To be very honest, not much. Do I hope that people are enjoying what I’ve done? Oh, sure. I mean, let’s get real: my job is, first and foremost, to entertain you; to give you a good read. Of course, I’m curious to know if things are going well, but that’s not something that ends with that first week (or first month, or three). But the reality is that I’m almost always in the middle of another book at the time of a book’s birthday. I’m all wrapped up in some other story. I think, in a way, this is both because a) I’m a workaholic and b) doing so protects me from #2. I have something else to focus on that’s under my control rather than fretting about what I can’t do a damn thing about anymore.
2. What do you think about when getting/seeing negative reviews?
You mean, beyond employing imaginative ways to commit slow and painful suicide?
Seriously, I have this very dear friend/teacher/shoulder to cry on and fellow pro, Dean Wesley Smith, who once told me that I should never, ever look for reviews of my work, period, because for every nice review, there’s another where you’ll be savaged. In fact, he will look for reviews of his wife’s work (Kristine Kathryn Rusch) and only send her the ones he thinks are worthwhile. He is her filter. Otherwise, all writers would probably melt to puddles of quivering goo. Or become alcoholics.
Every writer/artist needs a filter because there are a lot of really nasty people out there, and I’ve been called some fairly nasty things in reviews. I think someone once decided I was seriously ill and in need of psychiatric help, slapped that up, and called it a review. I suppose it wouldn’t have done any good to point out that I see a therapist, routinely, every time I look in the mirror. In that instance, a ton of other people jumped all over the website to remove the comment because it was an attack on me, not something about the book. So, thank God, there were saner heads out there.
It’s one thing to read cogent points and a thoughtful critique, and it’s not as if I’m all that thin-skinned. (Although I bleed red, too.) Remember: I used to be in the military. I was a surgery intern. I was in medical school, and various and sundry people, from officers and patients to attendings and teachers, screamed at and insulted me on a regular basis. You want to see people expert at drawing blood, going for that old jugular? Drop in on any workshop and try to survive having your story, the one you sweated blood over, ripped apart by other writers who really do know the craft better than you. (We’re not counting the ones who don’t. Envy is huge in any artist community.)
But I have seen and read about other writers who self-destruct over bad reviews. Sometimes, they do this is spectacular and very stupid ways, like fighting with people on-line, and so end up actually killing their careers, too. You know, you got to be a grown-up about this.
Of course, I’m curious about reviews. Who wouldn’t be? I WROTE A STORY SO YOU COULD READ IT. Have I always listened to Dean’s advice? No. Am I getting better? You bet, and here’s why.
I used to write a ton of academic stuff about film. But all academic study reflects a personal bias, personal taste. I studied the films I was interested in; I enthused about those because I liked them—but it’s all subjective. I know film reviewers and scholars who study stuff that makes me want to put pins in my eyes.
Any review, no matter how esteemed the publication, is personal taste made public. I can’t control for taste. I can’t control what someone will put up as a review that reflects his or her personal taste. All I can do is control what I put on the page and keep hold of this fact: someone thought my story was worth telling.
At this point, I only look at reviews that are sent by other people: principally my editors or friends. Those are the people I trust to send me reviews worth reading. Are all these reviews glowing? No, because there is great value is reading about what I may not have done well—just give me a chance to pour a martini first and remove all sharp objects—and the same extends to my editors as well. On the other hand, I always did the very best I could.
Do I care what people think? Sure. But there comes a point where you have to weigh whether going for the bad reviews is simply too masochistic or destructive. I mean, think of it this way: it would be like you going into your boss and asking, “Say, what haven’t I done right today? Go on; don’t hold back. Tell me how worthless I am.”
I think the one thing many reviewers forget: any writer, any writer or artist, who presents work for public consumption is taking a huge risk. It is easy to criticize. It is enormously difficult and takes a fair amount of courage to offer up something very private—a story in which you have invested a ton of time and lots of emotion—and then stand back while it’s savaged. We do it because that’s the risk we writers take. But never lose sight of the risk.
That the series cover has changed again, I’m okay with because I also understand the limitations of the hardcover. Frankly, while it was GREAT, it got lost on shelves. For example, many B&Ns present their books on black or very dark bookshelves. The book didn’t jump out enough from all that dark surround to grab the eye, and the idea is to catch your potential readers’ notice. So I understand that it had to be re-thought and, again, I am blessed with an editor and publisher, pros all the way around, whose only concern is giving my work the best possible chance.