It's an in-between moment that's hard to describe. It's the time after you know a review of your new book is there for all the world to see and before you actually click the link or turn to the magazine page to read it. You hold your breath, torn between wanting to know what it says and wanting to avoid it at all costs. (I mean, after all, what writer worth their salt doesn't believe they're a fraud and that at any moment, someone is bound to discover it?)
The first review of Murder Takes the Cake was posted on line last Friday night. You can read it here at armchairinterviews.com. I got the email about it from the editor and then braced myself to look at the review. My pulse raced and my fingers fumbled on the keyboard as I clicked on the site and searched for the title of the book.
The actual review can be exhilarating or crushing. Logically, you know that no review can give you confidence if you don't believe in your writing. But your heart yearns for other people's approval of the fictional world you've created. You want the readers – and reviewers are readers, whether we want to believe that or not - to love your characters, understand your plot, and when they get to the words, "The End," rush out to buy your next book.
Sometimes, even with a good review, the author spends way too much time searching for subtext and parsing words. A single word, the slightest turn of phrase, anything that could be construed in a negative way, will stand out like a neon light. And no matter how many flattering descriptions surround the one little criticism, that line will be the one the author can quote verbatim years later.
The worst review is not necessarily the one from someone who didn't like your book. It's the one where the reviewer not only didn't like your book and said so, but he/she didn't get the characters' names correct. You're left with the suspicion that the reviewer never read your book. And there is nothing you can do about it!
Or how about the review where the careless reviewer missed several vital clues and then claimed in print, or worse on-line for everyone to see forever, that the murderer's identity "came out of the blue." As the author there is nothing you want more than to post a scathing rebuttal, but you can't. It just isn't done. You have to let it go.
If I could ask only one thing from readers, it's to not take a single negative review too seriously, especially if it isn't representative of the other reviews of the same book.
And for authors, I'd advise the same. Not everyone will like your book – but that doesn't mean you haven't written a good book. Not every review will be good – learn from them if you can, if not clean the smelly goop from your shoes and move on. And for heavens sake, when the review is positive, enjoy it without "wallowing it around" and searching out potential bad spots.
So what about the review I mentioned in the beginning of this blog? It's fantastic! "Evelyn David" is ecstatic.
I think I'm ecstatic. Probably.
I need to read it again, just to be sure.
And yes, despite the advice I just gave everyone, I'll reread the review over and over until the next review is posted.
But I won't focus on individual words.