And The Story Begins–As It Means to Go On, Likely: A Warning

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have seen the abridged version of today’s adventure, but I want to share now the full story.

Since today was the first mail day after the long weekend, I received a shit ton of boxes.  Two of those boxes were subscriptions for the service And The Story Begins, which sends out two books of varying genres every month.  I was subscribed to both the Mystery/Thriller box and the Science Fiction box.  The two books in my Science Fiction box are at least interesting enough I’ll be giving them a try.

The Mystery/Thriller books are pure, unmitigated garbage.

Trigger/content warnings for mentions of rape, abuse, torture, murder, violence against women–all of these from the books mentioned below–and The Killing Joke.  Cut for these reasons.

The first book is called “The Book of You”, something I’ve seen in several book e-mails that make me want to beat something.  It’s about a woman being stalked by a male colleague, who, when she recognizes all of the signs of this stalking during a trial about a kidnapping/abuse of another woman, must somehow escape him.  The blurb says our main character “bears the burden of proof” that this is happening.  I say this book belongs on a pyre.

If I wanted to read about the abuse, torture, and probably threats of rape against a woman, I’d read the fucking news.  This is not entertainment.

Even this waste of paper wouldn’t have made the subscription service irredeemable (most boxes end up with one decent book and one pile of bird shit), if it hadn’t been paired with what’s possibly the worst thing to have ever been written by a human.  The second book is about a male serial killer of women, from his point of view.

Let me repeat that.

The other book is told in first-person from the point of view of a serial killer who specifically targets women, who, to achieve his current plan, needs to “take care of all the women who keep getting in his way.”

That’s right.  I get the joy of reading a serial killer’s enjoyment and justification for the brutal murders of people like me.

Fucking. Great.

SO, since I didn’t order “Brutality to Women Monthly”, I wrote to ATSB.  One of these stories would have been disgusting enough, but pairing them speaks of a lack of judgement and sense that I won’t abide.

My original e-mail:

I am deeply concerned and upset by the current box I received.  One book is about a woman being stalked by a kidnapper/rapist and the other a first-person POV book about a serial killer of women.  I’m not sure if you’re aware, but a lot of your subscribers are women or women-adjacent and, when we sign up for a book subscription, we certainly aren’t counting on receiving books about our enjoyable traumas and deaths.  Sure, the books are random, but it crosses a damn line to send highly triggering books to readers with no warning whatsoever.  I suppose it’s too bad on me for thinking mystery/thriller meant excitement, not being sent torture porn for kicks.
If there’s no way to ensure I will not be sent books like this again, I am canceling my subscription and asking the remaining cost to be refunded to me.  I don’t want the rest of my subscription; I want to be able to get a surprise book without a panic attack.

The reply:

Hi [Fleet],

I’m very sorry to hear that you didn’t like the books. You are actually the only one that has brought up this point about the books. My girlfriend and I go through each book and both agree on the books that will be included in each month’s box. We tend to look for books that have received great reviews and feedback, rather than focusing on avoiding hot topics or controversial issues. Most of the books that we include in our subscription boxes we either have read or end up reading that month.

The upcoming month’s books are completely different than this month’s Mystery/Thriller box.
If you do wish to cancel your subscription, we completely understand.

My final:

I don’t think you do understand, and your reply is insulting at best, but at least you accept that I will be canceling. Not only will I be canceling this box, but my Science-Fiction box as well. I would like a refund for the unsent boxes, as I cannot trust the quality of any future shipments. Your claim that upcoming months will be different is not in the least reassuring.

Also, I’ll give you a tip: “I am so sorry about this. It had not occurred to me that the content of these books could be triggering, and for that, I deeply apologize. I assure you we will take this into account for future months. We hope that you will continue your subscription, but understand if you wish to cancel. Again, we are truly sorry.”

That is the correct response to a customer complaint. You don’t even have to mean it, but that’s how you keep business.

“Well, it’s only you”, “My girlfriend said it was OK”, and “We look at feedback, not content” are not the absolving justifications you think they are. What you wrote to me is that you think I’m a hysterical Social Justice Warrior who needs to grow a thicker skin. This was not the place to “rationalize” your decision. “Avoiding hot topics or controversial issues” is not the same as using common sense to realize that people won’t want a double-feature of brutality and violence against women. It is not my fault, nor my problem, that you took a business complaint personally, and then had the audacity to blame the customer their for righteous concerns.

I hope you learn something about customer relations from this.

Now, for anyone who is still confused as to what’s wrong with that bullshit of a customer service reply, let me break it down for you.

The issue was not that I “didn’t like the books”.  The issue is the fact that I, as a woman-adjacent person, should not have to resign myself to receiving and enjoying books which focus on the torture, trauma, and murder of people like myself.  The sheer gall in saying my expecting to read a thriller not focused on my imminent abuse can be pared down to me “not liking the books” is ghastly.

Hot tip:  Being “actually the only one that has brought up this point about the books” does not mean I’m the only one who realized this was a problem.  It just means I’m the first person to bring it to your attention (and, sadly, likely “the only” because, well, we’re conditioned to not complain, aren’t we?).

Telling me that you and your girlfriend go through the books, as if that excuses a supreme lack of judgement in selection, is the same as saying you can’t be racist because you have a Black friend, or you can’t be sexist because you have a mom.  Not to mention that the last line “well, we plan to read them” doesn’t actually mean you have nor does it mean you have any leg to stand on about the quality of the books.

But it’s this middle line that really takes the shit cake of this smorgasbord of excrement:  “We tend to look for books that have received great reviews and feedback, rather than focusing on avoiding hot topics or controversial issues”

Why, exactly, do you think I give a shit about the amount or type of reviews a book received?  The Killing Joke still gets praised even though the entire plot hinges on the brutal and graphic sexual abuse of a woman.  Reviews do not equal good content.

Hey, friends?  Did you know rape, torture, and murder is OK because it gets GREAT REVIEWS???  Neither did I, but apparently this guy was kind enough to learn me a thing or two, what with me being a silly woman who thinks reading a book from a serial killer’s point of view is “controversial” and not “a reason why men are the greatest scourge we face today”.

How condescending a spunk bubble do you have to be to say using basic good judgement is “focusing on avoiding hot topics or controversial issues”, as if it’s such a terrible thing to think of, 1) other people, 2) that maybe the reason something’s “controversial” is because it’s fucking gross?  This is the kind of bullshit you see from MRAs complaining about “censorship” because someone got told to do his fucking job right.

Common human decency is not hard.  It’s not difficult.  It’s not asking too much.  It only requires one thing:  being a decent fucking human.  Apparently, though, that’s difficult for the owners of And The Story Begins.

On a related note:  Hey, businesses!  Do you have trouble writing professional customer service replies?  Well, you’re in luck.  Hire me, and you’ll never have trouble again, because I’ll actually make you pathetic motherfuckers look good.

About Fleet Sparrow

Writer, Reader, Critic, Bear.
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