Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Age of Internet and the Loss of Common Sense.... or, Hey, Idiot, Stop Screwing It Up For the Rest of Us!!!!

Well, how’s that for a long and wayward title to a blog post? Do you have the feeling you’re in for a rant? Good, because you are!!! Buckle up and grab some popcorn, it’s going to be a doozy.

Those of you who follow my meandering posts on a regular basis might recall how much I adore anonymous sniping and otherwise nasty forms of internet discussion. While blogging and the Internet in general have transformed the speed and ease with which we can communicate, it’s also had some nasty side effects. Common sense and good old fashioned manners seems to go out the window when there’s a computer screen between the speaker and the listener – probably because the speaker is an ass, but I’ll digress on that point for the moment.

I think a large portion of the problem is lack of accountability. The sniping in comments when cloaked by a username or plain old ‘anonymous’, those I can overlook because as far as I’m concerned, if you don’t have the nerve to sign your name to a sentiment, I don’t have time to listen to it.... huge disclaimer – that’s not all anon comments, just the ones that are derogatory or otherwise intend to twist the topic.. I get the need to use anon for certain things, such as asking questions that you’re afraid not knowing makes you seem less than professional (I’ve done this... I’ve never signed anonymous to insult someone, but then, I’ve never found the need to insult someone when they’re not standing in front of me either... I’m funny that way – if I’m going to say it, I’ll say it to you).

This particular thing has been bugging me for a while, in many facets. I mention blogging because obviously we can all relate – as I am discussing it on my blog and all... I’ve also had other cyber friends email to complain about crits they received on various posts and contests... which I also disliked – if you have a serious problem with the crit, open it up on the board you’re on, don’t email me about it because then I feel the need to reply with long windy diatribes about not asking for crits when you want praise... (Ornery aren’t I? I am. I know that) Not everyone likes critique, and I do understand that. A lot of us blogging, do so because the back pats for our writing really do give us a boost... yes, I like them too, obviously, I’m still here. I also like the connection with other writers... la, la, but, if I put my stuff up for critique, I want to hear the flaws. That’s the point – to get it ready for publication, not to get unabashed praise.... That is my take, but if it’s not yours then either a) don’t put it up for inspection or b) only put it up for critique with people whose opinion you trust implicitly and will be nice enough for your own sensibilities....

Why am I ranting about this? Because whining about the person who took time to read your stuff and then write, sometimes paragraphs in response, makes me nuts!!! It also makes me not feel like critiquing because I’m afraid I’ll alienate someone. Just, dear writers, keep this in mind, and I think I speak for most writers who are willing to critique for you (but if I’m wrong, correct me in comments) – when I take the time to read for you and offer my honest opinion, I am not pointing out things that I find wrong to be mean, rotten, nasty, or any other variable of evil. I’m pointing out things that read wrong to me. I’m pointing them out from the position of having studied fiction writing for all of my adult life, both as a writer and reader. I’m pointing them out from the position of having learned a good deal of craft both on my own and through very reputable class work... If my qualifications are not good enough for you, don’t ask me to read. If you do ask me to read, do not take anything less than unabashed applause as an insult and ask me “who the f#@% are you to criticize me? You’re not even published... or any other variable of implying that I’m beneath you”..... Critique – criticize... anyone else catch the connection there?

Arguing my critique, especially in an inflammatory way, is a waste of time. Why? Because you ask someone to critique to get a fresh set of eyes primarily.... Your critique partner is not the God of your ms, their opinion and insight should not be viewed as a direct order as to how you NEED to change your manuscript. Take it in the spirit it’s intended: as a gift of time and talent which you should thank them for. Mull their insights and use or discard as you see fit. If you receive the same type of feedback from more than one reader, I’d say it’s probably a good change to make, but it’s still your novel and a critique does not take your authorship away...

Ah.... basically, arguing a critique point by point is like calling the person who just did you a huge favor a big moron. It’s obnoxious. And furthermore, it doesn’t make you exactly a rocket scientist to have trusted someone you don’t respect with your work.

Wow, that portion of today’s rant took up a lot of space didn’t it? It’s been simmering for a bit. I’ve had a few beta readers critiquing for me, and all are lovely. They’ve offered some wonderful and useful feedback and, I hope, they’ve pointed out everything they truly found wrong because, just in case anyone wondered, I can take it. I want all of the ugly uglies... because it’ll make it stronger in the end. There are also a number of writers that I would critique for any time they needed, but in the future I’ll be more careful with that – I think from now on I’ll need to know someone fairly well before I let something like blatant honesty ruin the relationship. Or maybe I’ll just give out a disclaimer: I’m brutal so if you want me to read for you, prepare to hear what I actually think!!!! It wouldn’t work anyway, though; the people who need the disclaimer are too convinced their work is perfect.

But on this note, while it might not really bother anyone that I’ll be more selective in critiquing for people, it bothers a lot of us that agents and editors rarely offer feedback. Most of them have said in interviews or on their blogs that they do so sparingly because they get such nasty responses when they are, in reality, trying to help. And for free!!! They don’t get paid to respond to writers they aren’t publishing. Why do so many aspiring novelists feel that the fact they finished writing a book entitles them to something? It doesn’t. You wrote a book because you wanted to. You’ll get it published if it’s good enough, you try hard enough, the fates align just right... and a plethora of other things. But if it’s never published, don’t blame anyone else for being tasteless – it’s annoying.

Anyway, most of us treat feedback from agents and editors like nuggets of gold. Because they’re rare. And they’re especially rare because of all the nitwits who queried before us and then sent hate mail because they were given honest feedback. What does this have to do with the Internet Mentality? They’re more rampant now that you can just click the reply button and spew your anger over email.

In researching agents, I found more than one that will not reply to e-queries unless they want more material. It’s terrible, because it leaves you hanging out there, wondering if they even got your query. Do you know why they don’t reply? Because of the nitwits that load their inbox with nasty diatribes and insults at being rejected. It has nothing to do with them not being polite and everything to do with the dwindling lack of common courtesy exhibited by so many writers and aspiring writers... and they’re ruining it for the rest of us!

I’m guessing that the people who do this must be pretty green, or they just have such a bad temper and lack of self control that they don’t think. I can’t imagine many of them finding an agent, even if they’re brilliant – if you’ve ever done this, you should realize that agents do talk to each other, and I’m sure they mention stuff like that.

Well, this is lengthy enough of a rant for today. But I’ve just finished reading a great editor blogger who’s been email flamed over an honest and non-offensive post, and I’ve seen countless agent pages stating they won’t respond to email queries... if you’re anon, or snipey, just remember, there’s someone on the other end of that keyboard and they might stop playing. You might be ruining countless writers’ chances of learning more about that agent so they can submit, or learning more about the business... you might be taking away countless critiques simply because you are too immature to have honest communications with those around you when there’s a little screen involved that keeps you from accountability.... ironic that you should be an aspiring writer with those particular faults, but there it is... if your biggest hope in your chosen profession is to ‘make a difference’ – well, that you’ve done, but I doubt it’s the difference you were aiming for...

Okay guys – long rambly rant wrap up.... your turn, what’s ticking you off today?


Anonymous said...

I've been sitting for about five minutes trying to frame a suitably snarky response, all in fun, and, yeah, my brain's applesauce.

So, I'll just be honest and say - good rant, M.M. I'm not nearly as far into the writing process as you are to know all the agents-stuff, but I saw moon's blog and was rather mystified, as well.

I work in a field in which everyone's snippy, it seems, everyone wants care. My policy is - if you don't tell me directly (ie, if Mr. Smith told Ms. Woohoo who told me), I pretend I never heard anything. I can't deal with a problem second-hand.

I will go back and re-read your post and try to respond more intelligently - this is just off the top of my head. :) Happy Sunday!

moonrat said...

sigh. tell me about it!!! woe, woe.

Jerseygirl89 said...

Nice rant - remind me never to piss you off. :)

And right now I'm way too sleepy (that's what ticking me off today, it's what ticking me off every day) to think of anything else intelligent to say!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Aerin,

I thought that was fairly intelligent, actually. Every once in a while it helps to vent. Moonie's post really threw me because I honest to God can't find any reason to be annoyed about it at all. What reasonable friggin person thinks it's okay to show up at a publisher's office and demand to speak with an editor? No one, which means the people who emailed are either stupid, not familiar with publishing, the type of moron who would do that, or all of the above.

Happy Sunday to you, too. I think I need a drink.

Hi Moonie,

Ultra sorry about your email flaming. I've noticed a lot of nasty comments floating about on agent blogs lately, too, and it always throws me because I somehow think writers should have more sense or something..

Hi Jersey,

You couldn't piss me off - you're one of the good ones.

I hope your Sunday's happy and you get to take a little nap, too.

ORION said...

Aloha! Long time no comment (me!)
well as you know Lottery was long listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction in the UK and I can't believe how many people review a book based on its cover and what they THINK it's about...I don't mind honest reviews by readers but if you haven't read the book and get snippy about it well...gosh...I'm at a loss!!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Patricia,

First of all, congratulations on all of the success with Lottery - as you know, I think it's fantastic!!!

Second, I don't even know what to say to that!!! I can't even imagine why someone would say anything about a book they haven't read, let alone a full review judging by the cover (and I thought the cover was awesome, so I don't even see how you could say anything negative about it!!!)

Sigh - another problem with the Internet, it gives a platform to everyone, regardless of whether or not they deserve one.

For what it's worth, I've given and recommended Lottery to more people than I could count and they all loved it. I can't wait for news of your next release.

Stephen Parrish said...

Most people who have asked me for an opinion about their work have been seeking praise and confirmation of genius rather than true criticism. The deal I insist on now (whether I'm critting or being critted) is that nothing positive will be said in the critique. Nothing. That way nobody is upset about the absence or paucity of praise.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Stephen,

You know, that might be an interesting way to go - no praise. I think praise has its place, though, because I can tell where the writing is really working by what the reader remembers most vividly, and I try to open most critiques with what I liked or where it worked well, etc.

I just had feedback from two beta readers and it was very helpful - first, they caught awkward writing that I just missed because I was too close to it, but they also caught major things that I wouldn't have seen at all, because I'm too familiar with the backstory to know when I'm under or over explaining or when I'm dragging the story down in some way.

By the way, for my own beta readers, in case you were wondering - this was not in any way aimed at you guys, I think your feedback was great and I really appreciate the eyes and I wouldn't mind reading for any of you at any time...

overall, though, what I'm finding is that you have to be very specific with writers on how you crit beforehand... and that's still not a guarantee, a lot of people say they want honest when they really want praise.

Josephine Damian said...

I’m a brutal bitch so if you want me to read for you, prepare to hear what I actually think!!!!

I so totally have to put this on my blogroll.

IMO, I see a greater level or rudeness all across society - it's not just anonymous online sniping.

Stephen: So true about people who ask for crits, especially from people they hardly know, are the ones who only expect high praise and bristle when they don't get it. LOVE your policy about NOTHING but negativity.

Some gal I did not know, not a regulur commenter/supporter of my blog - or ever made one single comment - had the nerve to email and ask me to read her entire MS! I said: Send me the first three pages as an attachment. No surprise it was awful and I only read the first few sentences before I stopped.

Because of this person, and no doubt many more out there, I've taken down my email - the last thing I want is a bunch of strangers robbing me of time I don't have to give favors to people I don't know and who don't deserve it.

I'd happily crit any of my bloggy regulars.

Also, someone apparantly did not like my politics and left a snarky anonymous comment on my blog - which I of course deleted. I have strong suspicions as to who this person was. Still, I've also decided not to allow any more anon comments.

Life is too short for this BS and writers are especially insecure, neurotic and whiny. Cormac McCarthy doesn't associate at all with any writer. I'm beginning to understand why.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Josie,

Wheee! How did I know you'd agree with the sentiment? I'd use that disclaimer as my blog tagline except it's probably not appropriate for a middle grade author. To be honest, I'm thinking about changing things around here, so that it's defined as a writer's blog - I'll develop another for readers on my website when I get to the publishing stage.

For what it's worth, your crits are among my favorites, when we've worked together at JJ's crucible or on posted works, because they're blunt and they give me something to work with. I thought it was too funny that you thought I was a glutton for punishment in thinking of putting my first page up in your contest because you'd just critted my short - that crit was dead helpful.

To be honest, that contest of yours spurred my email flutter of disgruntledness and if I wasn't so annoyed it would have been funny. Anyone who read the intro or even one of your posts prior to that would have known how you crit. You damn well said it up front.

Ah well, like I said, you have to know the person's sensibilities to really be honest and who has the time to tinker with the hurt feelings? IMO the author is in charge of the work. There's no reason to argue a crit - use or don't use the vantage point, but denegrating the person who just took time out to help you is way more mean spirited than honest feedback.

Kalynne Pudner said...

Wow, I get all caught up in my kids' crises for a week, and somehow I missed a crack in the critiquing door? Where do you find someone to critique a ms (besides those fake editors who charge for it)? I was looking to find an online critique group or something...actually googled a bit in that direction. But then I got distracted by those darned crises.

You are so right, Merry; it is frustrating. My friends and family love my novel. The couple of students who have read it love it too (even when they're no longer students, therefore have nothing to gain from sucking up). But the one agent who asked for a full responded with nothing more helpful than, "Very well-done, but not for me."

Please tell me where to find the discussion I missed!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Kalynne,

First, usually agents don't say 'very nice' unless they mean it, so I'd say you're on the right track there. The best beta readers tend to be other writers, because they're also well versed in the craft and look at the writing both as a reader and with an eye for editorial problems, arc, plot, pacing and all of the big submission no no's.

Three of the beta readers who read for me are other writers who I met blogging (though I've known them all for a good stretch and we've also done critique blogs together and things like that.)

What genre are you writing in? It's great if you can find critique partners who write in similar genre, though it's not mandatory... I write middle grade and only one of my beta readers writes middle grade.

A lot of the online critique work I've done has been in blogs - agents will host critique blogs sporatically (in fact Janet Reid is hosting a Query critique right now, her link's on my blogroll) Also check out my blogroll for writers - a lot of them will host writing exercises and challenges as well as work on query and pitch together.

JJdebenedictus did a great one called the crucible a while back and Christine Eldin does regular exercises. Start checking out some of those and some writers that comment on other writer blogs and pretty soon you'll have a great circle of writing friends.

I've actually posted things about needing a beta reader and had other bloggers I knew offer in comments.

If you write childrens, I highly recommend compuserve's community. They have a board called kidcrit in their ya section where the members crit each other and they are all fabulous. Everything from newbie to multi published over there and all great.

Ello said...

Good rant Merry!!! I love that brutal bitch part. That's why I want you to critique my stuff!

But you know, in general my writer's workshop classes sucked because people just don't know how to give or receive a good critique.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Ello,

That works out well for me, your crit was great and I look forward to reading more of your story whenever you're ready.

I think it depends on the group of writers, but larger groups are a bit worse because there's always someone who can't tell the difference between critiquing the writing and critiquing the person. As much as I advocate being honest, I've seen people go overboard in brutalness too - you see it more online because most people aren't that nervy in person, but I have seen people snark on critique boards instead of offering constructive criticism.

It's a hard balance. Just because you've put your stuff up for critique doesn't mean you're up for being personally insulted... and likewise, someone not liking the writing doesn't mean they dislike the writer...

Precie said...

I know I'm late to this party but...

Brutal Bitches Unite!!

As many blog friends already know, I'm a feedback junkie...and I soooo want to know what I'm doing wrong more than what I might be doing right. :)

On a separate note, I'm still incensed about the flak Moonrat caught for giving reasonable, rational "You should already know this" advice.

So preach on, sista!

ChristineEldin said...

I agree about the critiques. Anyone who takes the time to read, then carefully craft thoughts about someone else's work needs to be thanked, and plenty! It's not easy combing through somebody else's work.
I've asked 6 people to go through my first four chapters to make sure I'm not making any catastrophic mistakes. They've given me valuable feedback. My story is already much improved. I am indebted to them.

Anyway, good rant.

Mary Witzl said...

I don't have to tell you I agree, do I? This is all just so true! And nothing screams 'amateur' as loudly as a silly 'How dare you?' response to an agent's rejection. Every time I've gotten a few words of feedback from an agent, I have carefully filed them away, usually acted on the criticism, then written back to the agent to thank him or her (and I've had to work hard NOT to sound too slavishly grateful.)

Although I'm somewhat cowardly and wimpy in many respects, I will dish out criticism -- of the negative kind -- when I feel it is called for, for precisely the reasons you've stated. Praise is delicious, but if it isn't earned, I don't want it. I need to hear about my clunky writing, the protaganists who've acted out of character, the obvious cliches. A lot of people seem to send their work out because they want the praise -- and nothing more. I can only conclude that they haven't been at this game long and are likely very young. And because there are such a lot of people like this, I am reluctant to exchange critiques with people I don't know well.

I want you for a beta reader too! I'm still pals with a number of people who've hated stuff I've written and told me so. They're the guys I need to have around me if I want to rise to the to top and get published. As I sincerely do.

Merry Monteleone said...

Crimeny!!! I'm sorry guys, I didn't get an alert that you guys commented!


This particular post started because I was incensed that so many idiot writers (or non writers who just wanted the fame and glory and didn't pay attention to the whole 'open a vein as you type out your first few unpublishable tomes and maybe then you'll earn the right to move up the food chain' thing) were making such boneheaded mistakes that cost the rest of us what can be really good constructive help to get there... moonrat's blog is one of my favorites and that particular post had nothing even remotely inflammatory in it - her flamers weren't even writers just gawker readers.

Likewise, I've seen a lot of great agents say that they won't respond to e-queries unless they want pages. Only because so many writers will fire back nasty responses to a rejection - I don't know what kind of a moron would waste their time, in some cases scare a person they've never met for doing their job, and ruin their own reputation in the process, but the upshot is, the rest of us who have taken the time to research and really crossed our t's and dotted our i's won't be getting a response to even let us know it was received... we won't even be sure a request for pages wasn't lost out in the ethernet somewhere - and that's disheartening.

And I'm with you - sometimes it's hard to distinguish where your own writing is faulty, and that second set of eyes really does give you a much better look at the book from the perspective of someone who isn't so close to the characters.

By the way, you I would crit for, if you ever need the eyes.

Hi Christine,

Thanks for stopping in - and yes, reading for someone is different than reading for enjoyment... I've enjoyed a lot of the crit reading I've done and am doing, but at the same time, I'm taking notes of things to mention and at times taking whole sections and giving examples of things that could be reworded ect... I never expect anyone to take my word as gospel, but for pete's sake, don't ask me if you didn't want my opinion...

Those that will take the time to read for me are awesome, whether with detailed feedback and specific reference or overall impression, all of it takes time (away from their own work I might add) and is really appreciated.


I will beta read for you any time - in fact, if you're ready now it would be an excellent time because I've just started researching my next wip but will be only researching and outlining for a while, so my schedule's a bit clearer for beta reading than if I was in the middle of writing or editing...

I'll tell you, my best beta readers have all been blogging buddies - it's become my writing circle. A damn good one, too, look how many have gotten agents and deals recently, and I have a hunch most, if not all, will make it there in the not too distant future.