Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bad Reviews are a Good Thing

I follow writer Anne Lamott on Twitter, though I'm beginning to want to stop following her, because I find her Tweets mostly self-referential and annoying.  Yesterday she was whining about Kirkus Reviews's take on her new book, Stitches, and then about a minute later was saying that most writers found a bad review from Kirkus to be a good thing, a secret sign that their book was actually brilliant.

Sorry.  I review for Kirkus.  If I give you a bad review, it's because you've written a bad book.

Bad reviews are hard for writers.  We pour ourselves into our books.   Some bad reviews are, of course, meaningless:  I read a one-star review on Amazon for Neil Gaiman's Fortunately, The Milk that complained it was a children's book.  Duh.  Read the book description before you buy it, blockhead.  I also don't feel slighted by the sort of reviews written under duress by children who were forced to read one of my books for school.  But the reviews, even on blogs, that complain that you're boring, or not very skilled, or unimaginative, or lying--boy, that last one really burns me, I always have to stifle the urge to send the reviewer a pile of my primary resources--those can hurt.

Bummer.  I'm happy I review for Kirkus, widely reputed to live up to their slogan, "The toughest book critics on earth."  Here's why:  I live in a small town.  With an excellent but small library that must use its money wisely.  My children went to an excellent but underfunded parochial school whose book-buying budget for the year was the profit made off their book fair.  Those places can't afford to buy bad books.  They simply can't.  If you're an otherwise brilliant author whose latest work was well below standard, I want that publically known, so that my librarians can make informed choices about whether or not to buy it.  Similarly, if you're completely unknown but just wrote something amazing, I want that book in my library, in my schools.

I'm sure Bristol's public library will still carry Stitches.  After all, it's written by Anne Lamott.  And stop your whining, Annie, the review wasn't that bad.  Trust me.  I've written worse.