Why am I an Asshole to Amateur Writers on Amazon? (Part 1)

Here’s an online-social situation where I’m repeatedly an asshole, to my shame.
 
A few years ago, some guy and I got to talking online. I don’t remember how we met. He was kind of acerbic, but we got to talking about old-timey pulp SF. He said he’d written a book of short stories in that style and genre, and as I needed to kill some time in the hospital, I said ‘why not?’
 
The deal was he’d review one of my books and I’d review one of his. We’d give each other reviews on Amazon. “But don’t give a bad review if you don’t like it,” he said, “That’s like the biggest dick move you can do.” I agreed. (I personally don’t tell people to not give me bad reviews. I don’t *want* them, obviously, but it means someone read my book, and that’s worth more to me)
 
Well, his book sucked. I mean it sucked really bad. Grammatically and technically and spelling-wise, it was fine, which is a nice change of pace for armature kindle books (And one that I, myself, can not claim), but it was a terrible, terrible book.
 
Just a quick example of the level of terribleness I’m talking about here: It’s a collection of short stories, right? Ok, at least one of the stories was a fragment of a story he’d abandoned, one was more-or-less Star Trek fanfic, two were setups he’d invented for RPG games, and there’s two lengthy appendices, one of which is just how he’d reconcile the Marvel and DC timelines into one big sprawling universe if it were up to him.
 
I decided not to give it an Amazon review at all. If you can’t say something nice…
 
Meanwhile, he read my book, “The Undead at War (And Other Stories)” and he went off on me about the story, “The Cetian Sky.”
 
Quick overview: A bunch of American Southern refugees settle on the planet Gagarin, in the Tau Ceti solar system. There’s others, too. Mostly Chinese and Russians, but the overwhelming majority are rednecks. They are desperately homesick and there’s a wave of suicides. The main character (Who’s black and British) decides they need *something* from home to focus on, and ultimately she decides on the rebel flag.
 
Now, I gotta point out that this is a pretty controversial decision. A good number of people on Gagarin oppose it, including one of my biggest and most important recurring characters. He greats it as vile, is disgusted by the protagonist, stomps out, and never has anything to do with her ever again. In essence she got bitch-slapped by Moses. She’s very broken up. So it’s not a yee-haw oooh-doggie dukes-of-hazzard the-south-shall-rise-again kind of thing. It’s more about the cultural baggage people take along with them. The solution is morally ambiguous at best, though it does seem to work somewhat, and I don’t *tell* people how to feel about it.
 
I should also point out that this was in 2012 before the present kerfluffle over the flag flared up. I probably wouldn’t have written it, or written it that way if was 2018. Just the same….
 
Well, this other guy just went batshit over my story. He called me a racist, a scum-of-the-earth type, a pile of shit, and you name it. I tried to explain and he wouldn’t listen. He also couldn’t understand pretty simple things like how high the tides are on Gagarin (VERY). He gave me an overview of the book story-by-story, but he just obsessed over that one thing. This was all by email, BTW.
 
I gave him a needlessly polite item-by-item review, and he admitted that most of the stuff I said was true, but he wasn’t going to bother doing anything about it. Fair enough. His book, whatever.
 
Good to his word, he gave me a one-line review that was something like “This is an OK sci-fi book with some good dialog.”
 
I just fumed and fumed and fumed and finally I gave him a shitty one-star review. That was a complete asshole thing to do, even if it was accurate. I was also jealous, as he had like 7 books and I had 2, and his seemed to have a lot of good reviews, and mine had basically none.
 
Anyway, It sat there for a couple weeks before he spotted it, then he correctly said that he thought it was me and that I had it in for him. He couldn’t prove it though, as I don’t use my real name. (Actually, he could have easily proved it. It’s not hard to figure.) Eventually, feeling guilty, I took it down.
 
A few months ago I looked him up out of morbid curiosity. He’s got 25 books now. I’ve got seven. This time out I noticed that only maybe half of his books have reviews. I read them. Most of ’em were “This is a great book! This person is a great writer! They have talent! Read this book and tell your friends!” or “Tell your friends to read this book! He has talent and is a great writer and talented! Book is great!” or “Read this great book, which is talented and great and great writer! Tell your friends to read it!” Basically the same 5 or 6 keywords over and over in different combinations. That’s the universal Amazon sign that you begged your aunts and uncles to write reviews, and gave ’em a template. Most of the real reviews were mediocre-to-bad.
 
Probably ten years ago a different guy contacted me and asked me to review his book on the website I was editing at the time. I said, ‘sure,’ and honestly the premise was pretty unique and good – an interstellar antiques appraiser, who has adventures while running from star to star appraising things. Then it just sort of fell apart in the last act. It became some kind of largely-incomprehensible political allegory. I *think* it was how socialism is bad, but I honestly never knew. Then everything is resolved in one page, and it’s done.
 
I wrote him and said that I honestly didn’t think I could give him a good review, and I didn’t want to publicly give him a bad one. I would be happy to give him a detailed critique, however, to point out where it had problems and several ways that might help fix it.
 
He gave me a hurt little, ‘no,’ and disappeared…and I got mad at him.
 
Because I’m an asshole. This guy wanted to be a writer, he probably hung a lot of his self-image on the idea, wrote a book, timidly asked me to read it, and then I told him ‘it stinks,’ and then *I* got mad at *him?* What the frack kind of sense does that make?
 
I had it in my head that he’d eaten up my time and refused my sage wisdom and blah blah blah when I was trying to be nice. (or was I? Or was I just trying to drive home that I’m better than him? I don’t know.) I probably wrecked the poor guy’s life, or at least his self-image, and yet I stayed mad at him for *years.* It’s completely irrational.
 
So I’m an asshole. It only applies to amateur Amazon books like the ones I write, though. Never people with other ways of getting their stories out there. Never online stuff. Never vanity press. Never actual people in the meat-world handing stuff out. Just Amazon.
 
I don’t know why this is, but I’ll speculate about it in my next post. This one is already too long.

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