No, that’s not true. I never hate being a writer or an author. I love writing; I love reading. I love supporting other authors and especially, obviously, my friends. What I hate is writing critical reviews. Recently my buddy, Yvonne Hertberger, wrote about a similar situation where she was called on to assess a book. It wasn’t pretty.
Case in point. Recently I read a friend’s latest. I wanted to like it; I really did. But I didn’t. I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for most of the characters, I found the pace slow and therefore frustrating, and there were many things that it seemed I was supposed to implicitly understand but did not. Whenever I read a book that affects me like this, I have to wonder: is it not grabbing me because I’m not giving it enough time and concentration, or am I not giving it time and concentration because it’s not grabbing me?
We all know how subjective writing and reading are. Books that are considered classics can bore me to tears. I CANNOT read Faulkner. He drives me batshit crazy. More popular books that have been on best-seller lists for months can sometimes produce a tepid, “Meh,” from me and that’s it. Other books, little-known and under-appreciated, can inspire me to sing their praises. It’s all a crapshoot. It’s all personal opinion.
Well, not all. Sure, there are some objective criteria with writing. Misspelling is not a personal style. Incorrect punctuation—missing or misplaced quotes, run-on sentences, erratic punctuation that only confuses the reader—all that’s pretty black and white with very little room for gray. But beyond the basics, the writing landscape is wide open to interpretation.
I’m reminded of that every day. One of my books has been awarded medals in two competitions and honorable mentions in two others. That same book received a review that said it was not worth the price, even if it had been free. Ouch.
So back to my review of my friend’s book. I gave it 3 stars. I didn’t want to. I wanted to give it 4. I would have loved to give it 5. But I couldn’t. If I lied about how I felt, I would be compromising my own integrity. I don’t like to lie. I don’t do it well. I feel guilty about it. Three stars were as much as I could feel comfortable with. If I can’t give at least 3 stars, I don’t even like to leave a review. I just hate kicking someone when they’re already down.
The best thing I can do is couch my review in that very subjectivity that muddies the water. “In my opinion …” “I found that …” I may think a book is stellar, but is it really? (And by whose standard?) I may think a book is crap, but does that mean it really is? Who’s right? Who’s wrong?
So anyway, the kicker here is, I sent one of my books to a reviewer. I like the book (obviously). I had multiple beta-readers and got wonderful feedback, some negative but most very positive. I felt good about it. Guess what? He gave it 3 stars. What goes around comes around. His review was tepid at best. I seriously considered all that he had said, had to agree that while I could see some basis for his conclusions, I considered alternatives and finally came to my own conclusion that I like the book the way it is, warts and all.
But it still stings. On both sides of the coin.
*sigh* No, some days it’s not fun being an author. But is that going to stop me?
Not on your life.