By Rachel Beam
One of the lessons that was relentlessly pounded into my head throughout my college experience, was that one must have a thick skin in order to be a writer. This was a lesson I fully expected to learn. I went to one of the most competitive schools in the country and, although my former classmates and I entered the program thinking we were the best of the best, to be coddled by my instructors would have been a huge disappointment. It may or may not be important to mention here that I did not go to school to be a novelist, I went to learn the craft of screenwriting and the art of playwriting. Nevertheless, the same rules apply – get used to rejection and kiss industry ass. Of course, the reality of the pointlessness of going to college to “learn” how to be a writer didn’t fully set in until long after I graduated, but I digress (one of my more annoying habits).
So, reviews… Bad ones. To me, the only bad reviews are the nitpicky ones. If you’re going to attack my story’s structure, don’t bother; it is exactly as it should be. If you’re going to attack my sentence structure, save your energy for the same reason – it’s going right over my head. If you’re going to attack my dialogue…well…please don’t. You might as well just kick me in the vagina, because I will cry myself to sleep. The reviews I value most – “bad” or “good” – are the ones that attack my characters and the story itself.
I don’t write about happy things. I don’t think I even have the ability to do so. My writing is and always has been about ugliness, trauma, disturbing images. In short, the crappy side of life. I don’t strive to uplift my readers, or give them shiny happy feelings about humanity and such. I want to give my readers nightmares; I want to upset them; I want them to be reminded of all the nastiness that the world has to offer. Don’t get me wrong, I am not an angry, pessimistic person who dwells on flaws and the faults of others. I am, in fact, quite the opposite. To illicit such negative reactions from my readers, however, tells me that I’ve done my job well. Tell me that every last one of my characters is unredeemable; tell me that my story made you feel violated; tell me that I gave you nightmares; tell me that I made you sick; tell me that I must be a pretty twisted person to write such filth; tell me that I disgust you and I will know that I did my job well, because I have caused a very visceral reaction that is not likely to leave you anytime soon.
Ah…that felt good to say. I am sorry to report that I don’t get as many such reviews as I would like. No matter. The good stuff feels just as good.
Now I would like to share some positive reviews that I have received:
“Your story is moving, scary, seedy and gripping all at once. Your writing is superb and so effectively captures the seediness of Key West that I've taken it off my dream list of potential holiday spots.”
“There are a lot of echoes of 'Lolita' here, of course, but it's like a dark-hearted version of that story ... it's amazing that the reader is still so drawn even to such a horrific wreck of a man. A testament to your skill.”
“Spare, assured writing which sucks readers into a world they'd love to pass by. You capture the superficial soul of the loaded transaction superbly.”
Believe it or not, I’m actually a pretty humble person and positive impressions of my work really do tend to make me a little uncomfortable. It should also be pointed out here that all of these reviews came from members of a site called authonomy.com, where authors showcase their work for criticism, praise and the hope that it will make it onto the desk of an agent or publisher. A lot of the reviews were followed by requests for reciprocation, so who knows what these people really thought. Obviously, I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but toot-effin’-toot.
Now it’s time for us to talk about the non-review. I’m not sure if this is something a whole lot of people consider in the world of reviews, but I think the term pretty much speaks for itself. The non-review can go in two different directions. The first direction might come from a friend or family member, who is beyond being unimpressed, but doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. “I liked it,” or “it’s good” would be the two most obvious examples. Most of my friends and family members know me well enough to not even bother with this type of b.s. Truth be told, I’d rather have a root canal.
The second direction the non-review can go in is absolutely nowhere, oblivion, silence. To me, this hurts more than anything when it comes to my writing. Back in college, my writing classes were all workshop-based – we would spend the week writing, have our work read in class and then critique each other. The first two semesters of this were extremely helpful. I was placed with a group of people who always had something to say, be it negative or positive. The remaining semesters were a different story altogether. Each week, my work was met with silence; dead silence. Did they hate what I had to offer? Obviously. Even more obvious than that was the fact that they didn’t think it worthy enough to tell me it sucked. Instead, I received cold stares, as did the floor, the ceiling and whatever happened to be going on outside the window of our seventh-floor classroom. Dear readers, I implore you, don’t ever do this to someone; it is beyond humiliating and most people don’t deserve it. Say what you feel, exactly what you feel; just say something.
So there you have my ten cents (keep the change). A bad review is never really that bad. A good review should not make you feel invincible. A non-review…well…just do your best to ignore it. The most important thing in any and all scenarios is to just keep writing.