A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote. ~ Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960
Have truer words ever been spoken? Don’t we “bleed” and “sweat” over our work and write the best books we can? Don’t we all have that sinking feeling from time to time when a reviewer or critic doesn’t “GET” our book/plot/characters?
Still, in looking at things from another perspective, a reviewer doesn’t know about the energy we’ve put into that particular book. They only know what they’re holding in their hands and how it makes them feel. It doesn’t matter that we’ve agonized over every word, every sentence, every paragraph – and fought with our editors over some point or another. The only thing they know is what they read.
Hopefully the emotion of the work itself comes through to them. Hopefully they fall just as much in love with our characters as we do. But there’s no guarantee is there? When you get that notification that your book has been reviewed, do you get those butterflies? The ones that feel like sweet fragile Monarch migrating in Sherman Tanks right across the Sahara that used to be your stomach? You know the ones I mean. Do you avoid all reviews or, like me, do you obsessively search to see if there are any out there that you’ve missed?
It’s great to get a super review, but how do you handle those that don’t get you, your characters or your book? What is your method for navigating the harsh critiques that we all seem to get from time to time? Do you know what not to do?
It seems like a no-brainer to not respond in anger, but many of us come unglued when our babies, I mean our stories, are ‘mistreated.’ We cannot fathom why someone would not love our work. Do I need to point out all those rejection letters we piled up before that first beautiful “yes” from a publishing professional? Do I really need to remind you of those contests you once entered hoping that an editor or agent would scoop you up as “the next big thing” only to get your score sheets back to find your beautiful best-seller pounded into the dirt by some judge?
How were we all taught to react to those by our critic groups, by our writing loops, even by our parents? We were taught to say, “thank you” even if we said it through gritted teeth and added a few expletives under our breath. We were taught to write out our true feelings and then delete that email. Burn that letter. Rip it into tiny shreds of paper so we COULD say “thank you” when someone took the time to give us honest feedback on our work – even if that honesty caused us pain.
There are examples all over the internet of “writers behaving badly” in responding to reviews, and those things go viral quicker than you can go back and delete your post. Remember that there are people out there who revel in this sort of thing and they will spread your vitriol and might even try to draw you into personal attacks.
So please never ever respond in anger to a review. Particularly one that is in print where you can’t retract your remarks. The internet is rife with examples of what that can do to your career. And baby, it ain’t good! Even when you remove your outbursts, the aftermath lives on in the comments from those all to o willing to tell you how you screwed up. The internet is not your friend when it comes to temper tantrums.
So even though the critic can only review the book he has read, the author should only thank that critic. Do not spit on him like Richard Ford did or sullenly say you hope to meet them one day to tell them what you think of them (Norman Mailer). It is probably a good idea to remember Thumper’s advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v-171cY0Ysy5U )