Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Only Way to Get a Review Wrong

Reviews are lifeblood to us small-time authors. The good ones are amazing to get: They’re gratifying, flattering, humbling and most importantly, helpful. They drive those vital sales. But the bad reviews have a use, too. No author is infallible, and we all have weak points we can work on. Sure, it would be great if even the negative responses were phrased politely — as though they were written by a reasonable person expressing a logical concern to another human being – but this is the internet. We’ll all ride wish-granting unicorns to work before respect and restraint become commonplace. I try to not to comment on negative reviews. People have the right to their opinion, and nothing good ever comes of yelling at them about it. Further, I try to divorce myself from emotion when reading bad reviews from snotty, shitty people. If you can figure out a way not to be offended by their words, they might just have a point in there somewhere. If somebody tells you your book is a fucking mess and you should kill yourself – maybe what they really mean is that it has some pacing problems. That’s fair, and even if it’s not true, it’s a point worth considering. There’s no real way to do a review completely, objectively wrong, save for like this:

Note: Please don’t go looking for this reviewer to yell at them or anything. It’s not going to change their mind or help them grow as a person. That only happens on Full House.

That’s pretty low, trying to call into question every other thing your fellow readers have said about a book, just because you didn’t like it. It’s disrespectful, not just of the author, but of all the other reviewers and, indeed, the entire review system in general. It’s self-righteous, to imply that anybody disagreeing with you is cheating somehow. And more troublesome: It’s very, very common. You’ll see this all over the place, wherever consumer reviews are allowed. The second somebody comes across a product that they didn’t like, but has overall positive reviews, they will immediately jump to “well, these are all fake.” They’ll then treat is as their solemn duty to try to “warn” their fellow readers about the scam being perpetrated, because it honestly never occurs to them that some people may enjoy a thing they did not.

“How could anybody like something that I deemed unacceptable? I am the alpha and the omega, the sun and the moon, the swirling vortex at the heart of the cosmos – my opinion is law. If I don’t like something that a lot of other people do, the only logical conclusion is that there is a vast conspiracy at work to dupe these, my people. I must save them – to the conceit-mobile!”

This is a particularly dangerous attitude, because fake reviews and gaming of the system does actually happen. And it should absolutely be stopped – paid reviews are ruining the integrity of the industry and making all of the earnest, honest, positive reviews worth a little bit less. But just because it happens sometimes, that doesn’t mean you get to assume it’s responsible for anything you don’t like. If you absolutely have to be rude in your negative review – fine. Somebody might still get something helpful out of it, despite your best efforts. But if you try to invalidate everything about a book because you didn’t enjoy it, that is plainly and objectively wrong of you. It is a false accusation based on nothing more than your “gut feeling.” So do me a favor, if you’re ever considering calling a book’s reviews into question, do some extremely detailed, expansive research first, and then make sure you present valid proof to the proper authorities (Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Goodreads all take this stuff very seriously) before ever opening your textual mouth. And then do me another favor: If you ever see somebody saying shit like this in a review, don’t lend it any credence. Then do me a third favor: Flag it. This behavior is not okay, and it should be stomped out whenever you see it.

Then do me a fourth favor, and help me move my fridge. I don’t know, you seem to be in the mood to do a lot of favors lately; figured I’d press the advantage.

It’s Not a Game if You Can’t Lose

Internet and/or comedy vent incoming! People with normal priorities, lives and jobs feel free to click away. I hear there is free pornography out there to be had, if you believe the prophecies.

This isn’t in response to anything in particular, but here’s something I generally see a lot:

“What do you mean, you don’t appreciate me being a fuckin’ dickhead to everybody?! You’re supposed to be a comedian, lighten UP.”

At least once a week, I get a shitty PM, email, or Facebook message insulting me, my work, my coworkers, or my friends. Often these come couched as compliments: “I love your work, dude! Not like that PIECE OF SHIT [OTHER COLUMNIST] FUCK THAT GUY/GIRL.” It takes a little something away from the compliment when, in the same sentence, you hate-spooge all over people I respect and admire. Does anybody seriously not understand how I might not appreciate that? I try to correct this behavior as politely as I can, and I invariably get something like that first quote in response, regarding the ‘lightening up’ I need to do. It’s emblematic of an attitude you can see on display everywhere, and I just don’t understand it. People think that, once comedy is involved in a scenario, literally everything is appropriate in that scenario forever onward. “LOL this guy spent a lot of time carefully constructing a humorous observation, therefore I can spit in his face and he’ll think it’s funny!”

It doesn’t matter that the people messaging me are very earnestly insulting and disrespecting my friends without a trace of humor – I made a joke once, so clearly I should take everything anybody does for the rest of my life to be a joke.

Listen: You can’t walk into a comedy club and start shooting people in the face just because chuckles are in the air. The “what’s the problem, I thought this was a COMEDY club” defense is not going to save you from the death penalty.

I think this attitude, or at least its prevalence online, started with internet trolls. And that’s a shame, because trolling used to be pretty funny and almost entirely harmless. Trolling, despite the modern usage, does not mean “the act of pissing somebody off and laughing about their anger.” It is “the act of pissing somebody off BASED ON SOMETHING COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS and laughing about their MISPLACED anger.” It isn’t considered trolling to leave a comment full of racial epithets and laugh when people “don’t get it.” It is trolling if you leave a comment insisting on the wrong information about something irrelevant – how many runes are on a Stargate, for example (everybody knows its 12) – and wait for the ONE guy that just can’t let the transgression pass. If you start a fake fight with Prof. Stargate, dragging him deeper and deeper until hopefully, finally, even he has to stop and think “wait a minute, this is ridiculous,” that is trolling. That’s the difference: No actual harm is caused, and even the victim can eventually get in on the joke. “Trolling” isn’t referring to hiding behind a fortification and trying to hurt people like the mythical creature. It’s referring to the style of fishing – you drag bait across the bottom hoping to get a rare bite. It’s not ‘bait’ if you’re earnestly spouting your misogynistic beliefs and somebody gets upset. There’s nothing funny about entirely justified anger.

This ‘ha ha, you got mad, so you lose’ attitude is the exact same reason we all collectively decided not to like hipsters very much: It’s because they were hiding behind a rigged game. Everything was ironic. You can say they look good, and they take the compliment. But you can’t say they look like shit, because they’re TRYING to look like shit. You can say you love their band, and you get a “thanks bro!” But you can’t say their band sucks, because it’s SUPPOSED to suck. They were so afraid of judgment that they only did things under the protective cloak of irony, so that if you didn’t like it, you could be accused of not getting it. There was no losing condition. Same with people saying shitty things to each other on the internet under the guise of “humor.”

If this kind of thing was still confined to YouTube comments – then fuck it, who cares? But it’s not. It spills out. It’s everywhere now, even seeping into reality: There are people walking the Earth today who genuinely think, in all aspects of their lives, that somebody getting pissed off at them for valid reasons means they win something. If some asshole says something in assholish to you, and you respond to him as you would an asshole, he wins, because you’re mad. If you don’t respond, then clearly he’s just saying what we’re all thinking, so he wins again. There’s no losing condition to this ‘game,’ and that makes it not a game. Being a dick isn’t funny, because you’re not making jokes. It isn’t clever, because you’re not outsmarting anybody. It isn’t winning; it’s cowardice. You have no excuse not to treat people with a basic level of respect, whether they make jokes or coffee for a living, whether they’re online or in line in front of you at the movie theater.

In short: If you wouldn’t say it to The Rock in a dark alley, don’t say it to another human being on the internet.

A Writing Exercise: Abandon Your Stories

I’m constantly mentally writing the beginnings of stories. Beginnings that I have no intention of ever expanding on, either because the ideas peter out, the concept doesn’t interest me enough to devote more time to it, or because the premise is just laughably bad. It doesn’t matter, really: It’s fun to write the first paragraph of a huge work and then completely abandon it, mocking its potential and daring the muses to take a swing at you (they won’t do it; pussies). An example: At Cracked, we were kicking around an idea for a series that was just overly explanatory theme songs to shows. We would film the opening credits, and maybe a second or two of the show itself as a button. But the meat of the content would just be the ridiculous opening sequences setting up this terrible show’s premise in detail. The one I was going to pitch was called “So I Married a Corvette…” about a man whose wife is somehow turned into a sports car. Science, magic, I didn’t get far enough to sort out the details – the important thing was this guy’s wife was a car and maybe they fought crime.

Another example while sleepily doing dishes this morning:

We all have the devil inside of us. He takes many forms. For some folks he’s a desire they can’t put down. Lust, or greed, or envy. For others, he’s an addiction. My daddy had two devils living in his guts: Alcohol and gambling. They cost him everything – his job, his family, his life. Me? I only got one devil to carry. His name is Larry. He’s about two inches tall and he lives in a hollowed out space in my chest. Got a little armchair in there. Doesn’t like visitors much, but he’ll see you as long as you knock first. You wanna meet him? All right:

“Hey Larry, you wanna talk to my new friends?”

…and that would be an instance of the ‘laughably bad’ category. But it’s a good exercise to bleed the poison out before you start actually writing. Give it shot if you’d like; write the opening paragraph or two of a story you have no intention of finishing and post it in the comments. It’s pretty liberating.