A genuine question — should I keep writing?

Post removed and comments frozen because I don’t want to look like a big whinging crybaby, nor like I’m seeking more validation. Thanks to those who have commented.

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42 Responses to A genuine question — should I keep writing?

  1. xianrex says:

    If you don’t think you write well AND you do not believe you can ever improve (through classes, books, etc), then stop writing. You obviously don’t get joy out of it.

    If you enjoy writing and you think that an untrained writer can pick up tips and advice to make his work more solid, then keep it up. It’s obviously something that you love.

    The first BB Amazon review had at least some constructive things to say about focus and consistency, as opposed to generic slagging off. The hardest thing in the universe is to dig through the shit, find valid criticism, and act on it.

    Sorry to be so non-committal about this, but it’s really your call as to what you want to do about your writing. I just want you to do what makes you happy.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      The problem is, I do enjoy writing, but only to the extent that I believe I’m actually communicating what I want to communicate with my writing.
      From the feedback I get from the blog posts, I’m a good writer, communicating my ideas effectively. That’s why I decided to put my stuff out as books — because people were saying “I would pay for this if I could”.
      However, it appears that the people who actually *are* paying for it are, at least sometimes, disliking the work enough that they want to go online and discourage other people from buying it.
      That suggests that at best, I’m not finding the right audience (which is bad, because I don’t want to take money off people for things they won’t like — and if the wrong audience are the people buying the books, the right audience never will because of the bad ratings). At worst, it suggests that people have been essentially humouring me for several years about the quality of my writing, claiming I have talent that I don’t possess and never will.

      If it’s the former, it’s a question of marketing — something about my books’ covers, titles or blurbs are leading people to believe they’re something different than they are. That’s something I can deal with, in time, possibly.

      If it’s the latter — if I’m a genuinely bad writer, and the people who tell me otherwise are doing so not because they have different tastes or opinions to the one-star reviewers, but because they don’t want to hurt my feelings or something — then I need to stop writing.

      • xianrex says:

        Seems like you got two negative reviews for the BBs. How does that compare to the number who purchased the book?

        In any case, it is my opinion that you are ascribing too much importance to negative Amazon reviews. They’re going to happen no matter what. If you feel there is room for specific improvement (as opposed to just “get better”), do that and keep on going.

        I think you should continue to write.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          See, this is the question — should I be assuming that people who bought the book and didn’t write a review quite liked it but not enough to review it, or that they loved it but they never post reviews, or that they’re in agreement with the majority of reviewers? I get no feedback at all from the vast majority of people who bought the book (I don’t know the precise numbers of buyers, but it’s in the region of 200).

          Now, I know that at least *some* people who bought that book enjoyed it, because I found a very nice review on beachboys.com, someone on a message board sent me a message saying they liked it, and someone else emailed me asking when the next volume was out. A couple of people have posted nice reviews on Amazon US too.

          So I’m wondering about what the proportions really are, and your response is helpful — thanks.

          • Don Alsafi says:

            I’ve always believed (rightly or wrongly) in the idea that silent affirmation is an incredibly prevalent thing – the assumption that human nature is often inclined to take the time to complain about something in public, but don’t get motivated in the same way to praise a work they’ve enjoyed. You know: Contentment vs. getting all riled up.

            Whether or not this is actually true? No idea. Just how human nature seems to me.

            But one dissatisfaction I have with Amazon is the fact that they ONLY allow you to rate a book if you write a review. Don’t get me wrong; reviews can be great for consumers, and constructive criticism can be great for writers. But I think that also allowing users to take 5 seconds to indicate whether they largely liked or disliked a work could allow for a much, much larger aggregate indicator than the far smaller, and admittedly self-selecting, group of people willing and able to take 5-15 minutes (or more) to write.

  2. Josh Marsfelder says:

    You should absolutely keep writing! I, for one, have always enjoyed your opinion on everything you write about here. Just to take a somewhat recent example, I loved your takedown of “Before Watchmen” and given the reaction it got many others did as well. I think the thing about the sorts of topics we write about and the way we write is that it is, and always has been, a marginal style of academia and geared towards an extremely narrow audience. Venture outside that group though, and we’re likely to be met with indifference at best and hostility otherwise.

    I mean, look at me for goodness sake: I come from a background of post-structuralism, radical sociocultural anthropology and social studies of knowledge and have seriously argued how scientists need to be mindful that all the knowledge they produce is by definition locally generated cultural artefacts. The legitimacy of my entire field was called into question about 20 years ago and was subject to a concerted effort from the part of natural scientists and research institutions to stamp it out. Now, because I’m either insane or masochistic or perhaps both, I write about video games from that same perspective. I have heavily criticized a number of major blockbuster releases and just did a two-part essay about my disconnect with contemporary gamer culture (and this is GAMERS we’re talking about here-a notoriously reactionary and defensive bunch). I also, as you know, have some rather vocal and unorthodox views on Doctor Who which tends to get me in trouble with regularity. Suffice to say, I doubt I’m the most popular person in the world. But, I keep doing it because A. No-one else is saying what I’m saying and I feel I have something to contribute and B. I love writing and would do it anyway no matter what. At least (to my knowledge) neither of us have started receiving death threats yet like some of my colleagues have.

    If you feel like you have something to say, you are by all means entitled to say it. Don’t let anyone try to silence you.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I don’t think anyone’s trying to silence me — far from it. I worry, rather, that people *wish* I’d be silent — especially those who’ve paid to read my stuff ;) But I’m very glad you like my writing.

  3. Mike Taylor says:

    Stop it with the insecurity. You write well enough that people pay to read your books. That’s all you need to know. Keep calm and carry on. (I hesitate to say it, but: haters gonna hate. Not your problem.)

    • Mike Taylor says:

      To amplify my “Haters gonna hate” comment, see this one-line review of Lord of the Rings. Should Tolkien have stopped writing?

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        If that had been the only review he’d got, probably ;)
        But thanks — I do genuinely want to know what people think, and not just to get my ego boosted, but to calibrate myself better.

  4. I have these feelings about twice a year. Sometimes after I’ve spent weeks wondering if I should actually post a particular set of articles (will I offend people? will I lose friends? will someone who knows more about it than I do refute me in five minutes and make me look silly?) and the first feedback I get is about spelling or font size. Sometimes it manifests by me putting the blog on hold for six months and writing a book about Watchmen. Sometimes it manifest by putting a lot of mad sounding messages on Twitter. Sometimes I just go to the Boston Tea Party with a comic book and a muffin. I seem to remember a luvvie — Richard Briers, I think — saying “If you want to be an actor. If you really, really want to be an actor — don’t be. Only be an actor if you have to.” Or Natalie Goldberg (zen hippy writer lady) said in her last book that actually, writing didn’t bring her happiness or success. She pretends that one of her friends replied “I know. But what else is there to do?” I sort of came to the end of a couple of projects this week, and I’ve literally been bouncing around the flat, vaguely reading and vaguely listening to music. If I’m not writing I don’t know what else I’d do. Some people seem to read me.

    I found your Beatles book interesting: not the Greatest Thing I’ve Ever Read About The Beatles, but eminently worth the time I spent reading it. I’m finding your posts about Doctor Who genuinely stimulating. (Wrong, obviously: you shouldn’t write what you think, you should write what I think. But very stimulating and worthwhile.) I enjoyed your book about the Final Crisis thing very much; in fact, I keep meaning to read it again and write, if not a review, then a response. I read Final Crisis to prepare for doing that, and couldn’t make head nor tale of it, to be honest. I read the Seven Soldiers of Victory one as well; I still haven’t read Seven Soldiers. It felt to me as if you were using the comic as a peg to hang some essays on, but I enjoyed the essays very much and mean to read Seven Soldiers at some point. I haven’t read the Kinks or the Beach Boys because I haven’t significantly listened to their music. Your writing, is, in short worthwhile: people read it.

    Should I keep writing? As opposed to what? As opposed to composing a concerto or learning to oil paint, or as opposed to sitting at home watching bad movies on Film Four? Can you honestly imagine the next series of Doctor Who or the next pronouncement by Michael Gove or the next reunion of a 60s band you like coming out and you saying “I am not going to put my thoughts on that down because I have decided I am No Longer A Writer because three people have said bad things about me on Amazon.”

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thank you. That assessment of my books is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, not in that it’s complimentary but in that it tells me to what extent what I’m doing works.

      (If I wasn’t writing, I’d probably put the energy into making more music — but I’m not especially good at that. And you’re right, I’d probably be shooting my mouth off somewhere).

      Incidentally, while you’ve not listened to the Beach Boys much, I think you might find some of their stuff at least interesting. In their early-70s period they tried to become a political-Americana-folk band, an R&B flavoured Abbey Road era Beatles soundalike group, and a Wagner tribute act, *all at the same time*.

  5. prankster36 says:

    Well, for what it’s worth, hopefully it’s clear that I’m not humouring you–I mean, I discovered your blog on my own and started reading it because I enjoyed it, full stop. It’s not like I’m taking bribes or something. I don’t know how the fact that I’ve only purchased one of your books affects the validity of my opinion–if I choose to read your blog and follow you on Twitter, does that mean I’m less committed or more so than someone who purchases your books because they’re, say, Beatles fans?

    If I had to guess, I’d say the negative reviews are coming from the fact that you’re actually critical of the Beatles and the Beach Boys at points, which, in today’s “all or nothing” culture, gets interpreted as an attack–you were complaining about the inaccuracy of reviews before, and I’m guessing a lot of people simply see you as writing books that slag off these bands, which it should be obvious is not your intent. But it’s not your fault that these people can’t grasp nuance.

    I’m pretty sure every writer ever has had to go through this phase, where they went through a period where it seemed like hardly anyone except those close to them had good words for their work. I don’t know if you should keep writing per se–that’s obviously your decision–but know that this isn’t some anomaly and that the fact that you get dashed-off negative reviews on Amazon probably has little or nothing to do with the actual level of quality of your writing. Maybe I’m in the minority in thinking your stuff is good, but this certainly isn’t the way to go about determining that. For some reason, “haters” outnumber actual thoughtful critics on the internet.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Makes sense (and yes, I know I owe you an email, which you *will* get…). I worry though that the people who read my blog/follow me on Twitter do so more because they like me as a person than because they think my writing’s any good.

  6. lucidfrenzy says:

    I may be taking your question literally here but what you are is a good thinker. I read pretty much everything you put on your blog so I will know what you’ve been thinking. You’re a competent writer, by no means a bad one, but but it’s what you’re saying that brings me back.

    Speculating wildly, I wonder if even today people mentally call up the term “pro” when they see a published book. And of course much ‘pro’ writing is polished in construction but devoid of content. It’s made by writers who snag one commission, then actually writing the required number of words is something they let their fingers do while they plan how to snag the next commission.

    I haven’t read those Amazon reviews or anything, but I wonder if something like that is going on. People think to themselves “this is just someone who had things to say about the Beatles, so he wrote it down in a book. Not a proper sort of book at all.” It’s also quite a modern response. Do people really distinguish any more between owning a Beatles book and a Beatles figurine? Aren’t they just artefacts?

    Then again maybe we’re all really just one big affinity group of people who have the same affliction. I put a wholly disproportionate amount of time into it when compared to how many people read it, but that doesn’t mean I could quit if I tried. “My name’s Gavin and I’m a writer…”

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      That’s a really interesting take on it, actually… I’ll have to think about that more.

  7. Larry says:


    I agree with all the comments written above; but in particular, I agree with the “haters” comment. Some people use Amazon as an outlet to vent, well, bullshit; I am a fan of your music writings, I’ve read a LOT of writing on music in my 51 years, and I always look forward to your information/opinions on music I love (and thought I was familiar with, until your latest blog). You write well, and perceptively; I would have stopped reading your ‘stuff’ by now if I did not think so.

    Some people…aarrgghh…

    P.S. Your links have lead me to some very interesting writers/bloggers as well!

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thank you. It’s difficult to get some perspective on this, sometimes.

    • Mike Taylor says:

      One other point I meant to make: if no-one hates your work, you’re probably not being interesting enough. Real insights, real opinions, will always polarise. (Over on the Reinvigorated Programmer, I feel that I’m on target if there’s about a 50-50 split between comments that strongly agree with me and that strongly disagree.)

  8. pennyb says:

    I think it’s less that you’re an awful writer and more that you’re not providing what the sort of people who actually buy books about big name musicians and who don’t personally know you want. They’re not expecting you to be negative in any way about the band or any of their songs or arrangements, they’re not expecting academic-ish essays, and they’re not expecting that you will dedicate more time and space to songs you like than ones you don’t. They are expecting pictures, a certain kind of writing style and a reverent perspective (or a reputation that allows you to be more critical).

    Also the ones that are buying print copies are expecting more content for the price, but you’re stuck with POD prices. You’re writing £7.99 paperbacks and charging double that for something that doesn’t look as nice as mass market paperbacks do and reads in places like they are indeed a set of blog posts for an niche audience strung together.

    You are writing for a market that has bought all the big name books already, given the artists you’re writing about, and that affects their expectations. They’re heritage music magazine (MOJO etc) readers, and I rather expect that you despise that kind of magazine.

    I think your comics stuff is more likely to find the right audience, but maybe not. You aren’t a bad writer, but your books need to feel more like books and you need to write about things where the expected audience isn’t so vastly different from who you are and your audience on here. In my opinion, of course. But the larger the audience there is for something, the more likely you are to find people who will proudly shout their dislike, and you don’t have the word of mouth or press to overcome that nor a very thick skin.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thanks. That all makes a lot of sense, and what you’re saying ties in with what I think in my most egotistical and misanthropic moods. (Yes, at my ‘most egotistical’ I think I’m ‘not a bad writer’ rather than a genius).

      You’re right that my non-music books find the right audience better than the music ones, but that audience is maybe a hundred or so people worldwide. You’re right though that my music books could seem aimed at the MOJO market while really, really not being. The problem is, when writing a book about music, that I have to choose to write about stuff that people might have heard of, where there’s a lot of albums to cover (but not *too* many), and where the band had a number of distinct styles and phases they went through. That does tend to land me somewhat in ‘classic rock’ territory, unfortunately. Were I to write about, say, the LA powerpop scene of the late 90s, people like Carolyn Edwards, the Negro Problem, Baby Lemonade and the Wondermints, not only would I have less access to factual information, but nobody at all would know what I was talking about…

      • pennyb says:

        I understand why you write about the things you write about, out of all the things that you are interested in. However, you’re going to keep hitting the same problem unless you completely change the way you approach the books, i.e. write in a much more mainstream way, pay somebody to typeset and design your book in a way that makes sense to a bigger audience etc, fork out for photos and lay them out appropriately. If you want your books to be a hit with the market that’s out there, which for bands people have heard of is the group that are already buying them now but not always liking them, you need to write with that in mind rather than write the book you would want to read and then try to sell it. Effectively, you are the sort of writer equivalent of Carolyn Edwards et al, but you want the sales and audience appreciation of someone less niche. Not going to happen. Just because you’re writing about a classic rock band, doesn’t mean your style will work for the people who like classic rock. It does mean it will sell, just like writing a book about Doctor Who or James Bond would mean a certain level of sales, but to the people who buy literally everything about their chosen subject. They aren’t a nice cuddly audience.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          See, that’s the thing — I actually don’t want to sell to a less niche audience. I would like to sell more books — obviously — but that’s a fairly low priority for me. What I want to do is write *good stuff*. (At least with the books I’ve written and am writing so far. I’ve seriously considered writing a trashy potboiler just to see if I can).

          What I *actually* want is a way to put off the people who are buying them for the wrong reasons, but not those who will like it — and actually not because I don’t like the criticism (I try to seek out negative feedback) but because I feel bad about, in effect, ripping people off.

          Maybe the solution is to just not do any more music books after the Kinks one I’ve nearly finished and the two Beach Boys ones I promised I’d write in the first volume.

          (Incidentally, the typesetting in the books after my first one is much more professional looking — I stopped working with word documents and started using LaTeX).

          • pennyb says:

            I do think it’s a problem that is mostly an issue with music and certain TV/film franchises. I certainly don’t think you should stop writing.

  9. Graham says:

    Absolutely not. You have interesting and well articulated things to say, and I enjoy reading your work quite a bit. You quickly ended up on my “check daily” blog list. I may disagree with you on a number of points (for example, New Dr. Who stinking rather than being pretty good overall, the Kinks’ Lola being transphobic rather than initially-scared-yet-ultimately-accepting), but I enjoy your perspective nonetheless. The internet criticism community would be poorer without your contributions. Your work got me to dig out old Kinks’ albums I hadn’t listened to in 5-10 years and listen, really listen, again.

    The Beatles are a notoriously hard sell for most folks because you’re stuck standing in the shadow of Ian MacDonald whether you’d like to or not. It’s like trying to write a book about two guys wandering through Dublin, living their day to day lives, in 1916. The comparisons are inevitable, and of course the king who dedicated his life to the project is going to look better. Doesn’t mean yours isn’t worth reading or doesn’t have new things to contribute.

    Or, more simply, fuck the haters; you’ve got fans, even if we don’t always have something to contribute to the conversation.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thank you very much.
      And MacDonald’s shadow is not such a bad place to be in, all things considered. Revolution In The Head was, along with Orwell’s essays, the first pointer I had towards criticism that did more than say “this rocks!” or “this sucks!”

      • Graham says:

        I concur. Orwell is wonderful. Finding the big fat volume of his essays Modern Library put out about 10 years ago at a used book shop kept me sane after a major cross-country move left me alone in a strange city with no friends and no idea what to do, just as “Down and Out in Paris and London” helped me cope with the fact that I was terribly poor. Reading him parallel to Montaigne (as I found the similar B.F.V. of his essays at the same shop a week later) gave me a lot to chew on while sitting alone in my apartment.

        I’m only about a third of the way through “Revolution,” but it’s brilliant stuff. It’d be worth the price of admission (which, admittedly, was $1.50 at a junk shop for me) for the opening essay about 60s culture alone, but the musical and historical analysis is great too. A must read for anyone looking to see how criticism ought to be done.

  10. Coming out of the woodwork here to reply to this post. I have been reading your blog and some of your books for around two years now. I haven’t commented for a few reasons (the biggest being that commenting tends to be a timesuck for me, and once I start, I find it hard to stop; and also, what Don Alsafi said up there about silent affirmation).

    I haven’t read all of your books – only the ones to do with Dr. Who and comics, and more or less the same with your posts. But within that scope, your writing has affected me hugely. You introduced me to Faction Paradox, for which I am grateful for many reasons. You are the reason I became more than just a casual fan of Grant Morrison. Both of these things have affected my reading, my writing and the way I live my life (not just what you wrote about these things, but also what I discovered for myself because of what you wrote). I find the way you think interesting to me as both a reader and a writer.

    I might not always agree with you, but that is irrelevant to whether I like what you’re doing or not. Your writing makes me think, makes me reassess what I write, opens me up to new ways of thinking and writing, all of which are some of the best attributes of any writer.

    As a writer, I recently went through a three-month depression about the same issues – whether my writing affects people, whether it is _valuable_ in any meaningful way, whether I could be doing something better with my time, whether what I’m trying to communicate reaches anyone. I found that asking people is the best way to get out of this, and I’m glad you’ve done this rather than simply stop.

    My vote: Please do not stop. Keep writing. While I don’t care for _everything_ you write (mainly because of the topic rather than the writing itself), I would happily read all of it if that ensures you keep writing about the things I find fascinating.

    Your circle of readers may or may not be small, but from what I see up there in the comments, however many they might be, they value what you write.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thank you. That really means a lot. I’m so touched by the second paragraph that I’m almost in tears.

      • You’re welcome! Just rebought Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! on Amazon. My old PDF copy seems to have gone AWOL, and I thought I’d make a little statement of support. :)

  11. lucidfrenzy says:

    ”they are expecting pictures, a certain kind of writing style and a reverent perspective “

    There seems to be a congruence between much of what’s being said. For example, PennyB’s comment above and me saying many want books which are nicely packaged and entertainingly written but nothing more. They fit together like pieces of a jigsaw.

    People want validation, don’t they? It’s like the blurb that comes with electronic gizmos that congratulates you on your purchase. People like to be told “smart people like the Beatles” because they already like the Beatles. They don’t want to be told “Sgt. Pepper isn’t actually as good as some people say.”

    People who like having their minds made up for them don’t like any suggestion they could be made up any other way. People who do their own making up don’t seem to mind so much. When I posted something about the anarcho-punk band Crass my first comment came from a kneejerk hater. The second started out “good article, I enjoyed reading it.” Then cheerily pointed out a couple of things you really should have known about Crass if you’re going to write about them. Then mentioned they’d written a line I’d dismissed as “bollocks” (“bollocks” in a jokey, we’re-talking-about-punk-here way, but still “bollocks”), and went on to explain how they’d come up with it.

    I’d say that’s pretty much the way it works in general.

    But you probably shouldn’t listen to me. My attitude is that I’ll write what I want just like I read what I want. I like it when people like what I write, I ignore it when people baselessly slag it and I accept it when most people ignore it. The last is the most common. Which means I don’t expect to ever make any money from it, certainly not enough to give up the day job.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Agreed with all this.

      I think what I really need is some way to put off the people who won’t get it, because I have no problem with people not liking my writing — but I do have a problem with charging those people money.

      • Don Alsafi says:

        But Amazon already does have a way. It’s called “Click to Look Inside!”

        I mean, I do admire your intentions, certainly. But at a certain point, shouldn’t consumers have to take responsibility for their purchasing decisions? If it’s a book that they haven’t heard anything about, and have no way of previewing – okay, at that point it would be a complete, blind gamble. But I know that any time I’m looking to pick up something that I’m unsure about, I take the time to look for an online preview (or, if I’m in a physical bookstore, browse the print copy). Otherwise, I’ve no one to blame but myself.

        Seriously. All it takes is a single click. You shouldn’t feel bad about taking their money if they can’t even be bothered to look that far.

        • Holly says:

          This! Andrew, it’s not your responsibility to ensure your book is only ever bought by people who like it. Even if that were possible, it’s not the author’s job, it’s the reader’s choice.

          And also, Look Inside (or paging through a book in a store) is something I have done countless times to see if I might like a book. But I have never read an Amazon review. The masses are asses (as a political-science professor of mine used to say, only sometimes jokingly); why would I bother with them when I have the primary source right there in front of me?

  12. Iain Coleman says:

    The only way to avoid being criticised is to say nothing, do nothing and be nothing.

    I spent a few years in power in local government, and believe me I’ve been hated by experts. Whenever you do anything that goes out to the general public, whether it’s a book, a political programme, an independent cafe or whatever, you are going to run into the fact that there is a certain small proportion of the population who are one or all of:


    Inevitably, some of these people write Amazon reviews.

    Of course your books are flawed. I can confidently say this without having read them, because it is true of every book than anyone has ever written, ever. I can also say that I enjoy your writing, and I have got a lot out of your blog posts on the Beatles, the Kinks and even the Monkees. Especially the Monkees, in fact, such was my ignorance of their work.

    There are some useful-looking tips above from other posters if you are particularly wanting to move your writing in a more commercial direction. If you do, good luck to you – it will take some time and effort, but you’re perfectly capable of it. But don’t feel it’s something you have to do if you don’t want to.

  13. Rachel Kate says:

    Psh. Yes, of course you should keep writing, and personally, I’d be heartbroken if you didn’t. Quitting writing over three bad Amazon reviews (when there’s clearly also good ones out there) is like feeling like you need to give up taking the bus because a driver was rude one time when you asked where to transfer. Amazon reviews are basically Youtube comments with delusions of grandeur, and you should most definitely not let a measly three of them outweigh the feelings of the many, many people who adore your writing.

  14. lucidfrenzy says:

    ”Amazon reviews are basically Youtube comments with delusions of grandeur”

    That’s today’s that-on-a-T-shirt-please comment.

    Incidentally, if my previous comment seemed a little on the sour side, I was mostly thinking of some of the comments in the wake of Andrew’s Kinks posts. The ones that essentially said “the Kinks made an album, and all you have done is criticise it!” To which the obvious rejoinder would seem to be “Andrew has written a blog post, and all you have done is slag it while failing to criticise it.”

    Obviously I don’t think there’s only two groups of people in the world, or anything like that.

  15. Wesley says:

    I’m coming in late, but wanted to add another “don’t give up.” When you say you’ve wondered whether you’re any good, and whether you’re capable of getting better, that’s something I recognize–I’ve had those thoughts a million times about my own work. This is, in my case, depression talking, something that I try to keep in mind.

    As everyone else has said, your writing is extremely clear and well-argued–and the ability to turn your essays into coherent book-length works is an advanced writing skill in itself.

  16. Hal says:

    Late to the pah-ty but I generally concur with what’s been said by others. Your essays on the Beatles, the Kinks, Beach Boys etc are all worthwhile, your style may be ever-so-slightly stilted at times yet there’s also a *joy* in getting at the heart of a great song or trying to tease out the ambiguities in more mercurial works that is compelling. I may *vociferously* disagree with you at times or find a particular standpoint rather annoying (I may be an ass, there’s always that;)), but trust me that’s better than being *bored to death*. Obviously, I can’t speak for the negative reviewers on Amazon but there’s *no way* your work is deserving of a one star rating, I would venture that those who rated the bookettes so low have no grasp of the star system or are merely nasty chimps. I can’t imagine that they’re are complaining of the price-to-page ratio because well they know the length (don’t they?) and no one forced them to buy. You can’t be blamed for the expectations of others and similarly it’s silly to indicate you’d like to “save” people who won’t like your books from buying them, you aren’t Mr Majieka! Your work tends to be (from my point of view) interesting, sometimes stimulating, sometimes infuriating, it isn’t bad by any means, much of it is pretty- to very-good, and when there’s – to be crude -such a lot of real *shit* on the shelves and floating in the digital ether you can take heart that you aren’t adding to that.
    As an aside, your Beatles and Kinks work is far more satisfying than Clinton Heylin’s Sgt Pepper book and All the Madmen which are either half-cocked or a load of old cock!
    Aside #2 While I agree that the Amazon unpleasantries come from people seemingly determined to be negative, I do tend to think that the “Haters Gonna Hate” catchphrase is unhelpful, after all some of your thoughtful but negative reviews would see you branded a “h8r”…by Idiots. There’s a difference between disliking something with reason and just being an um “Hater”. Long live freedom to disagree!

  17. plok says:

    Wow, I just wrote about three thousand words on this.

    Time to trim it down…!

    Wow, but the Amazon feedback system is really a dumb thing, isn’t it? I mean no matter how much of it there is, it’s just absolutely terrible as data, and the feedback into sales is pretty much not open to the kind of examination that would ever make it good data. When you see sales fall, how do you know it isn’t because the character of your readership isn’t changing into something you’d like better? How do you know that every person with a brain who sees a pissily-ignorant review isn’t more inclined to consider your books than they would’ve been before? This crowdsourced-opinion stuff, there’s no Invisible Hand that’s quietly assembling it into a comprehensible register of criticism — I told you that Yelp! discloses that something like two-thirds of its reviews are attached to a three-star rating or higher? Even when the review is otherwise a bad one, and by all accounts this makes Yelp! pretty much useless. But people know that about Yelp!, because Yelp! doesn’t also run the restaurants or auto-body shops or whatever….just like they know it about (so funny!) YouTube comments. But with Amazon it’s there, right on the page, so it messes things up, but at the same time it’s quite clear Amazon doesn’t give a damn about the quality of any of the books they sell, not even as much as any other distributor in the non-digital world does…so the idea that the reviews can be worth something isn’t totally crazy, but we can’t know what they’re worth because it doesn’t matter to Amazon, and they’re the only ones who could possibly put a system in place that would enable this feedback to be parsed.


    As with so much else, it’s a matter of divining which are the right voices to listen to, and I think your reaching-out here is a good idea, because you’ve already gotten some good information out of it. Yes, you’re a good writer (well, that one was easy!), and more importantly YES your writing has made a difference to somebody. So you don’t need to be the writer you wish you were, you don’t even need to be the writer you’re going to turn into, to know enough to say you’re doing a good job and that your efforts are worthwhile instead of wasted.

    But then you should’ve already known that, because you’ve already made a dumb person read a book they didn’t like! Which is a very very very good thing, because without having to read books we don’t like there is no education in the world (which is a thing dumb people just looking for pure reinforcement need more than the rest of us), and also even if the only books out there were books that I myself personally approved of, my life would be a lot poorer and my world a lot more sickeningly shrunken, like a rotten apple on an ignorant windowsill.

    Though I do feel bad calling people “dumb”, when they may very well be bright 13 year-olds having trouble at home or school, just using Amazon reviews to get their frustrations out. WHICH COULD BE THE CASE! And probably is, at least some of the time.

    Man, but I’m always concerned the person who may be getting my goat online could be a bright youngster, you know? I could be SO MEAN to them, just to make myself feel like a big man. How horrible that would be!

    I think Amazon will always have these problems.

  18. plok says:

    (I think in general we should be more critical of online fora and crowdsourced opinion-aggregators, because I think we’re being very naive about how straightforwardly these operate, in a real site-and-situation way. We all know there are messageboards and blogs that tend to attract opinionated remarks that wouldn’t even qualify as opinion anywhere else…and there is Yelp! and Scientific American and Comment Is Free for heaven’s sake, and they all work different ways and drag in different sorts of voices saying different things for different reasons. Yet there are also places where intelligent comment and civilized discussion reign, and these too attract different voices/statements/reasons, but…do we know why? Have we thought about it enough? I don’t know that we have.)

  19. David Brown says:

    For me it would certainly be a shame if you stopped writing. I started reading this blog because I’m into comics but read all the entries, buy most of the books, and am now the owner of 3 Kinks albums entirely thanks to your reviews. So there is a definite tangible impact your writing has had on at least one person. As someone interested in music but not having it as a primary interest your style in the books is ideal for introducing me to bands I know little about, but also informative on bands I already knew like the Beatles (where the last thing needed would have been another biography – your book really filled a gap). I was actually looking forward to seeing who you would tackle next – happy if it’s more info on stuff I already have or a new to me band to inspire new purchases.

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