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Lev Raphael

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Don't Be Held Hostage By Reviewers

Posted: 07/11/2012 1:52 pm

Wannabe authors imagine that once they get published, life will be glorious. That's because they haven't thought much about bad reviews. Every author gets them, and sometimes they're crushing.

As a published, working author, you learn to live with the reality of bad reviews in different ways. You can stop reading reviews. You can have someone you trust vet them for you and warn you so that poisonous splinters of prose don't lodge in your brain. You can leave town and stay off the grid when your book comes out.

Hell, you can be perverse and break open a bottle of champagne to celebrate a dreadful review. Why not? Or if you're a mystery author, you can have even more fun with a bad review than that, because you can kill the reviewer. Of course, you don't have to go all the way to murder. Fictional defamation, degradation, and despoliation can be satisfying, too.

Last week, Salon published a piece of close to 3,000 words by a novelist who complained that Janet Maslin killed his novel in the New York Times. Killed? No critic has that power. But Maslin did trash his book. It happens. She also made a gross mistake about his book in her review. That happens, too. I've had a reviewer claim my second novel focused on a theme that it didn't remotely touch, which meant she was probably confusing it with another book of mine.

The Salon piece is disturbing and at times painful -- but not just because of Maslin's error. It opens with the author describing in detail how he moaned on his couch, face down, while his wife read and paraphrased the bad review, and her having to admit that Maslin dissed the book as "soggy." You'd think someone who teaches creative writing and has published three previous books would set a better example for his students. Instead, while the author admits he's lucky to have been in the Times at all, he dwells too much on his misery and even relates how he's previously thought of Maslin as a ghost friend because she gave his first book a great review. That's creepy.

I've published almost two dozen books and I now read as few of my reviews as possible. Why? Because I've learned more about my work from other authors through their books, conversations, or lectures than I have from any reviewers. I don't look to reviews for education or approbation. I hope they'll help with publicity, but I've seen people get raves in the New York Times without any impact on sales. We authors shouldn't let our self-esteem be held hostage by the Janet Maslins of journalism, and we should try not to over-estimate their importance or expect them to stroke our egos.

As for bad reviews? Ignore them along with the good ones, and keep writing.

 

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