Periodically, I check the Amazon.com page to see if there were any new reviews for my novel, A Christmas Carol 2: The Return of Scrooge. (At times, it seems like writing the book was easy -- getting people to rate and review it is the hard part...)
This week, there were actually two new Customer Reviews. (That is known as a major spurt.) The first, I could see was a rave, written by someone I knew. I like to think he was being totally honest, but I'm not quite sure the writing was better than Tolstoy. (Okay, he didn't say that, but it was close.) Then, I checked out the other. Well...I didn't check it out in full, because I could see it had gotten one star. It's very first. In some ways, that's a honor. Someone was moved enough by something to really trash it. But seeing the one star was as far as I got.
Someone asked why I didn't read the comment. Wasn't I curious? Honestly, I don't have a great need to see someone shred me. Besides, I can tell you what it said. "This book sucked. It wasn't funny. What a waste. The author should stick to writing for Hollywood. No wonder movies are so bad." And then it would get into the real harsh criticism.
To be clear, It's not that I only want to hear good things about my work. Hey, I've been writing for decades. I've heard a ton of criticism. Every writer has. Larry Gelbart told me about having to do 12 drafts of the movie version of Chicago, and then getting replaced. If Larry Gelbart can get criticized, trust me, anyone can. If you can't take rejection, you don't write. That's true for most professions in the creative arts, but I think there's a difference with writing. When some is an actor, for instance, if two-thirds the audience absolutely hates you, the other third may still be applauding or laughing, so there's a buffer built in. But when you've written something and then give it to a person to read, their response at that moment is 100% of that specific audience. If they don't like it, then "the whole audience" didn't like it. You've got to be able to take criticism. In fact, when I give a new work to someone, I bluntly insist on their being honest. That's the only way I can fix something that doesn't work. Them saying, "I liked it," when they didn't is useless and counter-productive. It doesn't spare my feelings -- it sends me blindly into the jungle with a plastic spoon to protect me. All I ever ask of anyone when they read someone are two things -- 1) Be honest, and 2) be polite.
So, I grasp the concept of criticism really well. I also grasp praise, mind you, and it was nice when, after holding my breath waiting to hear back from the head of The Dickens Page, he sent back a wonderful review that he let me use for the book.
But everyone's entitled to their opinion. You love the book? Great! You don't? Okay, sorry, but nothing I can do about it at this point. I just don't have to go out of my way to read someone trashing me. To be clear, I did read two and three-star comments it got (and I read the five-star ones), but...one star? I know everyone won't love the book. They shouldn't. If you really do try to please everyone, then the cliche is true, no one will like it. But I also have been writing long enough to know when I've written "one star" material. And this ain't it. And I've been writing long enough to be able to filter "real" praise from fake praise. (When someone goes on for two minutes about why they liked your book, then they actually liked it. When they say about your next work, "It was really good. Good luck with it!" and leave it at that, they didn't.) So, an outlier giving a single star is saying far more about their themselves than about the book. Yet even knowing that, reading it can only serve to make me feel bad. And there's enough of that in the world. Who needs to go out of their way to get smacked in the head with a hammer?
(By the way, if one-star comments had started to pile up, I most certainly would have checked them out, to find out where in the world the train fell off the track. Fortunately, that didn't happen. Fortunately, the response has been just fine, the raves and otherwise.)
So, I'll stick with the two-stars and all those quite-happily above. Or at some point, stop reading them altogether. But the book is still new enough that the early curiosity hasn't worn off.
All this said, if you've read the book and not yet made a Customer Review on Amazon, feel free to go ahead. Obviously, I hope people like it. But all I ever ask are two things. Be honest, and be polite.
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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