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A Review is Just a Review

Margaret Moore

Once you've sold a book, you await the glorious day you see it on real, live bookshelves in a real, live bookstore. Unfortunately, there's something else that comes with seeing your work published than can be a little less exciting, and that's the book review.

I've had great ones, good ones, mediocre ones, bad ones and a few that had story details so wrong, steam was coming out of my ears.

Obviously a good or great review is a wonderful thing, something to be cherished and saved for the days when the writing isn't going so well. But what about those other reviews, the ones that make it sound as if the story and characters you've lived with and labored over for months are horrible creations. That you, my dear, are a stupid fool and your book is a piece of...well, you know where I'm going.

It's a whole special kind of hell.

Plenty of people will tell you not to read your reviews. They're clearly stronger folks than I, because to me, it's like somebody placed your performance evaluation in a file folder on your desk. Who's not going to take a peek?

It's the public nature of a review that makes the bad ones really hard for me to get over. If the reviewer just sent me her opinion to me via a private email, it'd still sting, because nobody enjoys negative criticism, but I'd get over it a lot faster. Instead, it's like somebody took your lousy performance evaluation and posted it on the bulletin board. Knowing that everyone and anyone can read it -- that's what makes 'em tough for me to deal with and hard to forget.

Fortunately, a review is...just a review. A bad review won't sink your career, or I wouldn't still be writing and selling books. Yes, a good one is great and positive buzz can push your career forward, but even a few negative reviews won't kill it. After all, your editor gave the book a passing grade when they let it go into production. A negative review is critical of your editor's work, too.

Unfortunately, some reviewers seem to take a fiendish delight in being clever at somebody else's expense. If they could only hear the clever, witty criticisms I make of their work! They never will, though, because I've seen what happens when authors "talk back," and it can get really ugly. And the author always come out the loser, because reviewers have an answer ready: it's just one person's opinion.

To which I want to shout "It's one person's opinion that's all over the frickin' web!" Or in your magazine. Or wherever. And what about those erroneous story details? Those are the facts as presented in the book, no opinion required.

However, submitting your work to the public and dealing with less-than-glowing reviews is part of the price you pay to be a published writer, for working hard, submitting your work and taking a risk. So when I get a lousy one, I take my lumps, mutter darkly, phone my mother, and remind myself that writing and selling books is much more challenging, lucrative and exciting than writing reviews.

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Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Wilkins. This article may not be copied without the author's permission.