Soapbox Saturday – The Curious Case of Honesty in Writing

Hi all, Rose here.  This is probably the longest entry aside from my reviews I’ve penned in a while.  To make a few precursory updates before delving into today’s topic, I’ve updated my LSBXE Tutorials tab to reflect the new tutorials up on my Youtube channel.  Individual entries on the blog for those will go up starting with this coming’s “Writer Wednesday” feature.  I missed it this past week unfortunately, but I’m hoping that updates will be a little more smooth in the weeks to come.

So the topic of today’s Soapbox Saturday is two fold, though under one heading because oddly enough, they relate in a rather interesting way despite being two separate matters.  We’re going to talk a little bit about honesty in the scheme of writing in a two-bit approach: as it has to do with how an author approaches their craft and markets it out to the world, and how readers receive it.  

I think there’s an expectation that if you are a writer in any dimension, regardless if you’re a reader, fiction writer, researcher, blogger, in academia, political analyst, medical writer, sports play-by-play analyst, what have you – you’re writing about something that engages you, something that either you’re passionate about or that you’re asked to reflect on.  In that expectation, the words that you put on the page are a reflection of ideals that you’re using in your own voice to carry ideas, stories, musings, knowledge, experiences.   There’s an unspoken rule about honesty there.  If you’re putting words on a page, you’re leaving your words to speak for whatever you’re writing about, and that has a reflection on what you’re putting out to be consumed by anyone who may read what you have to say.

For me, you guys know I put a lot of weight in my words for anything that I write, I’ve mentioned this before in some of my previous Soapbox entries, but it’s important, so I don’t mind revisiting it.  Whether it’s my reviews, my fiction, my blog posts, my expansion on controversial topics or musings on current events, my research – I approach them in a way that’s true to the experiences and knowledge that I have, and I present them to you with the knowledge that you can take or leave them for what they are.  That you can gain something from them and  judge them for what value they have to you, and that’s totally cool with me – regardless on the scale where your opinion of them may fall.  I wouldn’t write it if it didn’t have some significance for me.  I write to my passion, but I also write with conviction and the belief that the words I put on the page are reflective of anything that embodies what I perceive on a myriad of topics.  Now such words may not be set in stone (any person is free to change their minds at any point in time, given education, experience, etc.), but at any given point in time, when you read my words, they are a reflection of those dimensions/convictions covered.

If you don’t believe in the words that you put on a page, what value do they have?  For what reason would you write them?  What value do they have for other people if it comes across that you yourself do not value what you write, that you don’t believe in whatever you’re writing about?  Ask yourself those questions as I present you two cases I came across this week that had my mind buzzing in the aftermath.

One of these actually upset me because it was a violation of trust on one hand and a backhanded insult on another (including the “non-apology”), the other case separate from that – I would say – is more on the level of “We’ll respectfully agree to disagree, but I’m not happy with the context of the message sold.”

Part I:  The Curious Case of Kendall Grey – On Becoming a “Sellout”

inhale cover
This is the first book in Kendall Grey’s “Just Breathe” series, called “Inhale”. I purchased the book in July 2012 from Amazon. Pretty cover, no?

Kendall Grey is the author of the Adult UF series “Just Breathe” and an erotic series called “Hard Rock Harlots”.  I’d first heard of Grey when her first book “Inhale” was rec’ed to me by a few of my friends on GR.  I didn’t even hesitate buying the first two books in the series based on the reviews – because much of it really appealed to me at first (though I knew it’d be a while before I could read it – my to-read stacks are miles high and I’m still attempting to catch up).

I’m a huge, huge reader of Urban Fantasy in any age group.   And I don’t mind steamy elements, even erotic, in adult UF either.  Erotica was a genre I didn’t read much, if at all in the past, but when I let down my walls and started perusing some other titles in the genre, I found some awesome authors that way.  Haven’t looked back since.  I think it goes to say that regardless of the genre you read or write in, we all have our preferences and as long as we are reading/writing things that we love and are able to take some value from them – it’s okay, right?

Not according to Ms. Grey.

On May 15th, 2013, Grey had a guest post feature on the site AuthorsForLife.org, where she wrote a rather lengthy rant on how she became a “sellout” when her urban fantasy series did not sell well.  She mentioned in the article that she “sold out” by writing an erotica series.  The post has since been deleted, but you may read the original text of the article in this screenshot  (thanks to Katie(babs) via Goodreads).   I’ll let you take the time to read it for yourself, but for those who want the short version, read on,  I’ll put in a key quote that’s telling of this whole deal.

I made $10,000 in two weeks off my new erotica book STRINGS. Nearly three weeks later, I’m selling over 100 copies of the book a day. And this piece of trash never even cracked Amazon’s top 100. Imagine how much I’d have made if I’d busted open THAT list. My beautiful, artistic, deep JUST BREATHE urban fantasy series? Well, I’m still in the hole there if that tells you anything.

I spent exactly two months plotting, writing, editing, and publishing STRINGS. The JUST BREATHE Trilogy? Four YEARS.
My total production cost for STRINGS was under $500. I’m embarrassed to reveal how much money I poured into producing the three JUST BREATHE books.

How did I transform from nobody to Somebody? I sold out.

And you can too!
Or not.

I know it’s depressing to hear that in order to find success, you may have to compromise your principles. I’ve come to grips with the fact that in the current market, trashy smut sells, and urban fantasy does not. Tough shit for me. If you want to sell books, you have to feed the market what it craves.

So the summary here – she calls her own work a “piece of trash” and makes the claim she “sold out” in order to gain profits by writing an erotica book that she wasn’t passionate about at all.

My reaction – What the Dickens happened here?  =( Suddenly my esteem of a woman passionate about whales (I share a passion with marine life myself, only my passion revolves around rescuing sea turtles – that’s an entry for another date) and having a rather decently written story (I’ve perused only a little of “Inhale” and what little I did read impressed me) takes a serious nose dive.  Not because she’s a “sell out”, but because of the lack of confidence in her own work and how she tells an aspiring group of writers that they have to cater to the market in order to be successful.  But that isn’t the limit of the worst part of what she says.  Oh no.  It gets worse.  Waaaay worse.

It would be one thing if she were frustrated that her pet project didn’t do so well compared to something she dashed off more quickly.  As writers, failure is something many of us struggle with – some of our pieces we spend an uber amount of time on don’t do as well as others we may spend little time on.  C’est la vie, darlings.  But then she collectively proceeds to throw the erotic genre and HER OWN BOOK’S FANS under the bus.

This section was just a bit before the previous one.  I’m quoting it in full.

Some hard truths came to light through this process. The biggest revelation was that as authors, we have to decide whether we’re in this business to make art or to make money. We can’t have both. Very few authors make art that sells. Commercial viability does not lend itself to artistic endeavors, and vice-versa. If New York doesn’t want your book, then you’re probably too creative. If they do want it, then you’re marketable. New York publishers run a business. They don’t give a shit about art.

Apparently, they have something there. Readers generally (don’t throw stones—I’m referring to the masses here, not individuals) don’t want art either. They want easily digestible, bite-sized nuggets of warm fuzzies. They want simplicity. Art is neither easily digestible (you sometimes have to chew on it for days to filter meaning from it) nor simple.

So, not only are you saying NY publishing doesn’t appreciate your art, but your readers, specifically your erotic book’s readers, don’t either because your erotica book got more attention than your UF series?

Where is the nearest table?  How many times can I plummet my forehead against it – John Green style – before any part of that collective post makes rational sense?   On a serious note, I was mentally fuming at that point when I read the whole of the article.  And this message was oriented towards a group of aspiring authors, no?

I don’t agree with that reasoning at all.  Publishing houses aren’t going to be happy with those words, and neither will readers.  I don’t see how being dishonest and lacking investment/sacrificing your voice for anything that you write will get you anywhere.  You may do it for a time that way, but honestly, that’s the surest way to burn out of the industry because you’re not being honest with yourself in terms of the things you want to write.  You’re not being honest with your readership either by translation.  It’s a different motivation to write what you love and stretch your wings to different things versus writing something you hate in order to be successful.  The former actually helps you grow as a writer, and by no means is considered “selling out”.  The latter?  Well, I’ll be blunt – sacrificing yourself might work for you for a time, but in the long run, you’ll realize (the hard way) that it’s no life to live.  Many of us can’t make a living on writing alone, so we have to find ways to get by in order to do the things we love.   Those of us who are fortunate enough to write for a living don’t do it without bumps in the road, and we have to weather those bumps and take the blows sometimes.  But if those bumps make us fall, we get back up and march on our merry way because we love the work we do, not because it guarantees the promises of  monetary wealth.  There are no surefire guarantees.  What may work in one realm may not work in another.  In the words of Bruce Hornsby – “That’s just the way it is.”  

There are no promises of success, only those successes we create paths toward ourselves.  The wealth – for many of us – comes from the opportunities to write, and writing what we are passionate about.

twitterconvo2kg
Not very impressive considering the author generalizes and backhands an entire community just because they don’t care for her work. I love Goodreads, personally, but it’s getting a lot of unfair flack, and Grey just added to that generalization with her conversation here about her work “Strings.”

I’m not the only one who feels this way.   The always lovely Jenny Trout, the kick-awesome Lauren Dane, and the eloquent Heidi Cullinan have expressed some of the same sentiments I have on the matter.  And they’re quite successful in their own genres/endeavors.

What got me more than riled up after this consideration was not only seeing the twitter conversations issued only days before this post (good to know Grey considers members of Goodreads “m*f*rs” just because they didn’t like the book), but also the half-hearted “apology” Kendall Grey issued on her blog Friday morning in response to a poster who confronted her on the matter.

This was just a part of the B.S. of that “apology”:

1. Aside from some Tweets I was tagged in on May 15, your comment is the first negative one I’ve directly received about my article. You are also the first commenter on my blog to address this issue.

My inbox is overflowing with praise from authors thanking me for writing the post. They are afraid to publicly support me because they fear being crucified as I was. I understand and fully respect that. My friends tell me there’s a torrent of fury on Goodreads and some blogs about my post. I have not read a single one and have no interest in doing so. Therefore, I can’t address anything other than the specific items you discussed here.

I don’t even know what to say to this.  This is deflecting the issue.  Maybe there are authors who feel the same way Grey does – I don’t doubt that, but it shows an insecurity.   It would be a far more constructive thing to try to educate people and say that you DON’T have to sacrifice writing what you love in order to be successful, but it does take quite a bit of work.  IT TAKES WORK.  I can understand the insecurity some writers feel when their work doesn’t do well, but seriously?  Insulting your readership like Grey did isn’t the way to go about it.  Not at all.  And to be blunt, I’m dubious at the outpouring of support over an author who basically just denounced not only the genre she was writing in, but also her readership.

It takes a far greater maturity to be able to respect the fact that while there are different trends and flows in the industry, it doesn’t make one readership less than another.  Many of us love to read many things.  (I, for one, read just about everything that comes my way.)   It’s disingenuous to insinuate that one readership (in Kendall’s case, UF) is better than another (erotica).  They’re two different readerships, but not mutually exclusive.  And what gets me, there are erotic elements in Grey’s UF series?  Why the attribution of selling out then?  Erotica is a genre.  People write in it, for some it’s their cuppa, for others it’s not.  We can respect differences without backhanding, belittling, or terming a popular genre as “selling out.”

2. I took responsibility for my snarky words when I sent them to Authors for Life for posting. That blog caters to developing writers who want information and stories about other authors’ experiences with publishing. They were my audience. Not bloggers. Not readers. Not anyone else. I can’t control who finds my post, but let’s be clear. I wrote for THAT audience. The fact that others got a hold of it is beyond my control. They weren’t my target audience for that article.

Here’s a thought – when you post something on the web, it’s not private information.  Anyone can read a piece of writing that you share on the webs.  Seriously.  Even if the article was written towards aspiring writers (Why hello there, I’m a part of that group!), it’s the wrong advice to give.  Completely.  It was ill thought out, and it wasn’t snarky – the whole tone of the post seemed angry, bitter, and completely serious.  There wasn’t snark to be had there.  (And I’ve read my fair share of snark.  I’m not often snarky in my own commentary, but you can tell it from when I’m actually saying “Let’s be real…”)

To add further insult to injury, she tries to appropriate her thoughts as a shared mentality among all writers.  That is clearly not the case from the outpouring of responses speaking against Grey’s post collectively.

6. You said: “a book you wrote just to make money.” Absolutely correct! I wrote STRINGS to make money. FOR THE WHALES. If not for STRINGS, that donation you see up above wouldn’t have happened. And let’s be candid. What full-time author doesn’t write to make money? Do you go to your job every day and work for free? The fact that many authors write to put food on the table doesn’t make them bad people. Many well-known actors take on “sell-out” money-maker scripts to pay bills so they can later do the more artistic, smaller budget movies they prefer. It’s the same thing, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Artists do what they have to do to get by. I did it for the whales (and quite honestly, also to see if I could sell outside my preferred genre), and I’ll keep doing it for them.

Sure!  Milk the cause you’re working for just to explain off the contradiction in your motivations.  That’ll do you wonders versus confronting the issue directly! *rolls eyes*  (That’s me being cheeky, just in case anyone’s wondering.)

But on a serious note, here’s the last part of the apology in full:

I am writing to apologize for an article I penned entitled “Selling Out 101” for the Authors For Life blog on May 15. The post was intended strictly for developing writers looking for information to help them along the path to publication. It was written in my personal style, which is rife with tongue-in-cheek sarcasm on a good day and fueled by downright brutal honesty on a bad one. In the post, I set out to share my personal experiences with publishing—what has worked for me, what hasn’t, and why.

Apparently, I’ve caused a ruckus and ruffled many a feather. It seems readers took my words very differently from the spirit in which they were intended. For that, I am sorry. It was never my intention to undermine or insult any author, reader, or genre—especially not those of erotica. I greatly enjoy writing erotica, and I have made many new friends thanks to STRINGS.

As an author, I had to shift out of my comfort zone into a genre that wasn’t my first preference in order to meet the needs of the current market. I could have just as easily written a New Adult book rather than an erotica. I would have complained about that too because it’s not my preference to write New Adult. My complaints have nothing to do with erotica or any other specific genre. They have everything to do with my comfort level outside my genre.

Not having read any of the blogs, comments, or Goodreads posts rebutting my article, I’m unable to address the specific issues readers had problems with. I can only offer my deepest apologies to those I upset.

Funny how that’s followed with the image of a microphone like it’s saying “You just got owned, son!”  *side eyes the screen*

Rubbish.

I can understand the frustration of shifting from one genre to another and going out of one’s comfort zone, but this entire statement is in direct contradiction to many things that were said in the article that was actually posted.

Suffice to say, I’m saddened by this, and Grey comes across to me as insincere in that elongated, backhanded apology for words that were petty and puerile in the first place.  So I’m beyond the measure of disappointed, and for someone whose work I spent my own money for, really, and who I think has talent in the stories she tells, regardless of the genre.  True, I probably wouldn’t have checked into her erotic series, because the tone of it wasn’t my cuppa, but I certainly would’ve read other contributions she made, if it’d hadn’t come down to this.

I’ve decided that I am going to read the books I already have for her because it’s not as if I can return them, but I don’t leave a book unread if I own it and have bought it.  Still, I can’t further support someone who can’t own up to their words, nor who insults her readership and projects her own insecurities as a prompt for success for aspiring writers (and further tries to pass it off like it’s the common grain for other writers as well – not this one, thank you very much).

I think the lesson to be learned here is that in the realm of writing, it’s a field where sometimes you don’t know where the dice will land, but that’s life.  It’s a risk, but it’s one that I think it’s worth doing and worth keeping to what you’re invested within.  You can read any guide to success and they’ll tell you the same thing.

I guess that concludes writing honestly on one end of the spectrum, let me move to the next.  This next rant isn’t nearly as weighted as this one, but it’s well worth exploring because it fits right into the topic I’m covering here, just on the opposite end.

Part II:  The Only Acceptable Review is a Positive One?  Say It Isn’t So!

I’m not going to link to it directly, but I am going to sound off on an article I’ve read in recent days that I discovered via Twitter on the measures of writing a book review.   I understand that there are articles, blog posts, even entire books dedicated to the art of writing a review on just about anything, including books – and I think many of these are well intentioned for those who want to encourage people who may be reluctant or just don’t know where to start expounding their thoughts.

But let’s be real: I don’t agree at all that a book review should be  “first and foremost: positive.”

That’s a very limiting statement to make, and it’s not honest.

Opinions come in many different flavors and in many different age groups.  Just the other day I was in the grocery store with my family picking up some last minute items.   I saw a kid run up to his mother in front of the frozen food section and say “Mommy, Mommy, don’t get the orange popsicles, get the red ones!  The orange ones are nasty.”   He then sticks out his tongue and gives his mother such a disgruntled expression that I had to turn away and keep myself from laughing aloud.  His mother was not pleased. I’m pretty sure he was no more than 4 or 5 years old.

So we learn at a young age how to have an opinion and how to say “yes” as well as “no” to things.   And even to be able to say why we respond the way that we do, whether on one end, the opposite end, or somewhere in the middle of things.

So why not practice the same for book reviews, regardless of age?  If you love a work, that’s fine.   If you don’t, then that’s perfectly fine too. People have the right to say no.  People have the right to assert their opinions, on anything really. Why are so many people apt to say that we have to suppress critical opinions and not be accepting of them? What gets me on this, is that this is from a prominent review site that dedicates itself to children’s and teen books, but yet don’t allow for the recognition of sharing critical opinions.  It may be the policy of their site, and it may be their attempt to culture an environment of positive thinking, but is it honest?  It may be for those who share the positive reviews, true, but it shuts out a lot of insightful opinions that are missed because of the policy.

I’m okay with people doing what they want in their own space – you can have your own rules and own systems – I’m accepting and respectful of that.  It’s when you start dictating to other people what they should think or feel or belittling them for saying “no” that gets under my skin.  Telling people that the only acceptable reviews are positive ones is a belittlement, whether one realizes it or not. It sends the wrong message about the way our society functions and really doesn’t build the skin or backbone necessary to form opinions, debate them, and cultivate further learning and expansion.  We do not see the world through the same lenses, and if you’re going to limit the power of critique, it’s not an accurate reflection of being able to have a healthy venting of dissent.  Humans are not complicit or passive creatures – many changes and evolution in our society have been possible with the ability to stand up and say “No, I don’t see it that way” or “No, I don’t agree with that” or “No, I think that’s wrong.”

Granted, I know some have their preferences, but in the real world, there’s a balance to be had.  There’s cultivating an environment that doesn’t have enough criticism to where it gives a false sense of security, and cultivating an environment that may have too much to the point where it saps confidence and disrespects.  We have to be able to recognize the balance between and be able to show that there’s not just an either/or of extremes, but there’s a wide margin of between that exists.  Whether you fall to a scale of loving something or disliking it or somewhere in that far middle, you’re okay for it, and people will accept it and appreciate it.

One thing is certain – in my space, I’m a person who welcomes opinions of all walks with open arms.  In the words of Voltaire, paraphrased – I may not like what you say, but I’ll defend to my death your right to say it.  And I’m a person who does take any and all critique, with which I also deliver it if it comes across.  Which is one of the reasons you see many ranges of ratings for the media I puruse here, whether it’s books, music, or anything else.

That’s my rant for this Saturday.  Until next entry, I wish all of you well, respect you for your opinions, and I encourage you to feel comfortable in your skin to live your life to your best – honest, true to yourself, and happy.

Best,

Rose

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2 comments

  1. It’s always weird when people hang themselves with written columns. I mean it’s not like dashing off a bad tweet or something. You have to sit down and think that through, and just saying, “It wasn’t intended for certain audiences” is a bit odd. I mean she wasn’t preparing a Top Secret report for the Pentagon, and she has popular books. OBVIOUSLY someone was going to stumble onto it.

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  2. I’m really shocked. There is just so much going on with this debacle! Although I’m not at all invested in this author it is interesting as an observer to see her trajectory and escalation mirror so many other authors who stick their foot in their mouth and then are surprised when they taste feet. There are a lot of GR reviewers changing their rating and reviews to reflect their new opinions of her “trash” novel. Some of the reviewers are really stung by the author being so dismissive towards erotica readers. I think the lesson here is to not insult the people that give you their time and money, unless of course you don’t want them to do that any more.

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