“Rivetting… exciting… absorbing… extraordinary!” That’s the sort of critical review that all writers hope for. They don’t always come our way, but you’ve got to have a dream.
In my salad writing days I naively believed that all reviewers were benevolent beings who looked kindly on those of us who poured heart and soul onto the printed page. I was sure that their criticism was kindly meant and constructive. Actually, I still believe that a majority of critics are sharp readers and kindly folk, but now I know that those who criticize are also human and that their viewpoints are therefore subjective and are to be taken with a saltshaker at hand.
Many years ago I met a woman who was a reviewer for an important literary magazine. Still wet around the ears and bubbling with excitement over my new book, I enthused about it to this lady, who eyed me cynically and purred, “Oh, I will be moved, will I?” Her review was scathing and—I still believe—unnecessarily cruel. The fact that A Boat To Nowhere was well received elsewhere and went on to win a national award made up for the wounds she inflicted, but I never forgot the experience.
So how do we deal with reviewers and reviews? Through the ups and downs of review-reading, I think we all need to keep a level head and to believe that If we have done our best, that is what counts. If there are lessons to be learned from a negative review, we will learn them. If there is praise that will validate us after all of our hundreds of hours of work, that’s icing on the cake.
The best critics, I think, are not the ones who write for newspapers or literary magazines but the readers themselves. That student who wrote to say he found your book the best he ever read, or the thoughtful questions posed by a teenaged reader … aren’t those letters priceless? I confess that of all the reviews I have kept, the one I prize most was written from a juvenile detention facility. It began, “Yo, Miss! I hate reeding (sic), but your book reely (sic) wasn’t too bad!” It was signed “Squinty.”
I suspect that we never outgrow some anxiety about reviews. I know I haven’t. Now that my e-book, The Lake Is On Fire, has hit the airways, I have been watching and waiting for some commentary to be posted. And behold, today there they were!
“This book,” one reviewer began, “has only two important characters – a short-tempered boy and a bad-tempered dog. How they got that way and how they react to the exciting and dangerous events that overtake them makes for an engrossing story with vivid characters and plenty of suspense. I loved it!”
And another: Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down.
And again: Beautifully written, the suspense becomes so riveting that it is next to impossible to lay it down. I highly recommend this book for teens – and for their parents too!
No writer could possibly ask for better reviews!
Words said by others
Who read what we have written…
Do they hurt…or please?