Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Surviving the Bad Review

I would like to update an old axiom today. It will now go: "Into every writer's life, a bad review must fall."

Naturally this is not something we writers want to hear. As we construct our opuses out of fairy-wings and vodka shots, we all secretly hope to be catapulted not only to fame and vast wealth--but to be canonized. I don't care if you write trashy romances with badly stitched plots--I'll bet you want it too: to be loved, idolized, held up as the standard to which all other books in your genre should aspire. You're only human after all--which means, ruled by your ego,that sleazy little car salesmen in all of our souls.

The bad review, I have come to believe, is the universe's way of trying to reel us in. And no matter how plainspoken or thoughtful said review is, ultimately, to the one who is on the receiving end, it is inevitably the meanest thing ever written by a clearly inferior person.

Still, it makes you feel like crap.

And yes, I've just gotten one this week. Fortunately it wasn't from Kirkus or Booklist (as if they would ever review trade books on the craft of writing anyway), but from some anonymous member of the masses at Amazon.com. With democratic forms of marketing come democratic forums for voicing opinions--it is par for the course, in other words. Like Bob Marley sang so righteously: "You can't please all the people, all the time."

Aside from the fact thatt he reviewer got my gender wrong (even though the bio clearly states that I am a SHE) I ask you to look at the contradictions contained in said review.

How can he say THIS:
"Make a Scene is packed with helpful concrete suggestions and information..."

and at the same time, say THIS:
"His passion for state-of-being verbs and qualifying adverbs turns the the book into a 270-page drone in which nothing is more important than anything else."

If the book is indeed "packed" with "helpful concrete suggestions" in what reality can it also be a true that "nothing is more important than anything else?"

My only answer is that the reviewer is a quantum physicist and comes from the point of view that a particle exists both somewhere and nowhere at once. Therefore, my book is both helpful, and not helpful at all to him. This is the only way I can understand it.

Either that, or my conspiracy mind thinks that maybe one of my "competitors" in the field of scene writing (who shall remain nameless) hired someone to write a nasty review of my book to make it seem less palatable. Therefore, perhaps he never even READ it! Yes, maybe this is it!

What you are seeing are the stages of reconstruction that the sleazy-little car salesmen of my ego must go to in order not to feel like a total hack. Who cares that a publisher felt my book was worthy of being published, or that many others have had very nice things to say about it. I am a writer--therefore I hear the worst first.

The only thing that saves me from looking for a full-time gig in some soul-sucking retail mall is humor. And the knowledge that for every bad review, the good ones still balance out the scales.

(That, and imagining force-feeding my entire book to the reader while he is tied to a chair.)

I remain open to suggestions.--Jordan


At 6:17 PM, Blogger Patry Francis said...

I got a bad review on Amazon the other day, too. In fact, it was a real one-star smackdown. But as my agent said, at least they bought the book and were passionate enough to feel a need to talk back to it.

In your case, however, I can say with authority that whoever wrote that review was simply WRONG. You wrote a terrific, well-researched, detailed, inspiring, nuts and bolts book on writing. I refer to it regularly!

At 11:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan, I know you know better than to put that much stock in what some chucklehead on Amazon has to say - especially somebody that uses the term "Frisco"! Half of the user reviews on Amazon (good and bad) are from yahoos that haven't even read the book they're "reviewing" anyway. The only user reviews with any credibility are ones that have been deemed "helpfull" (whatever that actually means) by a large number of people, and at 0 for 4 currently, his review doesn't seem to be making the cut so far. I would think that most books on there would have approximately 4 good reviews (2 family members, 2 friends) and 1 bad review (personal grudge of some kind) that don't really count anyway.

The truth is, you won't ever know the real impact that you've made with a book like that, because you won't see it directly, but every time that a writer out there finds a useful, helpful, insightful, applicable technique or idea in your book that will improve their writing, you will have made a real difference in both their success and our (the readers) enjoyment.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger gerry rosser said...

Will a simple Happy Valentine's Day cheer you up?

Blogger has a new interface for posting comments that allow me to post as who I am with the correct website info, it just appeared on some folks' blogs a couple of days or so ago.

gerry rosser, twoblueday.wordpress.com

At 6:55 PM, Blogger Maryanne Stahl said...

screw Amazon!

though yes, bad reviews must fall. I've certainly had my share. and worse--no reviews.

ignore them, as best you can.

At 1:43 PM, Blogger Mark Sloan said...

Hey, your "reviewer", Stephen Liskow, isn't exactly a highly-thought-of literary critic:

I quote:
"[Amazon] Reviewer Rank: 366,539
See all 11 reviews (25 helpful votes)."

That works out to 2.27 "helpful" votes per review, probably 2.0 of which he cast himself.

Not exactly NYT Book Review material, and definitely not someone to let ruin your day.

At 5:32 PM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

All of you have totally lifted my spirits about this. I agree--it's not worth the effort. I sort of wondered, Jesse, if people review without reading--I get that feeling often.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger Trushka said...

I am not a writer but I'm really enjoying reading your book. I have fun at the time I learn. I learn to do something I don't know if I ever will do... and still, I'm reading it and liking it.

A little bit slow... but not due to the book but to the vertigo I've suffered for one week now.

I think very high of your book. I think you did an awesome work and writers will be thankful to have your book for reference.

Mmmm, I'll write that at Amazon right now.

You are the best,


Post a Comment

<< Home