Friday, January 08, 2010

Reeling Reviews

or, Thoughts on the Standards of English Professors

I received the following note from a writer friend of mine who is also a book reviewer. Her boss had recently sent her an author’s scathing e-mail “ripping” my friend’s review of her book.

Note to all writers: if someone blasts your writing, TAKE IT and then LET IT GO.

Do not respond.

Do not pitch a fit.

Do not call the lineage or the intelligence of the reviewer into question.

Do not threaten Armageddon.

A review is an opinion. Some people will love your work no matter how bad it is. Some will hate it no matter how great it is. Sending snarky notes will never get a person who gave you a bad review to rescind their testimony. You will only spark a debate that will inevitably end with you appearing petty, foolish, and vain.

Now, my reviewing friend is not a jealous wanna-be writer who looks for ways to cut other writers down to size. She is not a Harpy or a grammar-Nazi. She loves books and reading and writing. She is a Nice Person.

We had an interesting discussion on the subject of authors verbally attacking reviewers. Here’s what she had to say:

"I actually laughed out loud I was so taken aback. My boss was fine with [the irate author’s comments], but wanted my feedback.

“The author argued that there are no grammatical errors that I commented on, but her book was loaded with pronoun usage problems. Maybe most people don't care, but this daughter of a strict English teacher really gets bugged by things like that.

“She also said I would have given her a good review if she were famous! Nice! (It was a self-published book. Go figure.)

My reviewer friend typed up a short response addressing the peevish author’s concerns. She stood behind her review. Shortly thereafter, the author sent ANOTHER e-mail responding to her response, in which the author said:

”If the you (sic) and the reviewer are expecting downright perfection on every page, then you will be unhappy. That was not my goal. If I waited for perfection at every point, the book would never get done, and I would be waiting and waiting. That is why I self-published because I was tired of waiting and waiting.

“I think you are out of touch with the average person. I didn't write the book to pass the standards of an English Professor.”

“Speechless,” said my friend. “I am simply speechless! Thankfully my boss is totally cool with my end of things and is letting the review stand.”

She went on to say that though she used to get upset that most publishers and agents quit reading after a few paragraphs, she now understands where the common publishing industry practice comes from. “My first assessments of a new book I am reviewing usually hold true by the end. It is so easy to spot good and bad writing. That will help me be a better writer, I think!

"Though I am nominally paid, they are such a nice group to work for and I am getting invaluable experience. By the way, some of the books are quite awesome, too!"

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