Why I Left Twitter

Why I Left Book Twitter - A Dying Platform

When Elon Musk first took over Twitter, a great number of users, somewhat hysterically in my opinion, proclaimed the doom of the platform. 

He’s undeniably a divisive figure, and with Twitter a broadly liberal consensus, it’s not unsurprising that the takeover raised the ire of a lot of people. I’ll freely admit that I did not share this pessimism. At least not initially.

Then the firings happened. They were swift and ruthless, and it’s estimated that Musk has slashed around 80% of the global workforce. And since then, the platform has been riddled with issues.

Firstly, the changes to verification were an unmitigated disaster, allowing a platform for anybody to spread disinformation, provided they’re willing to pay the requisite tithes to ‘Daddy Musk’. 

And whilst verification has sometimes been a vanity emblem, it also served an important role for identifying authentic government agencies, news platforms, and prevented people in the public eye from being impersonated.

Meanwhile, the platform has been critically unstable with NetBlocks, a cybersecurity observatory, reporting 11 major outages during 2023 (vs 8 in the entirety of 2022). Only recently, users were hit with the infamous Rate Limit Exceeded issue – a deliberate throttling of users’ engagement with the platform unless they were willing to pay the ransom subscription fee. 

So, discounting even the flagrant disregard of its now ex-employees, Twitter has allowed misinformation to flood the platform and reduced users’ ability to engage with it. Hardly the ‘town square’ of Musk’s imagination

However, there was more. And this is the key reason I’ve finally decided to leave the platform. Moderation, or the lack thereof. Put simply, it’s completely gone to shit.

Most of us value free speech, but we also value necessary moderation. Abuse, malicious communications, and videos of extreme violence do not belong on a public-facing platform. And yet, since Musk took over, I’ve seen some of the most gratuitous violence I’ve ever witnessed on a mainstream social media platform. All without actually searching for it, I should add.

Musk claims he’s reduced hate speech on the platform, despite compelling evidence to the contrary. And speaking anecdotally, I never saw a man murdered in front of his family, or video footage like that of the Annecy knife attack in a children’s play park, prior to 2023. Again, without actively seeking this content out.

As with many readers of this blog, I spent 95% of my time on #BookTwitter – with the rest dedicated to a combination of cat memes and current affairs. And yet over the past 12 months, my feed has been packed with irrelevant content, an extraordinary amount of bots and, occasionally, gratuitous violence.

Let’s not delude ourselves – Twitter is a dying platform. The servers drop out like they’re running on dial-up internet, content curation has gone to the dogs, and moderation doesn’t appear to exist in any meaningful form. 

Even advertisers have stayed away, with Twitter reporting a 50% drop in advertising revenue since Musk took over. 

And so, after 3+ happy years on #BookTwitter, I deleted my account recently – and it’s not a platform I have any intention to return to in its current state.

If you wish to keep in touch, you can contact me via Mastodon’s MastodonBooks server and via Meta’s latest social media darling, Threads.

Are Tolkien’s Books too Complex?

Tolkien Books too Complex Blog Header
Tolkien Books too Complex Blog Header

Something I’ve noticed about Tolkien is that he’s often criticised by readers both for being too complex and yet, paradoxically, too simplistic.

Evidently these two positions aren’t expressed by the same people, but it’s nonetheless an interesting contradiction.

Is Tolkien too complex? Too simplistic? Let’s dig into this further.

Tolkien's Reputation for Complexity

Anyone remotely aware of Tolkien’s work will be familiar with the criticism that he ‘takes X number of pages to describe a tree/leaf‘ – a charge undoubtedly deserving of the phrase cliché.

Only recently, I was chatting with a friend who has yet to pick up a Tolkien novel, having been put off due to this observation.

This is nothing new. 

I recall Tolkien’s attention-to-detail, specifically of the natural world, being called out as long as 20 years ago. Having given up during the Old Forest chapter – the litmus test chapter for readers of The Lord of the Rings – as a nine-year-old reader, I think I complained about the same thing after hearing it from an adult.

But here’s the thing – like most clichés, there may well be a pinch of truth in between the hyperbole. After all, Tolkien was undeniably concerned by creeping industrialisation. 

His writing certainly contains an environmentalist angle, with the menacing fire & industry of Saruman standing in direct opposition to the aged, ethereal presence of the Ents. The battle for Isengard in particular pits industry in direct opposition to nature.

And yes, Tolkien is rather fond of trees. Most readers who give up reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time become ensnared in the Old Forest chapter along with Frodo & his companions.

Yet, on the other hand, there are plenty prepared to line up to argue that Tolkien’s writing is too simplistic and lacking in real world details.

Is Tolkien's Writing Simplistic?

George R. R. Martin – another fantasy writer who happens to have R.R in his initials, and author of the successful A Song of Ice and Fire series, is one such person.

Martin, in an interview with Rolling Stone once remarked:

“What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?”
George RR Martin, on Tolkien

Martin’s tongue was perhaps slightly in his cheek, but it does represent a prevailing view that Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is a bit ‘vanilla’, or basic in its plot resolution and character motivations. 

If somewhat nit-picky, this isn’t an entirely redundant criticism – aspects of Tolkien’s plots are characterised by fate, circumstance, and a dash of good fortune.

Some characters lack complexity, and issues of power aren’t always explored in as much depth as they might be. For example, did the people of Gondor want a king? Would Denethor really just give up the throne? Why didn’t Aragorn’s return not spark a civil war?

Fantasy authors are amongst the most talented world builders in fiction. They craft worlds populated with people, cities, and laws. To seek greater depth, and a stronger internal logic within a fantasy universe isn’t unreasonable. 

And yet I can’t help but feel that these criticisms over a lack of complexity miss the point of Tolkien’s writing. Nor are many other fantasy writers able to create the blend of beautiful prose, timeless lore, and scope of ambition within Middle-Earth. 

The Context of Tolkien's Writing

To explore this further, it’s worth looking into a wider historical context of Tolkien’s novels.

Fantasy was in its infancy

Consider when Tolkien was writing. The Hobbit (a book written for his children) was published in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings in 1954. 

There wasn’t a particularly large commercial fantasy market, mainly because fantasy itself was in its commercial and reputational infancy. Tolkien was,  of course, not the first fantasy author – a title greatly disputed and perhaps one for another day – but his writing stood largely alone in the mainstream (bar a certain author and friend C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia).

Fantasy in the 1930s looked very different to the contemporary landscape. It was more simple, rooted in the ordinary everyday, and this humbleness is a core message behind the hobbits’ journeys through the land of the big folk. 

Tolkien is more concerned with broader themes of good & evil, rather than the intricacies present in more contemporary sci-fi and fantasy books, such as power levels, magic systems, and so on.

Could this be mistaken as simplistic? Perhaps, but there is an undeniable beauty in Tolkien’s writing. 

Less concerned about arbitrary ‘mechanics’ and politics of his world, Tolkien spends more time exploring the geography of Middle-Earth and the people who live there.

Tolkien as the perceived father of fantasy

Whether Tolkien is the father of fantasy or not, he certainly popularised it. So naturally, his successors have borrowed elements from Middle-Earth to greater or lesser extents.

This does mean that reading Tolkien for the first time can feel overly familiar. You’ve likely experienced Tolkien-esque elements in books ranging from Harry Potter to Discworld, or games such as the Warhammer Fantasy tabletop game and the World of Warcraft MMO.

Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and Orcs are almost tropey races at this point – with the latter echoing particularly uncomfortable racial imagery. So it’s easy to feel jaded by the atypical mellowness of Elves, the grizzled bad-tempered dwarves, and the poor attempts to deviate from fantasy races such as Orcs by simply calling them ‘Orks’.

But this is a modern high fantasy problem – not Tolkien’s.

The Lord of the Rings is a quest narrative,
not a political intrigue

Due to the sheer creativity on display, it’s hard to read books written by C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, and not wonder ‘what if…’?

Does this mean that George R. R. Martin’s observations have merit?

Perhaps.

After all, Middle-Earth is a vast world, populated by a wide variety of beasts, birds, and beings. Dwarves, hobbits, men, elves, Easterlings, orcs, wizards – and so much more. 

In some respects, these writings have fuelled readers’ need for granular details. It’s not unreasonable to want to know, for example, how Aragorn was able to claim the throne with very little dispute.

The key difference between Tolkien and Martin’s books, or even Frank Herbert’s Dune, is that both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are quest narratives. They just aren’t concerned with palace intrigue and political deception of the above examples.

And that’s okay.

Tolkien’s stories were written for his children

The excellent The Lord of the Rings movies have somewhat skewed people’s views of the books. And who’s to blame them – they’re amazing films that have redefined how movies are made.

However, because of the epic visual scope of the movies, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Tolkien’s writings were written primarily for his children.

Could he have written a fantasy novel with more gore and more political intrigue, akin to Martin’s A Game of Thrones? Sure – Tolkien fought in the Somme. He knows real war. It just isn’t the predominant concern of his writing.

Incidentally, Tolkien did start planning a darker sequel to The Lord of the Rings, provisionally named The New Shadow. He eventually abandoned it after deciding it wasn’t the right tone for his novels.

Prose versus Plot - The core issue?

In reality, Tolkien’s mixed reputation probably comes down to readers’ experiences of complex prose versus basic plot. I’m not certain that these are necessarily fair criticisms, but they do seem to be the prevailing views.

His prose is known to be rather flowery and, perhaps a little too over-descriptive in parts. Take this very brief example, highlighted by A Lent of The Lord of the Rings:

"Ling and broom, cornel and larch, cedar and cypress, tamarisk and terebinth, olive and bay, juniper and myrtles, thyme and various colored sages, marjoram and parsley, saxifrages and stonecrops, primroses and anemones, filbert-brakes and asphodel, lilies and iris-swords, briar eglantine and clematis."

Meanwhile the plot in his works (The Hobbit particularly) do tend to rely on pre-ordained fate, and in some cases a deus ex machina.

Most are familiar with the eagles plot hole, which argues that there was no discernible reason why the eagles couldn’t have flown Frodo & friends to Mordor. There’s a fantastic study by Sean Crist which came to the conclusion, using textual evidence, that there was no reason the eagles could not taken the ring to Mordor.

To conclude, it is possible that some are put off by the complexity his prose, whilst others are disappointed by his sometimes overly convenient plot resolutions. And whilst these aren’t criticisms I share, there is a sound logic behind both.

The Lord of the Rings is not a perfect trilogy of books (in spite of my tongue-in-cheek insistence that they are). However, they are timeless for a reason. Frodo’s journey is relatable on a human level, whilst the moral and ethical lessons contained within will endure for evermore.

What do you think? Do you find Middle-Earth to be a little simple? Too complex? Just right? Let me know in the comments below.

The Simple Guide to NetGalley [2023 Updated]

The Simple Guide to Netgalley
The Reader's Guide to NetGalley (2023 Edition)

NetGalley is a great way for bloggers to get ARCs (advance reading copies) of new books.

However, in order to be approved for the more high-profile books, you need to be seen as a reliable contributor. And that means proving your worth as a reviewer on the platform.

It’s actually nowhere near as hard as it sounds, but is NetGalley worth it?

The (very) simple guide to NetGalley

Simply sign up at https://www.netgalley.com.

It’s worth keeping in mind when searching the catalogue that many NetGalley books are proof copies and may contain errors. They aren’t always the final version.

What is NetGalley?

NetGalley is a book marketing platform through which authors and publishers pay to share proof copies of their latest books, prior to publication.

This is often to create anticipation, raise awareness of an upcoming book, and to get initial impressions from dedicated readers.

For readers and bloggers, NetGalley is an excellent way to get hold of books that are months away from publication. Pretty exciting, right?

However, publishers are usually quite strict about who they approve. Otherwise anybody could sign up and grab a free book. Fortunately, I’ve produced some tips below that’ll help you get approved for almost all of your requests!

Is NetGalley worth it?

If you’re a book blogger, a service like NetGalley is incredible.

The reality of blogging is that it’s simply not affordable to buy books every other week, especially if your blog isn’t monetised.

NetGalley is an almost bottomless pit of reading goodness, plus it’s free-to-use. Even if you don’t plan on using the service straightaway, it’s good to get signed up to the mailing list and become familiar with the platform.

Put simply, it’s a great way to acquire free content, which you can then review and discuss, driving traffic to your blog.

Plus, most of the books on the platform are yet to be released, so the chances are that you’ll be one of the first people in the world to review certain book! For example, I was one of the first people to get eyes on Richard Osman’s debut novel, The Thursday Murder Club (it’s just a pity that I really disliked it!).

Just make sure that you keep up your end of the bargain and leave feedback for the publisher. Otherwise it will significantly affect your ability to request new books (more on this later). 

It’s worth mentioning that there are alternative websites like Edelweiss and BookSirens. However, they don’t tend to have anywhere near as wide a variety (or quality) of books as NetGalley.

Do I need to be approved for books on NetGalley?

Yes and no. 

You will require approval for most books you wish to read on the platform. Especially books published by high-profile publishers. This approval is decided by the publisher rather than the service.

Publishers of all sizes (including self-published authors) put their work on NetGalley. 

As a new user, you’re far more likely to get approval for smaller publishing houses.

This is largely because their aim is to build the biggest readership possible ahead of their book’s launch. Whereas, the ‘Big 5’ publishers can be a lot more selective with who they approve, simply because they’re usually guaranteed a bigger audience anyway.

Simple Guide to Netgalley Homepage

That being said, if you’ve built a strong NetGalley profile and you’re already an established blogger, you’re far more likely to be accepted for some of the more high-profile proofs.

Don’t be afraid to take a chance on some lesser known titles, however.

There are some fantastic works on NetGalley that you’ll have otherwise never heard of. I had a lot of fun with The Playmaker Project – a novel where the two seemingly disparate worlds of soccer and neuroscience clash!

After reviewing The Playmaker Project, I reached out to the author for some comment, which turned into an interview, which you can read here.

With books that are less well known, you’re creating more original content that helps readers find new material, with the added bonus giving a platform to authors with a smaller profile.

The good news is that there is also a very generous amount of books on the platform that are available to all readers, without approval required. It’s good to review a handful of these in order to build up your profile.

5 tips to help you get approved on NetGalley

Approval for ARCs can be somewhat of a lottery – especially for the in-demand books. Copies of R.F. Kuang’s Babel, for example, was extremely limited.

But sometimes, you’ll be approved for some books you didn’t expect to be approved for – other times you’ll be left scratching your head as to why you weren’t approved.

Ultimately, it’s nothing personal. Sometimes it’s a case of demand. Other times, publishers may decide that your book blog niche doesn’t match their genre, therefore there’s less for them to gain from any coverage. They’re paying to use the platform after all, so they want quality, relevant feedback.

However, there are a few things you can do to make your profile stand out. 

1) Complete your profile

Your profile is your shop window. It’s the first thing that publishers see when you request approval for an ARC.

Take a look at my profile page as an example.

Simple Guide to Netgalley Profile

I’ve uploaded a photo for a start. It shows publishers that I’m a real person and establishes trust.

They’ll then look at the ‘feedback ratio’. Currently, mine is 75% – lower than the recommended 80%, which means my ability to request ARCs could be affected. 

I’m currently reading the two outstanding books, so once they’re read and I’ve provided feedback, I’ll be back at 100%.

Now look at my bio. In the first sentence I’ve outlined my credentials, using persuasive language. This demonstrates a level of commitment to the publisher, making them more likely to approve my request.

I also give readers an idea of what they can expect from me personally, as a reviewer. From my profile, they’ll see that I’m organised, diligent, and honest with my feedback.

2) Include links to your blog & social handles

Simple Guide to Netgalley Social

Crucially, I’ve included a link to my blog to prove that I’m an authentic reviewer. If you aren’t a blogger, your Goodreads profile may suffice.

There are also options to link your social handles (currently Twitter, LinkedIn, and Goodreads).

It gives publishers and authors a chance to see what you’re all about. If you’re active on social media, steer clear from drama, and create engaging content – these are all good signs.

3) View your profile through the eyes of a publisher

Do you have a blog niche? Say you’re a sci-fi book blogger and want to target publishers of SFF books, you’re going to want to lean into that experience in your profile.

Think – if you were an author looking to market your book, who would you want to review it? You want someone who’s experienced in the genre and isn’t simply requesting approval for the sake of it. Remember – NetGalley is an extension of an author and publisher’s marketing strategy.

Furthermore, and most importantly, what is your feedback ratio? The general rule of thumb is that you should aim to keep your feedback ratio above 80%

Some publishers may be more strict, however, and prefer it to exceed 90%, so make sure that you’re giving good quality feedback every single time – even if it isn’t positive.

4) Don’t request too many books at once

It’s easy to get excited about being approved, and there are books littered all over the platform.

In order to provide feedback (and therefore boost your feedback ratio), you need to finish the book. So make sure you don’t request approval for every book you see. It’ll harm your chances of securing future ARCs if you don’t see it through. 

Never give feedback without having read the book. It’s obvious, plus it’s very unfair to publishers and authors.

So, be selective with your books. Read the blurbs, perhaps even read some existing reviews to find out if it’s of interest. If you enjoy your books, you’ll read them more quickly, therefore allowing you to request even more! 

And of course the more you read and review, the better impression you’ll have on influential publishers. You never know, they may even list you as an ‘auto-approved reviewer’ – the holy grail of NetGalley goals.

5) Beware the archive!

Finally, beware the archive.

As soon as you’re approved for a book, download it to your device immediately. You never know when the publisher will archive it. This usually occurs post-publication, but not always. 

Once a book is archived, you’ll have no access to it but your feedback ratio will count against you if you haven’t been able to read the book. This can be incredibly damaging to your NetGalley profile.

The good news is that you can still leave feedback once a book has been archived. Just make sure you get into the habit of downloading your copy as soon as you’ve been approved!

What do you think? Is NetGalley worth it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

No. NetGalley is a purely digital platform. They do offer audiobooks, however.

Tip: If you would prefer a physical ARC or proof copy, you can always reach out directly to the publisher’s marketing team. 

Yes. For readers, NetGalley is a free service.

For authors and publishers, however, NetGalley is a paid-for marketing service.

Getting auto-approved is incredibly difficult because it’s entirely at the publishers’ discretion.

Writing regular, informative reviews will certainly help. Plus building your audience on your blog or social platform of choice will likely play a factor!