I found two nice reviews attached to Hermes Online yesterday and I’m honored and grateful two readers actually took the time to write and post their impression of my novel. Last night I spent a while looking for professional reviewers and started my search by visiting a list of sites my publisher sent me. The latter were the reviewer sites my book was sent to shortly after it launched. Hermes Online was nowhere to be found. Now I know these well-respected people must have literally hundreds of books to read, so it’s no surprise to me that mine just hasn’t come up. I suppose that’s both good and bad. As they’re not yet in the realm of my experience, I won’t really know or understand the true benefits of reviews until my books get them.
I’ve always considered myself to be the one to determine good or bad, as in what was good or bad for me. Pending reviews have me thinking that I’ve been fooling myself for I’m as swayed as the next person by the opinions of others. Maybe not as much as some, but swayed nonetheless. How many times do we go to a particular hotel, new movie release, or restaurant because the reviews are terrific? How many times do we stay away when they’re not?
Seeing the reviews for my own humble work, I can appreciate the time and effort it took someone to leave their comment. The sheer fact they have assures me I managed to evoke an emotional response. They were moved to leave flattering comments. They might have just as easily left negative ones. It’s easy to understand when you find that fly in your soup, or you determine those bites on your belly came from bedbugs at the hotel you stayed in the night before, how you might be emotionally inspired to leave a review to express your dissatisfaction.
Art, and there’s no doubt about it, crafting a story is art, is a personal thing. Imagine being a child in an art class and the teacher gives you an F. An F for a creation that came from your imagination. How else could the child look at this than to think his/her imagination is lousy? A child might think if my imagination is lousy then why bother drawing ever again.
Poking around the internet last night, I read some nasty reviews on other author’s creations and all I can say is really? Was it that bad to say that terrible thing? How could another person’s work of art evoke that kind of emotional response? Especially in the Romance Genre. It’s not like seeing something that turns your stomach with its shock value. It’s not like watching a tank ready to crush a student in Tiananmen Square, witnessing a hapless truck driver in Los Angeles getting his head koshed in with a brick, or viewing a monk setting himself on fire in protest. It’s a romance novel that on some level just didn’t do it for the reader. That’s all. And really, even doing it for the reader is a personal thing. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.
Don’t get me wrong, reviewers have well respected opinions and are indispensable for moving the industry along. Professional reviewers are often worth their weight in gold for highlighting the weak spots and I look forward, albeit nervously, to having a professional review of my work one day. As a person who always tries to be nice, I just never see the point in being cruel. Things like “the hero was underdeveloped”, or “the storyline plodded after chapter three”, are useful to the author. I guarantee if someone found that in my writing I’d take pains not to duplicate that mistake because I really want to be good in this craft. To say things like “This person has no business writing” or “Complete garbage, total waste of time” are not useful at all. They don’t show the weak spot, they don’t show where the story had its problems, they don’t show what’s needed to make the writing better next time.
Think about this — the publisher obviously thought there was something there, some merit, when they reviewed the manuscript and sent the contract to the author or they wouldn’t waste the resources to publish it. The stories I read about last night couldn’t possibly have been that bad to warrant nonproductive and unbelievably cruel comments. On a personal level having once taught school, I’m a firm believer in mastery. Correcting the mistake leads to better understanding, it leads to mastery. In other words — show me my error or the weak spot so I know what it is you’re talking about. I’ll do better knowing because I want to learn. I want to do well. Don’t give an artist an F and not allow him/her to understand why. Don’t verbally crush them down so they never try again. It’s not productive on any level. Be nice.