Monday, June 29, 2009

Thoughts on Reviews, and on Advances

I have nothing against book reviewers, or movie reviewers, or any kind of reviewers. I read reviews and I tend to heed reviews. Some reviewers more than others, certainly. For example, I almost never agree with Stephanie Zacharek of salon.com, but I usually find Peter Travers of Rolling Stone to be right in sync with my tastes. Usually. There's the matter of him having liked Dogma, a movie I hated, but hey, that was like ten years ago. So. Reviewers perform an important service and I'm glad they do what they do. But I still find it really funny when a creator, let's say a writer, finds a clever way of flouting bad reviews.

Like this little commercial by Brad Meltzer, who I've never read, but Jim has:
Ha ha ha! Love that! It makes me curious about the book, which is what writers want readers to be.

Another case of a writer cleverly getting back at reviewers who'd said snarky things was the brilliant post by James Kennedy from a few months ago, which I linked to at the time. I was going to post an excerpt here, but the whole thing is just too much fun.

I was talking with some writer friends recently about reviews, and the extent to which we all read reviews of our own books. For my part, I have Google Alerts for my name and the titles of my books, so when something pops up online, I generally find it right away. There's a moment of anxiety before I know if it's a good review or a bad review, and if it's a bad review (which thankfully I haven't gotten too many of), I have a glum moment and then forget all about it. Well, almost all about it. Some among my writer friends, though, don't want to see reviews at all; they don't want that anxiety and just don't sign up for Google Alerts. I can understand that too. Perhaps it's best to focus on the writing at hand, always be moving forward through the new book and then onto the next, rather than dwelling and looking backward.

That's a good policy in general; the writing must always be the priority, and not the reviews and sales figures. I mean, of course we all want great reviews and huge sales, but if a book is performing modestly, one must learn to be okay with that and look ahead, invest one's hopes in future books. There's that great Marge Piercy quote: "Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved." It's so true. Being a writer is mostly solitary work, just you and the words. The "being loved" part makes up a very, very small portion of your life -- though that very small part can feel disproportionately important. I mean, for me, getting awesome emails from readers more than compensates for the many days of isolated, butt-in-chair work. Still, if I was doing it just in hopes of being loved, and not because I love the work, it wouldn't be a very good life. You know?

I was also discussing another matter with my writing friends: the matter of a writer (not among us), who'd been paid an obscenely large advance for a forthcoming YA series. I want to say here, without going into detail, that writers get jealous of other writers for a variety of reasons; it's completely natural and very very difficult not to fall into the green-monster trap at least every once in a while. So-and-so is getting amazing marketing; so-and-so has sold X number of foreign rights; so-and-so has a movie option, and his/her publisher had a special leather-bound copy made of his/her book just out of sheer awesomeness, and presented it as a gift. There's always something going on or rumored to be going on that makes other writers' congratulatory smiles feel a little pasted on -- of course there's genuine happiness for the success of others (unless they're jerks, heh heh) but there's also jealousy, and big advances certainly invoke that.

Well, after that discussion, I mentioned the topic to another writer friend, Stephanie, who sent me this link to John Green's blog, and a similar discussion going on. The comments bring up some good points too.

So, there's a bit of writerly nitty gritty that may or may not be of interest. Cheers!

12 comments:

BJW said...

Whoever thinks they can't wait to do a book signing hasn't had the pleasure of doodling like an insane person and smiling like a looney at every person that walks by and looks at you with compassion before they hop in to the line stretching out the door to get Kirby Larson to sign her John Hancock or for Sid Fleischman to draw a magic hat or perform a card trick.

Ok, I've only signed a few books and not next to either of these delightful authors, but I DID follow the brilliant Laini Taylor at a book signing for some librarians in Portland. Talk about humble pie. Tastes great.

But I'll eat humble pie any day next to incredible authors that deserve some recognition because I'm just as big of a fan of theirs as anybody else. Same with advances or marketing. But if they really stink and still get all sorts of "benefits", they still don't have their peers' respect. That's what I'm shooting for, still a long way to go.

Diana Dang said...

That is a cute trailer! Haha, I wonder if you read my review? : )

Laini Taylor said...

Ben, I know what you mean about signings! And I hear stories about best-selling authors who still occasionally get stinky turn-out at bookstores. I know that when Blackbringer came out, I was in NO HURRY to do a bookstore event! In college I worked at an indie bookstore that did events every night, some well attended, some . . . not. And I was not in a hurry to be one of those authors with 3 people in their audience! Now that I know more local people I'm braver and have scheduled an event at Powell's for October -- really looking forward to it!

And Diana, YES! Thank you for the lovely review. I shall add it to my growing list of Silksinger reviews in the sidebar. Thanks so much! I hope you'll get a chance to read Blackbringer too. Cheers!

Rachael King said...

Laini, that John Green link doesn't work - it links back to your blog.

Patry Francis said...

I learn a lot from honest reviews--sometimes even the bad ones. And yeah, you learn to grow a hide. The only reviews I object to are the anonymous ones, and the cavalier spoilers. The author puts years of her life, mountains of hope and her NAME on the book. If a reviewer wants to trash it, they should have the courage and honesty to do the same.

Laini Taylor said...

Thanks, Rachael! And Patry, I completely agree. The only truly nasty review Blackbringer got was on an anonymous blog, and the reviewer in question seemed to hate every book they'd ever read, so I didn't take it personally. Just a bad apple. And spoilers are awful!

BJW said...

I love Powells. Spent plenty of nickels there and will again.

Great to see Jimbo Jabber doing a new post too!

Wyman Stewart said...

Keep the good Reviews. Toss out the bad reviews and assume the reviewer had a bad day, thus failed to see the true genius you are. Afterall, if you meet the reviewer, you would not want to have a negative impression before you've had a chance at a first impression. That person may be the reviewer who launches your next book into the stratosphere.

When it comes to jealousy, remember no one matters but your reading audience. Let them be jealous for you, since they will always be your biggest fans. Chances are you will outlast that other writer anyway, because you have the audience on your side, buying your books. They are also your best Reviewers, for they paid the price to review your work.

Now, to one thing I don't understand. Some reviewers write reviews that strike me as not having seen the movie I saw or did not read the book I read. Those are the folks I really can't figure out! Personally, I like to latch onto reviewers who tend to agree with what I like, for then I can take a chance my money will be well spent if I listen to that person. That is very helpful, especially at today's prices and the future is unlikely to be cheaper.

Best of luck at finding a wide, friendly audience. Don't forget to keep in touch with your reading audience. Ha! Ha! Ha! Not that you need to hear that. I think you will do great, just try to remain humble--in your own way. That means be yourself. Take care. Hope you give birth to a future writer and artist.

Heather said...

Just because of that commercial, I am going to read it AND love it! Ha ha!

Christine Fletcher said...

Be sure to tell us when the Powell's event is!

I have a friend who's been publishing for close to 20 years and she NEVER reads her reviews OR checks her Amazon.com ranking. That's some freaky self-discipline...ie, the kind I wish I had but not even close. :)

Emily J. Griffin said...

I read the John Green post as well, very interesting (only is a theoretical sense as this point for me). Good discussion and awesome video.

Also, over on my blog, you'll find I've passed an award onto you. Thanks!

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