The worst advice I’ve ever seen

The other day, someone on my twitter feed linked to an article about 10 pieces of advice that are never given to graduates. While I question the validity of a couple of the points (most notably, the idea you must marry someone smarter and not just as smart as you), I didn’t have a post-worthy problem with the list until I reached piece of advice #10:

10. Don’t try to be great. Being great involves luck and other circumstances beyond your control. The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn’t, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.

If you’ll give me a moment.

Dear Sir: Up yours. Strong letter to follow.

Okay, that’s out of the way. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: There is nothing wrong with being solid. There is nothing wrong with being good. There is nothing wrong with deciding you are perfectly happy where you are in your life. There is, however, a major problem with encouraging people not to even try for greatness.

What the hell is the point of my lost sleep, my overrun brain, my weekly exhaustion, and my never-ending work if I’m not trying for greatness? If greatness is not to be attempted, why do I have an inborn sense of determination and stubborness longer and wider than the Mississippi River?

It’s such an insulting, backhanded idea: Oh, greatness just kind of happens to you. Working for it is silly. It’s just luck.

You know who says greatness is basically luck and circumstance? People who haven’t damn well tried. You know who thinks greatness requires hard work and determinatin and sleepless nights? People who have hit it. Because they went out and said, “I will try to be great. I will make an effort to be great. I will build myself into greatness.”

Will I be great? I have no idea, but I certainly won’t ever claim greatness just happens to people. I won’t brush off my hard work and determination as some sort of circumstantial event that could have happened to anybody. It can’t. If greatness were a nebulous, unpredictable occurrence, we’d all be great. But we’re not, and there are people like the article author who have decided that rather than try themselves, they’ll decry the whole thing as a false hope.

It’s one thing to decide where you are makes you happy; it’s another entirely to decide no one gets to outrank you. You want to outrank me? Put in the work.

I’m done with Smashwords

I’ve been hip-deep in homework the last two weeks, and I’ve been sick-ish since last weekend and still doing homework (grad school, kids; this is what it looks like), so I’ve actually missed a lot of the details about the PayPal vs. Smashwords thing going on. In short: PayPal popped up and said, “Hey, Smashwords, you can’t sell stories about rape, bestiality, or incest. If you keep doing it, we’ll freeze your accounts.” Smashwords responded with, “Hey, can we talk about this?” There have been talks, and late on March 2 (yesterday), I got a newsletter from Smashwords asking me to support them in their endeavor to protect free speech.

I will not. And here’s why:

From the Press Release from Mark Coker:

*Rape:*  Although our Terms of Service prohibits books that advocate violence against others, we did not specifically identify rape.  This was an oversight on our part.  Now we have clarified the policy.  We do not want books that contain rape for the purpose of titillation.  At Smashwords, rape no longer has a place in erotica.  It has no place anywhere else if the purpose is to titillate.  Non-consensual BDSM – or any other form of non-consensual violence against another person – is prohibited.  

He says the original TOS prohibits books that advocate violence against others, but since no one actually wrote the word rape into the TOS, the stories and books about people being violently violated eeked through. That should not have happened. If you put down a rule that says you prohibit books that advocate violence, that means you (or in this case, Coker and his team) get to define what what violence is, and Coker and his team chose to allow books about rape through their TOS rules. Which means they chose to define rape as non-violent. I’m going to repeat this: According to the TOS created and interpreted by Coker and his team, rape was a non-violent action until there was a chance money would become an issue. Before PayPal popped up and said, “Stop it,” no one at Smashwords was defining rape as violent.

Remember, every book at Smashwords is vetted by a real person. They pride themselves on this fact. While I know these vetting processes are generally for formatting checks, there is no way they couldn’t have caught this sooner if they’d wanted to. But they chose not to want to.

Let me state this another way: The head of a company is asking me to support said company in a time of crisis is asking me to do so while the staff of this company decided rape didn’t count as violent. Rape is violence. There is nothing sexy about rape. There is nothing erotic about rape. Rape never should have been in erotica in the first place, and Coker and his team could have removed it at any point, but they didn’t. They waited until someone else called them on it. They waited until money was on the line.

This hair-split about rape (I can’t even be coherent about “rape for titillation” as the cut off), however, is only the third worst thing that’s happened in all this. Here’s the second-worst:

*THINGS TO AVOID:*  Avoid using words such as ‘bestiality,’ ‘rape,’ ‘incest,”underage,’ or ‘barely legal’ in book titles, book descriptions or keyword tags, otherwise Smashwords may conclude you’re violating the Terms of Service, or trying to push the limits.  If you’re writing non-erotic works, and any of these words are necessary, then you’re okay.

What you’re seeing right there is a how-to guide of getting around this new rule about rape. Just don’t use the word! It doesn’t count then, right?

What’s the very worst thing, you ask? The fact that Coker has now asked that I show support for writers who write the rape stories that Smashwords will accept. The ones that aren’t for titilation (and, hell, all the ones that don’t get tagged rape even if they are). I cannot do this. Knowing it existed on Smashwords was one thing. I didn’t have to look at it. I didn’t have to support the individual writers who wrote it. But I cannot abide supporting a company with a CEO who flat-out admits that he and his staff did not consider rape a violent act until someone else pointed it out to them.

By the time you read this, my works will be unpublished on Smashwords. In a month (per their FAQ), I will e-mail Smashwords and have my account deleted. In the FAQ, there is the following question to consider before deleting:

Why would you deliberately want to limit the distribution of your book?

Because I choose not to associate with companies that have to redefine violence so it includes rape.

EDIT on 8/4/2012: The new version of the TOS was removed, and the previous version reinstated a few months back. I will continue not using Smashwords and continue to hope that other writers will understand my disgust with the company and consider taking down their own works.

I was not misquoted, but I was misconstrued

(Note: in the original copy of this post, I attributed the blog post to Ms. Friedman, as her name is in the URL. It was brought to my attention that the author of the post was Porter Anderson. I’ve changed the names where needed.)

 

I was checking my blog stats today (as you do), and found that someone had found me through a site called janefriedman.com. I went to the site to check it out and found that my original post about Book Country was being referenced by Porter Anderson, who wrote the post. The direct quote:

The pixels were barely dry on last week’s Ether section on Book Country when Katherine Gilraine posted her own heated condemnation of the Penguin-owned program, in Book Country by Penguin. Gilraine then seems to offer her own services as an alternative.

I offer document formatting and cover design services as part of KG Creative Enterprises. For $550, I’d not only do both of those but do a read-through of the book and toss up a formal review on the blog and give a signed one for the author to use as part of their press release. Heck, I’d help with the press release. And as part of my business, I make sure, egregiously, that it’s done the way my client likes it.

Gilraine also points to more damning commentary in Gayle Francis Moffet‘s Let’s call this Penguin Publishing thing exactly what it isThis is yet another write in thepeculiarly shrill, biting vernacular so many bring to this debate, Moffet writing:

It’s vanity publishing, and it’s disgusting. Not because it’s preying on we poor writers with our hopes and dreams…but because Penguin thinks this will actually work. Penguin thinks that people who self-publish will actuallyfall for this crap.

Of course, Moffet then goes on to note that people who self-publish have fallen for this “crap.”

I won’t touch on KG’s comments. As always, she can handle that herself. I included the preceding paragraph to give you the full account of how my quotes came to be included.

Mr. Anderson thinks my response to the whole Book Country debacle is “shrill.” I fully admit to having a serious issue with that word. It’s commonly used to dismiss a person’s point by painting them as reactionary and ill-informed. Being me, I looked up the dictionary definition of shrill (courtesy of Merriam-Webster):

: having or emitting a sharp high-pitched tone or sound :piercing b : accompanied by sharp high-pitched sounds or cries<shrill gaiety>

2

: having a sharp or vivid effect on the senses <shrill light>

3

: stridentintemperate <shrill anger> <shrill criticism>

We’ll just disregard the first definition, as by it’s nature it requires sound. I’ll agree that my post encompasses points 2 and 3 fully, though I would offer “blunt” as an alternative. I really like the word “blunt.” It doesn’t hold nearly the connotations of “shrill” and gets across the second and third definitions of “shrill” without causing me to twitch.

So, I’m not fully against “shrill,” but I am against the way Mr. Anderson parsed my post. He points out that I pointed out that authors have fallen for Book Country’s crap. He did not, however, point out that my follow-up to that point was to encourage authors–as I always have–to stop doing this. The way it’s quoted, the post gets a very negative vibe that doesn’t exist in the original text. I stand by my assertion that Book Country being a vanity press and a scam and self-publishing being a completely different and separate way of doing business (see further notes on that in this post). I stand by the fact that I am stridently against the bullshit Book Country is selling, and I am absolutely, definitely against my words being parsed in a way that my voice and my point are made to look different than they were.