We begin with a fabulous essay about a worst-case scenario that I have yet to encounter, but probably will someday, that being the way the publishing world seems to work: My Horrible New York Times Review. It's funny, it's well-written and well-considered, and it's made me want to read the author's books (Ronlyn Domingue, this random mention in a blog you've never heard of is for you). To quote a bit that seemed particularly true to me...
"My novel is, in fact, one of the worst books some people have ever read. An insipid waste of paper. Readers writhed in agony at florid prose, gnashed teeth at familiar characters, fumed at confusing shifts of time and place, and grimaced at the triteness of it all. There are unsubstantiated reports of eyes bleeding.
"My novel is, in fact, one of the most amazing books some people have ever read. A soulful work of beauty. Readers found peace while grieving lost friends and family, bonded more deeply with people they care about, and enjoyed the story long past their bedtimes because they couldn’t put it down. This book changed lives.
"I'm a horrible writer, and I'm a brilliant writer. Next time, I won't need reviews to reveal this. Lesson learned."
I may print this out and hang it on my wall. Or ask Erin to do it in calligraphy so I can hang it on my wall. Or design a cross-stitch pattern, make a sampler, and hang it on my wall. Or...
You get the picture. Everyone knows, intellectually, that they won't be the first author in history to be universally loved and praised by all that they encounter. There are people who hate Shakespeare. I mean, I could give a whole list of famous people, but let's be serious, here: there are people who hate Shakespeare. If he can't be universally loved, no one can. At the same time, emotionally, every author I've ever known has been quietly hoping that maybe, just maybe, they'll be the exception that proves the rule. I am not leaving myself out, here! No matter how much I say "no, no, not everyone will like my work, I'm braced for that," I'm secretly going "please love me please love me please love me." That's how the human mind works.
Michael Melcher wrote an excellent article on what to do when your friend writes a book, which I also sort of want to hang on my wall. It includes such gems as "Do you think your birthdays are important? Well, to a writer, writing a book is like ten birthdays, maybe twenty." Also, "When things touch our soul, they are beyond logic and practicality. If you have a friend, relative, or distant acquaintance who writes a book, I can guarantee what they want: for you to share their joy. That's it. End of story. Share. The. Joy." Read the article. It's a good one, and very helpful, whether you're a writer or just trying to survive in close proximity with one.
Which brings us around, at last, to the original point: bad reviews. Bad reviews can be useful. They tell me what I did wrong, what I did right but not quite right enough, what people were hoping for, and what I need to improve. I can use bad reviews to become a better writer. Bad reviews can be hurtful. They tell me I'm terrible, I'm talentless, I'm insane for thinking I could write in the first place. I can use bad reviews to justify drinking a lot of cheap port and passing out on the couch while Dinoshark vs. Mega-Croc plays on SyFy. Bad reviews can be hysterical. I had someone write me to ask whether I was aware that my publisher had badly revised my film noir detective story to insert—drumroll, please—icky girly fairies.
Yes. Apparently, DAW rewrote Rosemary and Rue to insert the fae. Good to know, right?
Today's round of contemplation was brought about by a bad review for Feed, which was posted at Fatally Yours, and which falls into the fourth category for me: reviews which are either funny or frustrating, depending, because they are reviewing me on the basis of what I didn't actually write. Sort of like the people who pan Evernight for not being Twilight, or get cranky at Rosemary and Rue because it isn't paranormal romance. (I have a much longer post on the urban fantasy/paranormal romance divide brewing, but it needs a little more time to come together). You know what? A Local Habitation is bad erotica...because it isn't erotica. Discount Armageddon is bad horror...because it isn't horror. And now, to quote this review of Feed:
"To be honest, when the book started reading as an adolescent version of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail with a dash of zombies my interest dwindled. I didn’t want to read about a bunch of politicians having tense meetings in board rooms. I wanted to read about zombies. And if you think that you’re going to offer me zombies and then try to bait and switch me with a bunch of unbelievable and boring political drama and still walk away with a good review, then you’ve got another thing coming.
"So it’s not really a book about zombies.
"It’s a book about politics."
Yes! That is correct. It's a book about politics. It's also a book about zombies, virology, Internet culture, wireless technology, bad beer, brand loyalty, sunglasses, the CDC, and horses. But mostly, it's a book about politics. Politics, zombies, blogging, and how George Romero accidentally saved the world, which is why I tell people it's "The West Wing meets Transmetropolitan meets Night of the Living Dead."
If you're looking for full-scale zombie gore, you probably won't like Feed, and I'm sorry. The zombies are the way they are because that's what they are in this universe. I may someday write a book called The Rising, and set it during the Rising, and that will be full-scale zombie gore, but Feed? No, and if I've somehow given you that idea, I'm sorry.
Bad reviews. Just one more part of this balanced breakfast.