Asking a writer what she thinks of a bad review is like asking a fire hydrant what it thinks of a dog. Your pleasure in all those happy, glowing reviews of your book can plummet when you stumble upon that one blot on your record. It might be a snarky reader comment on a blog or review site. Could be it was in a major print publication–major pain. Your friends, your agent and editor will come to your rescue, reminding you of all those kudos and pointing out that any review, good or bad, helps with publicity. But other writers know that blot on your record is going to haunt you like a bad credit rating.
Putting your fiction out there invites everyone, from the most casual reader to a seasoned reviewer to offer an opinion. Some reviewers delight in spreading snark, and seem to consider it an art form. I’m more partial to Guardian critic James Wood. In a recent interview in Publishers Weekly, he said, "I think as I get older, I don't know what this is about, but I think as I get older I'm more aware of the danger of being involved in an occupation that hurts people's feelings. I agree that, on the hierarchy of sins, it's not very high, but still, is that what you want to do? I often blithely like to quote the Kingsley Amis thing, and I try to live by it myself, that a negative review should spoil your breakfast but not your lunch. But I know perfectly well that a bad review spoils more than my lunch—my dinner and a few weeks of dinners."
Fancy that–a reviewer with a conscience.
Better to just treat it like a fart in church. Hold your breath for thirty seconds, and the smell goes away. Deep breath...now, hold it! Simple, huh?
Sometimes reviewers speak in code. They often do find fresh ways to critique a novel, but if you read enough reviews, you’ll come across certain phrases, again and again. For your convenience, I’ve compiled this handy glossary of reviewers’ terms.spare
- 12 pages long; still costs $24.95sprawling
- 624pp of mental vomitelegiac
- see "watching paint dry"precious
- cute, gimmickytragic
- hit yourself in the head with a hammer; usually means something small and cute diesgrotesque
- ugly people having weird sexunconventional
- incomprehensible; see "impenetrable"challenging
- PhD requiredquirky
- reviewer didn’t get itirresistible
- see "addictive" and "poorly written." It’s a page-turner, but you’ll feel dirty after reading it.deliciously filthy
- see aboveprivate tragedy
- incestTV evangelist
- always a villainlimned
- reviewer learned a new word and wants to try it outeponymous
- reviewer wanted to use a word no one can pronouncepseudonymous
- ditto, with a silent pthought-provoking
- preachyreligious fundamentalists
- read at arms’ lengthturgid prose
- reviewer was dying to say "turgid" because it sounds vaguely naughty, like a cross between "turd" and "rigid" uncensored
- lots of swear wordswell-researched
- boringexhaustively researched
- really boringgender-bending
- weird sexleisurely
- no typosrestrained
- no emotionoriginal
- no punctuationwith brio
- bouncy but probably meaningly languagefresh
- same old stuff but the reviewer can’t help liking it
So readers! What do you think of book reviews? Do you pay attention to the good, the bad, the indifferent? Sound off, please!
I will be giving away a signed copy of THE SUMMER HIDEAWAY to someone who comments. It's currently #7 on the NYT!http://www.susanwiggs.com/