Reviewing the reviewers

November 10, 2010

Self-publishing isn’t only about writing your book the way you want to, and realizing your own vision rather than someone else’s. It’s also about keeping your sense of humor and bearing up under bad reviews. Self-publishing is a tough game, and there are plenty of reviewers who seem to take their own anger and frustration out on the author. Much like politics, the game is getting rougher. When I published my first novel in 2003, there seemed to be more civility about reviewing. The criticism, although occasionally harsh, was constructive and beneficial.

This new brand of reviewers delights in taking a vicious, even personal tone. My latest novel, Let’s Play Ball, is a sports-political fantasy, intended more to entertain than to say anything profound. Despite the kidnapping at the center of it, and the struggle to find out who’s responsible, it’s neither a real mystery nor an action novel. Some readers would understandably like to see the main characters, fraternal twin sisters, closer to the action. But that really misses the point of a character-driven and psychological story. The fact that the kidnapping victim, who is the baseball-playing husband of one of the sisters, returns from his ordeal with PTSD, matters more to the story than the details of what actually happened to him.

If you give these reviewers the slightest opening, they’ll slam you. One in particular claims ancestry from the country where the kidnapping plot originated. Accordingly, he feels justified in ridiculing certain details about my futuristic, fantasy version of that country, as if I meant them literally. A small disagreement over terminology gives him an opening  to mock my baseball knowledge, which I’m actually quite secure about. Then, nauseatingly, he claims to have strained himself over whether he was being too “generous” in deciding the number of stars I deserved.

It also seems to be open season on anything resembling “chicklit.” Those of us with an interest in writing about girly things such as marital problems, unintended pregnancies, abortion, sexism in the workplace, jealous rivals, etc., are automatically belittled. I guess my main characters were supposed to put their personal lives on hold and focus solely on solving the mystery.

I try to answer some of these screeds with the dignity the original posts lacked. Maybe one day, when I’m retired from my nine to five job, I’ll have time to set myself up as a reviewer. But I swear I won’t do what they do.  I promise to at least respect the process of writing a complete book with a beginning, middle and end. My honest criticism will not include a total trashing of someone else’s vision if it doesn’t happen to fit my own.

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