29 May 2007

No Whining

Or: I feel opinionated today.

There is a piece in the Commentary section of the Christian Science Monitor today. "Bull's-eye for amateur book critics: An author warms up to her bad reviews on Amazon.com." (HERE) that harkens back to the discussion on David Anthony Durham's Blog about the Rise of the Cyber Critic.

"My first negative review on Amazon.com felt like a dagger to the heart." says Curtiss."

"Not even bestselling authors can escape being maligned by amateur critics whose time has come."

It seems the author doing the commentary takes exception to anyone reviewing her book that is not a 'professional'. My reply would be "Suck it up." People have opinions, people express opinions, the Internet just makes it easier to let a large segment of the universe know about your opinions. The world doesn't owe you pats on the back and fuzzy kittens. The authors I admire and hope to emulate someday are those that are gracious under fire, that realize you can't please all of the people all of the time, and project a Zen-like attitude towards reviews and criticisms.

"It's actually fun to read the ridiculous ones aloud to disbelieving friends. Positive reviews alone, unleavened by a little dissenting vitriol, are really rather boring. Imagine "American Idol" without Simon Cowell."

It's times like this that I think I should have completed my psychology degree but the Board of Psychology Examiners would frown on me smacking someone in the back of the head and saying, "Whatsa matta wid u? Grow up.".

Obsessing over the negative is counterproductive. I still hate getting rejection letters (emails), but that's the way the business is. On the other hand, I dislike conflict and hate giving bad news, so maybe that makes me the wuss here. Critiquing is an art form in itself, one that you have to actively master. It's far easier to roll your eyes at critics because they don't understand your brilliance. Much harder to smile and say, "You may have a point. I'll take that under consideration for next time."

I know my biggest barriers on the Eightfold Path are Right Speech, and Right Effort. Bad reviews hurt, and I can sympathize... but I still don't like whining.

So David, Scott, Kris, thanks for having the class you do in your public relations and blogs. As a reader, writer, and 'amateur critic', I appreciate it.

-- There's no CRYING in baseball!-- (A League Of Their Own)


David Anthony Durham said...


Thanks for the kind nod. I couldn’t get to the article for some reason, but I agree with the "Suck it Up" advice. I'd be a bit embarrassed if I ever wrote something about how I read out loud and laugh at reviewers. Sounds like a poorly disguised attempt to make oneself feel better. I think it also shows that the author cares a whole lot more about these reviews than she’s letting on.

This is not to say that I don’t think Amazon reviews can be crap. They can be written with a complete disregard for the truth by someone who’s gotten it all wrong for reasons he or she has no grasp of. I’ve thought that about reviews written of my books, and of reviews written of others. I’m really aware of this right now because I’ve just handed in a review to the Washington Post. The fact that I knew Ron Charles was going to read it and that eventually many, many people would also read it and that it would have my name on it forever meant that I worked really hard to make sure I had a balanced take on the book, and that I wasn’t mistaken about some of the conclusions I reached. As much as anything I was also aware that the author of the book would probably read it, so I wanted to make sure I said the good and bad stuff that really needed to be said and that I said it with truthful respect, even when I was being critical. What I mean is that I’ve written Amazon reviews too, and I know it’s a very different experience than writing for a large publication.

Anyway, I think the point is that once you sign the agreement that means you’re a published writer you have to know (or hope, really) that lots of different people are going to read your work and they’re going to respond in different ways. There. Tough. That’s all there is to it. If that’s not okay with you than you shouldn’t join the game. I do have silly, negative, flippant reviews of my books stapled to the inside of my head. I remember them with a clarity I wish I could save for the good ones. That’s a pain, but so what? I’m being paid to write stories! That’s a precious enough gift that a few nicks and cuts alone the way aren’t that big a deal.

Constance Brewer said...

David, I checked my coding, link seems to work okay. CSM could have been down.

The stuff we say in our own head about reviews should stay there I think, but maybe some people don't care about private vs. public discourse. This seems to be a time where words enter the head and come out the mouth without a stop in between for editing. I think television and reality shows carry some of the blame as well as the schools for discarding reasoned debate in favor of rote learning. Is the idea of competition so all-consuming that the thought of losing even a philosophical argument makes people say and do stupid things? Why is it so hard to be kind to one another?

I agree that the thought of who might read what I write influences my choices. I've never been a person who can say exactly what I feel, damn the consequences - I'm too much an after-thinker for that. I've read a few books I've chucked across the room halfway through, but I probably would only tell the author, "This part didn't work for me because-". Velocity and wall impact is something I'd keep to myself.

So, does this make me dishonest? Or is it part of the learning process? Hardest comment I ever had to respond to was after I read a poem and someone piped up, "I don't get it." So do I explain how the use of rhetorical strategies strengthens the poem's imagery and sound like a pretentious snot, or fall back on teacher mode and say "I'm sorry, what didn't you get?" which sounds condescending in its own way. Because in the end, someone, somewhere, will get offended.

I don't envy your current spate of interviews, David, I don’t think I would do well in an interview session, I much prefer writing out my answers and tweaking them. Have you ever been caught off guard in an interview, and if so, how did you respond? A strange question considering I taught "Ambush Interviewing" for a leadership class, but I was playing the nosy reporter, not the deer in the headlight politician. It brought out a vicious streak in me I didn't know I had, especially when people panicked and blurted things out. Even though it was fake. Weird.

Boy am I glad this is my blog and I can be as long winded as I like. :)

David Anthony Durham said...

I don't think it's dishonest to be respectful, even if in private you'd rant at a whole different volume. That's what seems unfortunate about a lot of unconsidered responses, whether they be Amazon reviews or published ones. Too many rants get through. It’s not that I don’t want everyone’s opinion; sometimes, though, I wish they’d go back and revise a bit, think it through more, look at it from different angles. Maybe it's just my up-bringing, but it seems to me there's a way to say things in the comfort of your own home and a way to present your thoughts - and yourself - to the world. Both can be honest.

As for the interviews, so far nothing has caught me off guard with this one. A lot of the interviews are done via email, so I do have a bit of leisure to think up responses. Although, just today somebody asked, out of the blue, "What do you fear most?" Just that, no context but just the simple question. I answered with the first thing that came to mind, and I kinda liked it that nobody had asked anything like that before.

It's the live broadcast interviews that make me a bit nervous. I don't think they usually catch me off guard either, but I'm always expecting it, which is kinda nerve-wracking...

Constance Brewer said...

Do you think negative reviews on Amazon adversely affect buying decisions? I know I read the negative reviews as well as positive, discard the gushing and the hateful reviews, and hope to have opinions somewhere in the middle. I know I've avoided buying a book because of a negative review- in that the review pointed out some things that made me suspect I wouldn't enjoy the book. I would prefer to look at a copy of a book to page through beforehand, but that's not always an option where I live, and wiht the types of books I want.

It would be nice to have "How to write a book review" guidelines as a starting point. I don't feel qualified to 'review' books, but I'll always mention what I liked about it or didn't like. Can one be objective - should they strive for objectivity- or is it just a subjective field that needs only be prefaced with Your Milage May Vary?

"What do you fear most?" is a great question. Do you find interviews to be a rehash of the same questions usually? I may have to carry this over to your Forum to discuss better. :)

Scott Oden said...

Now, I'm not quite as high-minded as you make out, Constance ;) Bad reviews, like rejection slips and harsh critiques, bug the beejeesus out of me -- but it's part of the game. If someone takes the time to review what I've written, then the only proper response is to say "thank you", take what I can from it, and go off to sulk where no one can see me :)

I've had a couple of Amazon reviews that were obviously from people who didn't read beyond the synopsis, and that I do take umbrage with. A review, good or bad, should only be done once a work has been read -- which means no 'atta boy' reviews from friends just to pad your numbers, no 'this sucks' reviews just because you didn't like an author's blog or whatnot. That's really all I ask: *read* it first, then review it for good or ill.

What do I fear most? That no one will care enough to give me even a bad review . . .

Constance Brewer said...

Scott, you don't rant publicly about how unfair people are, which is why I elevated you to demi-god-like status. (Subject to revocation by gnomes) Sulking in private is perfectly acceptable, which is why doG invented microbrews. Sit and sip and sulk. The big three.

Harsh critiques without justification are hardest for me to take. If you don't read the genre, don't take exception to the characters and their actions. But yes, "thank you" is the only appropriate response.

I would review Memnon and Men of Bronze (likewise Acacia) both on my blog and on Amazon... if I knew how to do so properly. In all books, there were things I loved, and things that didn't work for me, along with places I skipped. How do you respectfully report on the good, the bad, and the ugly without giving away the plot, or sound like you're trashing a book you really did enjoy? I looked over some 'how to do a book review" posts on different boards. I may give it a shot. Or I may stay a coward. We'll see.

David Anthony Durham said...

I do find that about sixty percent of the questions I'm getting are repeats in some variation of the same questions. I try to answer them a little differently, and yet on the other hand I do have some basic truths to stick with.

I'm not sure what Amazon reviews do. I think they probably have an effect on some people with certain books, while having no effect on other people. I'd rather have nice reviews of my books, but I also go right for the bad reviews of other people's books. Not because I'm going to believe them, but just because I'm curious. I often conclude exactly the opposite, though, from a negative review just because of its tone.

And I'm sure you'd do an excellent job writing evenhanded reviews. You're part way there just because your intentions are good. That's got a lot of reviewers beat already. Also, you're serious about your own writing, which also means you're going to know things that many reviewers don't.

If you wanted to open up a thread on this stuff on my Forum it could be interesting, especially as a lot of the folks over there have reviewing blogs. You’ll have to register again, though. We had to restart the Forum from scratch in order to make it spam free. Lost a lot of good stuff, but we’ll rebuild!

Constance Brewer said...

That would be one of the hard parts, coming up with good questions to ask in an interview. On the other hand, I operate on a different wavelength- so my boss tells me- and left field questions are the norm for me...

I'm pondering the value of reviewing for me. It would take time away from my own writing, but I also learn far more by critiquing other people's work than my own. I've decided that I suffer from terminal niceness, and there's nothing wrong with that. There are enough mean people in the world. :) I made notes in the Acacia ARC on where I lost interest, what kept me curious, nifty phrasings and the like. Not for review intent, but understanding. "How did he do that?" I watch movies the same way at times, on half fast forward with no sound you can really see the directors intent on shots and framing.

Thanks for the vote of confidence on my nascent reviewing skills. I'm concentrating on a bunch of short stories at the moment, when I come up for air I should be ready to sit down with Acacia and read through – hopefully all the pages will be there! Heading to the Forum to reregister and ponder review type questions.

Kristopher said...

Interestingly, while the world may not owe me fuzzy kittens, my publisher does. It’s in my contract. During the negotiation, they said, “Okay, Mr. Reisz. You can have all electronic rights, film and television rights, and audio-book rights. Or this kitten.”

“That’s really dumb,” I countered. “I’m not going to sign away thousands, maybe millions, of dollars worth of rights for a kitten.”

“No? Not even if he has a bit of string?” Pulling some string out of his pocket, the lawyer dangled it for the kitten, who made a grab for it, then tumbled across the conference table.

“Dang it,” I said. “Give me the kitten.”

I might be gracious under fire, but I’m lousy at negotiations.

Constance Brewer said...

Kris? Seriously, dude, you need a keeper. Maybe several. These guys and gals get my vote. doG help them.