Sunday, February 06, 2005


A reviewer e-mailed to ask (sincerely, minus the usual bad language) why I'm so anti-reviews. From the e-mail, quoted with permission:

"You say on your weblog that you'd rather stick a needle in your eye than read a review of your book. Don't you think you might learn something from a constructive review?"

Yes and no.

I didn't learn to write novels while checking with everyone to see if what I'm writing is okay with them. I wrote novels solo, in isolation, for ten years. A couple of friends would read them now and then but they were non-writer friends and I could have written absolute shit and they would have loved it. I've always been my own writer, editor, and reviewer.

When I started getting opinions on my work, it was from editors who paid me for the rights to the work. I never had anyone critique my work until after I was published, and then it came from a NYT bestselling author with fifty books in print, and from my best friend, who has ten years more experience than me. Both are far superior writers than Yours Truly, too.

I can give you twenty pages describing what it took me to become a published author, and not just the paying-the-dues-upfront part. It took an enormous amount of faith in myself, faith that was kicked and battered and stomped on weekly, sometimes daily, by constant rejections (we won't discuss the oceans of self-doubt I've crossed.) It took ignoring people I loved who begged me to stop writing because it was killing them to see me plow on through the perpetual blizzard of No Thanks letters and cards. It took multiple torture sessions of getting so close to publication that I could smell contract ink, only to be squashed by whoever approved the purchases. In part, it wrecked a marriage and killed at least three good friendships.

Becoming a published author took everything I had, and then some, and while I may la-de-da about it here, I don't really think it's funny. I am proud of my accomplishments, but I never forget what I paid for them. And baby, I paid.

Now, some ditz with internet access and a hair up an orifice for whatever reason wants to come and tell the world how he or she would write my book? Oh, be my guest. Only when you write that review, imagine how you'd feel if I came into your place of business, knowing little to nothing about how to do your job, and commenced to decide how well you did it. Then imagine me going to your boss and saying, I think Jane Reviewer sucks at the job that pays her mortgage, feeds her children and keeps her from living under a bridge. Dock her pay, will you? Now I'm off to smear her on every bookkeeping site on the internet. Oh, and if you ever need a new bookkeeper, here's my card....

So, okay, despite this, I accept that I am a public figure, subject to public opinion. Goes with the job. Certainly you reviewers are entitled to your opinions, and free speech -- something I dearly love -- protects your right to air them. Air them. But expect me to read it? Think I'm going to learn something from you? Based on what? Have you written sixty-two novels? I have. How many of yours are published? My #27 and #28 will be out next month. Let's put some credentials on the table here.

Right, forgot. You don't have any. You just have your opinion.

Before everyone writes me off as an arrogant bitch who thinks she's perfect, think again. I constantly beg my editors to rip apart the books I submit, not because I think the work needs it, but because I do. I have to have total confidence in my work to write as fast as I do, but I also need to know where I drop the ball -- after the book is finished. If an editor as experienced as mine doesn't get something, then I know for damn sure the reader won't, and that's when I do something about it. That's when I look at how I'm writing, and fine-tune. I will never be perfect. I will always need editing, and criticism from the people in the industry who have comparable experience.

I listen to my readers; if I hadn't at least five of my books wouldn't exist. They write to me, and talk about what they like and don't like. They are always in the back of my mind when I write. Occasionally I write things or change things to please them, too. I can't make them all happy, that would be like trying to count all the stars in the galaxy. NASA would have to get involved, and you know how I feel about that bunch. But I listen, because it's part of the unwritten contract between me and someone who paid seven or nineteen or twenty-five bucks of their hard-earned money for that book.

Oddly, most of my devoted readers don't write reviews about my books. They write to me.

I don't maintain that kind of contract with reviewers, 99% of whom get the books for nothing from my publisher. Some of you write great reviews that sell a lot of books for me, but that doesn't offset the hatchet jobs that cost me sales. I'm not going to kiss your ass. I'm not afraid of you. Mostly I feel nothing but contempt for you, as a soldier feels for an informant (stole that from my man Flaubert.) I'm working on turning that into pity. Because as much hell as I've gone through, it can't be anything compared to where most of you burn.

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