As you may have noticed, I was doing a "virtual book tour" promotion in October A Christmas Carol 2: the Return of Scrooge. It was an interesting experience, and I learned quite a bit for the future. The main thing I did was -- Don't Do a Promotion for a Christmas Book in October. Even if the tour promoter suggests it.
To be fair, I think I understood her point: what many people want out of a book tour are reviews, and October is a better month for that, as blogger websites get backed-up with reviewing as the holiday nears. But I was less interested in reviews than sales. After all, the book was initially published last year for the holidays, and I was making a new seasonal push. So, I had a fair number of reviews already. Now, it's possible that people who read the reviews in October of a book that has "Christmas" in the title might make a note to buy it later, and here's hoping for that, but I suspect it was too early.
The other big thing I learned was not a surprise -- that there is a huge range in quality of reviewers out there in the Blog World. I've mentioned that while most reviews were extremely strong, the difference tended to be if people grasped that the book was a humor parody or if they thought it was meant to be an actual, serious sequel. But it's more than that. One reviewer, for example, seemed to think the book was, in fact, written by Charles Dickens. Quite a few weren't quite sure if the might truly be a long-lost Dickens novel. (I wanted to say, "Trust me, if there was any question in the book universe that a new Dickens book was found, and a sequel no less to perhaps his most famous story...you'd have heard about it!)
I do have some more promotions planned for this book and also The Wild Roses, as we get, in fact, closer to the Real Holidays (rather than Halloween...), and I'll mention them as they come along. But those will be more "email blasts" through several book sites, rather than just for reviews.
Anyway, now that the book tour is over, one thing that was interesting is how the tour promoter reacted. When a review wasn't a rave, rave, rave, she'd get very upset, saying that "all my authors are so important to me, and I look at their books almost as if they were my own." (I politely avoided saying, "Trust me, you don't." But she was a nice person, so I left it unspoken.) But she did get bothered, and could understand why I wouldn't. We had this email discussion a couple of times. I'd shrug off the mediocre review, even the ones that totally missed the point, and wouldn't go all "Whoo-hoo" for the five-star ones, and she was bewildered by that.
I thought about it, and in retrospect came up with an explanation, of sorts.
To be clear, it’s not really a case of not being bothered – after all, no one particularly likes criticism. But it’s a variety of things –
1) Most importantly, having a brutal honesty of your work. Knowing when you got it right, and knowing when you had to finesse parts. If you know what your book is, then what other people think doesn’t impact that.
2) Understanding that personal opinion is literally just that: personal opinion. Not provable fact. Some people’s opinion is more professional and substantive than others, but even that is just opinion. (Years ago, I worked for a music festival and clipped the reviews. The Chicago Symphony had a concert one night. The expert critic of the Chicago Tribune said the chorus was wonderful but too loud. The Chicago Sun-Times expert said, the chorus was great “when you could hear them.” They were probably sitting in the same row.)
3) Knowing that when a person offers a meaningful reason for their reaction, it has weight, whether positive or negative. But just offering an opinion is empty.
4) Understanding that when someone misses the point of what your wrote, it could have been your fault, having done it poorly, but if most others got the point, then the fault lies with the one who missed it.
5) Just because someone writes a review doesn’t mean their opinion is suddenly expert. Nor does it mean they understand writing. They might. They might be incredibly insightful. But it may be that they just understand what they personally like to read. And that’s fair enough. But it doesn’t inherently impact the value of the work.
6) When you’ve written for a long time, you are always getting responses to your work. Not just the whole work, but passages and sentences and even just the choice of single words. Over the decades, you listen to those who you specifically have asked or who have demonstrated an insight into their analysis. But most of it white noise, sort of like an army surgeon during war, who sees body after body, and the next one is just one more body, because if you stopped and gave the weight of the world to every single one, you’d be pulled apart in a thousand directions.
7) Your job is to write. By the time someone is reviewing your work, whether as a critic or a reader, you’ve long-since moved on and are writing something else.
8) When the work is finished, there’s nothing you can do about it, whatever their reaction, good or bad, accurate or way off base. They’re just giving their opinion. Fair enough.
Again, no one likes criticism. But over time, you learn to understand what it is, and how to deal with it. And if it’s not something you can’t stand, you should either never read it, or do something else for a living.
I should add that there are some reviews and criticisms one gets that do drive you crazy, because they’re just so off-base or mean-spirited, or holier-than-thou thinking that their opinion is factual and definitive. And it’s also more problematic when a review comes from someone who can actually have an impact on the professional core of the work – whether it’s a major reviewer or a reader in a company’s story department, whose opinion can determine whether your script or book will have a life.
So, I don’t want to be blithe about reviews. But even those, you do learn over time to deal with them, as best you can.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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