Anonymous Question Submission: On Reviews

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane
 




Paraphrasing the question submitted to TKZ anonymously: What do you think of “online bullies” who post mean-spirited book reviews to discredit the author when they don’t even read the novel.
 
If someone has clearly not read a novel yet writes a review, why should I pay attention to that at all? (I’ve spent too much time already talking about this, so I will move on to my thoughts on reviews, in general.)
 
Recently I heard an actor talk about paying attention to reviews and how it could affect his performance—whether the reviews were good or bad. I find words of wisdom and encouragement in the creative arts–like filmmakers, actors, musicians—because they know what it takes to create something from nothing with passion. So when I heard this actor speak, I could relate his words to my own thoughts. He believed reviews, whether good or bad, detracted from the work in the moment or for the next performance. If a reviewer believed the actor’s performance was emotional and touching in a particular scene, those words would stay in the actor’s head the next time he did his job, when maybe the scene (on page) didn’t call for the same emotion. Negative reviews can act in the same way and cultivate self-doubt (which none of us need).
 
In applying what he said to writing, a good review can sway an author to manipulate the writing to “fit” what the reviewer wrote about the work. It could affect every book in the future in the same manner. Bad reviews can make an author overly sensitive to whatever harsh criticism was written, whether deserved or not. The author could overcompensate and alter their growth. Chasing after reviews, whether good or bad, can detract from a writer’s instincts on storytelling. They can make an author doubt the story telling talent that got them published in the first place.
 
I also heard it said, long ago in my energy industry career, that if you don’t value (or know anything about) the credibility of the person giving their opinion of your work, why should you care what they think or say? Easier said than done for some, but I’ve embraced this sentiment.


As an author, I tend to value Publishers Weekly to give me a sense of a book, but it doesn’t stop me from buying it if the book gets a marginal PW review. If the story interests me, I make my own decision. Any reading experience is subjective for everyone. Because I understand how difficult it is to tell a story on page, I am much more appreciative of an author’s style or voice or plot structure. I love reading many types of books and I try to find “gem takeaways” in an author’s writing, rather than me bristling for the opportunity to reject their work and show how brilliant I can be at “snark.”
 
As a new author, I paid attention to reviews. I don’t anymore and haven’t for a long time. It’s my choice and it’s freed my time so I can spend more hours on writing and honing my craft.  Like the actor I mentioned, I don’t want to be swayed by opinions whether the reviews are good or bad. It’s human nature to sift through many good reviews, but become totally obsessed over a negative one. Snarky reviewers are the worst. They tend to “believe their own hype” and love having the reputation for overly harsh reviews they think are clever. Their reviews tend not to be about recommending good books or encouraging literacy, they become about how unkind the review can be in degrading the work. Fortunately not all reviewers are like this. Most are not.
 
If someone wants to be critical of a writer’s work, I issue a challenge. Write your own book. Cut open a vein and bleed on the page with an honest story and deal with the critics (or note) afterwards. Authors must be willing to tell their stories, without fear. There will always be negative opinions, but my focus has been on my own growth and striving to tell my stories, my way. I want to be the best Jordan Dane I can be and I keep writing.
 
As for sites where readers congregate (like Goodreads, Fresh Fiction, Just Romantic Suspense, Amazon, B&N, and many other review sites), I appreciate their value for readers to talk about books. That’s great. Goodreads, Fresh Fiction, and Just Romantic Suspense in particular are reader communities that promote literacy and they encourage reading (in general) by giving followers a place to focus their interest in books. A lovely thing.
 
I have a profile presence on some of these sites. I RSS feed my blog posts to my author profile, respond to comments, and do giveaways to raise awareness of my projects. Other than that, I don’t sift through reviews, whether they are good or bad. It’s a detractor of time I could spend writing. There will always be one-star reviews, even on noteworthy critically acclaimed books.
 
For discussion:
Readers: How much attention do you pay toward reviews? Do reviews sway you to buy or avoid a novel? Have you ever read really bad reviews on a book you liked? If so, did it change how you look at reviews?
 
Writers: How do you deal with reviews (good or bad) on your work?

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Rejection: A little chin music

By P.J. Parrish

This isn’t going to be news to most of you who are regular readers of The Kill Zone but it’s good advice for anyone who is trying to get published. Heck, it’s good advice if you are trying to STAY published. And we all need to be reminded of it once in a while. Here it is:

You have to be tough.

How tough? You have to have the hide of a

The tenacity of a

And the drive of a

But even with all those qualities, you are going to get rejected. It happens to all of us. And it never stops. Even after you sign your first contract, you will deal with it. Your editor will make you rewrite. The marketing department will veto your title. (Heck, one of ours got nixed by the buyer at Walmart). Barnes & Noble will stock you but Costco won’t. You won’t get reviewed or worse, you’ll get panned. You work like a dog to put your ebook on Amazon and you sell four books…three of them to your mom. And someday, you will be stalking some poor reader in the bookstore, see him pick up your book [YES! THEY LIKE ME, THEY REALLY LIKE ME!] and he will put it back on the shelf [NO! WHY DO YOU HATE MY BOOK?]

Rejection is a staple of the writer’s life, so no matter where you are on your path, you might as well begin to come to grips with it. Even after you are published with a decent track record, you can still get dumped on.

Rejection begins, of course, with query letters. This is a painful thing, the query process, because the agents who are rejecting you are usually maddeningly oblique about why they are giving you the thumbs down. Here’s some examples of coded rejections I have seen:

1. “This doesn’t fit my needs at this time.”
2. “Your writing is strong but I don’t feel I can be enthusiastic enough to fully get behind this project.”
3. “I’m afraid I will have to take a pass. But I am interested in seeing other projects…”

What they really mean:

1. You can’t write.
2. I already have four authors who write zombie Lesbian detective series.
3. DaVinci Code rip-offs are yesterday’s news. Have you considered paranormal YA?

I don’t mean to make light of your woes if you are going through any phase of rejection now. But believe me, I have been there. My entry into this business took place during the Ice Age when it was possible to still submit to editors without having an agent. (ie the Slush Pile). But the rejections were still as awful. I used to have all of them — kept them in an old manila envelope in a desk drawer. Then when we moved a couple years ago, I finally threw all the rejection letters away. Except for the first one I ever got, which I keep framed above my desk:

It is a classic. It doesn’t reproduce well here, so let me point out some really nifty things about this particular rejection letter. First, it’s a form letter. Second, there is no date. Third, there is no signature. But someone WAS kind enough to pencil in my last name and even take a moment to cross out “Sir.” I think this rejection letter is circa 1980. But you’ll notice the language has not changed since. The inserts are how I felt at the time:

Dear Ms. Montee,

We thank you for the opportunity [yeah, right!] to consider your proposal or manuscript. [what, they can’t figure out WHICH?]. We are sorry [I’ll bet!] to inform you that the book does not seem a likely prospect [how elegant!] for the Dell Book list. Because we receive many individual submissions every day [you think I care how overworked you are?] it is impossible for us to offer individual comment [I’d say so since there is no human being attached to this letter to begin with!] We thank you for thinking of Dell [insert sound of raspberry here] and we wish you the best of success [ie don’t darken our doorstep again with your crap] in placing your book with another publisher. [you’ll be sorry some day!]

Sincerely, [you’re kidding, right?]
The Editors [aka the evil Manhattan cabal trying to keep me unpublished]

So why did I keep this one? Well, with the passage of more than two decades I have gained a certain perspective about it. The manuscript I sent to Dell was really really bad. It had no business going out in the world in the state it was in. I know, because I kept it. Like this rejection letter, I kept it to remind me that this is a learning process. It still is. It always will be.

So if you are feeling blue today about rejection, just know this one thing: You are not alone. Pearl Buck’s novel “The Good Earth” was rejected on the grounds that Americans were “not interested in anything on China.” A editor passed on George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” explaining it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.” And let’s not forget the agent who dumped Tony Hillerman and told him to “get rid of all that Indian stuff.”

Keep plugging away at your craft. Grow a tough hide, be brave, don’t give up, don’t be too timid to send your book out there for scrutiny. You can’t hit a home run — or even a blooper single — if you never step up to the plate. And even if you are in the batter’s box, don’t keep backing out because you’re afraid of getting beaned. Derek Jeter’s been hit by a pitch 184 times in his career. You think he’s afraid of a little chin music?

And lastly, have a little faith. Shoot, have a lot of faith:

Because it only takes one “yes” to make all the no’s bearable.

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