Monday, July 10, 2006

Rejection, Reviews, And The Writer

I recently had my first phone interview (with the lovely Christina Radish, who was a pleasure to speak to as well as being wonderfully supportive when I got nervous) and the question came up: how do you react to negative reviews/positive reviews? Which is harder?

Go figure, I had to think about that one. Granted, one gets published and the first thing one wants to do is check Amazon obsessively for consumer reviews. Which is, really, the very last thing one should do. There's also the obsessive Googling of one's own name, and the obsessive scanning of review sites for one's books...

Writers are a neurotic bunch. No, it's true. We wouldn't be able to spend this kind of effort running after imaginary people if we weren't. We pour so much time, effort, and energy into our work, we naturally want to see people's reactions. I've even heard other writers say that bad reviews help them, or that the good ones are why they keep writing.

To which I say, dear God, don't look.

There's a fine line between peeking at reviews to get feedback and being sent into a tailspin by the least hint of criticism. Writers get it from both ends--the rejection at the beginning of the submission process, and the critics after the work is in print. Neither is particularly comfortable. It's hard to develop a thick skin about either form of criticism, constructive or otherwise. When you spend so much effort on a piece of art, to have it rejected or panned does hurt. It never gets any easier, not that I've found.

The hardest rejection letter I ever experienced was the first one I had to write to a fellow author while I was working for a small press. It tore my heart out to think I was stamping on someone's dreams. It didn't help that the manuscript needed too much work for us to publish--it still hurt me physically to send the rejection. Seeing the process from that side, and doing reviews myself, helped me understand the process of giving feedback. A reviewer's first allegiance must lie with the reader--but so does the author's. Otherwise, why write? Both are trying to give the reader what they want.

Unfortunately, plenty of reviewers* use reviews as a reason to sharpen their own animus (animuses?) instead of giving thoughtful, incisive critique. Feuds are common between writers and reviewers, especially in the digital age. It shouldn't be that way...but it is. The sooner a writer learns to live with that fact, the better. Feuds with reviewers are counterproductive. They make the writer look like an idiot, and they take away from writing time.

I think I'm lucky to have started out in small presses. My experience with was wonderful, in that I got to try out a lot of things I normally wouldn't have; and I also started receiving letters from readers. Whether positive or negative, I enjoyed reading and responding to them. Then Dark Watcher came out, and I was able to ease into the process of dealing with both positive and negative reviews--something that has stood me in good stead in the wake of Working For The Devil.

I don't recommend completely ignoring one's reviews. That's foolhardy--if more than two reviewers mention something that really bugged them, it's valuable information. But I don't recommend Googling yourself every day or reading all your Amazon reviews obsessively, either. Set a kitchen timer. Do twenty minutes a week max of looking at reviews, and no more. It's for your own sanity. Believe me on this one.

The trouble with getting caught up in the reviews spiral is that you can so easily start defending yourself instead of writing, which is good for nobody. The writer's job is to write; it's hard enough without the added pressure of brooding over reviews, whether positive or negative. Writers are very good at finding things to do other than write, the creative process is so fraught with self-disclosure that avoidance is almost as common as writing itself.

With the availability of review sites on the internet these days, it's easy to get a quick "hit" of emotion, positive or negative, by trolling for reviews of one's own work. It's instant gratification either way, which also seduces one away from the whole point of being a writer: writing. The gratification isn't instant, but it's longer-lasting and healthier than chewing one's own tail about reviews. At least, in my humble opinion.

What do you think?

* Yes, I said plenty of reviewers, but not a majority by any means. There are tons of great reviewers out there.


Michelle Rowen said...

Bad reviews want me to throw up. I'm still too green to be able to separate myself from my work. I try not to look, but I'm addicted to postive feedback. My sanity has suffered. Luckily it wasn't that good to start with. ;-)

Diane Perkins said...

I find that going to the positive reviews when I'm stuck writing gives me confidence, but if I find a negative one, I begin to doubt my abilities.
So your advice is good!
I suspect someday I can resist googling my name or my book title, but not yet....