Last week I was talking about the importance of never giving up in the face of rejection. It’s nearly impossible to reach publication without being told “No” a few dozen (hundred? million?) times. But the vital lesson you learn from all that rejection is how to handle it after you’ve been published, and people all over the country are getting to read what you write. You think agents and editors turning you down is painful? Wait until you have to read those one-star reviews on Amazon! Nowadays, there are lots of book review sites all over the internet, some highly regarded, some amateurish, but all taking a shot at telling everyone how they liked your book. The tough-skinned author has learned how to handle praise and rejection, due to the practice before he ever scored a contract in the first place.
You know all about this, right? Well, here’s a thought you might not have considered – published authors often write reviews of other authors’ work as well. They may post their reviews on Amazon, or on their own blogs, or on shared sites. I love to wax ecstatic about a book I’ve recently loved, and push others to read the treasure I’ve found. The one thing I no longer do? Write negative reviews. Especially not of beginning authors. Some of you may think I’m being too gentle, letting an author who couldn’t hack the job get away with putting poor work out there to punish the readers. But I have reasons.
Many years ago, long before I’d even finished a novel, I used to review books for the local newspaper. Back then, I believed that it was my duty to say what I felt, whether I loved it or not. I wrote some scathing criticisms of books that didn’t please me. Yeah, maybe I was harsh, but the readers had to be protected, and the writer should know that he’d taken a wrong turn. I stopped reviewing when the book editor left the paper, and I didn’t think much about those reviews after that. Until my book came out, and reviews started popping up. Most of them were great, and that felt really nice. But one day, a two-star showed up. It wouldn’t have been so upsetting, being that I’d earned my thick skin through prepublication rejection, except that it was written by another writer, one who had her first book coming out a few months after mine. She slapped my book hard, and it hurt. I found that I couldn’t bear to even look at her book in the store, because when I did, I thought about how much I didn’t like her. I’d never even met her, never read her book, but when her book showed up in my school library, I encouraged my kids to avoid it, because she’d been cruel. Was my reaction fair? Not even a little. And it got me to thinking about all those authors I’d dissed all those years ago. Now that I had a book out, were any of them recognizing my name, wondering if I was the same witch who’d said ugly things about their work? Were they telling their friends to avoid reading what I wrote?
You’ve heard many times that you have to watch what you say, because publishing is such a small, tight community, and everyone knows everyone else. Reviewing other peoples’ work falls into that category, too. These days, I share my joy when I love a book, and keep my mouth shut when I don’t. My silence is, I think, enough of a review. I’ll leave the reviewing to the professionals, and stick to the writing. If you plan to publish someday, but you’re reviewing books now, I can’t tell you not to write disparaging comments about books you don’t love. What you put out there for people to read is entirely up to you. I can recommend you be sure it means enough to you to do it, though. Think about how you would feel if a professional colleague at your day job viciously criticized your work performance. That thick skin we grow isn’t diamond-hard, and certain barbs can still get through.