Thursday, April 21, 2016

'Tis the Season

Wrecked will be published
October 4, 2016
So, here we go again. ARC time.

That’s in Advance Reader Copy, which means paperback-bound, not-for-sale copies of my latest book have gone out to selected reviewers, and on-line copies of the book are available via Netgalley.

Some of these critics are Major Gatekeepers. They review for Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, places which, if the reviews are good, are cherry-picked for their best lines, which are then pasted into the book’s entry, or, better yet, “blurbed” on the novel’s subsequent printings.

Some are notable bloggers, folks who have attracted a sizeable following because their writing and insights and instincts about books are interesting, informed and reliable. Some are not so notable bloggers who are equally interesting.

And some are, to use one of my daughter’s favorite words: randos. As in Random Reviewers.

These are people who like to read and who might have no particular credentials. They throw up a profile on social media and pontificate, and it’s hard to know what their agenda might be (or not so hard, depending … ) but suffice to say, in these days of Goodreads, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest … wow, I could keep going but I won’t … their opinions do get stirred into the mix and have capacity to affect the taste of the stew.

Here’s the thing about all the critique: as an author, you can never, ever, absolutely EVER, respond to a bad review. Okay, maybe in a flagrant case where somebody completely misread your book (like, keeps referring to the main character by the wrong name?) you might consider getting a third party (your next door neighbor who places the call from a different state just to ensure anonymity) to offer the tiniest of corrections (“His name is John, not Carl.”) But generally, it is a huge, massive, life-altering gigantic faux-pas (in other words, a no-no) to confront someone who has negatively criticized your work.

Here’s the one simple reason why: they will come after you with a vengeance.

Confession time here: I made this mistake. Once. My second novel, Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, was released in ARC form without a cover. Subsequently, I read a pretty not-great review, which surprised me by its level of not-greatness. As I was harrumphing to myself about it, a brilliant thought crossed my mind: The reviewer didn’t realize this practically blank front wasn’t the actual cover! Aha! I’ll send her a jpg of the cover, explaining the error, and I’ll bet she’ll change her mind about the book!

I know what you’re thinking: Is Maria really that stupid? Answer: Yup.

I merrily sent off the jpg, with a suggestive little note that implied she’d certainly change her mind about my book if she saw this, etc. etc.

Well. The storms that unleashed. The fury. The righteous indignation, how DARE I deign to approach her, what was I THINKING??? And on and on. She also warned me to never approach her again … or else.

It gave me some insights into reviewers, and how important their opinions are to them. It also revealed to me, somewhat belatedly, that this “review” business is not a discussion. It’s not a negotiation.  It’s a judgment, pure and simple. It’s the coliseum, the mob waiting, rapt, to see whether your book lives or dies: thumb up or thumb down?

It’s not pretty.

So now, this fourth go round in the Season of Reviews, I’m finally philosophical about the whole thing. First: I can’t control reviews. I can only control what I write, and I can only strive to write my best book possible. Second: I will get good reviews, so-so reviews, awful reviews, and great reviews. Third: I will take them all with a grain of salt, rereading the good and great over and over and over, while reading the so-so and awful only once, and hoping that someday those poor misguided souls will see the light.

Finally: I will trust my editor. Because before my book goes into the world, a brilliant, insightful, experienced person read it, helped me revise it, and would never launch it if it wasn’t ready. With this latest book in particular I’ve had some great editing advice, and for that I am so very grateful.

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