Freedom of Speech Means—I Can and Willfully Reserve the Right to Tell you to “Suck It”.
Well, I have to start this post with the fact that I have had a hellish July. It’s not normally my favorite month, as it’s NOT 20 below zero outside, there are no beautiful Christmas lights on display, and nothing exciting happens in July. Even in BookVille- not many big releases by publishers during the summer months(still something I don’t quite understand, as beach weather means people are looking for hot releases, and what’s hotter than a new book by a highly respected author?). Anywho…. this month found me helping my dad through multiple and scary health issues. He’s 81 and lives with me. He’s a tough man, but sad to say, none of us is invincible. It started with one thing, which led to a number of things that will affect him the rest of his life and end in radical diet and lifestyle changes across the board. He is doing ok, but still, many weeks of worrying and finally a hospital stay to figure all this out…so as I was saying(concentration was never my strong suit), things are somewhat settled down for the moment. In the middle of this I found myself in quite a predicament that I never expected to run into.
I have never shied away from the fact that I have worked in books for a long time. First Crown Books- until they went bust in 2001. Then Kooks-A-Zillion until they closed my store in 2010. Then after 7 weeks of going fucking insane, I landed a job at my present employer. Since I am now fucking terrified to reveal the name of said bookstore, we’ll leave it at an independent bookstore who has been a steady and sure influence in the Chicago market for many years. The differences between working for a corporate entity and an independent? On that alone- I could write a book. Let me say, I enjoy it a LOT more. I love my job. Not every day, but who does love their job every day? I love it about 97% of the time, which I couldn’t say for some of my other long-standing gigs. Another reason why I love my current gig showed itself to me just recently.
Monday, July 16th. I get a phone call at the store from the owner of the store. He reads an email to me from the publicist of an author who we are hosting a signing event for that Saturday- July 21st. The email, while well practiced in the art of professional email etiquette, sent forth more than a smoke signal. Somehow, despite the fact that this blog that I have been writing since May 24th has NO identification to my identity and the store name and locale, figured out it was my store that this author was signing at that Saturday. So what, you say? Well, I had gotten a galley of the book, along with two of my employees, to read. It’s not uncommon to receive copies of the book from the publisher once you’ve set a signing date. I ALWAYS read the book of the authors who are doing events with us- it’s courtesy, I think, and also, just plain old business sense. Would you be comfortable hosting an event for an author whose book you hadn’t read? Yeah, doesn’t make a lot of sense. I tried- to read this book- THREE times. Finally, on the last try, I made it through. I didn’t enjoy it completely. I gave it two out of five. I did, along with the things I didn’t enjoy, write about what I did enjoy. Some people- call it objective. Some people- in this case, the publicist, the media contact, and the author- call it NEGATIVE. Negative- is- well, not a happy word. It wasn’t the most “shiny, happy, people” review I have ever written. It is also, by far, not the worst review I have ever written. It was, as I still believe, the truth, my honest opinion, of what I thought of the book. The people involved with that book and the signing did not agree. They basically wanted to talk to the owner as they were afraid my little “negative review” would “drive negative attendance to that and future events”. They also made sure to say that while they “respected” my right to express an opinion, clearly, this was bullshit. If that had been the case, they would have said “oh, well, that person didn’t like it.”, and no email or melodrama would have followed. I have 47 followers- nowhere near what I would like to have- do they really believe those 47 would be that affected? I don’t think I influence that many people, honestly. It’s a way of expressing my ideas and opinions of books- outside of my job. I do the blog- on my own time. In my own house. If it weren’t a passion, I wouldn’t have spent the time putting it together and trying to figure out the idiosyncracies of it. I wouldn’t have done it, period. Instead- I get this. Unbelievable. The email itself- pretty unbelievable. It stated that the publisher got a call from the publicist and the author about this review and “while it wasn’t obvious where and who she worked for, all I had to do was link up to her Twitter account and I figured out it was her.”
Yes, in my blogging naivete, I had linked this blog with my Facehook and Titter accounts. Big mistake No 1- because my Twitter account is SO obvious. I think the giveaway had to be my name- how many store managers would have the name Georgette? Not many. All my profile page says is “bookstore manager, book-a-holic, etc” and gives my location as Chicago. Well, believe it or not, Kindle and Nook be damned to Hell, there are still actual bookstores operating in the Chicago area. There are other bookstore employees who write book blogs- those people, at least six friends of mine, I can honestly say, reveal their company name and location- and real name. My blog is generationg..nowhere is my actual name in the blog. I don’t even have an “about me” section! Mistake No. 2 was pointing out in the blog post itself that the store I work at was hosting this author “in the next few weeks.” and that I had many “questions I had to ask her.” Bad idea on my part. Next time I’ll just word it with “the book floated to me and my co-workers in a mystical miasma of wishful literary longing.” So I live, I learn. Some live by the book, others die by the book.
Resolution? I offered to take the blog post/review down. My boss said ok, and that he would talk to the media people, and not to worry, I didn’t cause any problems.(I’m known not only for over-worrying, but over-apologizing as well). Well- this gets better. My co-worker D and I had been invited to a luncheon that Thur-July 19th, in Chicago, with that author, the publicist, and the publishing company. I had looked forward to that, as the last two we tried to make didn’t go through. I wanted to meet the rep who I’ve spoken with a lot in the last two years. And mostly, I wanted to experience an author luncheon with my employees. I thought “Great, here’s a chance to smooth over this in person.” Oh no…not allowed. The very next day- AFTER the book review was taken down(and the naive blogger made sure her Nippler account was protected, as well as her FB page, so no one can read it just surfing the web), my boss received a call in which D and I were “uninvited” to the event. Uninvited? Wow. You get me to take the “negative” blog down, then you uninvite us? My boss apparently spent much of the phone call defending me, while his wife- the other owner of the bookstore- reiterated her support of my rights to write whatever I like. I had come home to ready my dad for his doctor appointment, and received a call from the store telling me to call the owner. I did, and got his wife. Who enthusiastically gave me a pep talk and told me that they not only approved it, but not to let anyone EVER tell me what to write and not write, and to never let anyone censor me. Right on!
Hence- here’s the blog I should have written after that..except I couldn’t, for I was at the hospital with my dad. Let me tell you, going through that and having my bosses defend my honor, well, it felt great. I can honestly say it took a lot of weight off my shoulders. I joked about it, but it really fucking pissed me off. We live in America- where freedom of speech is such a huge deal. I can cruise the Internet and watch Kermit porn, but I can’t go on and say “I just didn’t dig her book, but she really nailed the psychological profile of a hoarder.”? What? Screw that. I have no filter normally, but I was trying to play it nice. I really worried that this would lead me to losing my job, but I was pleasantly surprised that they support me. I will continue to write what I think, if you don’t like it, fuck, you don’t have to read it now, do you? You could go over to someone blogging about whales having sex to the docile strains of Britney Spear’s Greatest Hits album.
What happened at the signing? Two people showed up. Two. Both from the infamous luncheon that I had been “uninvited” to. I didn’t have a single person buy the book before the signing, nor before the blog furor, nor in general. My one co-worker read it and didn’t care for it a whit, the other co-worker got halfway through and got so depressed she quit reading it. I had issues with the book also, but I can’t NOT finish a book once I start it(it’s a disease, I tell you!) so I forged on. Then I wrote a seemingly little blog that blew up into a volcano of verbal threat. I haven’t read a single review of it in any print media I have seen(and I read no less than 40 print magazines a week, no joke). I haven’t seen it on Book TV on CNN. I had never heard of the author’s previous titles. I passed it onto a friend of mine(sorry, L!) and told her of this….so I hope she donates it or sets it afire if she doesn’t dig it. I won’t put it on the recommends shelf and play off like it’s a wonderful book if it blows. And blow it did. Sorry, ego-infested author, I didn’t love it. If someone comes up and asks me a honest opinion, they’re going to get it. and that means you will not see sales of that title in the store. I am not paid to lie to the customer, the very people who continue to pay my bills by frequenting the establishment and asking for my opinion, and then buying what I recommend wholeheartedly. I wasn’t the only person who didn’t like it, so I won’t be alone. That’s HALF of my staff who didn’t like it. The author didn’t win any fans while at the store(I wasn’t planning on being there after all of this) by slamming those who self-publish their books and then gloating that her media personnel only tell her of “good” reviews .Bullshit. How the hell did you find out about my little blog, then? This whole thing is a sham, and not the kind you have on a bed, sister. And then to mention her “friends” do all the good reviews, that she disregards Goodreads and never reads it(likely b/c her book isn’t beyond a 2/3 on average, smart people over at Goodreads), and that “there was a negative one but it doesn’t get a lot of traffic so I didn’t worry.” No, you didn’t worry, but you had your publicist start a brouhaha of crap over NOTHING then. Your Twitter account and FB account, before this, were public. After this, suddenly, you cannot see unless you are a friend or follower. Given that the author/blogger relationships have been a bit unsteady and downright frightening of late, understandable that someone would think I have the time or fuck-all to pursue anything further. Nope. Sick dad, full time job, house and bills to pay, friends who mean the world to me, and more importantly, books to read and review. Don’t like it? Don’t read it. Or follow it.
I am so happy, though, that my bosses stuck up for me and said “Do whatever the hell you want.” It restores my faith, even as it now leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I had hoped to someday work for this publisher, but I’m pretty sure that’s a dead turd floating in the bowl now. It makes me mad also. I can’t tell you how many authors who have supported me(Rhiannon Frater, you are the best) and heard this story were also pissed off by it. I’ve read so many blogs in the past two months where authors and reviewers/bloggers clash. And it’s usually the author going psycho. If you cannot write something and have it published, and realize that someone out there may not care for it, why the hell are you writing? Life isn’t always roses and champagne. It’s often plastic carnations and Sunny Delight. You take the good with the bad. If you can’t, you don’t belong in the book industry, I’m sorry. Anyone connected with the book world knows it’s a topsy-turvy ride much of the time. Corporations like Borders go bust, others are circling the drain, and indies fight the good fight alone…despite those who come in and enthusiastically trump “Amazon”(aka EVIL, another blog in the works, no worries) and “E-Books”(suck it, no joke). Indies that honor publisher prices and do not offer discounts but constantly have people scoff and go to Target and buy it instead- there’s a new thing every other day. But if you didn’t love it, you wouldn’t fight on. I love it, and so I fight on. And it will NOT keep me from writing my honest fucking opinion. Ever. So again- let me repeat this- followers, repeat it with me- If you don’t like it, don’t read it, don’t follow my blog. Peace!