Reviewing the reviewers

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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4 thoughts on “Reviewing the reviewers

  1. ‘marital problems, unintended pregnancies, abortion, sexism in the workplace, jealous rivals’ are not girly; they are critical to the survival of the species. I don’t know where all those action heroes (male) come from – they don’t seem to have parents, and their spouses and children are often dead at the hands of terrorists. No anchors around the neck for them!

    Real life is messier. I write about the same things you do. Without the sports. Unfortunately, not a sports fan. Fortunately, the spouse likes to watch tennis, which can keep him entertained for hours, during which I feel no guilt about writing!

    1. Not following sports must give you many more hours in the day! Baseball is my favorite sport, but even I sometimes find the games and the season too long. However, games do provide mini-dramas and numerous characters, so I don’t consider them a waste of time for a writer.

      1. Nothing is a waste of time for a passionate writer.

        Are baseball fans, per se, big readers? There are an awful lot of them. Do they have magazines where you can advertise, ‘Finally – fiction for baseball lovers!’?

      2. I’d say baseball fans are indeed readers. They call it “the thinking man’s sport” because it’s much slower than most sports, yet it keeps you on edge constantly. There are many great books and movies associated with baseball–Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural” is one of my favorites. Also, “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham” are great stores.

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