Sometimes, you’ve just got to ignore the rules

One of the rules of thumb for a writer is to never, publicly anyway, respond to a negative review no matter how egregious it may be. It’s a good rule. You aren’t going to change the review, or the reviewer’s mind, and you almost always come off looking like a jerk.

I had one review for a story I had submitted to a review service. I got back a 1-star review with a 10-point bullet list of all the things that were wrong in the story. I was gearing up to let said reviewer have it with both barrels, when I realized that none of the 10 things he’d listed had actually been in the story to begin with. Either he had the reading comprehension of a brick wall, had skimmed through the story without paying any attention or he had some other agenda.

Either way, the review was not fair in the least and I contacted the service to point out the issue. They got back to me a few days later to say the review would not be published and the reviewer had been suspended after a review of some of his work for them had “raised serious issues and concerns.”

The bottom line is this: Not everyone is going to love your work. Some critiques will be valid. Others will be from people with agendas. And a few will be from people who get off on attacking authors for a host of perceived “violations” to their worldview. It comes with the territory and the best thing you can do with 99.9% of them is to laugh it off and move on.

But every once in a while something comes along that falls into that 0.1% range and attention must be paid. Not to mention a good old fashioned fisking. This is one of those times. An author friend of mine, Daniel Humphreys, also reached the breaking point and fisked a particularly odious review. Give it a read here. As with me, Dan’s issue isn’t the negative review itself, its that the reviewer is either flat out lying or lacks basic reading comprehension skills.

I recently entered Galen’s Way into a contest – one of many awards/contests I put it up for this summer – and over the weekend I got back the critique from the judge who was assigned my book. The judge had given it a score of 65 out of 100, which was surprising given it has received nothing but 4 and 5 star reviews. But this is the chance you take in these things, that you’ll get a judge who scores low while another judge would have given it a much higher score.

Again, it happens, and you move on. Until you read the critique and you have to wonder if the judge actually read the book or skimmed through it? Also, given the comments you’re about to read, did the judge’s biases torpedo this book’s chances to earn a higher score? I’ll let you decide.

Let’s begin – my comments are in bold:

COVER (10 out of 15) Is the cover appealing?  Does it represent the work?  Does the back cover blurb lead you to read the book?

Comments: The cover art is great. I think the back blurb could have given the reader more information about the characters personalities.

Fair enough, although I’m not one for giving away the entire book on the back cover.

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MECHANICS/EDITING/FORMATTING (14 out of 15) Are there issues with grammar, spelling, punctuation, or formatting?  (Judge may give some wiggle room for voice, but none of these areas should feel wrong.)

Comments: None

Alright, so far so good. But as I already know the final score and I’ve got over a third of my total points already, at this point I’m wondering how bad the rest of the categories are going to be. I find out real quick.

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HOOK (2 out of 10) Does the first chapter/section of the book make you want to read more?

Comments: The intro does not grab me at all. The first thing Galan does is kill someone so he can sit at their table. The author calls this “self defence”, no, just no. The second thing Galan does is tell a young teen to “go home and have babies”, no, just no.

Here we go. And my judge, who is anonymous, starts to out themselves as a Social Justice Warrior here. I picture the judge as 80% likely to be female (the remaining 20% chance that it’s a male who reached critical mass in soy infusion) named Karen, with several cats and dyed blue hair.

First off, the character’s name is Galen and you botch the names of other characters as well to the point where I must question if you were actually paying attention to what you read.

Second, the scenes you describe above did not happen. Galen does not kill someone just to sit at their table. Galen is already seated at his own table when the Court Chamberlain of Salacia arrives and asks if they can find somewhere more private to discuss a “delicate” matter. Galen looks over at the one table nearby that is occupied and invites the three men – who are deliberately written to make you dislike them – to leave. One objects, insults are exchanged and the man stands up to engage Galen in a fight. This is when Galen shoots the man in question, before he can draw his own weapon and fire at Galen. So yes, self-defense applies. The scene also shows you the world Galen lives in. It is not a genteel place. People do not resolve their differences by finding a safe space and having a chat over a soy soda. It also shows Galen is a man of action and one not to be trifled with.

As for telling a young teen to “go make babies” you leave out much that happens to lead up to that cherry-picked quote. The young teen in question is part of a group of four people looking to ambush and kill Galen in a dark alleyway. He dispatches the three men – one being the young teen’s boyfriend – but spares her as he clearly recognizes she is in over her head. He then gives her money to return to her home village and tells her to meet a boy and make babies. Again, Galen is a man of action, direct and of few words. He is telling her that this life is not for her and she should go back home where she belongs and live a normal life. This scene shows Galen is not some dumb killing machine, but a man of honor with a code that he lives by despite the world he operates in.

Thirdly, if you are going to judge a book, you should have some basic understanding of the genre it is written in. The book is filled with nods to Star Wars. The bar scene above was a tip of the hat to “Han shot first.” Everyone I’ve spoken to has gotten that reference.

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PLOT (for Fiction) (9 out of 15) Was the plot/topic interesting?  Did you notice any major holes or unanswered questions? For speculative fiction, was the world-building/science understandable and integrated well into the plot?  Did the pacing feel natural?

Comments: The plot is decent. I did care about what would happen at the end. The characters felt only half formed though. We learn a little about Galan, but Rhyannon is so flat. I wish that she had more personality. She could have been more proactive instead of just being acted upon.

Again, its Galen and Rhiannon. I expect a contest judge to be paying attention to details here.

I’m not sure how much more you need to know about Galen. We know he was an orphan of mysterious origins. That he, at a very young age, had organized other street orphans to make sure they were fed and clothed before being conscripted into the galaxy’s elite military corp. That his mentor in the corp recognized something special in the boy and tried to nurture and shape him. That he was tortured by that corp and left it. That said corp wanted nothing to do with trying to capture him when they started losing ships and men in the effort. We know he became a mercenary, but never lost that core of integrity and honor his mentor saw in him as a child.

As for our kidnapped Princess, she has gone in an instant from a life of privilege to being hunted down to be murdered by men at the behest of her own father. I don’t know of anyone who would be able to process that and immediately function as if nothing was wrong. It takes her awhile to come to terms with it, but I think she comes into her own by the end of the story. (Another point that makes me think the judge skimmed this book.)

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WRITING/VOICE (9 out of 15) Rate the writing/prose.  Was it easy to follow?  Was it interesting?  Was there a distinct voice? Did it fit with the age category and genre of the book?

Comments: The author writes sex, sexuality and female characters in a way that feels paternalistic puritanical and creepy all at once. This is such an easy fix. Have Galan look, and then feel sheepish afterword’s. Give the princess more motivation and personality. Have Galan send her out to do something that seems important while he goes to the orb thing, so that she isn’t just sitting around.

SJW status confirmed right here and I’m now almost 100% certain Karen is female.

First, I don’t write sex scenes. Primarily because I’m not that good at it. Neither was Tom Clancy, although he went ahead and tried. Me? Nope. Not gonna happen. I write fade to black, which has the advantage of letting the reader’s imagination fill in what happened. In all likelihood, what they imagine in their head is going to be better than anything I write in the first place. So if you’re looking for a steamy sex scene may I direct you to the romance section of our library. Also, I hate sex scenes in books and movies that are in there solely for the sake of having a sex scene. If it doesn’t advance the plot, it doesn’t need to be in there. Creepy? My definition of creepy is people who enjoy watching other people have sex. That’s creepy.

 As for “Have Galan look, and then feel sheepish afterword’s”, first its afterwards and again, his name is Galen. But to address the point, Galen is a man of action. A man who has led a man’s life and he’s not ashamed of it – to quote Captain Daniel Gregg (wonderfully portrayed by Rex Harrison in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir in 1947) – so the Princess is not the first nude woman he has seen. He wouldn’t feel sheepish. But in your skimming, you obviously missed the parts where he felt outraged at what had been done to her, and the other three kidnapped woman, at being put on display by their kidnapper as they had been before his arrival on Nammu and does everything he can to respect her dignity in the circumstance.   

 As for “Have Galan send her out to do something that seems important while he goes to the orb thing, so that she isn’t just sitting around.” May I point out that she has every bounty hunter in the galaxy looking to kill her? That Galen has seen to it that she is safely hidden away? That if she pokes her head out of Sanctuary she runs the very real risk of being killed? That she in fact does leave when she realizes that Galen intends to sacrifice himself to save her? That she goes and rallies the leaders of several planets to come to Galen’s aid? That she returns to her homeworld and stares down both of her murderous parents and takes over as her planet’s monarch, vowing to repair the damage done by her parents to the Alliance? How much more do you want the poor woman to do?

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INTEREST  (11 out of 15) Did this book keep your interest throughout?  Was the subject matter and the manner in which it was presented interesting?

Comments: See above comments. I did like the world building and the chase plot was fun and neat to read. The ending was pretty satisfying.

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OVERALL (10 of 15) Give this book an overall rating.  Would you recommend this book to someone who enjoys this genre?

Comments: This book was okay. Galan does become a better man as the book goes on. I suppose I would recommend it.

Gee, thanks. But by this point the good ship S.S. Galen’s Way is sinking to the bottom of the sea after taking direct hits from the torpedoes you fired earlier.

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For the most part, you are better off just ignoring reviews like this. I only posted it to show as an example that some folks out there are incapable of separating their worldviews from being able to fairly judge something with an open mind. As far as this contest goes, Galen’s Way was doomed from the instant it was assigned to this biased judge. As authors, you are going to run into reviewers who allow their biases to color how they read your work and allow those biases to frame a review that is neither fair nor accurate.

You will have to find a way to live with that.  But you don’t have to like it. 

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