Tuesday, January 10, 2012

You’re A Big, Mean Meanie!


Lately Goodreads, twitter, facebook, and the interwebby tubies in general have exploded with review-a-palooza hysteria. It’s a kerfuffle, people—a throw-down. It’s…

You know what? It’s bullshit.

When are writers going to get it? Look, nobody has a bigger mouth than me. Nobody is quicker to throw the heck down over something that matters. But it seems to me an awful lot of people are missing their job description.

I was an actual critic—on the payroll and everything, at a few fancy-schmancy publications—for many years. I reviewed mostly films, but not exclusively. I had a radio show. I had a weekly column. I was known as THE MOVIE MUFFIN. No, I’m not embarrassed. Believe it or not, guys thought it was adorable… some of them liked my voice. Why, I remember this night back in--

Uh… sorry, where was I?

Reviews. Oh. Yeah.

Anyway—thing is, cats and kittens, I got hate mail from fans who disagreed. Once or twice I ran into a local actor and was either the grateful recipient of a drink, or the uncomfortable recipient of the stink-eye. In both cases I tried to be graceful. But these people were professionals. They understood that it wasn’t personal… and even if it had been, they would have understood that to be a reflection of the other person.

Nowadays I am writing from the other side of the spectrum, and it’s not easy to have my work criticized by strangers. I do read my reviews. If I see a trend—for example, if every other review said “why on earth does she keep bringing up purple underwear?” I might stop doing that. I have never brought up purple underwear (well, except for just now), but had I done so, you can see how taking a few notes might prove instructive. Not every negative comment is useful (people who are annoyed that a short story is short; those who bought a romance and thought it shouldn’t have had a love story in it… that sort of muck is muck… though it’s muck the reader is entitled to call mucky).

What I have not now and will NEVER do is criticize the reviewer. I find the very notion that it could be appropriate under ANY circumstances bizarre. Why? My time to speak was on the page. The reader took a chance on me. He or she is now in the driver’s seat. I sold a product. Creating it was the place for me to insert my voice.

The second my creative effort became the reader’s property, I lost control. This is the very reason writing and publishing is terrifying. It SHOULD be the reason we labor and sweat and wring our hands over getting it ABSOLUTELY AS GOOD AS WE CAN. Because the second that “download” button is pressed, the instant that cash/check/credit card is presented and verified—BOOM—it’s over for us, kids.

We have sold a product. We no longer control it. The product is what we have made it, and now the ownership gets to do with it what they will. It will always be my creation… but I have agreed to sell it, too.

NOW it’s time to shut up and believe in my work. And if a reader decides he or she hates it—that it was stupid and made no sense, or that it was badly done and did not deserve life—so be it. This recent (though not new, just re-invigorated) notion that an author should chime in, wrestle back the ownership, and bitch-slap the new owner for abusing his or her own property? Delusional. Unhealthy. Incredibly foolish. But worst of all?


Is writing a hobby or a job? Are you an author or the literary equivalent of a scrap booker? Did you slap this thing together as a celebration of you, your cleverness, and how awesome you are? Leave it on your coffee table to be shared with relatives who would never dare grimace. Are you a damned WRITER? Are you willing to take the risk of sucking and taking the hit if you do? Are you adult enough to accept that some people just DON’T LIKE IT? (How many of your favorite books do some of the people you know dislike? It’s not a matter of black and white.)

The truth of the matter is, if you really have done your best work… if you really believe in it… you aren’t going to wig out when somebody is negative. You MAY be healthy enough to wonder if there is something there to learn. You MAY even be a bit hurt. But if your work is what you believe it is, the negatives will be far outweighed by positives. And the cold, hard fact of the matter is, you no longer have a damned thing to say about what others think.

I'm not saying it won't sting, but that's showbiz, kid. Reacting publicly?

No. Not your job anymore.

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