Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Riding the Review Rollercoaster

Sandra Parshall

Now, at last, I understand my urge to publish novels.

It’s not a deep-seated desire to communicate. It’s not a need to purge my imagination of all those crazy made-up people who keep running around in their made-up world, doing shocking things. It’s not, heaven knows, a belief that publication will make me rich and famous. (I was never naive enough to believe that.)

No, it’s masochism.

I just love putting myself at the mercy of strangers. I take a perverse pleasure in releasing my creative children into the world and waiting, wide-eyed and eager, for the world to shatter my fragile writerly ego with those awful-and-wonderful things called reviews.

As my husband and friends never tire of pointing out, I can ignore reams of praise if I find a single disapproving sentence buried within. So what if the reviewer loved the characters, found the setting evocative, enjoyed the plot right to the end? None of that counts. What counts is that she thought some of my phrasing was... gulp... clunky.

Despair! I will never write again. I will toss the computer out with the trash because I am clearly unworthy to be called an author.

But the Library Journal gave my second book, Disturbing the Dead, a starred review. That means something, doesn’t it? Certainly it does. I am worthy after all! I am an author.

But... but... A reviewer said DTD has too many characters. Omigod. Here is a person who believes that some of the characters I love so much shouldn’t even exist. How can I go on writing now that I know this? Where did I put the razor blades?

Okay, calm down, Sandy, and go reread the advance reviews. Oh, look, Kirkus -- Kirkus, so difficult to please! -- declared DTD “fast-paced, chilling, and compulsively readable.” Whew. My life and sanity saved again.

But... but... Yet another reviewer (they’re multiplying like wire hangers in a closet) thinks DTD has too many Melungeon characters and, furthermore, I made too many of them poor. Now I feel like an insensitive wretch who traffics in stereotypes. Forget the razor blades. Bullets are faster.

What one reviewer praises, another will criticize. And it’s the criticism, seldom the praise, that sticks in my mind. Every review is a source of nail-biting worry before I read it and possible agony afterward. “Don’t take it personally,” everybody says. Impossible advice for someone like me to follow. Everything is personal.

I would not dream of challenging reviewers, because they’re supposed to give their honest opinions and I’m grateful to them for telling readers about my books. In my rare lucid moments, I realize that my reviews have been mostly positive and I have nothing to complain about. I try not to care that at least two reviewers think Disturbing the Dead takes place in North Carolina, even though the characters never venture outside Virginia. (True to form, I’m convinced that misapprehension is somehow my fault.)

But I keep wondering exactly which characters I should have left out of the book and which phrases were clunky. Is it too late to recall every copy and rewrite?

I regard my work-in-progress with a cold eye. Maybe I should kill off Greg right now. Heck, maybe Greg should never have been born in the first place. And clunky writing? Oh, good grief, the book is filled with it. No one will ever want to read the thing. It’s hopeless. I’m hopeless. Getting two books published was a fluke. It will never happen again.

But if, through some miracle, I do publish a third book, I’m not going to read the reviews. Not a one. Zip.

I am finished with this particular form of masochism.



Anonymous said...

I go through the exact same thing! TILT A WHIRL got tons of great reviews, won an Anthony Award, and all I remember is the guy who posted a review on some obscure web site that Google was kind enough to find for me: "a book only a Springsteen fan could love." It's the only line I have committed to masochistic memory.

Chris Grabenstien

Sandra Parshall said...

Those Google Alerts are a real boon to masochistic authors, aren't they? They make darned sure we don't miss a thing. So far I haven't had any truly devastating reviews, but if I do, good old Google will let me know. I could turn off the Google Alerts, of course... but I can't bring myself to do it.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Sandy, brava on the great reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal. The madness begins long before the book is published (in my case, not till 2008) with, "Oh, they'll all hate my book. I'll never get fabulous reviews like Sandy!"

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes. Been there so many times.

Anonymous said...

Just keep reminding yourself of Abraham Lincoln: You can't please . . . .

Julia Buckley said...

Oh, I think every author knows that feeling, Sandra. But don't you think you (and I) will inevitably evolve into people who can take the good and disregard the bad, since there's nothing you can do with negative criticism after a book is written?

I sure hope we can get to that place. But your good reviews sure are good!

Deb Baker said...

LOL. Great post. We must all be alike.

Unknown said...

Great blog, Sandy! As your friend and critique partner I know full well that God could boom your praises through the clouds for six days running but if, on the seventh day, the guest reviewer from the East Tennis Shoe Gazette said, "Parshall's new novel rivals War and Peace but I found the blood-spattered sheet's thread count to be artifically high", you'd be miserable.

I guess that means you're really a writer!

Sandra Parshall said...

Carol, you know me too well.

Pauline said...

We chose a brutal business to be in, didn't we? When I get discouraged, I remember the reviewer who told me I was too funny.

And the editors/agents who said my books weren't publishable.

At least I proved THEM wrong. (grin)