Fresh from the Alice Hoffman fracas, I thought it's time to read how writers really feel when their works are criticised. And I thought we should start with Chris Bohjalian's amusing In which the author obsesses over potshots by amateur critics on Amazon.com:
But there are few worlds as barbed as the digital one, and people say savage things about my work online that they wouldn't dare say in person. Such are the privileges of anonymity and distance.
When I interview authors, I often ask this question: How do you react to bad reviews?
Some believe that they shouldn't read reviews of their books; they believe that for their work to stay pure and entirely their vision, they shouldn't be influenced by the desire to bow down to the demands of others. Others are drawn to reviews - good or bad - like flies to a corpse.
I ocassionally review books - when time (sorely in short supply these days) permits me - and in my early reviewing years I can be quite harsh when I reviewed a book.
Once upon a time, I wrote a particularly biting review of one of Patricia Cornwell's books. A few days after it was published, I visited my regular rent-a-bookstore and the first thing the owner said to me was, "Oh Liz, you gave that Patricia Cornwell book such a bad review," she said sadly.
"Oh, really? Yes, I thought it was a poor book."
"Well, I can't rent it out now! Every time I suggest that book, the customer would say: 'Eeyer! That book? I read in the newspaper that it's really, really bad!"
I thought it was amusing; she didn't think it was. But it was then that I realised how powerful reviews can be ... not that one should revise one's opinion of a book because of market forces, but with such power in your hands I guess you should use it responsibly. And I imagined being the author of the book reading my words ... and I winced.
So over the years I try to remember the human being behind the book when I write my reviews - good or bad. I picture them sitting in front of me as I tell them what I think - in the most ladylike manner possible . Don't say things that you won't say in real life, as they say.
Putting your creative work out there for the world to read and possibly criticise to shreds is a vulnerable thing to do. And the least I can do is appreciate and respect their courage for doing so.