As a writer, reviewers are scary. They read your book and then they proclaim upon its worthiness. Sometimes it feels like a roll of the dice. One review gives you a star, another slams you. In such an atmosphere of uncertainty, it’s easy to think that reviewers are the enemy. If that is the case, then I am the enemy. Or at least I was.
Like many librarians, I have reviewed for a professional journal. I believe I did so with both a librarian’s and a writer’s eye. A book might not appeal to my personal taste, but I tried to think about which of my patrons would like it, and what about the work they would find appealing. I always included these things in my review.
I also thought of what the author was trying to accomplish, and how well they did that. Here is where I may have been particularly tough. I had no patience for lazy writing or shortcuts.
I started reviewing before I sold Secrets of Truth & Beauty, and continued as I worked through the editing process. As I grew closer to my own publication date, I found myself feeling more and more torn. I could imagine what it would feel like to read the words I had written in a negative review. Though I wanted to spare other writers the pain of reading my perceived faults in their works, I also had a professional obligation to my colleagues as a reviewer and librarian. Librarians rely on reviews not only to choose which books to buy, but also which books to recommend to which students.
I was unable to reconcile my two roles. So, first I decided to stop reviewing nonfiction, and then I decided to stop reviewing all together.
When I started to get my own reviews, I can’t say that my time on the other side made it easier to stomach any negativity. In fact, I have the ability – common to many writers – to pick out even the hint of a criticism in an otherwise positive review. It did help a little to remind myself that my reviewers were people just like me. People who struggled over the reviews, who weighed the few words they were allowed, and tried to be as honest as possible. People, too, with whole histories behind them that would of course influence how they reacted to a particular book. Nothing makes the initial sting less, but this helped with the dull ache that lingered.