think, but why they think it - and that's what I'd prefer. Or prefer to lawyers at least :-).

And that whole love thing? Well - I got into trouble with that once - and I just don't care :-). You see, it happened like, um, this...

DM's picture

I agree with you, Graham. A book reviewer should review books in the genres they like; however, sometimes they review other books. If it's stated it is just their opinion, I don't see why the law suit. But as authors, we will have those who love our work and who hate it. I wonder how this non-gender specific person feels about Twilight and if said person ever said something derogatory about those books.

Graeme's picture

... yes. I have a weakness for puns. And that one's even worse - a bad pun on a good song title :-).

I think, and it's something I've heard editors say as well, that writers spend so long on their books they can become defensive. Defensive as in 'DEFCON 1- INITIATE GLOBAL MASS DESTRUCTION' :-P. And they're as bad, or sometimes some are as bad, with editors who dare to think they might want to suggest changes to books. But a reviewer who says something less than madly enthusiastic?

Oh, boy.

But those people, I suspect, haven't been through the mill. What mill? The mill of alpha and beta readers (and not just readers selected from friends who wouldn't dare say anything bad), and the mill of Agent rejections - Form Rejections or otherwise. Heck, I sometimes think writers need thick skins even more than they need keyboards.

On the other hand, and I'm not in any way (at least not any way any lawyers should read) suggesting this is the case, but the lawsuit has probably got the writer in question a lot more publicity than he'd ever have got otherwise. Not that it's a type of marketing campaign I'd try, or recommend... :-).

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