Reviews, software and the season of the trolls

No, you didn’t go to bed last night and enter a time warp. It really is Wednesday. Sarah asked me to fill in for her this morning because she had an o-dark thirty flight out to Libertycon last night and simply ran out of time. But never fear, she’ll be back next week with tales of the con and more. The only problem is I figured I’d be up early, as has been my habit recently. Instead, I overslept. So apologies for the late post.

A couple of things have come up over the last day or two that caught my eye. The first was a post by another author — one not associated with MGC as either a contributor or regular commenter — complaining about a review received for a short story. Before receiving the one-star review, he’d had three or four other reviews, all five-star. So, because this review was so dramatically different from the others and because the reviewer wasn’t a “verified purchaser”, the author instantly assumed it was a troll review. Then he went on a tirade on social media about it.

This is where things get a little hazy. Whether the reviewer saw the rant on social media or the author left a comment on Amazon about the review, it is clear word got back to the reviewer because he edited the original review to note that the author had problems with the review and claimed he hadn’t read the story. He had, according to the edits, because he’d “borrowed” a friend’s copy.

That brought another response from the author, this time as response on Amazon. Once more he attacked the reviewer and said there was no way this could have happened because the story wasn’t available for “lending”. Ergo, the reviewer is a liar.

Not necessarily. The reviewer could be like my mother and me, and any number of other families and close friends who actually loan their kindles back and forth. Or the original purchaser of the short story could have broken the DRM, if any was applied, and then given a copy to the reviewer. Or, yes, the reviewer could be lying.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. The author stepped into it by first blowing up on social media with enough detail that the reviewer knew who and what he was referring to. Heck, the author actually included a link to the product page so all his “friends” could go see the horrible review. Then, going to the review on Amazon and responding in a defensive — and derrisive — manner didn’t help him any either. It makes him look bad and, if he’s like me, it is a distraction from writing he doesn’t need.

Yes, it is hard to read those bad reviews. If you can’t put the brakes on the impulse to respond, then get someone else to read your reviews for you. But don’t waste your time trying to prove just how wrong that reviewer happens to be and certainly don’t lose your cool. It will backfire on you.

The second thing that caught my eye recently has been a discussion on Baen’s Bar about what software folks use to write. As you can imagine, the responses are varied. There are those who, like me, use Word. We might not like it and it does have a learning curve from Hell, but it is still the industry standard and it still has the best review and comment function of anything I’ve found. Others use open source software like LibreOffice and OpenOffice. Both are decent programs and have the benefit of being free. Others use older versions of WordPerfect — frankly, my favorite program before it started trying to be Word. Apple fanatics use Word or Pages. Then there are those who use text editors. A few use Scrivener.

Each program has its benefits and drawbacks. Word is chock-full of junk code and is expensive. Then there is the learning curve to be able to take advantage of all it offers. But it is the industry standard. Plus, it is easy to get rid of much of the junk code by simply running it through another program, such as Atlantis, if necessary. But even that isn’t necessary in most cases anymore because Amazon and the other sites that allow us to upload our work for sale have improved their conversion tools to the point that much of the junk code is removed during the conversion process. It’s not perfect and you do have to check each time you upload something, but it is much better than it used to be.

OpenOffice, and to a lesser extent LibreOffice, are notorious for not working well with Smashwords’ conversion tool, the meatgrinder. So that is something to keep in mind if you are going to be offering your work through that particular outlet.

Using a text editor is probably the best way to insure you have no junk code in your work. The problem is that you need at least a basic understanding of html coding if you are going this route and, frankly, most of us don’t want to take the time to make sure all the codes are closed out. Still, if you don’t have much special coding needed, this is the way to go if you don’t mind the way the text editor works and looks.

Scrivener is an excellent program but, for me, it offers too much. Yes, I know you can choose which parts of the program to use but it is distracting. I have a feeling that, for a true plotter, it is probably one of the best programs out there. But for pantsers or hybrids, it can be a bit daunting.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter what program you use for writing. The important thing is that you are writing. Where much of the conversion problems come from now is when a file goes through multiple programs during the editing process. Here’s what I mean. Wally the writer uses Word. When Wally finishes his first draft, he sends the DOC file to Annie the Alpha Reader. Annie reads and comments using Pages and then sends it back to Wally. Wally opens the file, looks it over and implements or disregards Annie’s suggestions. Then he sends it to Barney the Beta who uses LibreOffice. Rinse and repeat.

What happens is that each of these programs have underlying code that has now been written into the file. Some of that code may be at odds with other parts of the coding. That is what causes a lot of the problems you see during conversion. So, whether you upload exclusively to Amazon or to other sites as well, I recommend you add one more program. You need something that will let you edit the html code. You can do this by saving your file as an html file and using a text editor or you can convert it to epub and use a file like Sigil to edit the html. I like using Sigil or something similar to it because it allows you to not only edit the code but also the text of the file. You can build your meta data, compile your active table of contents, and much more. But, again, none of that matters if you aren’t writing and finding the program you are most comfortable with as a word processor is a must.

Finally, this is the season of the trolls. We’ve had a few here. Not many but a few. Sarah gets them fairly regularly at ATH. We see them in reviews and on social media. Even though a rousing game of whack-a-troll is often fun, it is a time consumer as well. Especially when, as with the one at ATH right now, he either doesn’t realize he’s being used as a chew toy or he enjoys it. Don’t let yourself get drawn into a prolonged encounter with them. Even if they do eventually go away, they’ve won because they’ve taken you away from what’s important — your writing.

And, one that note, I’m off to find more coffee and get back to work myself. Have a good one, guys!


  1. I’ve given up on the editing and comments functions. When incorporating other people’s edits, I pull up my master copy in one window and the annotated version in another, and edit (or not) my master copy, without ever letting any of the fancy functions touch it. Yes, Luddite here. Perpetually five (or more) years behind the cutting edge.

    And reviews? Bad ones are useful, if they give any details. But if the author just has to do something, an appeal in a closed site to fans to add their own reviews and dilute the bad one is the most one ought to do. And if (looks in mirror) the reviews all say they loved the story despite the typos and repeated wrong words and missing words . . . perhaps it’s time for a clean up and replacement.

    1. Yes! I also open two windows and edit in the original file. I don’t try to tell my beta readers how to mark up their comments. Whatever they are comfortable with is fine. It bad for them to be thinking about how to edit instead of what to edit.

    2. Some reviews are so bad that you want to say something– for instance “you should stand at the corner and beg people to read your story.”
      It is not a helpful review (Yes, this is an actual review–) and is meant to hurt the writer. I am of the opinion that I should at least give a reason for why I give a good review or a middle review. If I hate something, I don’t usually review.

      1. The only reason I’ve left two-star reviews was for a (theoretically) non-fiction book that had so many factual errors and problems that it really wasn’t ready for prime time. And there I cited a few of the errors, cited the correct sources, and suggested a few other books that readers (and that author) might look at. I’ve four-starred a few things because of grammar or usage errors (mostly modern slang in historical fantasy) that threw me out of the story. There’s no reason to go after the author, unless it is like the guy in Pakistan two years ago that was scanning and uploading classic sci-fi with his name and slightly different titles (as in, McCaffrey’s Dragonriders books, that sort of thing). Once people told the ‘Zon, all his stuff got yanked and he was blocked from further uploads. In that case, I say sic’ em.

        1. True– plagarism of that nature– the supposed author should be in serious trouble. (2nd example) as for the first example– good example

    3. I do my edits on a clean copy because I’ve never figured out how to turn the inserted comments off.

      1. If you’re in Word, you want to delete them when you’re done with them. Right click on the comment, and you get an options bar. One of the options is deleting the comment. The one thing you don’t want is to just leave it there but read it in a “final” setting. Affirmatively delete it.

        My betas all wanted a print version. That was tedious, but I was fine with it.

    4. Pam, I do the same on comments with two exceptions. Those are my alpha readers and they use the same version of Word as I do.

      As for reviews, you’re spot on about the private forum appeal. I’ve been known to do that before. That’s very different from pitching a hissy fit in public and then confronting the reviewer on the sales site.

      1. Oh yeah, hissy fits are a bad idea. “Don’t make yourself look bad. It turns off potential readers.” ought to be pretty high up on the Rules for Writers List.

    5. I prefer my comments in list form “On page, x, when you say” because it’s more “distancing” than seeing my text altered. And that’s how I comment, unless it’s to someone like Amanda, who writes so much like me it’s easier to ‘edit’ as I do me.

      1. I’ve gone to using a google doc and giving access to my beta readers. Then they don’t have to duplicate their efforts, and neither do I.

      2. When I showed my Baen entry to some friends, I turned on the option to show line numbers in the margin when I exported to PDF, so that people could point out the exact line where I typed “her” instead of “here” (Which, alas, was about the only useful note I got from any of them. Those of you with good Beta Readers should count your blessings).

  2. Mostly if I say anything at all it is – “Sorry you didn’t like it.” The one time I defended against an objection was pointless. My other readers were explaining the point to the woman and she extended her objection way past what I had written to include what she imagined I was thinking. It’s futile to defend yourself against thought crimes.

    1. Mackey, I’ve been known to thank someone for a good review. As for the rest of them, I tend not to respond because it is either an invitation for the person to continue describing why they didn’t like the work or they think you are attacking them. It really is a no-win situation.

  3. I’ve seen some conversion wonkiness just from running the same file through different versions or installations of Word. I have Word 2010 on the laptop and Word 2003 on the desktop (sometimes one version or the other is easier to work with for bill-paying client files), and anything that will someday be uploaded to Amazon now stays on only one (if possible).

    One-star Amazon reviews are a rite of passage now, too, I think. I was actually happy when I got my first, because it was finally out of the way.

    1. You’re right about going between versions. But the worst is still going between WP and Word, imo, especially older versions of WP.

      As for the one-star reviews, I hate them but I’d rather have a few bad reviews than none at all because otherwise it looks like nothing but sock puppets have reviewed the piece.

  4. I’m used to Word 2011, and although Scrivener looks neat, there’s too much stuff attached to it. I can see how a plotter, or someone with a cast of thousands might find some of the features very helpful, but I’ve gotten along thus far with having my info sheet as a second document and just flipping back and forth between them. And as Amanda says, Word is industry standard, and all my nonfiction work has to be in Word. We’re not even supposed to use something else and then convert to a .doc or .docx. When I alpha or beta read, I save the thing as “titleATCB” dot whatever, so the other author can have that open and his or her master. Ditto my master and my commentors. I’ve avoided major problems thus far. *tap,tap,tap on wood*

  5. I’ve been trying to do more reviews on Amazon. As a consequence of that I’ve been reading the other reviews. I’ve tried to be honest and I’ve tried *very hard* not to sound like a “reviewer”. I’ve tried very hard not to sound like I’m the author’s best friend posting a glowing review as a favor. I don’t include a plot summary because I figure there is one on the product page already.

    I’m sure that it’s hard to be objective when someone is trashing your baby, but as a reader, I’m not sure the bad reviews matter all that much. Particularly if there are just a couple them. I know that I read between the lines when I read them. If there are good reviews and bad reviews I compare them. Not everyone likes the same stories. I had to laugh reading through the reviews of Larry Correia’s Hard Magic. One of the one-star reviews was nearly word-for-word of most of the five-star reviews.

    I have responded to the bad reviews in my own review of other people’s books. (Well, of course “other people’s” since I don’t have any out there.) On Pam’s I wrote something like the grammar and typos had either been fixed or the other reviewers didn’t know what they were talking about because I thought the prose was exceptionally clean.

    1. Synova, I love it when I get a couple of reviews — usually bad ones — that are so obviously from the same person just posting from different accounts. Those are the ones that fail to change the wording or consistently misspell the same words, etc.

      1. On the one hand that’s funny. On the other hand… why would someone do that?

        On yet another hand… I had a coworker who’s “boyfriend” called in complaints about her at work pretending to be a customer so I suppose there is a “why” someplace, even if I can’t quite grasp it.

    2. I’ve been cleaning up the prose and covers and blurbs and making sure I put in what number in the series a book is and so forth. It’s a learning experience. What was a passable cover at first is now hopelessly amateur, for instance. And I’m being much more careful now about what goes up first. Meh. I’m still hiding from learning marketing, which really shows in the sales.

      Amazon reviews, as opposed to professional book reviews . . . eh, I think they mostly need to be short. “Great Characters, good story, but some elements not suitable for children” sort of thing. Although when there aren’t many reviews, I usually go into more detail.

      1. I know what you mean, Pam, especially about the covers. I just finished the cover for my next one the other day, then looked back at the cover for my first, from a year and a half ago. Seeing them side by side really drove home that I am getting better…but that I also really need to replace that first one now.

      2. I figured that you’d probably gone in and fixed things and I didn’t notice anything *saying* that you had. It’s probably better for someone else to do it, I think.

        It goes back up to the post and not wanting to argue with posted reviews. How’s a person supposed to tell that the author isn’t just being defensive?

  6. If you’re an extreme plotter like me, Scrivener is a dream come true. It also turns your work directly into epub or mobi formats (the main reason I got it).

    I have and use Word – but the 2011 version for Mac has so many bells and whistles it scares me (I was two versions behind when I got a new computer).

    All of them save you lots of aggravation – but give you some of their own. Whatever works – but also note that my Scrivener file for Pride’s Children is ENORMOUS – and I can’t even tell. I had a problem with the previous Word version – massive slowness.

    Now if they would just freeze EVERYTHING until I’m finished. Thank you. Coping with change is what keeps me from being finished.

  7. “You need something that will let you edit the html code. You can do this by saving your file as an html file and using a text editor or you can convert it to epub and use a file like Sigil to edit the html. I like using Sigil or something similar to it because it allows you to not only edit the code but also the text of the file.”
    OK: This- I’m such a newbie that I only have stories and that’s all. I did the submission to Baen’s fantasy short contest by following Windows Manuscript directions. For that, I have no idea if it was accepted or sent to file thirteen. So, how do I do the above without crashing the Toshiba?

    1. Don’t worry about that until you are ready to convert something to put up for sale at Amazon, etc. If you are going to try to go the traditional route or are submitting to short fiction venues, just follow their submission guidelines.

      However, I did have a thought. I’m doing a short seminar at our local library for my crit group and anyone else who wants to attend the first Sunday in August. If there is interest, I can figure out a way to put the info up here or on my own blog. Just let me know if anyone thinks it would be worthwhile.

      1. It would be worthwhile for me. When I do the Word->htm->epub shift, garbage happens. Ditto to mobi. I suspect the glitch is in the Word to htm stage, but I’m not savvy enough yet to sort out what I did wrong, or if it’s just Word being Word.

      2. I would be very interested in a post. I’ve published twice now with Amazon using a word document, and things seem to have gone fine. This, of course, has been worrying me in light of repeated references to its junk code. Now that I’m hearing that a lot of issues coming from opening and working on the document in different programs I’m feeling less worried, ’cause I don’t do that. I’ve only had one beta want a soft copy, and I didn’t work in her version.

  8. No question about me being interested and if you were within a hundred miles of me, I would be there. I haven’t done a count of how many 100K+ stories there are- at least ten. I just like writing. I’m learning GIMP right now. Taking my camera wherever I go. I don’t plan on traditional publishing, And the Baen thing was a leap of faith. Test of the water so to speak. I fully expect to learn, apply and submit Independent. But; I know how much I need to grow or go yet. You post it, I’ll jump all over it.

  9. The season of trolls? You mean “Troll Season!?!?!?!” Sweet!!!! Three questions: 1) Do I need a license? 2) What’s the bag limit? and 3) Is it legal to bait?

Comments are closed.