Yes, I’ve Seen the Latest Author Review Implosion

And so will you, if you follow this link. It’s starts in the first comment, and then doesn’t so much go downhill as plunge rapidly, as if down a mineshaft.

Authors, aspiring and otherwise: See what this author is doing here? Yeah, that’s the thing not to do when it comes to your reviews.

144 Comments on “Yes, I’ve Seen the Latest Author Review Implosion”

  1. I want this woman to blurb my novel. “”F*** off.” — J. Howlett” would be awesome.

  2. I often just lurk but wow, that was just amazing! John, do you think that an author can get so rapped up in their work and fall in love with their characters that they get blinded by it? Or, maybe she just needs therapy? Wow.

  3. Besides if you want to throw crap at authors you should first ask their permission if they want it stuck up on the internet via e-mail. That debate is high among authors.

    Your the target not me!
    Now get this review off here!


    The book is out there doing well without your comments. My first book is great! and I intend to promote now without your ball. Face it AL, you did a booboo, and you can’t correct it!

    I know its you AL talking, stop hiding and stand up and be a man!

    I want this review removed or its just considered abuse.

    Hmm never did get involved in your forum for reasons, now I know why.

    Yep. Pure comedy gold.

  4. I particularly liked the part where she declared it to be “not fair”. Man, if I’d realized I could demand “fair” from the universe, I’d have a wholly different life…

  5. “No, doctor, that is incorrect; her epidermis measures, on average, 6.387 millimeters.”
    “You misunderstand the expression ‘thin-skinned,’ Spock.”

  6. If I worked in PR, and had the misfortune to be involved on her behalf, I would start my spin with, “Someone who does not like our writer clearly hijacked her account and made these searingly stupid remarks. An author represented by this firm would never make such remarks. She wishes to apologize for the behavior of this unknown and heinous criminal, but cannot, as she is, even now, desperately trying to salvage the rest of her online reputation and credit from these acts. This includes a number of purchases made on her behalf at Dildos & More.

    Such a statement is the only thing that might save her…

    That being said, I do fear she will be hounded into doing something more hurtful to herself.

    The Internets, she is a harsh mistress.

  7. That’s completely unbelievable. Writers have to realize that not everyone is going to love their work. In addition, formatting and grammar mistakes are a big turn-off. I did a review of a self-pubbed work two weeks ago that had dozens of simple mistakes (your vs. you’re, there vs. their, etc.). It just reflects poorly on the writer.

    Of course, the author shouldn’t have bitten back like she did. And then continue. And then continue some more.

    I wonder, though, is it a case of any PR is good PR? Or is this truly indefensible buffoonery? I’m leaning toward indefensible buffoonery.

  8. That made my day. I wonder if she considered the fact that years from now, that will still be the top search return to her name.

  9. So let me recapitulate the lesson I derived: when I am published and the work is criticized, I should post a short comment to the effect, “Thank you for offering the time to read and comment on my work. I’ll keep your analysis in mind and hope my next piece is better for it.”


  10. “I think I will stick to my five star and four star reviews thanks.” It’s like she thought this was an eBay transaction. “F—-, would NOT do business again!!!”

    I wish there was something to add here, something that would enrich us, some lesson more deep than “don’t do that”. Instead we get a car crash.

    Of course, that is fun sometimes.

  11. @10 Griffin Barker:

    Exactly! I was thinking the same thing! How can you fix this? Pretending that someone hijacked your account and trying to ruin your career. Or, nowadays, acting Bat Shit Crazy…and getting your name out there. Either way, it is a sad state of our society.

  12. @11. Matt, what is sad is that the critic seemed to like the actual story. She could have taken the constructive advice and looked back over her work instead of going ballistic.

  13. Wow. I remember something kind of similiar when an Indian SF writer basically called American and English publisher’s “KKK Racists” which lead me to A) decide not to spend money on his somewhat interesting sounding stories because he whined way too much past what is healthy and B) that he doesn’t actually know what the KKK is.

  14. The excerpt of the book on her website is hilarious.

    “Autobiography? Ah yes, a book but like a diary?” Rita smiled.

    “Yes, like dairy.” Katy smiled back from where she sat lounging on the bed, eating a few grapes from a bowl on the side table that her mother in law had brought into her earlier.

  15. Year of birth, cross referenced with entitlement issues, and a dash of helicopter parenting, equals a particular lack of professionalism. Statistically true! I mean phew, man!!!

    And sooooo what CV Rick said!

  16. It’s completely crazy. I was reading the review and comments, earlier this evening, and it floored me. How….why…what?

    It was so unprofessional and rude. Plus, the grammatical errors in her comments alone…I can’t imagine the book. I thought the review was perfectly fair and well said. *shakes head*

    I blogged about this, too, because I couldn’t help myself. Have you seen the animated treatment (not by me) of the whole debacle? It’s worth a gander:

  17. Meanwhile, Big Al’s Books and Pals is getting a huge spike in visitors. Dismissing-reviewer-opinion-FAIL.

  18. Holy Train-Wreck, Batman …speaking as one who writes HF, and reviews intermittently on the side – I wouldn’t have touched this particular trifle with a ten-foot pole, not after seeing the first two chapters. And it looks like the writer is old enough to have known better, too.

  19. Other things that are probably not good to post on the internet, from a PR standpoint:

    “I wrote this poem. ‘Sands of time,’ to my entry into America, when I seemingly fled Old England in 1988, at the beginning of the first Arab invasion, not long after the Arabs became educated.”

    The rest is fairly familiar “get off the internet until you learn to behave” stuff–I did a bit of it (nothing so bad), but I had the fortune (?) of making my mistakes under pseudonyms, and I had the excuse of being twelve. The website, though, makes me weep.

  20. Ali@21, I read the original thread but I still chuckled seeing it acted out.

    On a technical matter, how did you create that video?

  21. That was simultaneously hilarious and embarrassing. I’m fascinated by her complete lack of grace. The internet is a fascinating thing. To think just 15 years ago this sort of immature meltdown would have only been witnessed by the poor people in her physical vicinity. Regardless of her writing style (of which the examples illustrated are truly sublime in their terribleness) I can’t imagine such an immature person could write anything I would find entertaining or interesting.

    And on a side note, John, and with all due respect to Ms. Howett’s reviewer, the negative reviews of your work are way more amusing and interesting.

  22. My goodness, she certainly has no idea of the etiquette of accepting criticism.

    Train wreck, indeed.
    C’mon, John, when are you going to throw a tantrum of this magnitude? Coming from someone of your writing skill, it would be much more entertaining.

  23. A sad business. Worse than the meltdown was the gleeful crowd of gawkers it drew.

    But the author’s response — that she saw nothing wrong with her hobbledehoy syntax — illustrates a problem that I see as a sometime paid critiquer of would-be authors’ prose: the great majority of today’s adults have never been taught proper grammar and syntax, because their teachers themselves were never taught how to write well. For decades now, school children have been encouraged, above all, to express themselves. Imposing on that self-expression the rules that would make it more comprehensible to the reader has been deemed detrimental to the child’s creativity and self-esteem.

    So now we have the phenomenon of the self-published author who produces clunky sentences whose meaning the reader has to puzzle out. When the clunkiness of Ms Howett’s prose is pointed out, she cannot see the problem — what she wrote makes perfect sense to her, after all — but she certainly resents the assault on her self-esteem.

    I don’t know what we do about this. Short of a revolution — or, more accurately, a counterrevolution — in the classroom, it seems we must now slide into an era of ever-increasing fuzziness of speech and writing, leading inevitably to ever-increasing fuzziness of thought.

  24. To me the saddest part of the whole ordeal was that it was a relatively positive review. It was very positive about the quality of the story and it was interesting and compelling, though hampered by grammar and spelling problems. For a first time, self-published book that is pretty good for a reviewers attitude since the main issue with novels is making them worth reading and grammar and spelling problems can be (mostly) worked out by hiring a copy editor.

  25. It’s at times like this I legitimately start to wonder if there are people who have never been told to “Eff Off” in their lives.

  26. So. I’m going to assume that she is self published. And this the lesson Scalzi has so often mentioned on the perils of self publishing. See, someone else should have copy edited that manuscript and helped her through the mire. That costs money that most folks don’t spend. Very sadly.

    I will go out on a limb and say an agent might have called to stop her about 5 rants into the thread. Well, maybe not. She had the bit in her teeth and wasn’t taking any guidance on that subject.

  27. Well, John, is it a bad thing that I came across that meltdown myself just 5 minutes ago, and my second thought was “I have GOT to see if John Scalzi has heard about this?” I nearly emailed you.
    Now, the fact that you have basically confirmed my notion as to who would most appreciate it…..

  28. Thanks for that! All I could do was watch in open-mouthed horror as it just got worse and worse!

    Oh, and laugh a little. ^_^ I’d feel worse about that if she hadn’t gone out of her way to berate the reviewer so very publicly.

  29. The amazing thing about this is that I spent more time reading that comment thread than I ever will reading one of her novels. And I am infinitely more likely to send other people to view the implosion than to ever recommend one of her novels which will likely compound that ratio across many multiples of people. How does one reach adulthood without understanding how damaging that kind of behavior is? How does one not know how permanent the internet is, anymore? When was she ever taught that a reviewer owed her anything?

  30. Sara @ #37 —

    One of my friends is a longtime editor as well as writer. When he submitted his fantasy novel, he considered the fees paid the copy-editor well spent. The novel won critical recognition, earned by his writing and enhanced by clean copy.


  31. I started, then couldn’t go very far. I have worked in PR, etc.

    Oy. and OWWWWW.

  32. Wow. That was like crazy drunk bigot Uncle Bob totally losing what’s left of his mind during Christmas dinner — mostly you just wants the horror to stop even though it’s kind of fun.

    Does that make me a bad person?

  33. I just have to wonder if this wasn’t, somehow, a flamebait hoax. There have been a couple of them floating about the interwebs the last few days. If you’re a software developer, this came out last Friday and got a lot of people very hot under the collar. . Burned up Twitter all weekend long and spawned bazillons of hits to the sites reporting on it. Flame Bait. Say something outlandish, drive a ton of traffic to your site.

    Sure this one doesn’t help Ms. Howlett, but is anyone, really, truly, that… misguided about how the internet works?

    Maybe I’m just a little cynical. Or maybe it really, truly did happen. But I’d be checking IP addresses and seeing if 2+2 don’t equal 6 in this case.

  34. Poor deluded thing.

    BigAl gave her two stars. I looked at some of his other reviews and saw a couple authors who got one star.

  35. Did anyone else get the feeling that she was standing at her keyboard, furiously typing her comments, stomping her foot and pouting the entire time?

  36. Hmmm. If we’re supposed to learn to do the opposite of what she did, does that mean a five star review should be met with:

    “F*** off! You didn’t give me any criticism I can use to improve! What kind of reviewer are you?”

    Mmmm. Maybe not.

  37. I’m not one to judge because my grammar sometimes is totally messed up. Didn’t she type it in Word though? Come on, it does catch some of the errors, particularly some of the ones she made. The comments about the reviewer not having the right version? Send it to him! Email is a wonderful thing.

    I’m not sure how the reviewer made it through the book. Those errors would have driven me crazy. There’s no way I could have finished the first chapter.

    Interesting discussion though about what indie and self-published means to certain people.

  38. I really like the title. Just the judgement in choosing that particular title alone guarantees lots of Beavis and Butthead-esque giggles.

  39. I can never read one of these implosions without wondering where the author’s friends are. Is no one IMing her going “No, seriously, you look like an idiot. STEP AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD!” during the fiasco?

    My first response yesterday when I got a bad review was to ask my friends if my characters were “unrealistic”–mostly because I’ve always heard characters are my strongest point. I have true friends–they told me I don’t need to work on my characters, and so I’d know they were sincere, told me where my weak points lie.

    Now I’m off to practice my description…

  40. I don’t know… I saw this a few hours before it was posted here and I was kind of hoping you’d pass on posting this. At a certain point, the piling on becomes as offensive as the initial blowup. When I looked at the comment thread dozens of people were posting points that had already been made… dozens of times. This is more of the same. I find it sad, not funny. Note that I’m not disagreeing with the substance of the comments there or, really, here. But do we really need to have thousands of people all making the same easy, obvious points?

  41. “Never try and teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

    Robert Heinlein

  42. I have occasionally been accused of turgid prose… my favorite recent “review” comments: ‘

    That specifically quoted this joyful bit of my text:
    > Compared to the silver tongue of Rhodes Scholar Clinton, he was
    > certainly pretty dull, but I find the whole “how dumb is he” thing a
    > tiresome form of ignorant comment from prejudiced provincials.

    Turgid, perhaps, but I’m reasonably sure that what I wrote generally made sense as English prose. I’m not in the habit of mistaking “dairy” and “diary,” except perhaps intentionally, in fun :-).

    I’m certainly loving ridiculing That Author on the basis of getting such words tangled up.

    I disliked the most recent “Tom Clancy” novel on a rather similar basis. I use “quotes” because it was evidently ghost-written. The bit of it that bashed me on the head as being really awful was where agents are tracking a target’s travels through Toronto, except that the tale got the details of how customs and immigration work at my local airport woefully, woefully wrong. (And in a way that broke the story’s plot.)

  43. Ah the law of unintended consequences.
    Jacqueline Howett has succeeded in one thing. She has given a big boost to the other authors that Big Al reviews.

  44. At first it was funny. Then it was just very very sad. I feel very sorry for her. It’s obvious she’s gone over the edge. And those people posting 1-star reviews on Amazon w/o reading the whole book are just unnecessarily mean.

    Yes, her grammar is atrocious and she has no clue. So sad.

  45. I am about to go the self published route. I am glad I read that thread. I am fairly certain I wouldn’t go off the deep end with a bad review but this will help remind me how ridiculous you look when you do.

  46. O.o, as they say on the Internets.

    @Matthew: how many ‘decades’ and where, precisely, are schoolchildren being taught spelling and grammar are unimportant next to Free Expression? I’m always curious when the Good Old Days cutoff is.

  47. @mythago

    Since you ask: two decades ago, in British Columbia, when my wife and I went to our kids’ elementary school’s open house and saw compositions by grade five and six students up on the wall. They were full of uncorrected grammatical errors. When we asked the teacher why she didn’t have the kids correct their mistakes before they were put up for (presumably) praise, we were told that formal grammatical rules were less important than encouraging free expression and sustaining the students’ self esteem.

    That’s from my own experience. Now, working by inference, the huge number of supposedly educated people who say “between you and I” and don’t know how or when to use “whom” tells me that basic grammar is no longer taught. I add to that the fact that American youth have the highest confidence in their work of any students in the world, although they score on competitive international exams at or below the median. The combined inference: grammar is no longer a priority, while sustaining students’ self-esteem is a prime goal of modern education.

  48. This author’s angry over-reaction to even the mildest criticism has convinced me to give her book a read.

    That was the point of this, right? No? Oh. Never mind then.

  49. Last week, I got an email out of the blue from a total stranger who was courteous and in some ways complimentary about a book of mine he was reading, but who also felt compelled to tell me, at some length (it took up most of the message) what he thought the books’s flaws were.

    And I was oh-so-tempted to say to him, “Yo, go criticize the book’s flaws ALL OVER the internet if you want–that’s your right. But, dude, don’t put wholly unsolicited criticism in the author’s personal IN-BOX. What were you THINKING when you did that?”

    But then I remembered the wise maxim “Never argue with the reader,” and I just let it go.

    So, yeah, now that you mention it, I DO find that thread mind-blowingly ill-advised.


  50. Wow. Headline summary: “Jacqueline Howlett Hits Bottom, Digs.”

    The hell of it is, if the review was any guide, she actually is capable of creating compelling stories. All she really needed to do was hire a good editor to make sure her next book was properly polished. Instead, she threw the self-destruct switch on her career.

    Complaining “It’s not fair”? Really? To quote Barry Longyear: “And Frack said to Frick, I think you have just discovered the meaning of life.”

    I’ll stop now. Some things are just too sad to snark on.

  51. Yeah, the danger of self-publishing lies in not knowing what an editor *does*. But in this day of grammar-checking software, it’s not an excuse. Writing is a craft, and poor grammar is poor craftsmanship.

  52. I felt kind of bad reading that. I also agree with the comments above me that find the gleeful piling on, well beyond what could reasonably be considered necessary, to be a little sickening. A lot of pleas for civility and good advice in there, but there’s a group response effect that kicks in sometimes on the internet that causes otherwise measured human beings to gawk and be as hurtful as they possibly can, for no real reason. It’s not an internet-only phenomenon by any means, but the anonymity seems to amplify it.

    It’s really sad to see someone melt down like this, unreasonable and unwarranted as that reaction was. I hope she’s able to calm down and move past it.

  53. John, thanks for pointing out this truly hilarious example of how we can lose ourselves in our misguided ambitions. It just got worse and worse as I skipped through the comments.

    Also worth checking out her quite obviously self-written review of her short story collection:

    Some more reviews are popping up on that page as I write this, but have a look at the very first comment (reviewed by “lotus”). It simply stands out thanks to Jacqueline’s very, uhm, well, “unique” style.

  54. My reaction was the same as Dave Robinson’s in the first comment here…just wow. Holy self-immolation, Batman! I hope she isn’t planning on writing as a career anymore. /semi snark

  55. From the description of The Secret Passion of Twins on Amazon; ‘They say twins know each other’s thoughts. While on vacation, Cathy and Pat who are twins just might be in denial of this factor.’

    Oh deary, deary me.

    There’s only one person in denial here…

  56. Meanwhile, Big Al’s Books and Pals is getting a huge spike in visitors. Dismissing-reviewer-opinion-FAIL.

    I was thinking the same thing. Big Al must be whistling a happy tune right now. So one author implodes, one blogger gets a big boost in hits. Don’t know how close that comes to restoring the karmic balance, but it must be some help..

  57. I read her blog. It made me sad. I’m pretty sure this woman has some emotional/mental issues , there’s got to be something else going on behind this episode.

    Poor lady.

  58. @ Matthew Hughes The combined inference: grammar is no longer a priority, while sustaining students’ self-esteem is a prime goal of modern education.

    Well, you know, you were looking at the writing efforts of five and six year olds–kids who are, generally, just learning to write. Rather like other things kids are just learning to do, it’s maybe not helpful to be too critical of proper form. You save that for when the most absolutely basic of skills has been mastered. It works quite well–I also saw it at work (quite spectacularly) with my kids’ violin teacher and her students.

    Did you examine the papers of the older kids? In my kids’ elementary school, there was a definite difference between first grade writing efforts (and the way the teachers evaluated them) and fifth grade. In fact, each year the teachers made more demands on my kids. Which is kind of how it should be, if you ask me.

    And the self-esteem thing really bugs me, frankly. As though self-esteem is somehow incompatible with actual learning. Teachers aren’t abandoning “real” teaching in order to prop up kids’ self-esteem–they’re working to help kids learn, and when you feel like nothing you do is right and you suck, it’s kind of hard to be motivated to learn. That does not, however, include handing out praise and good grades to everyone, regardless of performance. The whole “self-esteem vs REAL education” thing is a complete strawman. It’s not something teachers are actually doing.

    And I’d like some evidence that people writing badly, or speaking with grammatical errors, is a recent phenomenon, or the result of a failure to care about grammar. In fact, “Between you and I” is a hyper-correction, the result of people having been told time and again that one construction was right and the other was wrong, and not being sure they’ve picked the right one. This isn’t a failure to teach the grammar at all, or a failure to emphasize its importance. It’s a direct result of emphasizing its importance.

    But I digress. When was this golden age when elementary school English teachers were paragons of grammatical discipline, burning proper English (and there’s a whole other debate!) into the hearts and minds of their students, who went forth and spoke in flawless prose? The older books we read are the ones that have held up over time precisely because they were very good. The turgid, ungrammatical, or incomprehensible stuff either didn’t get published (the net has made a great deal of speech and writing visible that once would have remained hidden forever) or has dropped into obscurity, so it’s easy to look back and say “of course, they all diagrammed sentences, and learned Latin and Greek, they were taught how to write, unlike These Kids Today!”

    Seriously. When was this age of grammatical perfection, and what actual knowledge do you have of “modern teaching” beyond a few first-graders’ beginning efforts?

  59. I can’t relate to people who found this “hilarious.”

    When you’re on the side of anonymous people posting comments that contain the word “Muahhahah” in response to someone who is using their real name, you’re no longer on the right side.

  60. What is with the freaking out about anonymity? Is it generational? If a douche uses hir real name while a not-at-the-moment-being-douchey person uses a psuedonym, the douche automatically must win? Real names automatically mitigate douchiness somehow? Very odd.

    I was primarily annoyed with the anonymous commenters for some of their content: e.g. the person who corrected the highlighted sentences to what was technically grammatical writing, but rather poor prose. Or the one who seemed to think purple prose made hir comments awesome. Or the ones who referred to vanity presses as indie.

    None of this compared, of course, to the author’s awesome use of exclamation points in order to undermine her own argument. No fair!

  61. Gregg Bender @79: As a twin myself, that one line you quoted makes me want to fly into a frothy berserker rage. I get so *sick* of the various twin-related superstitions that get trotted out!

    I’m also surprised that some authors somehow *don’t* think it worthwhile to get a copy editor. If nothing else, it’ll stop people emailing you about the obnoxious typo on page three for the next twenty years. In this poor woman’s case, however, a copy editor might have to do so much work as to be able to demand equal name space on the cover!

  62. @Jennifer # 27: The animation video was making the rounds on Twitter, and it made me laugh.

    @Gred #28: Someone answered already, but I wasn’t the one who made that video. I did write a post about the debacle, though.

  63. @DA #84: I found this hilarious, but I did not comment and I always leave my name and usually my own blog’s link as a calling card. I will occasionally throw stones, but it is always from the comfort of my glass house.

  64. @Matthew Hughes and Ann Leckie

    Language Log (in between peeving at the sheer number of “X have Y words/no words for Z” clones in news articles) have addressed this issue several times in response to a numbr of “these are the grammer and spelling End Times” articles by various luminaries. Their research seems to strongly support Ann’s position rather than Matthew’s.
    Matthew, you do seem to be extrapolating from piece of anecdotal evidence, and people have been saying roughly the same thing since at least the 1800’s: if it were true, none of us would be able to string a basic sentence together these days. I’d also like to say, though, that “hobbledehoy syntax” is currently winning my phrase of the week by a long way.

    (language log is at – unfortunately I’m either bad at searching, or the specific posts I am looking for are difficult to find)

  65. @Internet Steve, @Ann Leckie, @Matt Hughes,

    Tacitus, ~100 AD:

    Nowadays… our children are handed over at their birth to some little Greek serving maid, with a male slave, who may be anyone, to help her.. it is from the foolish tittle-tattle of such persons that the children receive their first impressions, while their minds are still pliant and unformed… And the parents themselves make no effort to train their little ones in goodness and self-control; they grow up in an atmosphere or laxity and pertness, in which they come gradually to lose all sense of shame, and respect both for themselves and for other people.

  66. Ann Leckie @83: Matthew Hughes wrote “grade five and six,” not “five and six year olds.” He’s talking about 11- and 12-year-olds.

  67. I searched the page for the terms “personality disorder” and “narcissist” but did not find them. That is an exceptionally charitable group of commenters. The author has a real Amy Bishop vibe going.

  68. Not sure if this has been said before, but it’s crystal clear to my ears that this author learned her English syntax and sentence structure from her Greek mother, for whom I must assume English was a second language. You can see the same sort of mistakes in her blogger profile:

    I’m happy to have finally The Greek Seaman novel published on KIndle and the Nook, sony ereader or PC with the free Apps, along with my poems and short stories and more of my wares will be published soon.

    The construction: Happy to have finally a thing done “ instead of ‘…finally have a thing done’ is very typical of non-native English speakers.

    Other problems in the profile(just look at it…) are just… sloppy writing.

  69. It’s sad though. The woman is clearly not entirely stable, and now she’s getting all these vindictive and malicious reviews on amazon, giving her a 1 star rating. Sure she did a stupid thing, but they should all be rewarding her for entertainment value.

  70. Maybe she’s part Pikey.

    “For every action, there is a reaction. And a Pikey reaction… is quite a fucking thing.”

  71. I find the instant dogpile on this author even more depressing than her comments, though I can’t completely place my finger on why. I think most of my distaste has to do with how the internet is a safe and even encouraging place to repeatedly kick strangers when they’re down, even when said stranger was the instigator. Reality TV also reinforces this schadenfreude behavior.

  72. Rachal @86 – I have no issue with anonymity in general. I do have a problem with it when people hide behind anonymous handles and act tough in ways that they’d never act if they had their name attached. That doesn’t mean the non-anonymous person wins, just that it’s cowardly to pile on and act tough in that comment thread when someone doesn’t have the guts to actually sign their name.

  73. On top of everything else that has been said here, I love it when an author calls an unpaid reviewer “unprofessional.” Yeah, and so?

  74. Really, the thing I take away from this (other than some people need to LET GO) is that Editors are Under-Valued.

  75. @Rick — Okay, but saying someone is cowardly is different than saying he or she is wrong. Anonymous commenters can still be right (and thus those supporting them on the “right side,” although I doubt that language is useful) even while being cowardly.

    I expect you’re referring to some variant of this, though, with which I generally agree –

  76. Rachel – Precisely. :) We are, boringly, in 100% agreement. This means I need to go back to work…

  77. #29 Andres: Complete archived and searchable personality meltdowns like this date back further than 15 years hehe. I miss alt.flame ……

  78. Scalzi, no, I didn’t know it meant all that.


    I’d only heard the term from “Snatch” (The quote from Turkish was from that movie) and just based on how it was used in the movie, I associated it with meaning “tough”. In the movie, Brad Pitt and his group seemed to be the only people who really knew what’s what, and the only people who actually make something happen for themselves, so I actually thought it was sort of a compliment, like ‘a tough group of people not be fucked with’.



  79. Back in the Fido days we used to say:

    Open Mouth, Insert Foot, Echo Internationally….

  80. I can’t feel sorry for JH, even though she has ended up under an internet dungheap. I tried, just to see if my compassion gene had overloaded and fried.

    I read some of the new crop of one-star reviews on Amazon, which all took the line “I read the hoopla, came here, tried to read the sample pages, eww, unreadable.” Some of the one-stars added the approach “Also, I don’t like her attitude; authors should not abuse reviewers, and should also have enough respect for readers not to try to sell unedited crap.”

    And I read the handful of new five-star reviews, which took the line, “OMG You horrible people are UNFAIR why be mean to her what if she COMMITS SUICIDE over this!!1! Here’s a five-star review to make up for it! No, haven’t read the book either YOU GUYS SUCK.”


    She went to the blog of a reviewer and attacked him. She abused him and ordered him around. She called him a liar. She posted to his blog, over and over again. She denied the point of his review and told him he had no right to post his own opinion to his own blog. She verbally attacked him.

    Al did not post anything to her own blog. He didn’t send the thread into viral levels. He didn’t follow her around and insult her. He did attempt to have a reasoned interaction with her.

    She did the interent equivalent of stomping into a bar on the roughest side of town and demanding, “Hey, you mother-f*ing fags, I want a glass of milk.”

    She got beat up. Amazing.

    I have no compassion for her at all.

    A thought on the anonymity: most of the anonymous comments I saw weren’t abusive. (In fact, most of the abuse I saw was by JH, under her own name.) I think one could make a distinction between anonymous hate, where the abuser is hiding his/her identity, and the ‘anonymous’ ID of those who simply leave comments on an interface on which they have no user account, and where they aren’t taking the time to create one.

  81. @Matthew / Ann

    As an elementary school student in the 70s (in British Columbia, Matthew, for what it’s worth), I was somewhat appalled at many of my peers’ lack of proficiency with basic grammar, punctuation, and syntax. As a high school student in the 80s, as a university student and graduate teaching assistant in the 90s, and as a college instructor and university professor in the 00s and 10s, I felt and continue to feel the same way; only now that lack is evidenced not only by some of my peers but also by many of my own students.

    So I disagree with Matthew. No, the 1970s wasn’t some Canadian Golden Age of Proper Grammar Instruction. No, this isn’t a new problem. Many of my students can’t correctly use an apostrophe to save their lives. But neither can my wife’s grandmother, age 90-something.

    However, the fact that it’s a long-standing problem is not the same thing as saying that it’s not a problem. Inability to adhere to the conventional rules of grammar, punctuation, and syntax (in the contexts in which such rules ought to reasonably apply) means an inability to correctly, precisely, and clearly communicate one’s intended meaning. Poor writing skills make you seem at best lazy, and at worst foolish and ignorant. It means you have poor attention to detail, that you care little for your own message or the opinion of its intended recipients, and that you are unwilling or unable to make any effort to follow conventions that a) are exceedingly simple to grasp and b) exist in order to make your message clearer and more effective.

    If your job involves written communication — and few well-paying jobs do not — poor writing skills will hinder your career progress. If your (self-styled) job is “professional author”, as in the case of Ms. Howett, then poor writing skills means that your job performance will not be even minimally competent. Ms. Howett has announced to the entire internet that she lacks the skills necessary for even minimum competency in her chosen career, and, worse, that despite evidence to the contrary she refuses to accept her own incompetence. If this mistake tanks her writing career, that’s just as well, because the woman can’t write.

  82. “If your (self-styled) job is “professional author”, as in the case of Ms. Howett, then poor writing skills means that your job performance will not be even minimally competent.”

    Muphry’s law strikes again ;-)

  83. When was this golden age when elementary school English teachers were paragons of grammatical discipline, burning proper English (and there’s a whole other debate!) into the hearts and minds of their students, who went forth and spoke in flawless prose?

    Why, that would be our generation, or perhaps our parents’ generation if we’re really trying to doom-and-gloom it up. (If your parents were Boomers please substitute ‘grandparents’.)

    That generation, apparently, is far removed from the one that was taught logic and rhetoric in school, otherwise Matthew might have recognized “My teacher did not teach proper English because she thought it would hurt kids’ self-esteem; many people use sloppy English; therefore the entire North American educational system has fallen into disrepair as a result of either/or focus on self-esteem” for the breathtaking syllogism that it is.

    Stephen @110: I think we’re all in fervent agreement that it is a problem, and by “it” I mean a pretty good hit rate of proper language skills in daily use, as opposed to occasional grammar infractions use of terms like ‘irregardless’.

  84. Live and learn, live and learn. I have my own blog were I try and get some material out there to get feedback, that’s how you grow, not to mention learn. Hell, I get about a handful of people coming to my blog a day and I am tickled pink when someone leaves a comment. Maybe Ms. Howett could stop by my blog, all comments, including the “f-off’s”, are welcome.

  85. Erm, as far as I can see, Ms. Howlett attended primary school in the 1950’s, so in what way is that a jumping off point for ranting about the poor educational standards of the 2010’s???

  86. Stephen@ 110

    “As a high school student in the 80s, as a university student and graduate teaching assistant in the 90s, and as a college instructor and university professor in the 00s and 10s, I felt and continue to feel the same way; only now that lack is evidenced not only by some of my peers but also by many of my own students.”

    I routinely hear university instructors complain that their classes are full of high school graduates who can’t compose a comprehensible sentence. Forty-five years ago, when I started university, there were no remedial classes for the semiliterate.

    I routinely read in newspapers sentences that include grammatical errors. Forty years ago, when I started my first shift in the newsroom of a daily newspaper, such errors were unheard of.

    I haven’t made a study of the phenomenon, but the evidence that passes before my eyes, day after day, runs toward one conclusion.

  87. I suspect that thin-skinned authors have been reacting this way to bad reviews since the invention of the printing press. Until now, it’s happened in private. Online, everything is public and forever.

  88. Rachel Swirsky @ #91 —

    See! Tacitus was right! Those were the signs of the death throes of his culture [give or take four centuries] and the bad influence of poorly educated Greek immigrants, without Tacitus even personally knowing Ms. Howett.

    [Okay, I am gently poking fun but I am attaching my name just in case Tacitus takes issue.] :>)


  89. Matthew Hughes @ 115: Forty-five years ago, when I started university, there were no remedial classes for the semiliterate.

    Thirty years ago, when I started teaching college-level freshmen composition classes, there were remedial classes for the semi-literate. In fact, I remember one university I taught at during that period that offered three different levels of remedial English, all prior to taking the required freshmen comp course; high school graduates who had been accepted for admission took placement tests to find out which level that they had to start at, and then went through the program from there. (Now, why this particular university was accepting semi-literate high school graduates is another issue, one involving politics that no one in any educational institution in the area was happy about.)

    I suspect the disagreement we’re having here is in part due to anecdotal evidence varying widely across areas, eras, and institutions–and possibly student body populations, too. It wasn’t all that long ago, after all, that only a relatively small percentage of high school students went on to any college; that’s another situation that has changed over the past 50 years or so in the US, I believe.

  90. So has the “Someone hacked my account and wrote all that stuff” excuse from the author happened yet?

  91. OK, I got through the first five and went… Well, I came back here.

    Jackie, Jackie, Jackie, the only reason to engage a bad reviewer is if you plan to use the negative reviews in marketing.

    Which takes a skill, dear Jackie, that you truly do not have.

    (Does she read this blog? No? Should I have left this in an Amazon review? She obviously reads that.)

  92. So has the “Someone hacked my account and wrote all that stuff” excuse from the author happened yet?

    “I was a fool and I’m sorry” would work better.

  93. Rachel, I just read your rant, linked to offsite, then went back and read my own post at 118 and realized that I needed to make something clear: I believe that the change in student body population in the US over the last 50 years or so is by and large a GOOD thing.

    It doesn’t much impact the original discussion, I don’t think, but I really want to avoid the possibility of being misunderstood about that . . .

  94. @Mary Frances – Oh, I got that! I thought your comment was insightful. I apologize if anything I wrote suggested otherwise.

  95. Having read Rachel’s off-site post — I won’t call it a rant; it’s not foam-flecked, after all — I can offer a response based only on anecdotal evidence from my own experience.

    And let me specify where that experience begins: I am not the recipient of an elite education spun from an upper middle-class social bacground. I am a product of the working poor/welfare subculture, the only one of five siblings to make it past high school. I dropped out of university before completing a degree to take a job as a reporter, so that I could feed myself.

    My parents were a Yorkshire laborer and the daughter of a Liverpool taxi driver, himself the son of servants. Both my mother and father left school in England before their mid-teens, as was normal in the 1930s. Yet they spoke grammatically, allowing for regional dialects.

    I have been a writer all my adult life, and an editor (including newspaper editor) for most of it. I have taught fiction writing, critiqued scores of stories and novel openings for attendees at writing conferences, and have even done some book doctoring.

    A great deal of written English has come under my eye and I cannot help but conclude that, when it comes to a knowledge of grammar and syntax, things have changed in my lifetime — and not for the better.

    Whether you think that’s good or bad for humanity as a whole, I don’t think it can be argued that the average English user of today is as competent at writing clear, comprehensible prose as the average of a couple of generations ago. I doubt that most university freshmen of 2011 could score well on a high-school grammar exam from the 1950s. Indeed, many of the comments I see about grammar on the internet come from people who don’t even know how to spell the word.

  96. I believe I have seen a great need: a spelling/grammar checking program which also links to a dictionary, thus providing the option to check word usage as well. The idea would be that it could plug into an ordinary spelling check module on any word processor, and link to a dictionary of choice via the internet. When the program ran across a word which is commonly misused (such as the eternal loose/lose pairing, or its/it’s etc) it would pop up the dictionary definition of the word, such that the person using the program could determine whether they are using the correct word for the context.

    I mention this purely because I believe Ms Howlett might appreciate such a tool (I know there are a lot of fan-fiction authors who could use it… indeed, I’ve been accumulating my list of words to be checked mainly by reading fanfic and noting instances of perfectly spelled words which are nonetheless the incorrect word for the setting[1]). It might go a long way toward dealing with at least some of the problems she has with English (which, it appears, is her second language) and the wonderful way our language tends toward accumulating linguistic detritus in some of the oddest places.

    Oh, and if someone would like to thank her for me… I didn’t have the diary/dairy muddle on the list until now.

    [1] Funniest so far is learning that “bulge” and “bugle” are anagrams of each other. Learning this in slashfic led to some rather… interesting images (“Is that a trumpet in your pocket, or are you entirely too pleased to see me?”)

  97. I just came across this today, so i’m still in the “oh, wow, what a meltdown” mode. i now know, though, that whenever I need a chucke at the end of a hard day, I can search for “hymotically Gino” and find some. There are some amazingly talented (and funny) people out there!

  98. Matthew, I don’t say you’re wrong about the decline in written English, though your experience doesn’t really parallel mine. What I’m saying is, for the most part, I don’t think we can know how widespread the decline in written English may or may not be all across the English-speaking (and -writing) world–or what is causing it. Just for an example of the kind of complicated context we probably should consider: there are, arguably, a lot more people writing in public now than were writing in public a few generations ago. in addition, I suspect that actual complete illiteracy has also declined somewhat, at least in industrial nations; once upon a time, many of the people who are today happily and often ungrammatically posting on the internet would have been barely able to write much more than their names . . . and would have done even that as seldom as possible. So do we count the writing of those people as an improvement in English literacy, or as a sign of the decay in the study of grammar?

    I come from a background and era not all that different from yours, I think, based on what you’ve posted here; the area (major city, US Midwest) is different. Maybe we’re discussing a US/British difference? At least in part? It’s possible British students were more grammatically competent than their US counterparts, a few generations back–but we can’t know for sure, and so far as I know, no one has done the research to try to find out. (Not really surprising, I suppose. Just the thought of trying to set up that sort of a generational study makes me shiver.) All I can say is: my freshman comp students today are really no worse at constructing sentences than my freshmen comp students thirty years ago. No better, either, but that’s a different story . . . and most of them actually do quite well on grammar exams, in my opinion; unfortunately, that doesn’t make them more capable of composing their own sentences, in many cases.

  99. I don’t think it can be argued that the average English user of today is as competent at writing clear, comprehensible prose as the average of a couple of generations ago.

    This link would suggest that at least from 1870(20%)-1980(<1%) that illiteracy rates have gone fairly consitently down over time.

    Maybe from 1980 to 2011 it reversed course, I don’t know.

    I am fairly certain that for quite a number of folks invoking “the good old days” they are actually refering to the state of mind where they believed in Santa Claus and someone else paid for food and housing, rather than any sort of empirical statistics about the overall population.

  100. Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for not calling it foam-flecked. I was worried it would come off that way.

    I’m just extremely skeptical, partially for the reasons Mary Frances lists, of anecdotal evidence about grammatical decline. I’ve already argued that, and I don’t want to belabor the point. Last night, though Ann Leckie did turn up some information from google books that might shed light on both the origin of remedial composition courses and the durability of the narrative that grammatical education is in immediate, shocking decline. (The essay is talking about American education and history, though, so ymmv…)

    Firstly, it sources the origin of English composition classes (seen as teaching remedial skills) in the mid-1880s. If you (and she) will forgive me for copy/pasting what she sent to me in IM last night. (She was retyping what she’d found in google books since you can’t copy/paste from there so there may be minor errors…)

    the consolidation of the field [composition and rhetoric] came with startling rapidity after 1885, with the advent of written entrance exams at harvard in 1874 and the general adoption of such exms at most established colleges. The consolidation of composition and rhetoric did not take place because true theory or practice drove out false, but because pressing social problems demanded solutions. When more than half the candidates–the products of america’s best preparatory schools–failed the harvard entrance exams a great outcry went up. Trumpeted throughout the nation in newspapers and magazines, “the illiteracy of american boys” became an obession…

    …proposed, in the middle 1880s, that harvard institute a temproary course in remedial writing instruction, just until the crisis had passed–and require it of all incoming freshmen. This was done….it was the prototype for the required freshman course in composition that within fifteen years would be standard at almost every college in america.

    The essay dates required freshman composition courses “to just after WW2, because of the influx of GI bill students who did not have upper class educations. the writer goes on to bemoan the corruption of that original, noble ecomp course.”

  101. Re: my comment at 132:

    Blerf, I thought I might have been making a source mistake (I checked and decided I wasn’t, but apparently not well) and Ann confirms it:

    there’s a confusion of links here.

    The “ecomp dates to WW2” was a different link:

    The Google Books link had different historical information, that would indicate the article of that essay was wrong about WW2 being the origin of Freshman Comp.

    So, yes. Sorry for the error.

  102. Rachel @86

    What is with the freaking out about anonymity? Is it generational? If a douche uses hir real name while a not-at-the-moment-being-douchey person uses a psuedonym, the douche automatically must win? Real names automatically mitigate douchiness somehow? Very odd.

    I was trying to draw attention to the mob-pile-on-public-humiliation-and-lynching that goes with these events and happened here. Pretty soon you’ve got people who don’t even read spec fiction, or much of anything at all, dropping in from twitter and getting pretty nasty, just because they can, and just because everyone else is piling on.

    Look, she had a brain snap, and lots of people do. If you’ve been unreasonable and never told someone to “fuck off,” then certainly you have the right to feel superior. Not only that, she had the poor judgement to do it in public, online; and now people want to destroy her career over it. In fact, that seems to be the outcome. In which case, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

  103. The self-published author who can’t write grammatically correct sentences has a career as a writer? How can one destroy what does not exist in the first place?

    & what power do these commenters hold, other than disinterest in purchasing a book they almost certainly weren’t going to purchase anyway? (Although one notes, per the salon article, that actually her sales have likely been increased by this incident.) If she has a sudden burst of self-reflection and competence, do you think that she will find this incident a significant barrier to publication? I suppose it’s possible; I would hesitate to work with her as an editor given that she has demonstrated extremely volatile behavior and I would be concerned that working with her would be an unpleasant experience. Is that an unacceptable conclusion for me to draw?

    One attempts not to be unreasonable at this level, or at least to apologize for it afterward–although one also isn’t sure why exactly one must have been reasonable at all times in order to be able to recognize unreasonable behavior. Is this an extension of the criticism occasionally leveled at, say, reviewers, asking “Well, can YOU do better?”

    But in any case, Howett’s problems with public relations seem to be a secondary concern since her poor writing skills make it unlikely that she will ever see sufficient publication for them to interfere with (rather than, as in this case, boost) sales.

  104. Mythago @ 129: Could very well be, though from what Matthew says at 115, he and I entered university only about five years apart. My real point, though, is that this whole business is complicated. The subthread started with someone (Matthew? yes, I think so, though other people weighed in quickly) talking about self-esteem issues in the classroom and the impact of that particular pedagogical attitude on the teaching of grammar and, by extension, of writing; I was reminded of an experience from when I first entered the remedial freshmen comp classroom as an instructor. At the time, a good many people blamed the need for remedial freshmen comp on the then-current practice of “social promotion” in the local public schools. While I have never defended the idea that that students should be promoted a grade even if they couldn’t do the work (because being held back might damage them psychologically), I also noticed that the students in my classroom hadn’t been socially promoted; they had received A’s and B’s in graduating from high school. (Again, I knew this because of politics: the university was required by local ordinance to accept high school graduates from the city school system who had a GPA of B or above, regardless of test scores or any other possible criteria that might have been used for admission.) A few of them did quite well, given the chance; quite a few . . . did anything but well, sadly.

    In other words, social promotion wasn’t the problem, or (to be fair) wasn’t the only problem. There was something far more fundamentally wrong with the system in that time, in that place, than ignoring learning in favor of students’ self-esteem or psychological well-being. Based on that–and other experiences–I pretty much decided that whenever I ran across people talking about any current decline in writing skills, I was going to point out that there are no simple answers here, either in terms of causes or effects.

  105. Oops, sorry, I meant “Mythogo @ 131”: No, I think we’re discussing a generational difference.

  106. Mary @138: By ‘generational difference’ I was referring to the my-anecdata-proves-Kids-These-Days nature of Matthew’s post in a somewhat snarky way. (I applaud you for your patience on this subject, btw.)

  107. One thing to keep in mind about the decline of grammar is that we’re seeing a lot more of how the average person writes compared to the past. Fifteen years ago, most of what you read was stuff written by professional, educated writers. Now, with email, Twitter, Facebook and what not, we’re seeing how people actually write.

    That’s not saying that there might not be some kind of decline (I suspect that seeing everyone else using crappy grammar encourages more crappy grammar) but you do need to keep in mind that most of the poor grammar in the past was hidden from view. Anecdotally, most of the elderly people I know do not have notably better grammar than the young people I know.

  108. Mythago @ 140: Ah. My apologies. My snark detector is in the shop for repairs . . . and doesn’t work all that well anyway!

  109. I’m right there Jonathan Moss. I could just pop some Smart Pop in the microwave and be entertained all night.

  110. Actually, that was supposed to say “with” Jonathan Moss. But you get the idea. Although apparently Ms. Howett did not. The only thing that might’ve made this better is if it had come with flashbacks to scenes of her throughout her childhood arguing with her teachers about what a fantastic writer she is.